Teaching of the Mountains

By Eileen Kiera

mb63-Teaching1

At my home in Mountain Lamp Community, I often practice walking meditation as the sun comes up over the mountains across the valley. When I walk, I don’t think about where I am going or wonder what the next step is going to be like. I don’t question if I can be present to touch the Earth. I walk as a mountain, in stillness, in solidity, in trust. And I find the mountains alive within me. Their presence informs me and enfolds me at the same time. On some days I see myself in the mountains, and I realize my mountain nature. On other days, the mountains realize themselves through me.

mb63-Teaching2

Any idea of “this step” or of “walking” separates me. When I have a thought of mountains as “out there” and me as “in here,” then I am already separate. My practice of mindfulness is to let go of all separation so that subject and object drop away and are transcended by the activity of the moment. Practicing in this way, we experience our body as mindfulness itself, with no thought whatsoever. With this dropping away of self-identification, the mountains are there, walking with me. Indeed, the whole universe walks with me, coming forth in a particular and immediate way. The plane overhead walks with me. The wind in the trees walks with me. The birds in the air walk with me. If I am applying words to it, I’ve already separated myself.

Mountains do not identify themselves as separate from each other. The shoulder of one mountain touches the shoulder of the next mountain. They flow into each other. When we are walking in a mountain range, it is difficult to tell where one mountain ends and another one begins. Although we may call them Mt. Rainier or Glacier Peak, they have the same source and are of the same nature. Their nature as separate and yet not separate points to our true nature as well. Through our practice, we touch the truth that there is no separate self, and yet, of course, each of us lives within our own skin. We sit together in Sangha, without any thought of “me” and “you.”

Just sitting, our mind at peace, it’s hard to know where any one of us begins or ends. Our shoulders run into each other, while at the same time, we each sit on our own cushion. Our breaths mingle. Our steps are the same quiet steps, yet we each walk on feet we call our own. Likewise, though we call mountains by their separate names, they all have the same true name. It is “mountain,” and though we can give it a name, a mountain exists beyond anything called a mountain.

When I listen to the mountains, they speak of the courage to engage anew in each moment. Neither mountains, nor you, nor I, are ever given to know the next moment. For humans, this can be a basis for fear. We have plans and hopes for the future, but no matter how forward-looking we are, we can never know what is ahead of us. Our instinct is to create an idea about the future that gives us a sense of knowing and a sense of security. It is a hedge against fear.

The transformation of this fear comes through trust. It takes trust to have the courage to stay here in “not-knowing.” We learn to trust things just as they are in each moment and to trust each moment as it unfolds. Even when we don’t necessarily like what’s happening, we still trust it in order to stay engaged. I have discovered that not-knowing and trust have the same nature, like the head and tail of a coin. The head on one side of a nickel and the image on the other side are different, but together they are one coin. In the same way, not-knowing and trust belong to the same reality.

The courage of a mountain to stand in solidity and stillness is like the courage of the bodhisattva to not turn away from any-thing, whether we like it or we wish it were different. This gives rise to the deepest acceptance, and with this mountain courage, we engage with the world just as it is.

Standing solidly and calmly, mountains engage with the world around themselves. Mountains gather the clouds and change the wind’s direction. Like the clear example of our venerable teacher in Plum Village, whose presence has changed us and the world, a mountain changes the world around itself through its presence. Clouds gather because mountains reach high into the sky. Rain falls because mountains stand solid and stable. Their presence is enough for the clouds to transform into rain. Mountains are not anxious to change themselves or the world around them. They simply live the truth of their existence in each moment. With no effort, they manifest snow in the winter and wildflowers in July. They manifest marmots in their rock falls and vast space within their range. Yet they are rarely, if ever, passive. They are intimately engaged in each arising moment, whether that moment is deemed good or bad, is liked or disliked, is welcome or unwelcome. Touching the solidity, stillness, and trust of a mountain gives us a great courage to stand like a mountain, to walk like a mountain, to smile like a mountain. And in that standing, walking, and smiling, our dualistic concepts and self-identifications fall away. We touch our mountain nature and we enter into something that is ancient and perennial, like the vastness of the mountains. And from that place, we step forth. Mountains, thus, are realized through us; mountains, thus, are realized as us.

Excerpted from a Dharma talk given on May 31, 2011.

mb63-Teaching3Eileen Kiera, True Lamp, is co-founder of Mountain Lamp Community, a rural residential practice center in the North Cascades, and Dharma Gate, a mindfulness practice center in Seattle. Thich Nhat Hahn acknowledged her as a Dharma teacher in 1990, and since  then she has led retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Her primary commitment, however, is to support the maturing of Dharma practice near her home in the Pacific Northwest.

PDF of this article

Sailing at the Earth’s Tempo

By Heather Lyn Mann

mb63-Sailing1

Ship’s Log: October 15, 2008, 14:10—Atlantic Ocean just outside Port Everglades, Florida 

“That’s it! When in doubt, let it out,” coaches Peter, the nautical salesman who helped us secure two crisp, new sails for our vessel. Husband Dave and I spent the past year, when air currents split the fabric of our fourteen-year-old sail at its weakest points, patching holes and taping tears. But now our ship is adorned with fresh, high-quality sails, and Peter is here on this overcast afternoon to share the secrets of proper sail trim.

mb63-Sailing2“Let the line out until the forward edge of the mainsail flutters,” Peter encourages, “and then pull the line back in until the fluttering stops. That is perfect trim.” Dave executes his instruction.

“But we’re not going all that fast,” I complain after a moment.

“Look at that sail,” urges Peter. “Look at it. It’s perfect. It’s happy. This is what a happy sail looks like. This is all you’re going to get from the boat in today’s conditions. This is what a great sail on a great boat on a great day looks like.” My eyes climb the vertical expanse, squinting into sunlight as my mouth opens. I struggle desperately to see what he sees, to memorize the shape that is ideal. The glossy sail glints brightly in the subdued daylight. Otherwise, nothing looks unique about the sail’s appearance; it’s nothing special. Suddenly, I catch on.

I have touched nirvana today—and many days in the past— and I have not known it. I didn’t feel satisfied unless the boat was moving fast. Out of the blue, I feel a long-held obsession with going fast as a tangible, menacing gremlin. For decades, the urge for speed robbed me of a quieter pleasure: the acceptance of peaceful present moments at a slower pace. Throughout my sailing career I equated moving slowly with doing something wrong. I have never accepted the beauty of this lazy state, the languor of the prolonged, the gift of the easy, because I have been hungry for excitement, desperate for perfection.

“Look,” Peter chides. “You can work this thing to death if you want—jacking the mainsail up and down by inches to add or sub-tract shape, moving it in and out with every wisp of air—but you’re cruisers, not racers. You might get another quarter- to half-knot of speed on the boat, but it is impossible to do that all day, every day. What’s your hurry? There is no contest. You’ll get there.”

It occurs to me at this moment that slowing down to a point of ease is not a luxury. Going slow is part of the natural order of things. The planet does not rush; moments when nature moves at great speed are a long time in the making. When I slow down to the Earth’s tempo, I am nourished by layers of wilderness operating simultaneously, the nesting of ecosystems. My body is host to bacterial life forms; my boat—filled with tools, water, and food from land—is host to my body; the ocean, sky, and surrounding life forms are host to my boat; planet Earth as it spins around the sun is host to the ocean; our galaxy in the expanse of space is host to the Earth.

By slowing down, which is a necessary pre-condition to mindfulness, it is possible to observe complex relationships among living organisms and the physical environment. Ecology is the branch of science studying these relationships. By being mindful of the ecology of things interacting around me and through me and moving in concert with these natural forces, I can experience deep inner knowing—divine wisdom—and join the great Earth in thinking and acting as an ecosystem. This is a vital skill if I am to make real my aspiration to cultivate healing actions for individuals, society, and Mother Earth. It is the perfection of my sails on this day that brings to life the Buddha’s lesson of slowing my thoughts and actions to the pace of Earth herself; in this way, I connect—like a fellow musician—to Earth’s symphony.

After a bit, we deliver Peter back to shore. He is in a rush to meet his son. “Thank you,” I blurt. “The time you spent with us today has made a real difference in how we will do things from now on.” Words catch hard in my throat and I grow speechless. He has ushered in for me an acceptance of ease with the natural order of the world. He has shown me, through my sails, how to witness the tempo of the planet so I can move in harmony with the reality that surrounds. I am grateful for his insight, but his mind is unconscious of the profoundness of his own message. I can find no words in this moment to properly speak to the magnitude of his gift.

mb63-Sailing3Heather Lyn Mann, True Lotus Peace, practices with Snowflower Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1996, Mann founded the Center for Resilient Cities (www.ResilientCities.org) and today lives with her husband and cat on a sailboat in the Atlantic as she writes a climate change memoir.

PDF of this article

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crayfish in a Lotus Pond

By Lowie van Liere

mb63-Crayfish1

Many participants were shocked during the Path of the Buddha retreat when they saw Upper Hamlet’s lotus pond. They had hoped to see beautiful flowering lotuses but instead observed turbid water. All lotus plants had vanished. The pond had been invaded by crayfish. When it was quiet during the evening, tiny movements could be observed in the water at the pond’s borders. Crayfish were having their dinner, consisting of the remaining plants, insects, and even small frogs. In the grass surrounding the pond, I found a number of beautiful red and black crayfish pincers. The remnants of the crayfish had ended up in the stomach of a heron.

In a very short period the pond had changed, with hardly any plants left in the water. The omnivorous crayfish were obviously very fond of the young lotus shoots and perhaps even the seeds. The turbidity of the water is caused by the crayfi digging in the mud to find food and to protect themselves from potential predation. When the other retreat participants had their evening walking meditation, I went back to the pond equipped with a small fishing net. I caught two species of crayfish, both non-natives in this region. The narrow-clawed crayfish (Astacus leptodactylus) comes from the Black Sea area, and the Louisiana crayfish (Procambarus clarkia) originates from Mexico and Florida. I didn’t find any European noble crayfish (Astacus astacus). This species is threatened with extinction because of the invasion of numerous “alien” species. But remember that the lotus, also, isn’t native to France.

The next night I slowly walked around the pond, counting crayfish eating plants at the water-land transition. Crayfish meditation. I found 130 crayfish, which means that the total number of crayfish in the pond may very well exceed one thousand.

How did the crayfish reach the pond? There are a few possible explanations. For example, someone may have had an aquarium and bought several tiny crayfish. But they grew. And then they ended up in ponds and ditches in the neighbourhood. Restaurants are a possible source, too, but there aren’t any near Upper Hamlet.

Crayfish are able to walk across land, so they might have come from the water reservoirs that irrigate the adjoining vineyards. French farmers are known to cultivate crayfish for consumption. However, the nearest reservoir is more than five hundred meters away, and the crayfish would have had to walk across much dry, hard ground. Besides, one hundred meters beyond the first pond is another with very clear water, which still has lotus flowers growing and flowering in it. Why hadn’t the crayfish, or at least some of them, walked the farther distance to this second pond? When I asked Brother Phap Dung, he knew: “That’s where Thay lives.”

Brother Phap Dung knew my background as an aquatic ecologist, and he asked me what could be done to restore lotuses in the pond. Several measures sprang to mind. Small pike-perches could be introduced because they like murky water and crayfish. Unfortunately, when the water became clear again, they would have to be replaced with small pikes, which like clear water and dense vegetation. Even better would be an Asiatic fish of prey that feels at home in dense vegetation and eats crayfish, but the only example I could think of, the carp, also likes plant sprouts. Neither herons nor eels could be the solution: the quietness of Upper Hamlet is too lively for a heron population, and with the eel (threatened with extinction), one does not perform experiments.

A smile was the answer to all my scientific fuss. Phap Dung proposed that the monks should temporarily stop their vegan way of life and put crayfish, hand caught, on the menu. He laughed heartily and found his proposal a good joke. But the genuine answer that followed was a real Dharma teaching: “In the past, the pond was there for lotus plants and flowers; in the here and the now, the pond is there for crayfish.”

mb63-Crayfish2

In many Dharma talks, Thay speaks of the exercise of detachment. Not being attached, for example, to lotus plants. And now? As I write, a pair of crayfish pincers left by a heron lie in front of me. Fifteen centimeters of power, beauty, and sharpness.

mb63-Crayfish3

And perhaps the lotus plants and flowers will return. When the food for crayfish is gone, they may leave the pond. Then we will have the mud back. And if the crayfish have left enough seeds, we soon will see the lotus flowering again in the Upper Hamlet pond. Some years after that, crayfish may appear again. So, if we look deeply at the present crayfish in the pond, we see the lotus, and, of course, the mud. Simply interbeing.

This story was previously published (in Dutch) in the Dutch Sangha magazine, De Klankschaal (The Mindfulness Bell). Thanks are due to Brother Phap Dung for pleasant discussions and teaching, and to Jolijn Zegwaard for linguistic help. 

mb63-Crayfish4Lowie van Liere, Great Vow of the Heart, is an aquatic ecologist from the Netherlands with some experience in ecosystem recovery. He represents the Party for the Animals in the Water Authority of Rijnland.

PDF of this article

Dharma Teachers Sangha News

 

mb63-DharmaTeachers1The North American Dharma Teachers Sangha (DTS) was formed in 2010 by those in Canada and the United States who have received lamp transmission from the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. We have joined together for encouragement, support, and clarity as we fulfill our many responsibilities within local Sanghas. There are currently sixty members of the DTS, and the Care-Taking Council (CTC) was chosen to be our representative body.

This March, the CTC gathered for our annual in-person meeting at Blue Cliff Monastery. The CTC annual meeting has become important for us as a community, to deepen our connection and further our work and practice. This year at Blue Cliff, we joined the Thursday Day of Mindfulness with the community and participated daily in the monastic schedule of sitting and walking meditation. We also spent time meeting each day to continue our work. Throughout the year, we meet monthly by conference call, so to work and practice together in person is deeply renewing.

In the past two years, we’ve formed several working committees of CTC and DTS members. The committees have worked on a variety of tasks, such as supporting the monastic community in organizing OI transmission ceremonies, and developing resources to help address topics brought to us by local Sanghas.

The governance committee has developed by-laws that determine how the DTS makes decisions as a Sangha and how the Care-Taking Council renews itself with new members. The by- laws create an organizational structure to help us work together as Dharma teachers. The organizational model applies to us as a sub-group within the OI, not to the OI as a whole.

At the request of our monastic brothers and sisters, the aspirancy committee has developed Order of Interbeing aspirant and mentoring materials in order to support aspirants as well as the Dharma teachers and OI members who are mentoring them. The aspirancy materials have been emailed to OI members and posted on the Order website, www.tiephien.org. The materials are intended to help minimize difficulties that were encountered by aspirants in the past. They include things such as pre-aspiration checklists and contemplation questions, as well as information the monastic community needs prior to ordination.

The harmony and ethics committee has adopted Policies and Procedures for use if ethical concerns regarding Dharma teachers arise, and a Conflict Guide to help resolve difficulties that may arise anywhere in our community. These materials draw on our tradition’s many skillful means, those used by western conflict resolution professionals, and on the experience of Sanghas and Dharma teachers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The communications committee is exploring ways to provide these materials to Dharma teachers, OI members, and Sanghas in the near future, using a variety of means. We expect to place them on the Order website with links posted to the OI yahoo groups, and perhaps to email the materials to North American Sanghas.

We, the Dharma Teachers Sangha, offer our work with the loving intention to support not only Dharma teachers, but all with whom we walk this path of practice. We offer it for anyone to use in any way that can benefit our Sanghas.

Please feel free to contact the council at dts-na@tiephien.org if you would like to explore any of these topics further.

The current members of  the Care-Taking Council are Brother Phap Ho, Brother Phap Vu, Rowan Conrad, Lyn Fine, Chan Huy, Eileen Kiera, Jack Lawlor, Cheri Maples, Bill Menza, Anh Huong Nguyen, Mitchell Ratner, and Leslie Rawls.

PDF of this article

Owls and Sangha

Story by Lori Zook-Stanley Illustration by Isaac Zook-Stanley

mb63-Owls1On the mantle in my social work office sits a small brown and tan owl. A dear Sangha member gave me this stuffed animal as an acknowledgment and reminder of the wisdom I can offer. My eight-year-old son Isaac spotted this little owl one day and asked if he could have it. I responded that I wanted to leave it in my office but that he could play with it when he came to visit. I reminded him that he had a large collection of stuffed animals at home, and that this was here to remind me to be wise.

A few days later Isaac gave me a paper bag. He often blesses me with gifts of his artwork; however, I was particularly touched by this gift. He had cut a paper bag into an owl puppet, using round stickers to form its face. Inside this puppet he had placed a drawing (shown here). Isaac had drawn a picture of a tree with owls and baby owls. A moon shone overhead and a rock sat on the ground at the base of the tree. A bat joined an owl in the air. Speech bubbles were drawn from these beings, and within each, Isaac had written the word “sangha.”

I sat next to my child in silence and wonder, receiving his teaching of wisdom and Sangha.

PDF of this article

Monastic Trust Fund

Ensuring the Future of Our Spiritual Community

We all feel great love and affection for our monastic sisters and brothers. Their mindful living provides a beautiful example of the joy we may experience by living simply in our busy society. Their study and practice in spreading the Dharma fulfills our desire to bring peace to our world community. Their care for our retreat centers and educational institutions ensures we will enjoy places of respite and healing. Our monastic sisters and brothers selflessly serve our community and ask so little in return.

Thich Nhat Hanh currently leads about six hundred monks and nuns living in the United States, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, France, Australia, and Germany. These special people have an enormous positive impact as they travel and provide retreats and Dharma talks all over the world. Our monastics share the practice of mindfulness, face to face, with more than 200,000 people a year.

In the Buddhist tradition, members of the monastic community relied on the support of the lay Sangha to provide for the basic needs of their simple lives. They still do so today.

The Monastic Trust Fund is an endowment* that has been created to care for the needs of the monastics while ensuring that your gift continues giving. Only the interest that your gift earns is used to support the monastics. This means your gift will support these spiritual leaders in perpetuity.

Our goal is to grow this fund to ten million dollars in order to ensure the care and continuation of our monastic community. Your gift will provide for the well-being of our monastic brothers and sisters for many years to come by providing ensured funding for sustenance, shelter, and health care.

In 2013, a very generous member of our Sangha will contribute two dollars for every dollar you contribute this year, up to $500,000! This 2:1 match helps ensure that your gift will provide the greatest benefit possible to our monastic sisters and brothers. This means that, for example, your gift of $1,000, matched with $2,000, will result in a total fund gift of $3,000.

Supporting our monastic community is an honor and a way to express our deep gratitude to Thay. Our sisters and brothers are the loving spirits sowing and nurturing the seeds of mindfulness, compassion, and peace. To support them in this loving work they do in the world on behalf of all of us, please consider generously supporting our brothers and sisters with a gift to the Monastic Trust Fund.

Please make your check payable to the Monastic Trust Fund and send to:

Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation
2499 Melru Lane
Escondido, CA 92026

For further information or to make your gift online, visit: ThichNhatHanhFoundation.org.

*The Monastic Trust Fund is a separate 501c3 organization established solely to support our community’s monastic sisters and brothers.

mb63-Monastic1

I was in Florida, on my way to work. It was a beautiful day. The sky was a clear blude all the way to the horizon. I remember appreciating the beauty of the sky, then thinking of my niece and nephew, wondering if, when they get older, having faced all the challenges that life has to offer, they will still be capable of enjoying something so siple as the clear blue sky. I know that growing up, nothing in my education had taught me how to do that. And because of all the love and peace that was in me at that moment, it became very clear to me what I wanted to do with my life. Just as Thay had helped me, I wanted to help others to wake up to the wondres of life and to find peace and happiness.

mb63-Monastic2– Sister Lanh Nghiem

PDF of this article

 

Touching the Earth for Ecological Regeneration

By T. Ambrose Desmond

mb63-TouchingEarth1Touching the Earth, I open myself to this beautiful planet and all of the life that is here.

[BELL]

[ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

With heart and mind open, I see that there is no separation between my body and the body of the Earth. Every mineral in this flesh and bone has been stone and soil and it will be again. Looking into one calcium molecule in my bone, I can see that it used to be part of the body of a green leaf. Before that, it was part of the living soil in a garden. Long before that, it was a shell in the sea. I see the continuation of this calcium molecule in so many forms and now in my bone. I can see that the Earth element in me will return to the soil and manifest as other forms of life in the future.

I know that every drop of my blood has been the rain, rivers, and ocean, and it will be again. I can see the life of a water molecule in my blood extending back to before the non-beginning. I can see the water I drink becoming part of my body. Looking back further, I can see that water has been part of every river and every ocean since the beginning of the Earth. I can see that the hydrogen and oxygen that make up this water have been in existence long before the Earth formed. Although my blood feels so much like a part of “me,” I know it will continue in many forms forever.

The air that gives life to every cell in my body has lived in trees and other animals and in the vast sky, and it will again. I see the air element in me—the air that I can feel going in and out of my lungs and the air that is carried throughout my body, keeping me alive. I know this air is part of the vast ocean of the atmosphere moving in and out of all people, animals, plants, and microorganisms. I see we are all breathing together.

The warmth of my body is the warmth of the sun. I see the sun’s warmth radiating through space to the Earth and connecting with a green leaf. That leaf miraculously transforms the energy into sugar. As I take that leaf into my body, I transform the sugar back into warmth. I can see that the sun is alive in me.

I can see clearly that the Earth is not my environment. It is my body and there is no separation.

[THREE BREATHS]

[BELL]

[ALL STAND UP]

Touching the Earth, I open myself to all of the suffering that is present in the Earth.

[BELL]

[ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

With heart and mind open, I see clearly that the Earth and I are one body. With tenderness and love, I bring my awareness to the suffering that is present in this collective body. I see the mineral element that is stone becoming soil, becoming vegetation, becoming flesh and bone, becoming soil again. I also see the suffering that is present in the mineral element. I see the toxins we have made creating sickness and cancer in living beings, and the pesticides and fertilizers poisoning the soil. I know that the suffering of the mineral element is my suffering. I embrace this suffering with tenderness and love.

I see the water element. I see the ocean becoming cloud, becoming rain, becoming drinking water, becoming blood, and returning. I also see the suffering in the water element. I see thousands of children without clean water to drink, and the toxins we have allowed to be released in streams, aquifers and oceans, and all of the suffering they cause. I know the suffering of the water element is my suffering. I embrace this suffering with tenderness and love.

I see the air element. I see the one ocean of air circulating through all life and through the vast sky. I also see the suffering in the air element. I see pollution in the air and the sickness it causes. I know the suffering of the air element is my suffering. I embrace this suffering with tenderness and love.

I see the fire element. I see the energy of the sun warming the Earth, turning into sugars when it touches green leaves, and those leaves becoming my body. I see that the heat in my body is the heat of the sun. I also see the suffering in the fire element. I see the ocean levels rising, the polar ice caps melting, and all of the destruction caused by global climate change. I know the suffering of the fire element is my suffering. I embrace this suffering with tenderness and love.

[THREE BREATHS]

[BELL]

[ALL STAND UP]

Touching the Earth, I open myself to the enormous capacity for healing that is present in the ancestors and in the Earth.

[BELL]

[ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

With heart and mind open, I see the Earth herself as a living body. I see her capacity to adapt and heal herself. I know that she is strong and that she has a miraculous capacity to transform a toxin into a resource in the same way I can transform suffering into compassion.

I can see the Earth billions of years ago, when she was covered with single-celled organisms that could breathe only carbon dioxide. These single-celled organisms produced oxygen as a waste, and the increasing amount of oxygen in the atmosphere threatened to end life on Earth. I see that in that moment, the Earth began to manifest new single-celled organisms that breathed oxygen and restored the balance in the atmosphere.

I see that this creativity is still alive in the Earth and in human beings. I know all of the solutions to our environmental problems already exist. I know my ancestors have discovered ways of harnessing the power of the wind and sun and water to provide for all of our needs. I see intentional communities, permaculture food forests, electric trains, and compassionate conflict resolution. I also see my own capacity to embrace suffering with mindfulness and love, transforming it into compassion.

Looking deeply, I see that all that is needed for global healing is present within me and all around me. I feel immense gratitude for this miraculous power of transformation.

[THREE BREATHS]

[TWO BELLS]

[ALL STAND UP]

mb63-TouchingEarth2T. Ambrose Desmond is a psychotherapist, student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and member of the Order of Interbeing. He offers therapy and consultation through honecounseling.net.

PDF of this article

Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet

This sheet offers a number of steps we can take to reduce the impact of our ecological footprint on the Earth. Please look over this list of actions and, if you feel inspired, commit to a few or more of them by marking the blank with a “√” (check). If you already are currently practicing the step, mark an “X” on the blank. When you are done, please copy your commitments onto a piece of paper that you can carry with you as a reminder. Please share your commitments with your Sangha, allowing other practitioners and friends to see and to be inspired by your actions.

I,_______________________________, commit to:

____   Walk or bike to work  days per week.
____   Walk or bike to places within five miles.
____   Carpool to work or use mass transit.
____   Reduce air travel to less than ________ flight hours per year.
____   Purchase energy credits to compensate for travel.
____   Have a car-free day once a week.
____   Have a car-free day once a month.
____   Work at home one day a week.
____   Reduce car trips by   _____ %.
____   Use stairs, not elevators and escalators.
____   Have an electricity-free day once a week.
____   Get an energy audit of my home and improve its efficiency.
____   Purchase and install solar panels at home.
____   Purchase renewable-source electricity (wind, geothermal).
____   Air-dry clothes (without a dryer).
____   Reduce the use of hair dryers and appliances.
____   Support farmers and reduce food-miles by buying local produce.
____   Grow produce at home.
____   Do not use pesticides or herbicides.
____   Purchase % organic food.
____   Join a community-supported agriculture group near my home.
____   Replace light bulbs at home with compact fluorescents.
____   Eliminate the use of air conditioning at home.
____   Reduce air conditioning at home by ____ degrees.
____   Reduce heating at home by _____ degrees.
____   Install a programmable thermostat at home.
____   Install energy-efficient insulation and windows at home.
____   Eat only vegetarian food.
____   Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.
____   Avoid purchasing disposable items with lots of packaging.
____   Replace paper napkins, towels, and plates with reusable equivalents.
____   Use a library instead of buying books, as much as possible.
____   Use cloth or other reusable bags for shopping, etc.
____   Use biodegradable cleaning products.
____   Compost kitchen waste.
____   Encourage office/school to recycle.
____   Share magazines and catalogs by donating them to clinics, etc.
____   Reuse and recycle all items possible.
____   Buy clothing in used clothing/thrift shops.
____   Plant native and drought-tolerant plants where applicable.
____   Plant _____ trees in my neighborhood.
____   Turn off computers while not in use.
____   Install a power strip for appliances to avoid drawing ghost electricity.
____   Set computer and display to turn off after 10 minutes of inactivity.
____   Reduce use of hot water by _____ %.
____   Take short showers, using warm water rather than hot water.
____   Install a solar water heating unit.
____   Re-use greywater.
____   When urinating only, do not flush the toilet.
____   Turn off faucet while brushing teeth and shaving.
____   Reduce overall water use by _____ %.
____   Install a system to capture and store rainwater.
____   Pick up trash along walking/jogging route.
____   Educate myself on ecological issues.
____   Write articles and stories to help others get in touch with their ecosystem.
____   Meditate once a week on my relationship to the ecosystem in which I live.
____   Meditate once a week on how I can reduce my consumption, and act on this.
____   Write to local and national politicians calling for more effective environmental legislation.
____   Support local environmental organizations.
____   Encourage a friend to commit to items on this list.

My own commitment proposals:

 

 

 

 

I make the commitment to practice the items that I have checked above so that I may reduce the ecological impact of my way of living.

Signature:  ____________________________________

Date:  ____________________________________

The Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet is available as a PDF to download. Please visit: http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/articles/Earth-Peace-Treaty.pdf

PDF of this article

Paradigm Shift

Mindful Artists Network Retreat

By Aleksandra Kumorek

In January of 2013, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the media and with makers of video games to discuss how the glorification of weapons and violence in film, television, and computer games can be curbed. The impetus for the memorable meeting was the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in which twenty primary-school children were killed. Only a few days later, British Labour politician Diane Abbot started a campaign against “hypersexualization” in the British media, recognizing publicly that free access to pornography has proven to be damaging to the development of children. And in Berlin, massive protests happened after a gym posted advertisements using a violent slogan only one hundred meters from the site where Jonny K. had been beaten to death a few months before. Worldwide, there seems to be a gradual recognition of the simple fact that we reap what we sow.

The Buddha offered us a helpful perspective, teaching that everything we consume—even intellectual content—is food. If we poison our minds, eventually we will become sick. Buddha’s view of the human mind was realistic: in each of us, there is a potential mass murderer as well as a potential Buddha. If we nurture the seeds of hatred and violence, we will reap hatred and violence. From a grain of wheat, only wheat will grow. If we take this seriously, we discover that a profound paradigm shift is needed regarding the role of art and media.

Buddhist psychology teaches us that it’s not about suppressing our impulses of hatred, anger, and greed, but about dealing with these seeds in a loving and compassionate way so that they won’t do any harm, individually or collectively. How can we practice this in everyday life? How can artists, journalists, and creative professionals integrate Buddhist ethics into their work? Artists have a strong impact on the collective consciousness; what seeds do they water?

At the first retreat of the Mindful Artists Network in Findhorn, Scotland, we will explore these questions. The Mindful Artists Network was founded in 2012 in Plum Village by Susanne Olbrich (pianist and composer) and Aleksandra Kumorek (writer and director). The retreat will take place June 28-30, 2013, under the spiritual guidance of Dharma teacher Sister Jewel (Chau Nghiem). This will be an opportunity for dialogue, deep looking, creative collaboration, networking, and joint practice. We invite artists and journalists from all Buddhist traditions to join us for this occasion. More information is available at www.mindful-artists.org.

Aleksandra Kumorek, True Profound Ideas, is a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. Since 2012 she has been a member of the Order of Interbeing.

PDF of this article

Book Reviews

mb63-Books1Ten Breaths to Happiness
Touching Life in Its Fullness

By Glen Schneider
Foreword by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2013
Soft cover, 108 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap,True Silent Teaching

“Our hands imbibe like roots, so I place them on what is beautiful in this world” (Francis of Assisi). So begins Glen Schneider’s chapter on the Ten Breaths Practice. We place our hands on our bellies. Our hands are like roots touching deeply into ourselves. And we use them to count ten breaths, completely bypassing words and brain. We do this practice at moments when something beautiful touches us—the moon shining through bare branches, a dear friend’s compassion and goodness. As we train our mindfulness on beauty for the span of ten breaths (thirty seconds), we open new neural pathways to happiness, which can—with practice—replace habitual negativity, pain, and even trauma.

While the Ten Breaths Practice is ancient, Schneider connects it to neuroscience with explanations that flow easily enough for beginners. As Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This fifty-page book is like a poem in the sense that every word resonates, nothing is out of place, and the images carry us beyond our usual thinking.

For me, what’s especially beautiful is the way Schneider, a trained naturalist, helps me touch what seems “out there” in Mother Nature. For instance, he happened to look up at a 152-foot redwood tree that stands outside city hall in his home town, and he realized it was time to stop on the busy sidewalk, place his hands on his belly, and practice. “On the eighth breath,” he tells us, “a glowing feeling arose in my chest and spread to my face with a huge, blossoming smile. I felt a barrier in myself dissolve and the tree became alive.” As Thay tells us, Mother Earth is not just “out there” but also inside ourselves.

Ten Breaths to Happiness deepens one of my favorite themes in Thay’s teaching, his use of the word “touch.” When Thay urges us to “touch the wave, touch the water,” there is something beyond philosophy about this, something very much of the body. With hands on the belly for ten breaths, and those mysterious neural pathways actually opening up, I can feel my body at one with my mind.

Besides talking us through ten breaths, Schneider (a Dharma teacher ordained by Thay in 2011) offers appendices of other Earth-centered practices, including a beautiful Touching the Earth.

mb63-Books2The Green Boat
Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture

By Mary Pipher
Riverhead Books, 2013 Soft cover, 240 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap, True Silent Teaching

Mary Pipher is widely known for her healing book, Reviving Ophelia, about teenage girls in crisis. Now—amidst extreme weather, disappearing species, and fouled water—she turns her attention as a skilled therapist to our relationship with Mother Earth. As climate change and related crises accelerate before our eyes, she hones in on some crucial questions: Why do so many humans seem frozen or indifferent, caught in cognitive dissonance? How can we move beyond our own shock and paralysis toward actions that shift the balance and avert suffering?

Pipher’s hallmark is real-life stories—wise teaching tales of young mothers, grocery clerks, ranchers, and artists—mostly from her beloved state of Nebraska. But the story at the heart of this book is Pipher’s own. After reading the truth about climate disaster in Bill McKibben’s Earth during a summer of record heat waves, this grandmother and longtime friend of Mother Earth was devastated. She recalls the night her grown daughter, a mother herself, asked point-blank: “Does this storm mean climate change?” Pipher had to gently tell the truth and watch the pain in her daughter’s face.

Afterwards, she called a small group together to begin a coalition that would temporarily stop the Keystone XL pipeline from promoting climate-threatening tar sands fossil fuel. This group worked hard but caringly, even joyfully. They shared meals, played with children, and walked out on a bit of remaining prairie under the stars. Through actions such as appearing at statewide festivals and carrying wildflowers into their State Capitol, they spoke truth in ways others could hear. Their movement created a common cause between conservative ranchers and environmentalists. Separation and discrimination melted away in shared concern for Mother Earth.

Thay’s teachings on interbeing and ecology permeate this book and are often quoted. When Pipher writes of how she deals with the painful feelings that come with full awareness of climate catastrophe, I hear Thay’s voice reminding us of the Pure Land available in the present moment. Pipher cultivates “the sparkling moment” and knows “how to step outdoors and look for the green heron or the redolent milkweed blossom.”

For those of us called to revive Mother Earth, Mary Pipher re-minds us that reviving ourselves is part of the process, and that this practice is the essence of hope.

mb63-Books3Awakening Joy
10 Steps to Happiness

By James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander
Parallax Press, 2012 Soft cover, 294 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

In the words of author and teacher James Baraz, “Joy and happiness are more than just good ideas. They can be the baseline on which we live our lives. The purpose of this book is to show how to access that switch inside and live life with greater joy.” Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness is based on the wisdom gleaned from twenty years of teaching this ten-session course in person and online to thousands of participants. It emphasizes the key principle that our joy and happiness are up to us. This is not a workbook, but it is a self-led course that can be read individually and also used as a guide for leading the effective ten-week class in Sanghas, jails, prisons, schools, clinics, and book groups.

Each chapter focuses on one of the key steps for awakening joy, such as: “Inclining the Mind toward Joy,” “Mindfulness,” and “The Bliss of Blamelessness.” Each chapter contains a self-contained teaching on the selected topic in a readable format, offering practices that can be implemented one week at a time. The authors integrate a balanced and seamless use of anecdotes highlighting successes of past course participants, their own personal insights and transformations, current findings in neuroscience, and the teachings of the Buddha, along with modern-day applications for everyday life. The readings evoke the feeling of sharing an intimate conversation with a wise teacher over a cup of tea. They are gentle, personal, and helpful.

My favorite part of the book is the story of Baraz fathering a son when he was in his early twenties. He shares about his pain of being estranged from his son for over twenty years and then about their reunion and reconciliation using many of the principles shared in this book. It is a beautiful example of how we can use our own suffering as the impetus toward compassion, healing, and especially joy. In the introduction to the paperback edition, Baraz shares several letters he has received from past course participants. The best testimony for the healing power of joy is expressed in this excerpt: “Seeking joy after thirty-one years in prison can be a daunting endeavor, but your insights have helped.” The lessons offered in Awakening Joy are highly relevant for beginning and experienced practitioners of mindfulness because they bring a fresh and unique perspective to many of the core teachings and practices of the Buddha.

PDF of this article

Dharma Talk: A Peaceful River

By Thich Nhat Hanh

New Hamlet, Plum Village
January 26, 2012

mb60-dharma1

Dear Sangha, today is the 26th of January, 2012. We are in the Full Moon Meditation Hall of New Hamlet.

Today’s gatha from the sutra we are studying says that all of us contain a stream, and we don’t have a separate self. The gatha is as follows: Living beings is the name of a continuous stream and all phenomena as the object of perception are only signs. Therefore there is no real change of birth into death and death into birth and no person who realizes nirvana. (1)

mb60-dharma2

There are two things this gatha is teaching us. First, we don’t have a separate ego, a separate self, and second, everything comes from our perceptions, everything is an object of our perception. There is no one who attains nirvana, because if there is no separate self, then who will do that? At first we think we have to choose: either we are in the ocean of death and birth, and then we suffer, or we are in nirvana so that we don’t have to suffer. But after that we have to go further in our understanding. We have to see that birth and death is nirvana. If we are deeply in touch with birth and death, then we are in touch with nirvana. These two things are not separate; because of that, there is nobody in the stream of birth and death, and there’s nobody to go to nirvana. So we don’t have to do anything. We don’t even have to practice.

I wrote a poem about a stream, a little stream that begins at the top of a mountain. When the rain comes, it becomes a river. Many small streams come together to form the river, and the river flows down the mountain. We are describing a very young river. We are like this young river. When we are young, we are excited and we want to go very fast. Youth is always like that. We always want to attain something quickly. We all go through that stage; some have already gone through it, some are doing it right now. We want to attain something, we want to finish something, we want to go somewhere.

There are some young monks who very much want to become venerable elders quickly, so they act very serene, just like an old venerable one; they act older than their age. And there are some old monks who just want to wear the monastic robe of the novice monks so that they can look young.

So the young river was dancing and singing as he ran down the mountain quickly. He was very enthusiastic, and of course on the way he saw other streams and they all mingled together. We can see clearly that one stream, one river does not stay separate; it merges with many different streams as it travels. And our stream of life is the same: every day we have so many inputs, entering us all the time. If what enters into us is nourishing, that is good. But if what comes in is not fresh, it can make the stream of life not very good. Listening to the Dharma talk this morning is a nourishing input and helps us grow. The talk can contain insight and compassion. If we can absorb all of those little rivers within the Dharma talk, then our river later on will be very clear.

But also we have outputs. As the river flows down the mountain, it both takes in and gives out. For example, the river has to share some of the water with the grass. When the river arrives at the plains, there is no steep slope, so the river slows down. This happens to us as we grow older. We’re not excited; we have more peace. We have the ability to see what happens in the present moment because we have slowed down. When the river flows to the field it becomes a more peaceful river, and it has become larger, like the Fragrant River in Hue, the Red River in North Vietnam, the Mekong River, the Amazon River, the Mississippi, the Ganges.

mb60-dharma3

The Cloud Is Impermanent

When the river slows down, it has time to reflect many colorful clouds. Clouds have many, many colors. Then the river starts to become attached to the clouds: “Oh, that cloud is so beautiful! Ah, that cloud is also beautiful!” And the river runs from one cloud to another cloud.

We, too, are a river; we’re a stream of water and we become attracted to that cloud, that image. We become attached to many exciting, colorful, and interesting things. But the nature of everything is impermanent, including the cloud. Now the cloud is here, but in the afternoon it will move on. As the clouds disappear, you run from one cloud to another cloud, trying to hold on. We, too, run after this or that project, after another beautiful woman, another handsome man. We feel some emptiness in our hearts and we are like a river running after a cloud. But the truth of the cloud is impermanence. Its nature is to disappear. We lose our breath running after this cloud, then another cloud, and then because we have that feeling of emptiness inside, we feel lonely.

Then one day the river is so sad, missing the clouds, and she has no desire to live. The sky is empty, there is no cloud to run after, nothing for us to run after. So the river wants to die. She wants to commit suicide, but the river cannot kill herself. It is impossible. A stream must continue; it cannot stop running.

And it is the same for us. We are a river of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We say we can kill ourselves, we can commit suicide. But we can never do this because we will just appear in another form. So we have to run in a way that the stream becomes larger and larger, more and more limpid, more and more beautiful, and go in the direction which makes life more beautiful. The river was so empty and so lost, but she has to come back to the river, back to herself.

Already Enlightened

For the first time the river listens to herself. When she listens at the edge of the river, and hears a little lapping of the waves, that is like the sobbing of the river. But looking deeply, suddenly she will see that, oh, this little wave on the side of the river is also the cloud. And I, the big river, am already a cloud. I have all the clouds in myself. I have all my projects in myself, all the dreams in myself, all the aims in myself.

The nature of the river is a cloud; the nature of the cloud is a river. Because they are both made of water. You are already water. Why do you run after water? You are already what you are running after. That is the first insight of the river.

In Buddhism we have three doors of liberation. (2) One of the doors is aimlessness.You don’t need to aim for anything.You don’t need to go anywhere. The third door of liberation is aimlessness. The second door is signlessness. The first one is emptiness.

Aimlessness means that you don’t need to aim for anything; you are what you are searching for. When the river realizes that she’s water, and that the cloud is in her because she is also water, she has no aim to run after, and she’s in peace. And it’s the same with us: we run after the Buddha, we run after satori, enlightenment. You don’t need to run after enlightenment; you are already enlightened. Where you are, steadily there, peaceful, clear in your mind, you are already what you are searching for.

When the river has found that deep vision, he runs peacefully and arrives at the ocean, which is also water. Wherever you are, you are already water. When conditions change and there is too much heat, you become water in the form of vapor, in the form of a cloud. Then as you flow peacefully as a river, there are plenty of clouds. But the river has no desire to run after the clouds because the river knows that all these clouds are himself. He doesn’t need to run after all these beauties, all these attachments. The river realizes that he is cloud.

And that night when the river realizes she is river, she is cloud, there is no discrimination between cloud and water vapor and water. That night there is a big enlightenment of cloud, moon, river, vapor, water, and they come together for walking meditation. They are together; they are one. They manifest in different forms, but they are one. They have already reached the door of liberation, aimlessness. They are not confused by the signs of their forms, and they experience non-self, interbeing. They are one.

Nirvana in You

We see the wonders of every second, of every minute. The sunshine is so beautiful. The Sangha is so beautiful. We are a river; we must run. Why do you think you can kill yourself? You cannot kill a river. The river continues to search for a way to continue. That is your practice. You only need to practice like that. You don’t need to learn thousands of sutras.You just walk on the Earth, really be with the Earth, be with the sun. The Earth is a wonder, the sun is a wonder. You are one.

The Earth is a great bodhisattva, the sun is a great bodhisattva. We cannot be different, we cannot find a better bodhisattva. You need only to practice like this; it’s enough. When you can walk mindfully, deeply, be one with the Earth, be one with the sunshine, be one with the universe, you can see that every step brings you to that great reality. So all your doubt will be removed.

In reality, there is nothing lost, nothing increased. Losing here, increasing there, you can see that nothing lasts. So our brother is lost, but he appears here, there, and in yourself, in many other people. Don’t try to find nirvana far away. You can find nirvana in you, in the present moment. Nothing is born, nothing dies.

Everything is no-birth, no-death, no increasing, no decreasing. We see the world of suffering and we see the world of enlightenment, because we are dualistic in our view. If you can touch the world of beauty in the world of ugliness, then you can touch the world of suffering in the world of enlightenment. The world of enlightenment is within the world of suffering. Don’t think that enlightenment is different from ignorance. From ignorance you can get enlightenment. You have to see that in suffering there are quite a lot of elements to help you reach enlightenment.

mb60-dharma4

We have to learn to take care of our suffering in order to change, to transform, to be liberated. So when we have suffering, we have to suffer together. Don’t suffer alone. When you suffer alone you cannot find the way out. But if we suffer as a Sangha, together, we will find a way out. I’m very happy that I have you all together with me. I have gone through many difficult situations, but you are there, and we all work together for transforming our pain.

So like the river, don’t try to run after clouds. What you are running after is already here in you. The water is in you; the cloud is also water. It is not a promise of the future. Heaven is here and now. The Kingdom of God is now or never. You can stay where you are, not running after anything. You have to practice, “I have arrived, I am home.” That is our anchor. It means we dwell peace fully, happily, here and now.

I vow to bring my body, my mind, my action, and my speech to end all the war, the quarrels, and bring understanding and love to everyone. That is our duty. It’s our mission. Our mission is to bring understanding in life—to ourselves first—and then together, to one another. We try to bring understanding to close friends, to beloved ones both near and far away. We dwell peacefully, mindfully, in the present moment, in order to protect our beautiful green planet, and we vow to see the interbeing of everything in order to transcend the signs, the appearance. In this way we touch reality.

You have to be aware that every word influences the whole Sangha. Every bodily action influences the whole Sangha. When you think something, it influences the whole Sangha. You are a cell of a body. You have to think in a way that brings happiness and purity to the Sangha. You have to speak in a way that brings purity and understanding to the Sangha. We have to act in a way that brings understanding and beauty to the Sangha in order to create the Pure Land. To truly arrive, not to be carried away by appearances, to transcend the signs. You love me—it means you love you. You love you—it means you love me.

Applied Buddhism is the way to touch reality, in order to see that birth and death are only doors by which you enter and leave. It looks like you are born, it looks like you die, but really you are born every second, you are dying every second.

So, friends, don’t think that this body is just you, because you are a river. This river continues to flow and to flow. And if it stops here, it will appear on the other side.

Translated from Vietnamese by Sister Chan Khong; edited by Sister Annabel and Barbara Casey.

1. Gatha 44 from the Yogacarabhumishastra by Acarya Asanga

2. The Three Doors of Liberation:

Emptiness: Interbeing; the realization that we are empty of a separate, independent self. When we practice eating meditation, seeing the cosmos in our food, this is the practice of emptiness.

Signlessness: Not getting caught in the appearance or the object of our perception; not being limited by the form: i.e., seeing that the cloud and the river are the same in essence, both made of water.

Aimlessness: The realization that we already have Buddha nature, that all the elements for happiness are already within us. The practice of aimlessness is the practice of freedom.

PDF of this article

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

I Have Arrived, I Am Home

By Thich Nhat Hanh

mb60-IHaveArrived1

Dear Ancestors, der Father, dear Mother, dear Buddha, dear Patriarchs, dear Teacher, dear Friends, I have arrived. I am home. While I am still making steps, I have already arrived, I am already home. I have stopped wandering. This is the teaching and the practice of Plum Village, the Dharma Seal of Plum Village.(1)

I have arrived in the Pure Land, a real home where I can get in touch with both my ancestors and my descendants. I can touch the paradise of my childhood and all the wonders of life. I am no longer concerned with being and nonbeing, coming and going, being born or dying. In my true home I have no fear, no anxiety. I have peace and liberation. My true home is in the here and the now. I have found true happiness.

During so many lifetimes I have been a wanderer, searching for peace and happiness. On my path of seeking I have fallen into the abyss of mistakes, bitterness, and despair. There were so many times that I thought I would die before I would find what I was seeking. Dear Buddha, you have helped me, you have saved me. You have shown me that what I was looking for is within myself and can be found in the present moment.

The project of building is the project of ten thousand lifetimes.
But looking deeply, we see it has already been realized.
The wonderful wheel of transformation is always leading us ahead.
Take my hand and you will see that we have been present together for a long time in this wonderful existence.

mb60-IHaveArrived2Our wonderful existence includes both happiness and suffering. How can happiness be possible without suffering? When we are able to see that suffering is the element that can be used to make happiness, we suddenly stop suffering. With this understanding, my happiness becomes immense and is able to embrace all the suffering. I no longer need to search or run after anything. I have stopped.

I am no longer a wanderer because I have a path and I don’t have to worry anymore. My path is the path of stopping, the path of enjoying the present moment. It is a path where every step brings me back to my true home. It is a path that leads nowhere. I am on my way home. I arrive at every step. I am taking my steps with leisure because I don’t have to hurry. That is my life; that is my practice.

The wind is still circulating. Don’t you know that my child?
While the faraway rain is approaching the nearby cloud,
drops of sunshine from above are falling down
helping Earth to see the blue sky.

I am still moving around with ease, freely,
not bound by the idea of being and nonbeing.
Therefore my child, on your way home,
make peaceful and leisurely steps,
because there is only one moon,
there is no waxing, there is no waning.

The Dharma Seal of Plum Village is “I have arrived, I am home.” It means happiness is possible. Freedom is possible. Right now. Right here.

Reprinted from I Have Arrived, I Am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

1. The Buddha taught that there are Three Dharma Seals which are the marks of the authentic Dharma: impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. If we don’t recognize these Three Dharma Seals in a Buddhist teaching, then it is not an authentic teaching of the Buddha.

PDF of this article

Letters

Dear Sister Annabel and everyone in the editorial board,

I belong to Joyfully Together Sangha, and Gentle Waves Sangha in Malaysia, as well as to Joyful Garden Sangha in Singapore. I have just received my first issue [of the MB]. Thank you very much with all my heart to everyone who has made Thay’s precious teachings available to us, even those dwelling far away.

I am going through a lot of personal challenges in order to understand that things, events, people we meet, and the paths we have tread were all meant for a higher purpose and that is to awaken the Buddha nature in all of us. Many times when we are going through the darkness we might not see any light, but if we persevere on, we realize the value and meaning behind all these struggles and challenges. I would like to share with you this poem about my experiences in my childhood and for many years of my life:

I wanted world peace so badly because I had no inner peace.
I wanted world peace so badly, that’s why I had no inner peace.
Only if there is inner peace in the hearts of all living beings can world peace be possible.

May all sentient beings arrive in the Buddha’s Pure Lands in the Here and Now every moment of their lives.

With much love and prayers,
Yeshe Dolma
Ipoh, Malaysia

mb60-Letters

I am very impressed [by the Winter/Spring 2012 issue], not just seeing the photo I sent, but seeing the story you chose to place it with. In fact, the magazine addresses issues that concern me personally. I come from a Catholic family and some articles included were very helpful in the process I am going through now related to my Christian roots, my family, and the beautiful road that has opened for me the encounter with Buddhism. I am grateful for your allowing me to collaborate on this issue. I thank Thay and the whole community, in the present, past, and future, that works from love to help in awakening and true human liberation. I wish peace, love, and understanding for you and all the Sangha.

A lotus for you
Carlos Javier Vazquez
Puerto Rico

PDF of this article

On the Way Home

By Eileen Kiera

mb60-OnTheWay1

In the early years of Plum Village there were only two hamlets—Upper Hamlet at Thenac and Lower Hamlet at Meyrac. The hamlets were open for visitors one month each summer from mid-July to mid-August. A few dozen Westerners from all over Europe and North America stayed in Upper Hamlet, and Vietnamese émigrés stayed in Lower Hamlet. Thay gave several Dharma talks each week at one of the hamlets, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, and sometimes in Vietnamese. We walked back and forth between the hamlets to her Thay speak and to visit with our friends in the other hamlet.

One day, I was late for the Dharma talk at Upper Hamlet, and was hurrying along the road when I saw a small yellow Renault, clearly a Plum Village car, come trundling along. I waved at the car, somewhat frantically, and stood in the road in such a way that the driver couldn’t miss seeing me. I really wanted a ride. I really didn’t want to miss the Dharma talk, and my gestures made clear that I needed the car to stop and pick me up. The car came to a halt and I saw it was Sister Chan Khong (Chi Phuong in those days) driving Thay up for the Dharma talk. Embarrassed by the demanding and impatient demeanor I had shown in flagging them down, I nevertheless crawled into the back seat and offered apologies. Sister Chan Khong gently admonished me, saying something to the effect that of course they would stop and pick me up, and then she turned around to drive us up the hill.

mb60-OnTheWay2

The ride was short, maybe fifteen minutes, and we passed the time in silence. But it was a silence that was infused with a feeling of love. It was palpable. The air of love was thick enough to touch, and I was humbled by it. I knew this love wasn’t about me, particularly, but that I was included in it. Eventually, after many more years of practice, I came to realize that I and all beings were always embraced by this love. As I sat in the back seat, quiet and at peace, I rested in the warmth of love. The Dharma talk had touched me with no words at all.

Carrying the Light

I carried Thay’s teaching with me whenever I left Plum Village and came back to my home in Western Washington. Once again I entered the life of a householder, with job, husband, daughter, and many friends. Sometimes I would long for the love and ease I felt when I was at Plum Village. I knew it was in me, as well as at Plum Village, so my practice became to create within my family and community the peace and love Thay had shown me. And what a sweet practice it was. It began with being aware of what I was thinking and feeling throughout the day. When my mind was distracted, I would let go and come back to my breathing, particularly when I saw that my thoughts and feelings were creating harm or suffering within me. I knew that if I held on to these thoughts I would believe them true, and from them I would create suffering around me. I saw all of this clearly, over and over again.

One time, when my two-year-old daughter fell from a countertop onto the floor, I was flooded with anger. I’d frequently lifted her down from high places and told her of the dangers of climbing on things, but she persisted when my back was turned. After she fell, she was scared and crying, but initially my anger prevented me from going to her. When I felt the heat of my anger, I turned my awareness to my breath, and took a few conscious breaths to see her with fresh eyes, remembering how I’d felt when I saw her for the first time. Instantly my anger melted. I was filled with love for her. Instinctively I went to her and cradled her in my lap. After a few more sobs, she jumped out of my lap, smiled, and said in her baby-talk way, “That why no climb, Mama.” I never had to rescue her again from high places.

In 1990, Thay transmitted the lamp to me and asked me to begin teaching. In spite of feeling unworthy, I felt honored to accept the transmission and to carry the light of Buddha’s lamp forward in North America. But in my mind, I wasn’t a teacher unless I had students. So when I came home from Plum Village that summer, I waited to see if people would invite me to teach. And they did, so along with students came the new practice of sharing the Dharma by words and activity. My model was Thay. Through the many years of teaching, I still look to him whenever there is a difficulty in Sangha or with Sangha members. I always ask myself, “What would Thay do here?” And I pull up all of his patience, his love, his gentle spirit and rest there for a while. Then, when I am solid, I step forth with the Thay who lives within me, in honor of Thay, who continues to show me the way in this life.

mb60-OnTheWay3Eileen Kiera, True Lamp meets regularly with Sanghas in her area and has led retreats throughout the United States, in Europe, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. She is co-founder of Mountain Lamp community, a rural lay practice center in northwestern Washington state, where she lives with her husband and community of practice.

PDF of this article

No Heat, No Fear

By Peggy Rowe Ward

mb60-NoHeat1

“Bring a sleeping bag,” announces a sign on the Zendo. “Hmmm,” I wonder. I stick my head into the room and am greeted by a cool blast of air. Ah, the power is out. I turn around and walk briskly back to my dorm room in Lower Hamlet and return to the Zendo with more layers of clothing and my sleeping bag. I cannot recognize anyone in the hall this morning. I sit.

It’s January and the poplar trees stretch their bare arms into a grey sky. It is Sunday, the day that we open the monastery doors for a public Day of Mindfulness. Not that many folks join us these days. It’s the early 1990s, and the French have yet to discover that there is a Zen master tucked away in the rolling green countryside of southern France.

mb60-NoHeat2

Thay will offer the Dharma talk in the Lower Hamlet dining room, as there is a wood stove in this space. My roommates and I strategize on how to prepare for the talk. From experience, we know that one side of the room will be very hot and the other side will be very cold. We calculate a perfect time to arrive and sit right in the middle, and then we prepare to dress for this event. We take out all of our clothes and help each other layer up. Each of us looks like a strange cross between a bag woman and a gypsy as we are covered with shawls, blankets, coats, and hats. We laughingly lumber out of our room and link arms as we make our way to the dining room.

The dining room is jammed with benches and chairs. Pierre sits by the stove, feeding the fire. Pierre lives a few vineyards away from Lower Hamlet. He is one of a handful of friends that appears every Sunday looking wildly French. He sports a black beret, dark wool Melton coat, and thick knit sweater. He has a large nose that fits perfectly with his kind face. He has a habit of resting both of his strong weather-etched hands on the top of his wooden walking stick. He is a regular presence at Plum Village and we are comfortable with his watchful gaze.

There is no aisle, so we bump-bump-bump our way through the room. The padding has tripled our girth. We crawl on top of the chairs toward the middle of the room. We sit and spill over our white plastic chairs. We are almost wedged together with softness. I look to my left and recognize the eyes of my friend. We smile softly and look around the room. The windows are covered with steam so we cannot see out. Everyone who enters is wearing a similar disguise.

The bell is invited and Thay enters the room, followed by his attendant. Pierre moves away from the stove so that Thay can sit close by the heat. Thay settles in. He is offered a cup of tea, which he holds in his brown-mittened hands. The pine logs simmer and crack. Thay begins his talk and we cannot hear a word.

I have a moment of upset. I look around and quickly discover that none of us can hear. The fire is speaking loudly; there is the drip-drip-drip of moisture off the windows, the rustle of bodies, and no microphone. Breathing in, I breathe into that small upset, take her by the hand and put her on my soft lap. Breathing out, I smile. I sigh and settle into this day. What could be more lovely than this? Magically, I feel my neighbors doing the same. I notice several heads starting to bob and I can feel mine bobbing, too.

A small frisson moves my heart. I recognize that we are in the presence of Maitreya Buddha, that we are Maitreya Buddha. We relax together and breathe as one padded body. Thay is close by. We are warm. We are safe. We are together. Today the Buddha of loving community has manifested herself as woolen-wrapped students of the Buddha silently seated in a dining room, taking refuge in the warmth, in the teachings, and in each other.

Peggy Rowe Ward, True Original Vow, lives and practices in Claremont, California with her husband Larry Ward and dog Charlie, as well as the Baby Step Sangha.

PDF of this article

All Roads Lead to Plum Village

 

By Janelle Combelic

mb60-AllRoads1

I left Plum Village in August 1990 after three weeks at my first summer retreat, not knowing that it would take me fourteen years to get back. But those three weeks changed my life.

I had started meditating on my own a couple of years before in Phoenix, Arizona. Every day before going to work as a technical writer I would sit for forty-five minutes. In 1989 I attended my first Vipassana retreat, a six-day silent retreat at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico. The teacher was Jack Kornfield. Just about the only thing I remember was his admonition not to take ourselves too seriously. In fact, he mentioned a wonderful Vietnamese monk who told people to smile while they meditated!

A Rustic Peace

Some months later I saw an ad in a Buddhist magazine for Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastery. When I read that Plum Village was in France, where I had grown up, I knew I had to go. And so in July 1990 I found myself sitting in the sunshine outside the train station in Ste. Foy la Grande, waiting with a few strangers. And waiting. Someone finally came to pick us up and drove us to Lower Hamlet.

Conditions on the old farm were very rustic. I stayed in a primitive room in one of the old farm buildings with a few other women. Halfway through my stay I moved into a tent out in an overgrown field (where the new toilet block is now). Dharma Nectar Meditation Hall was new and bright and huge; every morning we gathered around the monks and nuns who sat around a central altar, chanting in Vietnamese. The Buddha garden beyond the windows radiated peace and beauty.

Every week we had a ceremony, as if Thay were squeezing a whole year of Vietnamese culture into a month. The Full Moon Festival in the meadow below Upper Hamlet was spectacular, with the moon rising behind the church of Puyguilhem on its hill across the valley. Most moving was the ceremony for Hiroshima Day when we processed to the pond in the oak wood at Lower Hamlet and launched little paper boats carrying candles with our prayers for peace.

At Upper Hamlet, we crowded into the Transformation Hall to listen to Thay’s Dharma talks. I loved its old white stones and small windows, the intimacy of this ancient barn converted into a Buddhist temple. One day we had a tea ceremony there with Thay. A lively and contentious discussion ensued, where some of the parents staying at Upper Hamlet complained about the lack of a children’s program. I noticed that the Vietnamese children staying at Lower Hamlet with their families, enjoying a welcome immersion in their native culture, behaved calmly and respectfully. The Western children staying at Upper Hamlet were far more boisterous, and their parents wanted more support to enjoy the retreat. I admired Thay’s honesty and openness, his willingness to listen but also his firm commitment to the practice.

Things were not nearly as organized then as they are now. There were no “families,” no work groups. Being new to the practice myself, I tried to get involved with different activities and found myself overcommitted in no time. I also re-created the isolation and loneliness of my life at home. I didn’t make friends and don’t remember learning about Sangha.

mb60-AllRoads2
At that time the Plum Village culture seemed rather male-dominated. The monks walked in front of the nuns during pro-cessions, just as in Vietnam. The nuns included Sister Annabel, abbess of Lower Hamlet; Sister Phuong, as Sister Chan Khong was then known; and Sister Jina, newly arrived and still wearing the formal gray robes of a Japanese monastic. I asked a senior laywoman, Joan Halifax, to lead a women’s discussion group. We were astonished when the circle filled the whole Transformation Hall! We had to schedule a second meeting so that everyone could get a chance to share.

Healing My Life

I’m not sure what specifically changed me at that retreat— perhaps one of Thay’s Dharma talks. That summer I was in my mid-thirties, suffering from chronic pain and loneliness. After one last failed relationship I had given up on men entirely to focus on healing my life. So when Thay invited us to write him questions I jumped at the chance. I thought my problems had to do with my father, and to give Thay some background I wrote page after page detailing my history. A few days later, I was astonished to hear Thay telling my story! However, he told it with profound sadness—describing this American woman who got involved with older men, who lost one baby and aborted another, whose younger brother had died of cancer, who didn’t get along with her family. For the first time I saw my own pain with real compassion. No wonder I felt sad all the time!

When I got home I made some decisions to change my life. I consulted a medical doctor and a homeopath and started getting the help I needed. Mysteriously, my healing took me far away from Plum Village and from meditation. For ten years I led an “ordinary” life, letting the world be my teacher.

By the time Thay came to Boulder in 2002 I had started meditating again and in 2003 I went on his retreat in Estes Park. That’s where I discovered Sangha. I started attending Peaceful Hearts Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado, and my life has never been the same.

It has been a long and uneven road, but more and more each day I touch the wonders of life. Who knew a person could be this happy!

mb60-AllRoads3Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation, co-founded Lotus Blossom Sangha in Longmont, Colorado. In 2010 she moved to Scotland, where she lives in a cottage with her English husband and their Irish setter Seamus. She practices with Northern Lights Sangha at Findhorn.

PDF of this article

Sowing Seeds of Meditation

By Cara Harzheim

mb60-Sowing1

For thirty-six years I taught in the Grammar School Ludwid-Meyn-Schule, a big high school near the River Elbe, Germany. I was one of seventy-eight teachers in this school of 1,040 students. Teaching was my greatest passion in life. The students were my children, my friends, and my combatants.

In the winter of 1994-95, I spent two weeks at Plum Village. There I found my spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings on January 2, 1995, and when I returned to Germany, I began meditating regularly with my students.

The students called me their “teacher of meditation”: “the exceptional colorful flower of the school, the teacher you can talk to, who listens profoundly, understands you, and gives the advice you need. She is the one you ask for help when your friend wants to commit suicide. She dances with you the whole night through. When you come from a rural background and are afraid of male authoritarian teachers, she supports you to speak up. She sings with you songs of freedom and peace for Blacks, Indians, and Vietnamese and she speaks about global ethics and your behavior in this world of ours.”

Every day, from Monday to Friday, I offered the students fifteen minutes of meditation during the two twenty-five-minute breaks of their day. We practiced several different kinds of meditation, all of which the students loved: sitting meditation (be aware of your in- and out-breath), guided meditation according to Thay’s books, pebble meditation, metta meditation, walking meditation indoors if it rained or outdoors in the former cemetery next to the school, total relaxation, tea ceremony, and mindful eating of a tangerine or biscuit.

When the students had taken part in ten meditation sessions, they got a certificate that said: “She has participated in the meditation extracurricular activity with great success.” Both younger and older students loved to get that paper.

Away from the Turmoil

I always tried to have a room that was quiet and good for meditation, “a room of silence.” First I found an attic under the roof, in which I put a carpet and twenty-five of my own multicolored cushions which I had bought in India, a golden Buddha statue, an icon of Mary and the child Jesus my father had brought from Russia, a big bell and a small bell, an earthen teapot and small cups, a water boiler, some candles, and incense sticks. The caretaker of the school was not happy when he heard I used a water boiler and candles in the attic. He tried to close down the room several times because I didn’t give up preparing tea.

We were moved to a restored room adjoining this attic. However, the substitute headmaster didn’t like us to sit on the newly installed carpet. We fled to the cemetery outside and found it was the right place to meditate about impermanence, illness, and death. A music teacher who was a fervent supporter allowed us to use the music rooms. We sat among all the instruments and tried to generate calmness, understanding, and loving-kindness. We tried to gain a little bit of peace and freedom.

In the end, students collected signatures from other pupils, teachers and parents, and we were allowed to use one of the last cellar rooms with hardly any light. All my groups helped me to furnish it again. We had a big tea ceremony with cookies and Plum Village songs in English and French. It was a cozy room far away from the turmoil of normal hectic school life.

Zen Is Cool

I taught lessons in East Asian and western philosophy to students who didn’t want to take part in classes of religious education (Catholic, Protestant). We spoke about their interests: How to live happily? What is death? How to live sexually? When we explored ethics and metaphysics applied in this world, I introduced the Five Mindfulness Trainings to the students, who showed a deep concern about them.

The first lesson of each Monday morning was Beginning Anew. “How did I nourish myself last weekend?” “What do I focus on this week?” In the lessons before a test, students asked for a guided meditation (“I am blooming as a flower”) and after the test, a deep relaxation to let go of all the frustration and excitement. On Fridays, the students reflected on what had happened during the week, how they could relax during the weekend in a good way, and their plans for the next week.

Twice a year there were project weeks in the school, offered by teachers, parents, or students. Twice I offered Meditation Practice according to Thich Nhat Hanh. Students drove every day to my old farmhouse and practiced mindfulness in walking, sitting, washing and cutting vegetables, reading the Five Contemplations and eating, learning gathas and Plum Village songs, and enjoying deep relaxation. They felt they had participated in the best project and were proud to find their photos in the local newspaper.

I facilitated a one-day project, “Zen Is Cool,” with forty students in the biggest room of the school. We sat, walked, explained the Five Mindfulness Trainings, offered a tea ceremony and tangerine meditation, and listened to the story “The Hugging Judge.” We exchanged little red hearts with the promise to give them to someone we loved. We ended with hugging meditation. Their little brothers and sisters received the hearts with astonishment and joy.

Plum Village Retreat

In 2006, I brought seventeen students with me to a twenty- one-day retreat at Plum Village. They committed to a trip without alcohol, cigarettes, meat, McDonald’s, or television during the Football World Cup. The students loved Lower Hamlet. The boys stayed in tents behind the pine and fir trees, and the girls and the two women teachers in tents behind Dharma Nectar Hall among the plum trees.

The students loved Thay and his extraordinary presence. When he addressed them personally, they were proud. They appreciated Sister Jina’s gentle authority, kindness, understanding, and willingness to let them remain together as a group in Lower Hamlet. Sister Chan Khong conquered their hearts by singing songs and lullabies for them in a special audience. They loved her wit, her openness, and her love of young people. They also enjoyed Sister Bi Nghiem’s dry humor and the great care she took of them.

The students loved walking up the hill to Loubès Bernac and looking down on the plain of Duras. They took great pleasure in the mindful swimming lazy day in the lake of Castelgaillard and all the potatoes and healthy pizzas the nuns cooked for them. In front of Thay and all the retreatants, they offered a drama about slowing down. A breakfast with the Jewish group left a lasting impression on them: the sharings and openness, the wishes for recognition of suffering, and the willingness for reconciliation.

Upon return, the students’ parents were aware of transformations in their children’s abilities to be more understanding and loving, to listen, and to practice mindfulness. The students never forgot this wonderful twenty-one-day retreat and continued to participate with joy in walking and sitting at school.

Here are some quotations from the students. Rebecca (11th year) said, “The meditation room is the most beautiful room of the school. There I can focus on my real self and I can let go of everything else. I feel at ease and I’d like to stay there longer.” Anna-Lena (A-level class) shared: “Meditation does you good. You start concentrating on your breathing. You come back to yourself and are aware of your body. Normally I have the problem of thinking too much.” Daniel (11th class) said, “I meditate at home every evening. I’ve noticed that I have become calmer and more confident.”

Meditation became a vital part of normal school life in all its forms. The students learned the tools of coming back to their breath, calming down, and concentrating by letting go of wrong perceptions. Meditation has enriched their lives and given them the opportunity and the hope “for a better future to be possible.”

mb60-Sowing2Cara Harzheim, True Wonderful  Compassion received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings  in 1999. In 2008 she emigrated from Germany to France. She now lives in Puyguilhem, ten minutes from Lower and Upper Hamlet. She feels she has really arrived and is home living next to Thay and being part of the Fourfold
Sangha.

PDF of this article

Poem: The Gift of Non-Fear

Three Moments on the Way to Dwelling in Equanimity

By Lyn Fine

1: Sumb60-TheGift1nday, September 15, 1996, Plum Village, France.
Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh

We are sitting together in the Meditation Hall at the Lower Hamlet.
Listening, we are aware of our breathing.
We are present together.

In the midst of your Dharma talk, you pause.
Quietly, you strike a match.
You touch the flame to a sheet of paper.
Smoke wafts into the air. Flames appear.
The paper is burning.
Now there is only black charcoal ash.

Gently, between the thumb and two fingers of your right hand,
You pick up the charred remains.
“It’s hot,” you say softly, calmly.
On your lips, there is a half-smile.
You hold the black charcoal for an instant.
Then, releasing your fingers, you let the burnt remains drop into the bell.

In mindfulness I watch, aware of my breathing.

Breathing in, I am aware that ancestors are present
Jewish ancestors burning in ovens — here, now
Vietnamese sisters and brothers burning in self-immolation to stop the bombs of war — here, now
wise-woman witches burning at the stake — here, now
churches of African-American brothers and sisters burning in the United States — here, now
ancient trees burning from human forgetfulness — here, now
Breathing out, I do my best to smile with equanimity and compassion — but I cannot — not yet.

Breathing in, I know I am touching seeds of pain and suffering in me from the individual and collective storehouse consciousness — seeds of terror, seeds of rage, seeds of grief
Breathing out, I am aware that I am unable to smile — nor to cry, nor to cry out. I cannot — not yet.
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in
Breathing out, I am aware: conscious breathing is my anchor.

Suddenly, your gentle voice penetrates the clouded-over sky-mind.
“We will put these [charred remains] in the garden,” I hear you say.
Tears come and a half-smile.
Fear has released. The heart opens.

mb60-TheGift22: Sunday, September 15, 1996, Plum Village.
Outdoor Walking Meditation

It is Sunday, September 15, 1996.
It is the second day of the Jewish New Year, 5757.
This year at Plum Village, during a three-week retreat,

— “The Heart of the Buddha,” it is called —
We are observing the highest holy days of the Jewish people, in the way that they — or some of them — would observe them.

The seed you planted more than a decade ago has borne fruit.
“To make peace on the planet,” you said at a Reverence for Life Conference in 1982,
“each religious group should observe the most important holiday of each other religious group
in the way that group would observe the holiday.”

For the seed and for the fruit,
And for all the conditions which have allowed the gradual ripening of the fruit
I am grateful.

Now we are walking together in walking meditation.
Hand in hand, we walk through orchards of plum trees in the Lower Hamlet.
The trees are bearing fruit — sweet purple plums.
Our steps touch the Earth gently.
We are embraced by sunshine and blue sky.

Breathing in, I know that sunshine and rain, blue sky and Earth have nourished the fruit
and its gradual ripening
that residents of Plum Village, lay and monastic, have cared for the trees, harvested the fruit, and turned it into plum jam
that children in France gave money to plant these trees so that children in Vietnam could have medical supplies and food
Breathing out, I am aware that present in us in this moment
are all of our ancestors
and all of our descendants
We are the sunshine.
We are the blue sky.
We are the trees bearing fruit.

Here, now, we walk, hand in hand.
We are walking as a community, a Sangha.
We are walking with each other, we are walking for each other.
I walk for you. I know you are walking for me.

“Touching, touching”
“Connecting, connecting, connecting”
With each in-breath, I am walking two steps.
With each out-breath, I am walking three steps.
Step by step I am walking, breathing in, breathing out.
But I am aware that I am not truly present — not yet.

I walk in peace, but the mind goes in a million directions.
The energy of seeds from the individual and collective storehouse consciousness
remains strong.
The mind remains caught
In a net of burnings.

Breathing in, I am aware of regret:
There is sadness in me. I am caught.
Present in me — here, now — are blue sky, white clouds.
But I am not wholehearted. The mind is caught
In the past. The wounds of suffering, still present.

mb60-TheGift3Breathing out, my resolution deepens:
I vow to cultivate mindfulness with determination
I aspire to be fully present to the miracle
of being alive — here, now.
I aspire to open, wholehearted, in joy, to this present moment.

Crossing a narrow plank bridge, we arrive at the pond.
Human beings and trees, we encircle the water.
Together we stand, in the stillness.
Listening.
Waiting.
Breathing in, I am aware: breathing in.
Breathing out, I am aware: breathing out.
We hear the silence.

Hearing, hearing.
Breathing in, aware of birds chirping.
Breathing out, aware of leaves rustling.
Jacqueline begins to play her violin — the ancient Jewish melody Avinu Malkeinu.
We sing. No boundary.
Touching Jewish ancestors. No boundary.
Touching all ancestors. No boundary.
For some of us, this moment is the first time
To touch our ancestors.

In silence,
We pick up small sticks and stones, take lint from our pockets.
We name the times when we have missed the mark.
We acknowledge that we have sinned, as individuals and as communities.
By omission and by commission, we have caused suffering.
One by one, and together, we cast our sticks and stones and lint into the water.
One by one and together as a Sangha we transform consciousness.

Breathing in, I am aware of our multiple origins —
We are from Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Israel, Egypt, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark,
Romania, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Spain, the Netherlands,
Canada, U.S.A., Indigenous Peoples, New Zealand, Australia
Breathing out, I realize: not two, not one.

Breathing in, I am aware that in our Buddhist retreat center
We are observing tashlich, an ancient Jewish custom of renewal.
We are observing tashlich as Jews would observe it.
We are observing tashlich as Jews around the world are observing it, on this day.
We are observing tashlich amidst the trees, around a pond.
We are observing tashlich with friends from numerous countries — former enemies.
Breathing out, I know we are returning home, to our true origin and Source.

mb60-TheGift43: Sunday, September 15, 1996, Plum Village.
After Outdoor Walking Meditation

Now the walk is over and tashlich too.
We have cast into the water
Our unwholesome states of mind

And those times when we have missed the mark — sinned —
Individually and collectively.
We have deepened our determination
To cultivate wholesome states of mind,
Deep listening, deep looking, and wise action that meets the mark.

A novice monk thanks me for the tashlich observance.
He speaks to me from a place of love.
He speaks to me from the depth of his experience.
I hear what he is saying, and I am very happy.
We breathe together.
I speak softly of the burning of the paper,
Of the seeds from the individual and collective storehouse consciousness
which arose in me, and remained so strongly present.

I speak of the black charcoal remains,
Of your suggestion that we would put them in the Plum Village garden —
“We will put these [charred ashes] in the garden,” you had said —
I speak of the release in me when I heard you say that.
For a moment, we breathe together in silence.
“The ashes have been put in the Plum Village garden,”
My Dharma brother says with a gentle smile.
And I wonder — is it only by chance that I am speaking to the very monk
Who was given the ashes, who himself scattered them in the garden?

So —
Now it is done.
In nurturing soil of love and remembrance and compassion
In a small hamlet in southern France
Burned ancestors, brothers, and sisters, and children
Rest now. Charred remains renew the Earth.
Burned and burners: not two, not one.

A meditation appears:
Breathing in, I am aware of the seeds of suffering in me from my [Jewish and other] ancestors —
seeds of terror, seeds of rage, seeds of grief
Breathing out, I vow, for the well-being of all beings, to transform these seeds
with gentle caring

Breathing in, I am aware of the seeds of well-being in me
from my [Jewish and other] ancestors —
seeds of joy, seeds of love, seeds of wisdom
Breathing out, I vow, for the benefit of all beings, to discover and nourish these seeds with tenderness

Breathing in, I touch no birth, no death
Breathing out, I go beyond fear
Breathing in, I touch the Ground of All Being
Breathing out, I know that in this moment I have returned home, to my true self
A smile appears.
The precious gift of non-fear, always offered, has been received.
Thank you, my dear friends, for our observance together.

 

Reprinted from I Have Arrived, I Am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

Lyn Fine, True Goodness, is from New York City and now lives in Berkeley, California. She received Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in 1994.

PDF of this article

Lotus Flowers Sing in Lower Hamlet

By Ian Prattis

mb60-Lotus1

During the 2001 Summer Retreat in Plum Village, I found a way to put the Three Refuges to good use in a totally unexpected manner. I was staying in Lower Hamlet with my friend Carolyn, and we had asked Sister Jina, the Abbess of Lower Hamlet, to perform a wedding ceremony for us on July 21 – the same day as the Ancestors’ Festival. I was the family head of the Magic Sponges, a wonderful pot-washing team drawn from eighteen different nationalities. Carolyn was the family head of the Fresh Eyes cleaning up team, and we both had a wonderful time working with our respective families.

However, it was not always smooth sailing. One evening after the last sitting meditation in the Dharma Nectar Temple, I noticed that the work of another family—Carolyn’s—was not done, so I decided to do it. Only I had a totally wrong attitude. That particular day I was tired and became irritated with the incomplete work, as it made the work of the Magic Sponges a little bit difficult. So I began to do the unfinished work, but with tiredness and irritation. I was not drawing on a happy, mindful heart, and I was certainly not present for the task at hand. The tiredness and irritation came out in unmindful speech to one member of the Fresh Eyes team who was turning up late to complete the work. As soon as these tired words came out, I knew they were unmindful and apologized, receiving generous forgiveness. My thoughts, however, did not become peaceful.

I knew that someone else would soon receive my irritation and tiredness through further unmindful speech on my part. I had to come to a stop and take care of the irritation and tiredness that was the root of my unmindful speech. I took off my apron and did slow walking meditation to the lotus pond, attaching my concentration and awareness to each in-breath and each out-breath. The slow walk from the kitchen to the lotus pond took about thirty minutes. Once there, I sat on a bench, became still and very present, and had a quiet talk with myself. During this conversation in my mind, I asked a question: Why am I here in Lower Hamlet?

There was a long silence. Then the answer came from deep within: To take deeper refuge in the Three Gems—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. As I took notice of this voice within, all the irritation and heaviness lifted and I suddenly felt so free. Then I heard the lotus flowers sing in Lower Hamlet for the second time that day.

Earlier that morning, Carolyn and I had spent some time by the lotus pond. Carolyn loved to take photographs and had a wonderful series of lotus flowers in her camera. We were also completing our Beginning Anew prior to the wedding ceremony in a week’s time. As we sat by the lotus pond in the morning, rain clouds formed and heavy rain started to fall. I put up my big red umbrella and we stayed there while the rain grew stronger. It was so beautiful. We were dry and safe beneath the big red umbrella, totally silent, totally present. We felt one with the rain, the ground, and the lotus pond. There was nothing else. As the rainstorm softened and became a gentle shower, we heard the raindrops falling slowly and gently on the lotus flowers. That was when we both heard the lotus flowers sing.

In the evening, after hearing the lotus flowers sing again, I returned to the unfinished work and went about it with a happy heart. My friend in the other work team and I smiled to one another. Before I fell asleep that night, two lines floated into my mind:
In the Dharma rain I see lotus flowers sing in Lower Hamlet.

mb60-Lotus2Ian Prattis is the dharmacharya at Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, which is the nucleus of Friends for Peace Canada. He is also the author of The Essential Spiral;  Failsafe;  Earth My Body, Water My Blood; and Song of Silence, all available on Amazon Kindle.

PDF of this article

Step by Step out of Despair

Parenting a Child with Special Needs

By Laurel Houghton

mb60-StepByStep1

We were at home and I went to pick her up. She was blue, and her arms and legs limply dangled between my arms. I thought she was in a deep sleep. Then that she was dead. My first child, three days old. Not yet recovered from giving birth, I called her name, trying to bring her back to life as her father sped us to the ER. She’d had the first of many seizures that would only be stopped by literally putting her brain to sleep with drugs.

mb60-StepByStep2From that moment on, I lived in fear. I entered into a noble, instinctual struggle to save her life, changing in a few days from a scholarly doctoral student into a ferocious mother tiger. Meditation practice didn’t calm my parental instincts. Despite my ten-year morning and evening meditation practice, as she lay in Intensive Care hooked up to blinking machines and IVs, as she was prodded for blood tests, I lost my solidity. And between the pounding walls of the MRI, holding my tiny baby for a brain scan, I lost my faith.

She survived her birth, but we never found out the cause of the seizures and massive nervous system disorganization. One day she struggled to crawl and then gave up, flopping limply on the living room rug. Our baby was unable to talk, crawl, or walk. Her babble didn’t have normal sounds. It was then that I dropped my doctorate to study speech, occupational, physical, audio, and cutting edge therapies, usually staying up until midnight at our kitchen table as I studied specially ordered texts and planned an intervention program. I refused to accept her bleak prognosis, and solving her disabilities became my full-time work. For me, there was no balance and no breathing. My abdomen became rock hard.

Healthy mothers are often willing to give their life for their child. In my case, my personal determination to change her injured nervous system would dominate my life and become almost lethal. What I didn’t know or understand at the time was that trying to force a huge karmic drama of life into any particular outcome can eventually bring exhaustion and deep despair. Our efforts may be noble, but when we chronically stop breathing as we do our work, we are most likely caught in an ego- and fear-based control over life as it is. And giving my life to save my baby would nearly take both our lives.

My husband tried to help me notice what was good and easy in our family, but I couldn’t hear him. I was too frightened for my child. The already weak marriage became more conflicted and distant. An old family sexual secret that I’d been holding for years was eroding and splitting my psyche even more. Well-meaning friends tried to comfort me with: “God never gives you more than you can bear.” These well-intentioned words can be empty and irritating to a desperate person. What I needed was a powerful voice of wisdom and compassion; I needed to hear the Dharma from a teacher who knew trauma and war and could teach me how to emerge from trauma with clarity and love.

By my daughter’s fourth year, I’d become suicidal. Thoughts of suicide happen when you can no longer bear your life. Not willing to desert my baby daughter, I was feeling more frequent urges to die together with her. I heard the sad news of a Japanese mother in LA who committed suicide by taking herself and her children into the ocean surf with her. Other people were shocked, but I understood deeply. Even when life has become unbearable, a loving mother doesn’t leave her babies behind. Fortunately, years of meditation had strengthened the witnessing part of my mind, and I didn’t follow the despair that I felt. Instead I entered therapy, which brought deep understanding and healing around the roots of suffering in my family of origin.

A Bell of Happiness

In my spiritual practice, there was no one who seemed to speak to my suffering. In the Buddhist community, there seemed to be no one who warmly welcomed children. Then I heard of a monk who had been in war and came out of that violence speaking about flowers being fresh and mountains being solid. It was a faint bell of hope heard by an exhausted, traumatized mother who was struggling with too much and wondering if her child would live.

I went to hear Thay with hundreds of other people in the open meadows of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the early 1990s. Seated beside him on the platform were two beautiful young children. He appeared to inhale their sweet youthfulness. This teacher who came from war, violence, and exile, and who loved children, impressed me. His clear words were an anchor to a quiet place that was deeper than my yelling fears, and a lifeline out of shock and sadness.

It was four years after my daughter’s birth and the cause of her problems was still unknown. The fear in her baby eyes as she fell into another seizure on the porch of our little cottage in San Francisco still flashed in my consciousness. It was as if I were trying to emerge from a bomb shelter. I couldn’t feel any trace of “present moment, wonderful moment.” So I changed it to what I could honestly say: “Present moment, nothing bad is happening right now moment.”

Balancing fear and fatigue with inhaling the present moment, I played Thay’s Dharma talks at home and in the car, and attended every retreat on both U.S. coasts with my daughter in arms. I took her to Plum Village. She would lie in my lap and gaze up into Thay’s quiet and loving face during Dharma talks. She loved the slow, quiet, smiling community, a respite from an impatient culture that moved and talked far too fast for her. And over the years, though we didn’t keep the silence and she ate lots of commercial peanut butter at the retreats, I could feel Thay’s words watering a new consciousness in me.

Present Moment, Not Bad Moment

Then, one year, as I looked at my daughter, a change happened. I was able to honestly shift to a tiny new step and silently say: “Present moment, not bad moment.” It wasn’t a change in her disabilities; it was a change in my consciousness that started to ease the fear and trauma. Noticing the sweet moments of raising a child had started to shift my consciousness like rain streaming into a dried southwest desert creek. Bathing her soft skin in the bathtub with me, I started to notice that the present moment had become an okay moment.

Slow steady changes started to flow within me as I made a powerful intention to live with a persistent practice, and not in fear. I looked at the beauty of camellias when we walked the neighborhood. As my daughter did crawling exercises, I would adore the cuteness of her thick thighs and nibble her tiny toes. While still forcing my growing toddler to make sounds by holding back her carrot juice when she was thirsty, I smiled into her eyes and noticed progress in her flat and incomprehensible sounds. I learned to breathe more deeply as I listened to her various therapists. I worked with the sometimes heartless and bureaucratic schools by walking into her education planning meetings very slowly, breathing, with the soles of my feet touching the earth.

In this mothering practice, I started holding my fearful heart as tenderly as I did my growing child. Eventually, lighter moments of honestly feeling “present moment, wonderful moment” started forming one by one, like deeply lustrous pearls on a strand of our happier life together. It took about seven years of intensive practice to steady myself and diminish the internal drama.

Twelve years ago, for my ordination application, I was asked, “Are you happy?”

I still wasn’t sure. The fears and worries still yipped loudly, like a large pack of coyotes at dusk. But I understood that this barking was the natural, earthly, loving nature of a mother and child. And I’d learned to take good care of the barking worries by simply checking on my daughter’s safety and the multiple to-do lists for her disabilities.

Breathing in Beauty

What is different is this: alongside the fears passing through me are the thoughts of the rosy cherry tomatoes in our organic garden, and the miraculous memory of my daughter dancing a choreography, and now, after many years of parenting, a train adventure in Thailand together. Am I happy? Yes, mostly, I am happy. And it’s possible to still have fear for her. But now, fears don’t sweep me away from the wonderful moment.

Along with holding my daughter’s special needs, I also hold my own heart and fears more gently. I believe that Thay’s presentation of Buddhist teaching and practice was one essential part of literally saving my life from suicide and possibly the life of my baby daughter as well. He taught me to breathe in beauty and balance in the midst of fear and trauma.

My daughter—Mirabai Collamore, Joyful Clarity of the Heart—is part of the first generation of Thay’s American children, having walked hand in hand with him as a little girl and having learned to make a lotus with tiny fingers. Two years ago, at age twenty-two, she chose to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Dharma light shines in her. The disabilities that were so frightening have been chipped away to almost nothing by her hard work. She attends a university where the worries of college studies and exams are held in gratitude as the precious jewels of a normal life. When nervous about her studying, Mirabai listens to her childhood cassettes of Thay, and at night she falls asleep in the arms of his Dharma talks.

As teachers of the Dharma, may we not rush the practice. May we all remember that just the next honest and mindful step, and then the next, and then the next, can gradually walk us out of despair and out of any dark consciousness.

To Thay, dear teacher, my lifelong prostration of deep gratitude.

mb60-StepByStep3Laurel Houghton, True Virtue and Harmony, has opened Flowing Waters Retreat at Mt. Shasta, California, a mindfulness practice center, where she hopes to offer a place to alleviate suffering through Dharma practice, the singing crystal pure waters, and the joy of wild spotted orchids growing under the cedars.

PDF of this article

Beginning to Dance

By Miriam Goldbergmb60-Beginning1

Of Grief

And of grief,
carry it not as a burden
Though you are bent
to breaking, and beyond
do not carry it as a burden.

Instead, bow down to it
on your knotted hands
cracked elbows, scarred knees
Bow down in it
as deep as you can go.

Fall past the tearing
at your own soul
through the loss that calls you
to leave everything behind
and join
with what has gone.

Sink into that –
until you know
the whole universe has changed,
irrevocably,
that nothing will be the same
ever again

until you know this so deeply
that you understand
nothing ever was the same,
ever, ever, ever . . .

The bewildered, anguished
weeping of your flesh
that so delighted in and feared change
now trembles and shakes.

Meet this utter loss.
Meet it. And bear witness
while it is stripped of everything
but its helplessness -
no skin, no bones, no face,
yet looks you straight in the eye
while it crumbles.
And becomes something
it didn’t know existed,

something that knows
grief is the resonant echo
of life sounding
the depths of change,

and carries grief
not as a burden, but as a truth,
a gossamer extension of life,
light, delicate filaments,
illuminating infinity,

in which it bows
and begins to dance.

The first time I visited Plum Village I stepped out of the transport van into the small courtyard of New Hamlet. A timeless welcome flowed through the old shutters lining the thick walls around me. I was told to put my bags down, register inside, find my room, and then come back into the dining area for a little more orientation. My way wound through narrow hallways to the barrack style beds in the dorm room. The feel of old stones and something quiet made my body smile.

Free from my luggage, I returned to the courtyard, walked back up the few stairs of the entryway, and turned right towards the dining room. As I stepped over the threshold, a gentle tidal wave of energy washed over and through me. Astonished, and in awe, I couldn’t move, nor did I want to. I stood there in awakened gratitude, feeling the magic and reality of longing fulfilled, as every cell in me was bathed in the experience of Well-Being. My feet felt fully connected to the earth. Everything was open. Everything was here. I had arrived.

In each subsequent retreat at Plum Village, I felt the fruit of practice alive in the air. It was all around: a deeply nourishing presence my whole body received. But even as I recognized it, I did not experience it residing in me or easily accessible through my breath. Inside, I was more aware of a lingering sense of dismay and searching. My breath would slow into something other than peace, a tension or fear, or a deep and almost motionless hiding.

Through the years, the collective presence of the Plum Village Sangha offered me steady solidity and cradled my mind, heart, and body energies. This deep Sangha support allowed and called layers of distress to arise in repeated attempts to be seen and tended by mindfulness, often accompanied by a helplessness and despair that held hostage my suffering and eclipsed love. Even though I felt I was swimming upstream, I knew I was steeping in something as precious as anything I had known: a key to the end of suffering.

I slowly learned which images, concentration, and inner mantras brought me ease. The solidity of earth that supports me as I sit and as I walk, the sun that warms us wherever we are, and gradually, an unwinding of tension into restfulness. My metta meditation became: “May I know that in me which is always peaceful. May I know that in me which is always safe. May I know that in me which is always happy,” and so on. The extended verse followed the forms: “May you know that in you” and “May we know that in us.” The certainty affirmed in this practice kept my rudder set on the truth.

Over many years, and much exploration and perseverance, the “personal contact, images, and sounds,” to which the Fourth Mindfulness Training (Awareness of Suffering) alludes, brought a solid remembrance of Presence I could trust. With right diligence, I felt the fruits of practice offer me increasing nourishment. And gradually, my breath began to harmonize with the eternal Presence of Well-Being until it found its own rhythm and opened its wings into freedom. The loveliness of life began to walk hand in hand with the suffering.

The two poems, “Of Grief ” and “This Life,” describe some treasures I found while walking the Plum Village path. I offer them with gratitude for the Sangha, the Dharma, the Buddha, and Thay.

This Life

What is this life?
if not a great lifting of wings

from earth to the heavens,
the whole universe opening
with the dive
into deep space.

Stars’ delighted twinklings welcome us
into an exquisitely infinite smile
melting our hearts to eternal love.

Here, a gentle knowing whispers us on feather soft wings
to that very point
where our toes touch unto earth and into our lives.

Our roots
sink deep, endlessly renewing.

PDF of this article

Plum Village Smiles

Plum Village  is  not  a Vietnamese temple set on European  land.  In  Plum Village, we see the Indian culture, the Chinese culture, the Vietnamese culture, and the Western culture. When we look carefully, we see that non-Plum Village elements exist in Plum Village. Consequently, Plum Village is also an object of meditation. The deeper we look, the more clearly we see it…. If we look deeply, we see that Plum Village is also unborn and undying.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

mb60-PlumVillage1mb60-PlumVillage2mb60-PlumVillage3mb60-PlumVillage4mb60-PlumVillage5mb60-PlumVillage6mb60-PlumVillage8mb60-PlumVillage9

 

Anh Thieu came from Vietnam by boat with his wife and two children.
They were the first people to help us start Plum Village. From the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1983, we had to work a lot. In early 1983, we began to plant some trees in the Upper Hamlet. The first trees were six umbrella pine trees.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

 

mb60-PlumVillage10mb60-PlumVillage11mb60-PlumVillage12mb60-PlumVillage13mb60-PlumVillage14mb60-PlumVillage15mb60-PlumVillage16mb60-PlumVillage18mb60-PlumVillage17mb60-PlumVillage19mb60-PlumVillage20mb60-PlumVillage21mb60-PlumVillage22mb60-PlumVillage23mb60-PlumVillage24mb60-PlumVillage26mb60-PlumVillage25

 

If you come to Plum Village, you have to take home with you no less than Plum Village in its entirety. Bringing Plum Village home, you will be able to survive longer. The teaching and practice of “I have arrived, I am home” always complements the teaching of “going as a river and not as a drop of water.” If you are a drop of water, then you will evaporate halfway; but if you go as a river, you will surely reach the ocean.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

mb60-PlumVillage27

 

Photos courtesy of Plum Village, Eileen Kiera, and Lyn Fine. Quotes reprinted from I Have Arrived, I Am Home (2003) by Thich Nhat Hanh with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, www.parallax.org.

PDF of this article

Mama, Today Is a Special Day

By Sister Trang Moi Len

mb60-Mama1

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is the day you gave birth to me. Mama, you felt contractions in the evening and you went to the clinic. The nurse said I would arrive in the morning so you went home. Instead, I was born at home just a little past midnight, and everything went smoothly. You told me I couldn’t wait to see the world, but I knew it was because I couldn’t wait to see your smile and your beautiful face. The rain in the morning welcomed me on the day I was born. Thank you, mama, for this special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is my first day of school at Pearl Kindergarten. You saw me off to school, but I wouldn’t let go of you and held on to you tightly. I was scared by the new faces and by the presence of other children. You tried to comfort me. Finally, after you played with me at the swing, I calmed down. The teacher took my hand, but I started crying and I called your name. Before I graduated from kindergarten there was a school carnival, and you prepared a costume for me. I asked you about the costume and you said it was a stewardess uniform. The costume was beautiful. Mama, I always smile when I remember this beautiful day and I still have a picture of carnival day. Thank you, mama, for such a special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today you gave me permission to play basketball. Many of my friends played basketball and they invited me to join, but you wouldn’t allow me to play because I’m a girl. I played without letting you know. One day, when I was playing with my friends, it began to rain heavily so we decided to play soccer. We played in the rain and I had a great time. The next day I got sick; I had a fever and I vomited. Later you found out why I was sick and you were upset, worried, and sad. You forbade me from playing basketball. I was sad too, not because I couldn’t play basketball, but because I’d caused you so much pain and worry. For a few days I didn’t speak much, and I sat on the veranda to watch the rain. You thought that I was sad. You changed your mind and let me play basketball as much I liked. But actually I was just enjoying the rain. Do you know, mama, it was the happiest day of my life. Thank you, mama, for this special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today I am sick. I got exhausted from playing too much basketball and I’ve been sick for a month. I was disappointed because there was an upcoming basketball match in another town but I had to stay home. I told you I wanted to die because I felt helpless, but you comforted me and said I’d be fine. Day and night you took care of me, took me to the doctor, made me comfort food, made sure I took my medicine, and checked my temperature regularly. One day, I woke up and looked for you but you weren’t home. I cried and told papa I wanted to see you. You came home right away. When I saw you, I felt relieved and safe so I stopped crying. Mama, please forgive me for being so spoiled and causing you so many sleepless nights. Your love is always there for me even when I don’t behave. Thank you, mama, for making this day a special day.

mb60-Mama2

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today I graduated from senior high school. You let me continue my studies in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. You were sad and I didn’t know. I was happy that I was going to see a world I’d never seen before. I’d be free because you wouldn’t be by my side to tell me what to do anymore. You cried on the day I left home. When I arrived in Jakarta, my joy went away. I missed you. Although I called you every week, my heart still longed for you. I felt lonely and I cried often. You gave me support and told me that I’d be okay, and that I’d make a lot of new friends and have an enjoyable time at school. Because of you I had the motivation to continue and I had a joyful experience. Thank you, mama, for making it a special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is the day of my university graduation. When I told you about my graduation, you were so happy and full of gratitude. You worked hard earning money for my tuition, and even though I wasn’t always a good student, you were still happy I was studying. You couldn’t attend my graduation and only papa came, but I was still happy and grateful because I know your love is always with me. Thank you, mama, for making this day a special day.

Heartfelt Aspiration

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is October 6, 2009, the day I went to Plum Village and realized my deep heartfelt aspiration. You didn’t agree, and you were angry about my choice, but I stayed on my path. Before I left home I shared with you my aspiration about true happiness and about monastic life. You didn’t understand but you listened to me and you gave me permission to go, hoping that someday I’d change my mind. You were sad and worried that you would lose me. Please forgive me, mama. I wanted to become a nun not because I don’t love you—I love you very much—but because I need to transform my suffering to receive your love. Thank you, mama, for letting me go. Thank you for making this day a special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is May 27, 2010, when I received the Ten Novice Precepts. My hair, inherited from you, was shaved off. I vowed to transform all the afflictions in me. Although you weren’t present at my ordination, I know you are in me. Since the day you received the news about my ordination, you refused to talk to me. In October I went back to Indonesia with my beloved teacher and Sangha. You didn’t want to see me as a nun and instead you sent my brother to meet me, to find out if I was doing well and if I was happy. I know deep down in your heart you love and care about me very much. I wasn’t sad because I knew you needed time to accept and to heal your wounds. Do you know, mama, I have a lot of brothers and sisters in the Dharma who love me and support me in the practice. Because of you and your love, I have the aspiration to transform myself so I know the way to offer my love for you and to learn how to live in the present moment, to appreciate the wonders of life, the life that you have given to me. I am now living happily as a nun. Thank you, mama, for making this day a special day.

Mama, today is a special day. Do you know why? Today is March 23, 2011, the day I went to Indonesia again to see you. I didn’t tell you in advance, but just showed up on the doorstep. Papa answered the door and was surprised to see me. I gave him a kiss and went to your room; you heard my voice and you started crying. You didn’t want to see my face but I hugged and kissed you and told you how much I loved you. You didn’t say anything until your sister-in-law came. She helped me to embrace your suffering. When I was in Indonesia, I went to visit you every day and listened to your suffering, your anger, your worries, and your pain. I listened deeply while relying on my breathing. After two weeks, you smiled again and we shared conversations filled with joy and happiness. I shared with you about my life in Plum Village, my teacher and brothers and sisters. I told you about our daily lives and the experiences of sharing the joy of those who have transformed themselves through the practice.

A flower started to bloom in your heart, and I could feel the transformation and healing happening in you. I have learned from my teacher that my mother is in me and the transformation and healing taking place in me are also in you, mama, papa, and our ancestors. I saw it very clearly. Since then my inner child is healing and becoming happier day by day. You supported me in continuing my spiritual path although I know you still miss me a lot and hope that I can stay by your side. Thank you, mama, for making this a special day in my life.

Thank you, mama, for giving birth to me so that I could experience the miracle of life. There are no words that can express my gratitude to you, Su Ong, and Su Co Chan Khong. Thank you all my beloved ancestors and respected teachers.

mb60-Mama3Sr. Trang Moi Len, True Rising Moon, lives and practices in New Hamlet, Plum Village.

PDF of this article

Such Treasure

Gratitude for Plum Village Practice

By Chan Ngo Nguyen Duy Vinh

mb60-SuchTreasure1

I would like to offer some memorable milestones for Plum Village’s 30th Anniversary celebration. Though my capability for remembering is reduced due to my growing age, my mind is able to go back as far as 1966, when I received a small booklet entitled A Rose for Your Pocket (Bong Hong Cai Ao) from a high school classmate. I was only eighteen years old and I was studying in Quebec City at that time, far away from home. My mother was still alive when I left my country and she died a few years later. My mother lived in Vietnam and we often communicated by ordinary snail mail. We didn’t have Skype or email as we do today. Sometimes I missed her a lot. We all miss our beloved ones when we are far away from them.

While I enjoyed every word of the booklet written by Thay in Vietnamese, the love toward a mother described so vividly in the booklet was like a glass of cold water poured onto my head. I was “awakened” by Thay’s writing. Thay wrote about his mother, and I could relate to it. I felt some regret that I hadn’t known how to fully appreciate my mother’s sweet presence when we were together. Far away from home and from her, I realized I was so stupid for not letting my mother know more often how much I loved her.

I didn’t think of this author, Thay, again until 1984 when I had a chance to be in France, attending a scientific conference in Toulouse. At the end of the conference, a friend of mine offered to drive me to Plum Village as he had to visit his family not far from Duras. This was my first encounter with Plum Village. I wasn’t well prepared as I didn’t know what the practice of mindfulness was all about. It was all new to me and I was culturally shocked.

My first encounter with Plum Village was a challenging one. Eating in silence, walking in silence, sitting in silence, doing almost everything mindfully in silence. And there was no coffee for our breakfast meal in the morning. I found it a bit hard and I even thought of quitting. But somehow, my mind told me to persist and I stayed. On the fourth day, I suddenly tasted a kind of peaceful feeling I hadn’t tasted before. And this was the beginning of my long journey with Thay’s teachings and my Sangha practice thereafter.

I attended almost all Canadian retreats led by Thay between 1985 and 2005. In 1987 I began practicing regularly with the Maple Village Sangha in Montreal, and around 1991, together with some new friends in the Sangha, we founded the Ottawa Pagoda Sangha. This small Sangha has undergone many ups and downs but we have survived the waves of change. Today, supported by a strong and dedicated core group of OI and non-OI members, this Sangha holds regular weekly sessions and monthly days of mindfulness. Its activities can be seen on www.pagodasangha.org.

mb60-SuchTreasure2

Although my struggle with my old “bad” habits continues, and it happens from time to time that I derail from the right track, I can firmly tell you that we are in good hands with this practice. Mindful living has allowed me to attain some sort of a balance in my life and this way of living continues to protect me in various ways. My challenges have ranged from teaching large groups of university engineering students to driving in busy and dangerous streets in Yaounde (Cameroon). The challenges included giving talks in front of a crowd and performing choir songs in front of a large audience as well as dealing with some adverse moments in my life. For example, one time I had a very bad reaction to an antibiotic treatment the doctor gave me after a minor surgery. I was admitted to the emergency room in the hospital. Mindful breathing allowed me to be in control of my feelings and I was able to be at peace despite the very hectic moment. Another time, we encountered severe flooding in the basement with a broken water pipe during a harsh winter night of -25 degrees Celsius. It was very cold and windy. Mindful breathing allowed me to undertake urgent repair actions without panicking.

Nowadays, I’m able to live more and more in the present moment and to be more and more at peace with whatever I’m doing. Of course the struggle continues, but thanks to all my Sangha friends who provide guidance and support, I am evolving each day with all these blessings.

I present my deep gratitude to Thay and the Fourfold Sangha as one of the Plum Village songs resonates in my mind: You have given me such a treasure, I love you so…

Chan Ngo (Nguyen Duy Vinh) lives in Ottawa, Canada and practices with the Ottawa Pagoda Sangha. He received the Lamp Transmission from Thay in 1994 in Plum Village.

PDF of this article

Heartsong

By Brother Phap Sieu

mb60-Heartsong1

The most common question we are asked as young monastics is, “Why did you become a monk?” I find that I often answer differently. The responses are all true but vary depending on my experiences that day, or who is asking. This process gently reflects that there is no clear stream of events, or even one particular moment, that opens the way to monastic life. The more I recall, the broader my scope of memory becomes. I must conclude that it is a continual process, which may have begun with a mother’s compassion for her son, extending into the present and onwards. However, there are a few particular memories that shine.

mb60-Heartsong2

Once during a camping trip organized by the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association, two group leaders got into a very heated argument. Just when it seemed they were about to come to blows, the older one announced, “I’m going to breathe,” and promptly vanished into the trees. At thirteen, I waited as long as I could (about five minutes) and then followed. The smiling man, now sitting calmly under a tree, was unrecognizable as the one who had been yelling just moments before. Later he explained that he had learned how to take care of his anger while living in a monastery in Southern France. But the first time I met the Plum Village monks and nuns was completely against my will.

Miraculous  Brotherhood

There was no way I was going without a fight. A meditation retreat? At the beginning of summer! But kick and scream as I might, it was fruitless. The agreement was made: if my brother and I were to go for just the week, we would get a whole month of summer to ourselves—no extra-curricular activities, no youth camp, no book reports!

The orientation was boring. How could it not be? One thousand people sitting, watching some monk speak in Vietnamese. I understood about one word in twenty and was too cool (or proud, though I never would have admitted it then) to ask for translation. But the chanting was neat. The bell was pretty cool, too. There was something about how an entire room completely stilled—and if you’ve ever been in a room filled with Vietnamese friends, you know what a feat that is.

It was with the slumped shoulders and defiant eyes classic to many teenage boys that I approached the room marked “Teen Program.” Double-checking my bag to see if my CD player and headphones were on hand, I stepped through the door.

A few days later, one would not have recognized the irrepressibly smiling, glowing young man I’d become. The Teen Program was  awesome! Who knew monks and nuns could be so… cool! They even took us to the beach—even rolled up their pants and played in the waves, splashing! But most miraculous was my sense of brotherhood with the other teens. Who could believe that in just five days I could be so open, feel so embraced by these kids whom I’d just met earlier that week? Certainly not me—nor the other teens. It was with continuing wonderment that we shared, laughed, and learned together.

The drive back to San Francisco from San Diego was about eight hours. As we neared our house I woke up briefly. “Mom…I have a question.” She seemed a bit startled; I’d been so quiet most of the trip. “Why did we wait so long before coming to these retreats?”

The Pursuit of Consumption

So tired. That was the thought that followed me to bed every evening, then waited, crouching by the headboard, to greet me every morning. College was everything I had expected it to be, for the first year. That was before having to worry about rent, essays, job applications, clothes, parties, friends, what I would do with the rest of my life. All I wanted was to find a meaningful direction that truly resonated with me. Instead I was taught how to be “successful”: how to make money and keep it. I ignored the happiness of my heart in favor of the calculating logic of my mind. I began to lose touch with the verve of life. Friends began to tell me I seemed down, needed to get out more. Teachers asked about late assignments, and roommates wondered if I wanted to go out Thursday night.

The absence of a spiritual practice and community support was really beginning to show. The Plum Village Retreats seemed ages ago; I was too “cool” now, too mature for singing circles and handholding. There was no way that stuff would work in the real world.

So instead of returning to my body and my breathing, and taking care of my emotions, I partied. At first the partying was filled with real enthusiasm, excitement, and perhaps even happiness. Then the partying became mandatory. Upon meeting friends on campus, instead of “How are you doing?” or “How’s your day?” the common greeting was, “How was your night?” Without enough courage or mindfulness to face the suffering within myself, to stop I was flung headlong into the whirlpool of consumption.

Suddenly I could not wait for the latest movie, book, or CD, could not wait for the next restaurant to open. Life dwindled to nothing but seeking the means to fulfill my need to consume. Later, in my aspiration letter to the monastic community, I likened the pursuit of consumption to a day in an amusement park. Stand in line for roller coaster: three hours; experience twenty-five-second adrenaline rush; get out of roller coaster; get back in line.

Magical Antidote

One day I received a letter in the mail. It was from Mom. Frustrated by my evasiveness on the phone, she finally put everything she felt to paper: all eighteen pages of it. The first three pages expressed concern for my well-being; the following three pages were full of comfort and encouragement. The next six contained detailed charts and graphs depicting just how much my college education cost. The final five revealed a candid account of Mom’s own experience upon first arriving in the U.S.: the humiliating struggle through high school as a complete alien, being responsible for six younger brothers and sisters, acclimating to a completely new continent—all without even the benefit of a common language.

It was a magical antidote for me. Hand-written and drawn, it was a mother’s true love for her child given form. Reading and receiving the contents accomplished what years of consumption, partying, and even counseling tried to hide: I recognized my suffering. I was no longer victim to my own self-pity, helplessness, and apathy. Reading the letter was the beginning of a re-opening of the heart. It also removed any assumptions about the practice being “kiddie stuff.”

Soon afterwards, I found myself driving south to Deer Park Monastery. I continued to visit Deer Park regularly every few months, commuting up and down the California coast, choosing to spend the weekend or spring break there. It was during one of these trips, windows down, speakers blasting the classic Plum Village CD, Rivers, when something clicked. I must have driven up and down the same highway over fifty times at that point, and never had I once recognized the beauty of the setting sun on my left, the soaring mountains on the right. Was there ever anything so beautiful? How could I have driven right by all these years without ever seeing? My heart was filled with a vast and immense joy. In that moment I made an oath to myself to do whatever it took to continue to live fully in the moment, to no longer be blind or deaf to the wonders around me, to life! It was but a small step from there to Plum Village, where the arms of the Sangha enfolded me.

mb60-Heartsong3Phap Sieu (Dharma Transcendence) is an energetic monk who loves sharing the Dharma with young people. He especially enjoys drinking tea and playing with the brothers. He resides in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village.

PDF of this article

Wake Up

A Collective Aspiration

By Brother Phap Luu

mb60-WakeUp1

In May 2008, Phap Thanh, Phap Ho, Phap Xa and I went to see Thay in Hanoi before flying back to the United States. From the time we arrived until the moment we walked out the door, Thay discussed just one thing: how we can find ways to share the practice with young people? I was living in Deer Park at the time, and there were plenty of young people coming and going. We hosted college retreats, and even a group of college students who came to stay for two weeks. What Thay wanted to begin was an international movement for young people.

Back in Plum Village that summer, Thay continued to press the issue. Phap Linh and Hien Nghiem, only recently ordained as novices, received the full momentum of Thay’s message, and soon, along with many other young monastics and lay friends, they were mounting a website, making films, and finding new ways to reach the youth. At one point, Phap Linh called and asked if I wanted to be the main contact for Wake Up in the States. The program was already present in Thay and Sister Chan Khong’s School for Youth and Social Service in Vietnam, and it was continuing in the youth retreats in Plum Village. A movement was taking form.

It became clear to me that this was not just about sharing the practice of mindfulness with young people; that would make it seem like I had everything sorted out already, and I just needed to pass the wisdom on to them. Wake Up is about finding the answers together. Our ecological communities, our diversity, our aspirations, and our confusion form a common base of happiness and suffering, and these issues are in no way settled once and for all.

Refuge in Harmony

The spirit of Wake Up is a collective aspiration to figure things out together, in our own minds and bodies, as best we can from moment to moment. This means coming back to our breath in times of stress and taking refuge in each other’s insights, even when we’re convinced our idea is best. It’s about waking up to the presence and aspirations of our brothers and sisters, even when we disagree with them, and finding harmony amidst our myriad strands of culture, race, gender, and class.

Wake Up tours are specifically tailored to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of young people. Using the spaces that are graciously offered to us, we sum up the basics of the Plum Village tradition for young people. We keep the talks short and the practice simple. We sit, breathe, walk, eat, relax, listen deeply, and speak with mindfulness and love. Every two-hour session has a period for “down time,” when the monastics and young lay practitioners can get to know the first-timers and connect emotionally with them. Also, we try to remove financial obstacles by making everything low-key, from traveling in a van packed with monastics to sleeping on Sangha members’ floors. As always, much depends on the generosity of more mature practitioners who give from the heart.

In 2010, we initiated two Wake Up tours—the first in the United Kingdom and the second in my homeland, the United States. Seven monastics went to the UK in the spring, while eleven of us made it through the northeastern U.S. tour last fall. Thay advises us to go as a river when we travel. Though that has meant, at times, coursing along two or three different channels as we pass an island, the river always comes back to itself.

mb60-WakeUp2

 

In Your Hands

These rivers will soon be coursing through your neighborhood. After this edition of the Mindfulness Bell is published, the Wake Up Tour will have flowed through California, at times in conjunction with our brothers and sisters in the Against the Stream movement (founded by friend Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx). Some pools will swell in Italy, and five young monastics will go to the three largest cities in Spain. Brothers and sisters from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism will support a tour in the Netherlands, and plans are in the works for the first tour in Germany and the second tour in the UK this fall.

mb60-WakeUp3

Written words can do little to put you in touch with the energy of the Wake Up movement. If you’re moved by this, please check out the numerous resources we have online:
• The Wake Up website: http://wkup.org, and local sites: http://us.wkup.org, http://uk.wkup.org, etc.
• Wake Up on Facebook (try searching by country or area)
• Videos from the tours on YouTube, Vimeo, and the Wake Up website

We are still in the midst of pulling all of the resources together in a coherent way, but that is another beautiful thing about Wake Up: it’s a grassroots movement and it is already in your hands. We don’t even know all of what is out there, because new retreats, songs, poems, and stories are being created every day.

If you’re young, start a Wake Up group at your school or at home. If you’re more mature, find ways to support Wake Up morally and/or financially. You could offer a space for a Wake Up group to meet, be available and present to support Wake Up groups (but let them lead themselves!), or buy them a ticket to Plum Village or to a retreat near you.

Thank you for your love, care, and support. There is no limit to how far this can go.

mb60-WakeUp4After graduating college and spending some years living and working in Spain and France, Brother Phap Luu (Brother Stream) was ordained as a monk in 2003 at Plum Village. He received teaching transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011. He has helped to guide retreats in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He grew up amidst the forests and rivers of western Connecticut, and now lives in the Dharma Cloud Temple of Plum Village.

PDF of this article

Integrating Head and Heart

Organizing a Wake Up Tour

By Brandon Rennels

mb60-Integrating1

A year ago I was sitting at a cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan, enjoying breakfast with a beloved professor from university. When I was in school he taught a course entitled Psychology of Consciousness, which was my first introduction to mindfulness practice. Peace is Every Step happened to be required reading, and after I finished the course I wondered why this material wasn’t taught in every classroom.

That day, I had gone to the professor seeking guidance. For a few years I had been working internationally in the business world as a management consultant. During this time I developed a skill set for turning high-level strategy into tactical recommendations, and for the cultural sensitivity necessary to bring messages to diverse audiences. While I enjoyed the problem-solving nature of my work, I felt I should be serving a different clientele; it was people, not corporations, I wanted to help grow. I had been keeping up my spiritual practice and also knew there was a growing interest in mindfulness in major U.S. institutions, especially in the field of education.

I knew I wanted to make a change but I didn’t know where to start.

My professor mentioned that there was a growing number of interested educators with Ph.D.s, and a wealth of mindfulness practices. Perhaps what was missing, he said, was support in managing the various threads and actually implementing these new models of learning. He asked: Instead of abandoning my business training, could I somehow integrate head and heart by leveraging my consulting skills to support the realms of mindfulness and education?

I had no idea. But it seemed like the right question to ask. As with all great teachers, he merely pointed the way… and I took it upon myself to forge ahead into the unknown.

Leap of Faith

A few months later I decided to take a leap of faith by embarking on a six-month leave of absence from my corporate post. I had two stated intentions: 1) immerse myself in mindfulness practice, and 2) learn how I might support its growth in education. My first stop was a weeklong retreat at Deer Park Monastery in California. I figured it would be an opportunity for immersion. Little did I suspect that both of my intentions would be watered.

On encouragement from a friend, towards the end of the retreat I worked up the courage to ask a monastic if I might be of service. I explained my background and that I could offer my support as a volunteer for the next few months. Much to my surprise, his eyes opened wide: “Ah ha! The universe is aligning.” He told me there were a couple of education initiatives that were searching for support from someone with a business/organizational skill set. Now it was my eyes that opened wide.

Supporting the Sangha

The next month, a week before the east coast Wake Up tour, I arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York. The monastics and I were unsure how I was going to help, but in that not-knowing was a freedom to respond appropriately to whatever situation arose.

Much of the work had already been completed by the time I arrived, and we were in the final stages of preparation for the tour. Entering any project mid-stream can feel overwhelming; ideally, you are there from the beginning. In most cases, however, you don’t have that luxury. More importantly, it just isn’t necessary. Asking questions, listening deeply, and being patient are all it takes to be able to contribute.

My intention was to be as helpful as I could in supporting the Sangha. I began by asking one of the main organizers, “Is there anything you need help with?” When he was feeling more comfortable, I went to the other organizers and asked them. Then I began asking a different question: “This looks like it could use help; do you want me to work on it?” Over time, this evolved into: “I went ahead and took care of this. Let me know what you think.”

This approach created conditions for me to take on operational items such as supporting the website and managing the email list, as well as strategic areas such as overseeing social media presence and helping to allocate the advertising budget. My responsibilities grew organically, and were nurtured in a supportive and collegiate environment with the backdrop of a serene monastery. Not a bad way to work!

A week later the team at Blue Cliff set out on the road to begin the tour.

Space to Breathe

Our first events were in Boston, where we convened as an entire group. The day before the Harvard University event we had a number of decisions to make, and the full community of fifteen-plus monastic and lay friends gathered around a large wooden table. I had become more familiar with the working styles of the group and was looking forward to an unfiltered view of how a Fourfold Sangha makes decisions.

Coming from the corporate world, I was accustomed to a top-down, fast-paced, heavily structured decision-making process. The monastic community operates bottom-up, in a very organic and non-hierarchical way. The meeting opened with three sounds of the bell, and we began by speaking one a time. One of the primary issues was whether or not we were going to visit Occupy Boston. Many questions were raised: How political is the event? Could we go just as spectators? What kind of message would we be sending by going? Should we just go to invite people to our sitting meditation? There were divergent viewpoints, but we eventually reached a full consensus. Afterwards it was explicitly stated that the meeting was over and it was time to let go of any residue and move on. While it was a lengthy process, shortening it would inevitably result in some people not being heard. By giving everyone space to express themselves, regardless of outcome there was no resentment and everyone felt respected.

The following day, over one hundred people showed up for a Day of Mindfulness at Harvard. I volunteered to staff the registration desk, where each attendee would be asked a series of questions that were entered into an Excel file. It was a chance for me to practice my efficiency skills in a potentially stressful environment, as most people would be arriving in a hurry just a few minutes before the start time. I felt it was important for this process to go smoothly, knowing this was the first impression most people would have.

Sitting at the desk, I found myself simultaneously wondering how fast I could process each person’s info and how many people I could get to smile. While I had my verbal script and keyboard strokes down to a science, I protected the space to provide a warm welcome to every person and to allow them space to breathe.

mb60-Integrating2

One hundred people came, one hundred people went. I was gifted with many smiles.

Harmony Was the Way

As the tour progressed I gained more responsibility, and eventually some of the monastics started lovingly (I think) introducing me as “the manager.” While they were mostly joking (I think), in this structure I was perhaps as close to a lay manager as one could get.

A fundamental skill of being a good manager is knowing when to delegate tasks to others. Having faced this situation in the past, I was familiar with the trade-offs. Do the task yourself and it will likely get done faster and with more accuracy. Give the task to others and while it may take longer (and they may not want to do it), you will be teaching someone. What was unique about this situation, however, was the underlying objective. In the corporate world, the priority is productivity; here, the priority was harmony. Ideally you have both, but oftentimes you need to choose which is more important: getting it done or making everyone happy. For the first time in my life, it was clear that harmony was the way.

Near the end of the tour we aspired to send out a “feedback survey” for participants to share their thoughts following the workshops. There were multiple purposes here: for the participants, to provide an outlet to reflect on their experiences and encourage them to keep up their practice; for us, a chance to learn what went well and how we could improve for the next tour. Timing was important; if the survey was sent out too late, response rate would likely be low and the experience would no longer be fresh in their minds.

We decided to administer the survey using two online tools with which the monastics didn’t have much experience. I spent time training one of the tech-savvy nuns how to create the survey, send it out, track responses, etc. Two weeks later the surveys hadn’t yet been sent and I was becoming slightly anxious. I sat with this anxiety and it passed with the understanding of how busy our lives can be. I emailed the sister asking if she needed help, which I would be genuinely happy to provide. The next day I awoke to find all the surveys had been sent out, along with a friendly reply back thanking me for my encouragement. I smiled.

mb60-Integrating3

Looking back at that afternoon with my professor in Ann Arbor, I couldn’t have imagined a more direct manifestation of my desire to integrate head and heart. Perhaps my greatest lesson on this tour was that of trust. Trusting in myself and my abilities, trusting in others and their capacity to support, and trusting in the universe to light the way.

mb60-Integrating4Since the east coast Wake Up tour, Brandon Rennels decided to resign from his post in the corporate world and continue to support mindful education initiatives while deepening his own practice. He spent three months in Plum Village this past winter, practicing and assisting with the Applied Ethics initiative, and is now heading back to California for the next chapter of his journey… just in time for another Wake Up tour.

PDF of this article

Love in Our Generation

By Jenny Hamp

mb60-Love1In April 2011, I asked a Brooklyn Sangha friend how to get in touch with New York Wake Up. The next week I found out I was organizing it. My friend had volunteered me to help a young adult from the Manhattan Sangha who wanted to start a group. Our incentive was an email from Thay’s monastics, a mission like the start of a treasure map: you will have four days with eight monastics for part of a Wake Up tour in New York City, and “it is up to you folks to decide what to do.” Eventually four of us (two men and two women; two people of color and two Caucasians) got together to create a Wake Up group… and somehow plan for our part of the tour.

We decided to focus on the upcoming monastics’ visit and to use weekly Wake Up meetings, open to anyone, for practice and planning. We would have a short sit, drink tea, eat a meal, or walk together in the park. Then we would look at many exciting questions: Should we have a retreat in one place, or different places? Should we have people bring lunch? How were we going to advertise? Understanding often came in conversation when we weren’t looking for answers. I soon caught on to a new energy I hadn’t experienced before. After each meeting I felt lighter, inspired, and optimistic, whether or not we had made any headway. It took me a while to notice this wasn’t a chance occurrence.

mb60-Love2

We cast wide nets for schools and contemplative groups who might want to help share the practice with young adults. Every time we had a good insight, or successfully connected with a student group, it felt like sharing a good meal that was never finished. Every time we miscommunicated with someone or an opportunity fell through, we supported each other and held the disappointment without blame or judgment.

Many people quickly swung out to help. The monastics planning the tour brought their experience and clear vision to pull all the threads together. Our lay Dharma teachers offered their full support and also their contacts at universities for us to meet. The Gershwin Hotel provided housing, event planning, food, and a free event space. A young business consultant joined us in planning the tour and launched a Facebook campaign. When we pulled the nets in, we found we would have a full Day of Mindfulness in the city, a concert, a flash mob, two visits to private schools, a visit to a public school, and two sessions at a juvenile detention center. Additionally, over 300 people were planning to attend.

mb60-Love3

The Fruit of Our Efforts

On the first day of the Wake Up Tour in New York, I got to see the fruit of these efforts. After a mindful meal, the monastics asked the group of about 100 young adults what they had experienced. One person was aware of each ingredient in her sandwich, much more now than when she made it. Someone else discovered he actually did not enjoy peanut butter and jelly very much. I was hearing calm accounts of people becoming aware of their food—not as an exotic experiment that was outside of themselves, but as a simple witnessing and perceiving through their own senses. I felt so happy to see that with half a day of practice in the city it was possible to stop. I felt like I had gained many sisters and brothers in an instant. Here were so many other young adults with the same open interest and hopefulness.

Another highlight for me was the ice cream machine at Lehman College. After a session with students, we had dinner there with the monastics and some young adults traveling on the tour. The vending machine was a contraption, and we were so excited to put money in it and see gears and claws and hinges whirring around just to deliver an ice cream sandwich! We laughed with total abandon, and got a second sandwich so we could watch it again, crying with laughter. The sisters cut the sandwiches up carefully so everyone could have a bite, and it seemed totally satisfying. To me this was joy we completely shared, this silliness and amazement generated as a group, just to take in this moment and make each other happy.

The Power to Embrace

Today our Wake Up organizing team of four has grown into eight and has become the caretaking council for Wake Up New York. A yoga center owner who follows Thay offered his space so we could meet. Instead of going to bars on Friday nights, people can come for an hour of practice and then hang out with us. Two of us are pre-aspirants and two are aspirants to the Order of Interbeing, and we feel our teachers right there with us. We have about fifteen people each week. The group has been very joyful and supportive. It is a place where I feel comfortable sharing and can let the group carry me when I feel less able.

At first I thought Wake Up was a space for young adults to relax with our peers and practice a little. However, after practicing with this group and seeing such a strong response in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, I think it’s more than that. Many of us are noticing how affected we are after each gathering; we feel stronger, more confident, and more optimistic. I think it has something to do with meeting people who have similar suffering, and who will be with us for the rest of our lives. Perhaps we realize that many other young adults also feel capable of living in a more humane and compassionate society. We look across the room and see motivation and love in our generation.

We try to deal with the economy, the climate, the suffering of our parents in us, discrimination and greed in our culture, all alone, and maybe we feel sad about the future. I think Wake Up has changed our perspective. From feeling helpless, we’ve moved to feeling we have the power to embrace what lies ahead. It feels very simple: we can accomplish this just by being there for ourselves and each other. In this space we can actively create the acceptance and freedom we want everyone to have, and we feel empowered.

The mission statement developed by Wake Up New York:

Wake Up New York is a group of young meditation practitioners who get together to create a joyful space of refuge for young adults. We are inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. We do the fun things that New York City dwellers do, but actively maintain the best elements of our culture: inclusiveness, healthy consumption, hope, joy, great energy, activism, and community. By being wonderfully together we create support for each other. We find we are not alone with the suffering of our generation. We seek out our true selves amid the dynamics of our new relationships, new jobs, struggling minds, dynamic bodies, busy cities, and big life changes. We share our success in practicing mindfulness and finding happiness. We practice with our local Sanghas, at practice centers, and with the teachings, so as to nurture our hearts and minds and create real hope for our generation and our future.

mb60-Love4Jenny Hamp, Peaceful Refuge of the Heart, practices with the Rock Blossom Sangha in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Tim. She works as a mechanical engineer, tries to help reduce energy consumption in buildings, and practices not starting interesting new projects.

PDF of this article

Spiritual Friends

Waking Up in Community

By Sister Hanh Nghiem

mb60-Spiritual1

Wake Up! Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society is a worldwide network of young people practicing the living art of mindfulness. It sprang from our teacher’s humble suggestion that young people should create such a movement for themselves.

Why? Why would young people need their own movement? What challenges do they face that are unique to their generation? In today’s society, media and advertising have a far greater impact on our way of thinking and way of being. It’s easy to get caught up in believing that what we see, hear, and learn from the media is who we really are and what we really think, or that the ideal life portrayed would also be our ideal life. Although the media has made communication between people easier than ever before, individualism has actually increased. As a result, how many of us feel lonely, lost, full of despair, angry at our country, emotionally drained, exhausted, and unable to connect with a spiritual leader?

mb60-Spiritual2

Although each one of us knows that motion pictures and the media are not reality, they can still affect us—but not if we take an active role in shaping our own life, like a potter shaping a beautiful vase. We can maintain our center by getting in touch with our aspiration in life, our heart song. This awareness of what is important to us can serve as the North Star guiding us in the direction we would like to go in life. We can take an active role in transforming our lump of clay (the unfortunate events that we have to face in our life) and making it into something functional and beautiful. I know staying true to ourselves, keeping it real, is a huge challenge, but having good spiritual friends makes a world of difference.

As I reflect on the reasons for a Wake Up movement and supportive community for young people, I see how my own life has been transformed by a caring community. I’d like to share my perspective on how effective it has been for me, as a young person, to live in a community that guides me on a path of peace, happiness, and love.

A Trusted Community

My community consists of full-time practitioners, primarily monastic. We are an international community, speaking many languages, and from many faiths and beliefs. What unites us is that we want to make our lives meaningful, happy, and peaceful. We have committed ourselves to a lifestyle dedicated to the art of mindful living. I have grown to appreciate our weekly schedule of practice, and the fact that I have brothers and sisters supporting me on my path—friends and family I can trust.

mb60-Spiritual3
mb60-Spiritual4My community is not perfect. Being a monastic does not transcend being human, and we all have our weaknesses. We get angry, depressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out. We also have to deal with managers, politics, finances, deadlines, and irrationality. However, we also have the aspiration to live a good and meaningful life, a desire to build brotherhood and sisterhood, and the precious tools to bring this about, like mindful breathing and eating, walking, and sitting meditations.

My community is like a tree and I am the fruit, allowed to mature and ripen in my own time. No one sprays me with pesticides to make me look big and beautiful, while not caring about the inside. Instead, I am growing naturally and organically. Through living with others, I’m learning to live with myself. By watching other people, I’m learning how to be alone and accept myself. After that, I just let the Buddha take care of things.

Together in Each Moment

Just as the monastic community has supported me, the Wake Up movement can support youth who want to connect with others and live fully. It provides young people with an international community of like-minded people who can appreciate the challenges they face. The movement can provide all of the advantages of a community to young people across the world—to connect the huge numbers of young people wanting to make a difference and wanting to live a simple, happy life.

You too can live the life you want to live, by not getting caught up in your ideas but learning from them instead. Have confidence and be gentle with yourself. If you need to recharge your batteries, recall the things that nourish your mind of love. Treat yourself to a weekend of meditation, camping in nature, or chilling with friends. Our ancestors also dreamt of success, but they knew the importance of stopping and having a cup of tea with their neighbors. By not busying themselves with computers and gadgets, they became more aware of their own limitations, and knew when they needed the support of those close by.

Please get together—even if you’re only four or five people, it’s enough. We all have to practice with what we have. Our practice is never finished. Learning to listen to someone share their thoughts and feelings is not something you can do once or twice, but something you do moment by moment. Over time, we learn to listen more wisely, and this is the only difference between a practitioner and a non-practitioner.

You do not need to be a Zen master. The gatha I am using at the moment is: “Stick to the original plan.” Once you have your community, remember that you are practitioners, not saints. You will have ups and downs together. It’s normal. Just stick to the original plan: practice mindfulness, and make your good times and bad times together an adventure.

mb60-Spiritual5Sister Hanh Nghiem (True Adornment with Action), or Sister Onion, lives at the Asian Institute for Applied Buddhism on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

PDF of this article

The Seedling Project

By Members of the European Wake Up Sangha

mb60-Seedling1Thay believed that Buddhism had much to contribute to real social change. He said he would find ways to support me in a movement for social change according to the Buddhist spirit. He would help bring together many good hearts who wanted to work together. He agreed to write articles about this in national magazines and then start several pioneering development villages to show that social change could be based on love, commitment, and responsibility. Eventually we could start a training center for workers in education, agriculture, and health care, who would then go all over the country.
–Sister Chan Khong, Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced Social Change in Vietnam

For a long time the vision to organize a Wake Up Vietnam Tour had been nourished by many conditions. Many of us shared a collective aspiration to connect to our spiritual home and ancestors, to practice as a Sangha on a journey, and to get in touch with perspectives and living conditions different from the Eurocentric way of looking and living. Reading Fragrant Palm Leaves by Thay and Learning True Love by Sister Chan Khong touched a strong and inspiring source within us. All these elements gave us the energy to cultivate the conditions for the realization of this vision.

mb60-Seedling2

In August 2011, all the conditions came together, and a group of ten young people from Chile, Belgium, England, Germany, and Holland gathered at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism for a one-week retreat, preparing for a three-and-a-half week journey in Vietnam. We realized that going to Vietnam was essential to deepen our aspirations and our practice, and that to be in touch with the roots of Wake Up, we had to be in touch with Vietnam.

mb60-Seedling3Nourishing Our Roots

In Saigon, morning has broken. The sky is blue, the sun is shining. We are sitting joyfully in a bus on our way to Phap Van Monastery, the former School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), which was founded by Thay in the early 1960s.(1)  Arriving at Phap Van, we enter the meditation hall and are warmly welcomed by a monk and members of the first generation of the SYSS, who have been practicing and engaged in social service in rural areas for more than forty years. Together we enjoy sitting meditation and touching the earth to honour our blood and spiritual ancestors, followed by a sharing on engaged Buddhism, the history of the SYSS, spiritual practice, and our aspirations.

During this session the question is asked, “How can we continue the SYSS?” One of the social workers smiles and answers, “This is very easy. Only by asking yourself this question, you are already beginning to continue the SYSS.”

Leaving the meditation hall, we walk slowly and silently towards the garden in the centre of Phap Van, where there is a memorial to Sister Nhat Chi Mai (2), who immolated herself for peace during the Vietnam War, and to the monastic and lay SYSS workers who died during their service. One of the social workers starts digging a hole for the collective tree-planting ceremony, and each of us contributes by filling the hole with soil and watering the tree. Our first Wake Up tree in Vietnam has been planted, and in this happy moment, we are aware of our spiritual roots and of our aspiration to nourish this tree of understanding and compassion and to continue the beautiful work of the SYSS.

The Seedling Project

On our journey through South, Central, and North Vietnam, we continued to be nourished by the joy of being in touch with monastics, social workers, youth Sanghas, children who are supported by the Love and Understanding Program, and many other beautiful human beings. All these inspiring encounters and conditions gave rise to the development of a collective vision for establishing a green kindergarten in Vietnam. We started calling our vision “the Seedling Project” and imagining it in terms of its social, educational, environmental, and empowerment dimensions.

I. Social

In remote areas, the struggle for a better life leaves people with little time and energy to care about education or cultural and spiritual development. Our aspiration is to build a hybrid space for poor families that will benefit children as well as parents: during the day it will function as a home where children can take refuge, make friends, play, and rest while their parents work, while being provided with healthy nutriments and pre-school education based on mindfulness. In the evenings and on weekends, the space will be a meeting place where teachers and parents can exchange ideas and learn from one another.

II. Education

Teachers in this green kindergarten will be trained in the practice of mindfulness in daily life, healthy consumption, and the cultivation of environmental awareness and ecological practices such as solar cooking, rainwater collection, and organic gardening. The teachers will find ways to integrate mindfulness into the children’s daily activities. Together they will take time to enjoy being in nature and observing natural phenomena. Children will be given opportunities and tools to express themselves artistically through painting, drawing, molding, and tinkering with natural and recycled materials.

III. Architecture and Environment

The kindergarten building will be harmoniously integrated into the natural and cultural environment of the local people. The architectural construction will be simple and economical, ecologi cal and sustainable; it will utilize local know-how and materials and will weave tradition with contemporariness. Renewable energy technologies, such as solar cells, rainwater harvesting, geothermal power systems, greywater treatment plants, and compost toilets, will be introduced, and a permaculture garden with trees, flowers, fruits, and vegetables will be cultivated.

IV. Empowerment

We aspire to provide a space of help through self-help, where local people feel inspired to share knowledge with one another, cultivate awareness, and develop skills. This involves engaging local people in the building process, raising their understanding about the value of natural and cultural resources, training them in ecological practices for daily life, and thus enabling them to transmit their knowledge and skills to their children and other people. Hopefully, the green kindergarten will strengthen the bonds within the local community, become a model for other rural areas in Vietnam, and contribute to a collective environmental awareness.

We consider the project to be a great opportunity for mutual understanding, learning, and growth for both the project team members and the local people. We do not view ourselves as people from the West who are coming to help the poor, incapable people of Vietnam. We aspire to transform the superiority, inferiority, and equality complexes that may lie deep in our store consciousness, as well as the notion of a separate subject and object.

Favourable  Conditions

After presenting this project to Sister Chan Khong and the monastic and lay Sanghas during the Applied Ethics Retreat in Plum Village at the beginning of 2012, we have received much positive feedback. We have raised a great amount of money for this project and have been offered possible sites in Vietnam for the construction of the kindergarten. Many friends with diverse backgrounds and specialized skills have offered support.

We are in the process of making connections with people, organizations, and places in Vietnam and finding ways to establish fruitful cooperation between Europeans and Vietnamese who wish to be involved in the project. We are adopting and combining a variety of approaches—traditional and contemporary, local and global. A member of the project team will soon travel to Indonesia, where she will visit the Green School (3) in Bali, and to Vietnam, where she will visit the various sites that have been proposed for the kindergarten. She will also meet with SYSS workers to continue the dialogue between the SYSS and Wake Up. Meanwhile, our team in Europe is developing a website to present the Seedling Project to a wider audience and to be a platform for the exchange of aspirations, ideas, and know-how.

Clearing Our Streams

In Hue, the sky is still blue and the sun is still shining. It is our last day in Central Vietnam. With ten mango trees and ten pomelo trees in the trunk of our car, we are setting out for a kindergarten built by the Love and Understanding Program. When we arrive in the classroom, we find the children sitting in a circle, singing Plum Village songs to us. Their voices are sweet as mangos, refreshing as pomelos. The whole afternoon is dedicated to playing and singing with children from three different classes and to sharing milk and biscuits with them.

After we enjoy dinner in silence at the kindergarten with Uncle Dinh, the director of the Love and Understanding Program in Hue, and other social workers, an intimate sharing evolves. “How can you keep your deepest aspiration alive?” one of our brothers asks. Uncle Dinh replies, “By understanding and transforming your own suffering. If you are not capable of taking care of yourself, you will not be able to help others.”

Twenty holes have already been dug, and together with our uncles we lower the young trees into the ground. Planting trees with the intention of nourishing our roots and clearing our streams (4), hope to make the world greener, both literally and figuratively, by sowing seeds of brotherhood and sisterhood, understanding and love, joy and happiness, and by sharing our time and material resources with those in need. May there be mangos and pomelos for past, present, and future generations, starting with the cultivation of a small seedling.

This is a compilation of sharings by members of the European Wake Up Sangha who were part of the Wake Up Vietnam Tour. For further information on the Seedling Project, please write to wkupeu@gmail.com.
1. The School of Youth for Social Service was a grassroots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. Rallying some 10,000 student volunteers, the SYSS based its work on the Buddhist principles of nonviolence and compassionate action. The present-day continuation of the SYSS is known as the Love and Understanding Program.

2. Sister Nhat Chi Mai, one of the first members of the Order of Interbeing, burned herself in Saigon on May 16, 1967, as an act of protest against the Vietnam War.

3. For further information, visit www.greenschool.org.

4. Thich Nhat Hanh, original gatha, “Boi dap goc re, khai thong suoi nguon.”

PDF of this article