Buddhists: Virtual Vegetarians

By Allan Hunt Badiner

The debate about vegetarianism in Buddhism is as old as Buddhism itself. It is told in the Vinaya that Devadatta, in his struggle to steal control of the Sangha, tried to turn the pious against the Buddha for his refusal to legislate on the question. It is useful to consider that not even the precept to abstain from killing is a Buddhist commandment or “law.” The Buddha held that the key to our salvation is within us. We are ultimately accountable to the karmic consequences of our actions, not to some religious authority.

Today’s demand for animal products wastes resources, degrades the global ecosystem, and disrupts indigenous cultures. It also has devastating effects on human health. Students of the Dharma who are aware of the realities of a meat-centered diet are likely to be inclined against choosing animal foods. However, there is a subtle yet important distinction between the Buddhist and vegetarian perspectives.

Being a formal “vegetarian” can polarize people, setting vegetarians apart from non-vegetarians. The Buddha taught that identifying oneself with a dogma of any kind is unwholesome. The Buddha and his followers ate like vegetarians and most people knew it. But occasionally, when offered nonvegetarian food (from an animal that was not, to their knowledge, killed just for them), the monks were warned against declining it, at the risk of offending donors, and thus turning their hosts away from the Dharma. The vegetarian who judges another person by virtue of what he or she eats may be more deluded than the naive but well-intentioned omnivore. Concurrently, the carnivore can be deluded by the failure to look deeply into the ethical, ecological, and cardiovascular consequences of eating meat.

The Dharma suggests the same ethical constraints on eating practices that vegetarians adopt for themselves. But there also is a measure of flexibility. I can imagine the Buddha giving advice on this matter, smiling and commending the questioner’s vegetarian diet as wholesome, but cautioning them to remember that what comes out of a person’s mouth is a more significant factor in their enlightenment.

When a Buddhist shuns meat, it is not out of identification with being vegetarian, but because it is the only appropriate behavior given their compassion for all living beings of the Earth. When one looks before taking action, one comes to a clear choice of what not to buy at the market.

Thay, when asked about this issue during a tea ceremony at Plum Village, smiled and would say only that “in the Mahayana tradition, vegetarian food is enjoyed.” So while there may be no Buddhist imperative to become vegetarian, Buddhist practice and the cultivation of awareness lead one to eat like one.

Allan Hunt Badiner, editor of Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays and Buddhism in Ecology, lives in Big Sur, California.

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The Gifts of Our Ancestors

By Greg Marton

Not long after my great aunt died, I was looking through some of her things and came across a very old copy of the King James Bible with the following inscription written in the ornate hand of a bygone era: “Presented to our Grandma by Lulu and Maud, 12-25-1876.” The name Lulu sounded familiar: my great-grandmother, who had died when I was a toddler. The owner of the book had been Lulu’s grandmother, and my great-great-great grandmother. So in December of 1876, two little girls gave their grandmother a Christmas present. What they had no way of knowing was that near the end of the century to follow, one of their descendants, a Buddhist, would read their inscription and be nurtured by their grace and devotion.

As I held the book in my hands, I could see that it had sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. I also realized that, in a sense, the religious spirit within my family had been dormant for almost as long. For example, my grandfather, Lulu’s son, had dropped out of divinity school as a young man, forsaking not only his plans to enter the ministry but his Christian faith as well. I had first met him many years later and remember him with great affection. He was a charming old man, a “free spirit” who viewed religious faith with contempt and cynicism.

It is impossible for me to say how my grandfather acquired such an attitude; I can only speculate. Perhaps religion had been presented to him in a sanctimonious or coercive way. At any rate, regardless of the alienation he apparently experienced, I am certain that my grandfather carried within him a gift of grace and strength, inherited from his ancestors, which he passed on to his daughter, my mother, and thus to myself. In my mother, this gift found expression in a loving spirituality further enriched by her respect and tolerance for the faith of others. We all carry the legacy of our ancestors within us. In a sense, it is their blood that flows through our veins, their hearts that beat inside us, their tears that fall when we suffer. Each of us receives this legacy, this gift of life, and adds something to it before we pass it on. And therefore our lives are not only an opportunity but a responsibility to future generations.

Often the legacy we have inherited is clouded by unhappiness. The challenge we face is to acknowledge the strengths, the gifts of grace, that our ancestors have passed on to us, and to use these to transform ourselves. I am certain that these strengths are always there, no matter how well-camouflaged.

When we look within ourselves, we may find anger, fear, even hatred. But at the same time we will surely find gifts of faith, wisdom, and compassion, precious beyond measure. Greg Marton lives in Medford, Oregon, and works as a children’s therapist in nearby Grants Pass.

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Friendship

By Sam Peskin

Friendship comes in many forms—the one we know best is when two people have a relationship together. Friendship is good because without friends it would be a crazy world. Friends help each other and do favors for each other when the other one needs help. Friends are good because you always have someone to talk to, to do things with and play with.

Friends aren’t always people. They can be animals, plants, or even rocks. A friend isn’t always someone you go to the movies or do things with. It could also be a pet who licks your face and always is nice to you even though sometimes they chew up your things. Or it could be a plant that you found in a special place that makes you feel better, or just a pretty stone that you found.

I make my friends by being nice, doing favors they need, giving them support, listening to what they have to say, and not interrupting them. I try never to treat my friends with disrespect. By the way, nobody’s perfect. Friends might do something that you don’t like once in a while, and you might also. It’s okay to get your anger out and fight (not physically) with each other, but you should always forgive each other later. You always have to remember to treat your friends how you want to be treated.

Sam Peskin, age 12, lives in Oakland, California.

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Family Practice

By Diane Roome

Our Family Day of Mindfulness at Green Gulch Farm is still with us, and will always remain as a little pool of clarity in our memories.

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Despite his initial uncertainty, our son Alex warmed to some of the ideas we encountered. I read him a little allegory about one-pointedness last night, and he got it! For Ben, everything seemed rather natural, I think. He told me some time ago he wanted to learn to meditate, and our day definitely helped him on his way. My husband and I both feel much better as a result of our visit. The potato planting, the carpenteria californica, the discussion, the quiet sitting, the delicious carrot soup, the songs—all gave us a lovely sense of harmony.

Diane Roome lives in Mountain View, California.

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Practice As a Young Person

By Jonathan Maxson

I will be starting a new semester of college this September, and I feel the best way for me to keep in touch with the Sangha is through regular correspondence with more experienced members of the Sangha. They can support and encourage me as one of the younger practitioners whose life circumstances and schedules prohibit closer involvement. I hope others will undertake something similar.

In particular, I would like to see mindfulness retreats held especially for younger people. At these retreats, three or four young persons of the same age could be “adopted” by a stable member of the Order of Interbeing. Throughout the year, they could write to each other—as brothers and sisters in the practice—and to their adopted spiritual parent, to share thoughts, feelings, and encouragement. Perhaps once or twice a year this small family could reunite, either as part of an individual retreat or in the context of a larger one.

I think this kind of practice could help many young people develop a sense of community and shared responsibility. It would also help older Sangha members become more skillful in the transmission of the teachings.

Jonathan Maxson, age 23, lives in Albany, New York.

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Growing in Mindfulness

By Sandro M. DuBois

For the last five weeks, I have tried to be mindful of one of the precepts daily for one week, trying to keep the broad idea in my mind and to realize how it might affect everything that I was doing throughout that day. I wish I could say that I was measurably successful. In truth, it has shown me how unmindful I can consistently be and it often makes me more judgmental. But the good news is that I have found, with practice, I can look for the Buddha becoming in myself, as well as in others, and I can become more mindful even if it is only for a few moments each day.

Since receiving the first books from Parallax Press last summer, there have been many changes in my life. Unfortunately, I am still too fat, half bald, and what little hair I still have is still grey. But I am more aware. And I am aware that it is possible and profitable to be mindful.

I was sitting before last summer, but since that time my sitting has become more productive, if less comfortable in some ways. You may consider adding to the preface of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books: “Warning: mindfulness directly affects your quality of life and the quality of being for all those you come in contact with, but honest mindfulness can be less than comfortable at times.”

I realize the precepts are not a promise that I will never, or always, do something, but they are not something I want to take without some understanding on my part as to what they really signify to me. Sometimes when one begins to look, begins to see new potential and avenues, there is a tendency to jump from one new idea to the next, wanting to take advantage of all of them. Additionally, often there is a fear of leaning on an idea and being hurt because it fails to bring a desired conclusion or effect. Trying to understand this, over the last several months I have developed a deep desire to practice one philosophy for the remainder of my life; to reach a better understanding of myself, my world and my role in that world.

My practice gives me great calm. It is alright for me to be where I am. It is alright to feel the pain and suffering in others and myself. It is often uncomfortable but this is acceptable because it leads to my being real in the present moment. I think, in many ways, it is hard to practice here, but it may be easier here than where you are. I bow deeply to the community for choosing daily to be who you are in the midst of so much distraction, challenge and opportunity. There is much violence here, most of it from fear and insecurity, from lack of understanding, and lack of an observable demonstration of a viable alternative. Which is very sad. At the same time, I believe there is much desire here to be more than we are. There is no one answer. There are only individuals practicing.

Sandro M. Dubois is a prison inmate in North Carolina.

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Manzanita Village Magic

By Richard Eaton

Living at Manzanita Village nourishes me deeply. There is no duality between daily life and daily practice. They are the same. When I cook, it is practice. When I do carpentry, it is practice. When I walk to the shed to get a tool, it is practice. Being mindful as often as possible in all activities—truly mindful, completely aware of what I am doing with focused, relaxed attention—that is the practice. The other part of practice is learning how to be gentle with myself when I forget. Compassion and metta.

Every day, I fall in love with the beauty of Manzanita Village. Its diversity is amazing. As the seasons change, the colors are astounding. The shades of colors in the trees and shrubs create a rainbow of earth tones. Wildlife abounds. A variety of birds sing throughout the day and night. Night songs are different from day songs. The birds’ songs are nature’s mindfulness music. Rabbits are everywhere and so are woodrats and a few much larger Norwegian rats. We hear coyotes at night occasionally and I have seen a few in the daytime out in the open ranch fields a mile away from here. We have heard that mountain lions are around, but I haven’t seen any sign of them, yet.

The skies here are just incredible—at sunrise and sunset, and all day long. The clouds shift and change constantly, and the blueness of the sky is so pure and clear that it is almost unbelievable. Even when there is cloud cover, the patterns that are created are something to behold. At night, when there is no cloud cover, you can’t miss the Milky Way. It just jumps out at you. Plus the sky has been painted with ten billion more stars than any city sky.

It’s been some time since I have had the opportunity to experience the remarkable openness of land space and sky space. How wonderful it is and how sad that it keeps being destroyed in the name of progress and technology. Will the human animal ever learn to stop defiling his nest—the planet earth? The ecology practice work that Christopher and Michele integrate into the meditation practice is helpful for finding ways to hold the sadness and grief around planet issues, both physical and social.

It is so easy to run out of adjectives when talking about the beauty of this land and its transforming and healing nature. I know that is true for any land when one takes enough time to truly be there, to be quiet enough, and stand still long enough to see and hear what the land has to show and teach. When people arrive here for retreats, filled with the energy of city life, I marvel at how Manzanita Village and the land work their magic. And I know that the healing will happen.

Richard Eaton is a resident of Manzanita Village, a retreat center in San Diego County, California. For further information about Manzanita Village, see Sangha News.

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Finding a Place

By Arnie Kotler

Inspired by our Dharma brothers and sisters at Maple Village, Manzanita Village, Upaya House, and Houston Zen Community, the Community of Mindful Living has been making efforts for ten years to find a place where a small residential community can develop a life of mindfulness practice together and share it with others. We envision a place large enough to offer meditation retreats for people of all faiths, as well as for young people and families, helping professionals, veterans, artists, environmentalists, and many others. We see, more clearly than ever, the importance of having a place as a center for the continuation and deepening of mindfulness practice.

In the Summer of 1984 at Plum Village, Thay suggested that we begin a “pilot community” for the practice of mindful living in the U.S. Since that time, we have been looking for land, but no property has seemed quite suitable yet. Over the last five years, with the help of friends and Sangha members in the Washington D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia areas, we have looked at many properties in Virginia, but we still have not yet found “it.” Our vision is for a place where about twelve permanent residents, to begin with, and a limited number of short-term residents can practice mindfulness together in each activity of daily life, including a regular schedule of sitting and walking meditation, communal meals, classes, precept recitations, and Dharma discussions. We also hope to set up a Dharma Teacher training program in the setting of a retreat.

We plan to continue doing the work that CML and Parallax Press have been doing to support mindfulness practice worldwide—publishing The Mindfulness Bell, and books on engaged Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, serving as a resource for those interested in learning about the Order of Interbeing, “Working Together for the Rejuvenation of Vietnam,” and writing workshops and retreats for veterans. Plans also include an agricultural program—flower, herb, and vegetable gardening—as well as the large task of maintaining the buildings and property. The programs will relate the practice to daily life and foster better relationships among families, partners, children, and community.

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At the San Francisco Airport before returning to France in November 1993, Thay told several of us, “I hope you find a place. It is important to have a place where people know they can go for the practice. The Buddha said, ‘It is like the ocean. You always know that the ocean is there. You always know you can go there and be refreshed and strengthened by the ocean.'”

While looking for land, we have had a number of criteria in mind: that the land be peaceful, serene, inspiring, and have the feeling of solitude (that seems to require about 100-125 acres, but it depends on the parcel); that most of the structures be already in place so we don’t have to wait to begin; that the seller appreciate what we are doing; that the land be within two hours of a major metropolitan area and within 90 minutes of a large airport, so retreatants from far away could come; that there be some open space and some forested area; that there be housing for twelve or so residents, 50-100 retreatants, a Dharma Hall for 250 or more, a large kitchen, a large dining hall, the possibility of tenting, and office space for Parallax Press and the Community of Mindful Living offices.

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Most of the properties we have seen list for $ 1 million and upwards, many three and four times that. Our hope is to find a property for $ 1 million and to raise the entire purchase price, as well as all of the funds needed for the first two years of operations: for (1) the work needed to complete the purchase (architectural, legal, etc.), (2) operating expenses, including property maintenance, food, supplies, and (3) capital purchases and structural improvements. This will bring the total needed to be raised during the next year to about $1.5 million.

Revenue sources will include retreats, workshops, and other programs; residents’ paying room, board, and tuition; some revenue from Parallax Press; and agricultural sales. To date, $150,000 has been raised or pledged to the CML Property Fund. Over the past ten years, other potential donors have expressed an interest in helping, and we will begin our fund raising efforts soon.

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If you know of a suitable property, would like to receive more information about our search, or would like to contribute towards our funding needs, please let us know. Tax-deductible checks earmarked “Property Fund” can be sent to Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707. Many, many thanks.


 

We need to establish retreat centers where we can go to from time to time to renew ourselves. The features of the landscape, the buildings, even the sound of the bell can be designed to remind us to return to awareness. The residential community there does not need to be large. Ten or fifteen people who emanate freshness and peace, the fruits of living in awareness, are enough. When we are there, they care for us, console us, support us, and help us heal our wounds. Even when we cannot actually go there, just thinking of the center makes us smile and feel more at peace.

The residents can organize larger retreats occasionally to teach the art of enjoying life and taking care of each other. Mindful living is an art, and a retreat center can be a place where joy and happiness are authentic. The community can also offer Days of Mindfulness for people to come and live happily together for one day, and they can organize study courses on mindfulness, conscious breathing, Buddhist psychology, and transformation. We must work together with everyone in peace and harmony. Using each person’s talents and ideas, we can organize retreats and Days of Mindfulness that children and adults love and want to practice more.

Most of the retreats can be for preventive practice, developing the habit of practicing mindfulness before things get too bad. But some retreats should be for those who are undergoing extreme suffering, although even then two-thirds of the retreatants should be healthy and stable for the practice to succeed. The depth and substance of the practice are the most important. The forms can be adapted. 

At the retreat center, we can enjoy doing everything in mindfulness, and our friends will see the value of the practice through us—not through what we say, but through our being. We can also enjoy the practice at home, at work, or at school. For the practice to succeed, we have to find ways to incorporate it into our daily lives. Going to a retreat center from time to time can help a lot….

Two thousand, five hundred years ago, the Buddha Shakyamuni predicted that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the ‘Buddha of Love.’ I think the Buddha of Love may be bom as a community and not just as an individual. Communities of mindful living are crucial for our survival and the survival of our planet. A good Sangha can help us resist the speed, violence, and unwholesome ways of our time. Mindfulness protects us and keeps us going in the direction of harmony and awareness. We need the support of friends in the practice.

—Thich Nhat Hanh
from A Joyful Path: Community, Transformation & Peace

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Vietnam: From Notion to Reality

By Therese Fitzgerald

As soon as Arnie and I joined Thay for a retreat in St. Petersburg, Russia, he encouraged us to join Sister Annabel for two weeks, visiting temples and other Buddhist Pilgrimage sights around Hanoi and Hue. We were hesitant at first to make such a long trip for such a short stay, but Sister Chan Khong encouraged us strongly, “You know Plum Village, but you know nothing of the real Vietnam.” So off we went November 5 to Hanoi via Hong Kong after a Day of Mindfulness in (snowy!) Portland, Oregon.

Hong Kong served as a helpful way-station between the West and the East. Walking around the city for a few hours between flights, we began to adjust the sounds of a tonal language, the physicality of massive crowds, and the sensation of a tropical climate.

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We arrived in Hanoi terrified of being searched or interrogated because of our affiliation with Thich Nhat Hanh. We had 30 books and tapes by Thay but, fortunately, none of our luggage was inspected. The ride from the airport past the rice fields at dusk was very calming before we entered the amazing chaos of Hanoi proper. Chuckles among the Westerners aboard turned into screams as the traffic thickened with cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists (transporting mattresses, bales of hay, whole slaughtered pigs, or baskets full of live chickens) swerved around each other in breathtakingly close shaves. Our driver remained unfazed as he leaned on his horn all the way to our hotel.

Arriving a day late, I had missed the visit to the leper colony that Sister Doan Nghiem of Plum Village had made with former School of Youth for Social Service worker and Order of Interbeing member Chan Phuong. Our group of eight Westerners and three Vietnamese from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe were joined by several nuns the next day to see two Buddhist temples in Hanoi and the famous Confucian Temple of Literature.

The following day, we traveled 160 kilometers southwest to Fragrant Mountain (Huong Tich) in Hoa Binh Province. In My Due, we boarded metal rowboats and drifted quietly through deliciously fertile waters while villagers gathered plants, snails, fish, reeds, and clods of mud for bricks. For the first time, I saw boats full of manioc roots—a food I had heard of so many times from letters about life for the poor in Vietnam. Later I would see fields of manioc growing on hillsides and marvel at the peasants who hiked far into the mountains to cultivate these roots. The steep, green-covered mountains beckoned us further until we docked our boats and started the short walk up the mountain to the Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong Tich) nestled there. Right away, I was aware of so many fragrances, the most prevalent and powerful being that of plumeria flowers on the trees and all over the path. “How sweet!” became the refrain.

We sat on beautifully carved Chinese-style wooden chairs having tea in tiny French-style demitasse cups with saucers with the 32-year-old head monk of the temple in the greeting room. Although jet lagged, I felt our good fortune to be in such an idyllic practice place. After three in the afternoon when all tourists departed by boat, a great quiet came over the mountain that was pierced by bird calls and the rumblings of very lively inhabitants rebuilding temples, creating makeshift shops along the main walking paths, and blasting caves. Early each morning and in the evening we enjoyed the penetrating sound of the monks chanting, “Namu Amida Buddha.” The head monk, however, alerted us to the fact that “although it may seem so easy and beautiful, life at the temple has been very hard. After so much destruction from the war,” he said, referring to the American bombing of the temple during the Japanese occupation around World War II, “it has been very hard to maintain this place, and Buddhist practice has not had much support over the last many years.”

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The next day after meditation and breakfast, we hiked up past several caves, temples, and shrines, including the Spring of Resolving Resentments shrine, to a fruit stand where we sipped fresh coconut juice out of the shell before walking down into the cave where it is believed that a princess, forbidden by her insensitive father to become a nun, took refuge in the cave for nine years and manifested as Avalokitesvara, anonymously giving her own arms and eyes to help her estranged father heal.

The next afternoon we hiked up to a temple that was being reconstructed and sat by the gate enjoying the vista of steep, lush mountains and valleys of rice fields and listened to Sister Annabel give a beautiful Dharma talk on love, including a detailed metta meditation practice.

Upon leaving Fragrant Mountain, we met again with the head monk as well as an 80-year-old venerable, whose curly fingernails were over an inch long, and the young monk expressed his delight that we had come to visit. He also asked us to come again, “Next time, perhaps you could join in the practices of the temple.” “That  would be wonderful, and we hope that you and your students could join us in our sitting and walking meditation,” Arnie responded with a smile.

Our pilgrimage also included a visit to Yen Tu Mountain, southeast of Hanoi, where True Lam Dai, the founding master of the Bamboo Forest Zen School and the former King Tran Nhan Tong of the late thirteenth century, lived and practiced. After a lengthy drive through crowded, bustling towns and long stretches of rice fields being harvested, we came to a dirt road that took us into the coal mining regions of the mountains near Yen Tu. Huge trucks tumbled past us loaded with coal and topped with workers, including young girls covered with soot wearing scarves over their faces that revealed only a twinkling smile from their delicate eyes. When I sighed with sympathy for these young girls working in the coal mines, Sister Doan Nghiem responded, “You want to help. It’s not so easy,” referring to the complicated economic reality of life in Vietnam. Young men completely blackened with coal washed themselves in the nearby stream.

Several times we bailed out of the vans to cross streams and deep ravines on foot. Once our van got stuck in the mud and only got out by the help of a big coal truck’s winch. Finally we reached the first temple of nuns, and we stayed at their nearby guest house during our two nights on the mountain. After a sumptuous meal of noodles and vegetables, we had a Dharma discussion and then walked to our rooms accompanied by the sound of the stream and the light of the ripening moon.

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Once back in Hanoi, Khanh and I made a visit to the temple of Sisters Dam Nguyen and Hanh Chau to see nearby schools and to visit families who cannot afford to send their children to school. This was my first time of finally touching the people with whom I have been in contact only through other people’s letters. I was very happy to sit on the tiny school chairs inside simple dirt-floor classrooms while the youngsters sang, including Thay’s song of the Two Promises of understanding and compassion. We held the babies and watched them play together. I remember seeing one mother lying with two infants in a hammock in a one-room thatched hut with a dirt floor which housed four, or seeing tattered clothing hung out on the line to dry. I knew we in the First World have so much to learn about “being content with just a few possessions,” and that we have something we can give to alleviate the widespread hunger and disease our Third World friends have to endure.

We took an all-night train from Hanoi to Hue, during which time the train jostled and stopped at stations where a high-pitched female voice “sang” out directions for what seemed to be a very long time. At sunrise, we looked out our windows to see gorgeous rice fields, lush mountains, and very red, wet earth. In Hue, we were met by our host, Anh Quan, a longtime worker in the School of Youth for Social Service, and we were taken immediately to Tu Hieu Temple where Thay Nhat Hanh studied as a novice.

The ride through Hue was surprisingly quiet and uncongested after cacophonous Hanoi. As we approached the area of Tu Hieu Temple, we were greeted by a colony of ancient steles on a hill before we reached the pine grove at Tu Hieu. I had seen these pines in a video, but now with fresh rain glistening on the black bark and soft green pine needles and soaking the rich red earth, I was awestruck by the gentle beauty. Our driver drove right through the curved stone gate and parked alongside the magical half-moon pond inside. Several of us got out and walked back outside the gate to enter on foot. Total peace and calm enveloped us as we walked up the path to the temple. The beauty of the cared-for floors, furniture, artwork, and courtyard was striking. We bowed before the main altar and the ancestral altar to show our respect and acknowledge our ancestral roots with this temple through our teacher, Thay or Su Ong, grandfather teacher, as he is known there. Every surface and object shone with caring attention. We walked in the courtyard full of bonsai plants in colorful pots and admired the 300-year-old starfruit tree and the ripe persimmons hanging over the delicately carved corner pieces of the roof. Everywhere we felt gratitude for such a lovely temple that supported our teacher’s practice as a young monk.

We were invited to a feast of wonderful tofu dishes, soup with lotus seeds, rice, special pickled leaves and olives, and “Vietnamese spinach” dipped in soy sauce. Afterwards, we walked slowly to Deep Listening Hermitage, built for Su Ong past a “garden” of steles through pine trees. Here we did sitting meditation and shared a few songs in Vietnamese and English. Two young monks walked slowly back to the main temple with me. One stopped and looked at me deeply, and asked, “Do you ever see Thich Nhat Hanh?” I felt his sincerity and answered softly, “Yes, I do.” “Do you ever speak with him?” Even more humbly, I answered, “I do.” There was a long pause, and I could see the tears in his eyes. He so longed to be near Thay.

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Later we went nearby (through torrential rain!) to visit the temple of Su Ba, Thay’s Dharma sister, who is very active in organizing schools for needy children in the area. The feeling at Su Ba’s temple, less richly furnished than Tu Hieu Temple but beaming with joyful nuns working together, was heartwarming. Su Ba’s direct, alert, and loving manner permeated everywhere. We sat down to another bountiful meal attended by the quiet, knowing hands of young nuns all around us.

The next day we set out early (but not early enough to bypass a mild interrogation about our activities by two local officials who “happened” to show up) to visit several social work projects in villages outside of Hue. After driving an hour, we parked the van and began walking down sandy paths towards some wetlands where we took bamboo boats to the village of Vinh Tai to see two kindergartens. This area had lost its rice crops two years in a row, once because of a flood and once because of drought, so the people were very poor. The children, earnest and sweet, had runny noses and their skin looked pallid. They seemed to have no school supplies whatsoever. Nevertheless, they sang their hearts out when their teacher asked them to do so for us. Each room had a drawing hung on the wall of “Uncle Ho” embracing children.

We then did an hour-long walking meditation along the mounds between rice fields, past dignified water buffaloes bathing in the water, to another village temple where people had gathered for a Morning of Mindfulness. Here Arnie gave brief breathing and walking meditation instruction translated by Khanh, and then, hand in hand, we all circumambulated the temple in walking meditation. We ended this enjoyable visit in a circle singing “Bong, Bong” in Vietnamese and “Breathing

In, Breathing Out” in English. After a visit to another temple where the villagers were also having a Day of Mindfulness, we did prostrations and had lunch to the sound of the Buddhist Youth Group playing some very exciting games outside.

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The team of four social workers who have been working with Thich Nhat Hanh and Sr. Chan Khong since the 1960s were eager to have us also see the Bridges of Love and Understanding that allow children access to nearby schools. So we were off in the van onto a very muddy road and up a mountain. After fortifying parts of the road with rocks, we finally came to a completely impassable section, at which time Anh Vinh, the social worker who had primary responsibility for the bridge project, leapt out of the van and began running up the road with Gerhard, the most able-bodied member of our group. It took a while before we caught up with them to say we could not all make the three-hour excursion, as it was already getting dark. After one more push to get the van out of a muddy ditch, we headed back to Hue to have dinner in the temple of the former abbot of Tu Hieu.

On our last day in Hue, Khanh and I ventured off to Quang Tri Province to visit Thay’s mother’s village, Ha Trung. As we rode down the long, flat road from Hue to the town of Quang Tri, our social worker friends quietly commented, “There has been much misery and death along this road during the war,” and the many graveyards along the way bore testimony.

When we approached the rice fields where Thay’s maternal grandfather’s grave was, an elderly man in traditional black attire, a relative of Thay, greeted us. I told him that Thay was “very well and helping many people.” As we passed buffalo boys and other children, I thought of Thay as a young boy, and I also thought of young Bao Tich, Thay’s one-year-old grandnephew, whose bright face I saw reflected in the toddlers at the makeshift school we visited. The teacher expressed a desire to have crayons for the children.

The social workers told us about the possibility of buying the plot of land across from the thatched hut schoolhouse to build a sturdy school. Anh Vinh said that it is important to have the local people contribute at least part of the funds, labor, or materials for such a project, and that that had not come through yet. “Maybe it is not even necessary to have a school building where no one will actually live. In this remote an area, there might be vandalism in an unoccupied building. It might be better to make use of an existing village center building, and think about constructing a simple temple where someone could live and take care of the place.” It was agreed that more meetings with the villagers were needed before a decision could be made. The social workers also described a plan for a statue of a Vietnamese Madonna to be sculpted and erected in Ha Trung.

On the way back to Hue, Anh Dinh suggested we visit the village of Linh Mai, where villagers have established self-support projects, such as embroidery work to be sold through an agent. We rode through villages and countryside until we came to a flooded road, and, not having enough time to make the trip on foot, we turned back.

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That afternoon, we had a wonderful Half-Day of Mindfulness at Tu Hieu Temple. Twenty young novices and monks and that many laypeople gathered with us as the abbot and former abbot offered incense. Arnie gave brief meditation instruction, and, after some sitting together, Arnie gave a Dharma talk translated into Vietnamese by Khanh, sharing many of Thay’s basic teachings—the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, stopping and calming, love and understanding, the Four Noble Truths—and describing Thay’s role in bringing Buddhism to the West. After the talk, walking meditation outdoors was enjoyable on the fresh, rain-soaked temple grounds. Our steps and breathing were accompanied by the rhythmical sound of novices chanting “Namu Amida Buddha.” Then we joined them in the main hall for walking meditation and chanting. Afterwards, we sat down to yet another sumptuous feast. Afterwards, the English-speaking monks gathered around us and shared their deep desire to study with Thay.

After dinner, we went to the Deep Listening Hut to recite the Five Precepts together in Vietnamese and English. I looked at the photo of Thay smiling under the “teaching tree” at Ojai, and I felt him smiling with us also. Among the many farewell statements was one by Anh Tri, who said that he was a little nervous when we set out for Vinh Tai, but the way we were quiet and walked so mindfully put the villagers at ease and helped the social workers’ relations with them. Arnie said that Vietnam had seemed very far away until this visit, and that “now it seems very close.” One of the monks, whose visa application to go to Plum Village was recently turned down by the government, interjected, in English, “Are you sure?” reflecting Arnie’s Dharma talk about confirming one’s perceptions and sharing the multifaceted nature of the reality of life in Vietnam. We parted from these dear monks and went across the road to bid farewell to Su Ba and the nuns there.

Arnie, Khanh, and I stayed up until midnight with the social workers discussing everything from their need for a xerox machine to how to do social work in mindfulness. We were deeply impressed with the social workers’ Sangha’s thorough communication and real concern about always coming back to the practice of mindfulness. I offered them the small bell from Plum Village we had been using along our journey, and we wished each other well.

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The drive the next morning to Danang Airport was one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. The road wound along the sea with vast expanses of rice fields and reached high into lush mountains and down again. I marveled at the breathtaking beauty and also mourned at the sight of mass graveyards along the way. “How could we have thought to come to this country in that way!” was a continuing refrain, one that is all the more vivid now that Vietnam has become a reality for me and not just a notion or image in my consciousness. I had known many details about the police-state nature of life in Vietnam, the religious and economic oppression, and so on, and that was not contradicted by my firsthand experience. But I also saw how hardy and resilient the people are and how their deepest desire is to continue to live close to the land, with familial and ancestral relationships intact. I began to feel all the sadder for our government’s and many government’s ignorance in sending troops to “destroy Vietnam in order to save it.” Arnie and I wished for the various presidents of the U.S. who had escalated the war could have traveled to Vietnam as we did and really seen the people and their beautiful country.

The image of Su Ba and her nunnery stays in my mind as a strong reminder of the capacity to realize one’s love of practice for the liberation of all beings in the midst of adversity. I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to have come in to contact with Thay’s fellow Dharma practitioners and the places that nurtured him as a child and a young monk. When one young monk said to us, “I am sad you are leaving, but I look forward to your coming again so I can practice with you,” my heart swelled with gratitude and awe that life can offer so much. So much given, so much received, so much to be given back.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is the Director of the Community of Mindful Living.

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Report on Work in Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong

Medical Care

The medical teams in the Thua Thien and Quang Tri areas  have made regular visits of up to 15 days per month checking up on the health of people in each village and hamlet. The Saigon team has been very effective during the last eight months visiting and helping many villages—Binh Hoa, Nam Binh Bac, Binh Thanh in Due Hue district Long An— where there is no medical care. These villages were flooded from mid-September to mid-November. All houses were destroyed, twelve persons were killed, and all crops were carried away by the water. Diarrhea, dysentery, and malaria were spread widely. The work of the physicians is pro-bono, but they spend $350 each visit for medicine and transportation.

The Hanoi team, headed by Thich Chon Phuong, has been giving support to lepers and their families. They also visit destitute sick people who have not means to go to the city for medical care.

Residential Schools

We continue our work to support hundreds of school classes in several poor mountainous villages near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Thua Thien, Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, and remote areas under the care of the Saigon Sangha—Baria, Xa Bang, Dong Nai jungle area—as well as Cu Chi and Suoi Nghe.

Feeding Hungry Children

The support for feeding children in residential school in Dieu Giac, Quang Ngai, Luong Mai, Loc Tri, Loc Hoa, Quang Tri, Ha Trung, and An Cuu
continues as well.

Self-Supporting Villages

Our seven well-trained social workers—Le Van Dinh, Le Thuc Quang, Hoang Vien, Nguyen Chi Tri, Le A, Le Ba Vinh, and Nguyen thi Cho—have gone to seven of the poorest villages in Thua Thien and Quang Tri provinces to improve the lifestyle of the peasants to help them be selfsupporting in the future.

In Luong Mai Village, peasants, inspired by the presence of our workers, have built a school and a nursery day-care center out of bamboo and palm leaves for their children. In the spirit of the School of Youth for Social Service, to encourage the villagers’ participation, we only pay the salaries of five of the six school teachers and the salaries for two of the four workers who care for the toddlers.

Local people will prepare a medicinal garden of herbal medicinal plants. They may receive a gift of $500 from us to improve the storage of herbal medicine. Our workers train people to use herbal medicine to heal themselves. For the diseases which need Western medicine, teams of physicians may come every month to improve the health conditions of the village.

Dinh, our School of Youth for Social Service worker, has set up two small workshops—one for the manufacturing of incense sticks, and one for the production of miso (fermented soybeans). Two rooms have been built to start a workshop for the production of grass mats. So far, they have spent $1, 800 instead of the $3, 000 planned for these projects.

In Loc Hoa Village/Thua Thien, we help the five day classes set up by the local people several years ago but which have been dysfunctional because the school teachers were too poorly paid ($2.50 per month!). We added $12 per month for the school teachers’ salaries. There was only one class in good shape set up by the local authority of Hamlet 3. To support the other four classes, we organized a meeting of the local people to stimulate their cooperation in giving better support to the school teachers. Now these classes are functioning well.

We also started two night classes for children who could not attend the day classes because they needed to work during the day to help their parents.

Our mobile medical team visits Loc Hoa weekly to help sick persons.

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The main work has been the improvements of the roads and bridges in this remote village backed by thickly forested mountains. People live in five groups separated by a large river and two creeks. We built one bridge in July, one in October, and one in December, 1994, to connect the five groups of people in this village.

We also tried to organize Days of Mindfulness for school teachers and local delegates to discuss the improvements of this village together.

The villages of Ha Trung, Trung An, and Tra Loc are in Quang Tri Province, the area separating North and South Vietnam, a part of Vietnam where people suffered the most during the Vietnam War. It was here that guerrillas from the north infiltrated the south via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The main national road between Quang Tri and Thua Thien was called “the boulevard of horror.” It was here that three villages—Ha Trung, Trung An, and Tra Loc—were bombarded several times. After the fourth bombardment of Tra Loc, the SYSS workers rebuilt it again because they wanted to show the war victims that they were not alone in their misery. Thay Nhat Hanh once pointed to the children in photographs from Ha Trung and Tra Loc Villages, saying, “Look at these children. All those people who were killed during the war have been reborn in these children.”

We were just able to buy a new house to make a school home for toddlers to stay all day and be given lunch. The school should be ready this month. Forty-eight toddlers are waiting to attend.

So far, the villages of Ha Trung, Tra Loc, and Trung An have not been very successfully helped because the social workers there are not very skillful (like the Hue social workers). No other work besides education has been done there.

We are preparing to set up an herbal medicinal garden in the front yard of the school site. Our workers will train people to use herbal medicine to heal themselves. The mobile medical team from Quang Tri City helps those with diseases that require Western medicine.

A workshop for the production of cypress mats will be set up.

I would like to help. Enclosed is my contribution for:
. Medical Care
. Residential Schools
. Feeding Hungry Children
. Self-Supporting Villages
. Human Rights Work

Name: ____________________
Address: __________________
Please make checks payable to the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, earmarked “Working Together for Rejuvenation in Vietnam” (WTRV).

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Monks’ Arrest

By Sister Chan Khong

Thich Nhat Hanh’s two closest friends, the leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBC)—Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do—were arrested in December. The police ransacked both their temples and took all their religious properties, including the Seal of the Unified Buddhist Church, transmitted to Thich Huyen Quang by the former Patriarch.

Thich Huyen Quang, the Vice President of UBC, is 77. After one week in jail in Quang Ngai City, he is now being held in an old, ruined temple in the Nghia Binh District 360 miles north of Saigon. He has been on a hunger strike for the release of eight monks who were arrested last year and the year before, and two monks (Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu) who have been detained since 1984. The names of all of these monks are in the letters that follow.

Thich Quang Do, the Secretary General of the Church, is 68 years old. We do not know where he has been taken. Thousands of you signed letters on behalf of Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu when we needed your help in 1988, and we succeeded in getting the government to commute their death sentences. It is certain that our actions can make a difference. Now, we need your help again.

Please photocopy and send the letters that follow—one to Vietnam and one to the White House. Please write the date in the upper left corner of each letter, then sign your name at the end and print or type your name and address below that. If you have access to a fax machine, it would be most effective to fax them to the respective leaders. If you cannot fax them, please mail them. (International air mail postage from the U.S. is still 500 for one-half ounce.) If you prefer to write letters in your own words, please do so, but we know that many of you do not have the time to do that and would find it easier just to sign the enclosed letters. The main point is the urgency of the situation. For the sake of these monks, quick and thoughtful intervention is imperative. If you cannot send all three letters, the one to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet is the most important.

Thank you very much for doing what you can to help these dear friends.

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Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet
Chairman, Council of Ministers
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Fax:011-844-259-205

Dear Prime Minister,

We would be grateful if you could allow Thich Quang Do, the General Secretary of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBC), to return to his Thanh Minh Temple; and Thich Huyen Quang, the Vice President of UBC, to return to his An Quang Temple in Ho Chi Minh City. We also earnestly wish you to release Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu and allow them to return home before Tet, as they have spent almost eleven years in jail.

Could you also please release Doan Viet Hoat, Thich Tri Tuu, Thich Hai Tang, Thich Hai Thinh (arrested in 1993), Thich Khong Tanh, Thich Tri Luc, and Thich Nhat Ban. Venerables Thich Khong Tanh, Thich Tri Luc, and Thich Nhat Ban were arrested in November 1994 for bringing flood victims food in trucks identified as belonging to UBC. This wonderful act of releasing the monks will prove that you are a great leader who honors religious freedom and human rights in your country.

Your openness on the economy and a number of other liberties has inspired and encouraged us to write this letter to you. Please allow UBC of Vietnam, established since 1963, to function normally and with freedom equal to the Buddhist Church of Vietnam established in 1981 with your support. In a free country there are many churches. It proves the broad view, tolerance, and grandeur of a regime. If your garden has only one kind of flower, it will be extremely monotonous and so sad. It is much more colorful and pleasant to have roses (The Buddhist Church of Vietnam), lotuses (The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam), tulips (the Protestant Church), daffodils (Catholic Church), and so forth. Please try to have as many flowers as possible in your national garden.

You will see that it is not difficult to do that, and your country will have more stability, peace, and good friends. We learned that the Unified Buddhist Church united the two major schools of Buddhism in the world: the Mahayana and Theravada traditions; it is not the unification of Buddhists from South, Central, and North. Vietnam like the Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

Thank you for everything you could do to help promote the respect of religious freedom in your country so that every time we think of Vietnam we could see the total beauty of your mountains, rivers, and your people…as well as its leaders.

Yours in peace,


 

President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Fax (202) 456-2461 or (202) 456-2883

Dear President Clinton,

We appreciate your lifting the embargo on Vietnam. As a result of more normal diplomatic relations, it is now possible for you to urge greater respect for human rights in Vietnam.

Please read the article by Philip Shenon in the January 9, 1995 New York Times on the recent arrests of Buddhist monks in Vietnam.

Thich Huyen Quang—the Vice President of the Unified Buddhist Church (that worked for peace during the Vietnam War), was exiled to a remote temple in ruins in a cold mountainous area 360 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City. Thich Quang Do was imprisoned January 5, 1995, in an unknown jail. We ask that you request the Department of State to work with Vietnamese authorities to encourage them to allow Thich Huyen Quang to return to his An Quang Temple in Ho Chi Minh City, and to allow Thich Quang Do to return to his Thanh Minh Temple in Ho Chi Minh City.

We also ask that you and the Department of State urge the Vietnamese government to release the following imprisoned monks: Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu (detained since 1984); Thich Tri Tuu, Thich Hai Tang, Thich Hai Thinh, and Thich Hanh Due (arrested in 1993); and Thich Khong Tanh, Thich Nhat Ban, and Thich Tri Luc (arrested in November 1994, for bringing flood victims food in trucks identified as belonging to UBC).

All of these monks have been detained solely for the nonviolent expression of their beliefs.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Yours in peace,

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Veterans’ Writing Workshops

By Therese Fitzgerald

During the recent days of writing in community with veterans, Maxine has invited us to contemplate the place that laws, commandments—precepts—play in our lives. She said there are only a few literary plots that are bases for organizing our ethical problems in stories.”No one can keep any precept perfectly. And that struggle—moral conflict—gives us drama. I sat on the Sproul Hall steps again at the 30th anniversary rally of the Free Speech Movement and thought about how I was going to keep the first precept, reverence for life, while teaching at Cal, the university that is responsible for the development of 90% of the new atomic weapons. We never run out of plots for stories, if we are aware of our struggles trying to live ethically.”

She illustrated a struggle to keep the second precept with the plot of Les Miserables as an investigation of priorities. “By not stealing bread from the baker, the father would have been stealing bread from his own children. When do I keep these precepts (or don’t) absolutely? In response to Proposition 187, many people worried that illegal immigrants were stealing jobs, food, and air from us (scarcity mentality). Nobody much looked at it as an opportunity to accept responsibility for people in real need. The drama of this precept is, if you take a place, you’re taking it from others. The third precept provides the drama of our love stories. It can also lead us into an examination of the ethics of pornography. The fourth precept is the basis of our writing workshops—deep listening and telling the loving truth. The fifth precept reminds us that we can choose to take in what’s good for us. This is our communion. We need to be responsible to take in the best air, for example.”

As a writing assignment, Maxine asked us to choose one precept and write a story about practicing or breaking this precept. Bob wrote how force and violence continue from father to son. Roman wrote how being an altar boy and being in the army seemed congruous. “I entered the army observing the first commandment, only I thought I’d be sending people to God. The enemy was bad, inhuman. It was either to kill or to be killed. I viewed the carnage not of human beings—even though their blood was red like mine, and their brains oozed out like mine—but not human, only something staged by the enemy to confuse us.”

Maxine observed that awareness of the precepts seemed to make everyone’s stories better by bringing an openness and honesty that had not been as evident in earlier efforts. The group as a whole has developed deep respect for one another and a trust in the group itself. Writing within the framework of the precepts has brought a new dimension to our writing. We have moved from emotional writing to writing with insight based on careful observation that gives the powerful personal stories universal appeal.

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In Gratitude

By Pauline Laurent

Finding this group was like finding part of my husband. I’m grateful.

Hearing the stories of Vietnam is giving me a glimpse of that mysterious war that took the man of my dreams and never gave him back.

As I hear about it and see the impact it had on you, I cry for you as well as myself. Your losses and mine melt together and become the backdrop against which we attempt to build a life after Vietnam—attempt to build with what’s left of our lives, a second chance.

As we write, we heal. As we read, we heal. As we sit in silence and allow memories to surface, we heal some more. As we heal, we become the instruments of healing.

Thank you for the courage to sit, to write, to read and to remember Vietnam.

Thank you for including me in your family and listening to my sorrow over having lost one of you.

Thank you, Maxine, for guiding us in this monumental task of healing. Thank you, Michael, for organizing such an unruly bunch as we are.

Thank you to all the nonveterans for the courage to sit with us and share your stories as well.

Blessed be your life.

Pauline Laurent is the widow of Sgt. Howard E. Querry, U. S. Army, 9th Inf. Div, K.I.A. 5-10-68.

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Announcements

A Taste of Plum Village: Practice as a Family

Charlottesville, Virginia, June 16-21,1995 During this five-day family retreat, we will practice mindfulness with our children and share energy, experience, inspiration and resources with each other. Teenagers are especially invited. Many members of the core community will be participating.

The retreat will take place in a rustic rural setting and the daily program will be based on the Plum Village summer family retreat schedule. Please plan to attend the entire retreat. Cost will be about $100/person (children 3 and under are free, like the birds). Registration is limited to 80 people and must be secured with a nonrefundable deposit of $100 by April 15. For further information and registration, please contact Fred Eppsteiner, 99 North Street, Naples, FL 33963, (813) 566-1769 or Ashley Cadwell, 69 Arundel

Plum Village Translation Equipment

Over the last several years, Plum Village has been using translation equipment engineered and built by our longtime friend, Chan Sinh, who passed away this last year. And, unfortunately, the equipment he built for us is also, after much transmission of the Dharma from Thay, starting to show definite signs of impermanence. So, plans are underway to design a new system that will hopefully have the capacity and durability to service our multilingual needs, especially during our summer openings, for many years.

Three main requirements are affordability, flexibility, and portability. Because of the former, we want a wired system. And some reconditioned (but guaranteed) used components, if available, could also be helpful in this regard. A versatile system is an absolute necessity due to the constantly changing needs of Plum Village. Lastly, because of how often the system will be moved (daily during summer openings), we want a system that uses European electrical current and is designed for mobility.

Some of you have expressed an interest in helping us with the design of this system, and we would like to encourage you to contact Brother Ivar at Plum Village as soon as is mindfully possible if this type of support is of interest to you. And, of course, if any of you have connections to suppliers, discounts, etc., that would also be helpful.

Also, at this time, we would like to send out a plea for help in funding this much-needed project. We know the system, in whichever form it manifests, will not be cheap. Any size donation would be most helpful, and any fund-raising effort you and/or your Sangha can creatively organize would help us all receive Dharma transmission reliably in the years to come. Please send your tax-deductible contributions to The Community of Mindful Living earmarked “Plum Village/Translation.”

Towards a Bhiksuni Order in the West
Plum Village, June 25-30,1995

In the last thirty years, women in the West have collectively felt their growing empowerment as they have realized that choices were available to them regarding the direction they wanted their life to take, whether to pursue a career, or combine both career and family, or career and committed relationship, in order to live happily. As we approach the year 2000, the additional option, available for many decades, of living in a spiritual community with others sharing the same values and goals is being reconsidered as a lifestyle for happiness.

A young generation of women now faces these choices. Some have confidence in their capacity to understand themselves and make wise decisions based on their self-understanding. Others are not so sure, and choose a path they think will bring them happiness because it has been followed by their mothers, sisters, relatives and friends for so long. Others are fearful and skeptical that individual peace and happiness are possible, aware of the enormous problems that couples, families and society face, and the suffering everywhere on this good planet, mother Earth. At some point along their path of awareness and growth, many women have realized that often what has held them back from realizing their full potential has been their misperceptions of who they are, what the world is like, and what is possible given the circumstances of their lives. In some cases, a spiritual master, nun, minister, priest, or rabbi, in other cases, a wise relative, kind friend, counselor, therapist, or teacher has assisted them in this growth of letting go of these misperceptions.

For generations, women have chosen the way of “renunciation” as a direction for their life, and have become nuns. In Buddhism, a person who is dedicated to transforming her own fear and suffering, and also helps all living beings do so as well, bringing great joy and happiness, is called a Bodhisattva, an awakened being. The way she or he chooses is the path of service through understanding and love. There are many Bodhisattvas in the world today: women, men, and children who are living in society, raising families, working and going to school, as well as many nuns and monks, helping people in countless ways. But the world needs many more.

This five-day retreat is an opportunity for nuns of all traditions to share their experiences of being nuns, and their aspirations and visions for the role of nuns in the future. We hope that the retreat will offer women of all ages a chance to explore the Bodhisattva path of nunhood as a way to realize their highest aspirations. Anyone interested in sharing her or his experience and learning from others is invited to attend: nuns, monks, laypeople, Buddhists, and non-Buddhists. The retreat program is modeled on the daily life of mindfulness and meditation practiced at Plum Village. For more information and registration, please contact Sister Eleni at Plum Village.

Peace Walk

The Peace Walk, which began on December 10th at Auschwitz, is proceeding into as many areas of conflict as it can. Led by Japanese monks and nuns whose practice is chanting and beating the drum, the walkers go through towns and cities which have suffered the devastation of war. In each area of conflict, the walkers hold a fasting day of chanting and prayer in an open area such as a town square. The group of walkers normally numbers about 70, composed of a core group of 30-40 and others who join for a portion of the walk.

Since leaving Vienna, the walk has gone into Bosnia, Croatia, Israel, and Jordan. In Mostar, Bosnia, the walkers held two fasting days, one on each side of a city whose bridges were blown up, dividing it into two cities, one Moslem and one Christian. The walk was supposed to proceed on the West Bank, but permits were denied. The walk from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad, Iraq was also cancelled because entry into Iraq was denied. In March, the walk will continue in India, Vietnam, and Hiroshima.

The Zaltho Foundation is seeking contributions to sponsor Vietnam War veterans to walk from Saigon to Hanoi in June. Please send tax-deductible donations to the Zaltho Foundation, c/o 321 Bedford Street, Concord, MA 01742. Checks should be payable to the Community of Mindful Living, earmarked “Peace Walk.” For more information, contact Andrew Weiss, 64 Winslow Road, Belmont, MA 02178, (617) 484-6499.

In the Footsteps of the Buddha

Shantum Seth, a longtime student of Thich Nhat Hanh will once again lead pilgrimages to the sites of the life of the Buddha in India and Nepal in December 1995 and February 1996. The pilgrimage will start in the monastic ruins of Nalanda and travel through Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Kushinagar, Kapilavastu, Lumbini, Sarnath and Sravasti. For further information, contact Aura Wright, 3439 N.E. Sandy, Suite 207, Portland, OR 97232, (503) 335-0794.

Passage

Jim Buglione, a resident of West Saugerties for twenty years and a student of Thay for many years, died on February 18 of heart failure at the age of 47. He is survived by loving parents, James and Jenny Buglione, a 102 year-old grandmother, aunts, uncles and many dear friends. The funeral and burial took place in Brooklyn, the original home of the departed. He was a Vietnam veteran, active in Veterans for Peace, and a participant at the Omega Institute for many years. Anyone who wishes to make a memorial donation in Jim’s honor should send a contribution made payable to: The Committee for Hungry Children of Vietnam to Anh Huong Nguyen, 10431 Adel Road, Oakton, VA 22124.

Mindfulness on the Mediterranean

A Sangha member, currently living in Germany, invites members of the community to use his home in Greece for mindfulness retreats. He plans to return to Greece in two years and help build a local Sangha there at that time. His wonderful home can accommodate about 20 people. It is located three hours outside of Athens, a ten-minute walk from the sea. For more information, please contact Walter Hundt, Droste-Hulshoff Str. 14, 57078 Siegeu, Germany.

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Right Livelihood Directory

Jonathan Maxson, a college student in Albany, New York wants to spend the spring and summer gardening and practicing right livelihood. He suggested the idea of a “Right Livelihood Directory” listing employers, workers, job openings, internships, and volunteer positions that maintain the spirit and integrity of the precepts. This could be an important step in encouraging mindfulness in one of the most critical dimensions of our daily lives. He believes it would be a blessing to many young people and careerchangers who believe that only a lucky few are ever able to do the work of their hearts and conscience.

Faculty Position in Engaged Buddhism

The Department of Religious Studies of The Naropa Institute is establishing a new M.A. concentration in Engaged Buddhism in the fall of 1995 and has an opening for a full-time faculty appointment. They are looking for someone who has a “seasoned Buddhist meditation practice, knowledge of Buddhist scholarship, direct experience in hospice or similar setting, and appropriate professional qualification.” For more information, please contact Spencer A. McWilliams, Vice President for Academic Affairs, The Naropa Institute, 2130 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80302-6697, (303) 444-0202, fax (303) 444-0410.

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Letters

Many thanks for a wonderful newsletter which has given me so many precious gems of thought and being. With each issue I am challenged and uplifted.
Patricia Williams
Santa Rosa, California

I’m reading For a Future To Be Possible and am, as usual, deeply moved by Thay’s understanding of human life, current Western life, and so many other things. I’m drinking up this book like a thirsty camel at a watering hole.

I sent my daughter a copy of the last Mindfulness Bell, and she was so pleased with it. There was not one “unreal” article in it. We both treasure it so much. May you thrive in the New Year and all the wholesome seeds you plant be watered and nourished.
Katharine Cook
San Francisco, California

I was glad to see the use you made in The Mindfulness Bell of that piece of mine on daily prayer. It’s a refreshing, helpful publication. Also it’s good to be in touch with others who in various ways have been helped by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was one of the great blessings in my life to travel and live with him from time to time in the 1960s and ’70s.
Jim Forest
Alkmaar, Holland

The article, “Healing Through Writing,” in the autumn edition caught my attention. I am an accredited journal consultant in the Intensive Journal method of journalkeeping developed by holistic depth psychologist Ira Progoff. It is a tremendous addition to ways of inner-life/out-life living and their correlation. I mention it to underscore the importance and reality of healing though writing. Thanks for the article.
Richard Crawford
Columbia, South Carolina

I am working on a Memorial Day peace program through the VVA. If possible, I would like to get a Buddhist flag for the project. There is a story in Being Peace of the fighting being stopped in Vietnam when the monks, flag in hand, led the refugees from the area. Therefore, our flag would be a good addition for the project.
Bruce Grubb
Columbus, OH

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To Thich Nhat Hanh, the nuns and monks and other members of the Community of Mindful Living who put their wholeness into organizing every graceful detail and into teaching me and the veterans—
I am grateful
to the Veterans for Peace members
who are allowing themselves to feel
and transform their suffering.
I bow in deep respect and say thank you
for taking the risk to be community leaders;
to my Sangha at home
for their ongoing presence and teaching;
and to myself, for being there, I am appreciative.
Gail Charpentier
Cambridge, Massachusetts

One thing I realized on the three-month retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre is that I am ever more grateful for the community. During the retreat, we heard a lot about Thich Nhat Hanh. Although the retreat was strictly silent, there were Dharma talks five nights a week. Our teachers gave us Thay’s poetry, read excerpts from his books and from Sister Chan Khong’s book. One of the teachers, Carol Wilson, had spent some time at Plum Village and spoke beautifully of her experience. In short, I felt I was sitting with you during the retreat. Those beautiful books which you work so diligently to publish are finding receptive hearts in many far-off places.
Jim Janko
Barre, Massachusetts

I just received my Dharma name and wanted to thank you. I feel that I found direction after the workshop in October at Omega Institute and I appreciate how you have humbly guided me to a peaceful mindfulness. I was so inspired that I am trying in every way possible to visit Plum Village to find a supporting Sangha which I often haven’t felt present in my environment.
Lael Rasch
Troy, New York

I spent New Year’s Eve in a Benedictine monastery where they host regular Zen retreats using Catholic prayers and chanting the Holy Mass instead of the sutras and Buddhist rituals. Father Jan, who leads the sesshin, used to be a Zen student before he became a Christian monk. Later, he was deeply inspired by Thay’s teachings. We plan to invite Thay to hold a retreat in this monastery.

I am finding my roots in Christianity and it feels beautiful. I remember that, before joining Zen practice, I felt really bad about not being able to practice meditation within Christianity as I felt no real need to change my religion. And now it seems I’m encountering it in a new way almost every day. It feels good, safe, and wonderful.
Dorota Golebiewska
Warsaw, Poland

My father is a clergyman, and it’s ironic that so many beliefs and religions claim that love is a key point in their faith, but they don’t show unconditional love or tolerance towards others. As a child and now as a man, I know that something important has been misinterpreted and overlooked in the religion of my father, and most Americans. This ignorance caused an unfulfillment and void in my spiritual development and may have played a small role in bringing me where I am today. Although I am at present a convict—eight years cut to four, two already done—I am for the first time accepting as truth the old saying, “One can make a difference, no matter where he is”—not just through words, but through example.

This may be a strong statement for many to accept. But I think Buddhism is the solution for criminals and potential criminals as well as crime-stricken communities across America. I have learned from firsthand experience that there are many seemingly unchangeable people who are living very negative existences in our society. But it could come as a surprise that many of these individuals have a spiritual side. I feel that if these people came into the knowledge of Buddhism, the violence and negativity in our society would be greatly reduced.
Darren L. Johnson
Raleigh, North Carolina

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You have given me something more than the books—your compassion has restored my faith and changed the course of my life. I have been in prison for four years now, and I have three-and-a-half more years. I know I have to make the transformation for myself through courageous loving kindness and compassion for others and for all beings as you have shown me. I want to stay out of prison. I’m in an Intensive Management Unit in the Oregon State Penitentiary after doing six months in Eastern Oregon’s Correctional Institute. The IMU unit is supposed to be for six months, but it’s so easy to turn six months into years, the guards here do so much dirt that it’s expected and accepted. Corrections is all about unfair and dishonest conduct and I am trapped here. I am going to keep reading your books, doing meditation, and some yoga. I am learning what it means to be devoted to truth and spiritual improvement. You have shown me through your books that there are alternatives. When I get out in 1998 and go back to California to live, I will pay you back for the books.

Thank you so much for The Mindfulness Bell. You can use any part of my letter that you feel would possibly influence someone in the free world to think that there are prisoners striving to transcend their old ways. I for one am making the effort to learn about and practice Buddhism. I have never in my life of 34 years encountered anything like Buddhism. It’s unreal the awakening that has taken place in me. I am having the Right View. My perceptions are of understanding. The  Buddha seeds in me are waking me up to the reality of life. With much practicing and lots of effort I will be able to touch others with the love I feel for Buddhism. My responses to the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong are of much love. My intention is to bring this love I feel in my heart to you all in the community in the form of
drawing.
Anthony Garcia
Salem, Oregon 

Thank you for responding to my interest in the Order of Interbeing. At present, I’m practicing with Boulder Zen Center and the Naropa Zen Group here in town and am contacting others about forming a precept recitation group. Meanwhile, my husband, and I recite them together monthly, and I am dreaming of a visit to Plum Village next summer.

Three years ago today, while doing walking meditation on a sidewalk, I was hit by an out-of-control jeep. In the months and years since then, while recovering from major injuries, regaining most brain functioning again, and immersing myself in practice, I’ve been profoundly aware of the “no accident” aspects of this accident. I’d just received the precepts barely six months before and had wept with joy and gratitude with the sense of homecoming. Between then and the accident, the precepts and daily practice, on and off the cushion, became the heart and soul of my life. I was so relieved to have found this way! During all the rehabilitation therapies, struggles with physical pain, and the pain of losing my brain as I knew it, the practice and precepts sustained, nourished, comforted, and guided me. I really think I’d be dead now, if not for this practice, both at the instant of impact and in the darkest periods after. I can’t even express my gratitude to Thay and Sister Chan Khong, nor to you all for the countless precious guidings you’ve unknowingly offered me.
Molly Gorden, Complete Satisfaction of the Heart
Boulder, Colorado

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Meditation for 1995

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and in mind.
May I be safe and free from accidents.
May I be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, fear, and worries.
May I know how to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn how to nourish myself with joy each day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I not fall into the state of indifference
or be caught in the extremes of attachment and aversion.

May you be peaceful, happy, and light in body and mind.
May you be safe and free from acccidents.
May you be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, fear, and worries.
May you know how to look at yourself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May you be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in yourself.
May you learn how to nourish yourself with joy each day.
May you be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May you not fall into the state of indifference
or be caught in the extremes of attachment and aversion.

May all beings be peaceful, happy, and light in body and mind.
May all beings be safe and free from accidents.
May all beings be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, fear, and worries.
May all beings know how to look at themselves with the eyes of understanding and love.
May all beings be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in themselves.
May all beings learn how to nourish themselves with joy each day.
May all beings be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May all beings not fall into the state of indifference
or be caught in the extremes of attachment and aversion.

—Thich Nhat Hanh

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Dharma Talk: Our Cosmic Body

By Thich Nhat Hanh

August 24, 2014
European Institute of Applied Buddhism

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Dear Sangha, today is the 24th of August 2014. We are on our last day of the retreat “To Understand Is to Love.” Later you will go back to France and to Holland, and you should continue your practice. I want to give the children some homework. It’s not urgent. Take your time, do it with joy. You are not under pressure.

Brother Phap An will have this bag of seeds for you. There are many seeds of corn in this bag. This is not to make popcorn; this is to do homework. Each of you will receive one seed of corn. In this little seed of corn, there is quite a bit of knowledge, understanding, and art. If you give it a chance, the seed of corn will sprout and bring forth several beautiful leaves. It will send many roots deep into the soil. After receiving your seed, you should take it home and plant it in a small pot. Be sure that the soil is damp. You may like to water it a little bit every day. One day, the seed will sprout. This is a miracle. It will begin to send down a root; it will send up a stem with one, two, three leaves.

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Here is a plant of corn planted and grown by the sisters of the New Hamlet of Plum Village. Although it is big now, it began as a small seed. After a while, you don’t see the seed anymore, but you know that the seed hasn’t died. If the seed dies, no corn plant is possible. So when you don’t see something anymore, don’t hurry to say that it has died. It has just transformed itself into another form. When you don’t see a cloud in the sky anymore, don’t say that it has died. It is always here in another form. Your cloud is here, it continues always. So our conclusion is, nothing can die.

When you grow up and study science, you will learn that scientists also say that nothing can die. This morning when we chanted the Heart Sutra, we chanted, “Nothing is born, nothing dies.” So the seed of corn has not died; it has become a plant. It does not retain the form of a seed but the seed is always there. If you look deeply into the plant of corn, you can still see the seed everywhere in the plant. Originally, the seed was small and yellow in color, but now it is big and green. But if you are intelligent, when you look at the corn plant, you can see the seed of corn still there. You can say, “Hello, my little seed of corn. I know you have not died. I can see you in the plant of corn.” You can tell her, “My dear little plant of corn, do you remember when you were a tiny seed?” The plant of corn may be surprised. It may say, “Me? A little seed? I don’t believe it.” You know that your beautiful plant began as a little seed because you planted it in a little pot. Your homework is to try your best to convince your corn plant that she began as a little seed. Eventually, your plant of corn will agree with you.

We Began as Seeds

You are a little boy or a little girl. You also began as a little seed. The seed that was you was much smaller than the seed of corn. One day your father and your mother prepared that seed and planted it in the womb of your mother. Half of that seed is your father and half is your mother. That was your beginning, what we call your day of conception. And from that day, you grew quickly. You stayed in the womb of your mother for about nine months. In there you grew until you didn’t have enough space. Then you gave a kick to show you were getting ready to come out.

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But the time in the womb of our mother is the most wonderful time. It’s not too warm; it’s not too cold. The weather is perfect in there. You are floating in a liquid, so soft, so comfortable. It is like a paradise. You don’t have to worry about anything. You don’t need to breathe, you don’t need to eat, you don’t need to drink, because your mother is doing all of that for you. There’s a long cord linking you to your mother, called the umbilical cord. You receive air, food, and drink through that cord. When you are born, the cord is cut and you have to be on your own. It’s a very difficult moment. You have to try to breathe in and out by yourself for the first time. There is some liquid in your lungs, which you have to spit out so you can breathe. It is not an easy moment. You suffer. That is why you cry.

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Now you have grown up into a little boy or a little girl, and you may have forgotten that you began as a tiny seed. You know that seed comes from your father and your mother. You have not begun from nothing. You are a continuation of that seed. So it is wrong to think that father and mother are only outside of you. Father and mother are also inside of you. In your body, there are billions and billions of cells, and father and mother are fully present in every cell. You carry your father and your mother into the future. One day, your father and your mother may seem to die. But that will not be true, because they are always alive in you. Thanks to you, your father and your mother will go far into the future.

Next year when you come to the retreat, please report to Thay on your homework assignment.

What Happens When We Die?

Dear friends, this year in Plum Village, we had a twenty-one-day retreat in the month of June. The subject was, “What Happens When We Die?” In our daily life, we are too busy to think about that, but deep inside us, we know that we will die one day. There are those who say that it’s not healthy to spend your time thinking about death. But to meditate on death is a very beneficial act. If you understand the nature of death, you’ll become very alive. You will enjoy every moment that is given you to live. Everyone who understands death is a hero. You have to have powerful mindfulness and concentration in order to experience a breakthrough.

In Buddhism, sometimes we use images when we meditate. We can visualize a wave on the surface of an ocean. Every wave has her wave body and the wave body is fragile and impermanent, subject to being and non-being, subject to birth and death. But looking deeply, we see that every wave also has her ocean body. Her ocean body is not outside of her. Her ocean body is inside of her; she doesn’t have to look for it. If the wave recognizes her ocean body, she will no longer be scared. She is free from the notion of being and non-being, birth and death.

We have our physical body, but that is not our only body. We also have our cosmic body. Everything from the cosmic body has produced this physical body. The cosmic body is like God, the ultimate. If you are able to touch your cosmic body, you are no longer afraid of being and non-being, birth and death. So a practitioner of meditation needs to meditate on this important issue and be free of fear.

In the Buddhist tradition, there is the wonderful teaching of interbeing. A typical example is this sheet of paper. The sheet of paper manifests itself as having recto, verso, a left and a right. The left cannot be by itself. The left has to lean on the right in order to express herself. And the right cannot exist by herself. The right has to lean on the left in order to express herself. That is true with everything, including birth and death. Birth cannot be by itself. Birth has to lean on death in order to manifest itself. Death cannot be by itself. It has to rely on birth in order to manifest itself.

When we look into our body, we see that birth and death manifest together every moment. If there is no death, there will be no birth. Many cells are dying this very moment. Death is happening now, not in the future. Because of the death of many cells, other new cells are possible. It’s clear that the birth of new cells relies on the death of old cells. Birth and death like to be with each other. There can never be birth without death, and there can never be death without birth.

The death of a cloud means the birth of the rain. Birth and death inter-are. This is a very deep teaching. On the surface, it seems that there is birth and death, but looking deeply, we see that there is no birth and no death.

The first law of thermodynamics tells us that you cannot create new matter or energy and you cannot destroy matter and energy. That is the law of conservation of energy and matter. You can transfer one form of matter into another form of matter. You can transfer matter into energy. You can transfer one form of energy into another form of energy. And you can transfer energy back into matter. So science has discovered that the nature of reality, namely matter and energy, is the nature of no birth and no death. But so far, that discovery has been applied only to technology. It has not been applied in psychology to help us overcome our fear. We need to do this because when we overcome the notion of birth and death, we have a lot of freedom and we can enjoy every moment of our daily life.

The Removal of All Notions

In Buddhism, we speak of two levels of truth: the conventional level and the ultimate level. On the conventional level of truth, there is birth and death, being and non-being. But looking deeply, we discover the ultimate dimension of truth and we find that there’s no birth, no death, no being, no non-being. Right view, which is the foundation of the Noble Eightfold Path, is a kind of vision, a kind of insight that is described as the absence of the notion of being and non-being. The Katyayana Sutra is a short but very famous sutra on emptiness. In it, the Buddha described right view as a kind of insight that is free from the notion of being and non-being. The Buddha told the monk Katyayana that most of the people in the world are caught either in the notion of being or in the notion of non-being. If you look deeply, you’ll be able to overcome the notion of being and non-being, and you will get a lot of freedom.

We imagine that there is a flow of time from the left to the right. [Draws on the board.] This is the direction of the past, and that is the direction of the future. Every one of us has a birth certificate and we believe that we began the moment we were born. That point can be called B, or birth. Most of us think that before point B, we did not exist. Before I was born, I was not here. So before point B, we belong to the realm of non-being. From point B on, we pass into the realm of being. The Buddha called that wrong thinking. Your thinking is caught in the notions of birth and death, being and non-being.

Imagine the birth of a cloud. Has a cloud come from the realm of non-being? Before expressing herself as a cloud, she has been the water in the ocean and the heat generated by the sun, and so on. So the birth of a cloud is really a continuation. It’s not a moment of birth; it’s a moment of continuation. The birth of a child is a continuation of the father and the mother. So our birthday can be considered a continuation day. Next time you celebrate your birthday, instead of singing, “Happy Birthday,” sing, “Happy Continuation Day.”

And can you imagine the cloud dying? Do you think that when the cloud dies, it passes from the realm of being into non-being? It’s obvious that the cloud cannot die. A cloud can become rain or snow. So the moment of death is also a moment of continuation. There’s no reason to cry. Because it is a moment of continuation, it can be a very happy moment. If you have the insight of no birth, no death, you can die happily without fear. You know that you are free from being and non-being, birth and death. It’s wonderful to be a cloud floating in the sky, but it is equally wonderful to be the rain falling on the ground. So the death of a cloud can be a joyful moment––it becomes the rain and falls joyfully on the ground. Not only is the birthday a continuation day, but the death day is also a continuation day. The birth of something is the death of something else. The death of something means the birth of something else. They always go together.

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Conceiving point B is the beginning of many kinds of problems. Since point B exists, another point also exists. It is the point D, death, because birth cannot be without death. You believe that from point B, you belong to the realm of being until the time you come to point D. From point D, you pass from the realm of being into the realm of non-being. That is why the two pairs of notions––birth and death, being and non-being––manifest together. If we are able to remove one pair of notions, we can also remove the other pair. In its highest form, right view as the basis of the Noble Eightfold Path transcends the notions of being and non-being, birth and death. The teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path may look very practical and simple, but it is also very deep.

When you are able to remove all these notions, you have a great deal of freedom and you can touch the ultimate in you. God is the ultimate. God is the removal of all notions. You cannot describe God in terms of being and non-being. There are theologians, like Paul Tillich, who say that God is the ground of being. That is not a good definition. If God is the ground of being, who will be the ground of non-being? That is why “To be or not to be?” is not the question.

No Coming, No Going, No Sameness, No Otherness

Two other pairs of opposites can help us look more deeply into the reality of nature: coming and going, sameness and otherness. These are concrete subjects of meditation.

Suppose we meditate on the subject of a little flame. We do not see the flame, but we do not say that the flame belongs to the realm of non-being. The flame is there somewhere, hidden in many of its conditions. Conditions of the flame’s manifestation are both inside and outside the box of matches. One condition for the flame’s manifestation is oxygen. If there is no oxygen, a flame cannot manifest. So we can talk to the flame because it does not belong to the realm of non-being. “My dear little flame, I know you are there somewhere. Please manifest yourself.” You can hear the flame telling us, “Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I am ready to manifest, but I need a last condition: the movement of your finger.” So we are providing the last condition for our flame to manifest. [Lights a match.]

This flame has not come from the realm of non-being and it will not go back to the realm of non-being. This flame is free from the notions of being and non-being, birth and death. We may ask, “Dear little flame, where have you come from?” The flame will tell us. You can hear it very clearly. “Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I have come from nowhere. I have not come from Amsterdam. I have not come from Frankfurt. When conditions are sufficient, I just manifest. My nature is non-local.”

We know that the flame has told us the truth. Her true nature is the nature of no coming. The nature of your beloved one also is the nature of no coming. When you fall in love with someone, you may ask her, “Darling, where have you come from? You are such a wonderful manifestation.” When you love someone, you think that one day she will have to die and she will go away. That is the birth of anxiety. The basis of anxiety is being and non-being, coming and going. Coming may mean coming into existence. Going may mean going out of existence. When your beloved one is no longer there, you say, “Darling, where have you gone? Why did you leave me alone like this?” Even before she leaves you, you have anxiety, which causes you to suffer.

Now we ask the flame, “Darling, where have you gone? You have manifested for us and now you are no longer visible, so where have you gone?” You can hear the flame telling you, “Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I have not gone anywhere. I have not gone to Amsterdam. I have not gone to Frankfurt. When conditions are no longer sufficient, I stop manifesting. My nature is no coming, no going.” That is true with everything, including ourselves.

We ask the flame to manifest again. [Lights a match and uses it to light a candle.] And we create another flame. We ask this flame, “My dear little flame, are you the same flame that manifested before, or are you a totally different flame?” This flame will tell us, “Dear Thay, dear Sangha, although I am not the same flame as the other one, I am not a totally different flame either. I am somehow the continuation of the other flame.” We can keep this candle lit for one hour, and we believe that we see the same flame. But that is not true. There is a series of flames, which succeed one another. The flame is not a self; it is only a series.

Everything manifests not as a self but as a series. When you look at your family album and see yourself as a five-year-old boy or girl, you may ask, “Am I exactly the same person as that little boy or girl, or am I a different person?” Of course, you still have the same name as that child, but things have changed so much. You look so different. Are you identical to him or her, or are you another person? Although you are not the same person, you are not a totally different person either. That is the truth of no sameness, no otherness. We think that we always remain ourselves; the one who is born and the one who is going to die is exactly the same. But sameness and otherness is a wrong view in the same way that being and non-being is a wrong view.

Anathapindika

There was a layperson in the time of the Buddha whose name was Anathapindika. He bought a beautiful park from a prince and offered it to the Buddha to make a practice center. On the day of Anathapindika’s death, the Buddha sent two beloved disciples to help him to die peacefully. When Anathapindika saw the two monks coming, he was so happy. He tried to sit up, but he was too weak. Shariputra was one of the most intelligent disciples of the Buddha, and he was accompanied by the venerable Ananda, his younger brother in the Dharma. The two monks said, “Dear friend, don’t try to sit up. Continue to lie down. We will bring our chairs close and talk with you.”

When the two monks were seated, venerable Shariputra asked, “Dear friend, how do you feel in your body? Is the pain in your body increasing or decreasing?”

Anathapindika said, “Dear venerables, it does not seem that the pain in my body is decreasing. It is increasing all the time.”

When Shariputra heard that, he offered a guided meditation on the Three Jewels––Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This practice is called the three recollections. He knew that Anathapindika had spent many decades serving the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and he had gotten a great deal of pleasure doing so. The practice is to water the seed of happiness in the dying person so it will counterbalance the pain in his body. When his mind is focused on the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, seeds of happiness manifest, so he does not think of the pain in his body. He began to smile. This is a very intelligent practice. If you are to sit near the bed of someone who is dying, you may like to practice watering the seeds of happiness and joy in him or in her, in order for him or her to suffer less.

After that, Shariputra gave him a guided meditation on the six sense organs. “Breathing in, I know this body is not me. I am much more than this body. Breathing in, I know that this consciousness is not me. I am much more than this consciousness.” We know that there are six sense organs: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The purpose of the meditation is to help a person see that he is not limited to the six sense organs.

Shariputra continued with the meditation on no coming, no going. When conditions are sufficient, the body manifests. It has come from nowhere. When conditions are no longer sufficient, the body ceases manifestation. It does not go anywhere. The meditation is to help a person touch his nature of no coming, no going, no birth, no death.

At that point, the layman Anathapindika began to cry. The venerable Ananda asked him, “Dear friend, why do you cry? Do you still regret something?”

“No, venerable Ananda, I don’t regret anything.”

“Maybe you do not succeed well enough in your guided meditation?”

“No, venerable Ananda, I do it very well.”

“Then why do you cry?”

Anathapindika said, “I cry because I am so moved. I have been serving the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha more than three decades. I have never received and practiced such a wonderful teaching, the teaching of no birth, no death, no coming, no going.”

Ananda said, “Dear friend, we monastics receive this kind of teaching almost every day.”

Anathapindika said, “Dear venerable Ananda, please go home and tell our teacher that many of us laypeople are so busy that we may not have the time to receive and practice this wonderful teaching. But there are many of us who are capable of receiving and practicing it. So please tell our teacher that he should also offer this teaching to laypeople.”

Venerable Ananda said, “Yes, I will go home and tell the lord.”

That is the last request made by the layman Anathapindika. After that, he passed away peacefully and happily.

This sutra is called The Teaching Given to the Dying. It is available both in the Pali canon and in the Chinese canon. It is available in the Plum Village chanting book. If you are a doctor or a nurse or someone who assists dying people, you may like to learn from the way the venerable Shariputra helped the layperson Anathapindika to die peacefully.

For video and audio of this talk, go to: http://tnhaudio.org/2014/09/21/our-cosmic-body/

Transcribed by Natascha Bruckner; edited by Barbara Casey

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Letter from the Editor

mb67-editor1Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

In November 2014, when we learned that our beloved teacher was in the hospital, many of us found an opportunity to deepen our practice.

We called on the Buddha within, the Dharma that has been planted and taken root in us, and our Sangha family. We renewed our vow to breathe mindfully, to walk mindfully, to speak lovingly and listen deeply. We channeled the merit of these actions with our deep compassion and prayers to our teacher to nourish his well-being. Dharma teachers reminded us to trust in Thay, trust in our practice, trust in the Sangha. Thay continues to remind us, in gentle yet resounding words such as the ones in this issue’s Dharma talk, that “if you are able to touch your cosmic body, you are no longer afraid of being and non-being, birth and death.”

Thay’s legacy and the Buddha’s legacy of compassionate wisdom is fully alive in students who embody the teachings. We are fortunate to be part of a Sangha body with many wise and kindhearted Dharma teachers. This issue offers the gift of Dharma from two well-loved senior teachers––Thay Phap An and Sister Annabel Laity (True Virtue), who serve respectively as the Dean of Education and the Dean of Practice at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) in Germany. Here, they share ancient wisdom from our spiritual ancestors and make it userfriendly for modern daily life.

The EIAB is a focus of this edition, with a wonderful collection of articles that show how Thay’s vision of Applied Buddhism has come to life and how a place of violence and discrimination has been transformed into an exceptional practice center. Sister Bi Nghiem and Sister Anh Nghiem were instrumental in gathering these articles and their collaboration was kind and generous. Sister Bi Nghiem said, “During the Vietnam War Thay had founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University, Saigon (which we visited during Thay’s first trip to Vietnam). For at least two decades, Thay held in his heart the vision of a Buddhist Institute or University in the West. With the foundation of the EIAB in 2008 near Cologne, Germany, Thay has planted the seeds for the realization of his dream.”

Many other manifestations of Applied Buddhism are shared in this issue. Joanna Macy and Jack Lawlor show us what a long-term, collective commitment to engaged spirituality and Earth-loving activism look like in real life. A practitioner tells how her commitment to reverence for life benefited both animals and hunters. And we learn how a sit-a-thon and a book club are having far-reaching and wonderful effects.

Roshi Joan Halifax, a student of Thay’s, has said, “The awakened Way is unsurpassable. Nothing is greater than awakening to the fact that you and I abide in ultimate closeness.” We know our beloved teacher is not outside of us. May each of us nurture the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha within us and around us, paying homage to Thay and the Buddha by devoting our hearts and hands to the awakening of all beings.

With love and gratitude,

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True Ocean of Jewels

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Letters

Thank you for your marvelous climate change issue [Autumn 2014] and special thanks to Sister Jewel for her skillful interview with Charles Eisenstein, who came to the truths of interbeing and non-separation from outside the Buddhist tradition. His deep thought on these subjects and on our need for a new paradigm, a new story, gave me rich inspiration for my practice.

In gratitude,
Donna Thomas

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These are trying days for us practitioners in the Plum Village tradition, with our beloved teacher, Thay, confined in a Bordeaux hospital with serious illness. The news about Thay’s hospitalization was especially painful for our Sangha friends in Japan, who had been working hard in preparing for the 2015 Thich Nhat Hanh Japan Tour, for they were confronted with the possibility that Thay would not be able to make the trip to speak directly to his followers in Japan, including educators and health care professionals, who have been waiting for his visit for almost twenty years since his last visit. Among the events scheduled for Thay during the 2015 Japan tour is a five-day retreat, “Peace Is Every Step,” which will be held May 2-6 in a beautiful holiday park at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

Our Sangha friends in Japan have decided to hold the five-day retreat as planned, for the work they do to plan for it has become their practice in the Plum Village tradition—to heal and transform the pain they feel inside into the energy of mindfulness to spread Thay’s teachings. It was Thay himself who reminded members of the Japanese Sangha who were at Plum Village for the summer retreat that the work they do planning and preparing for his visit is a form of practice involving deep listening and loving kindness. As ones who have been given opportunities to work with them closely for the last couple of months, we would like to share this story about our Sangha friends in Japan, for they have transformed their pain into a positive energy to concentrate on their work here and now, fully embracing Thay’s teaching that they are the continuation of the Buddha, that one Buddha is not enough.

For more information about the 2015 Thich Nhat Hanh Japan Tour, please visit: http://tnhjapan.org. Information about how to register for the May 2-6 retreat will be posted at the following website: http://pvfhk.org/index.php/en/.

Tetsunori and Hisako Koizumi
Blue Heron Sangha, Columbus, Ohio

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The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Retranslation of the Heart Sutra

September 11, 2014

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Avalokiteshvara, 
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the Five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realization
he overcame all ill-being.

“Listen, Sariputra,
this body itself is emptiness,
and emptiness itself is this body.
This body is not other than emptiness,
and emptiness is not other than this body.
The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, mental formations,
and consciousness.

“Listen, Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no birth, no death,
no being, no non-being,
no defilement, no immaculacy,
no increasing, no decreasing.
“That is why in emptiness,
body, feelings, perceptions,
mental formations, and consciousness
are not separate self entities.

“The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena,
which are the six sense organs,
the six sense objects,
and the six consciousnesses,
are also not separate self entities

“The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the causes of ill-being,
the end of ill-being, the path,
insight, and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

“Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.

“Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions,
and realize perfect nirvana.

All Buddhas in the past, present, and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
authentic and perfect enlightenment.

“Therefore, Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a great mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the true wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore:

“Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!”

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Reasons for Thay’s Retranslation of the Heart Sutra

A Letter from Thich Nhat Hanh

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Dear Family,

The reason Thay must retranslate the Heart Sutra is because the patriarch who originally recorded the Heart Sutra was not sufficiently skilled with his use of language. For this reason, it has caused much misunderstanding for almost two thousand years.

Thay would like to share with you two stories: the story of a novice monk who paid a visit to a Zen master, and the story of a bhikkhu who came with a question to the Eminent Master Tue Trung.

One

In the first story, the Zen master asked the novice monk:

“Tell me about your understanding of the Heart Sutra.”

The novice monk joined his palms and replied:

“I have understood that the five skandhas are empty. There are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; there are no forms, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, or objects of mind; the six consciousnesses do not exist, the eighteen realms of phenomena do not exist, the twelve links of dependent arising do not exist, and even wisdom and attainment do not exist.”

“Do you believe what it says?”

“Yes, I truly believe what it says.”

“Come closer to me,” the Zen master instructed the novice monk. When the novice monk drew near, the Zen master immediately used his thumb and index finger to pinch and twist the novice’s nose.

In great agony, the novice cried out, “Teacher! You’re hurting me!” The Zen master looked at the novice. “Just now you said that the nose doesn’t exist. But if the nose doesn’t exist, then what’s hurting?”

Two

The Eminent Master Tue Trung was a lay Zen master who had once served as the mentor for the young King Tran Nhan Tong in thirteenth-century Vietnam. One day, a bhikkhu paid him a visit to ask him about the Heart Sutra.

“Respected Eminent Master, what does the phrase ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form’ really mean?” At first the Eminent Master remained silent. And then, after a while, he asked:

“Bhikkhu, do you have a body?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then why do you say that the body does not exist?”

The Eminent Master then continued, “Do you think that in empty space there is form?”

“No, I do not see that there is form.”

“Then why do you say that emptiness is form?”

The bhikkhu stood up, bowed, and went on his way. But the Master summoned him back in order to recite to him the following gatha:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
is a skillful means created temporarily by the Buddhas of
the three times.
Emptiness is not form, form is not emptiness –
Their nature is always pure and illuminating, neither
caught in being nor in non-being.

In this story the Eminent Master Tue Trung seems to contradict the Heart Sutra and challenge the sacred formula “form is emptiness and emptiness is form,” considered inviolable in the Prajñaparamita literature.

Thay believes that the Eminent Master went too far. The Master was not able to see that the mistake doesn’t rest in the formula “form is emptiness.” Rather, it resides in the unskillfulness of the line, “Therefore, in emptiness there is no form.” According to Thay, the way in which words are used in the Heart Sutra, right from the beginning up to the line, “no birth, no death, not defiled, not immaculate, not increasing, nor decreasing,” is already perfect. Thay’s only regret is that the patriarch that recorded the Heart Sutra did not add the four words “no being, no non-being” immediately after the four words “no birth, no death,” because these four words would help us transcend the notion of being and non-being, and we would no longer get caught in such ideas as “no eyes, no ears,  no nose, no tongue …” The nose of the novice monk is still sore, even today. Do you understand?

The problem begins with the line: “Listen Sariputra, because in emptiness, there is no form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.” (1) How funny! It was previously stated that emptiness is form, and form is emptiness, but now you say the opposite: there is only emptiness, there is no body. This line of the sutra can lead to many damaging misunderstandings. It removes all phenomena from the category “being” and places them into the category of “no-being” (no form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, or consciousness …). Yet the true nature of all phenomena is the nature of no being nor non-being, no birth and no death. The view of “being” is one extreme view, and the view of “non-being” is another extreme view. It is because of this unskillfulness that the novice monk’s nose is still sore.

The famous gatha ascribed to the sixth patriarch Hue Nang (Hui-neng), in which he presented his insight to the fifth patriarch Hoang Nhan (Hung-jen), also expresses this notion and is also caught in the same wrong view:

Originally, there is no Bodhi tree
The bright mirror does not exist either
From the non-beginning of time nothing has ever existed
So where can the dust settle?

A white cloud passes by and hides the mouth of the cave
Causing so many birds to lose their way home.

The insight of prajñaparamita is the most liberating insight that helps us overcome all pairs of opposites such as birth and death, being and non-being, defilement and immaculacy, increasing and decreasing, subject and object, and so on, and helps us to get in touch with the true nature of no birth/no death, no being/no non-being, etc., which is the true nature of all phenomena. This is a state of coolness, peace, and non-fear that can be experienced in this very life, in your own body, and in your own five skandhas. It is nirvana. “Just as the birds enjoy the sky, and the deer enjoy the meadow, so do the wise enjoy dwelling in nirvana.” This is a very beautiful sentence in the Nirvana Chapter of the Chinese Dharmapada.

The insight of prajñaparamita is the ultimate truth, transcending all conventional truths. It is the highest vision of the Buddha. Whatever paragraph in the Tripitaka, even in the most impressive of the Prajñaparamita collections, if it so contradicts this, it is still caught in conventional truth. Unfortunately, in the Heart Sutra we find such a paragraph, and it is quite long.

That is why in this new translation Thay has changed the way of using words in both the original Sanskrit and the Chinese translation by Huyen Trang (Xuan-Zang). Thay translates as follows: “That is why in emptiness, body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are not separate self entities.” All phenomena are products of dependent arising: that is the main point of the Prajñaparamita teaching. Even insight and attainment do not exist as separate self entities. This concept is as important as the concept “form is emptiness.” Thay also has added “no being, no non-being” into the text. No being, no non-being is the deep vision of the Buddha stated in the Katyayana Sutra, when he offered a definition on right view. These four words, no being, no non-being, will help future generations not to suffer from a twisted nose.

The Heart Sutra was intended to help the Sarvastivadins relinquish the view of no self and no dharma. The deepest teaching of Prajñaparamita is the emptiness of self (atmasunyata) and the emptiness of dharma (dharmanairatmya) and not the non-being of self and dharma. The Buddha has taught in the Katyayana Sutra that most people in the world are caught either in the view of being or non-being. Therefore, the sentence “in emptiness there is no form, feelings …” is obviously still caught in the view of non-being. That is why this sentence does not correspond to the Ultimate Truth. Emptiness of self only means the emptiness of self, not the non-being of self, just as a balloon that is empty inside does not mean that the balloon does not exist. The same is true with the emptiness of dharma: it only means the emptiness of all phenomena and not the non-existence of phenomena. It is like a flower that is made only of non-flower elements. The flower is empty of a separate existence, but that doesn’t mean that the flower is not there.

The Heart Sutra made a late appearance at a time when Tantric Buddhism had begun to flourish. The patriarch who compiled the Heart Sutra wanted to encourage followers of Tantric Buddhism to practice and recite the Heart Sutra, so that’s why he presented the Heart Sutra as a kind of mantra. This was also a skillful means. Thay has used the phrase, “The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,” because in the mantra there is the expression paragate, which means “gone over to the other shore, the shore of wisdom.” Parayana and paramita have both been translated as “crossing over to the other shore.” In the Sutta Nipata there is a chapter called Parayana, which has also been translated as “crossing over to the other shore.”

Dear Family, I hope you enjoy practicing the new version of the Heart Sutra in English. We have an English translation, and Brother Phap Linh is in the process of composing the music for the new chant. The next edition of the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book will include this new translation.

Yesterday, on the 21st of August, after finishing the translation at around 3 a.m., a moon ray penetrated Thay’s room.

With love and trust,
Your Teacher

Asoka Institute, EIAB, Waldbröl

1 In Sanskrit: TasmacSariputrasunyatayamnarupamnavedananasamjnanasamskaranavijnanam

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Master Tang Hoi for Our Time

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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“Mindfulness of breathing is the great vehicle used by the Buddhas to save beings who are drifting and sinking in the ocean of suffering.”

This is the opening sentence of a text that was studied in a course for Dharma teachers in training at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) last April. The text is very ancient, belonging to the third century BCE. It is the Preface to the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing and was written by the father of Vietnamese Zen Buddhism, Master Tang Hoi. In our own time, mindfulness of breathing is becoming more and more universal. It is not a Buddhist practice alone. It can be taught to anyone and practised by anyone of any spiritual path or no spiritual path with a name.

Have you ever been in a crisis when you do not know what to do? Your heart may be beating too fast. Your mind may be confused. You may be very afraid of what is going to happen. There is only one thing you can do and that is breathe and bring all your attention to your breathing. At first you see that your breath is uneven, short, and not so pleasant, but you keep being aware of it and it becomes deeper and more peaceful, and at the same time your mind becomes more peaceful.

When the mindful breathing continues like that for twenty minutes or so, it will bring you to the shore and you do not need to drown in the ocean of fear, confusion, or despair. We call it the great vehicle because it can carry anyone of any walk of life to the shore of safety. It has carried businesspeople, policemen, prisoners, teenagers, and politicians, to name but a few, to the shore of security and calm. In the EIAB there is no course in which we do not train ourselves in the practice of mindful breathing.

You do not have to wait for a crisis in order to practice mindfulness of breathing. In your daily life it can nourish and heal you at any time that you want. You can learn to enjoy your breathing. When you lie in bed unable to sleep you can take refuge in your mindful breathing in order to calm and relax body and mind. You can enjoy your breathing so much that it no longer matters whether you are able to sleep or not.

Say your teenage son or daughter is suffering or angry with you. Can you sit with him or her and listen without judging or reacting? If you follow your breathing it will not be so difficult. You stick to your breathing for the whole time your daughter shares her suffering. You look at her with compassion and the knowledge that she is suffering, and if you are able to sit solidly and look with kind eyes, she will suffer less.

Of course we need to train ourselves to breathe. We should not wait until we are caught in a strong emotion or our son is angry with us in order to practise mindful breathing. Today, right now, we need to learn to recognise an in-breath or out-breath as we breathe in and out. We can train ourselves to enjoy the feeling of our breath in our body. Now as you sit reading this page, look up for a moment away from the page and take an in-breath, feel your abdomen rising, breathe out, and feel your abdomen falling. You have come home to your body. You are in touch with your body. Every morning when you wake up, be aware of your in-breath and out-breath before you step out of bed. Before you sleep, be aware of your breathing. Every time you have to drive somewhere, before you turn the key in the ignition, remember to breathe in and out three times. Every time you hear the telephone, take a deep in-and-out breath. These are all moments of renewal for your body and mind.

“Wrong perception enters the mind of living beings as rivers enter the ocean. The mind is like a person who is very hungry and however much he eats he is not satisfied. The mind contains everything.”

This quotation comes from the second paragraph of the Preface to the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. In our own time, with the development of neuroscience, people are becoming more aware of and more interested in how their minds work. When we begin to be aware of our breathing we also become aware of our mind. Before, whenever something unpleasant was beginning to happen in our mind, we would turn on the television or eat a piece of chocolate, pick up a book or go shopping. Now we do not try to run away anymore. We recognise that unpleasant feeling happening in our mind and allow our breathing to help take care of it. We know that the feeling comes from a perception and that perception is only partly correct. In other words it is a wrong perception.

Our mind consumes and we suffer the results of what our mind has consumed. This is clear in the teaching on the Four Foods. The fourth food is called “Consciousness Food.” What does this mean? How can we eat consciousness? Consciousness is the contents of the store consciousness—all the memories and experiences that have been stored up in our own and our ancestors’ lifetimes. Especially when that has been a bad experience, our consciousness keeps bringing that experience up, and every time it comes up we consume it and suffer. It is as if you have a film of some unpleasant event in your life and you keep going into a dark room to look at that film. So you now tell yourself that this is a film you do not want to watch anymore. You want to give your attention to something different. If by chance that film is brought up by something that someone says or does, or some event that you experience, you tell yourself that this is only a film. You are an adult now. You are not in danger. You can go up to the screen and see for yourself that it is only a film. It is your mindful breathing that enables you to see clearly like this.

Recognise that your mind is always wanting to consume. It cannot face the emptiness of doing nothing. One day when you allow your mind to do nothing, just to sit and enjoy, like at the first moments of a new day as the dawn comes, you will see that your mind can also stop and be satisfied with a state of complete rest. This is a transformation not only for you but for your whole ancestral line, which has not known how to sit still and do nothing.

“The mind is very deep and wonderful. If we are able to find an undisturbed place to practice, so that our mind can settle down and our thoughts are not carried away by wrong desires, then we shall be able to hear clearly ten thousand words and we shall not lose a single one.”

This quotation from the third paragraph of the text mentioned above shows what the meditator experiences of his own mind. We do not need MRIs to let us know how wonderful our mind is. It is enough to calm our mind by mindful breathing and to sit quietly, walk peacefully, or even eat a meal in mindfulness, in order to be able to see what a flexible and wonderful instrument the mind is. In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha is recorded as saying, “There is one thing, O monks, other than which nothing can bring as much suffering and that is an untamed mind. There is one thing other than which nothing can bring as much happiness and that is a tamed mind.” If we know how to master our mind, we can bring much happiness to ourselves and others.

We tame our mind by giving our attention to what can nourish and heal us and by withdrawing our attention from what waters the seeds of craving, hatred, and anger in us. We have to recognize which seeds are being watered and purposefully water what can nourish and heal us. So we do not put ourselves in an environment where the negative seeds are easily watered until we have tamed our mind and it is flexible enough for us not to water those seeds, even if the environment is not a positive one. The best environment is the environment of the Sangha, and even if we cannot live in a Sangha twenty-four hours a day, we can found or join a local Sangha and meet spiritual friends every week for a couple of hours to breathe and walk mindfully together and share our experience of the practice.

Applied Buddhism, which is taught at the EIAB, is about keeping the ancient teachings of the Buddha and his successors, the ancestral teachers, up to date so that they can be applied in every walk of life in the society in which we live. The mindfulness of breathing and the taming of our mind are things we all need in this present time so that we can protect ourselves and others from the harm that is done by fear and anger.

Mindfulness of breathing opens up a new world for the practitioner where any moment can be a deep moment of joy and happiness. So please find something that can help you come back to your breathing often in the day, like a beeping of your watch, a bell on your computer, an aeroplane overhead, or the sound of a telephone ringing; and whenever you are able, stay in a centre where mindfulness is practised so you can train.

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Sister Annabel, True Virtue (Chan Duc) (above, center), is the Dean of Practice in the EIAB. She originally comes from England, where she was a teacher for fifteen years. In 1988, in India, she was the first Western woman to be ordained as a nun by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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The Practice of “Non-Self”

Being in Touch with the Other Possibilities of Living

By Brother Phap An

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Friends visiting the EIAB sometimes ask me what exactly Applied Buddhism is and how it is different from other forms of Buddhism. I enjoy this inquiry very much and would like to share briefly with you some of my thoughts on this topic.

There are many different aspects of Buddhism. We can look at Buddhism through many lenses, such as through the lens of a religious historian, of a philosopher, of an anthropologist, of a believer, or of a simple spiritual practitioner who uses Buddhism as guidance for a happy and healthy life, and so on.

Let us look briefly into some of these aspects and begin by asking ourselves the following questions: What constitutes a spiritual life? What are the core aspects of a spiritual life, and do we really need a religion in order to have a spiritual life? What is the relationship between religion and spiritual life? Do we need some sort of a belief system in order to live peacefully together on this planet Earth? If so, how much belief, how much faith, should we have in order to have a spiritual life? Or how much spiritual life do we need for our belief system?

If we look deeply at our past as well as the course of our humanity, our life has been constructed from different paths of belief and faith. So, in some way, we are all religious practitioners in some particular ways. We have constructed our life based on these beliefs. Our life is a result of our own belief system.

Some beliefs have led us to joy and happiness, and some have led us astray into confusion, suffering, and destruction. If we have a chance to stop and look at our life deeply, with honesty and sincerity, looking at the nature of the beliefs and the faiths that we have chosen, we begin to have a spiritual life. To have a spiritual life is to walk on the path of discovery. We learn to discover ourselves, to discover others, as well as to discover the totality of life, of our environment, and of our whole cosmos.

A Spiritual Journey of Awakening

In the fifth century BCE, when Prince Siddhartha left home and did that important act of stopping and looking deeply into his own life experiences, he began his spiritual journey. According to the legend, he was searching for six years. Then he found a particular spiritual path. He became a Buddha. “Buddha” means the one who has awakened, that is, has reached or attained enlightenment.

What makes somebody a Buddha? What qualities or states of mind or ways of living make someone a Buddha? There have been many discussions. But everyone has agreed that the Buddha taught a doctrine of no-self (1) or a practice of non-self. (2) No-self is the foundation for understanding and developing Theoretical Buddhism, and non-self is the foundation for acting, practicing, and living Applied Buddhism.

Theoretically, the Buddha taught us that we do not have a permanent, non-changing, eternal identity called a self underneath our unique personality as a human being. If we observe ourselves carefully, we will see that deep within us, there is no single isolated reality that could be called our true self. In our daily life we say: this is my body; he is my son; that is my house. These are convenient ways to communicate. So they are valid as far as the conventional way to designate is concerned. Unfortunately, these ways of living and communication gradually lead us to assume unconsciously that there is a fixed entity called “me.” We don’t know exactly what it is, but there seems to be a “me” deep within each one of us, and that “me” seems to be permanent. We believe that there is a fixed entity in every one of us that makes us who we are. “Do you know John?” “Yes, I know him very well.” Right away you recall how John talks, how John thinks, how John behaves. And what John says, what John thinks, what John does, that constitutes a man called John. John becomes a fixed, permanent entity within our unconscious perception. But life is a process of change. This tendency of fixation, of reification, prevents us from being deeply in touch with life, which is available only in the present moment. If we believe deeply in this notion of a permanent self, we cause ourselves deep suffering when things do not follow our wishes.

The “Self” as Linguistic Construction

Believing in a permanent reality inside and outside of us and searching for its existence has long been a quest of humanity, since the very dawn of our consciousness. This quest was also present in the historical context of the Buddha’s time. The discussion has been going on inside and outside of the Buddhist tradition for thousands of years. Buddhist philosophers observe that as humans, we are blessed with linguistic capabilities. By logical deduction, they discovered that the notion of a permanent “self ” is only a linguistic construction deeply embedded in our subconsciousness due to our usage of language. Even though this process of “self-reification,” of regarding and treating this construction as if it has a material existence, is a necessary means for our mental functioning as a human, the nature of life is emptiness. There is nothing permanent and unchangeable underneath anything, either within us or outside of us.

This Is Because That Is

The Buddha declared the principle of “this is because that is” as a governing principle of life and nature. Nothing can ever be found that can exist independently by itself. This principle holds true from the level of subatomic particles all the way to the level of the whole cosmos. All of the phenomena at the subatomic particle level can be qualitatively described by this principle, and so can the movement of the other planets, the Milky Way, the galaxies, and all animate and inanimate forms of life. Everything is interrelated. Every thing depends on all other things for its existence.

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Thanks to his sensitivity, the Buddha was awakened to the vanity of life. Life ceased to have meaning altogether. This spiritual wake-up gave him the impulse for a first spiritual jump, that of leaving home for a spiritual journey. This disillusionment and dissatisfaction with life is a necessary condition for anyone who is serious about seeking the meaning of life. Naturally, facing this condition, we all want to look for something that will be forever satisfactory, forever lasting and permanent.

We can say that throughout the six years of his spiritual journey, the Buddha-to-be made many important discoveries about himself and about the nature of life. These discoveries constitute moments of spiritual awakening. Each awakening gave him the momentum to live according to the insights he had found. Throughout six years of patiently searching within himself and contemplating the nature of our world, he had a breakthrough into the illusionary nature of our phenomenal world.

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The Mind Is at the Root of Our Suffering

It is not the nature of life itself that causes us difficulty. The root of our afflictions lies in the way we understand the transitory aspect of life and our failure to recognize and truly accept its true nature. It is our mind and the model through which we perceive our observed world that causes us difficulty. The Buddha discovered that our mind is the creator of the illusionary world, which we believe to be solid, everlasting, and permanent. The mind is the mischievous master, the architect of all of our suffering and difficulty. It is the process of “self-reification” that makes our mind rigid and inflexible and prevents us from flowing along with the changing world.

Our ontological search for an absolute eternal ground of existence, for something everlasting and permanent, is also a scheme of our mind. With his spiritual awakening, the Buddha discovered the way to live happily. The way out of all confusions woven by our mind is to perform a final spiritual jump to transform the habitual energy of our builder, the workings of our mind. Spiritual life is a life of watching out for the movement of our mind—and transforming its craftwork.

Thus, through direct observation and deep contemplation, the Buddha discovered the movement of the mind and the world of happiness or pain it creates. He was not deeply interested in the ontological ground of the mind as a theoretical abstraction. Rather, he applied this understanding in order to have a happy and peaceful life. He had discovered the epistemological way to liberate himself from his own suffering, his pains and his sorrows. He had discovered a particular truth, the truth of the unsatisfactory nature of life, the root of its unsatisfactory nature, and the possibility for joy and happiness by adapting our life accordingly to the principle of ever-changing life.

Trust in Experience and Change

Based on awakening himself to the fact of no-self at the applied level, the Buddha taught us the practice of non-self. The Buddha declared that our dissatisfaction with life is caused by the habit energy of fixing our lives to the abstraction of a “self.” There is an unconscious illusion that there is a “me,” and we try to do everything to satisfy this “me” so that we can be happy.

We consider this “me” to be permanent, solid, and unchangeable. Sometimes in our daily relationships, we feel so much frustration and pronounce desperately: “Do not bother; he/she will never change!” “Don’t waste your time talking to him/her.” But if you ask for advice from the Buddha, he might tell you: “Please wait a moment. There is a possibility that he/she will change. He/she will change when the right conditions for him/her to wake up are there, so he/she can see things differently and determine to change and aspire to live in an awakened way. So please live your life in such a way that you can help to provide enough conditions for changes to happen in the other person. This possibility is there within each and every one of us.”

The Buddha certainly had faith and belief. He believed in his own discoveries and experiences. But he only accepted his faith as a means to support his spiritual life as far as it concretely helped him to free himself and others from different dissatisfactions of life. The Buddha applied the practice of non-self to all aspects of his life and experiences, including his internal bodily, energetic, emotional, and perceptual experiences and his interactions with others in his surroundings. He learned to be consciously present with these experiences as much as possible and to embrace them with his understanding of their roots and his loving compassion. He recognized them as they were, while neither interpreting them based on his past experiences nor grasping or rejecting them. He did not allow his consciousness to get him confused between the experienced and its abstraction and reification. He could avoid the entanglement in his experiences that would be caused by this process of “self-reification.” So to a great extent, he was able to maintain freedom of mind in the midst of his lived experiences.

In the domain of living spiritual practice, the Buddha helped us to see that enlightenment is not a permanent, everlasting experience or an attainable state, because living experiences are continuously changing. Rather, enlightenment is an epistemological act of being enlightened, that is, an act of being fully conscious of what is experienced in the moment. With daily training, we will have enough strength to be free from entanglement in that stream of experience. This act of being enlightened is the core practice of non-self, a training of not fixing oneself to a particular process and having enough freedom to be in touch with the other possibilities offered to us in the present moment. We live deeply in the present moment, fully recognizing the present consequences due to past conditions and anticipating the future outcome, but we are not caught either in the past or in the future. This is the core aspect of a spiritual life and this is what I call “personal Applied Buddhism.”

Learning from these experiences, we can find out for ourselves our own spiritual path and form our own religious belief system. These beliefs will not be based on ideas about life but instead based on our true experiences of living a life of freedom and joy, being free of our own pains and sorrows. This is the foundation for our contribution to a peaceful world.

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The Capacity to Be Free

We all have this capacity to be free, to reach the pure mind, the Buddha mind, when we free ourselves from the tendency to create such mental loops of abstraction, a process of “self-formation.” When we practice non-self, we learn to act as a mirror, fully reflecting. We learn to restrain ourselves from reacting quickly and aggressively or behaving negatively.

The practice is very simple, but we need to train ourselves diligently. For example, when something happens that causes us painful emotions, instead of reacting immediately, we can practice as follows: “Feeling the pain within me, I breathe in. Embracing the pain within me, I breathe out. Feeling the pain within me, I breathe in. Feeling so much love for myself, I breathe out.” We allow ourselves to experience and give ourselves enough space to embrace our experiences. We learn to come back and take good care of our pain and sorrow. The more we can do this, the more we can go to our fundamental ground and touch the Buddha within us. Creating loops of thinking and abstraction adds only more pain and supplies more energy and momentum to the wound within us.

The Buddha did not remain in the forest for long but instead went back and reintegrated himself into his society and environment in order to help others. To have a spiritual life is to learn to take care not only of our own life but also of others’ lives. This is the other important aspect of practicing non-self: stepping out of ourselves in order to be in touch with and be a part of the other possibilities of living. To have a spiritual life is to have a life together with someone else, with the totality of life and not just the fragmented, broken pieces of life. That is the true meaning of a spiritual life. We have to learn to give ourselves completely to life as a service and to learn to receive whatever life offers to us as a blessing.

Encountering Life as Part of Our Spiritual Practice

This process of being together, learning to understand one another’s needs, one another’s joy and happiness as well as one another’s pain and suffering, so that we can accept, love, and take care of each other, is a part of spiritual practice. What is the point of living if we go to the mountain and stay there for many years, escaping human contact? Many people consider that a spiritual life. But that is not really a spiritual life. That is an escape. It could be called a spiritual escape because you cannot face life. You have to go and be quiet somewhere; you hide yourself somewhere because life is not meaningful anymore. To bring meaning back to your life is part of the spiritual training.

Life becomes meaningful again when we can relate more deeply to people and every thing around us, whether that is a tree, an animal, a bird, a friend or even a casual acquaintance. We have to be in touch with everything wholeheartedly. Working together, living together, is a very difficult process. Some people think that spiritual life is only for the monks and the nuns. In fact, lay friends need spiritual life more than the monastics do, because they have a family and long-term commitments to their family members.

Thay Phap An is the director and Dean of Education of the EIAB. He was ordained in 1992 and still continues to learn and grow, offering new Dharma doors combining Chi Kung (Qigong), Tai Chi, and meditation, among many others.

This article is reprinted from the EIAB Newsletter, August 2014. Because of limited space, we refer the interested reader to the full version of this article at: http://eiab.eu/inspiration/appliedbuddhism-
the-practice-of-non-self.

1 No-self is a noun, which denotes an ontological existence.
2 Non-self is a verb, which denotes the epistemological action of overcoming the tendency of fixation of our mind.

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A Hut for Thay in Our Heart

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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Thai Plum Village, 24th November 2014

Today, Monday, is usually Lazy Day, but we decided not to have a lazy day in order to
support Thay and keep sending good, healing energy Thay’s way, because sooner or later collective energy is stronger than the sum of individual energies. So the wake-up bell was invited as usual at 04.00 hours.

mb68-AHut2Although the day before we had felt determined not to be lazy, the habit energy of
sleeping longer on Monday morning was still there. But I told myself, “You must rise for
Thay,” so I rose and the little sister in my room rose with me. It was a great joy to step
outside under the starry sky, the fresh air, the night fragrance—things I would have missed if it had been Lazy Day. Sitting meditation was a delight. As we concluded the morning practice session we saw the night sky reddening in the east, the daily miracle of a new day. Gradually the red brightened as the darkness receded, and if Thay had not woken me up I should have missed all this.

Then we practised walking meditation outside. I chose for myself the meditation words,
“I walk in silence. I walk in the great silence.” I chose these words because I had had a
dream in which I was walking with Thay, and at first my mind was wandering and there
was the usual mental discourse, but then quite naturally there was a silence which was not only all around me but deep within. The great silence is the silence of the mind, which is not involved in chatter, comparing, seeking, concluding. It is truly an aspect of nirvana in the present moment. We do not have to wait until we die for our mind to be quiet.

Thai Plum Village Sangha is building Thay’s hut here. It is a traditional Thai building
that has a thatched roof and has been named “Far Looking Hut,” partly because it has a view of the distant mountain ranges. Thay may not be in the hut, but Thay is also not outside the hut or the mountains that surround it. I practise to touch Thay in everything in the present moment, in my sisters and brothers, in the banana trees. As Brother Phap Lam said before we began walking meditation one day, “Thay is empty of a separate self and we are empty of a separate self and that is why we can walk as Thay in every step.”

The meditation on emptiness is very deep and wonderful. As it says in the Diamond Sutra:
If you look for me in form
Or seek me in sound
You are on a mistaken path
And will not see the Tathagata.

We prepare a hut for Thay in our heart. Then we practise the Ten Mindful Movements in front of the hut. It is body happiness to raise your arms and stretch. We have a right to enjoy body happiness every day. Deep down we have a wish, and that wish has become a hope or a belief, that somehow we shall escape old age, sickness, and death; it is a belief that at least there must be some people, even if a very few, who escape these things. Sometimes disciples ask their Zen master, “Why do you have to get sick and die like ordinary human beings?” (1) The truth is that there is no escape from these things and sometimes we need reminders of the truth: “I am of the nature to have ill health and to die and there is no escape from ill health and death.” Once we see this clearly, we enjoy so much the fact that we can raise our arms, stretch, and feel well in our body.

Nobody complained about the non-Lazy Day. My little sister said, “Sister, today we do not need to be lazy,” as if it was a special privilege. When the bell for working meditation was invited, the sisters went joyfully to the garden, the sewing room, or wherever they were assigned. My daily practice is to smile to Thay when I hear the clock every fifteen minutes and say to myself, “Breathe, my dear, everything will be all right.”

One morning we received some rather pessimistic news from France about Thay’s health. I felt quite dejected in spirit and followed my breathing closely so as not to be carried away by sorrow. When I walked outside onto the veranda I was greeted by many sparrows who seemed to be enjoying themselves tremendously, flying in and out of the eaves, chirping noisily. I rebuked them a little because their mood seemed so different from mine. I said, Sparrows, do you not care about Thay?” As if in reply another bird from far off sang a long plaintive note two or three times. It expressed sadness but something deeper than sadness, something that knows how to go beyond sadness. Listening to the birds I trust that Thay will live another thirty years and that we shall live with Thay and die with Thay in every moment, always going deeper than the concepts of birth and death. May Thay receive all the good energy from the Nursery Garden (2) in Thailand.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue (Chan Duc), is the Dean of Practice in the European Institute of Applied Buddhism. She originally comes from England, where she was a teacher for fifteen years. In 1988, in India, she was the first Western woman to be ordained as a nun by Thich Nhat Hanh.

1 Zen Master Thuong Chieu (d. 1203) was asked this by his disciples in
Vietnam.
2 One of the names of the monastery in Thailand is “Nursery Garden.” It refers
to the fact that the monastery is a place for the training of very young monks
and nuns.

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Going as a River

Reflections on Our Practice

Following the announcement in November 2014 that Thich Nhat Hanh was in the hospital with a brain hemorrhage, the worldwide Sangha responded with a profound deepening of practice and an outpouring of love and energy sent to our beloved teacher. The Mindfulness Bell asked our friends to share their reflections, and here we share excerpts from some of the hundreds of compassionate responses that were shared via Facebook and email.

Thay taught me that I have the compassion in my heart to awaken to all beings. That compassion, which I thought was weakness, Thay taught me is actually a beautiful thing.
– Veronica Diaz de Salter

To breathe in and smile at whatever brings me sorrow or joy has humbled me and opened my heart more than I could have imagined. Thay gave me back my smile.
– Melanie J. Hebert

I am finally “freeing the animals” by going vegetarian for Thay, for myself, and especially for the animals.
– Vivian Moore MacKinnon

I have been doing walking meditation and visualizing that I am holding Thay’s hand so he can walk. I am also a runner and have been visualizing at times Thay holding my hand and running with me, with a big smile on his face!
– John Malcomson

No one of us is a “Thay,” but together we are such a wonderful “Thay,” working in prisons, in schools, in institutes, in families, with veterans and people with mental/physical health challenges, and on and on. We truly “embody” Thay.
– Margaret Alexander

I have started going to bed early every day thinking of Thay’s reminder that staying up late at night is not loving your body. I have started to wake up early every day and begin my day with feeding my koi fish, do sitting meditation, chanting sutra, praying then sending good healing energy to Thay. When I sit I remind myself of sitting with Thay’s straight back and breathe sharing the same lungs with Thay. That way I always have Thay in me.
– Uyen Nghi Phan

I am watering less seeds of fear on Facebook and watering more seeds of love and hope.
– Karen Lavin

I spent my early monastic life in the North of India (Dharamsala) for about three years. I was ordained in the Theravadan tradition in Indonesia then re-ordained by HH The Dalai Lama there. India is the place where I made my decision to ordain as a monk; it has given me endless inspiration. My second year in Plum Village, I missed India so much and I wanted to return to India. I knew that I wanted to try to run away due to difficulties in community. One day I met Thay and asked him, “Thay, I miss India, I want to return to India.” Thay replied, “My son, Thay is already in you. Please ask Thay in you.” He walked away and I followed behind him. He then stopped and looked at me, then continued, “Here is India.” He walked into his room leaving me speechless. Up until now, I still continue to contemplate on “Here is India.”
– Nyanabhadra Phap Tu

It’s winter in my heart at the moment and I don’t see many flowers blooming inside me. Things are very difficult. But the Dharma has taught me to live fully with everything that is, even the most painful situations. I know that there are flowers sleeping somewhere in my roots and they will show themselves in time, as long as I continue my practice. Thay has helped me to understand the Buddha’s teaching more fully. When I’m suffering, I often think of Thay and his friends paddling down the river in their small boat, bringing food and medicine to people who needed it during the war in Vietnam. I hope I can continue on the path of compassion as they did, no matter how tough it gets.
– Rose Anderson

I hold myself in my hand like a kitten.
– Becky Taylor Terry

I breathe … but, also, I know that I’m breathing.
– Siri Ajeet Singh

The monastics chant twice daily to send energy to our teacher. What I see is that the love, care, and harmony we offer to one another is very strong. This is the best gift we can offer to our beloved Thay. We are enjoying the blue sky, fall leaves, and gentle steps. It’s very nourishing to practice together and support each other.
– Sister Boi Nghiem

Searching so desperately
For answers and reasons
Suddenly a leaf
Trembling in the breeze
Oh. Hello, Thay
– Jonathan Borella

Three years ago two of my friends and I walked the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We did what we called “Thich walking,” mindful of each step. We became aware of those who committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. We sent love to the spirits of those who died. That has had a tremendous influence in my life.
– Michelle Schlefsky

Thay has taught me that “compassion is a verb,” so I founded with other practitioners Smilevietnam.org, a nonprofit organization of compassionate Vietnamese professionals from throughout the world who work together with a common purpose of bringing smiles to the needy people in Central Vietnam.
– Nhu-Trang Nguyen

The monastics at Magnolia Grove Monastery have been wearing our Sanghati robes to do our morning sitting meditation and then chanting and doing three silent touchings of the Earth. In the evening session, also in our Sanghati robes, we have a formal sending energy ceremony. I have also made a vow to remind myself, whenever I walk, to walk mindfully and not to miss a chance to walk with the Sangha no matter how busy I am with office work or other things, because I know walking meditation is one of Thay’s favorite practices.
– Brother Michael a.k.a. Chan Phap Uyen

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Thay’s Dream of a Buddhist University

By Monastics of the EIAB

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For more than a decade Thay has had a dream about establishing a Buddhist Institute in Europe, a place that combines learning and practice. In Asian Buddhist institutes and in the Buddhist studies departments at Western universities, one usually finds excellent teaching but there are usually few practice opportunities. Thay’s dream is to have an institute that combines both: a Buddhist university where monks and nuns live, practice, and teach together with lay practitioners.

In 2008, when the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) started, we monastics quickly found out that German laws made it almost impossible to create a university. Moreover, such a goal is financially beyond our reach. Thus we had to commence by realizing Thay’s dream on a more modest scale, as you can see from the following short overview of the present retreats and courses at the Institute.

Many Dharma Doors: Retreats and Courses

The EIAB’s most important events are the two retreats Thay gives here each year; in 2014 more than one thousand people attended the German retreat and six hundred attended the Dutch one (many couldn’t come because school had started already in the Netherlands). We conduct four family retreats: Easter, Summer, Autumn, and Christmas/New Year. All of our monastic brothers and sisters participate in these.

Our main focus, however, is on giving courses and retreats on different themes or for specific groups of people. One or two Dharma teachers facilitate these courses, which are usually attended by four to forty people. Originally we offered weeklong courses, but we shifted to weekend courses (Thursday night to Sunday afternoon) to address people’s needs. We have found that people who are new to the EIAB usually aren’t interested in Buddhist practice, nor do they want to join a Sangha afterwards; they mainly come for specific EIAB courses.

We can distinguish three types of courses offered. First, there are courses for clearly defined groups, including people in the helping professions, educators, lay Dharma teachers, people with eating disorders, businesspeople, and young people. Secondly, we offer courses with specific topics, such as: Stress and Burnout, Inner Child, Self-Compassion, Relationships, Communication, Silent Retreat, Death and Dying, Interfaith Dialogue, Qi Gong/Tai Chi, and Hiking.

We usually offer four courses per weekend. We are able to do this only because European lay Dharma teachers help out. Most of them offer one course per year at the EIAB. They do this as a way of saying thank you to Thay and the Sangha, and they don’t ask for any money from the EIAB.

The third type of course is offered by laypeople who are not Dharma teachers, but who have practiced in our tradition for some years. They don’t teach courses related to the practice or Buddhism; instead, they offer their professional knowledge in courses that combine specific skills with mindfulness. A monastic Dharma teacher is always present in these courses. Topics include Mindful Singing, Mindful Dancing, Mindful Sculpting, variouspsychological subjects, and a Family Constellations class. Lastly, we’ve even taught a course for pregnant women about giving birth mindfully, as well as a series on acupuncture for physicians.

For many people, this group of courses offers a door to come to our practice. People may be interested in a class on psychology or peace dances, and then they experience sitting and walking meditation with the Sangha. They enjoy silent meals and feel touched by the ease, kindness, and smiles of the monastic brothers and sisters. Very often they come back again to take courses with a Buddhist focus and eventually might even join a local Sangha.

Sometimes these courses are met with criticism from those who would like the EIAB to offer courses on Buddhism exclusively. However, Thay wants us to use this broad range of courses as a skillful means to help people to find a door to the practice. It is Thay’s complete trust in mindfulness that allows this kind of openness.

For further information on courses, see our website in English: eiab.eu.

Schools

The EIAB has an outreach program in the wider community, as well. We have spent much time in nearby schools and universities due to the enormous interest among local teachers and students. Usually we are invited to spend a few hours in a school to share our practice, or they come to us for a Day of Mindfulness. However, for a few years now, one school has asked us to give a weekly class over a period of several months. The teachers and students seem to love the practice of mindfulness as well as the contact with monks and nuns. Each year at the end of this series, there is a marked difference in the students’ behavior and in the overall atmosphere of this class.

Projects for the Next 1-2 Years

With the help of a lawyer friend and his wife, an economist, we have applied for and started to do the administrative work necessary for certification for continuing education. This requires only minor changes in some of our courses. Perhaps we should explain: in Germany, people can choose from a great variety of approved courses for their continuing education. For these courses their employer will allow five days off from work, and the government also pays a substantial part of the course fee. We hope that the extensive administrative work will be completed within a year so that we can receive certification for our courses. This probably will attract more people to the EIAB.

Monastic Dharma teachers of the EIAB lately have started to think about offering two programs of study that will allow participants to earn a certificate. One is a program for mindfulness teachers and the other is a special mindfulness and compassion program for social workers. The latter we hope to realize with a friend who teaches social workers at a German university as well as in his own institute. We still need to discuss these ideas within our group and to continually dialogue with external authorities.

Though these projects will take some time to accomplish, they will bring us a step further towards Thay’s dream of a European Institute of Applied Buddhism where teaching, studies, and practice are one

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What Is “Applied Buddhism”?

Thich Nhat Hanh on the Term

From a Dharma Talk given June 21, 2009 in Plum Village

First we had the term “Engaged Buddhism.” Engaged Buddhism means that you practice all day without interruption, in the midst of your family, your community, your city, and your society. The way you walk, the way you look, the way you sit inspires people to live in a way that peace, happiness, joy and brotherhood are possible in every moment.

The term Engaged Buddhism was born when the war in Vietnam was very intense. To meditate is to be aware of what is going on, and what was happening then was bombs falling, people being wounded and dying: suffering and the destruction of life. You want to help relieve the suffering, so you sit and walk in the midst of people running from bombs. You learn how to practice mindful breathing while you help care for a wounded child. If you don’t practice while you serve, you will lose yourself and you will burn out.

When you are alone, walking, sitting, drinking your tea or making breakfast, that is also Engaged Buddhism, because you are doing it not only for yourself, but in order to help preserve the world. This is interbeing. Engaged Buddhism is practice that penetrates into every aspect of our world.

“Applied Buddhism” is a continuation of Engaged Buddhism. Applied Buddhism means that Buddhism can be applied in every circumstance in order to bring understanding and solutions to problems in our world. Applied Buddhism offers concrete ways to relieve suffering and bring peace and happiness in every situation.

When President Obama gave a talk at the University of Cairo, he used loving speech in order to ease tension between America and the Islamic world. He was using the Buddhist practice of loving speech: speaking humbly, recognizing the values of Islam, recognizing the good will on the part of Islamic people, and identifying terrorists as a small number of people who exploit tension and misunderstanding between people.

The practice of relieving tension in the body is Applied Buddhism because the tension accumulated in our body will bring about sickness and disease. The sutra on mindful breathing, Anapanasati, presented in sixteen exercises, is Applied Buddhism.* We should be able to apply the teaching of mindful breathing everywhere—in our family, in our school, in the hospital, and so on. Buddhism is not just for Buddhists. Buddhism is made up of non-Buddhist elements.

* To read Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on the sutra on mindful breathing, see Breathe, You Are Alive! from Parallax Press.

Reprinted from EIAB Newsletter, June 2010

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Coincidences, Histories, and the Monastic Life in the EIAB Waldbröl

By Axel Denecke

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Through mere coincidence I came across the history of Waldbröl and the former Kraft durch Freude (KdF) Hotel, which is now the EIAB (European Institute of Applied Buddhism). In search of material about the period of National Socialism in the university library, I came across a book about the “Stadt der Volkstraktorenwerke” (city of the people’s tractor factories). This unique scientific publication documents the work of Robert Ley, who––as an organisational manager of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) and leader of the German WorkFront DAF––wanted to change Waldbröl to an industrial city with a gigantic tractor factory, an Adolf-Hitler-School, and the KdF-Hotel.

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An Unlikely Home 

In contrast to other big projects, like the Ordensburg Vogelsang in the Eifel Region, only a small number of these National Socialist plans became reality in Waldbröl. Curious to see the few remaining traces of Robert Ley’s policies, I travelled to the small town of Waldbröl for the first time nearly two years ago. I found myself in front of the imposing entrance gate and looked in vain for any clues about the history of the house. Here, I encountered for the first time the initials of the EIAB. It seemed to me like an irony of history that a Buddhist practise centre would find a home in, of all places, this old Nazi building with its bombastic interior of marble and mosaics and its forbidding facade.

Later, I studied the EIAB website and was surprised at the variety of activities and events displayed there, so very contrary to the historical spirit of this house. I asked myself how it could be possible to practice Buddhist mindfulness in such a building.

Many more months passed before I got my answer. I finally received a contract from Deutschland Radio to make a documentary about Waldbröl, its Nazi history, and the EIAB.

In spring 2014 I immersed myself in this topic, curious about who actually lives in the EIAB, what life is like there and who the guests are. How would the personal experiences of nuns, monks, and guests mix with the aura of this history? So, for a few days in April I moved into one of the rooms of the former KdF-Hotel. Furnished in the style of the 1930s, it had just a sink, a wardrobe, and a view of the park.

A Meeting of Past and Present

I entered two worlds at the same time. On one hand, the ordinary, bustling life of Waldbröl: where youngsters would meet to chill out in the evenings on the so-called “Hitler-wall”––the foundation of the planned and never finished Adolf-Hitler-School; the colourful market, where everybody goes to buy groceries; the traffic that slowly winds through the city. On the other hand, the EIAB with its beautiful Stupa, the garden around the former KdF-Hotel, the meditation halls, dining hall, orchards, and a quiet, monastic life.

The fundamental difference was of course the people, in particular the monastic sisters and brothers I met there––especially Sister Song Nghiem, who was at my side every day especially helping with the interviews. She explained the history of the house with great animation and I realized what an act of strength it must have been to counteract the spirit of the house. The halls of the main building especially still seem to be so cool and forbidding. “Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty,” Sister Song said.

I was particularly impressed by the ceremony for the victims of the house: seven hundred patients of the former hospital had to leave to make space for the KdF-Hotel and were relocated or killed. Every day a special altar in the entrance hall is decorated with offerings and songs are chanted. Where in Germany is there another place where the victims of National Socialism are remembered every day?

This particular form of remembrance by the monastics is somewhat alien and exotic to the Western spirit. The inclusion of the perpetrators in the ceremony for the victims also seemed strange to me, not fully comprehensible in a land where absolution for the Nazi perpetrator is still a topic today.

History’s Lessons Inspire a Hopeful Future

However it is most important to me that the history of this building is finally being seen and contemplated. Countless sites of National Socialism in Germany are surrounded with an aura of helplessness as these memorials continue to remind us of our painful past. The establishment of the EIAB in the old KdF-Hotel in Waldbröl has opened a new page.

Strangely, the darkness of history does not dominate the character of the EIAB. Whoever experiences the joy of the brothers and sisters, and sees their delightful manner of conducting daily tasks in the kitchen and garden, realizes that even in such a place history does not hold all the power. Though silence is an important part of life in the EIAB and takes some adjustment, for me it was a wonderful experience to watch the sisters and brothers gather during the warm spring evenings for volleyball or table tennis and listen to their laughter and shouts fill the air.

From what I learned during my visit, the history of the EIAB is only of secondary importance for its visitors. They come to Waldbröl to practice mindfulness and meditation. And yet they always encounter the history of the house, a past filled with violence.

Here in Waldbröl, the violence of the past meets with the peace of present monastic life and these are perfect conditions to meditate on how violence arises and how it can be overcome, how non-discrimination can be born from discrimination. The students of the Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) Waldbröl, whom the sisters visit regularly, have understood this principle. When I asked whether the EIAB and the nuns and monks fit in well in Waldbröl, one of the girls said: “Of course, because somehow every person can belong to every place, right?!”

Axel Denecke is a freelance journalist for Deutschland Radio.

Reprinted from EIAB Newsletter, August 2014

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The Healing Hearts Project

By Monastics of the EIAB

With immense joy and gratitude, we held the formal inauguration of the renovated Ashoka Institute of the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) in August 2012, in Waldbröl, Germany. The EIAB was established as a non-profit organization under German law on November 5, 2007. The Ashoka Institute was the first building acquired to house the EIAB, purchased on September 10, 2008.

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It was built in 1897 as a psychiatric hospital. Under the Nazi regime it was remodeled
to serve as a hotel, but instead it was used as a military hospital during the war. After the Second World War it became a general hospital, and finally, the German Federal Military managed it until 2006. The second building of EIAB is the Great Compassion Monastery, which was acquired on August 13, 2009, as the monastic community needed a residence during the renovation of the Ashoka Institute. In June 2010, the first phase of the renovation was completed, making one fifth of the Ashoka Institute habitable.

The inaugural celebration marked the historical opening of the entire ground floor of the Ashoka Institute, which was open to the public for the first time since its acquisition four years before, and the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the EIAB. The inauguration was presided over by Thich Nhat Hanh and Mr. Peter Köster, the Mayor of the City of Waldbröl.

Tenderness and Togetherness

The inauguration of the ground floor was also the opening day of the long-term
“Healing Hearts” exhibit, an artistic installation of seven hundred hearts to honor the
psychiatric patients who lived in the building. The art was displayed in key locations
of the impressive ground floor, available for visitors to appreciate all year round.
According to our research, the Nazis moved all the patients who were housed in
our building, a former hospital for the mentally handicapped, to nearby Hausen in order
to reconstruct the hospital into a Kraft durch Freude Hotel for the Nazi Party. Many
of these patients were spared the first wave of the “euthanasia” program in Hausen by hospital staff who intentionally delayed the process of selecting which patients would be killed.

Of the seven hundred patients, 320 who could work were allowed to stay in Hausen, and the majority of them survived both euthanasia and the hardships of war. But the rest who could not work were sent to other institutions where most of them were murdered by intentional starvation, hypothermia, or poisoning.

We invited everyone in the community to join us in remembering them. Several school groups visited the EIAB to learn more about the history of the building and its inhabitants. Some classes made their hearts in the EIAB itself. We invited individuals in the local community of Waldbröl, as well as practitioners near and far, to each make a heart in memory of one of the patients. Some found the process of making the hearts truly healing, not just for the seven hundred patients of the EIAB building but also for healing wounds in their family. Making a heart became a way to honor and remember relatives with great suffering or with a mental illness.

A number of Sanghas decided to take up the sewing of hearts as a mindfulness practice, a meditation together, an act of engaged Buddhism. There was also a healing atmosphere of tenderness and togetherness making the hearts with groups of children who came on retreats at the EIAB and elsewhere. The children understood immediately the importance of such a project. Their eagerness and wholeheartedness in sewing the hearts was truly impressive. We always began by asking if they knew anyone who was mentally handicapped. If so, the children were invited to sew a heart with this person in mind.

Even before the final due date, we received over seven hundred Healing Hearts! In the light of interbeing each heart reminds us that we must also remember and pray for all those who perpetrated the euthanasia, starvation, and poisoning of mentally handicapped people. We know that somehow they are also victims of the ignorance, hatred, discrimination, and violence in them and around them.

We are grateful to:

The many schools whose students and teachers made hearts;

The many Sanghas and Buddhist centers who lovingly made hearts together;

The other local organizations who supported the project;

The newspapers and websites that published articles on the project;

The numerous children and adults from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, Italy, France, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, and beyond who sent hearts individually.

Reprinted from EIAB Newsletter, August 2012

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Learning to Eat, Learning to Walk

By Celia Tsui

Last year, my husband and I practiced for one year in Plum Village. At the end of the Winter Retreat we went to the EIAB for six weeks before going back to Plum Village for the June retreat.

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It was beautiful springtime when we arrived at the EIAB. Fresh green leaves were just sprouting; cherry blossoms and flowers were blooming in the garden. The monks and nuns had just finished the monastic retreat and now had a more relaxed schedule. Sometimes we played volleyball. Whenever we had a few hours of free time, brothers and sisters would invite us to go hiking in the forest around Waldbröl. I remember one occasion in particular. During a hike, whilst we rested after a long walk, brothers and sisters suggested a group game. To my surprise Sister Annabel also participated in the game. It turned out that we had a very joyful time nourishing brotherhood and sisterhood.

We lived closely with the brothers and sisters in the EIAB, and so we had many opportunities to practice mindfulness by working together, sitting together, walking together, and eating together. There were many times when I rushed to the toilet before the morning sitting meditation, walked unmindfully, and closed the door brusquely. Often at this moment, I would meet Sister Annabel walking down the stairs slowly and mindfully. I would stop and feel embarrassed, but she always gave me a tender smile. Her presence was like the warm and soft light from the rising sun, and my rushing energy just disappeared.

After some days I wrote a gatha to help myself in this situation:

Opening the door,
I open a new door
of my life.
I vow to live truthfully
and mindfully.

Truly, living in the EIAB opened a new door for me, and I started to deepen my practice more and more in daily life. During my stay, I had a chance to join the course “Building Relationships,” taught by Thay Phap An. On the first day of the course, he taught how to take care of our physical health. If we always feel ill or tired, it is impossible for us to offer joy to our beloved ones. He shared the following gatha with us, which he practices when serving himself food.

All beings struggle to survive.
May all living beings have
enough food to eat today.
I send my love to all beings.
(originally in Vietnamese)

I was very touched by Thay Phap An’s love and compassion for all beings and for the world. Thay Phap An cares deeply for those who suffer. I thought that by practicing the gatha at every meal, I could nourish my seeds of compassion. But the English translation is not easy for me to remember. So I made up my own Chinese gatha:

In gratitude for the food
in front of me
which cultivates my love
and good heart,
I wish all beings in the world
have shelter and enough food
to eat in this moment.

This gatha helps me enjoy every meal and be thankful for the food I have.

Our six weeks’ stay in the EIAB was surprisingly short. I felt very reluctant to leave. We planned to go back in mid-July for another four weeks.

Celia Tsui, True Radiant Harmony, has practiced at the Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (AIAB) in Hong Kong and with the Hong Kong Sangha since 2007. In 2012, she became a member of the Order of Interbeing.

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Beautiful Family Retreat in the EIAB

By Marjolijn va Leeuwen and Tineke Spruytenburg

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In May 2014, we attended the first Dutch-speaking family retreat in the EIAB with fifteen children, twenty adults, and seven staff members.

What Is Compost?

During the introduction, we talked about compost and flower watering. What is compost? Kai, one of our youngest friends, responded, “It means that old flowers die and become black, and then you put them near new flowers, and then it goes on, and on, and on!” It was that simple.

Being Attentive

Adults and children completed a form before coming to the EIAB. We asked what they hoped to take home after the retreat. Some children answered, “I hope that my stuffed animals will come home with me afterwards.” So, we were very attentive that no stuffed animals would be left behind.

Experience at Home

To be able to join the retreat, families were asked to have some experience in the practice at home. When they completed their forms, they mentioned things like, “We eat in silence for five minutes,” and “We invite the bell when we have a quarrel.” Children can explain very well why they do such things. “It makes me calm down and that feels nice.”

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Young Again

We practiced as a real community. Tineke, whose joy in life is to “spread the Dharma amongst children,” offered us her love, inspiration, and skills. Adults joined the children’s games and looked younger and younger as they participated. How many times would a father who is a professor at a university have the opportunity to play “change trees” or to go on a treasure hunt with his child?

Activities for Everyone

Most of the activities were for the whole group; children and adults stayed together for most of the day. But there were also some separate activities, and there was time for the different families to be together and for children in different age groups. There were single parents, two mothers, grandparents with grandchildren, and classic father-mother-children families.

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Support from Monastics

The nuns and monks arranged tea and cookies, cooked for us, offered sitting meditations early in the morning, and offered us a mindful setting. The children loved talking to them. During the introduction we asked the children, “Who has already seen nuns and monks?” They all responded that they had. “And what strikes you when you see them?” They all shouted, “They all smile! They all love children!”

One boy invited himself to eat with a group of monks several times, with only a bowl of white rice before him. The monastics shared little bites of other dishes with him and the boy ate everything. To his wondering mother he explained, “I eat it because it makes them smile.” Sometimes children chose to join the walking meditation with the monastics.

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First Noble Truth

During the adults’ activity, we talked about the first Noble Truth, the existence of suffering, in family life. Much of it has to do with worrying about children, about comparing real situations with ideal images, and about the need to find some rest in the middle of a hectic life.

Some children felt at ease in the big group, and others needed more time or more space for themselves. This was all welcome. Adults as well as children were given the opportunity to have a consultation with someone from the staff. But for the children it seemed to work best to simply talk to other children.

Bonfire

On the last evening the families worked together in teams to prepare a bonfire to make bread sticks. Some organized the wood and others the dough; others made skewers to put the bread in the fire. And of course there was an entertainment and music team. It was a very beautiful evening.

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Marjolijn van Leeuwen has been a Dharma teacher since 2003. Together with a few friends, she started a centre called Vriendenhuis Nooitgedacht in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in Tricht, in the middle of Holland.

Tineke Spruytenburg, Chan Nha Huong, was accepted into the Order of Interbeing in 2006. She was trained to be staff in the children’s program in Plum Village and continued this work in the EIAB and the Netherlands (www.kinder-mindfulness.nl). With Claude Acker, Tineke spreads mindfulness amongst teachers (www.HappyTeachers.nu). Marjolijn and Tineke worked with Ludo, Maria and Maria, Ann, Claude, and Ellen to organize the family retreat.

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Transforming the EIAB

Dear Friends,

The EIAB has received very generous donations from students of Thay all over the world, for which we are very grateful; without them our work here wouldn’t be possible. We hope that we can continue to rely on the help and commitment of the international Sangha. We would also like to thank you for participating in our courses and retreats, and for practicing and giving spiritual support.

In 2014, we started a major construction project involving both the kitchen and dining room. The large kitchen is a remnant of an old army building and is not in compliance with standards for hygiene or fire safety. In addition, the entire water supply system is outdated. Urgent renovations also involve extending the existing large kitchen to create a new dining room.

Since we came to the EIAB seven years ago, all cooking has been done in a very small (twelve square meters) kitchen in an ancillary building which also does not comply with fire-safety regulations.

Currently, approximately forty monks and nuns live at the EIAB. We also have many guests and visitors. This means that we cook three meals a day for around sixty people during the week and 150 people during the weekends. In addition, we have large family retreats (New Year’s, Easter, Summer, Autumn), each with  about 150 participants. Finally, we hold two very large retreats with our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. At these retreats we cook for up to one thousand people every day for an entire week, and because this is impossible to do in the tiny kitchen, we have been forced to improvise a lot.

Further on, we plan to expand the new big kitchen to create a common dining hall big enough for all guests, nuns, and monks. Up to now, during the big retreats, we have had to eat in several different rooms, which means we are unable to benefit from the collective, mindful energy of the larger Sangha. Moreover, our small dining area doesn’t comply with fire-safety regulations. Please support the realization of this construction project with your donation. To donate, visit www.eiab.eu or contact info@eiab.eu.

We wish you success as you practice mindfulness in your daily life.

In brotherhood and sisterhood,

Thay Phap An and the brothers and sisters of the EIAB.

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Friends on the Path of Socially Engaged Buddhism

By Jack Lawlor

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Many of us attracted to the teachings of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh have an interest that is often referred to as socially engaged Buddhism, variously defined. I would like to describe some of the ways this interest is manifesting in Chicago, regardless of whether the practitioner’s specific interest is in protecting the environment, issues of war and peace, economic justice, or another subject of equal concern.

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Preliminary Insights

Mindfulness practitioners approach socially engaged Buddhism in a variety of ways, and no one approach, no matter how inspiring, will appeal to everyone. While Thich Nhat Hanh Sanghas share a characteristic spirit of tolerance and generosity, it would be incorrect to assume that there is unanimity among Sangha members on legislation, political parties, candidates, and how to proceed on any given issue attracting public attention. In addition, many Thich Nhat Hanh practitioners already have full-time jobs in social work, healing, not-for-profit law, and education that are inherently socially engaged. Traditional Sangha participation is a form of refuge that helps these practitioners avoid burnout by providing a stable atmosphere in which to enjoy sitting and walking meditation without placing additional responsibilities on their shoulders.

In an effort to avoid politicizing the local Sangha in a manner inconsistent with the 10th Tiep Hien Mindfulness Training, and to preserve the local Sangha’s success as a refuge for those who are already socially engaged, several members of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, helped revive the Chicago chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) about ten years ago, to help address some of the challenges facing our society. Utilizing BPF for this purpose is not surprising. Thich Nhat Hanh has played an important role in supporting BPF, and his earliest visits to North America were sponsored by the national BPF organization. Dean Kaufer, Charles Strain, and Kevin Havener of Lakeside Buddha Sangha have been lovingly persistent guiding lights in creating and nourishing the BPF chapter in Chicago.

How We Relate to the Local Sangha and to Activist Groups

Our procedure is simply to make our Chicago-area BPF organizational meetings and our BPF chapter activities known to our regular Sangha members by including brief descriptions of them at the same time brief announcements of other Sangha activities are made. These opportunities are described in a manner that is not overtly proselytizing, and there is no pressure placed on anyone to participate in what the Chicago BPF is doing.

There have been many advantages to this approach. Our BPF chapter is comprised not only of Lakeside members but also Buddhist practitioners from other denominations, facilitating inter-denominational cooperation and innovation among Chicago temples and centers, although Lakeside and a Soto Zen Temple provide the vast majority of BPF chapter participants. While two ordained Dharma teachers have been consistently involved in BPF efforts over the years––me and Soto Zen priest and teacher Taigen Dan Leighton, the author of fine books on socially engaged practice––the atmosphere is not hierarchical, and responsibilities such as chairing our meetings are shared.

We also work closely with non-denominational groups who are working on the same topics. The benefits of doing so are especially bountiful. Those of us from the Buddhist community have learned an immense amount from leaders of seasoned environmental and peace organizations who join us in co-sponsoring events.

For example, last winter, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against War felt the need to express support for President Obama’s efforts to continue negotiations with Iran regarding the issue of nuclear proliferation despite demands from some quarters to break off these negotiations, possibly leading to military action. At that time, a Senate vote disparaging further negotiations was likely due to be scheduled within less than two weeks, given the number of Senate co-sponsors. Chicago area veterans wanted to host an anti-war, pro-negotiation event in support of the President’s efforts at the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the banks of the Chicago River as soon as possible.

On one of the coldest, snowiest evenings in Chicago’s bitter 2014 winter, several dozen veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts conducted an incredibly mindful meeting on complex issues, including how to word the critical press releases and work with public media. Many knots in planning what to do and what not to do were untied within a two-hour meeting without the use of language stuck in ideology or dogma. The result was a successful event with a well-articulated message. About one hundred people supporting the President’s efforts to continue negotiations initially convened in front of a national TV network newsroom in Chicago and then walked together to the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Chicago River, where additional statements of support for good faith negotiations were offered in the midst of heavy snowfall. Their message, given the location, could not have been more poignant.

What We Can Contribute as Mindfulness Practitioners

Another advantage of this interaction is that we have an opportunity to lend our root teacher’s practices of deep looking, deep listening, appropriate speech, and awareness of suffering caused by misperception, to our joint efforts with other Buddhist denominations and sectarian peace and environmental groups. It is usually easy to identify students of Thich Nhat Hanh in the meetings, conferences, and workshops because they tend to be the calm people in the conference room, remaining fresh in often crowded quarters, consistently refraining from the use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes others as we endeavor to untie some of our societal knots and work toward peace and environmental sanity.

We also do our best to lend the mindful calm and equanimity of our root teacher to public demonstrations in streets and public plazas. Our Chicago BPF chapter participated in marches that focused on the NATO conferences held in Chicago two years ago. These conferences ultimately attracted small but intense outbursts of violence caused by a tiny group of black-clad demonstrators, which had also occurred at other NATO and World Trade Organization conferences in other US cities in the past. We’ve learned the importance of following the example of our root teacher in truly practicing walking meditation while in the midst of thousands of other people streaming along crowded downtown streets. We’ve concluded that it helps to invite the use of medium-sized, iron mindfulness bells and public recitation of the Discourse on Love from time to time in such public demonstrations.

Transformative Experiences

Another advantage to joining hands and going as a Mahasangha on environmental and peace efforts is that our ability to engage more people in mindful deliberations grows. In one sense, we are a small number of Buddhist practitioners attempting to function as a “community of resistance,” to use Thay’s phrase from his book with Father Daniel Berrigan entitled The Raft Is Not the Shore, in a world that is overrun with materialistic compulsions and that is forgetting the lessons of the recent past on issues of war and  peace. But when we work together, we increase our ability to invite our society to stop and reflect on its compulsive behavior and our foreign policy.

Our BPF chapter has joined with other groups to organize good old-fashioned “teach-ins” on how the world looks to the people of Iran. The groups create opportunities to work together toward peace. One event attracted over eight hundred people to an Evanston, Illinois, Unitarian church on a weeknight in one of the worst blizzards ever witnessed in Chicago. The use of teach-ins seems an appropriate Buddhist means to dispel ignorance, prejudices, notions, and concepts through direct interaction with others.

We generally succeed in including Iranians in our panel discussions and public forums. Large groups attended other Iran-oriented events, which we hosted together with the Chicago chapter of Protest Chaplains, as well as at Loyola University and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Taigen Dan Leighton and I have led a series of programs on socially engaged Buddhism at DePaul University, Loyola, and the University of Chicago that attracted a large number of students. The series provides background on the historic roots of engaged Buddhist practice and introduces students to its contemporary manifestation in the efforts of our root teacher, Sister Chan Khong, and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of lnterbeing developed for use by both lay and monastic practitioners.

In recent years, our work has included:

  • Joint efforts with the Protest Chaplains on anti-drone demonstrations and teach-out efforts on drone warfare at the Chicago Air Show, long before the use of drones attracted US media attention
  • Demonstrations and information dissemination at Chicago Transit Authority stations during rush hour on the needs of political prisoners in Myanmar
  • Correspondence to leaders of the Buddhist monastic community in Myanmar accused of fueling anti-Muslim sentiment and violence, encouraging these monastics to change their rhetoric toward the Islamic community, shortly after Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and other Buddhist leaders made the same request in late 2013
  • Peaceful demonstrations outside the Chinese consulate in Chicago regarding Tibetan human rights
  • Countless vigils with the Occupy movement outside the large banking institutions on Chicago’s LaSalle Street
  • Special forums with speakers including Joanna Macy and Alan Senauke

Our members’ most recent efforts are focused not only on the ongoing issues of war and peace throughout the Mideast, but also on the needs of the Japanese living near Fukushima and energy industry pollution in Lake Michigan.

In addition to these collective efforts, there have been countless, individual, socially engaged contributions by our Sangha members, including art programs with Iraq war veterans, author appearances on environmental topics in inner city schools, probono legal work for food pantries and Buddhist nonprofit organizations, widespread mindful caregiving for aging parents and young grandchildren, and various charitable activities. Laurie Lawlor testified at Wisconsin legislative hearings related to hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas and other mining activity, including the proliferation of gravel pits on prime Midwestern farmland and the impact of mining on Native American and local water resources.

Mindful Continuation

Our numbers are modest, and the needs are many. Perhaps the activities described above function primarily as a mindfulness bell for our own denomination and for society.

From time to time, one can feel frustration arise, but regular participation in the sitting and walking meditation practice helps prevent burnout. We learn so much from our interaction with others, and the Buddhist emphasis on transforming suffering by dispelling ignorance and misperception through meditation and other mindfulness practices are important gifts to contemporary public dialogue.

Although the issues we face seem to be arriving at considerable velocity, we have learned, as our root teacher has pointed out, that if you touch one issue deeply, due to the workings of interdependence you touch all the other issues as well. Thanks to Sangha practice, someone is always strong when we feel a bit weak, with the result that our step-by-step efforts have continued year after year in mindfulness without relying on the white sugar of anger or dogmatism as our fuel. Our energy comes from mindfulness, concentration, and insight giving rise to the energy of bodhicitta.

Although these efforts are modest, and we are in the early innings of engaging Buddhism in the West, despite occasional discouragement, it simply feels right, it feels appropriate, to join hands and walk together as a Mahasangha in this way to engage our mindfulness practices to serve the present age.

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Jack Lawlor, True Direction (shown with his wife Laurie and three of their four grandchildren), was ordained as a Dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1992. He has served as president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest and on the national Board of Directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He currently serves on the Caretaking Council of The Plum Village Lineage North American Dharma Teachers Council, comprised of US and Canadian Dharma teachers ordained in Thay’s tradition.

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We Belong to Each Other

Interview with Joanna Macy

By Jayna Gieber

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Teacher-activist Joanna Macy, Ph.D., is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and ecology, her scholarship is grounded in five decades of activism. She is the root teacher of “The Work That Reconnects,” a groundbreaking theoretical framework for personal and social change as well as a powerful experiential methodology. This is described in her 2014 book Coming Back to Life: An Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects (with Molly Young Brown; published by New Society Publishers: www.newsociety.com). More information on Joanna’s work can be found at www.joannamacy.net and www.WorkThatReconnects.org and http://www.activehope.info/.

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Rev. Jayna Gieber, True Recollection of the Mindfulness Trainings, Inclusive Intention of the Heart, practices with Buddha’s Bookbag Study Sangha in Vancouver, Washington. Her life is devoted to family, spiritual practice, and the People’s Climate Movement. Her website is: www.peopleoftheheart.com.

Ecological comrades since 2002, Joanna and Jayna reconnected in a heartfelt, energizing interview via Skype in November of 2014, Joanna from her home in Northern California and Jayna from her home at Crooked Kitty Ranch in the Pacific Northwest.

Joanna Macy: So good to see your face again, dear Jayna!

Jayna Gieber: Joanna, it’s wonderful to see you too. Thank you for this interview. The 9/21/2014 People’s Climate March around the world drew millions of people together. There is new blood flowing into the People’s Climate Movement. What do you feel are the most impactful aspects of this movement, and what is most imperative to focus on now regarding the climate?

JM: We need to focus on helping people trust their own good instincts to protect life, and their ability to tell the truth. Immediately after 9/21, I was teaching in Massachusetts with many young people who came back from the climate march charged with energy and high spirits.

There has been a disconnect in the soul of our country, with our people being pulled onto the path of permanent war and learning to tolerate the militarization of the police, the legitimization of torture, the increasing reliance on nuclear weapons. We need to help people break free of their fear, which is so dangerous, because fear can paralyze people or induce panic and scapegoating––for example, the fear and loathing so many people now feel about the noble tradition of Islam.

With the march, these young people have recognized that the climate is not just one more issue, like mountaintop removal, coal mining, tar sands, or marine mammal protection. Climate chaos is the umbrella issue.

JG: As Naomi Klein calls it, “The Big Tent.” We all share the same atmospheric climate and all issues relate back to it. Just as with the Buddha’s precepts, or as Thich Nhat Hanh calls them, the Mindfulness Trainings, each one touches and evokes another.

JM: So it is essential to recognize the root cause of climate chaos, which is the industrial growth society. Naomi Klein sees it as “capitalism versus climate.” For too long climate change has been debated with numbers, temperatures, emissions, and dates––which keeps it all abstract and even remote. But our political economy requires us to keep on consuming more and more; that kind of growth is sickening to our own spirit and body as well as to the spirit and the body of the planet.

Resilience and Love in the Face of Suffering

JG: In the face of great suffering and overwhelming crises in our world, what do you do when you feel despair or grief? How do you keep your joy and resilience alive? What nourishes your freshness, sustaining you to keep going and stay buoyant?

JM: Temperament has a lot to do with it and so do my Christian roots. I grew certain that God would never give us challenges without giving us the strength to meet them. For me, that carries over into the Buddhist path––not personalized as God but as the central doctrine of the Lord Buddha, the dependent co-arising of all things. Knowing our “interbeing” changes everything. I wrote about this in my book, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory.

What also helps me hugely is the Work That Reconnects, where we walk straight through the pain and fear. Right there waiting for us is the knowledge that we belong to each other in this world, and that is the foundation for gratitude and joy. That’s why I am so glad a wonderful new book about this work has just been published: Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects.

JG: Waking up to the gift of being alive now and focusing on our interbeing with all.

Ancestors, Future Beings, and Deep Time

JM: Over the years, the Deep Time (a)spect of the Work That Reconnects has become ever more important. For the first time in the history of humanity, we now have the capacity, the technological means, to spoil the Earth forever. Our karma, the consequences of our actions, such as with nuclear contamination and genetic modification of seeds, can never be undone. For example, the lethal chemicals that fracking for natural gas injects into the groundwaters can never be removed.

JG: Thay speaks of the climate crisis as related to our lack of connection with the Earth and says that being in touch with love for the Earth will assist us in mitigating climate change. At the other end of the spectrum is the Dark Mountain Project, which posits that the world as we know it is ending and that we must focus on looking to writers, artists, and storytellers. Where do you land on this spectrum and why?

JM: I say watch out for opinions, known in Buddhism as a ditthi––attachment to a mental view. We can’t be certain of what will happen because we’re only a small part of larger living systems. That systems reality also means that nothing can happen to us that would separate us from the sacred living body of Earth. The future and the past are close around us. The ancestors and the future beings are ready to help us, but they need our hands and our voices.

JG: I have two grandchildren now, so this sense of a bloodline moving into the future is very real for me. That’s why I’m going to Rio, Brazil with Al Gore for the International Climate Reality Leadership Training, to deepen my commitment to environmental actions. I will take you with me. Many highly educated scientists and biologists will be attending, and while I’m not educated in those ways, I am a minister, a grandmother, and a woman of heart. What I take is a love for life, an emphasis on meditation, and connecting with ancestors and future beings.

JM: That’s wonderful. Thank you for taking my work and me with you to Rio!

JG: Last year on retreat I sat with Thay and shared my tears of despair and deep love for the world and the dread that my grandbabies may not have a habitable planet to live on. He said to have faith in the children, the future beings, and to accept help from the ancestors, as well as creating Sangha support. It’s not about us figuring it out alone but being open to guidance.

JM: That’s it! Because our minds are too limited and we’re too corrupted by hyper-individualism. We can choose to just open up and trust our grief and trust our outrage too, as they come from a place of deep caring.

JG: Thay also refers to civilizations coming and going and that it may be too late to create the changes we need to preserve life. However, we must try. Viewing the climate crisis as a spiritual and ethical dilemma, we move from a place of love, compassion, and conviction. There is the possibility that humanity may not survive as a species. We can still choose to be present to life.

JM: He said that? Good for him. That liberates us! The last chapter of my book, Active Hope, is all about this––about being “strengthened by uncertainty.” We can be very glad to be here even if we do not know what the future holds.

JG: As Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor, taught, regardless of what awfulness might be happening, “we can choose our own attitude.” Many believe planet Earth is in hospice and there is no coming back; we will lose all the species. What do you say about that?

JM: I know there are others who say the loss of all species is inevitable. But that’s an act of hubris and lack of realism in how open systems work, because systems act symbiotically and with synergy. So yes, it looks pretty grim right now. But it’s arrogant to assume we know, to insist that there’s no chance.

JG: Perfect. Amen. I love that.

JM: I think it’s very important to accept …

JG: … that we don’t know. I’m curious, how are you able to maintain such active hope? Is it because of embracing bodhicitta found in the bodhisattva heart?

JM: Exactly, all of it.

JG: Despair, grief, hope, love …

JM: We must accept we’re in a big pickle and do what we can. The joy is in the action, as I’ve seen with the most effective and busy, devoted activists. This has been true for me for the last forty years. Yes, we can look over the brink to see how grim it is. That just actually gives us a sense of immediacy with the chances that are available. Move quickly with the chances. Just as you’re doing. You felt, “There’s this happening in Rio”––and you moved on it––“this is what I want to be and do.”

Spiritual Influences on the Journey

JG: How have your spiritual practice and your work been influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual teachers?

JM: Thich Nhat Hanh and his teaching have deeply inspired me for over forty years, long before I met him in person in 1982 at the United Nations Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament. You know, I’m inspired by heroic figures who love and act for our world: Vandana Shiva’s crusade against Monsanto and GMOs; Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting Green Belt Movement in Africa; Arundhati Roy working with tribal people to stop dams; and Edward Snowden risking everything to reveal the extent of government surveillance and deception. It’s good to do a little hero worship––to have images to inspire us and remind us of what we are also capable.

JG: As you look over the span of your life and how you have loved life on Planet Earth, what do you feel your legacy will be?

JM: I would like to leave the practices of the work––especially the Deep Time of connecting with ancestors and future beings, and the Great Turning (2) to help people see clearly the three dimensions: 1) actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings, 2) analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives, and 3) shift in consciousness. Also, helping people listen to their true voice and what is deep inside, helping people not be afraid of their pain and anger and not pathologize grief that comes from such a deep caring for life.

JG: Beloved Joanna, you are one of the few who will leave this kind of legacy, that it is not only acceptable but wise and brave to be in touch with grief and despair to open our hearts to loving life and the planet even more. Thank you for being one of our world’s wisdom elders. I bow to you.

JM: It’s been wonderful to see you, Jayna, and to share with the Mindfulness Bell.

1 Deep Time refers to a way of being and rituals that connect us with all life––past, present, future, the ancestors, and future beings.
2 The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the  industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

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Reverence for Life

By Lorna Doone

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In my mindfulness practice with the Peaceful Heart Sangha (PHS) in Augusta, Maine, the opportunity arose in November of 2013 for me to practice protecting the deer population in the field near where I lived. The ten-acre field was surrounded by five acres of woods, and it offered a wonderful home for the deer population. During my first year living there, I witnessed a doe giving birth to her fawn. This gift filled my heart with so much joy. She immediately cleaned the little wobbly-legged fawn and nosed it toward the edge of the woods. It stumbled and fell a few times in its journey to the edge of the field, but she just nudged it to stand up. I felt very connected to these deer and the fawns that arrived in June. They became accustomed to seeing me out and about with Faith, my little cocker spaniel. I taught Faith not to bark at the deer when they were feeding in the field, and they learned to trust her as well.

In November, the open hunting season brought many hunters who would drive by and look out at the field. Faith would lie out on the deck and bark at hunters if they stopped. Her barking would discourage them and they would leave. On Thanksgiving Day, Faith was in the house with me when a hunter parked his vehicle in the driveway and knocked on my door. Opening the door, I invited him inside. He was very polite and said, “I see many deer in the field when I drive by, and I really could use the meat of a deer to feed my family this winter.” He continued to say that most of the land in the area is posted “No hunting,” and this was not posted. “Would you mind if I hunted here?” He asked.

I told him that I grew up in Maine, and that my father and brothers were hunters. I also told him that I belong to a meditation practice following the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I shared with him my reverence for life and my belief and that the  nner life force of a deer, or a tree, or a cloud or rain, is the same inner life force that is in you and in me. I told him that we are all interbeings connected to the cosmos. After sharing these things, I said I would honor his request to hunt on the property only for Thanksgiving Day, and that I understood his need for food for his family and would honor that need. He thanked me and left to put on his red hunting clothes and walk down into the woods. I felt sick inside and knew that I needed to do a walking meditation. I dressed in red and dressed Faith in her little red jacket, and together we set out for our walking meditation. Focusing on my breath, I stepped gently on Mother Earth while breathing in and out and repeating, “I have arrived. I am home.”

When I returned home, I saw the hunter’s truck still in the yard. He came out of the woods and said, “No deer.” He got into his vehicle and drove away.

The following day, the hunter once again knocked on my door, this time with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. I opened the door and invited him inside. He handed the bouquet of flowers to me. I thanked him and invited him to sit down. He shook his head and said, “I want to thank you for allowing me to hunt on your property yesterday. You are such a kind and gentle person. You are the first person to be that kind to me. I thought a lot about what you said, about interbeing. As I held my little dog last night, I thought of you and felt the dog’s heart beat, that life force in the dog, in myself, in the deer, and in you. I could NOT have killed a deer here on your property. It would not have been kind to you.”

He said he taps maple trees in the spring to make maple syrup, and since it doesn’t harm the trees, he will continue that practice. “But I’m not sure about hunting anymore,” he said.

This experience was a gift of practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings along with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. When I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in August 2009, having felt and accepted the transmission from Thay, I knew that I would practice and study the trainings every day. Receiving the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in August 2013 from Thay, I opened my heart wider for the transmission, saying, “Yes, I do,” and accepting them as a path of life. Thank you Thay, Dharma teacher Joanne Friday, and the PHS Maine members of the Order of Interbeing: Marty Soule, Peggy Smith, David Hughes, and Theodate Lawlor, for mentoring and supporting my aspirant process, and all other OI members.

mb68-Reverence2Lorna A. Doone, True Precious Form, established a solid practice in a twelve-step program of twenty-three years of sobriety before joining Peaceful Heart Sangha. She sold her house in May 2014 to a hunter. After hearing Lorna’s story about the hunter who visited on Thanksgiving Day, the new owner promised to post the property with“No hunting” signs. He has kept his promise and is preserving the property as a wildlife refuge where deer and other animals are safe and free to roam.

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Sit-A-Thon

By Jacqueline Kim

For the past year or so, Deer Park Monastery has been renovating Clarity Hamlet, its housing for its nuns. I felt a connection to the activity because of its clear vision in continuing the monastery’s eco-sustainable living and also because I have taken refuge in the original space more than a few times over the last twelve years. I wanted to be involved with fundraising efforts but continued to be busy with my own career reconstruction in Los Angeles.

After a nourishing weekend spent at the monastery with our Sangha, buoyed by the beautiful practice energy we shared during our time together, the desire rose up again. Three days in a normal, busy life is short, but I’ve also experienced a profound ground shift in the same amount of time, re-emphasizing for me the power of resting my thinking, my motor to accomplish life, and to just be, with myself and others.

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The concept of a sit-a-thon came to mind. Its simplicity had appeal. Any number of people could do it from any location. They could reach out to their contact lists for sponsorship using a sign-up sheet I would draft with links and information—and the activity would water our collective practice.

The sisters emphasized wanting us to raise funds mindfully; this would be a wonderful way to experiment with right livelihood. We could coordinate details online, sit in whatever location we found ourselves, and bring people together who could not otherwise congregate in the same time and space.

When it came time to reach out, my housemate, a leader with Wake Up LA, and two other facilitators of Los Angeles Compassionate Heart Sangha committed to one-hour time slots. I shared this with the Sangha. This was such an important step. Knowing others were on board, several more people wanted to join. On the day we had chosen—Saturday, August 2, 2014—two other local Sanghas, Flowing River and Organic Garden, would be hosting their regular weekly meetings. Their facilitators joined us and offered to dedicate their practice and dana to the sit-a-thon. Before we knew it, we had twelve continuous hours committed, including a practitioner who would sit when she arrived at her destination on the east coast.

It was an exciting day. I awoke at 7 a.m. to sit with the first hour of sitters. Afterwards, it was hard to go back to sleep. An event was happening and it felt like my attention was needed as an anchor.

Throughout the day it was like this, beginning your sit knowing you were carrying the baton from the sitter before you, and then passing it on with care to the next. Eleven hours later, at 6 p.m., my housemates and I were on the beach, the sound of the ocean around us. They left to prepare an activity for their own Sangha and I sat quietly, wondering where the last sit-a-thon-er could be. Did she live on the west side of the city where her Sangha usually meets? I envisioned her in my mind and sent good energy. When I opened my eyes, it was 7 p.m. Our first sit-a-thon was complete.

Members shared about the event at Sangha the next day. A few of them had met to spend their collective hours together and reported that they had had a great time. They sat, they walked, they cooked. They sat longer than they ever had in their lives and said it felt great to have each other’s support as they did. They expressed wanting to do it again—just to do it! In the end, we raised $2,300 from our collectively linked twelve-hour day.

If it sounds fun and worthwhile to host a sit-a-thon, it’s because it was! It was the birth of a simple model that can be done again, and with ease.

For updates on Deer Park’s Nunnery Project, please visit www.deerparknunnery.org.

Jacqueline Kim, True Beautiful Garden, practices with the Los Angeles Compassionate Heart Sangha. She works as a filmmaker, writer, and performer, and happily writes songs for the Mahasangha, including “Two Promises.” A film she co-wrote, Advantageous, will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Currently she is honing her skills in Fine Art and Design with a goal to create healing and interactive public space for people in transitory living situations

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Poem: The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry

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Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. A prolific author, he has written over fifty books of fiction, short stories, poems, and essays. He is a recipient of The National Humanities Medal and a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Copyright 1999 by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.

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Reading Peace

Parallax Press Book Club

By Jason Kim

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Parallax Press launched its Reading Peace book club in October of 2014, in partnership with Plumline.org. The club explores topics in mindfulness and Buddhism in daily life and reads books by Thay and authors inspired by him. They meet online and offline as a Sangha, reading together for the benefit of all beings in order to create a more just and joyful world. Reading, therefore, is part of their practice.

The club picks a book to read every month. Members use discussion boards, video conferencing, and offline Sanghas to meet and discuss the month’s pick.

For the inaugural month, the group read The Mindfulness Survival Kit, a fairly recent book by Thay on the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The book is divided into two parts.

The first part is devoted to describing the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which constitute the five key tools of the “mindfulness survival kit.” These tools are: Reverence for Life, True Happiness, True Love, Deep Listening and Loving Speech, and Nourishment and Healing.

The second part of the book provides more advanced teachings on the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Thay says, “If we study the mindfulness trainings properly and deeply, the more we study the more interesting and deep they become.” By comparing different ethical traditions from a Buddhist perspective, Thay underscores how each of the Five Mindfulness Trainings has deep philosophical roots despite their elegant simplicity.

Members had excellent things to share over the course of their discussion of The Mindfulness Survival Kit. For example:

Q: Besides the Five Mindfulness Trainings, what else would you include in your own personal mindfulness survival kit—be they objects, practices, books, etc.—and why?

Alexa: In my own mindfulness survival kit, I would include:

1. Body-scan meditation: This is a meditation I learned from Thay’s book, Fear. You relax by focusing on one part of the body at a time, noticing the tension there and allowing it to relax. I love doing this before bed, and I’ve found it makes me love and care for myself more over time!

2. Gratitude journal: I love starting my days by listing what I am grateful for. Sometimes it gets repetitive, but it’s a great way to start my day, seeing all of the wonderful things in my life. I also try to list the best parts of my day at night, so I can reflect on all the wonderful things that have happened!

3. Accomplishment list: This practice helps me when I’m feeling down about myself. I write down anything I feel is an accomplishment of mine, no matter how small. I can see all the good things I do, and if I’m ever feeling down, I have proof that I do things that are worthwhile.

Our book club members also participate in freeform discussions. Club members Lynne and Eileen had this illuminating discussion of the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life:

Lynne: I felt unsure about the statement, “We all have seeds of violence and hatred.” Do we really? Does everyone? I would be interested to hear how others felt when reading this section. 

Eileen: In the course of so many lifetimes, we all carry karmic seeds with us, wholesome and unwholesome. To acknowledge these seeds, for me, is to acknowledge my humanity, and to make the intention to water and nourish the wholesome seeds and allow unwholesome ones to wither. We should think about it as acknowledging the unwholesome seeds of violence within us all.

We have over 550 members and we are the largest and most active mindfulness book club online. You can join us for free at http://bit.ly/readingpeace. Every word read together is an opportunity to learn and to decrease the suffering within ourselves and the world. Reading practice is like a single candle that burns brightly by itself, and yet it can also be used to light other candles without diminishing your own flame.

mb68-Reading2Jason U. Kim, Pure Action of the Heart, Ph.D., is the Digital Media Director at Parallax Press, a lecturer in history, and a consultant for two non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area. True to his Dharma name, he considers it his life mission to transform people and organizations into agents of positive change. He can be reached at jason@parallax.org.

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Sangha News

Twenty-One-Day Retreat

In July 2014, Sangha members completed a twenty-one-day retreat, “What Happens When We Die?” at the Mariposa Retreat center near Ukiah, California. This local retreat was intended for those who were not able to travel to the Plum Village retreat. Attending the retreat were Dharma teachers, OI members, aspirants, dedicated practitioners, and the sister of an experienced retreatant who was practicing for the first time. We gave care in our outreach to welcome a diverse a cross-section of our Mahasangha.

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Thanks to the kindness of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong, we had the very good fortune and privilege of listening to the Dharma talks from the Plum Village retreat. We followed the Plum Village traditions and schedule, including morning sitting, sutra reading, touching the Earth, outdoor walking meditation, Dharma talks, silent meals, Dharma sharing, personal practice, deep relaxation, noble silence from evening until after lunch, Mindfulness Training recitations, and two lazy days (including a hammock!). We began each week with a formal Beginning Anew practice and ceremony.

Within the solid container of the Plum Village tradition, we followed our teacher’s encouragement to deepen our practice through the arts. We enjoyed workshops in poetry, songwriting, and collage; we embodied the Dharma through dance; we enjoyed a Be-In, a tea ceremony, and a “show and tell” evening.

We celebrated the summer solstice: we did walking meditation to a drought-dry creek bed with unlit candles to protect the Earth; we gave voice to the earth, fire, water, and air elements, to the animals, plants, and minerals, to the ancestors and descendants. Living in harmony with the natural world, we were joined by wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, and even a small herd of wild horses.

One morning when no Dharma talk was offered, we each picked the name of a bodhisattva out of the bell and did our best to embody that bodhisattva for some days. We enjoyed picking each of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings out of the bell and Nelsonsharing an impromptu four-minute Dharma presentation about that training.

In our twenty-one days together, much suffering was transformed. Interpersonal issues arose, and using our individual and collective skill to look deeply, we were able to process in a way that maintained strong harmony in the community.

Without a monastic presence, each of us had to practice diligently to be the continuation of the Plum Village retreat. We felt that we were a part of the Plum Village experience, not quite the same, and yet not different. In gratitude we offer the merit of our practice to all beings and bodhisattvas throughout space and time.

Dharma Teachers Sangha Harmony Committee

The North American Dharma Teachers Sangha has several committees serving the Mahasangha. One, the Harmony Committee, has worked for the past four years with the help of Thay’s teachings to develop processes and documents to help nurture Sangha harmony. Each committee’s work is reviewed by the Dharma Teachers Sangha Caretaking Council, which offers the committees input, guidance, and final approval.
The Harmony Committee’s work has culminated in the publication of three documents addressing Sangha harmony. The first document was the Conflict Resolution Guide, which offers practices and resources for working with disagreements in Sanghas. Some Sanghas have reported working successfully with the Guide to strengthen community bonds, even before any conflict or difficulties occur. The second document from the Harmony Committee is the Policy and Procedures for Ethical Concerns regarding Dharma Teachers. It presents guidance and process for addressing perceived ethical lapses by Dharma Teachers who are members of the North American Dharma Teachers Sangha. The Harmony Committee’s most recent document is a Sexual Harassment Policy. It has been incorporated into the Committee’s Policy and Procedures for Ethical Concerns regarding Dharma Teachers. This third document endeavors “to increase Dharma Teacher awareness and sensitivity to possible sexual harassment, minimize the risk of sexual harassment, and provide guidelines to help protect Sanghas and Dharma Teachers from the suffering caused by sexual harassment.” While neither the Dharma Teachers Sangha Caretaking Council nor its committees operate as adjudicatory bodies when addressing ethical concerns, these documents support working toward mindful inquiry and ethical resolution.

All three Harmony Committee documents are available at orderofinterbeing.org. Current Harmony Committee members are Dharma teachers Rowan Conrad, Ernestine  nomoto, Jack Lawlor, Cheri Maples, Bill Menza, John Salerno-White, and Leslie Rawls. The Committee can be reached at harmony@orderofinterbeing.org.

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Book Reviews

mb68-BookReviews1Is Nothing Something?
Kids’ Questions and Zen Answers About Life, Death, Family, Friendship, and Everything in Between

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Blossom Books, 2014
Hardcover, 40 pages

Reviewed by John Malkin

Fifteen years ago I was at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at Deer Park Monastery, and during a question and answer period I heard a young boy ask, “Why do we meditate?” The Zen master’s provocative answer began with a pointed question, “Why do you eat ice cream?” After laughter and then a pause, Thay went on to explain more deeply that meditation involves concentration and insight, and is inherently a joyful practice, much like eating ice cream.

“What is meditation and why do people do it?” is one of forty-seven questions compiled in this new book from Thich Nhat Hanh. All of these are actual questions that have been asked of Thay by children over many years, including “Why does the world exist?” (Thay: “Nobody knows why the world exists but we can still appreciate it …”) and “How long am I going to live?” (Thay: “You will never die – you will just change form …”).

While the questions and answers are the fruit from conversations between Thich Nhat Hanh and many different children, the themes are rich and valuable for adults as well as kids. Indeed, Thay’s brief and clear answers are pointers to vital Buddhist teachings on mindfulness, compassion, interbeing, and scriptures like the Lotus Sutra. Themes include suffering, war, and what to do when we’re sad, scared, or angry. (Thay: “We can use our breath and mindfulness to transform the energy of anger into the energy of compassion …”) Each of the questions and paragraph-long answers are lovingly brought to life by Thich Nhat Hanh and accompanied by Jessica McClure’s colorful and sweet illustrations of birds, tigers, crickets, and other earthly creatures playing and meditating.

I’ve been enjoying reading Is Nothing Something? with my seven-year-old son, and the ideas resonate with both of us. Some of the questions are ones he’s raised spontaneously in the past, and he seems to appreciate knowing that many other people have similar questions about life, death, and everything in between. Many of the questions and answers readily spark thoughtful inquiry, imagination, and conversation.

In its essence this book affirms that the miracle of mindfulness is always available to anyone, at any time; asking questions with an open mind is a type of joyful curiosity that is far more beneficial than thinking we might already have all the answers. “I am much older than the children who asked these questions,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in the introduction, “but when we sit and breathe together, it seems that we are the same. We are each other’s continuation.”

mb68-BookReviews2Teach, Breathe, Learn
Mindfulness in and out of the Classroom

By Meena Srinivasan
Parallax Press, 2014
Paperback, 208 pages

Reviewed by John R. Snyder, True Precious Goodness

Those who work in schools know that both teachers and children are, for many reasons, often under great stress. Researchers estimate that between forty and fifty percent of new teachers in the USA leave the profession within the first five years of teaching. In 2012, suicide was the third largest cause of death in American children ages ten to fourteen, and the figures are even worse for older adolescents. Nor is this the case only in impoverished urban schools. A Columbia University study found that adolescent girls from affluent suburban families were three times more likely to suffer serious depression than their inner-city peers.

Meena Srinivasan, Order of Interbeing member and experienced teacher, has written a book that is destined to become a source of transformation and healing for many teachers and students alike. She writes in a highly singular, empathic, and perspicuous style that is itself a model of effective teaching. Srinivasan shares deeply from her experience both of personal transformation and of sharing mindfulness practice with her students and colleagues.

Part 1 recounts her discovery of Plum Village mindfulness practice during a time of crisis in her own teaching career, then beautifully and lucidly lays out how teachers can develop stability, compassion, and happiness through practice. As she says, “Happy teachers can change the world.”

In Part 2, she describes in general terms how she began to share mindfulness practice with her teaching colleagues and the children in her classes, both with wonderful results. Along the way, she answers many of the practical questions that teachers new to mindfulness concepts will have. She shares many insightful and moving reflections written by children who have experienced the power of carrying out these activities in their lives and their relationships.

In the final part of the book, Srinivasan presents a curriculum that introduces children to the basics—breathing, walking, body awareness, interbeing––and then guides them through discussion and reflective experience to begin bringing mindfulness to more and more aspects of their lives at school and at home. This section is a great gift to teachers and children, because it skillfully translates these ideas into the language and context of contemporary objective-based educational practice, removing a major barrier to implementation.

This is a book not only for educators, but for all those who care deeply about children. Happy children––the students of happy teachers––will change the world.

mb68-BookReviews3How to Eat

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2014
Pocket Paperback, 120 pages

Reviewed by Eve Heidtmann

The title of this book made me smile: How to Eat. Do I really need instructions for that? I’m such an accomplished eater; I can practically do it in my sleep! Of course, that’s exactly why I need to read this book. Thay’s short meditations show me that when I eat without awareness, I’m missing too much. He tells us that eating is an art requiring practice and concentration. He lifts eating from a mundane necessity to a practice as important as sitting or walking meditation. Mealtime is an opportunity to breathe deeply, relax the body, smile to one’s companions, and focus awareness on the food itself, which is an “ambassador of the cosmos.”

Some of Thay’s reflections can be startling, as when he notes that the plants we eat have drawn their nutrients from the soil, which is made from the remains of generations of deceased people, animals, and plants. Other pages have flashes of humor, such as the advice to turn off Radio NST––that’s Non-Stop Thinking. He invites us to look outward, beyond our plate, to see the impact our food choices have on the Earth. He also takes us inward, touching the loneliness that may cause us to eat too much or to eat unhealthful foods.

Thay tells of his days as a novice, happily washing dishes for one hundred monks with no running water, and describes how he eats now, looking at and smiling to his food. When he washes his bowl, he handles it as tenderly as if it were a baby. Finally, Thay explains each of the Five Contemplations and offers a children’s version of them. He provides gathas relating to each stage of the meal, from serving food to composting the scraps. He ends by reminding us of the broader context: “Mindful consumption is the way out of our difficulties, not just our personal difficulties, but also the way out of war, poverty, and the climate crisis. The Earth requires … that we consume mindfully if we are to survive and thrive as a species.”

How to Eat shows how every meal can be a time for true communion with the Earth. Whenever I look at my plate now, I see an opportunity to wake up and celebrate the wonder of being alive in this moment, in this body, in this universe.

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Dharma Talk: Right Action: Waking Up to Loving Kindness

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Right Action is a part of the Noble Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha. It includes, first of all, the kinds of actions that can help humans and other living beings who are being destroyed by war, political oppression, social injustice, and hunger. To protect life, prevent war, and serve living beings, we need to cultivate our energy of loving kindness.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Loving kindness should be practiced every day. Suppose you have a transistor radio. To tune into the radio station you like, you need a battery. In order to get linked to the power of loving kindness of bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other great beings, you need to tune in to the “station” of loving kindness that is being sent from the ten directions. Then you only need to sit on the grass and practice breathing and enjoying.

But many of us are not capable of doing that because the feeling of loneliness, of being cut off from the world, is so severe we cannot reach out. We do not realize that if we are moved by the imminent death of an insect, if we see an insect suffering and we do something to help, already this energy of loving kindness is in us. If we take a small stick and help the insect out of the water, we can also reach out to the cosmos. The energy of loving kindness in us becomes real, and we derive a lot of joy from it.

The Fourth Precept of the Order of Interbeing tells us to be aware of suffering in the world, not to close our eyes before suffering. Touching those who suffer is one way to generate the energy of compassion in us, and compassion will bring joy and peace to ourselves and others. The more we generate the energy of loving kindness in ourselves, the more we are able to receive the joy, peace, and love of the buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the cosmos. If you are too lonely, it is because you have closed the door to the rest of the world.

Right Action is the action of touching love and preventing harm. There are many things we can do. We can protect life. We can practice generosity (dana). The first person who receives something from an act of giving is the giver. The Buddha said, “After meditating on the person at whom you are angry, if you cannot generate loving kindness in yourself, send that person a gift.” Buy something or take something beautiful from your home, wrap it beautifully, and send it to him or to her. After that, you will feel better immediately, even before the gift is received. Our tendency when we are angry is to say unkind things, but if we write or say something positive about him or her, our resentment will simply vanish.

We seek pleasure in many ways, but often our so-called pleasure is really the cause of our suffering. Tourism is one example. The positive way of practicing tourism – seeing new countries, meeting new people, being in touch with cultures and societies that differ from ours – is excellent. But there are those who visit Thailand, the Philippines, or Malaysia just for the sake of consuming drugs and hiring prostitutes. Western and Japanese businessmen go to Thailand and the Philippines just to set up sex industries and use local people to run these industries. In Thailand, at least 200,000 children are involved in the sex industry. Because of poverty and social injustice, there are always people who feel they have to do this out of desperation. In the Philippines, at least 100,000 children are in the sex industry and in Vietnam, 40,000. What can we do to help them?

If we are caught up in the situation of our own daily lives, we don’t have the time or energy to do something to help these children. But if we can find a few minutes a day to help these children, suddenly the windows open and we get more light and more fresh air. We relieve our own difficult situation by performing an act of generosity. Please discuss this situation with your Sangha and see if you can do something to stop the waves of people who profit from the sex industry. These are all acts of generosity, acts of protecting life. You don’t need to be rich. You don’t need to spend months and years to do something. A few minutes a day can already help. These acts will bring fresh air into your life, and your feeling of loneliness will dissolve. You can be of help to many people in the world who really suffer.

Right Action is also the protection of the integrity of the individual, couples, and children. Sexual misbehavior has broken so many families. Children who grow up in these broken families become hungry ghosts. They don’t believe in their parents because their parents are not happy. Young people have told me that the greatest gift their parents can give them is their parents’ own happiness. There has been so much suffering because people do not practice sexual responsibility. Do you know enough about the way to practice Right Action to prevent breaking up families and creating hungry ghosts? A child who is sexually abused will suffer all his or her whole life. Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas, helping many children. Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain. Right Action frees you and those around you. You may think you are practicing to help others around you, but, at the same time, you are rescuing yourself.

Right Action is also the practice of mindful consuming, bringing to your body and mind only the kinds of food that are safe and healthy. Mindful eating, mindful drinking, not eating things that create toxins in your body, not using alcohol or drugs, you practice for yourself, your family, and your society. A Sangha can help a lot.

One man who came to Plum Village told me that he had been struggling to stop smoking for years, but he could not. After he came to Plum Village, he stopped smoking immediately because the group energy was so strong. “No one is smoking here. Why should I?” He just stopped. Sangha is very important. Collective group energy can help us practice mindful consumption.

Right Action is also linked to Right Livelihood. There are those who earn their living by way of wrong action – manufacturing weapons, killing, depriving others of their chance to live, destroying the environment, exploiting nature and people, including children. There are those who earn their living by producing items that bring us toxins. They may earn a lot of money, but it is wrong livelihood. We have to be mindful to protect ourselves from their wrong livelihood.

Even when we are trying to go in the direction of peace and enlightenment, our effort may also be going in the other direction, if we don’t have Right View or Right Thinking, and are not practicing Right Speech, Right Action, of Right Livelihood. That is why our effort is not Right Effort. If you teach the Heart Sutra, and do not have a deep understanding of it, you are not practicing Right Speech. When you practice sitting and walking meditation in ways that cause your body and mind to suffer, your effort will not be Right Effort, because it is not based on Right View. Your practice should be intelligent, based on Right Understanding of the teaching. It is not because you practice hard that you can say you are practicing Right Effort.

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There was a monk practicing sitting meditation very hard, day and night. He thought he was practicing the hardest of anyone, and he was very proud of his practice. He sat like a rock day and night, but he did not get any transformation. His teacher saw him there and asked, “Why are you sitting in meditation?” The monk replied, “In order to become a Buddha.” Thereupon his teacher picked up a tile and began to polish it. The monk asked, “Why are you polishing that tile?” and his master replied, “To make it into a mirror.” The monk said, “How can you make a tile into a mirror?” and his teacher responded, “How can you become a Buddha by practicing sitting meditation?”

To me, the practice should be joyful and pleasant in order to be Right Effort. If you breathe in and out and feel joy and peace, you are making Right Effort. If you suppress yourself, if you suffer during your practice, you are probably not practicing Right Effort. You have to examine your practice. Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are manifested as the practice of mindfulness in daily life. This is the teaching of engaged Buddhism – the kind of Buddhism that is practiced in daily life, in society, in the family, and not only in the monastery.

During the last few months of his life, the Buddha talked about the Threefold Training – sila (precepts), samadhi (concentration), and prajna (understanding). Mindfulness is the source of all precepts: We are mindful of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, so we practice protecting life; We are mindful of the suffering caused by social injustice, so we practice generosity; We are mindful of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, so we practice responsibility; We are mindful of the suffering caused by divisive speech, so we practice loving speech and deep listening; We are mindful of the destruction caused by consuming toxins, so we practice mindful consuming. These Five Precepts are a concrete expression of mindful living. The Threefold Training – precepts, concentration, and understanding – helps us practice Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort.

In his first Dharma talk, the Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path. When he was about to pass away at the age of eighty, it was also the Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught to his last disciples. The Noble Eightfold Path is the cream of the Buddha’s teaching. The practice of the Five Precepts is very much connected to his teaching. Not only is the practice of Right Action linked to the Five Precepts, but the practice of Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are also linked to all Five. If you practice, you will see for yourself. The Five Precepts are connected to each link of the Eightfold Path. We need Right Speech, Right Livelihood, and Right Action. Buddhism is already engaged Buddhism. If it is not, it is not Buddhism. It is silly to create the term engaged Buddhism, but in society where people misunderstand so greatly the teaching of the Buddha, this term can play a role for a certain time. Whatever we say, what is most important is that we practice.

This lecture will be incorporated into The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh, to be published by Parallax Press in early 1996.

Photos:
First and second photos by Therese Fitzgerald.
Source of second photo unknown.

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To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at editor@mindfulnessbell.org.

From the Editors

We’ve had a wonderful spring and summer, traveling to four countries in Asia with Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, and the Western monks and nuns of Plum Village. A very full account of this trip begins on page 20. We’re also continuing to search for property for a residential retreat center in Virginia, while, at the same time, preparing for Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit to the U.S. this fall, including a lecture and a Day of Mindfulness at the State of the World Forum in San Francisco, organized by the Gorbachev Foundation/USA. And we are pleased to announce that Riverhead Books, a division of Putnam Publishing in New York, has made Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ their lead fall title.

In this issue, we continue to present Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on the Noble Eightfold Path. Joan Halifax, Svein Myreng, Patricia Dai-En Bennage, Katharine Cook, and others share accounts of their own good work, and Therese Fitzgerald shares the comings and goings of Thay’s recent trip to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and China.

We hope you enjoy this issue of The Mindfulness Bell, and we look forward to seeing many of you at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreats and lectures this fall.

—Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, and Ellen Peskin

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Poem: Open the Road Wider

Hair which is the color of precious wood
is now offered as incense.
Beauty becomes eternity.
How wonderful the awareness of impermanence!

Since everything is as a dream,
the true mind is determined to lead the way.
After listening to the voice of the rising tide,
steps are made in the direction of the unconditioned.

The winds chant this morning on the slope of Gridhrakuta.
The mind is no longer bound to anything.
The song now is that of the lovely teaching;
its fragrance is the essence of truth.

In times past, it was with boket water
that her hair was washed,
then dried in the fragrant breeze of the late afternoon.
This morning it is the bodhi nectar that she receives
for the mind of enlightenment to appear in its wholeness.

For twenty-five years
she has made daily offerings
of loving kindness with her hands.
Compassion has never ceased to grow in her heart.

This morning her hair is shed,
and the Way becomes wide open.
Suffering and illusion, though limitless,
are entirely ended.

A heart can touch the ten directions.

This poem was written by Thick Nhat Hanh for Sister Chan Khong the day she shed her hair on Gridhrakuta Mountain to become a nun.

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The Joy of Simplicity

By Svein Myreng

The great hero of Norwegian folktales, Espen the Ash Lad, got his name because he sat in front of the fireplace day in and day out. Not your most productive activity, but Espen’s renowned kindness and inventiveness must have originated during these idle moments in front of the fire.

We often have an idea of time as something finite that we have to use as fully as possible while we have it. But, paradoxically, the more we fill our time with activity, the more it shrinks and disappears. Contemporary society pushes us into many frantic activities. Still, as I sit writing this on my veranda, the birds and blue sky remind me that life’s greatest treasures are free. By cutting down on work, meetings, and organized activities that aren’t really necessary, we give ourselves the chance to relax. Then, we can see what brings us peace and how much time we spend running away from difficulties or preserving our self-image. Our value in life doesn’t depend on cleverness, what we own, or what we do, but most of us have a deep belief that these are the things that justify our existence. We need to look more deeply to get in touch with what we really enjoy and what is really good for us, and we need the courage to follow our insights.

We also need to get in touch with our lazy nature. Like Espen the Ash Lad, who spent countless hours looking into the fireplace, I have used illness to make myself stop and experience periods of inactivity. Whenever I get too caught up in busy living and ignore the signals from my body and soul, bad colds or flu take over. So I have no choice but to be in touch with my needs, and I don’t experience this so much anymore. I seem to be more lazy and energetic at the same time! A more relaxed and mindful life diminishes our energy leaks (asrava), the drain that comes when our mind constantly chases ideas, desires, and projects.

The world is full of suffering, so how can we justify a lazy, relaxed lifestyle? The question is rather, in what ways do our fast lifestyles and forced activity contribute to the ills of the world? Western consumerist lifestyles lay waste to the Earth, while not bringing true happiness to anyone. The prestige carried by our culture also creates a strong incentive for materialism and injustice in poorer parts of the world. By lazily going against the stream of consumerism—and showing ways to true joy—we are doing something very useful. More relaxed and simple in our lifestyle, we may be surprised to find ourselves drawn more to give our time, energy, and material resources to beings and situations that truly need us.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a teacher in Oslo, Norway.

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Being with Dying

By Joan Halifax

On a windy afternoon, I stood with John and his other family members atop a mesa in New Mexico. John handed his wife the ashes of their eldest son, Patrick, who had died of AIDS. Wordless, she received them and offered some to the wind. We each did the same, in turn.

I had spent a great deal of time with Patrick, and he often took refuge in our silence. When he was relaxed, he would ask me to “tell” him the Heart Sutra. He had chanted itmany times over the year he practiced in our community, but for some reason, he seemed to understand it best when I told it in this quiet and simple way as a story.

Patrick made us laugh and cry. We learned from him, were stretched by him, and turned to him to hear his truth and be with his quietness. His body was covered with the purple blossoms of Kaposi’s sarcoma, and he hid nothing from us. We, ourselves, were revealed through his struggle and his joy.

Being with dying means being fully with life. The wonderful practice Thay has given us is a treasure that illuminates living and dying through the direct experience of love. Rilke once wrote that love and death are the great gifts that are given to us; mostly they are passed on unopened. This practice of non-duality, love, and compassion shows us that dying and living, death and life are truly one.

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Dharma Teacher Joan Halifax, True Continuation, is the Director of Upaya Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For information on the Project on Being with Dying, contact 1404 Cerro Gordo Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, (505) 986-8518.

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