Poem: Day Lily

For my Mom and her flower garden

In summer, the day lily opens its lavish orange petals for the sun
and withdraws at night, enfolding itself in a sacred and secret stillness.

This is where the myriad songs of the million birds dwell:
nestled in the throat of the lily.

And in the lily’s protective keeping,
a dream of the moon rises over the blue, forested hills
and follows its dream course
through a universe of stars,
warm in their remembrance
yet cold in their distance,

while the starry winds
and the night birds’ tentative twitter
nudge the dreamy head of the lily,
whose sleep is the half-held memory of the sun,
and the song of the birds kept safe
in their nests. The lily encloses the whole of earth,
night and day, as a flower.

In the moonlight hum
of the blue-green valley,
the lambent stream trickles over stones.

Sediment swirls, round rocks
and settles
at the bottom of dark pools.

Along the bank, within the soil
the hairy toes of the lily’s roots stir
as if to remember:
the stars are sparkling
settling into the streambed
of their earthen home,
and coursing through the lily’s veins—
green, languorous leaves
arced shadows in the moonlight.

It is when the lily,
like the dream flight of geese at night,
begins to sense
within the colder strands of its valley,
warmer winds at interims mingled;
then it slowly begins, just so much, to rouse:
while lapses of the beneficent wind
as curved or long,
lingering or swift
as the slopes of green hills and blue oceans
beyond the horizon and beneath the sun:
Come like the underwater sway of currents
through the tree limbs:

The maple breathes as a breath of wind,
climbs through its limbs and the tree one,
and every leaf, heaves
with a faint rising flutter
so soft it holds the thunder of ocean swells
and the night clap of a billion twinkling stars:
a warm wind
upon the ear and petal of the lily:
opens

Clouds come cumulous and white,
as wave-spawn
upon the crests of hills.

Abreast the horizon and darkened forests
there is a silence
as of waking
in the light of stars
gathered as dewdrops
on pinnacles of pines.

The song of birds
rises out of the dim reaches of the forests,
as swift-beating hearts and buffy feathers,
little silent eyes swivel curious among the treetops
and a little bird in its nest, somewhat startled, chirps
as if another sang through him: (a call)
and another
from hillside to valley
nd valley to hillside, again and again
in distinct and expanding song
like a thousand-stringed instrument played upon by the cool,
morning breeze:
the last whisper of night and the distant stars,
who are far closer than we have ever imagined.

The face of the earth turns,
s if to listen.
The hidden corners of the woods
are as familiar as the presence of one’s ear.
And each secretive corner, in the morning light,
is a place made known by a bird’s song,
each leaf, limb, tree
and incline of slope
its singing —
revelation.

The lily blooms beneath the maples.

What dream we face when we arise,
the sediment in our eyes, can be as tentative
as the day lily, who wakes
a dream
in its opening
though roots hold it as firm as our feet,
which know nothing but of walking.
And though the birds flitting from limb to limb
speak so well of flight,
their twig-like feet
are the roots, branches, reeds, and grasses of their earthen bower:
While the roots of the lily, though holding taut,
Still retain a sleeping dream of flight and
Separation from the land

What is this dream?
In the light of day,
have things become so hidden
or weary
that all lies latent as sediments of sand at the river bottom?

And do we long to remember
and bathe suspended
in the celestial water of our true home,
our quiet beginnings
and silent, subtle returns to what guides us
like the kinship of the lily and the sun,
or the geese with glossy eyes on a forgotten, familiar land?

A north star, a sailor needs when lost at sea.
But we do not,
when each filament and leaf of earth
and each star
can guide us towards our return.
The sun holds us and
we are kin to all beings,
and are blessed, greatly blessed
to know.

Brother Phap Tue, True Dharma Wisdom, is a monk living in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village.

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Breathing Into Life and Death

An Interview with Rochelle Griffin

by Barbara Casey, at Plum Village, June 2002

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Barbara: Rochelle, how did you come to live in Holland?

Rochelle: I was born and raised in the United States. During my first year of college my father became the director of the American International School in the Netherlands. So the next summer I went to Holland for vacation. I decided to stay a year, and then I never returned to the U.S. I was a very angry young woman, and I was particularly angry about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I had many friends who had gone to Sweden or to Canada to avoid the draft, and I felt a lot of solidarity with them.

I was also scared, because in the United States they had shot students who were protesting the war at Kent State University. In Europe I had such a sense of solidity from the culture, from the cities and cathedrals that were a thousand years old. I liked Holland because it’s a very small country that has integrated many cultures and many religions, and I really appreciated that there were fifty-two political parties. It’s a socialist government and somehow the people are able to work together. There were a lot of anti-war demonstrations, and I had no fear when participating. I found work and friends in Holland. So I’m American by birth and Dutch by choice!

Barbara: Tell us a little about the work that you are doing now.

Rochelle: The story starts many years ago when I was in training to become a midwife. I was critically injured in a car accident in 1980, the only survivor of a front-on collision. I was in the hospital and rehabilitation for almost two years. There were a number of times that I didn’t think I was going to survive. I have a clear memory of a near-death experience that changed my outlook on what I perceived death and life to be. During this experience I was not attached to my body, and I had a deep experience of being pain free, of being surrounded by a sense of well-being, support, love, and life. I felt that I had a choice to go towards the light or to return to my body. I was able to bring back that deep awakening with me when I returned to consciousness. I had a real sense that I had work still to do on earth.

That experience helped me begin to learn to live with chronic pain. As I started to deal with chronic physical pain I realized I also carried a lot of chronic emotional pain. At this time I met Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who is a well-known Swiss-American psychiatrist and has done a lot of work dealing with the taboos around death and dying. I was her translator during a workshop called “Life, Death and Transition.” I felt very strongly that my new work would be helping people process their suffering. I spent much of the time between 1984 to 1988 in the United States and Europe, doing workshops and training with Elisabeth and her staff. Because of my accident and resulting handicaps, I received disability pay from the government. I did not want that kind of financial support, I wanted to be independent and self-supporting.  But in hindsight it’s been a blessing because it’s given me the freedom to develop the work I’m doing now.

In 1985 I started working primarily with people with HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands. I didn’t decide to work with these people in particular, but it was the group that was calling me and the door that opened. It was such an honor to be with people who had been afflicted with great suffering very young in life, and to witness their process of healing before they died. Their suffering included a great deal of stigmatization and misunderstanding and I have always felt an affinity to those issues.

In the beginning I worked primarily with gay men, but before long there were many people of mixed backgrounds including college students, middle aged women who were infected through their husbands, people using drugs intravenously, prostitutes, people in prisons, and people who had sex with someone who was infected. There were also children who were infected during birth and those who were orphans, because both parents were ill or had died of AIDS. Before there was any medication for treatment (AZT only became available in 1987,) I mostly worked with death and dying issues because people had an average life expectancy of only about thirteen months after diagnosis. Later as more medications became available, we were able to work through much of the pain and suffering at a deeper level through our Homecoming workshops, and to nourish the resulting peacefulness with mindfulness retreats.

In 1989 I set up my own foundation, called Fire Butterfly Foundation for Conscious Living and Dying. “The butterfly is a universal symbol of the soul freed from the confinement of the body. Fire stands for the accelerated transformation process which occurs when we’re confronted with our own impending death. People with a limited life expectancy can meet this challenge and increase the quality of their own lives and of those around them in a powerful and positive manner.” Rochelle Griffin

I feel that I have become a midwife in other phases of life, and am often a midwife for men too! My work has to do with finding out who we really are deep inside. In doing so we can discover that we’re really not as isolated and as alienated as we may have felt through our upbringing, that there is an energy in us that connects us as human beings to each other and to the universe. I wanted the groups to be mixed with young and old, gay and not-gay, men and women, and parents with children. Also caregivers would come to the workshop thinking it was going to be five days of lecture, but all this work is experiential, and that is what really helps to be a better caregiver. You can help others better when you understand that you’re not alone. When you’ve worked through your own feelings of anger, fear, grief, hopelessness, and helplessness, then you can be with others as they experience their own pain and suffering, without interrupting their process and without offering solutions. I don’t think that you can actually accompany people on this path futher than you have dared to go yourself. In trusting this process, we can tune into a different level of knowing what is best for us from inside out. And then we can trust that others will find their own way too, and we can be there for them, keep them safe, and encourage them to find their own answers.

In about 1982, a friend suggested that it might be helpful for me to learn to deal with my chronic physical pain by learning some form of meditation practice. I enrolled in a weekend retreat in a Christian abbey where Zen was practiced, and in that first weekend I discovered that instead of denying pain it was possible to go right into the heart of the pain and to sit in it. The pain transformed, and there came a great space where pain was present but it wasn’t only my pain, there was a sense of collective supportive energy. I also realized that my pain increased by resisting it and trying to deal with it alone. I practiced on this path for about fifteen years before I found Thay.

Barbara: Can you give us an example of some of the processes you offer in your Homecoming workshops?

Rochelle: People come to me when they find out they’re ill, usually. Or there are families, or healthcare givers, for instance, who are dealing with burn out. To prepare for a workshop, which is a very deep experience, we ask for a lot of medical information and we also do an extensive professional intake, so that we know who’s coming and if it’s appropriate for them to attend.

Usually the workshops have about fifteen to twenty-five participants and two to three staff members. It’s a very mixed group. I don’t work exclusively with people with AIDS any more because many of the doctors and healthcare services in Holland are referring people with other diseases and people with war trauma, abandonment or sexual, physical, and emotional abuse issues. Everyone seeking their own answers in dealing with issues related to loss and change are welcome to apply.

People will come thinking, “I’m coming to learn how to die,” or “I’m coming to learn how to live,” but they discover that they’ve been carrying a kind of backpack around almost all their lives they feel a weight on their shoulders that they can’t explain, so bit by bit we take some of the stuff out of that backpack and look at it. We bring the dark parts into the light and in doing so, we discover that we were actually more dead than alive by carrying this weight around! As a facilitator, my primary job is to create a physically and emotionally safe environment for this to happen.

In the beginning of the workshop we set a number of agreements about how we’ll be together, about confidentiality and how it’s okay to share our feelings, to be angry, to cry, to feel fear and express it by screaming, for instance, and it’s also okay to be quiet. We begin expressing feelings gradually, but because it’s a group process it goes very quickly but quite deep.

The first evening we have a candlelight memorial ceremony for the many losses that we have had in our lives. People just say a word or a name as they’re lighting a candle. The next morning we do some teaching around what we consider natural emotions that we are born with and enable us to survive in the world, and we teach how they become distorted in our lives, often causing more suffering. That is our ‘unfinished business.’ For example, there was a man recently who was feeling a great deal of fear and there’s nothing more scary than working with fear. I invited him to come forward and I explained: We work only with that what is present in this moment, so if you feel ready to explore this, sit down here and tell me what you’re feeling in your body, because we always start with the body. I started with a relaxation and guided meditation with awareness of breathing. The body gives us a lot of information, it’s as though the cells have a memory. This man shared that he felt as though there was a brick in his belly, it was really hard and black on the outside and bright red inside and less solid. This gave me some indication that there might be a layer of fear (the hard outer layer). The blackness could represent grief, surrounding a lot of anger represented by the inner, red, more fluid part, telling me that it could be explosive and dangerous if released unexpectedly. He told his story of having been a Spanish immigrant child, living in Germany with his family. He was left alone a lot of the time. His father was unhappy with his work and he’d become an alcoholic. His mother worked as a cleaning lady, and was away much of the time. The mother and children were abused by the father when he was drunk. This kid spent more and more time on the street, got involved in a gang to feel that he belonged somewhere and was caught dealing drugs. He was sent to jail, and in jail he was raped, and in the process he was infected with HIV. He had so much fear about getting into his feelings because he thought, If I really get into my feelings I’ll kill someone, and I don’t want to kill people, I don’t want to continue this vicious cycle, I want to stop it!

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I explained: This mattress we are sitting on is the boundary, this is where you can get out all your rage and your grief, step by step. Gradually he opened into his deepest feelings and he got into some very deep rage, and what he found beyond that rage was the little child that he’d been when he was three years old. Discovering this child, he sobbed deeply. At three years old, he had been taken care of by his grandmother in Spain while his parents went to Germany to work. She was his security and his love, but she died, and he had to go to Germany to be with his mom and dad, and as the family became increasingly dysfunctional, he was hurt very much in many ways. But when he was able to get into contact with that little child in himself, he again felt the joy and peace that he’d missed for a long time. He came to understand some of the ways that he had learned to neglect and abuse that child, which empowered him to take charge of his life. He began to understand that his parents had done the best they could under the circumstances. Eventually he was able to forgive his parents and himself.

I have found that this work of dealing with our feelings in a very direct way helps us to connect with our ancestors and connect with our spiritual self. We’re not teaching people to beat on telephone books or pillows continually. Sometimes people might need to do that a couple times just to get a sense that they can be angry without getting to the point that they will kill someone. In this way they learn the difference between healthy anger which enables us to say ‘no’, to be assertive and set limits, and distorted anger when we can hurt ourselves and our loved ones. I’ve worked with quite a few war veterans and people in prisons who have killed people, to help them understand that deeper inside there’s a very wounded child who needs to be healed and cared for. When we can access that child, the healing occurs, and the forgiveness develops. I think forgiveness, including self-forgiveness is a very important issue.

Barbara: Do you use conscious breathing in this process?

Rochelle: I do help people to become aware of their breathing how deep, how free it might be in a particular moment. The breath is a key tool that can be used to access the body and to understand what is going on inside, beyond the thinking. I’m very skilled in observing body language.

In the Homecoming workshop we present this work through a form of Gestalt therapy, which is a mixture of a number of psychotherapy techniques. It’s based in healing wounds so that we can come to a place of peace and joy, so that we can live our life with a sense of aliveness instead of merely surviving. Breathing is a real tool. I often will tune in to someone’s breath to understand more deeply where he or she is emotionally at that moment. Our breathing tells us a lot. I become aware of my breathing to see where it’s stopping or where it’s flowing or if it’s smooth or not smooth, kind of like taking my emotional temperature. I explore the places in my body asking for attention (by being painful, closed, restricted, cold, or empty) during my in-breath and offer space and relaxation with the out-breath. In the workshops we begin and end the day with mindfulness meditation, and do walking and sitting meditation with the participants. In the workshop we also demonstrate how we can effectively become better caregivers. If someone has survived and transformed a certain experience of suffering, others can be nourished when that story is witnessed and understood.

Conscious breathing plays a role in the workshops as it does in the dying process. When people become more ill and closer to death, mindful breathing becomes more and more conscious, because when you have no energy, what else can you do but breathe? Through your breathing, you can connect to your emotions, as a way of releasing, letting go, and relaxing. Also as a way of connecting to what is and to that which we are holding on to and avoiding.

This last winter I was very ill with pneumonia and was having a hard time breathing, and I was so grateful that I know how to connect with my breathing through mindfulness practice. From my window in the intensive care unit in the hospital I could just see a small strip of sky between the buildings. I noticed the full moon outside and in this way I connected with my loved ones, and flowed with the pain, not denying anything, but able to connect with love, with life, and with support. I felt completely safe and at one with the universe.

Often people from one of my workshops will ask me to be with them or guide them in their dying process. One of the greatest fears that we have is the fear of dying alone. I don’t think we actually can die alone, but people often fear that they might. So I offer my service of being with them as they prepare to die.

Barbara: What do you mean when you say that you don’t believe that we can die alone?

Rochelle: I feel that we have a lot of help from both sides people with us in the present as well as from the collective consciousness. Often I hear stories from people who have been close to death, who say that a loved one who has already died is present, that their essence is present somehow during the dying process, and that this eases the fear and even can increase the sense of joy and peace in going towards death.

Often I will ask someone who is dying, “What do I tell people who want to know about dying? What is your message, your truth that you would like me to share?” The answer is always similar to how one friend expressed it: “You don’t need to be dying to start living. You can begin now, today. You can heal old pain and finish what is unfinished. Work through your grief, anger, fear and please do express your love enough! Then you can find peace in your life and in your death.”
– Jaap Jan, age 34, lived until 1995.

Barbara: As mindfulness practitioners, how can we best be with our loved ones who are ill or dying?

Rochelle: Mindfulness practice is so important because it makes us aware of the moment and of being present, and what sabotages us from being truly present. It can be real hard when it’s your own family member, especially when we have unfinished business, expectations, and unfulfilled longing.

We can learn to be instruments of peace. If we are firmly rooted on the earth, with our head touching the sky, connected to our source of spirituality in the universe, we can be an instrument between the universe and earth. Being peace in ourselves, making peace in our family and community, then we can facilitate the peace process with others. Understanding the breathing is a real tool because dying is not much else than a deep and total relaxation!

Barbara:At retreats we do semi-totally relaxation!

Rochelle: As long as we’re alive we don’t do that quite so totally as when we die!

Barbara: Right, right.

Rochelle: When we come into this world, we fill our lungs with breath, and this is the point of birth. At the end of life we breathe out and we die. I often offer breathing exercises and relaxation exercises to people going through the dying process. If you put a little more accent on the out-breath and it becomes a little bit longer, there is a point when there’s no breath, a still point. The in-breath is effort, and the out-breath is the relaxation or letting go.

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Often I meet people who are so concerned about life after this life, or life before this life. I feel we have our hands full with our suffering and our joy in this life! I sometimes wonder if we actually are able to experience life before we die. Many people seem just to be coping to survive, without feeling really alive. So what I do is to bring what we experience as painful and that which we deny or run away from, into our consciousness so that it can heal.

I’ll tell you a story about a really good friend of mine who died a few years ago. He had to have lung surgery, and he’d asked me to be present while he went through this. I stayed with him for the weekend afterwards. He was in and out of consciousness, and every time he became conscious he would grab my hand and not want to let go. But as he would relax and kind of slip away, I let go.  I stayed in a very light physical contact with him with my little finger just touching his, but not with the grasping. And I continued to breathe with him. I would support his breathing with my breath by making it a little audible.

As he came around and awakened, he said, “Rochelle, your being here has felt very supportive, but why did you keep letting go of my hand?”

I explained, “I wasn’t sure if it was your time to go, and I wanted you to feel free. I wanted to be present with you, whichever way you needed to go.”

“Oh,” he said, “I understand. I was grasping.” And I said, “Yes, and I wanted you to know that you had the choice, the courage, and the freedom to do what you needed to do for yourself.”

A few months later he was near death, and I went to the hospital, as he was asking for me. This was Saturday morning and the plan had been for him to go home on Monday so he would be able die at home, probably later that same week. But he was becoming very weak and his breathing was labored. I came into the room I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said, “You know, you are going home.” And he nodded. He knew. I added, “But, we cannot take you to your house, do you understand that?” And he nodded again. He had an oxygen mask on. I asked him, “Do you want me to come sit with you, and do you want me to guide you through this?”

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He motioned with his hand, inviting me to sit close by on the bed. He took the oxygen mask off himself.

I said, “Allow yourself to be fully aware of your breathing, and follow your in-breath and your out-breath. Just in between the in and out-breath there is a still point where there is only stillness, before the in-breath starts again. Can you feel that? Gradually, allow your out-breath to become a little bit longer, and just relax into that. Is that okay for you?”

He laid his hand very gently down next to mine, not grasping. He looked at me as if to say, “I got it, I don’t have to hold on any more.” In a few breaths he relaxed completely and his breathing stopped.

It is so touching to witness this letting go, fully conscious and without resistance. He was a great teacher. That was a gift.

Barbara: Where do you see the direction of your work continuing?

Rochelle: I see myself as a privileged listener and I go where I am invited. My hope, my vision, is that my story will be an inspiration for other people to develop their own ways of healing into their own life and death. I’ve trained a few people to continue working with the emotions as I learned from Elisabeth. I’ve done this work throughout Europe, and also in Israel and the USA. At present there are fewer people dying from AIDS, so our center in Holland has become more  of  a  mindfulness practice center for anyone interested in exploring their own answers around loss and change.

In addition to this work in Holland, we have opened a center in Spain where I’ve also been working for the last ten years and there is a team trained to offer similar work there. The last couple of years I’ve been invited to Israel several times, and with the situation in the Mideast right now, I think there’s an awful lot of work to do there.  And there’s the AIDS crisis in Africa, Central and South America, and Asia. Some of the newer pain medications have become available in Vietnam for people with cancer; however this medication and nearly all medical care, is denied the people dying of AIDS. I do not have the illusion that I am going to all of those places, but there is much to be done. I’m watching to see what doors open as I continue being a privileged listener and training others to be also.

What I’ve learned very deeply because I’ve been so ill, is we have to take the time to take care of ourselves. We can’t care for anybody else until we take care of ourselves. At present I’m in a new phase of finding my personal balance between doing and not doing.

Barbara: Do you live in chronic pain still?

Rochelle: I have some pain always, in varying degrees, depending on how well I’ve been able to keep myself in balance. I use a combination of some medication, but mostly I use what I call my M.M.&M. therapy (meditation, massage and manual therapy) as well as taking care of my emotional needs and making time for myself to just gaze at the frogs in the pond. Every time someone dies or leaves, I feel the grief very physically. I recognize my grief when my heart feels closed off and often I feel physically cold and uncomfortable. What I’ve found is that I move through the grief process when I’m willing to go deeply into my feelings, including the resistance, by letting myself cry, feel anger, and whatever else I need to do. I am becoming more skillful at embracing these feelings without needing to express them fully; just recognizing them and their original source is often enough. Then my heart can open, be free, and feel supported by the love in the universe again. That’s what I think has helped me to repeatedly regain my balance, along with the support of my Sangha and my partner, throughout the eighteen years that I’ve worked so intensively in this field.

Barbara: As the process of birth has been brought out of the closet, you are helping to bring the process of dying into awareness also. We all need work like yours to help us to face death.

Rochelle: Yes. I’ve offered many trainings for volunteers and for healthcare professionals in the field of palliative care, and the work is always about our own issues. We often think, as professionals, we come into this work because we want to help others, but we have to help ourselves first. Because in dealing with dying people, if you aren’t completely authentic, they know! They are always a few steps ahead of us showing us the way!

Barbara: It’s like being with children.

Rochelle: Absolutely.  You can’t fool them at all.  They know when you’re being real and when you’re not!

Barbara: [laughs] That’s true! Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with the worldwide Sangha.

Rochelle: Thank you for asking.

Rochelle Griffin, True Light of Peace, Chân An Quang, practices with the Sangha Riverland. She lives with her partner, Jantien, and their golden retriever, ‘Gino-the-Joyful’ at the Vuurvlinder Center and Guesthouse for conscious living and dying, in Heerewaarden, a small village in the center of The Netherlands. Rochelle enjoys learning about the wild environmental needs of reptiles by breeding them in the safety of her large garden.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, is the managing editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

Photos by Harry Pelgrim.

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Poem: Time is a River

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And Sister, our lives our made of water
entwined like root coil and ground swell
of the stuff that trees drink, wine of the world
swirled upward branched and twigged
in gladness of rising, ground to leaf and cloud.

The drop of rain that falls from leaf to grass
does not pass in secret, belongs to me:
is one of my shed tears for your pain.
And each leaf of each tree’s a prayer
that tells you every day I care, I care.

 

Judith Toy, Chan An Mon, True Door of Peace:I was asked to write this poem for a Sangha member whose sister has been diagnosed with MS.

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Walking in Nature

Brother Phap Son

The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, and incomprehensible at first,
Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than
words can tell.

– Walt Whitman

The other day, some of the brothers at Maple Forest Monastery went for a hike. It was a beautiful day, there was a sparkling freshness in the air.  The white, puffy clouds contrasted with the blue sky and the bright sun, making the day feel radiantly and intensely alive.

We walked on a trail that takes us through the property of a neighbor. Suddenly the trail became narrower and was flanked by large, old trees. There are not many trees around here that are as old as these. As I looked at the trees, my eyes moved across the old stone wall behind them and I contemplated the fields of waving long grasses, flowers of many kinds, and the forest beyond the fields. I felt that I was very fortunate and very rich.

I wondered how many people have had the opportunity to spend time with these trees and if their awesomeness, their subtle but clear message, is perceived and heard by many. These trees have been alive for many years, they have seen seasons come and go, people come and go, events come and go; yet they are still standing in the same place where they began as small seeds. Their message is their presence. I once had a group of trees say “hello” to me, as I felt their presence near the walking meditation path of the Upper Hamlet at Plum Village. I invite all of us to stop, listen, and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves. Whatever it is you may feel, be open to feel that and receive.

We continued our walk down the forest path, feeling a light joy and happiness, like children running through the forests, free and without concern. A couple of brothers took time to examine the different kinds of wild mushrooms that grow in the forest, with an eye to their edibility! The rest of us enjoyed the sounds, the smells, and the sights before us. The forest is quiet, but the trees make their solid and gentle presence felt, with their straight trunks blending with the thick green foliage. I felt small in comparison to their size, but somehow I also felt connected to them, as if I were part of them. This brought me a sense of peace and tranquility, a feeling of completeness within myself.

As a European, living here in the United States has made me appreciate the beauty and significance of nature. It is rare to find places where nature is relatively unburdened by human activity. I have come to see that places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mt. McKinley and Wonder Lake in Alaska, the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, and Death Valley are truly part of the great heritage of the people of this country. By being in touch with the preciousness of these places, I also feel compelled to understand what people like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams touched in nature that moved them to dedicate themselves to defending and protecting these treasures. These men are also part of the rich heritage of this country.

Thay has spoken often about the need for people to have roots, to be rooted in something good, wholesome, and beautiful, and how our modern way of living creates many hungry ghosts, people who don’t feel deeply connected to anything. Through these roots, these connections, we are able to feel the energy of love and caring. I think cultivating these roots, helping them grow, is more important than ever. Seeing the effects of the events of September eleventh here and on countries throughout the world, Thay’s instructions to develop roots makes more sense than ever. I see it as indispensable to a happy life. Through our practice of stopping, of coming back to ourselves, to mindfulness of our breathing, of our walking, our eating, our speaking, we can ground ourselves and open our eyes to the beauties around us. This results in our feeling nourished and more integrated, more whole.

Some of the brothers here at Maple Forest have offered part of their monthly allowance to environmental groups that help to defend environmental laws, that educate young people about the wilderness, that help to protect and preserve these precious places. There are many caring groups doing good work that can benefit from our support and concern.

There are things we can do to help heal our planet and preserve the natural treasures we have inherited. Part of the practice of Engaged Buddhism is to support groups and individuals who are doing their best to care for the environment.

Brother Chan Phap Son, True Dharma Mountain, is a monk and Dharma Teacher in Maple Forest Monastery in Vermont.

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Walking for Peace Globally

Lyn Fine

Walking Meditation

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will walk for ourselves.
We will walk for everyone.
Always hand in hand.
We will enjoy our walk.
Without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the earth with your feet.
Print on earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe.
When we feel in us enough safety.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Global Peacewalks began in Jerusalem, in New York City, and in Berkeley, California, on Mothers Day in May, 2002. Now there are twenty-five to thirty communities who have participated in these walks.

We gather in a public place on the third Sunday of each month. Instead of carrying banners and chanting slogans, we walk slowly and silently. This helps us step into the source of understanding and compassion within us, and hold everyone with care. We are walking to offer compassion, and to learn that love is possible as a genuine way of life, even in the presence of rage and fear. Violence in any form is a tragedy that stops all of us from sharing a life of harmony and abundance. Coming together to embody peace can restore our hope and vision. True and sustainable peace is a process and can be created by peaceful means.

A Long Tradition

Walking for peace has a long tradition, and includes Maha Ghosananda’s walking in Cambodia, Peace Pilgrim’s walking in the USA, and Gandhi’s walking in India. In Israel the Vipassana mindfulness community has sponsored week-long silent walks which have drawn hundreds of people.

The idea for these Third Sunday Global Peacewalks arose during a conversation with Miki Kashtan, a trainer in Nonviolent Communication, an Israeli living in the United States, and a friend. We were both feeling sad about the polarization that was occurring in so many of the demonstrations that claimed to be working for peace. We wanted to offer a way to connect globally and to generate peaceful energy. Walking meditation seemed a wonderful skillful means.

Beginning on Mother’s Day was quite auspicious, as it helped us reconnect with the peacemaking origin of Mother’s Day. In the 1870s in the USA, Julia Ward Howe called on the women of the world to “leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.” “Let them meet first, as women,” she wrote, “to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”

Start a Peacewalk

The website, www.walkingforpeace.org, offers stories about past Peacewalks, organizing tips, and contact information for the walks in different cities. Any Sangha or individual is welcome to organize a walk.

Lyn Fine, True Goodness, was ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh as a Dharmacarya in 1994. She lives in Berkeley, California, and offers guidance to many Sanghas around the world.

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Ashoka’s  Transformation

Paméla  Overeynder

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About twenty-three hundred years ago, there was an emperor in Northern India called Ashoka, who waged many wars in the early years of his reign to expand his empire. Maybe he thought he was protecting his people. We understand that he was a very unhappy man.

One day after a particularly terrible battle, he walked on the battlefield. He was aghast at the carnage he had caused, bodies of men and animals strewn everywhere. At that moment, he looked up and saw a Buddhist monk walking peacefully across the field of dead bodies. Ashoka asked the monk how he came to be happy and peaceful. The monk was able to walk peacefully and with happiness because he was filled with compassion and because he had transformed his own suffering.

Because of the presence of this one radiantly peaceful human being, Ashoka became a student of Buddhism and stopped waging wars. Instead he focused on feeding his people and meeting their basic needs. He transformed himself from a tyrant into a well-respected ruler and changed the course of history. His son and daughter later transmitted Buddhism from India to Shri Lanka and from there the teachings spread to Burma and Thailand and throughout the world. This one monk and this one emperor literally changed the course of history. Because of them, many, many people have transformed their own suffering and helped others to overcome suffering.

We walk for peace in Austin, Texas because we know that we are all interconnected. We know that when one of us suffers we all suffer. There is no ‘other.’We know that when one of us transforms her suffering, everyone is transformed. We are the world and right now there is tremendous suffering in our world.

We are walking to practice peace in ourselves, and we will continue to cultivate that peace until it is reflected at the national and international level. Then, like Ashoka, we will use our resources to feed our so-called enemies and put an end to unnecessary suffering.

Paméla Overeynder, Chan Tue Nhat, True Sun of Understanding is a founding member of the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. Pamela is also a member of the Hill-Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship,

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The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is an international organization founded in 1978 to bring a Buddhist perspective to the peace movement, and to bring the peace movement to the Buddhist community. Its members seek to practice engagement in the suffering of the world. touchingpeace@earthlink.net

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A Winter Peacewalk

Judith Toy

It is the third Sunday in December. As usual, wearing white, I am the first person to arrive at an empty Pack Square in the city of Asheville, North Carolina, while Philip parks the car.

I slowly circumambulate the rounded brick walk below the obelisk of Vance Monument, keeping company with actual-size hog and turkey statues commemorating Asheville’s farming origins. In our new age, the critters are bronze. I begin the process of deep quieting soften the belly, regulate the breath. Notice the brisk wind. I should have dressed more warmly.

Two men and two women cluster across the street in front of the noodle shop—talking with lively gestures the younger couple draped in stark white, head to foot. Will they walk with us? The girl is young and ebullient and spreads her white shawl’s wings like a great peace bird floating about the other three.

Having landed a parking space, Philip arrives looking like a hatted ice cream man, with creamy muffler flowing over his shoulder. Here comes the peace bird and her flock across the street toward us.  Are you walking with us?  Yes, yes.

We introduce ourselves and chat a bit, find these four are from Hickory, a city fifty miles east. And here arrives a lithe Buddhist woman, properly hatted and gloved, from  the Anatasatti Magga Sangha! We begin our slow walk with no signs, no banners. Just follow our breath.

From the corner of my eye, I see two more Buddhists, handsome young men from the Shambala Group, catching up, bringing up the rear. We walk as one body. We are Buddha’s monks without bowls in the ancient Indian city of Maggada. Nine of us. Slow. With dignity. Into the crowd.

I notice the eyes of passersby and imagine what they’re thinking. “Oh my God, those people are weird. I can’t look. Oh no, they’re coming this way. Think I’ll duck into this store and let them pass. Aah, drug burnouts. What a beautiful smile on that one,” and so on.

I hope we don’t frighten folks. A curly headed child is throwing a screaming fit on the far corner. A woman with a red hat and red lips, coming our way, questions us with her eyes. Philip offers her one of our handouts. She takes it and smiles. A storekeeper leaves her shop to place her palms together and bow. We bow back. Two mothers, heads down, children firmly in tow, pass by mutely and quickly, facing away from us. They seem to be stomping. This is when I notice that our own footsteps are silent, like Cherokees in the Appalachian forest.

The curly headed child breaks away from her mother and runs, to stop and stand defiantly, curious, before us. I know she feels our calm and wants to drink it. With a look of apology, her mother whisks her away from the strangers.

Sky so blue. Deco buildings, red tile roof in sun. Philip and I keep step. It is good, this marriage, having this other self. We hold hands. This is our path. Sometimes we lead with both left feet. Sometimes his right and my left. We do not jay walk. At the side streets when the lights change, we feel ourselves wanting to fly across to the other side, but still we maintain our slow pace. A hundred perfect pigeons soar up over rooftops right before our eyes. Suddenly, the sky’s translucent.

In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment, only moment. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment, only moment. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment…wind bites, hands icy, gut serene. Noticing that I am empty, I am no longer empty.

Motorcycle with cute rider, rock music, passes. Lots of bundled shoppers. It’s Christmas. This moment is the meaning of everything Van Halen, shoppers and gawkers and walking for peace, spreading our peace, gifting ourselves, gifting the world with our pleasure in peace.

We spy our next door neighbor, Rose, leaving the Roman Catholic basilica.   Does she see us?   Does she not want to recognize us? Oh well. We walk gently on the sidewalks, murmur with our feet to the smothered earth below, kiss the mother. Now we enter the door of the warm dark basilica, its candle  wax and incense and faint Gregorian chants. We pass the huge heating vents, feel glad for this sanctuary from the wind. Still walking slowly, following breath, from left to right, we pass before Mary the Mother of God, the candle alcove, the shrine room, and Jesus Himself breathing in Jesus, breathing out Jesus and back to the bright outdoors, past the sacred shops, past the sacred shoppers, past the honking horns and lights and holiday sale signs and brave-hearted dogs on leashes. It is the same in the street as in the church, this harmony of body and mind.

Judith Toy, Chan An Mon, True Door of Peace, lives with her husband, Philip and practices with Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, NC. She is working on a nonfiction book, Sitting on Fire, the Zen of Forgiveness.

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In Mindful Memory

In Memory of Nora de Graaf True Fruition – 1917-2003
A Lover of Silence and of Life

“Am I going to die?” Nora asked, ten days before her death, more curious than fearful. “Are you ready to die?” one of her many visitors asked. There was silence.

“Yes,” Nora said, with the quiet conviction that characterized her life. Days later, she requested, “Open the window, the butterfly wants to fly away.” The next afternoon, the butterfly left. Nora de Graaf, friend and teacher, “Mother” of the Dutch Sangha, was gone.

Her quest to understand and bring meaning to her life began as a young woman. She studied with many religious teachers and collected an extensive library of teachings. She met Thich Nhat Hanh in the early 1980’s, and felt a lasting and deep heart connection with him. Her own teachings attracted more and more people, and she quietly and firmly laid the foundation for the current Dutch Sangha. In 1992, she received the lamp transmission and became a Dharmacarya.

Nora was a light for many in the Netherlands. She sought to understand her own suffering — including dealing with the progressive nervous disorder, Parkinson’s disease — which helped her to understand others’ suffering.  She helped many people discover the healing power of silence. Nora had a passionate love of life, expressed through music and gardening, and especially through her encounters with everyone she met. Her daughter Nel, her friend Sietske, and many from the Dutch Sangha were present for a simple and moving ceremony during which family and friends remembered Nora, before setting her to rest in a beautiful cemetery under high old trees.

Offered by Dutch Sangha members Sietske Roegholt, Eveline Beumkes, Shelley Anderson, and Francoise Pottier.

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In Memory of Alexandra Glankoff

It is with great sadness that the Community of Mindfulness Metro New York shares that Alexandra Glankoff, a cherished member of our Tuesday night Sangha for many years, died on January 19, 2003.  Alexandra was traveling with friends and drowned while swimming off the coast of Verkala in southern India. Her presence in our community is greatly missed. Alexandra was a NewYork City public school teacher and was pursuing a Doctorate in Urban Education at the City University of New York. She also sat with the Educators’ Sangha, sharing how she integrated mindfulness practice into her work. She taught her students to use mindfulness meditation as a concentration practice prior to examinations, and invited the mindfulness bell to bring her students back to the present moment. She loved working with inner city teenagers, and among her contributions were coauthoring a multicultural curriculum, coaching a championship debating team, and directing a video with teenagers entitled, “Consider Us! The Children’s Rights Collective, Working Together For Our Tomorrow.”

Alexandra and I were in the same family and discussion group at Plum Village in 2002. She shared that she had been suffering from seizures caused by a head injury that occurred several years before in a car accident, which had left her in a coma for several days and taken the life of her mother. Because of the seizures, Alexandra took a leave of absence from teaching to heal, to grow, and to reflect on her life.

While at Plum Village, Alexandra came to know and greatly admire Sr. Khe Nghiem, who showed her great kindness and one time walked with her through the woods of Lower Hamlet to a small lake. Alexandra shared that walk with me, and returning, we saw a deer in the distance. Reflecting the golden light of the setting sun, the deer jumped over the thigh high sunflowers, appearing and disappearing as it jumped through the field. The golden grace of that leaping deer was a treasure we shared. Alexandra was just like that deer.

Bernadette Pye, Tuesday night Sangha, with Gloria Schwartz, Educator’s Sangha

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Teasing

A story retold by Terry Masters

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Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat. There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages two years old to fourteen years old.

“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile. “Please come sit with me.” They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“It snowed!” Julia Kate, who is six years old, informs him enthusiastically.

“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins. “It was so little!”

“But it was snow!” she insists. “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”

“She did!” Alex, the nine year old, says. “And it hit me!” “Well, what did you do?”

“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate. “Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children. “Do you have any questions for me today?”

“I do,” Eliana, a seven year old, says softly. “What is your question, Eliana?”

“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues, “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?” Chan Huy looks at the child. There is a long moment of silence.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.

After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers. The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.

“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.

“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.” “Hmmm.”  Chan Huy pauses.  Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”

Eliana thinks for a moment. We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child? What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.

Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’” The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.

“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head. He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips. She begins to sing. The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.

Breathing In
Breathing Out
I am blooming like a flower
I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as a mountain
I am firm as the earth
I am free.

Breathing In
Breathing out
I am water reflecting
What is real, what is true
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me
I am free, I am free I am free.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She has owned a summer educational day camp for twenty-two years and helps coordinate and teach the children’s program in her Sangha.

Chan Huy, True Radiance, received the Lamp Transmission in 1994. Coming from a family with four generations of Thay’s students, he lives and guides Sanghas in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.

Drawing by Shea Lyndsey Griffin, age 10.

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Making up Songs

Sister Annabel

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Do you ever make up songs? Sometimes when we write the words to a song we don’t have music for it, so we use the music from another song that we already know.

In English we have a very old song called “Greensleeves,” but the words are not inspiring. The first word of that song is, “Alas!” Alas means, “Oh, dear! What a shame! Things aren’t going right!” Greensleeves starts off, “Alas! My love, you do me wrong.” It’s not such a good start for a song! You want to have a more positive beginning.

The song says, everything’s going wrong. We often get a lot of wrong news instead of the right news, so we want to have something going right in our song. The words don’t give us much energy to do what we really want to do, so we can change it a little bit.

The word “sleeve” in the song “Greensleeves” refers to the sleeve of a coat, and it means that the woman the singer loved wore a coat that was the color green. But there are other things that are green. For instance, the planet Earth has a green coat. It’s made up of the forest and the grass, and it’s very beautiful. So why don’t we change the song and talk about the green coat of Mother Earth? This will make us feel happy about Mother Earth. So instead of saying, “Alas! My love, you did me wrong,” we could say something like,

How beautiful the green grass is—
It covers the planet Earth.
How beautiful the green grass is.
I vow to keep it fresh.
Green grass is all my joy,
And green grass is my delight.
Green grass is the spring’s gift.
I vow to take care of the green grass.

In this version of the song you make a deep aspiration like the Buddha did when he sat at the foot of the tree: that you will look after the grass. Because if we don’t have green grass then we don’t have the other species – all the animals that live in the green grass and live by the green grass and eat the green grass– and we need these species.

There are so many songs with beautiful music but the words aren’t quite right yet. So if you find a song that needs more positive words and you put in new words, I think that is very helpful for our world. Then we can sing about things which can help the world become a more beautiful place.

Excerpted from a Dharma talk to children on June 25, 2001. Sister Chan Duc, True Virtue, is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Watering Seeds: An Exercise for Children

Terry  Masters

This is an exercise I have done with the children I teach. Please adapt it to work in your situation. The teacher’s comments are in bold, the children’s responses are in italics.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:
2 clear wide mouth jars or plastic cups
or cut the top off a clear plastic water bottle
2 paper towels
Soil
8 lima or pinto beans
1 permanent marker (for everyone to use)

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note: Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions:
Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel. Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel. Fill it about 3/4 full. Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup. Make a lot of space between the beans. Like us, beans like freedom! Please do the same with the other cup.

Note: We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds. One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy. For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you? Does it make you happy when you smile at others? If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing. What makes you truly happy?
Playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises.

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name yourbeans afterways that do not make you happy. For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry? If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.” Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy. What makes you unhappy?
Fights, war, stealing, not sharing.

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Discussion:
These beans are seeds. If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants. What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants?
Soil, air, light, and water.
You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds. Which bean seeds do you want to grow?
Only the Happiness seeds.
How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow?
Give them what they need: soil, air, water, and light.
How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing?
Do not give them soil, air, water, and/or light.

Help the children water their Happiness Beans. They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups. We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing, and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us.
Note: Be sure to include the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing, and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us.
Note: Be sure to include the “unhappy seeds “ which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our seeds grow, too. Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light, and water, they will grow. Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.

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What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air?
Freedom, space, time.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light?
To notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.

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What are some ways we can water (and not water) the seeds inside ourselves?
With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves:
Practice:“One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.”
Awareness: “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.”
Don’t concentrate: “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.”
Check my perceptions: “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend. Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?”
Act nice: “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.”
Say a Gatha: “One way to water the seed of appreciation, is to say the Five Contemplations gatha.”
Breathe in and out: “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.”
Don’t watch mean TV or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio: “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.”
Understand: “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.”
Take Three Steps: “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps.

  1. Enjoy things that make me happy. 2. Notice when I am sad.
  2. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

Two sources for grown-ups: Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh, available from Parallax Press.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue.

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Children’s Compassion

Practiced by Linden, a four year old

A story retold by Mai Nguyen

I heard this story from Sr Thoai Nghiem after she returned from leading a retreat in Devon, England.   She said:   I was recently visiting in the home of Helen and Martin Pitt and  their four-year-old son, Linden. Helen told me this story.

“The weather was cold outside, and although we had the heat on in the house, it was still a bit chilly inside. I was in the kitchen, looking for some scissors. I couldn’t find them in the drawer. ‘That’s odd,’ I thought to myself. Then I had the frightening feeling that Linden had the scissors! I called out to my child. He didn’t answer. I called and I walked quickly through the rooms looking for him. I began to be quite concerned.”

I could see that the mother had been very worried about her child. It showed in her face even now, weeks later, as she told me the story.

“As you can see, Sister,” Helen continued, “on the table over there we have a wooden Buddha statue with a cloth covering the Buddha’s shoulders.”

I glanced at the lovely statue.

“Well,” Helen said, “When I stepped into the door of this room, I was stunned at what I saw. Linden had the scissors. He had cut a small jagged patch of his hair from the front of his head. I saw that he was placing his cut hair onto the head of the Buddha statue.”

“Oh hello Mummy,” Linden said when he saw me.  “The Buddha is cold,” he said, “I hope my hair will keep him warm!” Helen laughed when she saw how funny her son looked  with his new self-created hairstyle. Then she hugged him warmly. “I am deeply touched by your loving gesture to the Buddha,”

Helen said to her son, “even the Buddha in a wooden form.”

Mai Nguyen, Chan My, True Beauty, resides in London, England and is a recently ordained Dharma teacher and long-time student of Thich Nhat Hanh.


 

Practiced by Hu, a six year old

A story told by Thich Nhat Hanh

In A Pebble for your Pocket, Thay tells a story of a little boy who was confused about who and where the Buddha is. Thay says that Hu was six or seven years old when he asked his parents if he could become a monk. He became a student of Thay’s.

“When he first became a monk, Hu believed that the Buddha loved bananas, mangoes, and tangerines because every time people came to the temple, they brought bananas, mangoes, tangerines and other fruit, and placed them in front of the Buddha. In Hu’s little head that could only mean that the Buddha loved fruit very much.

“Hu imagined that the Buddha sat very still all day long, and when the hall was empty, he reached out for a banana. Hu waited and watched, hoping to see the Buddha take one of the bananas piled in front of him. He waited for a long time, but he did not see the Buddha pick up a banana. He was baffled. He could not understand why the Buddha did not eat any of the bananas that people brought to him.

“Hu did not dare ask the head monk, because he was afraid that the monk would think he was silly. Actually, we often feel like that. We do not dare ask questions because we are afraid we might be called silly. The same was true for Hu. And because he didn’t dare ask, he was confused. I think I would have gone to someone and asked. But Hu did not ask anyone.

“As he grew older, one day it occurred to him that the Buddha statue was not the Buddha! What an achievement! This realization made him so happy. But then a new question arose. ‘If the Buddha is not here, then where is he? If the Buddha is not in the temple, where is the Buddha?’ Every day he saw people come to the temple and bow to the statue of the Buddha. But where was the Buddha?

“I met Hu when he was fourteen, and he was still wondering about this. I explained to him that the Buddha is not far away from us. I told him that the Buddha is inside each one of us. Being a Buddha is being aware of what is inside of us and around us at every moment. Buddha is the love and understanding that we each carry in our hearts. This made Hu very happy.

“Anywhere you see love and understanding, there is the Buddha. Anyone can be a Buddha. Do not imagine that the Buddha is a statue or someone who has a fancy halo around his or her head or wears a yellow robe. A Buddha is a person who is aware of what is going on inside and around him or her and has a lot of understanding and compassion. Whether a Buddha is a man or a woman, young or not so young, a Buddha is always very pleasant and fresh.”

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The Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam

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Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam Sponsorship Form

Name ______________________________
Address ______________________________
City ______________________________
State ______________________________
Zip code Country Telephone ______________________________
E-mail ______________________________

I wish to sponsor (please circle and fill in appropriate lines):

~ for $6 a month or $72 a year
A preschool toddler in a daycare center or a 5-yr-old child in kindergarden
to receive 2 cups of milk and lunch every day at schoo ____boy(s) girl(s)
A young college student boy(s) girl(s) or a destitute elderly or handicapped person male(s) female(s)

~ for $25 a month or $300 a year
A teacher(s) going to remote rural areas to teach children in kindergarten through grade school levels (ages 5-12) ____a teenager(s) to receive vocational training in traditional Vietnamese crafts: woodworking, embroidery, tailoring, carpentry, mechanics and electricity ____boy(s) ____ girl(s)

~ donation amount (specified by you)
Sponsor development programs in rural areas to build schools, build bridges, plant trees, dig wells, and make roads Support victims of monsoon floods and natural catastrophies to receive medical support and food and blankets

Please make your check payable to Unified Buddhist Church, a non-profit organization.

All money will be given to the persons who need help. No charge is deducted for administrative costs. Please send to or for more information contact Touching and Helping Committees
Europe: Plum Village, 13 Martineau 33580 Dieulivol, France
East Coast USA: Green Mountain Dharma Center Box 182 , Hartland-Four-Corners, VT 05049
West Coast USA: Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026

You are helping many people to lessen their hunger, to feel the love of humanity and to improve their lives. This act will continue its way to strengthen hope, understanding and compassion in each of us. Our way of living and relating to the world in the present is the base for social changes. We look forward to receiving support from you.

A lotus for you, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness) and the Touching and Helping Committees

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Sangha Building

by Thich Nhat Hanh

From a Dharma Talk at Joongang Sangha University for monks and nuns in Kimpo, Korea on March 31st, 2003

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My dear friends, according to my experience the study of Buddhism and the practice of Buddhism should always go together.  It is not possible to learn the teachings first and then begin to practice because it is by practicing that we understand the teachings, not just by listening and studying. We might think that we have understood the Heart Sutra but then ten years later we realize that we did not. Thanks to our practice, thanks to confrontation with difficulties and suffering we begin to really understand. Suffering plays a very important role in helping us to understand the teachings of the Buddha. Thirty years of war in Vietnam have helped me to understand Buddhism more profoundly.

When I was a young novice learning about the three refuges and the five precepts I thought that I understood them. But now I see that my understanding was very superficial. My understanding of taking refuge in the Buddha has been evolving through the years. After sixty years I continue to see more deeply into the practice of taking refuge. Taking refuge in the Buddha is something you practice all day long. You can take refuge in the Buddha while sitting, while walking, or while cooking for the community. Taking refuge in the Buddha brings me a lot of happiness. Learning the teaching and putting the teaching into practice in such a way that you can be nourished by it brings joy. It is that joy that enables you to continue your life as a monk or as a nun.

Suffering and Happiness of Monastic Life

In your monastic life sometimes you encounter a lot of difficulties, a lot of suffering, and you might be tempted to give up your life as a monk or as a nun. If there is no joy in the practice then you will certainly give up your monastic life. Sometimes the relationship between you and your teachers and the relationship between you and your Dharma brothers or sisters becomes difficult and you are discouraged. You don’t see any joy in the Sangha. You feel that nobody in the Sangha understands you, not only your brothers in the Dharma but also your teacher. People around you seem to practice very hard but they have not transformed, they are still angry, they still have many prejudices. And you lose faith in the practice. Many high monks speak about non-self but they are full of self and they are seeking fame, wealth, and power, and that is why you are discouraged and you want to give up. I realize that when you don’t find happiness in the Sangha and in your life as a monk or a nun you could be tempted by things in the world like fame, like wealth, like sex. But if there is joy and happiness in your daily life as a monk or a nun then these temptations would not be important at all.

Tempted  by  Communism

As a young monk there was a time when I was tempted to become a communist. I saw that in the Buddhist community people talked a lot about serving living beings but they didn’t have any practical methods to help the country, which was under foreign rule and the people, who suffered from poverty and social injustice. As a young monk I wanted Buddhism to respond to the situations that created suffering and to help reduce the social injustice and political suppression. Many elders spoke about serving living beings but they did not give the kind of teaching and practice that could relieve the suffering in society. I saw that the communists were really trying to do something and they were ready to die for the sake of humanity. So temptation at that time for me was not fame, not money, not beautiful women – it was communism. I did not become a communist because I was very lucky. I realized quickly that being a member of the communist party, I would have to obey the orders of the party and may have to kill my countrymen who did not agree with the party, instead of being able to serve them.

As a young man or a young woman you are full of good intentions to serve the people of your country, so you become a member of a political party. You want to serve, not to harm people, but your party may become like a machine and one day you may be given the order to kill, to liquidate other young people who do not belong to your party and you have to betray your first intention to love and to serve. I was saved by the enlightenment that violent revolution was not my path. I did not want to go in the direction of violence. As a young man or a young woman, when you enter monastic life you are determined to serve the people in your society and other living beings. You are a revolutionary. Leaving your family behind, shaving your head, putting on a monk’s robe is an act of revolution. You want to be like Siddhartha, offering your life in order to relieve the suffering of living beings. But if the teaching and the practices that you are given do not satisfy that desire to serve and to help others, then you will be disappointed.

Engaged  Buddhism

After several years being in the Buddhist Institute1  my need was not satisfied, so I left. Also there was division in the community, there was no harmony, and people did not really do what they taught. I did not give up the life of a monk, however, because deep in me there was a strong belief that Buddhism could be renewed and could offer the teaching and the practice that would respond to the actual suffering in the world. I thought of engaged Buddhism, the kind of Buddhism that can be applied in all walks of life, in the realms of education, economics, technology, science, politics, the arts, and so on. I knew that historically Buddhist teachers guided and advised the political leaders. But nowadays business and political leaders do not listen, and it seems we have lost our spiritual leadership. At this time I was only a monk of twenty-four years old, just fully ordained, but I had a deep conviction that spiritual leadership could be restored to Buddhism and that Buddhism could give guidance in all areas of society.

With a number of other young monks we created a community of practice and tried to form a way of practice which we called “Engaged Buddhism.”

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Buddhism must be present as a spiritual dimension in all aspects of life. In 1954 when Vietnam was divided into two countries, North and South, the suffering was intense. I was given the chance to realize a reform of the teaching and the practice in the Buddhist Institute in the South of Vietnam, called the An Quang Institute. I called on young monks and young nuns and together we created a system of education and practice that had the capacity to respond to the difficult situation in the country and in the world. At twenty-eight, I had to take care of reorganizing the largest Buddhist Institute in South Vietnam.  I was lucky to have the love and support of the young monks and nuns, and together we tried to renew the teachings and the practice. We also had a number of elders who supported us and believed that we could do it, which was crucial for our success. At that time the French army had just been defeated in the North by the communist army and the French soldiers were leaving the country and American advisors began to arrive. It was the intention of the Americans to replace the French and to retain the South as a stronghold in order to contain communism and not allow it to spread in Southeast Asia. The country was divided and people suffered not only from social injustice and political oppression, but also from doubt and anger. We felt that Buddhism should do something to show people that there is a path leading us out of this difficult situation, and to create peace, brotherhood, and reunification.

It was suffering that helped us to give birth to what today we call “Engaged Buddhism.” Now this expression has become popular in Europe and America and there are Buddhist communities and associations that use it, like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. There are now Buddhist groups that organize soup kitchens for hungry people, centers to help dying people, and so on. Plum Village is now helping hungry children, disabled people, and refugees in Vietnam. Engaged work in society has become part of our daily practice.

Happiness and Harmony in the Sangha

Every one of us wants to help our society, but in order to go far we have to operate not as individuals but as a Sangha. If there is no harmony in the Sangha, if there is no brotherhood in the Sangha, if there is no happiness in the Sangha we do not feel nourished and we will not be successful. That is why the teaching and the practice of Buddhism should be effective in Sangha building. If the practice of Buddhism does not help the Sangha to be more harmonious, does not help brotherhood to grow, does not help to create more happiness in the Sangha then that practice is not effective and we don’t want it. You can practice very hard, staying up all night in the sitting position and not sleeping at all, but if there is no joy, no compassion, no understanding in you and the Sangha is divided and unhappy, then your practice is not correct. We should practice every day in such a way that happiness can grow in our Sangha. If there is no harmony, no happiness in the Sangha, serving living beings is an illusion.

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We may like to sit together and ask whether there is happiness and harmony in our Sangha. If there is no harmony and no happiness in the Sangha what are the reasons? What are the causes? What can I do in order to make the Sangha suffer less? What can I do to make the Sangha happy today? Together as a Sangha we practice looking deeply into the first Noble Truth, namely the presence of suffering, the absence of happiness, in order to find out the second Noble Truth, the roots and causes of our unhappiness. To me a Buddhist Institute should be organized as a family, where everyone is a brother or a sister for everyone else. Our daily practice should be centered on building brotherhood and sisterhood. If we are nourished every day by the happiness of brotherhood or sisterhood we would never give up our life as a monk or a nun. Of course, we have to study the sutras, the shastras, and the vinaya.2 But we have to study in such a way that we can find ways of practice that will build a happy Sangha. Sangha building is our daily practice.

Many of us are capable of building big temples, but not many of us can build a happy Sangha. That is why I have been proposing that in Buddhist Institutes Sangha building become an important subject of our study and practice. If there is no real happiness, brotherhood, and harmony in the Sangha and we go out to teach the practice, we are offering fake products. In the Buddhist Institutes, Dharma teachers should not only teach what they know but should teach with their way of life. We should not be overwhelmed with texts. We should have time to look deeply into each member of the Sangha to see the suffering and difficulties of each person and to offer our help. In that way we can go together like a river, in the direction of enlightenment, transformation, and service.

During the twenty years of sharing Dharma in the West we have learned a lot about Sangha building and we have learned a lot about offering the kind of teaching that helps in modern times. I can tell you as an elder brother that the noblest task is to build a happy Sangha. The Sangha is like a beautiful garden. You have to take care of each tree and bush in the garden. You have to understand the nature and the need of each tree and bush. You take a lot of time to help each member of the Sangha grow beautifully and happily. When the garden grows beautifully, you enjoy it a lot; when the Sangha is happy, you are well rewarded with happiness. When people come and visit the Sangha and they see the harmony and happiness, they will have faith in the Dharma. We don’t have to say anything; they just look at the Sangha and they have faith.

One day the King of Sravasti, King Pasenadi, met the Buddha. They were both eighty years old. The King said, Lord Buddha, every time I see your Sangha I have faith in the teachings. The Buddha did not build any temples but he was an excellent Sangha builder. We, his students, monks and nuns and laypeople, should not only spend our life building temples, we should devote our time to building happy Sanghas.

(Endnotes)

  1. The Buddhist Institute is the place where young monastics are sent to study sutras, ancient languages and other Buddhist Young monastics come from many different temples to study together and are generally awarded a degree at the end of their studies. This form of training is followed in most Mahayana Buddhist countries including China, Vietnam, and Korea.
  2. The sutras are the teachings given by the Buddha, the shastras are commentaries on these teachings and the vinaya is the collection of rules and regulations governing the monastic Together these three collections of Buddhist scripture are referred to as the tripitaka, or the three baskets of Buddhism scripture.

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Book Review

Barbara  Casey

I Have Arrived, I Am Home:
Celebrating Twenty Years of Plum Village Life
By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Global Plum Village Family, Parallax Press, 2003, 256 pages

The editors tell us in the Introduction, “This book is a delicious buffet of stories, teachings, poems, and images that offers a taste of the harmonious life possible through practicing mindfully as a Sangha.” Slowly turning the pages of this keepsake, tea table book, I feel the editors were too modest. Filled with color photos and artwork, this is a rich feast for the eyes and the heart.

Enjoying this book helps to deepen my understanding of the interbeing nature of the historical and the ultimate dimensions. Rooted in space and time, the words and pictures are my vision of the Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Shining through this marriage of the historical and ultimate dimensions comes the action dimension, exemplified by heartfelt stories of love and gratitude from practitioners all over the world. This book is an antidote to loneliness: it offers myriad threads of connection through time and space to lay and monastic brothers and sisters everywhere. For the first time, I see and hear the voices of those who came before me – those who were present in the early days of Plum Village life, those who built the buildings and the pathways at Plum Village that I enjoy now. I hear the visions of my teachers, Thay and Sr. Chan Khong. I listen to Sr. Annabel’s story of hardship and grace as she came to find her teacher and her true home.

And my teacher, Thay, blesses me with the understanding that “I have arrived, I am home,” is the Dharma seal of Plum Village, the heart of the practice. For those of us who have always felt a bit alien and homeless in this world, it is the most precious gift. Being close to this book, having it smile at me from my living room table, helps me understand and appreciate the treasure of practice, the treasure of friendship, I am being offered with each conscious breath.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication.


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If you would to receive a copy of our “award winning” catalog please visit our website at www.parallax.org or call 1 800 863 5290.

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Dharma Talk: Everyone Can and Will Become a Buddha

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Exerpt from Lotus Sutra book, by Thich Nhat Hanh, recently published by Parallax Press.

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In Chapter Twenty of the Lotus Sutra we are introduced to a beautiful bodhisattva called Sadaparibhuta, “Never Disparaging.”The name of this bodhisattva can also be translated as “Never Despising.” This bodhisattva never disparages living beings, never underestimates them or doubts their capacity for Buddhahood. His message is, “I know you possess Buddha nature and you have the capacity to become a Buddha,” and this is exactly the message of the Lotus Sutra—you are already a Buddha in the ultimate dimension, and you can become a Buddha in the historical dimension. Buddha nature, the nature of enlightenment and love, is already within you; all you need do is get in touch with it and manifest it. If you know this, if you are able to see your true nature in the ultimate dimension, then you will be able to realize Buddhahood in the historical dimension. Never Disparaging Bodhisattva is there to remind us of the essence of our true nature.

The action of this bodhisattva is to remove the feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem in people. “How can I become a Buddha? How can I attain enlightenment? There is nothing in me except suffering, and I don’t know how to get free of my own suffering, much less help others. I am worthless.” Many people have these kinds of feelings, and they suffer more because of them. Never Despising Bodhisattva works to encourage and empower people who feel this way, to remind them that they too have Buddha nature, they too are a wonder of life, and they too can achieve what a Buddha achieves. This is a great message of hope and confidence. This is the practice of a bodhisattva in the action dimension.

Sadaparibhuta was actually Shakyamuni in one of his former lives, when the Buddha appeared as a bodhisattva in the world to perfect his practice of the Dharma. But this bodhisattva did not chant the sutras or practice in the usual way—he did not perform prostrations, or go on pilgrimages, or spend long hours in sitting meditation. Never Despising Bodhisattva had a specialty. Whenever he met someone he would address them very respectfully, saying, “You are someone of great value. You are a future Buddha. I see this potential in you.” There are passages in the Lotus Sutra that suggest that his message was not always well received. Because they have not yet gotten in touch with the ultimate dimension, many people could not believe what the bodhisattva was telling them about their inherent Buddha nature, and they thought he was mocking them. Often he was ridiculed, shouted at, and driven away. But even when people did not believe him and drove him away with insults and beatings,  Never

Despising did not become angry or abandon them. Standing at a distance he continued to shout out the truth:

“I do not hold you in contempt!
You are all treading the Path,
And shall all become Buddhas!” (1)

Never Despising is very sincere and has great equanimity. He never gives up on us. The meaning of his life, the fruition of his practice, is to bring this message of confidence and hope to everyone. This is the action of this great bodhisattva. We have to learn and practice this action if we want to follow the path of the bodhisattvas.

The sutra tells us that when Sadaparibhuta was near the end of his life he suddenly heard the voice of a Buddha called King of Imposing Sound (Bhishmagarjitasvararaja) teaching the Lotus Sutra. He could not see that Buddha but he clearly heard his voice delivering the sutra, and through the power of the teaching, Never Despising Bodhisattva suddenly found that his six sense organs were completely purified and he was no longer on the verge of death. Understanding deeply the message of the Lotus Sutra, he was able to touch his ultimate dimension and attain deathlessness.

We have already learned about the infinite life span of a Buddha in the ultimate dimension. In terms of the historical dimension, a Buddha may live 100 years or a little bit more or less; but in terms of the ultimate dimension a Buddha’s life span is limitless. Sadaparibhuta saw that his lifes pan was infinite, just like the life span of a Buddha. He saw that every leaf, every pebble, every flower, every cloud has an infinite life span also, because he was able to touch the ultimate dimension in everything. This is one of the essential aspects of the Lotus message. When his sense organs had been purified, he could see very deeply and understand how the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) produce the six kinds of consciousness. When his senses had been purified he was capable of touching reality-as-it-is, the ultimate dimension. There was no more confusion, no more delusion, in his perception of things.

This passage in the sutra may sound as if it is about something magical or supernatural, but in fact it describes a kind of transformation that we too can experience. When the ground of our consciousness is prepared, when our sense consciousnesses and our mind consciousness have been purified through the practice of mindfulness and looking deeply into the ultimate dimension of reality, we can hear in the sound of the wind in the trees or the singing of the birds the truth of the Lotus Sutra. While lying on the grass or walking in meditation in the garden we can get in touch with the truth of the Dharma that is all around us all the time. We know that we are practicing the Lotus samadhi and our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are automatically transformed and purified.

Having realized the truth of the ultimate, Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta continued to live for many millions of years, delivering his message of hope and confidence to countless beings. So we can see that the Lotus Sutra is a kind of medicine for long life. When we take this medicine we are able to live a very long time in order to be able to preserve and transmit the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to many others. We know that our true nature is unborn and undying, so we no longer fear death. Just like Never Despising Bodhisattva, we always dare to share the wonderful Dharma with all living beings. And all those who thought the bodhisattva was only making fun of them finally began to understand. Looking at Sadaparibhuta they were able to see the result of his practice, and so they began to have faith in it and to get in touch with their own ultimate nature.

This is the practice of this great bodhisattva—to regard others with a compassionate and wise gaze and hold up to them the insight of their ultimate nature, so that they can see themselves reflected there. So many people have the idea that they are not good at anything, that they are not able to be as successful as other people.

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They cannot be happy; they envy the accomplishments and social standing of others while regarding themselves as failures if they do not have the same level of worldly success. We have to try to help those who feel this way. Following the practice of Sadaparibhuta we must come to them and say, “You should not have an inferiority complex. I see in you some very good seeds that can be developed and make you into a great being. If you look more deeply within and get in touch with those wholesome seeds in you, you will be able to overcome your feelings of unworthiness and manifest your true nature.”

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The Chinese Master Guishan writes,

We should not look down on ourselves.
We should not see ourselves as worthless and always
withdraw into the background. (2)

These words are designed to wake us up. In modern society, psychotherapists report that many people suffer from low self-esteem. They feel that they are worthless and have nothing to offer, and many of them sink into depression and can no longer function well, take care of themselves or their families. Therapists, healers, and caregivers, teachers, religious leaders, and those who are close to someone who suffers in this way all have the duty to help them see their true nature more clearly so that they can free themselves from the delusion that they are worthless. If we know friends or family member who see themselves as worthless, powerless, and incapable of doing anything good or meaningful, and this negative self-image has taken away all their happiness, we have to try to help our friend, our sister or brother, our parent, spouse, or partner remove this complex. This is the action of the bodhisattva Never Despising.

We also have to practice so as not to add to others’ feelings of worthlessness. In our daily life when we become impatient or irritated we might say things that are harsh, judgmental, and critical, especially to our children. When they are under a great deal of pressure, working very hard to support and care for their family, parents frequently make the mistake of uttering unkind, punitive, or blaming words in moments of stress or irritation. The ground of a child’s consciousness is still very young, still very fresh, so when we sow such negative seeds in our children we are destroying their capacity to be happy. So parents and teachers, siblings, and friends all have to be very careful and practice mindfulness in order to avoid sowing negative seeds in the minds of our children, family members, friends, and students.

And when our students or loved ones have feelings of low self-esteem we have to find a way to help them transform those feelings so that they can live with greater freedom, peace, and joy. We have to practice just like Never Despising Bodhisattva, who did not give up on people or lose patience with them but continued always to hold up to others a mirror of their true Buddha nature.

I always try to practice this kind of action. One day there were two young brothers who came to spend the day with me. I took them both to show them a new printing press I had just gotten. The younger boy was very interested in the machine, and while he was playing with it the motor burned out. As I was pressing one button to show the boys how it worked, the little boy pressed another at the same time, and it overstressed the machine’s engine. The elder brother said angrily, “Thay, you just wanted to show us the machine. Why did he have to do that? He wrecks whatever he touches.” These were very harsh words from such a young boy. Perhaps he had been influenced by hearing his parents or other family members use blaming language like this, so he was just repeating what he had heard without realizing the effect on his little brother.

In order to help mitigate the possible effects of his brother’s criticism on the younger boy, I showed the boys another machine, a paper cutter, and this time I instructed the younger one how to use it. His brother warned me, “Thay, don’t let him touch it, he’ll destroy this one too.” Seeing that this was a moment when I could help both boys, I said to the older brother, “Don’t worry, I have faith in him. He is intelligent. We shouldn’t think otherwise.” Then I said to the younger boy, “Here, this is how it works—just push this button. Once you have released this button then you press that button. Do this very carefully and the machine will work properly.” The younger brother followed my instructions and operated the machine without harming it.

He was very happy, and so was his older brother. And I was happy along with them.

Following the example of Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, I only needed three or four minutes to remove the complex of the younger brother and teach the older brother to learn to trust in the best of his younger brother and not just see him in terms of his mistakes. In truth, at that moment I was a bit concerned that the young boy would ruin the other machine. But if I had hesitated and not allowed him to try and follow my instructions, believing that he would destroy the machine, I could well have destroyed that little boy. Preserving the health and well-being of the mind of a child is much more important than preserving a machine, by a long way.

You only need to have faith in the action of Sadaparibhuta and very quickly you can help others overcome their negative self-image. Never Despising Bodhisattva shows everyone that they have the capacity for perfection within themselves, the capacity to become a Buddha, a fully enlightened one. The message of the Lotus Sutra is that everyone can and will become a Buddha. Sadaparibhuta is the ambassador of the Buddha and of the Lotus Sutra, and sometimes ambassadors are reviled or attacked. Never Despising Bodhisattva was also treated this way. He brought his message to everyone, but not everyone was happy to hear it because they could not believe in their own Buddha nature. So when they heard his message they felt they were being scorned or mocked, and, the sutra tells us, “throughout the passage of many years, he was constantly subjected to abuse…some in the multitude would beat him with sticks and staves, with tiles and stones.” (3) The mission of a Dharma teacher, of a bodhisattva, requires a great deal of love, equanimity, and inclusiveness.

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Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva represents the action of inclusiveness, kshanti, one of the six paramitas, the bodhisattva practice of the perfections. Kshanti is also translated as “patience,” and we can see this great quality in Never Despising Bodhisattva and in one of the Shakyamuni’s disciples, Purna, who is praised by the Buddha in the eighth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. While the Lotus Sutra only mentions Purna in passing, he is the subject of another sutra, the Teaching Given to Maitrayaniputra. (4) In this sutra, after the Buddha had instructed Purna in the practice, he asked him, “Where will you go to share the Dharma and form a Sangha?” The monk said that he wanted to return to his native region, to the island of Sunaparanta in the Eastern Sea.

The Buddha said, “Bhikshu, that is a very difficult place. People there are very rough and violent. Do you think you have the capacity to go there to teach and help?”

“Yes, I think so, my Lord,” replied Purna. “What if they shout at you and insult you?”

Purna said, “If they only shout at me and insult me I think they are kind enough, because at least they aren’t throwing rocks or rotten vegetables at me. But even if they did, my Lord, I would still think that they are kind enough, because at least they are not using sticks to hit me.”

The Buddha continued, “And if they beat you with sticks?”

“I think they are still kind enough, since they are not using knives and swords to kill me.”

“And if they want to take your life? It’s possible that they would want to destroy you because you will be bringing a new kind of teaching, and they won’t understand at first and may be very suspicious and hostile,” the Buddha warned.

Purna replied, “Well, in that case I am ready to die. Because my dying will also be a kind of teaching and because I know that this body is not the only manifestation I have. I can manifest myself in many kinds of bodies. I don’t mind if they kill me, I don’t mind becoming the victim of their violence, because I believe that I can help them.”

The Buddha said, “Very good, my friend. I think that you are ready to go and help there.”

So Purna went to that land and he was able to gather a lay Sangha of 500 people practicing the mindfulness trainings, and also to establish a monastic community of around 500 practitioners. He was successful in his attempt to teach and transform the violent ways of the people in that country. Purna exemplifies the practice of kshanti, inclusiveness.

Never Despising Bodhisattva may have been a future or a former life of Purna. We are the same. If we know how to practice inclusiveness then we will also be the future life of this great bodhisattva. We know that Sadaparibhuta’s life span is infinite, and so we can be in touch with his action and aspiration at any moment. And when we follow the practice of inclusiveness of Never Despising Bodhisattva, he is reborn in us right in that very moment. We get in touch with the great faith and insight that everyone is a Buddha, the insight that is the very marrow of the Lotus Sutra. Then we can take up the career of the bodhisattva, carrying within our heart the deep confidence we have gained from this insight and sharing that confidence and insight with others.

Therapists and others in the healing professions, Dharma teachers, schoolteachers, parents, family members, colleagues, and friends can all learn to practice like Never Despising Bodhisattva. Following the path of faith, confidence, and inclusiveness we can help free many people from the suffering of negative self-image, help them recognize their true Buddha nature, and lead them into the ultimate dimension.

Illustrations by Lien Buu Olsson. She lives and practices in San Diego, California.

1 Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, p. 283.

2 Quote from “Awakening Words of Master Quy Son,” in Stepping Into Freedom [PUB INFO].

3 Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, pp. 280–1.

4 Teaching Given to Maitrayaniputra , REF Pali/Skt and/or Chinese texts, translations

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Letter from the Editor

mb35-EditorTo Our Readers

The practice of compassion is not for the faint-hearted; it takes great courage to keep our eyes open to the suffering all around us without shutting down.

In the first Dharma talk at the retreat in Estes Park, Colorado last summer, Thich Nhat Hanh began, saying, “It’s lovely to see the Sangha body manifesting herself.” What you hold in your hands, dear reader, is another manifestation of the Sangha body. Every conscious breath, every step in mindfulness that each of us takes, contributes to the collective insight offered in these pages.

Lately I’ve been in the midst of several loved ones who are experiencing physical and emotional difficulties. I feel a growing daily awareness of their sadness and pain. My interactions with them have been both greatly challenging and rewarding. The day after the Colorado retreat, I unexpectedly left to help my aging and almost home-bound parents for three weeks. During that time, I felt myself being carried on the wave of practice generated by the Sangha in Colorado. As a result, my heart was able to stay open, and compassion led me into a new, soft and tender expression of love for my parents. I was able to give them my best—my presence. Through this experience, I see what a great teacher compassion is for me—giving me a way to be in the world, my heart breaking open every day to the sweetness of this life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint-hearted; it takes great courage to keep our eyes open to the suffering all around us without shutting down.

“Leading with Courage and Compassion” was the subject of Thay’s teachings to U.S. Congress members. A section on these memorable events includes questions and answers at the public talk, and notes from a journalist/ practitioner.

We learn about another aspect of the practice of compassion from Never Disparaging Bodhisattva in the Lotus Sutra. Thay leads us through this teaching, showing us that we all have the capacity to realize our Buddha nature, and the responsibility to encourage others to have faith in their ability to become enlightened.

Also in this issue, the Sangha body has manifested as:  inspiration from nature, including a breathtaking photo collection, and a story with haiku from two writer/environmentalists; a guided tour in story and photo from a trip of practitioners to war torn Israel; a teaching from senior nun Sister Jina, offering many concrete ways to deepen our daily practice; the story of a mindfulness psychotherapy clinic in Ottowa, Canada and ways to practice with our bodies and with pain; a letter from the mountains of Vietnam, asking for our assistance, as well as many other fruits of practice from Sangha members throughout the world.

Please consider offering the fruits of your practice to the worldwide Sangha through the Mindfulness Bell.

With this issue, we welcome a new graphic designer to our pages. Lien Ho, our tireless designer of ads and posters, subscription manager, and all around business administrator, is now designing the Mindfulness Bell. Lien is a treasure of the Sangha; she is a rare orchid that seems to never stop blooming, even in the most desolate of conditions. I look forward to seeing her gentle care and her professional hand add her touch of beauty to the magazine. Sr. Steadiness continues on the editorial team, as she lets go of the primary design tasks.

As this issue goes to press, the winter retreat will soon be upon us. When I first heard about the chance to be with Thay and the entire monastic community during this time, my heart knew that, for me, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one not to be missed if at all possible. To spend ten weeks nestled in the arms of the Sangha, letting the safety generated have its way with my heart, was an offer I just couldn’t let pass. To witness the loveliness of the Sangha body manifesting herself. Please join us, if you can.

In gratitude,

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Barbara Casey

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Thich Nhat Hanh Answers Questions at the Library of Congress

September 10, 2003

On September 10, 2003 Thich Nhat Hanh  offered a talk at the Library of Congress  in Washington, D.C., to members of  Congress and their staffs.  Two days later,  Thay and monks and nuns led a three- day mindfulness retreat for Congress  members and their families. 

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I would like to answer any question that you might have concerning this practice.

Q: How do you practice with anger? 

Thay: Two days after the events of September 11th I spoke to 4,000 people in Berkeley. I said that emotions are very strong now and we need to know how to calm ourselves, because with lucidity and calm we will know what to do. And we will know what not to do, to keep from making the situation worse.

I have suggested a number of things that can be done to decrease the level of violence and hate. The terrorists who attacked the twin towers must have been very angry, they must have hated America a lot. They must have thought America was trying to destroy them as a people, as a religion, as a nation, and as a culture. We have to find out why they have done such a thing to America. A political leader of America who has enough calm and lucidity can ask the question, “Dear people over there, we don’t know why you have done such a thing to us. What have we done that has made you suffer so much? We want to know about your suffering and why you have hated us so much. We may have said something or done something that has given you the impression that we wanted to destroy you. But in fact that is not the case. We are confused, and we want you to help us understand why you have done such a thing to us.” We call that kind of speech loving or gentle speech. If we are honest and sincere they will tell us and we will recognize the wrong perceptions they have about themselves and about us. We can try to help them to remove their wrong perceptions. All these acts of terrorism and violence come from wrong perceptions. Wrong perceptions are the ground for anger, violence, and hatred. You cannot remove wrong perceptions with a gun.

While we listen deeply to the other person, not only can we recognize their wrong perceptions but we can see that we also have wrong perceptions about ourselves and about the other person. That is why mindful dialogue, mindful communication is crucial in removing wrong perceptions, anger, and violence. It is my deepest hope that our political leaders can make use of such instruments to bring peace to themselves and to the world. I believe that using force and violence can only make the situation worse. To me during the last two years America has not been able to decrease the level of hate and violence from terrorists. In fact, the level of hate and violence has increased. That is why it is time for us to go back to the situation, to look deeply, and to find a way that is less costly and will bring peace to everyone. Violence cannot remove violence; everyone knows that. Only with the practice of deep listening and gentle communication can we help remove wrong perceptions that are at the foundation of violence.

America has a lot of difficulty in Iraq. I think that America is caught in Iraq just as America was caught in Vietnam, caught with the idea that we have to seek and destroy the enemy, wherever we believe they are. That idea will never give us a chance to do the right thing to end violence. During the Vietnam War, America thought that they had to bomb North Vietnam, that they had to bomb Cambodia. But the more America bombed, the more communists they created. I am afraid that situation is repeating itself in Iraq. I think it is very difficult for America to withdraw now from Iraq. Even if you want to leave, it is very difficult. I think that the only way for America to get emancipated from this situation is to help build the United Nations into a real body of peace so that the United Nations will take over the problem of Iraq and of the Middle East. America is powerful enough to do that. America should allow the other big powers to contribute positively to building the United Nations as a true organization for peace with enough authority to do her job. In my point of view, that is the only way out of the current situation.

Q: Thank you for coming here.  When we see so many  lands in this country being destroyed, the forests, the rivers, and the mountains, by policies in this government, how  might we approach our members of Congress mindfully, in  the name of peace, and on behalf of the land and all living  things?

Thay: I think that we should bring a spiritual dimension into our daily life. We should be awakened to the fact that happiness cannot be found in the direction of power, fame, wealth, or sex. If we look deeply around us, we see many people with plenty of these things but they suffer very deeply and many of them have committed suicide. When you have understanding and compassion in you, you don’t suffer. You can relate well to other people around you and to other living beings. That is why a collective awakening about that reality is crucial.

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We think that happiness is possible when we have the power to consume. But by consuming we bring a lot of toxins and poisons into us. The way we eat, the way we watch television, the way we entertain ourselves is bringing a lot of destruction into us and into our children. The environment suffers when we consume so much. Learning to consume less, learning to consume only the things that can bring peace and health into our body and into our consciousness is a very important practice. Mindful consumption is the practice that can lead us out of this situation. Mindful production of items that can bring only health and joy into our body and consciousness is also our practice. I think one of the things that Congress may do is to look deeply into the matter of consumption. By consuming unmindfully we continue to bring the element of craving, fear, and violence into ourselves. People have a lot of suffering and they do not know how to handle it, so they consume in order to forget. Families, schools, and communities can help people to go home to themselves and take care of the suffering inside. The spiritual dimension is very important. When we are able to touch joy by living with compassion and understanding we don’t need to consume a lot and we don’t need to destroy our environment. Consuming in such a way that can preserve the compassion and understanding in us is very important.

The Buddha said if we consume without compassion it is as though we are eating the flesh of our own son and daughter. In fact we destroy our environment and we destroy ourselves through unmindful consumption. I think Congress can look into the matter and find ways to encourage people to consume mindfully and to produce mindfully, not producing the kind of items that can bring toxins and craving into the hearts and bodies of people.

We have the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. But in the name of freedom people have done a lot of damage to the nation, to the people. They have to be responsible for that. I think there should be a law that prohibits people from producing the kind of items that bring toxins into our body and our mind. To produce with responsibility: that is our practice. I think we have to make a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast of America in order to counterbalance liberty. Liberty without responsibility is not true liberty. You are not free to destroy. Through films, movies, and entertainment we are producing food for the souls of people. If we know how to forbid the kind of food that can bring toxins into our bodies, we also have to forbid the kind of food that can bring toxins into our consciousness and the collective consciousness of the people. I think these things have to be looked into deeply by people in Congress. The people in Congress have to see where our suffering comes from. I think unmindful consumption and production of items of consumption are at the root of our problem. We are creating violence and craving by consuming and producing these items. If we continue we can never solve the problem. The way out is mindful consumption, mindful production of items of consumption. My deepest desire is that the members of Congress will look into this matter. This is how we can protect our environment. 

Q: Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr.  said  that we  are  all  caught in an inescapable web of mutuality.  Whatever affects one of us affects all of us.  In light of that view, that all  of us on the planet are connected, what would you recommend as some first steps for people of different races and  backgrounds to begin to close the gap of racism and bigotry  that we are in right now, that is really expanding right now  to Arab Americans because of the issue of 9-11.  My question  is really a two-part question.  One is, what are some beginning practical steps that individuals can take to close the gap  that keeps us disconnected despite our denial?  Secondly,  how do we deal with  that  in  light  of  the  legitimate  fears  after  9-11 that cause  us to  look at even our Arab  American citizens in a  hostile, distant way?  How would  you  see  individuals  begin  to  close the gap?

Thay: I think we have to wake up to the fact that everything is connected to everything else. Safety, well-being cannot be individual matters anymore. If others are not safe there is no way that we can be safe. Taking care of others’ safety is at the same time taking care of our own safety. Taking care of others’ well-being is to take care of our own well-being. It is the mind of discrimination and separation that is at the foundation of all violence and hate.

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My right hand has written all the poems that I composed. My left hand has not written any poems. But my right hand does not think, “You left hand, you are good for nothing.” My right hand does not have the complex of superiority at all. That is why it is very happy. My left hand does not have any complex at all including the complex of inferiority. In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom called the wisdom of nondiscrimination. One day I was hammering a nail and my right hand was not very accurate and instead of pounding on the nail it pounded on my finger. It put the hammer down and it took care of the left hand in a very tender way as if it were taking care of itself. It did not say, “You left hand, you have to remember that I, the right hand have taken good care of you and you have to pay me back in the future.” There was no such thinking. And my left hand does not say, “You, the right hand have done me a lot of harm, give me that hammer, I want justice.”

The two hands know that they are members of one body; they are part of each other. I think that if Israelis and Palestinians knew that they are brothers, that they are like two hands, they would not try to punish each other any more. The world community has not helped them to see that. If Muslims and Hindus knew that discrimination is at the base of our suffering they would know how to touch the seed of nondiscrimination in themselves. That kind of awakening, that kind of deep understanding will bring about reconciliation and well-being.

I think it is very important for individuals to have enough time to look deeply into the situation to have the insight that violence cannot remove violence. Only kind, deep listening and loving speech can help restore communication and remove wrong perceptions that are the foundation of all violence, hatred, and terrorism. With that kind of insight he or she can help others to have the same insight. I believe that in America there are many people that are awakened to the fact that violence cannot remove violence, that there is no way to peace, peace is the way itself. Those people have to come together and voice their concern strongly and offer their collective light and insight to the nation so that the nation can get out of this situation. Every one of us has the duty to contribute to that collective insight. With that insight compassion will make us strong and courageous enough to bring about a solution for all of us in the world.

Every time we breathe in and go home to ourselves and bring the element of harmony and peace into ourselves, that is an act of peace. Every time we know how to look at another living being and recognize the suffering that has made her speak or act, and we are able to see that she is the victim of suffering that she cannot handle—that is an act of compassion. When we can look with the eyes of compassion we don’t suffer and we don’t make the other person suffer. These are the actions of peace that can be shared with people.

In Plum Village we have had the opportunity to practice together as a community. We are several hundreds of people living together like a family in a very simple way. We are able to build up brotherhood and sisterhood. Although we live simply we have a lot of joy because of the amount of understanding and compassion that we can generate. We are able to go to many countries in Europe, Asia, Australia, and America to offer retreats of mindfulness so that people may have a chance to heal, transform, and to reconcile. Healing, transformation, and reconciliation is what always happens in our retreats.

We have invited Israelis and Palestinians to our community to practice with us. When they come they bring anger, suspicion, fear, and hatred in them. But after a week or two of the practice of mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful eating, and mindful sitting they are able to recognize their pain, embrace it, and bring relief to themselves. When they are initiated to the practice of deep listening they are able to listen to the other group and to realize that the other group suffers the same way they do. When you know that the others also suffer from violence, from hatred, from fear, and despair you begin to look at them with the eyes of compassion. At that moment you suffer less and you make them suffer less. Communication becomes possible with the use of loving speech and deep listening. The Israelis and Palestinians always come together as a group at the end of their practice in Plum Village and report to us the success of their practice. They go back to the Middle East with the intention to continue the practice and to invite others to join them so that they suffer less and they help others to suffer less. For the last three years this has been a very effective practice. We believe that if this practice can be done on the national level it will bring about the same kind of effect.

Unfortunately our political leaders have not been trained in the practices of mindful breathing, mindful walking, and embracing pain and sorrow to transform their suffering. They have been trained only in political science. It is very important that we try to bring into our life a spiritual dimension, not vaguely, but in concrete practices. Talking like this will not help very much. But if you go to a retreat for five or seven days the practices of breathing mindfully, eating mindfully, walking mindfully, and going home to yourself to take care of the pain inside becomes a daily practice and you are supported by hundreds of people practicing with you. When you are in a retreat, people who are experienced in the practice offer you their collective energy of mindfulness that can help you to recognize and embrace, heal and transform the pain in you. That is why in a retreat we always bring enough experienced practitioners to offer the collective energy of mindfulness and concentration for healing. A teacher, no matter how talented she or he is, cannot do that. You need a community of practice where everyone knows how to be peace, how to speak peace, how to think peace so that practitioners who are beginners are able to profit from the collective insight.

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

Leading with Courage and Compassion

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

—President Dwight D. Eisenhower
April 16, 1953 Courtesy of CostofWar.com

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“What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children— not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women— not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

—President John F. Kennedy
at American University, 10 June 1963 Courtesy of Marc Ash

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Helping Congress Be Like a Sangha

By Scott Nance

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The next time a congressman or congresswoman is waiting at the airport, maybe he or she won’t be caught up thinking about his or her next meeting, or an upcoming vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, he or she may be doing mindful breathing or mindful walking. That’s because Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and other monastics from Plum Village recently brought the importance of mindfulness and going home to ourselves to members of Congress at an evening presentation at the Library of Congress on September 10th. A special retreat for members of Congress and their families followed two days later.

The idea behind meeting with members of Congress, their families, and their staffs was not to offer political ideas or suggestions, Thay said a few days before the retreat.

Co-sponsored by The Faith and Politics Institute, an independent organization in Washington, the purpose of the events was to share the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking with U.S. lawmakers, their staffs, and their loved ones.

It’s been forty years since Thay first visited the U.S. capital. He first came in 1963 when the South Vietnamese regime repressed Buddhists and kept them from celebrating the Buddha’s birthday. Thay noted that he visited Washington a lot during the Vietnam War. “I came to bring information about the Vietnam War; information that was not available through the warring parties,” he said.

Thay recalled a particularly memorable visit during the war when he met with six senators, including Senators Edward Kennedy and George McGovern. “Six senators were eating lunch and asked me questions. I did not have the time to eat one spoonful of soup,” he remembered.

For this most recent trip, Thay and Sister Chan Khong began their visit by meeting with reporters. The press conference was the morning of September 10, just hours before Thay’s talk in a packed auditorium at the Library of Congress. “We have come as a group of people who know the practice,” Thay said. “That is why in the retreat, there will be a collective energy of mindfulness that can support those who are beginners in the practice.

Congressman Brian Baird of Washington has been reading Thay’s books for more than ten years, and gained a lot from participating in the retreat. “I thought it was outstanding,” the congressman said following the retreat. “It was a privilege and honor to meet Thich Nhat Hanh. I thought many of his ideas–particularly the practice of meditation as he teaches it–can be very beneficial. “Both my wife and I have tried to incorporate the practice of meditation–especially walking meditation concepts–and mindfulness in general in our daily lives,” he added. Congressman Baird said he and his wife find themselves eating differently after the retreat. He also practices walking meditation at work. “When walking to and from votes, for example, I’ll use that opportunity to be aware of breathing, and think of some of the concepts that

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Thich Nhat Hanh shared with us,” he said.

Participating in the retreat has already had a positive effect on his job in the House, the congressman said. “I think it tends to make it both more effective and more enjoyable,” he said. The congressman believes he will be more effective by being focused on core values and awareness, then interactions with others will be more positive and more successful. “And much of this job is about interactions,” he said.

Introducing Thay for the evening talk, Congresswoman Lois Capps of California acknowledged that Thay’s talk coincided with the observance of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

Congresswoman Capps said that “it is very appropriate that he be here with us, particularly that he be here on this eve of this momentous day in our nation’s history…”

To begin the evening at the Library of Congress, Sister Chan Khong sang a beautiful song, encouraging the audience to breathe mindfully in preparation for Thay’s talk. By surprise, another of the notables who made introductory remarks for Thay was well-known television comedian Garry Shandling. Mr. Shandling followed Sister Chan Khong, and he asked the audience for a round of applause for her lovely, inspirational song. The audience responded with a rousing ovation. “Sister Chan Khong, along with all of us who are fighting our egos, still wants a little applause now and then,” Mr. Shandling said playfully. “She is a fantastic woman.”

Then, with a smile, he said, “The question that must be in your mind: What am I doing here?” He revealed that he has practiced Zen Buddhism for twenty-five years. “I never talk about it,” he said. “My comedy certainly deals with the human condition and the suffering, and the pain, and the emotions that we all live through. Thank goodness I have a way to express it through my comedy. Behind that, I am someone who has meditated, and had a path–and a serious path–all these years.”

“The magic of Thich Nhat Hanh–and it’s nothing short of magic–is that he invited me, knowing that this sense of humor—this child-like art—is really part of life,” he added. Mr. Shandling said he has known Thay for two years. “I love him. I know him after those two years. I knew him after the first moment I looked in his eyes,” he said. He said that Thay really has touched in such a gentle, special way so many countless numbers of lives. “I’m one of them, and that’s what brings me here tonight,” he said.

Scott Nance is a professional journalist living and practicing in the Washington, D.C. area. Photography by Eric Alan.

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Book Reviews

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Reviewed by Kate Atchley, Vow of True Virtue

The UK Manual of Practice has been recently revised. The Manual is a valuable resource for anyone who follows Thay’s teachings.

After an introduction, detailed guidance on many aspects of the practice is offered, including the Daily Practices, the Mindfulness Trainings, the Touchings of the Earth, planning and facilitating a Day of Mindfulness, and even a Tree-Planting Ceremony. Beginners will find explanations of the Dharma and mindfulness practice; experienced practitioners will find texts and advice to support their Sangha activities.

With Internet access, you may download all or some of the Manual at http://www.interbeing.org.uk. If you experience technical difficulties, please e-mail technica.help@interbeing.org.uk. Updating of sections will be done from time to time. Please send any suggested changes to manual.editor@interbeing.org.

Mac users can download the manual in:

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The Essential Spiral

Ecology and Consciousness After 9-11

By Ian Prattis
University Press of America, 2002

Book Review by David Percival

This is a remarkably personal, honest, and passionate trip into the mindless violent world we have created, and an offering of how, through meditation and mindfulness practice, we can change ourselves and our world. With clarity and vision Ian Prattis illustrates that what the Buddha realized 2,600 years ago is directly applicable to our current quest for peace and justice.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence is in this book through numerous references to his teachings and writings. Prattis’s multidisciplinary approach covers everything from deep listening, problems of unmindful consumption, and

the global ecological crisis to globalization. The final chapter is a moving discussion of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as ethical guidelines for people of all faiths. Also included are ten mindfulness meditations, offered for the reader to practice. A comprehensive bibliography ends each chapter.

The Essential Spiral is a bold, no-holds-barred application of Buddhist practices to both our personal lives and to our world. Prattis is deeply committed to his personal mindfulness practice and his writing reflects his honesty and integrity. He uses many wonderful stories and anecdotes, often from his own life. He appeals to us all, Christian, Jew, Moslim, or Buddhist, to develop our own mindfulness practice based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

I am concerned that his somewhat academic style and direct Buddhist approach will lessen the book’s appeal to a broader audience. It needs to be read by people not familiar with Buddhism.

To some readers, Prattis may seem to propose radical practices and methods. Yet, if we truly want to transform the violence, anger, hatred, and despair that are in us and in our world, his prescriptions do not seem radical at all. We desperately need a “Consciousness Revolution grounded in mindfulness practice.” What would happen if we, as a nation, could stop, breathe, and really look deeply at the causes of violence and terrorism? What would the world be like if we really practiced the Five Mindfulness Trainings? This would be the revolution and transformation we are searching for. As Prattis says, “all that is required is that you do it now.”

mb35-BookReviews3The Practice of Wholeness
Spiritual Transformation in Everyday Life

By Lorena Monda
Golden Flower Publications

Book Review by Barbara Casey

Lorena Monda is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, psychotherapist, Hakomi trainer, and Order of Interbeing member. The Practice of Wholeness reflects her insight from these varied commitments. In the introduction, she states, “It is practice that is at the heart of transformation.” Unlike many texts that offer philosophies about the world and our lives, Lorena takes us on a practical, exploratory journey, offering guided meditations and daily exercises to help us come to a greater place of wholeness within ourselves.

Before writing this book, Lorena asked, “What do people who make core changes in their lives do that other people don’t?” This became the basis for the teachings she offers. A gentle and clear guide, Lorena helps us learn to accept our bodies, emotions, thoughts, attitudes and beliefs, longings and aspirations.

We learn to come to peace with our humanness, and with the unknown. As we move through this process, we gain a greater ability to invoke wholeness, and to give it creative expression in everything we do. Individuals, couples, families, and even communities will find this book an invaluable resource for learning to live in harmony through simple, new ways to connect with the wisdom and compassion—the Buddha nature—within each of us.

Barbara Casey is an editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters on the Path

A warm summer evening, and there is a slightly smiling moon hanging above the blue. Following the evening sitting meditation the whole Sangha enjoys walking together outside. Around the blooming lotus pond, I see so many angels and holy beings nuns and lay practitioners in long gray blue robes. So quiet, serene and light.

This is the image that touches my heart deeply, a few days after returning from two weeks in Israel. We went to Israel not as individuals, but as a Sangha body. We were eleven practitioners, monastic and lay people including five Dharma teachers (two monastic and three lay) who traveled together and offered two retreats with the Israeli Sanghas. In between the retreats we had four days to visit various places and meet with a number of groups of Palestinians, Israelis, and international people who are engaged in bringing peace, harmony, and healing to this holy land. We spent one day in the West Bank, one day visiting the old city of Jerusalem, and one day visiting Yad Vashem, a Holocaust Museum. In this short time we came into contact with many images, sounds, and feelings that touched us deeply. We came into contact with the wounds, the fear, the pain, and also the strong determination in some people to listen, to look deeply, to heal, and to live as true brothers and sisters. All of this I held gently in myself upon returning to New Hamlet in Plum Village.

In Israel I became aware that the most precious thing we have to offer is our peace, our freshness, and our stability. We came as practitioners. We practiced walking meditation everywhere we went, taking each step with ease, with care and love. We listened in the same way. We did not take sides. Listening deeply and lightly we could hear the voice, the experience, and the aspirations of the person sharing with us. And within that listening we left space to hold what was not said, and the pain and aspirations of those who were not present, who were not heard. I realized that we could form a space, a container for people in suffering, in conflict, to be with themselves and to come into contact with each other. When there is contact there is a possibility for understanding to develop, for healing, for peace.

At the end of our time in Israel my elder brother, Phap An, expressed a sentiment that I shared: coming into contact with all that we did in Israel, we must bow our heads. It was humbling to be present with suffering, to touch the source of pain of a whole land, the misunderstandings, the fear, the separation. And somehow in that container of coming into contact with suffering, with deep wounds in Jewish Israelis, in Arab Israelis, in Palestinians, in Germans and others, I began to receive a feeling of grounding, stabilizing and clearing my heart and mind.

Generating compassion, generating understanding as a concrete, daily-life practice, this is the experience I had in Israel. During our closing circle with our small traveling Sangha I shared that I felt something unfolding in me. It is this: seeing the path that is open before us, the path that has no beginning and no end. This is a path of presence, of unfolding love, compassion, and clear light to offer with each step, with each interaction and moment of contact with the Earth and with all the creatures of the Earth.

What is humbling is to see our own weaknesses, to experience our own mistakes, discrimination, and judgments. And what gives us strength is to know that we can transform, we can be bridges for each other, we can look with ease and understanding at the one we feel to be our oppressor, our enemy.

Peacefully, your Sister Steadiness
July 5, 2003       New Hamlet, Plum Village

Sister Steadiness is an editor of the Mindfulness Bell, currently living in Plum Village.

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Being Together

In Israel and Palestine
Excerpts from a journal By Sister Steadiness

Walking Peace in Yanoun
June 15, 2003

At the village of Yanoun (an Arab village in the Occupied Territories, West Bank) we met with the mayor and a council member under an olive tree. There had been several attacks by Jewish settlers on the villagers and their animals, to the extent that all the villagers fled the village out of fear. The United Nations and international organizations (like International Women’s Service) had encouraged the villagers to return and offered an international presence to prevent further violence.

The mayor and council member shared with us how a farmer had been attacked with stones and had lost his eye and his leg was broken. Many of their olive trees were damaged and uprooted and their livestock were killed by settlers.

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We asked why they thought the settlers did that. They said the settlers told them, “God gave us this land.” We asked, do you think the settlers are afraid? They said, no. We asked, how were you able not to respond to violence with more violence? They said, we have no weapons. We have nothing. The council member, who was educated in Jordan and spoke English, served us fresh herbal tea and told us, “We can’t think about these things all the time. We have to enjoy the life we have right now.”

We shared our practice of walking meditation and together we walked in meditation through the village of Yanoun. Afterwards Brother Phap An shared with the council member about true brotherhood and peace.

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Visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem
June 16, 2003

One and a half million children died today, perished away.
Who are their descendants?
Who shall carry their light?

At Yad Vashem there were many beautiful trees that had been planted, including pines and evergreens that were now healthy and vibrant. Each tree had the plaque of a “righteous gentile” at the base. Our tour guide explained: a non-Jew who helped save a Jew by hiding or helping him or her to escape, not for money or out of personal favor. I understood this and respected the need to honor such acts of deep courage and compassion. And something stuck in my mind also—the qualification of “righteous.” It seems too easy to say that one is righteous and the other evil—black and white—not acknowledging the spectrum and the seed of righteousness and evil in each one of us. Our manifestation, our behavior depends on to what extent this seed has been able to grow, to blossom. It feels clear to me that the one who inflicts suffering suffers enormously. To live with discrimination and hatred is to live a very sad life. There is no peace, no wholeness, no deep love. That is suffering. You see the one who is angry, who is rigid, who is caught in perceptions, dogma— that is deep suffering—there is no freedom in that person.

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The Wailing Wall
June 16, 2003

In my heart the place I wanted to visit was the western wall, the wailing wall. We went there. The women on one side. There I felt at ease. In contemplation, prayer. We stood at the wall. I felt the presence, the calm, solid, deep energy of prayer. I know the holy place is created all the time with our own practice and the quality of our presence and aspirations.

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Womb Meditation
June 19th, 2003

Ibtisam shared about containing humanity in her womb and embracing all as a mother carries her child. She is a traditional Muslim woman who has found a deep strength and wisdom and is able to share it deeply. She came to Plum Village last year for two weeks as a member of a Palestinian and Israeli delegation. Her name means “smile” in Arabic. She led us in the following meditation:

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“Be aware that there is a lot of space inside of you. Now feel a bowl within you and fill it with love, compassion, and light. Allow this light to flow over your own body, your head, your face, eyes, ears. Feel the light and love from the space inside of you flow over your shoulders, arms, torso, legs, and feet. Now allow the light and love to flow over your neighbors, and those near to us, through the streets, cities and slowly to flow over the whole of humanity, the whole world.”

She spoke continuously and then stopped and we rested together. I felt a deep peace – expansion, a womb meditation!

Photography by Simone Coiusti and Sister Steadiness.

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Without Blame or Judgment

Reflections on Engaged Practice in the Holy Land

By Mitchell Ratner

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We did walking meditation together, each of us silently breathing and stepping, opening ourselves to the moment. We formed a circle and chanted together, giving homage to Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva who hears and responds to the suffering of the world. All of us had walked and chanted before, but this time the atmosphere was noticeably different—our walking trail was the approach to the Israeli military checkpoint that separates the Palestinian authority-controlled city of Nablus from the rest of the West Bank.

This checkpoint is often in the news. Many West Bank Palestinians need to cross it each day, to work, study, do business, or seek medical treatment. Journalists and foreign observers have substantiated Palestinian claims of needlessly long waits and degrading treatment by the guards. We had come to the checkpoint to offer a healing presence.

There were about twenty of us at the checkpoint that day in June of 2003. Eleven of us had come from outside Israel, including four Plum Village monastics, three lay Dharma teachers, and several Order of Interbeing members. We had come to Israel to share the practice of mindfulness and to open ourselves to the suffering, resilience, and wisdom that is present in Israel and the West Bank.

The international program began with a five-day mindfulness retreat at Givat Haviva, a kibbutz education center in the rural heartland of Israel. The international community joined with 50 Israelis to develop our practice of mindfulness. During the Dharma talks we talked about the Buddhist understanding of suffering and the overcoming of suffering. In Dharma discussion groups and private sharings, we talked about the particular suffering that Israelis felt, especially the daily fear that some unforeseen incident will bring great harm to them or their families, and the larger, overhanging sense of despair, that the situation will not improve.

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Three themes emerged for me during the Givat Haviva retreat that helped me frame what I saw, heard, and experienced in Israel.

The first theme was about blame. With mindfulness we can develop the capacity to relate to ourselves and others without blame. As Thay Phap An noted in one of the Dharma talks, “Looking deeply is to be truly present, without blame or judgment.” In the context of Israel, the words resounded. Almost every public or private discussion of the Jewish-Arab conflict focuses on attributing blame. Each side justifies the suffering they have caused in terms of the suffering they have received. The suffering is not abstract or distant; almost everyone in Israel and the West Bank has a relative, friend, or acquaintance who has been killed or wounded.

The second theme was about the importance of our daily practice, of working with our own suffering. Sister Gina shared with the community how important it was for her to be able to take care of her own anger, fear, and defensiveness:

“I really have to practice. Only if I can do it, can I expect others to do it. If I cannot do it my daily life, there’s no hope. . . I would sink into despair for myself and for the world.”

This focus on the connection between our inner lives and the conditions we wish to see in the world is a special gift that mindfulness practice offers the peace movement.

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The final, third theme was about the power of history, our own history and that of our community. At Givat Haviva most of the participants were Jewish and many of the discussions led back to the Holocaust. The question was often raised in terms of whether Israeli Jews, as individuals and as a community, had worked through the Holocaust—whether that unimaginably searing and painful experience had been fully processed so that it no longer clouded understanding of the current reality.

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After Givat Haviva, the international participants, along with some of our Israeli hosts, spent a long day in the West Bank. In the morning we visited activists from a Palestinian village that will be cut off from its agricultural land by the new Israeli “security wall.” In the afternoon the residents of a small Palestinian community, near Nablus, offered us mint tea and told us about the struggles of their daily life, including attacks and harassment from an Israeli-Jewish settler community that has established outposts on the hills over their village, the general economic and social instability arising from the Israeli control of the West Bank, and the daily difficulties caused by the many blocked roads and Israeli checkpoints—what was a fifteen minute drive to Nablus had become at least a two-hour ordeal, and some days it was not possible to go there at all.

Following our stop at the Nablus checkpoint, we returned to Israel, and arrived late at night at Neve Shalom/Wahat alSalam (Oasis of Peace), an intentional community founded in the 1970s by a Dominican priest in the foothills between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For more than twenty-five years Israeli Jews have lived as neighbors with Palestinian Arabs and Christians. Together they have created an international peace center, a bilingual/bi-national elementary school, and a retreat program that brings together Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish high school students. A bumper sticker they make and distribute reads simply, in Hebrew and Arabic, “Peace Is Possible.”

Our next stop was Jerusalem, where we stayed for several nights with host families and together visited historical and spiritual sites, such as the Church of the Sepulcher (built on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion) and the Western or Wailing Wall (the last remnant of the second temple). One morning we visited the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem—a harrowingly effective presentation of what it meant, life by life, for six million people, one and a half million of them children, to have died, only because they were Jewish. Afterwards, we did walking meditation together in the hall of memory, holding each other’s hands, calming ourselves, struggling to simply breathe and remain open: not to close to the suffering, not to be overwhelmed by it.

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An hour later we had lunch at the Jerusalem office of Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, a remarkable German non-governmental organization started in the 1950s by Protestant theologians. The organization’s founding principle was that when a great harm has been committed, there must be atonement before there can be reconciliation.

We Germans began World War II and for this reason alone, more than others, we are guilty for bringing immeasurable suffering to humankind. Germans have murdered millions of Jews in an outrageous rebellion against God. Those of us who did not want this annihilation did not do enough to prevent it. For this reason, we are still not at peace. There has not been true reconciliation. …

We are requesting all peoples who suffered violence at our hands to allow us to perform good deeds in their countries, … to carry out this symbol of reconciliation.

As Sabine Lohmann, the Jerusalem office’s director explained, more than thirty-five years after that statement, young Germans still come each year to Israel, and to similar offices in eleven other countries. In Israel they learn Hebrew, provide personal care to Holocaust survivors, and work in special education classes and with people with disabilities—classes of people especially affected by Nazi policy.

The still vivid images from the Holocaust museum, coming together with the German organizations efforts to reach to the roots of reconciliation, encouraged us, right there in the organization’s meeting room, to have an intense and cathartic sharing about World War II, Jews, Germans, cruelty, guilt, blame, and atonement. Thay Phap Minh, a Plum Village monk, born and raised in Israel, reminded us that demonizing almost always accompanies blaming. We separate ourselves by highlighting certain characteristics and ignoring others. For him, it was important to remember that “the dark side of the Nazi is within me and there’s great love in the heart of a Nazi.”

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After several more events in Jerusalem, we headed north to Nazareth. While the retreat at Givat Haviva followed closely the structure of a standard mindfulness retreat, the events in Nazareth also included exchanges between the Israeli mindfulness community and other groups working for peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.

During the days preceding the public events in Nazareth, the international group and Israeli organizers met with two extraordinary Arab groups. Memory for Peace was started in Nazareth by Father Shoufani, an Arab Greek Catholic Prelate. He brought together Christian Arabs and Islamic Arabs who felt that there was no place in the public dialogue for the positions they held in their hearts. Nazir Mgally, a journalist, shared with us:

We are Palestinian people. We are also part of the Israeli state. We suffer with the people in the West Bank. We suffer with the Israelis. We said we were the bridge, and we didn’t do it. . . . I felt the best way to stop the bloodshed was to return to our roots as human beings. I felt I needed to understand his [the Jewish persons] suffering. Maybe he will understand our suffering.

The Memory for Peace group began by studying Jewish history together, and, after some time, they invited Israeli Jews to study with them. Just weeks before we met with six members of this group, they had traveled together to Auschwitz, 150 Arab-Israelis and 150 Jewish-Israelis.

A Nazareth building contractor explained why, as an Arab, he went to Auschwitz:

We are living here together and recent events have hurt us. We’ve seen the Jewish people close down and distance themselves. We wanted to see the roots; wanted to go to the place of greatest disaster. Today we know the main problems of the Jews. The Jewish people have fear. They have always been chased. We want to support them. Our aim is holy. With all our might we want to bring together the people who are living here.

The next day we met with a small delegation led by Sheikh Abd Elsalem H. Manasra, the head of the Salam Qaderite Sufi Order in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He explained that while Sufis are Muslim, their tradition differs from many other Islamic traditions in that they try to penetrate into the texts, rather than interpret them from above. In Arabic, the words “Islam”, “peace”, “surrender”, and “wholeness”, all have the same linguistic root. The Sheikh’s spiritual vision was open and embracing:

I’m speaking as a human being, as an Arab, and as the Muslim. I begin with human being. This is what I share with you. Everything else is less.

Sufis say they have the truth, but not the whole truth. Others have a truth as well.

The holy man gives peace to the earth. We should break down the borders in order to reach the man.

There are only two commandments: love of God and love of man. This is enough for a universal religion.

The holy land can include all the Palestinians and all the Jews, if we love.

Before leaving, the sheik taught us to rhythmically chant, in the Sufi style, the name Allah, the pronoun of God. We stood and joined together our voices and spirits: Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, holding a sacred space together.

The retreat program in Nazareth, at the St. Gabriel’s Hotel, included elements from a standard mindfulness retreat, such as Dharma talks, sittings, and walking meditation, along with several public events. On Friday night, two hundred people sat in the church of St. Gabriel to listen to representatives from eight groups talk about their experiences working for reconciliation and peace. On Saturday afternoon, the retreat ended with a silent peace walk through Nazareth, to Mary’s well, in the heart of the city.

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Often during the weekend, around meals and odd moments, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews, and members of the international community shared personal stories and reflections. In Hebrew, Arabic, and English, sometimes all three languages at once, people talked about their roots, their desire for peace, and their frustration with the distrust and fear that separated communities. Afterwards, both Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews mentioned that this casual sharing from the heart, across customary boundaries, which had happened in Nazareth, was rare even at peace and reconciliation events.

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Several days after the retreat, on my last full day in Israel, I sat with a Jewish Israeli friend talking about what I had seen and learned. I struggled to pull the parts together. When I talked about the spiritual lessons I had learned while in Israel, my comments centered on all that we gain when we let go of blaming. I felt I had gained insight into what Thay Phap An had said, that “Looking deeply is to be truly present, without blame or judgment.” When we blame we distort. When we blame we highlight an individual’s or group’s actions, we ignore the context, and we ignore the contributions we or others may have made to the situation. When blame is in my heart, the other person naturally becomes defensive. Communication breaks down. Authentic dialogue and reconciliation cannot occur.

And yet, a few minutes later, when I talked about the reality of daily life I had observed in Israel and the West Bank, I dwelled on the defects of Jewish Israeli society. In me were feelings of disappointment and anger. The distrust and institutional racism was more extensive than I had imagined. I asked my friend, “Of all people, after the experience of the Holocaust, how could Jewish people be so intolerant of Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank? How could they be insensitive to their pain?”

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For several hours we talked, working our way down to the roots of the incompatibility between what I was feeling and saying about Jewish Israeli society and my increased understanding of the corrosive effects of blaming. I shared with my friend that the trip had made me aware of how often blame crept into my thinking and speaking. To use words such as racism and intolerance almost automatically steers a conversation toward blaming. Often, however, it is much more subtle–spontaneous remarks directed at loved ones, and seemingly objective discussion of social issues which slip into blame. (How could you/they do that?)

Why was it so hard for me to let go of blame? For the next two months I pondered the question and talked about it with friends. Finally the realization came that in my life, in an odd way, blaming was connected to caring. When it seemed that someone else’s actions were causing pain to me or to those I cared about, my response was to blame them. When I acted in ways that seemed to undermine the goals I had set for myself, I blamed myself. When people close to me acted in ways other than what I thought was in their best interest, I blamed them. That was how I was raised.

My strong reaction to what I saw as Jewish Israeli insensitivities came out of a deep caring. I did not want that community, which had suffered so much, to be destroyed again. I deeply wanted Israeli Jews to act in ways I believed would lead to a just and lasting peace. I saw that in my reactive blaming I underplayed how debilitating the historical wounds might be (Who was I to judge that enough time had past?), and I underplayed how many causes and conditions from outside the Israeli-Jewish community contributed to what I perceived as Israeli-Jewish insensitivity to the pain of others.

For me, the great challenge, in Israel and elsewhere, is to let go of the blame and not let go of the caring. Without blame, we can still work and hope for peace. Without blame, we can still bring attention to situations of injustice. We can even ask people to act in a different way, or, when necessary, forcibly prevent some persons from hurting others. Without blame, rather than closed and angry, our hearts are open and accepting.

Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, is a Dharma teacher living in Takoma Park, Maryland and practicing with  the  Still  Water  Mindfulness  Practice  Center.

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Poem: Walking Meditation with Crows

By David Percival

More than Light
This cold gray morning under heavy dark clouds,
sudden brilliant beams from over the mountains
leave this corridor ablaze, yellow fall leaves like fire,
adobe walls glow in unnatural light.
I stop and breathe in this present surreal moment
and wonder who else sees this luminous display,
but only crows diving and frolicking as they fly to the east.
Minutes later it is gone and I walk on down the alley
under a gloomy overcast sky
and smile at a ragged man looking for cans in the trash.

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Walking Meditation
Slow walking around the Zendo.
Turning the corner to the west
a cold wind slaps my face mindfully.
The sky at dusk, a deep shade of red.
To the south, the cemetery
hosts hundreds of swooping crows
dancing in the air above tall trees,
squawking at each other endlessly,
finally settling on bare branches for the night.
I pause to savor the colors and the circling crows
then turn and walk on into the wind.
(in the Japanese Waka style)
Tall Zen Center walls
don’t shield from the radio next door
or smells of cooking meat.
We walk on under playing crows.
This is our world, the Dharma.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, is a founding member of Rainbow Sangha in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and offers marketing support for the Mindfulness Bell.

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Wild Grace

Nature as a Spiritual Path

By Eric Alan

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Eric Alan is a photographer, author, and public radio program manager. He lives with his partner, Jane, in Ashland, Oregon and practices with the Community of Mindful Living, Southern Oregon. Following is an excerpt from his book, Wild Grace: Nature as a Spiritual Path, featuring his writing and nature photos. Publisher: White Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon.

Silent Support

The Earth speaks in quiet affirmations. All that we call language, with its strings of words and human meanings, is but a narrow part of its living communication to us.

The other noises of creatures’ calls, often opaque in meaning across a distance of species, add to our own cries to broaden language’s scope. The vegetative sounds of leaves and branches in the wind, and all other living sounds that speak without a mouth, talk to us as well.

From sweet tones to solemn, soothing to raging, there is all manner of earthly speech. Silence speaks with the most powerful voice of all, at times: sometimes with no more message than its own healing power; other times by allowing the inner voice its own chance to speak, at last.

Naturally, the Earth speaks to us without using words—via wind and weather and strange facets of beauty.

I find that as a reward for creating harmony, for compassionate steps taken, for pure hard choices I’ve made that keep me along the path of the heart, that quiet affirmations offer themselves. A coincidence of birds at a moment of my own song; a falling star’s timing attuned to a good decision—it’s these kind of messages I hear as affirmations. I find them in urban places, too; in affirmations that might not at first seem a part of nature. They’re in money found at streetside; in music that falls in rhythm to the drive. They’re remarkable for the continual resonance they give to a kind act done, a good decision firmly made. They’re also remarkable for their absence when disharmony is chosen, when the path to my purpose is betrayed, or when I’m removed from returning beauty to the world which has given so much to me.

At this book’s genesis was such a moment. The beginning of autumn was arriving with its usual clamor of working demands. I had retreated for a Saturday afternoon with the trees and the creek, the warm but waning sunshine that would soon gain a winter chill and vanish into gray. I came to ponder this book’s concept. The agony of indecision arose in me, though, upon arrival at tree-side. Should I leave instead, to attend to my list of a thousand things? Were errands a better use of my time? I could busy my hands and ignore the silence and its dangerous release of my own inner voice. If I left, I could withdraw from the pure, silent world, and by missing the beauty, avoid all the danger that beauty brings. Or I could stay within the pain of silence and beauty, and pass through that pain to where only the afternoon’s beauty remained, and dare to believe that this book was worth beginning. I could stay and begin to face the reflection of the world upon these pages. I lay back on the grass for a minute and stared at the sycamore canopy far above. I breathed with focus, to take my heart back to center, my mind away from words. Breathing in, the wind is a part of me… In, pause, out, pause, in, pause, out. ...Breathing out, I am a part of the wind. Pauses as important as breathing, like silence as important as speaking.

When harmony settled to the core, the silent answer came, distilled from between thoughts. I would stay and dare the words, risk the sunshine. I would take the harder, more beautiful path.

Decision made, tension released, I opened my eyes to see a sycamore leaf release exactly then from the top of the grove canopy. Unlike most of the leaves using the wind as a path to the ground, it did not flutter and tumble. Leading with its stem, it kept the same side down as it traced a perfect, centered spiral. I watched it glide with focused calm direction as it came, closer… closer… to touch at the very spot I instinctively knew it would. I lay motionless and willingly remained defenseless as the centered spiral ended with the leaf stem exactly hitting my heart.

The Earth had spoken its affirmation. I was in the right place, along the path the Earth had invited me to discover. I was at ease, then, and the words began to flow into the place where you now read them. As I type them in, that leaf is still beside me, in a place of honor on my desk.

The Earth’s affirmations are small, quiet, easy to miss or deny. They almost never have the volume of a door slam, a pain cry, or an aggressively barked order. They aren’t orders, after all. They’re thank yous for a choice of beauty, and it often takes a vision of beauty, developed as a skill, to notice them. But I’ve learned through constant experience that they subtly exist, and that if they don’t show from time to time, despite my best awareness, I’m walking off my path. I’m not following nature.

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The faith that these quiet affirmations require is something I restore by watching birds. Birds strike me as very faithful, spiritual creatures, for in every leap from a branch into the wind, they place the absolute trust of their lives into the invisible. Were the air not there to carry their wings, they would only crash in their delicacy onto stones far below. They may never see the air, or think of it with other than instinct, but they trust in it with absoluteness. We must trust in the world with that same absoluteness. We too must jump off branches when our soul knows we are ready for the air. We must give ourselves over to the world and its quiet affirmations. We must affirm the Earth, in return.

Photography by Eric Alan.

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Plover Mind

By Michael Petracca

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I unlock the plover shed, a cinder block storeroom atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific.  Through the shed’s salt filmy window, the sea looks glassy under a thick batting of overcast. Rust-colored kelp undulates slowly at low tide. Pelicans glide parallel to shore, pull up abruptly, plunge, splash. No surf to speak of today. The shoreline appears empty, save two black turkey buzzards pecking at a dead thing far up the beach.

over the kelp
beds ragged line of pelicans
like smoke in still air

The faded, once-blue canvas daypack is heavy. It holds: birding binoculars; brown data clipboard and research data entry sheets; spare dog leashes; cell phone; economy tube of sunscreen; several ocean-rounded rocks for scaring crows, who enjoy plucking eggs from plover nests like bonbons from a box; docent procedure manual in white three-ring binder; stack of Coal Oil Point Reserve flyers.

The flyers explain that the Snowy Plover Docent Program started in 2001, to help save the plovers from extinction, and “to raise awareness in the local community of the importance of the preservation of this species and its habitat.” They say that the Reserve is the only area where plover breeding has been recovered through management efforts and a strong volunteer docent program. I heft the pack over one shoulder, pick up the sighting scope and its tripod, and make my way down the crumbling shale bluff that overlooks Coal Oil Point Reserve.

foggy fall dunescape:
seaweed, sodden driftwood,
tern tracks in wet sand

Heading west, down the dunes and toward the roped-off Reserve. Workboots sink deep, thighs burn, breath comes deep and slow. Suddenly, a trick of the eye. The sandscape appears to move, as though the beach ahead were its own small geologic plate in earthquake time. A whole sheet of sand shifting away from me. It can’t be the wind; there is none. I look again. Snowies! What appeared at first glance as empty beach is actually a flock of our puffball charges, each hunkered down in a human heel print, perfectly hidden from view. My approach caused the flock to move en masse, from one heel print to the next, and as I approach slowly so as not to scare the birds into flight, the flock gradually moves from heel print to heel print, finally taking up temporary residence on the other side of the ropes, inside the Reserve perimeter.

cold autumn windstorm—
each small shorebird takes refuge
in a heel print hole

Plovers don’t know that they’re on a list of creatures whose existence on this planet hangs by a fraying thread. They don’t know that we docents are on the beach to protect them, or that the ropes mark a safe zone for them. Consequently, they rarely thank us (although their peet-peet cries, as they veer and wheel overhead, come as a blessing), and they pay no heed to the ropes.

In fact, plovers will occupy any territory that seems friendly at the moment. For short-term shelter, plovers will sometimes choose the bunker-like protection of uneven terrain over the more exposed flat of the Reserve. But if there were no roped area, there would be no plovers … or a lot fewer of them. For more than a decade before the Docent Program was implemented, breeding had completely stopped here, due to foot traffic—mainly students and their dogs—and the encroachment of non-native ground cover, which reduced the amount of camouflage-protective sand. Last year, after habitat restoration and the implementation of the docent program, we had fourteen nests, and nine plover chicks hatched and fledged.

blue sky, cirrus cloud,
small crew of westering gulls,
warm sun on dark cloth

The fog is burning off, and the foghorn has ceased its reedy moan. Reaching the eastern boundary of the Reserve, I open the tripod, set up the scope, and sight through it. At 32X magnification the far end of the Reserve looks like the moon’s surface. Hummocky terrain littered with small boulders. I pan the scope until some shorebirds come into sight. At first, a few non-endangered whimbrels and gulls loitering … then, finally, a small assembly of plovers, some motionless on sand, others darting quickly, pecking, and beach-running. I fix the scope on a still one, turn the fine-focus wheel until the plover comes into clarity. Around five inches long, stocky, whitish-tannish upper body and darker patches on the upper breast, short black legs. Eyes closed, dreaming of … what? Plover mind: Zen-empty?

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I look around, take a deep, slow breath. Happy to be here, cleansed momentarily of thought. Plover mind. The air at Coal Oil Point smells like the air nowhere else. Salt mixes with a pungent smell of tar, due to natural offshore seepage that lends Coal Oil Point its name.

one seagull feather—
sandy, matted with dried tar,
tangled in seagrass

In the very old days, the Chumash used to make good use of the seepage. They used tar to caulk their thirty-foot redwood tomols, which they paddled up and down the coast and out to the Channel Islands for fish, abalone, and pleasure cruises. They wove grasses into twine bottles and coated them on the inside with beach tar to make them watertight.

More recently the oil companies arrived to tap the offshore petroleum reservoirs. Oil gets produced at the 7,500 ton Platform Holly, two miles offshore but very visible from the beach: by day, a stumpy, stilted erector-set box that intrudes on the gentle arc of the horizon; by night, an Orc-castle of twinkling lights and occasional gas-jet flares. At another site a mile east of the platform, natural methane is caught by two “seep tents,” massive steel pyramids installed by ARCO a couple of decades ago. A three-mile-long plexus of pipes and buoys connects Platform Holly and its neighboring seep tents with the Ellwood Oil & Gas Processing Facility just up the coast. Harbor seals have taken up permanent residence on every single buoy, and when wind is blowing just right, Coal Oil Point Reserve sounds like an overcrowded kennel at feeding time.

broken pismo shell
half-covered with sand, seagrass,
crawling with sand flies

Coal tar is everywhere at Coal Oil Point, and if you walk the beach for fifteen minutes your feet will be covered. I take a seat on the fold-out nylon/aluminum chair and as I start entering data on the record sheet, a sixty-something human beach-runner with beat-up straw hat, cut-off jeans and sturdy calves rounds Devereux Point. He heads up the beach, sees me and stops to look through the scope. “Nice birds,” he says when the plovers come into focus. He looks up. “But what’s the point? I mean, if it’s their time to go, then why fight it? That’s evolution.”

His voice carries no tone of challenge. He really wants to know.

Reasonable question. No one would dispute that human presence has a devastating impact on the world and its passengers. However, species were dying off long before we arrived on the scene. Volcanoes belched sulfurous fog, ice blanketed the continents, hurricanes raged, oceans rose, lakes dried, colliding asteroids ushered in eons of sunless cold … all with attendant extinctions. A millennial winter here, a grossly overpopulating and morbidly polluting human species here and now: all engines of evolution. Natural selection is nothing if not natural. If plovers are destined to go the way of the pterodactyl, why fight it?

unpeopled sand dunes
right out of prehistory—
jet fighter rises

For replies to the beach-runner’s question, you can dab at a broad palette of viewpoints. The utilitarian: plovers don’t provide fuel oil or good eatin’—no big loss if we lose some insignificant white puffballs. The ecological: nature exists in a delicate balance, and losing seemingly insignificant species may have dire effects that we can’t foresee. The eco-philosophical: all non-human and human life have inherent value, and we humans—as stewards of the planet—have a responsibility to protect this richness and diversity. The deep-deep ecological: keep the plovers, lose the people. The fatalist: our humble nearby star, the sun, will go red giant in a few billion years, rendering this whole planetary experiment moot … so why bother saving anything? The words of my beloved: save the plovers because they’re cute!

white heron standing
stockstill in wind-ruffed salt marsh
dips its head sharply

What I tell the beach-runner comes from docent training: “Plovers have been here much longer than people. They stopped breeding because of people and their dogs, and coastal development. I just want to give them a chance to come back.”

“Well, I’m glad somebody’s doing this,” the beach-runner says.

“Me, too!” I’m cheerful. The Plover Manual also recommends that docents “make an effort to be helpful and friendly at all times.” Sound advice, and not just on a bird reserve.

“Have a good one,” the beach-runner calls over his shoulder as he resumes jogging.

On my own again, I take out the Norton Haiku Anthology I often bring to my plover shift to read after I finish my research duties. Like breathing meditation or Vietnamese kinh hanh (slow-walking meditation) practice, haiku puts me in a state of mind in which the senses are fully awake, the mind engaged in the instant. Today I read Issa, the eighteenth century Japanese hermit-wanderer.

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The toad! It looks like
it could belch
a cloud.

That wren—
looking here, looking there.
You lose something?

What good luck!
Bitten by
This year’s mosquitoes, too.

I close the book and walk down the beach, along the length of the plover exclosure. Reading haiku on the beach sometimes has the effect of turning the mind into a random verse generator. It primes the literary pump, seventeen-syllable shortforms springing to mind and page unbidden and fully formed. Today words come:

sodden redwood burl
smooth and dark-stained by ocean
looks like a cow skull

green fuzzy spongeform
rolls along the low tide line—
what the heck are you?

Haiku has everything to do with process, not with award-winning outcome. The joyful surprise in a momentary sense impression, a serene reflection on the inseparability of writer and world, the bittersweet awareness that this blissful and/or painful and/or utterly mundane moment will pass, along with this life, this planet, this warm sun, this material plane … these are the currency of haiku.

The Zen potter spends a lifetime perfecting her craft. After decades of kneading, pounding, wetting, turning, and glazing with the warrior’s impeccable single-minded focus, she produces an admirably proportioned, phyllo-thin and delicately glazed bowl. She fires it, admires it, then throws it lovingly against the wall, breaking it into a thousand tinkling shards. Perfect and nothing special; throw another. The process.

Therein lies the deeper answer to the beach-runner’s question. The goal of helping threatened animals may be a worthwhile one. Likewise, the outcome of volunteer work may be immensely gratifying, as when birds return to breed where they had stopped nesting. But the mitzvah lies in the simple act of being present. Every Tuesday I make it my priority to sit with birds. Through fog, rain, sickness, surgery, tight work schedules, and final exams, each docent comes because it’s good to be here.

a broth of dolphins
feeding just outside the kelp
gulls screech overhead

My shift is up, and I make my way back toward civilization.

walking up the beach
up the soft, crumbling shale bluff
only my footprints

Michael Petracca, True Attainment of Realization, sits with the Stillwater Sangha in Santa Barbara, California, and teaches in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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The Gift of Plum

By Emily White

One day, Ocean looked at Sky and thought, “I love Sky so much that I must give him a gift!”

So Ocean took some of her water and made a present. She made Sky a cloud.

Sky was thrilled. He loved his beautiful cloud so much that he laughed out loud and when he laughed his breath formed a gentle breeze that blew Cloud over the land, changing her shape in delightful ways.

This pleased both Sky and Cloud and Ocean very much, so Sky decided to give Cloud a gift, too. He took some of his breath and formed a wind so that Cloud could float over the whole earth.

Cloud was so happy! With Wind’s help, she sailed over mountains and valleys, over lakes and seas. Cloud swelled with love. She was so big with her love for the earth that she thought she would burst. Then she thought, “I must give Earth a present, too!”

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So she took some of her water and sent it down to Earth in little drops shaped like tears. “I love you,” she cried out, as the rain fell.

Earth was very hot and thirsty. The cool rain soaked her skin and she felt fresh and clean. “I must do something to show Cloud how grateful I am,” Earth thought. “What can I do?” She thought and thought.

Finally, she gathered together some of the rain around a little brown seed buried in her soil. At first the seed was as hard as a pebble, but the rain softened it and in no time it sprouted a leaf that pushed up toward the sky.

Pretty soon the sprout burst through the Earth’s skin and for the first time her leaves felt the warmth of Sun’s rays.

“This is wonderful,” thought Tree. “I will grow straight and tall and make many leaves so that Sun will see me and know how much I appreciate his generosity.

Way up in the sky, Sun spotted the green tree and beamed with pleasure. They enjoyed each other for many months.

Tree began to notice that Sun shone less and less each day, and that Moon and Stars spent more time in the night sky. Earth began to shiver ever so slightly with cold, although she never complained.

“Sun must be very tired,” Tree thought. “I will drop my leaves like a blanket over Earth to warm her until Sun has rested.”

“Thank you, Tree,” murmured Earth. “You’re welcome,” whispered Tree.

After a time, Sun’s strength returned and he began to climb higher and higher in the sky. Tree was so happy to see her friend grow strong that she planned a surprise. One night, with the help of Moon, she covered herself in white blossoms.

As the world woke up, she sang, “Look! I am dressed in white stars. I am draped in cloud. I am as white as rain turned into snow. I am as soft as sea foam.”

“Splendid!” her friends cried.

Tree was so pleased with her surprise that she and Wind began to dance and before long every one of her petals had fallen to the ground.

“Oh well,” Tree sighed. “Now I will make new leaves to shade Earth from the hot sun. I will make the stems strong so they will not blow off so easily.”

Many happy weeks went by. Tree began to feel her branches grow heavy with plump juicy fruit. “What is happening to me?”she wondered out loud. “What have I done?”

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“Mother, don’t you recognize us? We are plums. We are your children,” Plum replied. “The blossoms you made left us to grow in their place. We are sweet and delicious. Birds and animals will visit you to feed on us and to scatter our seeds. Then we will grow into trees just like you.”

“Oh, my,” Tree exclaimed. She was quite overcome.

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Just then, a little boy happened by. His eye fastened on the red fruit hanging from the tree like a gift decorated with pretty leaves. He was very hungry—and thirsty, too.

The child reached up and pulled at the plum. Plum let go of the branch.

“Good-bye, mother,” Plum called to Tree.

“Hello, little boy,” Plum said to the child’s outstretched hand.

The boy held Plum gently.

“I must find just the right spot to eat,” he thought.

He sat down on a big rock not far from the tree. He turned the plum over and over in his hand, admiring the rich color and fresh smell.

“How wonderful to have eyes to see this red plum! How wonderful to have a mouth to taste such delicious food! How wonderful to be sitting on this rock today,” he marveled to himself.

Then, very slowly, he bit into the plum. His mouth woke up as from a deep sleep with the sweet taste of Ocean, Wind, Sun, Sky, Earth, Cloud, Rain, Moon, Stars, Tree and even more. In a flash, the boy saw that the whole world was in the plum. If the whole world was in the plum, then the whole world was in him, too.

When the little boy smiled, Plum smiled. When Plum smiled, Tree smiled. When Tree smiled, Sun smiled. When Sun smiled, Earth smiled. When Earth smiled, Rain smiled. When Rain smiled, Cloud smiled. When Cloud smiled, Wind smiled. When Wind smiled, Sky smiled. When Sky smiled, Ocean smiled. When Ocean smiled, Moon smiled. When Moon smiled, Star smiled. The stars smiled and smiled, all the way to the end of the galaxy and beyond.

And that’s what happens when you smile, too.

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I am Ocean, he thought. I am Earth and Sky. I am Sun and Moon. I am Cloud and Rain. I am Tree and Plum. How wonderful to be all these things and a little boy, too.

Then he gave the best gift a child can give to the world. He smiled.

Emily White, True Wonderful Happiness, practices with the Healing Springs Community of Mindful Living, in Red Springs, North Carolina. She is an independent studio artist and writer, and the author/illustrator of several children’s books and books of poetry. llustrations by Nguyen Thi Hop. She lives and practices in Los Angeles, California.

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Dharma Talk: Silence

A Dharma talk given by Sister Jina on September 1, 2002 in the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village

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I have been aware of silence this week. I would like to share with you a little bit how I practice with noble silence in my daily life. I first came to Plum Village in 1990 for the first twenty-one day retreat in June. We were advised to observe silence on lazy days. So the first lazy day I went out to have breakfast on the veranda in the Lower Hamlet and someone came to sit next to me and said, “Oh, this may be a good opportunity to talk to you.” And at the table next to us there were three other friends and they were talking. And all of these friends had been to Plum Village before and I did not know what to make of this. For the rest of the retreat I do not remember silence being mentioned at all. We did not have a silent period on the schedule. I stayed for the Summer Opening in the Lower Hamlet. All the Vietnamese speaking friends were in the Lower Hamlet and just a handfull of non-Vietnamese speaking friends. The Summer Opening was a very joyful event and we were not very silent. I have kept the schedules of our retreats over the years and it was in 1992 that the word silence appeared on the schedule, “lights out, silence.” And in 1993 we started to call it “noble silence.”

Nowadays we have a period of silence on our schedule that starts at nine p.m. until after breakfast and sometimes we like to extend it until after lunch. Noble silence does not mean that we are not allowed to talk. It means that we don’t have to talk, we have no obligation to talk during that period of the day. It makes a difference in how we practice. I would like to thank Thay Doji for sharing how he observes the noble silence. It is a good reminder for me to know when I am approached by someone that I can ask, “Do you have to say this now? Can it wait until later?” Also when I am about to approach someone I can ask myself, Do I have to say this now, or can it wait until later? What makes silence noble is that it becomes an inner silence. The mind is calm and at ease. Whenever I hear the sound of a bell, whether it is the outside bell or the telephone or the chiming of the clock, I take it as an opportunity to practice noble silence. First I go back to my breathing. I feel the air moving in and out of my body. I become aware of the sensation moving into the body, the temperature of the air and the substance of the air when it moves in and when it moves out. Having come back to myself like that I become aware of the feeling that is present whether it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and the mental formation that is present. I am nourished by a pleasant feeling. When we have a neutral feeling we have means of turning it into a pleasant feeling. When the feeling is neutral as it is now, I can feel it is wonderful just to be here not being overwhelmed by an unpleasant feeling and already the neutral feeling becomes a pleasant feeling. When an unpleasant feeling is present I can bring to mind that it is impermanent and in a little while it will no longer be there. That calms down the negative mental formation.

We often speak about embracing mental formations. When I feel the impermanence of a mental formation I can stay with it because I know that just by staying with it without doing anything else it will take its course and eventually it will disappear. But often I also take care of the mental formation by finding its manifestation in my body. The mind and the body are one so if there is a strong mental formation present in the mind it is also present in the body. So I become aware of my body and I ask the question: where does this mental formation, this emotion manifest itself in my body? Sometimes it is in my throat, like tightness, sometimes it is in my abdomen, like having a knot, or in the solar plexus, or in my neck or it is butterflies in my stomach. I find out where this mental formation of emotion manifests in my body. Breathing in, I become aware of where it is located and what it feels like, and breathing out, I relax. I find in that way I calm the mental formation that is manifested in my body and at the same time I calm it in my mind. With the practice of stopping and listening to the sound of the bell I go a little bit in the direction of inner silence. Now let’s listen to the sound of the bell and practice this.

Bell…

I found some tension in my shoulders and I realized that I am carrying the responsibility of what I am going to tell you. So I relax. The practice of total relaxation is very refreshing for our body and our mind. It is something that I practice every evening before going to sleep. When I am in bed I take my cassette recorder and I take a tape—very often it is a chanting tape. It can be one of our own chanting tapes, or Christian chanting or any other chanting that I find pleasant. I make myself comfortable and I listen to the chant. Rather, I open myself and let the chant come in. I receive the chant. I receive the chant and I become aware of my body and whenever and wherever I find tension in the body on the out breath I let go of the tension. While doing this I am aware of my body weight increasing. I am getting heavier and heavier. Every time I let go of some tension I notice that that part of my body gets heavier. It is a sinking feeling as if I am sinking into the mattress or onto the bedboard until I come to a place of rest and then the body is very calm and quiet and so is my mind. The cassette turns itself off and I kind of sleepily take the headphones off. In the morning my mind feels very refreshed and light and so does my mind. The body moves around very lightly and gently.

I have noticed that when the mind is busy my body is also busy and I tend to be noisy. I put things down and it makes a noise and I move things around and it makes a noise and sometimes I bump into things. I like to regard my body as a door to come to this inner silence. I become aware of the sounds that I make when I move around. If it is very noisy I just focus on doing everything quietly. This has a wonderful effect: I become quiet and my mind quiets down too. It is logical because I am bringing the mind and the body together and that is when we have peace and calm. We are practicing mindfulness.

The other day I was sharing with some friends about my time as a novice in a mountain temple in Japan. When I went to a practicing temple in Japan for the first time I was given an outfit, a kind of temple dress. And I was given stiff slippers. The temple was large with wooden floors and we had to walk a long way from the Buddha Hall to our bedrooms and to the dining hall. We were told not to make any noise while walking. You couldn’t make the sounds, “patter, patter, flip-flop.” And that was quite difficult with those stiff slippers on those very shiny wooden floors. You have to be very mindful to walk without making a noise. And further we had to be pretty quick. And we were asked not to make a breeze. So we had these long robes that would flap as we walked but we had to find a way that they wouldn’t flap, wouldn’t make a noise and they wouldn’t cause a wind. We had young monks pointing out to us every time we made a noise and would make our robes flap. They reminded us in a kind of teasing, joyful way. But it brought us to being more mindful while moving about.

Also when practicing sitting meditation I find body awareness very centering and stabilizing. When we sit on a cushion sometimes we don’t really sit. If you bring your awareness to the lower part of your body you may feel that you are not really sitting. We are almost off the cushion. So when I sit on the cushion I become aware of the contact that I have with the cushion and I become aware of the feeling that is in my body. Every time I breathe in I become aware of my body and when I breathe out I let go of any tension I may find in my body. In that process I find that I am slowly, slowly landing on my cushion until in the end I sit on the cushion. This is what I do at the beginning of the sitting meditation to really arrive on my cushion. It is very pleasant.

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The tension that I find is often somewhere in my head, on my face or in my shoulders. When the shoulders are tensed I am not really on my cushion. So I relax my shoulders and I already arrive a bit more. Another place I may find tension is in my lower abdomen. I relax my lower abdomen and I have that sinking feeling of arriving on my cushion. There are times when I keep this body awareness for the whole period of sitting. I am aware of the whole body as a single unit. What I mean is that I become aware of my whole body. I start at my head and I let my mindfulness flow throughout my whole body until every nook and crook is filled with my awareness. That is when the body and mind are one. I practice keeping this awareness of the whole body throughout the whole period of sitting. This brings about a joy in the body. It feels as if every cell of the body is happy. There is a slight tingling sensation throughout my whole body. It is very nourishing to practice sitting like that.

Being aware of my whole body quite naturally helps me to be aware of my breathing because breathing is something that happens in the body. This gentle flow of breathing in and out is something that I naturally become aware of when I become aware of the whole body. Maybe we can try that. Start from your head and let your awareness spread out throughout your whole body.

When we do slow walking in the meditation hall I like to walk with my palms joined and I like to be aware of the quality of touch between my palms. It is a gentle touch, but it is firm. Also I am aware of where I hold my palms. There is a place where I hold my palms that doesn’t cost me any muscular effort. You can try. Sometimes when they are a little bit lower it feels like they are being pulled down and then if I pull them up they feel weightless with no effort whatsoever. Then I walk and I become aware of my body moving through space. Every time I put my foot down I become aware of the contact between my foot and the floor. I like to become aware of the weight of my foot on the floor and come to rest in the steps. When I put my foot down there is a little pause when I rest, I sink into the step. There is also a physical feeling I have of sinking into the step. I sink into every step. It is very pleasant. I also like to practice that outside, but not so slowly. At times to rest in each step can be very challenging. For instance when the activity bell has already been invited there is a sense that I have to hurry. When we walk in a hurried way we don’t rest in every step. Instead, we seem to quickly touch the earth in order to get somewhere. So I practice taking the hurry out of my steps so that I can come to rest in every step. It is a bit tricky because there is something in me that tells me if you don’t hurry you will be late. But I also experience that if I don’t hurry I will get there much faster because the hurry comes from the worry and the worry is very heavy and slows me down. If I drop the hurry and the worry I can move a bit quicker and be in every step and be on time. You can try, it is very interesting to experiment with that. You can meet this habit energy that says you have to hurry or you will be late. You can move faster but you don’t need to hurry. It is very handy when you are at the airport and a bit late.

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I use body awareness a lot to come to inner silence. I find it important, every day, to do some learning or studying, some reflecting and then practice. The time for reflecting is very precious for me. The time for learning is when we hear teachings, or hear the sutras or read a book. And then we have some time to reflect, to see where we are in our practice and what steps we are going to take in our practice and then we put it into practice. In the sutra, Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone it says not to be carried away by how our bodies, feelings, mental formations etcetera will be in the future. When we have read that sutra in the morning I take some time during the day to note when I let myself be carried away by thoughts about the future and I do catch myself, for instance, writing scenarios.  I am thinking about having to tell somebody something, which is going to happen in the future, and in my head I write a whole scenario. I write my role of what I am going to say and then my sister’s role of what she will answer and then what I will say. I have it all written down. But my experience is that this scenario is never going to be realized, it is just something that I do in my mind. If I get caught in it then when I meet the sister I experience our whole meeting through the veil of this scenario and I react on my scenario and I don’t really act in an appropriate way to what is happening. When I find myself writing scenarios I practice dismissing it. I say this is a scenario and it may not happen at all. My experience says that it is not going to happen like this, so why do I believe in this scenario? So I can drop it and go and see my sister and see more clearly what is actually happening between the two of us. Hearing what my sister says and hearing what I am saying makes our encounter more fruitful. When I find myself trying to rewrite history, wanting it to be different—something has happened and I am going over it again and again, wishing that I have not not said or done this or he or she had not said or done that—I find that it does not help. When I notice I am doing that I practice dismissing and letting go of that habit energy and I try to look at what happened in order to get some understanding, in order to learn something from it. I take a teaching by Thay or a sutra to help me look. At times I take the Discourse on Love that speaks of loving and protecting all beings as a mother loves and protects her only child and I see in some situations I have not had that kind of mind at all. Or I take the Sutra on Reflecting and Measuring. Someone has told me something and I have answered back, not listened and just accepted it, so I can see what my contribution is to the situation and I determine to do better. Of course this doesn’t happen straightaway, it takes some time.

When I was in Japan there was a clear example of that. At the temple where I practiced in Japan we were only six or seven people. The practice leader was also the work coordinator because work is practice. My brother who was the practice leader had the habit of telling me what to do, which I experienced as being bossed around. He would come at any time of the day and he would say, “Jina-san, the toilets are dirty—go and clean them,” or “The meditation hall is dirty—go and clean it,” and I would always react in the same way. I would say, “Why do I have to do that? You always ask me to go and do these things.” And his answer would always be, “Because it is dirty and it needs to be cleaned.”

One day after chanting, something in the chant made me reflect on my habit energy. I was sitting in my room and remembering the previous day when this type of incident had happened and I looked at why I would do that. I saw that my brother had a good heart and was very committed to the practice and to our living together and he wanted to keep things neat and tidy. In fact, for me it was the same—I like to keep things neat and tidy.  So we both want the same thing, but why did I always react like that? Inside of me was a little ego, or a big ego. What if my master came and said, “Jina-san the bathroom is dirty would you mind cleaning it?” I would bow and say, “Yes, master,” and I would fly so happily because the master had asked me to do something. But the fact was that the bathroom was dirty and it needed to be cleaned all the same. So I realized that something in me would like to be asked by a special person in a special way and then I would very happily do it. So I decided next time and any other time when my brother asked me to do something I would just bow and say, “Yes, brother,” and I would smile and go do it.

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A few days later I was in the Buddha hall and my brother came up to me and said, “Jina-san, the bathroom has not yet been cleaned, so go and do it.” And I said, “Why do I have to go do it? You always ask me to do things.” And then he answered, “Okay, you don’t need to do it.” And that brought me back to my resolution and I said, “No, brother, you know I always react like that. It is just a habit. But you also know that usually I go and do it. So never mind my reaction I will go and do it.” And he said, “Okay.” From that day on it became a joke between the two of us and my brother would come and say, “Jina-san, go and clean.” And I would bow and say, “Yes, brother.” And sometimes he would ask me in a friendly way and at other times he was grumpy. I would think sometimes I am grumpy too, and I would just smile and go and clean.

We make a resolution about our habit energies or how we contribute to a situation and then we decide what we would like to change, what steps we will take and how we will practice. For me it is important to do that everyday. I take time to do that.

Thay once advised us to write our own sutras, so I did. I wrote a sutra about practices that would help me to listen and would help me to live in harmony with my community. Listening requires a silence, an outer silence and an inner silence to be able to hear what is being said and also what is not being said. Deep listening is an expression of inner silence. I use the practice of listening in order to cultivate inner silence. I read my sutra everyday. I usually do it in my hut. I go and light incense and I sit down. I face my little altar and I read my sutra aloud, slowly. I allow every sentence to sink in to water the seeds of awareness of the practice in me. It really helps me in my daily practice when occasions arise where I need to practice what I have decided to practice. A sentence out of my sutra spontaneously comes up and it helps me to practice. There are also times where it doesn’t come up and I notice afterwards and I take some time during the day to read my sutra again or if I know it by heart I will go and sit somewhere quietly and mentally go over it again. It really helps me. I find great joy in practicing and progress in the practice motivates me to continue. I would like to read my sutra to you. It is my sutra right now. When I feel I have realized enough of my sutra then I add other things. I take another aspect of the practice that I would like to strengthen. On top I have written ”Listen” because I would like to practice listening better.

The training in the art of listening begins in silence, develops in attentiveness and is perfected in communication.

This is something I read somewhere and it makes sense to me. It gives me a good guideline for practicing listening in daily life.

I will practice refraining from saying something that lies on the tip of my tongue.

Just by reading this every day I become aware of what lies on the tip of my tongue and I realize that often I am not aware of what was there on the tip of my tongue and I say it out before I realize what I am going to say. Keeping something on the tip of my tongue, I really have the opportunity to taste what it is like. It is not always sweet. It gives me some insight into my mind, my mental formations and the strength of the seeds in my store consciousness.

I shall listen to others’ points of view before stating my own.

This ties into what lies on the tip of my tongue. This practice is very important when we want to come to consensus in a community or in a meeting. I have written this here because sometimes when I am tired in a meeting I just state my point of view and then I think that is enough, let’s just finish the meeting and I don’t really create much space for other people to state their point of view. That is not very beneficial. I have found that when I wait for others to give their input I don’t need to give my input or I do it in a different way that is more beneficial for a meeting. That is one point I am practicing with right now.

I will practice not speaking about a third person.

In a community it is easy to speak about a third person and it can cause a lot of disharmony and suffering. We can speak about a third person on occasion in the light of how we can help that person in the practice. I am certainly not perfect at any of these points, that is why they are still here in my sutra, but I am becoming more and more aware of when I speak about a third person and how. When we are discussing the practice of a third person I become aware of any internal formations I may have regarding that person or the practice of that person. I can take care of my internal formation and try not to let it interfere with the input I give on the practice of that person.

If met with anger I shall respond with loving-kindness.

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The Buddha said that the antidote to anger is loving-kindness. I try to keep love alive in my heart. We all know that meeting anger with anger is not beneficial but we know that we get pulled into it anyway. Reading this every day helps me to remember to look with loving-kindness at myself and at the other.

If met with non-cooperation I shall respond with compassion.

For those of us who live in the community or at home in a family we know that there are times when things need to be taken care of and at times we are met with non-cooperation of other members of the community. I am practicing responding to this with compassion. I try to put myself in the skin of the other to try to understand where the non-cooperation comes from. I try to discern when and how to encourage and when and how to release or let go.

The sound of the bell allows me to enjoy the whole length of my in-breath and the whole length of my out-breath.

I know this is our practice but I find it necessary to be reminded of that every day. Being aware of the whole length of my in-breath and out-breath allows me to be aware of what is happening inside of me. There are times when I just find myself waiting. The bell is invited and I stop but I am just waiting for the bell to stop so I can continue with whatever I was doing. Reading this reminds me that it is nice to take the opportunity to enjoy the whole length of my in-breath and the whole length of my out-breath. When I find myself waiting it is usually when everyone starts moving around that I realize I have just been waiting. I think I missed the opportunity but I can do it here. I can take a few moments to enjoy my in-breath and out-breath.

Every step brings me peace and joy.

We know this and we practice this in theory. At least, I practice it in theory. But I want to practice it in reality, so reading it every day helps me to do so.

Then I close with some words by Saint Benedict which help me to put things in the right perspective.

In the end it is not about what we have achieved but what we have become.

I would like to realize my full potential and reading my sutra every day helps me to go in that direction. This practice of learning, reflecting, and putting into practice and my sutra all help me to go in the direction of inner silence. It is an inner silence that I can practice throughout the day. Periods of outer silence can help us to cultivate this inner silence.

In the winter of 1998–1999 in the Lower Hamlet we had one day of the week where we could observe noble silence. We were allowed to put on a little badge that said, “noble silence.” It was mostly retreatants who used the opportunity to do so. I like to do this very much but I need the reassurance of the community that it is okay. I feel an obligation to always be approachable and ready to respond to the needs of the community. A period of noble silence might help me to do so better. An inner silence means nothing else than dwelling in the present moment.

I guess the Buddha wouldn’t have anything against that.

Thank you very much for listening.

Sister Jina is the abbess of the Lower Hamlet at Plum Village in France.  Photography by Big Jim.

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Poem: Above Saigon

By Phap Tue

Above Sai Gon
and the honk of horns
the silent sky, where
Two shark kites flutter
from the rooftops tethered
vying high above the city
among the twitter of bats
and one kite
with three tails
tugs and rises on waves of wind
like a dancing lady
amidst the streaks
of rose-colored sky

mb35-Above1In the darkening light
a boy on a nearby rooftop
still gathers string
to raise his eagle kite
on currents of wind

I tell you,
the peace of Saigon
is on the rooftops
where little fragrant gardens gather
and eyes touch the peace
of the sky again
and kites, even at dusk
sway above the darkening earth

These are messengers:
and all children
young or old
meet in a silent
and secret dance
from rooftop to rooftop
and silent height to silent height
as swallows in eaves
or doves at dusk

The stars appear
slowly and dim
one shark kite still sways
above the darkness
to meet the stars
advancing toward the west
and this last kite
and all those who meet at night
are the freedom of a people
greater than any flag.

Thay Chan Phap Tue currently lives at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

An altar in the alley in Da Nang, Vietnam by Gary Richardson, Chan Dieu Hanh.

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My Father’s Smile

By Susan Hadler

Note: Second Body is a practice that is sometimes used to pair Sangha friends who intentionally support one another’s mindfulness practice. In our Sangha, second body pairs usually meet once a week for about four months.

An early morning breeze blows through my cotton jacket as I walk to the metro to meet with my Second Body. I wrap my arms around myself to keep warm, but the chill has more to do with yesterday’s trouble than with the spring wind.

Yesterday, eager to begin transcribing tapes of Dharma teacher Anh-Huong’s talks for the book she is writing, I bought a tape recorder and some blank tapes. I put one blank tape into one side of the machine and Anh-Huong’s recorded talk into the other side and pushed the button. When the recording machine stopped, I played back the copy. There was no sound. Nothing but the silent whir of an empty tape. Then I played the original tape. It was gone. The sound of the bell and then Anh-Huong’s serene voice, gone! I had erased the whole talk. There was nothing on either tape. I had lost the entire Dharma talk.

I wanted to turn the clock back and have another chance. This time I would not hurry. I would stop and take three breaths before sliding the tapes into the machine. But that moment had passed and there I was with two empty tapes.

I was thinking about that tape on my way to meet my Second Body. We’d been meeting at the coffee house every Wednesday morning at eight a.m. Trust in my Second Body deepened over the three months we’d been meeting. I remember worrying that I wouldn’t be able to understand him or respond in a way that helped. But then I noticed that when I listened without thinking about how I could help, my Second Body found his way. What “helped” seemed to be that I was sitting there, listening. Alert and present. We were practicing mindfulness together, recognizing and embracing what appeared, watering wholesome seeds and I was learning mindfulness from him, with him. Sometimes I told him what I’d heard. Sometimes I asked a question. He would continue until he came to a deeper understanding. Then he would stop and smile and I would speak.

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I began slowly, guardedly. I have one or two little things, I would say. My Second Body listened to me and in his listening I found the space to listen to myself as I spoke. I noticed my awareness growing more consistent and more focused daily knowing that I would talk with my Second Body soon.

Over the months we met, the war on Iraq was heating up and eventually broke out. I read in the newspapers about Iraqi people who were killed and soldiers who died. I felt sad for everyone who lost someone they loved and for all of us. The war opened wounds from an earlier war when my father, a twenty-five year old soldier, was killed in WWII. I was three months old.

As I listened to my Second Body integrate his practice with his daily life, I learned to talk about my experiences of loss from the perspective of the practice. I became aware of the strength of my sorrow and that I had unconsciously watered seeds of sorrow my whole life. And then I noticed a shift. As I focused more on the practice with the help of my Second Body, I became aware of experiences of happiness and of peace. I noticed times of happiness and peace even in the midst of the sadness of war!

April 12th is the anniversary of my father’s death. This year I wanted to be with a Sangha on that day, so I drove to Annapolis for the Day of Mindfulness. During the morning meditation, Anh-Huong suggested that we invite our beloved to sit with us. I invited my father. Until I began to search for information about my father a few years ago, I knew only that he was an only child and the date and place of his death. It was too painful for my family to talk about. So I welcomed the chance to sit there with my father and then I invited my grandparents, my father’s parents.

When I heard the bell of mindfulness signal the end of meditation, I opened my eyes and saw Anh-Huong, her husband Thu, and their nine year old son Bao Thich sitting so peacefully, so happily. For the first time I knew in my heart that my father had been happy. Tears ran down my face as I realized that he had been a happy little boy like Bao Thich, picking up leaves to give his mother, eating ice cream, and swimming in the lake. I was able to see that tragedy had overshadowed happiness. The practice was helping me find and water seeds of happiness and seeds of peace. Seeds of sorrow no longer grew so tall and thick. I could feel sunlight inside.

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Now I am on my way to tell my Second Body about the lost tape. We order our tea and hot chocolate and settle into chairs. I tell my Second Body about losing Anh-Huong’s talk, how upset I am. Maybe I should leave the project even though I love it. Maybe I should leave the Sangha if I am so destructive. My Second Body takes a drink of hot chocolate, puts his cup on the table and looks at me. When he speaks, he says, “You need help holding this. You should call Anh-Huong.”

Tears flood my eyes. My Second Body is more concerned about me than what I’ve done. I need help? I’m the one who lost the tape. But I do need help. I feel so grateful for his recognition of my pain. Later I realize that needing another to see where I am blind is the face of interbeing manifest in Second Body practice.

I notice an old fear rising when I think about calling AnhHuong, fear of upsetting her, fear of silence, fear of blame and rejection when I already feel terrible. But I trust my Second Body. When I get back to my office I call Anh-Huong and leave a message.

After dinner the phone rings. I breathe in and out, in and out, in and out and answer the call. It’s AnhHuong. After a minute of silence, I tell her that I erased one of her Dharma talks by mistake. I am so sorry. Anh-Huong speaks, “The tape isn’t lost. It’s still in us. It’s still here.” I listen to her words, so full of acceptance and understanding. I tell her, “As I listen to your Dharma talks, I know how meaningful they are. I feel sad to have lost any part of them, sad that others won’t have the chance to hear or read the one I lost.” AnhHuong says, “It’s all right. It’s part of us.” I continue, “I love typing the talks; listening closely to them is such a joy.” She responds, “So you like it, good.” I feel her concern and notice her delight in my enjoyment of typing the talks. I am filled with gratitude for my Second Body, for Anh-Huong’s understanding and compassion, for the Sangha and the practice, which is more vast than my mistake.

I hang up the phone smiling, aware of many levels of being in that moment. It’s still in us. It’s part of us. It’s empty and it’s here. He’s still in us. He’s part of us. He’s gone and he’s here. No coming, no going.

With help this clenched heart opens.
Sorrow flies up to a branch and sings.

Susan Hadler lives in Washington, D.C. where she practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community. She is a psychologist and she enjoys writing.

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The Turning of My Wheels

By Matthew Huston

Recently attending my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at Stonehill College in Easston, Massachusetts, a few folks asked me how I do walking meditation,  since I was disabled when I was a little over a year old and have needed to use a wheelchair since then.

This was the first time I’d ever thought about how I have developed my own method of mindful walking in a wheelchair. To me, it just happened. It was like driving a car; you learn the movements of it, and soon you are able to simply do it. There are many aspects of Buddhist practice that have made me think deeply about how a person with a disability could do them. At first I skipped what I felt was just out of my reach. Touching the Earth was one of those, and of course walking meditation. The natural and meditative rhythm of walking was lost on me. So, mindfully, I began to explore a way to find my own way to “walk” mindfully.

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I move along in my chair with the same expertise that people drive their cars or ride bicycles after they learn and do it over a period of time. I used to take the bus to work, and the stop was nearly a mile from my home. So I would leave early and drive my wheelchair down to the stop. Breathing mindfully as I went, I began to notice something that had been melded into the background of my travel—the separation between squares of concrete that make up a sidewalk. These cracks are evenly spaced, and I recognized that the wheels of my chair hit them in a pattern of sound and motion. It was not like taking a step, but now I saw a way of creating my own meditation in motion. I could breathe deeply, mindful of each bump of my wheels on the way. I was following the turning of my wheels in rhythm like those of people’s feet.

Aware of this, I use mindful walking for all my travels in my chair. And in the same manner, I discovered other things. First was the habit of moving my free hand for no reason as I traveled. With my right hand I drove the chair, which gave my left hand nothing to do, but I would move it around a lot. Aware of my motion and my breathing, I stopped moving my left hand, relaxing it and letting it lie still. There was no need for movement other than moving forward, and being aware of what was around me.

I also had an insight about the earth beneath me. I noticed the differences in feeling when moving over smooth concrete, or over bricks embedded in the ground, or moving over grass. The sound of my wheels changed as the surface changed. I was aware that when I went up a rise or hill, that gravity was pulling on me in a way I had never paid attention to before. I was mindful of it all.

In this way, I have touched the Earth more than I could have imagined. It has been almost two years since I developed this way of walking mindfully, and it has been a practice ever since.

Matthew Huston is thirty years old, and works at VITAS Hospice in Central Florida, as a Performance Improvement Specialist. He has practiced mindfulness for four years.

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Wonders Never Cease

By Claude M. Rinehart

mb35-Wonders1Our lives are full of surprises and wonders that we never dreamed possible.

I’m currently serving a life sentence in the Texas prison system and have been locked up for eighteen years this time around. There is a good possibility that I’ll never be released from prison due to the seriousness of the crimes I’ve committed.

When I first entered prison, I was a very young and ignorant person, and I cared little about anything that life had to offer. I believed that I should try to get what I wanted by whatever means possible. I found out the hard way that this isn’t a successful way to live.

mb35-Wonders2Upon entering prison, I was the proud possessor of an eighth grade education. In the last several years I have studied all kinds of spiritual texts, and have also worked hard to receive my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Sam Houston State University. Becoming a college graduate makes me as proud as I’ve ever been in my life. Never did I think that I would have the opportunity and ability to achieve this. What a blessing.

I wish I could express the feelings that I experienced during the graduation ceremony in the prison chapel. There were 300 visitors there to cheer on their friends and family members. They were very loud, happy, and full of pride for their loved ones. Even though none of the visitors was there to cheer me on, I still shared in the happiness and sense of accomplishment that we all felt upon receiving our degrees.

I was fortunate in that I was seated in the second row and got to look in the eyes of each graduate as he received his degree. It touched my heart to see some of the younger men (I’ll soon be fifty eight), with a tear in his eye. These are the tough guys of society, but they weren’t too tough to be touched by what they had accomplished. The feelings were also a bit bittersweet, like each was saying to himself, “Why didn’t I stay in school when I first had the chance?” I could see that they were both proud of their accomplishment and saddened by their life situation.

I was very proud of everyone there, including myself, and I will never forget graduation day. The day was full of love for one another. We all seemed to realize, for a moment at least, that we’re all human and subject to making mistakes, and that we are still capable of creating good in the world. We were all accepted and respected, even by the prison administration, as people who had met the goals we had set.

I would like to thank the Mindfulness Bell for the opportunity to share my accomplishment with you.

This has given me the greatest sense of self-satisfaction that I have ever experienced.

Claude M. Rinehart lives in Huntsville, Texas, and has corresponded with a Sangha friend for the past four years.

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Reflections of a Quaker Woman of Color

By Valerie Brown

Growing up on the streets of New York City, I learned the rules of engagement at an early age, I learned to live tough and play even tougher. Violence, distrust, and anger hung around my neighborhood like the Mister Softee truck on a warm summer day.

Mindfulness and awareness were as foreign to me as an uncharted journey to a distant pole.  I was schooled in street rhythms, and learned that the world was unsafe, hostile, and filled with people who could not be trusted. Reflecting back, I realize that these feelings were rooted in a lack of safety and need for protection which stayed with me into adulthood, becoming habits of the heart, hardening my personality. I avoided intimacy, pushing people away like bits of uneaten food on the side of my plate.

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The journey of dismantling this constructed self, discovering and reconstructing my authentic self that is not limited by fear has been my spiritual awakening.

The desire to develop a spiritual life was submerged in the will to succeed, to rise above my single-parent upbringing and ghetto surroundings. I yearned for success, believing that a good education, a good job, and money could immunize me from the effects of my childhood. I surrendered to this pursuit.  In my training to become an attorney, stress, anxiety, competition, and hard-driving ambition were the constructs of my daily life. I reinforced childhood patterns of distrust by relying heavily on the words of legal contracts. My distrust of others gave me permission to compete fiercely at all costs. I was immersed in doing, achieving, and analyzing instead of being. Deeper still, I had lost connection with my body, emotions, spirit and soul, and with my feminine energy—nurturance, awareness, intuition, creativity, sensitivity, receptivity, and emotionalism. I was further wounded by a failed, brief marriage and a string of broken relationships that cut into me the way a river cuts into a mountainside.

The healing began after my divorce and hospitalization with a serious illness. Only then did I stop and begin to ask questions and listen for the answers deep within me.

Can I surrender to God’s will? Are the loses, the hurts all part of my prayer? Can trust in myself and others grow in me? What are the true longings of my heart?

The way to an open heart began when I stumbled upon a meditation center near my home. I decided to try meditation, and immediately realized how difficult it was for me to quiet my mind. At first, I saw the practice of meditation as a challenge, as something to conquer. Slowly, with silence as my open door, I passed through it to find my authentic self that cannot be defined by name, color of skin, hair texture, height, or weight. This journey has been punctuated by deep longings and uncertainty, as well as clarity and peace of mind. At first when I attended mindfulness retreats and sitting practice, I was aware that I was often the only person of color. I felt isolated. With time, I realized that to focus on the differences between myself and others would reinforce separation. During retreats, in listening and sharing stories of life journeys, I released the grip of judgment and entered the field of acceptance. I made a conscious effort to surrender the outcome of my practice, be with the uncertainty, and make friends with my distrust, which is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes. I read Thay’s teachings, attended his retreats and days of mindfulness and developed a daily home practice and weekly sitting practice with my Sangha and a meditation teacher.  Gradually, my heart made tough as day-old bread by not enough loving and not enough laughter, softened. Breathing deeply, I know that emotions like anger and distrust come, stay awhile and go away.

Several years ago, through a chance encounter with a Quaker woman, I found the Society of Friends, which too has strengthened my mindfulness practice. While meeting for worship is not sitting practice, the conscious act of noticing my breath, resting in awareness of myself and others during meeting, the fellowship of gathering to worship, and sharing in vocal ministry when feeling the call of God, have deepened my meditation practice. At meeting, we sit in silence—moment to moment, gathered together to worship the Inner Light, listening to the “still, small voice within,” each in our own way.

On this sunny winter’s day, inside the meetinghouse, lit only by the light of the winter sun and the glow from the fireplace, ten or more people sit silently in simple, unpainted wooden pews. I take my seat as others come in until each pew is filled. Sitting in silent ministry, I know the seeds of mindfulness are being watered. As silence deepens, a warm glow envelops my body, heart, and mind, and I rest in deep awareness.

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Valerie Brown, True Power of the Sangha, practices with Old Path Sangha in New Hope, PA. She is an attorney and certified Kundalini yoga teacher, leading retreats in the northeast. She was recently ordained into the Order of Interbeing at the Stonehill College retreat.

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The Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic

By Lynette Monteiro

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Understanding the concepts of impermanence, non-self, and nirvana evaded me despite thee tomes I read and the lectures I attended. Then in 1998, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and in the subsequent years struggled with fatigue, pain, and frustration. Refusing to be defeated by this illness, I intensified my meditation practice, changed my eating habits, and took on a regimented exercise program. Despite the positive physical changes, emotionally I remained exhausted and I felt no closer to knowing how to apply the practice of Buddhism to my situation.

The way out began over a coffee at Starbucks. A physician friend cornered me with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living (2) and asked if I would start a clinic to treat our mutual patients using mindfulness skills. I laughed. With barely enough energy to get from one day to the next, attempting this was out of the question. However, I knew that my meditative and doctrinal practice in Buddhism was the stabilizing force in coping with my disorder. Studying the sutras and having a disciplined meditation schedule gave me continual insights to the nature of my mind and its role in managing my illness. I could see the potential benefits and that it would be a way of reaching so many who were suffering. But start a clinic, especially when I seemed to struggle with core concepts? I thought it impossible until I attended a retreat with Chan Huy. He watered the seeds of comprehension for me with his presentation of the thirteenth step of the Anapanasati Sutra: On the Full Awareness of Breathing bringing to my attention three primary tenets of practice: Practicing Continuously, Being in the Moment, Living in Joy.

Suddenly the clinic seemed possible. I became aware that what had been effective in managing my illness was not the physical schedules, the intellectual calisthenics, or the chase after experiences. What had helped me gain ease and composure in my suffering was living as best I could the concepts of impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. I held no assumptions that any one moment would be the same as another. I was not my illness, I found joy and happiness where I could. Symptoms ebbed and flowed as did mind and its mental formations but I somehow stayed steady.

In May 2003, my partner and I began the Mindfulness Based Symptom Management program, an eight-week course in skilfull living modeled along the lines of the Canadian mindfulness-based program (3) at the Center for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada. The patients who registered were suffering from depression, anxiety, pain from severe physical traumas, and work-related stress. Some were afraid of relapse into depression when they returned to work. Over eight weeks, we planned to teach these patient-practitioners sitting and walking meditation, an understanding of the four foundations of mindfulness, the techniques in the awareness of breathing, and the use of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a guide to symptom management. They would be trained to examine their instincts to wrestle for control over their symptoms. This approach of no-action has been referred to as a paradigm shift from the medical model interventions that emphasize aggressive and often invasive interventions. The course aspirations and curriculum were daunting and ambitious, even more so because the canons of Buddhism had to be rendered into an acceptable secular form. However, we believed that anything less would not be powerful enough to transform their suffering.

We embarked on the program with an understanding that the facilitators and patients were equally practitioners. The tenets of the Five Mindfulness Trainings were listed and became a beacon when the work seemed tedious or not immediately relevant. The core of the course examined the body, emotions, sensations (mind), and thoughts (the most easily accessed and intellectually grasped object of mind) (4). In each class, we practiced the appropriate technique from the Anapanasati sutra (5). In the class dealing with emotions, we used the Theranamo and Bhadekkaratta sutras (Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone/An Auspicious Day (6)), as parables to encourage beneficial engagement with self, other, and the world. The glue that held the whole works together however was the primary tenets of practice– Practicing Continuously, Being in the Moment, Living in Joy.

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Practicing continuously

Without mindfulness skills, we become stuck in the illusion that symptoms are static and permanent, and therefore doom us to eternal suffering. Viewing the situation as singularly determined also results in thinking there is one magical intervention if we could “just do it.” When mindfulness is practiced continuously, we can look deeply into our symptoms and observe as they change in frequency, intensity, and duration. This is the gift of impermanence. It makes us available for many more possibilities and therefore many more opportunities to intervene in a suitable manner. Observing our level of fatigue we can recognize, for example, when jogging is less suitable than walking.

Practicing continuously means bringing awareness to all aspects of the system. We notice not just the segments of behaviors but the dynamic ebb and flow of all behaviors. It permits adjustment of our strategies as we attune ourselves to the impermanent nature of our experiences. When we are engaged fully in this practice, there is no way to “just do it” because there is no “it.” Continuous attention reveals nuances of change that alert us so we can adjust our actions, speech, and thoughts appropriately. It informs us when an intervention is suitable and beneficial; it informs us accurately of the specific signs in our body, which then allows selection of the beneficial and suitable level.

In the Clinic, patient-practitioners learn to adjust their body, speech, and mind to the ebb and flow of the breath. Using the body scan meditation technique, we set up an internal model of “observation, not indoctrination.” (7) That is, we learn to bring our attention to a part of our body, suspending the need to engage in action. We start with the toes, which always gets a smattering of giggles! The giggles turn to awe when we observe how hard it is to bring attention to the toes without twitching them automatically in response. We observe automatic behaviors and notice when we tune out, turn off, drop out of our daily lives. In the first two classes, we befriend our breathing and allow it to teach us the inevitability of change and the simplicity of adjusting to it. Because we breathe continuously, practicing continuously is no longer as imposing or tedious a task as it might have seemed initially.

Being in the present moment

The gift of non-self is the ability to discern the true nature of our suffering. Symptoms inter-are. They arise, endure, and dissolve from a complex interaction of the body, emotions, sensations, and thoughts. Arising in any single platform, they are empty containing neither intrinsic meaning nor power. However, when we apply our assumptions about an independent self, separation from others and the world, energy is imparted to our symptoms powering them up to debilitating levels. Muscle pain now becomes a harbinger of days in discomfort, even loss of income from lost wages. A limitation in physical activity now means loss of connection with family and friends.

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Grounding ourselves in the moment, we develop the skills to discern the origins of our pain with clarity and confidence. We develop an awareness of the arising conditions that result in our pain, our depression, and our fears. We can locate physical pain in the body, observe the thinking that escalates the meaning of the pain. Like teasing out the threads of a knotted ball of twine, we begin to separate the true nature of the symptom from the pain generated by the story-telling about the symptom. In the next four classes, we become firmly established in the foundation of mindfulness that is appropriate: in the body if the pain is physical, in the emotions if the pain is psychological, etc.  Discernment among the foundations allows the interconnections with the other foundations to generate information, not escalation. As we learn to identify the energy that causes the pain, we can then take steps to find alternative sources of energy.

As patient-practitioners grasp these concepts, the defensive stance to illness changes. The belief that things have to be different from what they are in this moment dissolves. Each moment is just what it is, an occasion. The ghosts of the past lose their potency to enslave us and render us dysfunctional. The ghosts of the future cannot hold us hostage with anxiety, fear, and the threat of failed dreams. The power in our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world can only be realized in the present. At this point, a critical flaw in the organization of current psychotherapeutic interventions comes to the fore. Relapse is not something that we practice at some future date when our symptoms disappear. Every moment is an occasion to prevent relapse into previously unbeneficial behaviors, feelings, sensations, perceptions, and thoughts.

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Living in joy

Joy is the realization that suffering is impermanent. Sometimes joy is retroactive, arising only when the craving and clinging to what is not has abated. While experiencing an attack of vertigo, I tried desperately to convince myself that the spinning room was only a mental formation. I recited: Not real, not real, not real. My mind remained resolutely unimpressed with my rhetoric (an object of mind) and joy was not present until my inner ear (body) calmed itself. Like a symphony, timing is everything. To expect joy in the middle of a flare of symptoms is to lose sight of the moment as it is. It throws us back to the illusions and delusions we created to avoid the reality of our suffering.

When symptoms recur despite our greatest efforts, we are given the opportunity to practice looking deeply into our assumptions. The arising of a symptom we thought was well-managed can touch on feelings of being a failure, activate models of helplessness, or even cause us to give up our practice. Looking deeply, we often find we have derived predictive equations relating our efforts to improvement in some linear fashion. Feeling energetic today becomes a promise that tomorrow will offer the same joy. Thrown into the future, we lose the moment of joy in the here and now.

Observing the breath, staying grounded in the body, emotions, sensations, and thoughts, patient-practitioners begin to experience the cessation of the craving to make things okay immediately. We recognize that symptoms dissolve and realize that awareness of impermanence enforces letting go. Symptoms become waves greeted, if not with ease, at least with composure and steadiness. With tools of mindfulness, we do know what to do. We acquire the secure knowledge that the symptoms are generated from the essence of who we are in the moment and dissipate as we alter our stance to them. In a single round of breathing in and out, we become evolving beings, intricately tied to self, others, and the world, and know comfort in that unity.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Throughout the course, the Five Mindfulness Trainings are used to give the skills a firm grounding in ethics and to provide deeper purpose for the practice. Viewing ourselves as worthy of respect, examining ways in which we generate delusions, setting psychological and physical boundaries, addressing ourselves with gentleness, and nourishing ourselves in a healthy manner become the modus operandi of creating skillful lives. As we become confident and stable in our practice, we find ourselves applying these skills in our interactions with others and our environment. In fact, interaction with all aspects of our environment is where the rubber meets the road. However, because suffering renders us somewhat narcissistic, we begin with applying the five trainings to ourselves.

Each foundational lesson is framed in the context of the five trainings. Behaving with respect to our body allows physical self-abusive cycles to be examined and broken. For the patient-practitioners suffering physical trauma this becomes a key to enter the realm of joy and acceptance. Rather than pushing past limits, they begin to accept and respect the body as it is.

Being generous to our body results in resting when needed, treating ourselves to days of silence and enjoyment of treasured activities. Depression and physical degenerative disorders respond well to this training. Rejuvenation becomes the form of continuous practice and symptoms no longer need to flare for attention.

Not exploiting our bodies psychologically or physically permits the building of safety in interactions with others. The target of this training is the anxiety generated from abusive relationships or lack of trust because of abuse. Recognizing and reducing exposure to toxic situations or relationships increases a sense that we are reliable in our assessments and consistent in our responses.

Speaking with kindness when referring to our body changes the sometimes hate-filled inner dialogue that in turn maintains our suffering. Lack of confidence, feelings of helplessness or low self-worth can be transformed through this training.

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Altering the language alters the meaning we give to ourselves of who we are. As self-talk becomes supportive and honestly reflective of our situation, we develop trust and confidence that we can adjust to change.

Nourishing our bodies with beneficial foods and activities allows a sense of well-being. Being with persons who generate joy, feeling encouraged by others practicing healthy lifestyles, and exposing ourselves to a variety of perspectives break up the fixed patterns that signify most physical and psychological suffering. As we limit the input of common myths about being human, we begin to develop a stronger understanding of the reality of being just who we are.

The suffering arising from weak practice of mindfulness in the foundations of emotions, sensations, and objects of mind (in this case, thinking) respond equally well to this application. In fact, the remaining foundations are deeply contained in the foundation of the body and are interconnected profoundly with the body.

At the end of the eight weeks, we have all been irrevocably changed by our contact with each other. At the beginning of the course, the patient-practitioners were asked to list the things they wanted to change in themselves. Usually, the expectations revolved around “cure” or total cessation of physical and emotional symptoms. They want their suffering taken away when they enter7 treatment. Their perceptions of themselves as ones who suffer imply that the suffering means they are flawed and damaged by and because of their symptoms. So, at the start of the course, the craving is to be “normal” by which they mean “without suffering”. When asked if they have changed in ways they had listed eight weeks before, most patient-practitioners say it doesn’t matter anymore. Those expectations written fifty-six days ago are examined and deemed unrealistic, irrelevant, or—best of all—where there was no change, acceptable just as they are. Expectations transform into aspirations. Symptoms are now moments of education in developing skillful means. Self is now a product of an interaction of the four platforms with the moving moment and mindfulness is the mechanism to steady the interaction.

Continuity

Impermanence, non-self, and nirvana reveal themselves in each moment. By practicing continuously, we are able to stay grounded in each moment. Observing the breath, we move through the four foundations of body, emotions, mind, and objects of mind. Skillful means grow as we develop clear comprehension of what is beneficial and suitable action. Understanding the true nature of our illness grows further as we experience being firmly in our physical and psychological domain, cutting through the illusions of what it is not. All symptoms are nothing more than the waves in our ocean of being. In the moments that our practice is strong and stable, we can allow the symptoms of our illnesses to penetrate us as great teachers do and ultimately let them dissipate as waves in the ocean.

Lynette Monteiro, True Wonderful Fulfillment, practices with Sanghas in Ottawa and Montreal, Canada. She is a psychologist in private practice, and Director of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. She bows to teachers Chan Huy and True Body of Wisdom for inspiring the Clinic and assisting in the preparation of this article. Photography by Lynette Monteiro.

1 Impermanence, non-self, and nirvana are called the “Three Dharma Seals.” A teaching offered by the Buddha is considered to be authentic if it has these three characteristics. The awareness of impermanence helps us to see that all things are subject to change. Nothing in the universe is a fixed, unchanging entity. Secondly, the awareness of non-self shows us that all things are without a separate self; everything inter-is with everything else. Thirdly, all things have their ultimate nature, their nature of nirvana, meaning the extinction of all notions, ideas, and concepts concerning reality. For a more thorough explanation of the Three Dharma Seals see Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1998).

2 Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastrophe Living (Dell Publishing, 1990)

3 Segal, Z., M. Williams, & J. Teasdale, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (Guilford Press, 2002)

4 Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (Berkeley: Parallax Press 1990) and the following texts were used by the facilitators to organize the course content

5 Thich Nhat Hanh, Breathe! You are Alive: the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1990)

6 Thich Nhat Hanh, Our Appointment with Life: The Buddha’s Teaching on Living in the Present (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1990)

7 Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation and Healing, p 134

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A Day of Tea and Haiku

By Alexa Singer-Telles

Like many Sanghas, we hold days of mindfulness in members’ homes to enjoy the traditional practices of mindful breathing, sitting, walking, and eating. Our days together were enriched early on as we began to experiment with bringing other creative activities into our days of mindfulness. These opportunities grew organically by inviting our Sangha members to share the fruits of their talents. Not only did we experience a variety of gardens to walk in, but we varied our mindful movements, celebrated rituals for special occasions, and experimented with art.

In a recent conversation with an Order of Interbeing member about creativity and practice, it was mentioned that Thay wrote that though there are 84,000 Dharma doors, we are given the task to invent new doors for our contemporary needs. This was an important reminder to me not to get stuck in the view that there is a rigid form, but rather to allow the form to be the fertile ground where mindfulness can grow in many ways. This invitation for creativity and bringing our gifts into the practice parallels my experience with Jewish Renewal, a recent movement in Judaism. In their philosophy, Jews who left the tradition to explore other spiritual paths are welcomed back into Judaism. This inclusiveness is contrary to other approaches which insist that you leave other ideas at the door; instead it encourages these returnees to weave the teachings and gifts they have received from other spiritual traditions into their practice. The phrase coined to describe these spiritual explorers is “hyphens,” to honor their eclectic heritage. Rather than preserving the purity of a religious tradition, this invitation allows a rich interweaving of experience to inform spiritual practice and hopefully deepen it. In this modern time, where many of us have come to Buddhism from another root religion and have explored other spiritual paths, it is inevitable that we come to this practice made up of non-Buddhist elements. Welcoming in these valuable elements honors the wisdom of our experience and enriches the life of our Sangha.

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One of the first opportunities for creative practice came when Rod, an artist in the Sangha, invited us to his home studio for a day of mindfulness. We sat in the warm spring sun on the deck and enjoyed sitting meditation and some body awareness exercises. Then we were each given a small ball of clay and invited to be present to its shaping. He explained the Japanese aesthetic, wabi sabi, “a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” He guided us in this unpretentious and simple approach, by encouraging the natural process to unfold. Our task was to breathe mindfully and feel the experience of molding clay into a small cup. Our eyes were closed to feel the sensations of form developing through our fingers.

Afterwards we placed the cups in the center of the circle to admire the uniqueness of each cup and share our experiences and insight. The next week, Rod brought our glazed cups to our weekly sit. They had transformed from plain gray clay into multi-colored, crackled raku cups. My cup sits on my altar to this day, a piece of imperfect art, pleasant to the eye, and holding memories from a wonderful day.

The pleasure our Sangha members derived from this art-making encouraged us to continue to offer creative expression to our group. Recently, one of our members volunteered to lead us in a Japanese tea ceremony during a day of mindfulness. Sandra had studied tea ceremony and was eager to share this special practice with us. The tea ceremony became the centerpiece of our day, and when our planning committee gathered, we had fun brainstorming ideas to enhance the experience of the tea ceremony. We designed a Japanese-style altar with such items as a parasol, a fan, a Buddha, and an ikebana flower arrangement. On the day of mindfulness, to our delight, one member brought a bonsai maple tree for the altar. These pieces made an interesting yet serene focal point for the room. To me the creation of an altar is like making an offering to the Buddha as well as giving a gift to the entire Sangha.

We usually include mindful movements as a way to remember to care for our bodies. At times we have added yoga stretching, body awareness exercises, and four elements breathing and movements from Sufi tradition. On this day our movement form was chi gong exercises in keeping with our Asian theme.

At the conclusion of our days together, we often share poetry, songs, and reflections. For this special Day of Tea, I suggested that everyone be invited to write a haiku (short poem) as a way to translate our awareness and experience into art. To give some background and preparation for haiku writing, I offered a brief teaching from the Japanese poet, Basho, one of the greatest contributors to the development and art of haiku. Basho’s teachings are very much in alignment with the practice of mindfulness and interbeing. His teachings guide the writer into an awareness of our deep connection with the natural world. He suggests that by immersing oneself in the impersonal life of nature, one can resolve deep dilemmas and attain perfect spiritual serenity (sabi). He found that the momentary identification of man with inanimate nature was also essential to the poetic creation. 1 Connecting with the natural world, especially during mindful practice, has brought me a direct experience of peace and tranquility many times. It was my hope that this exercise would be an opportunity for Sangha friends to experience this Dharma door of awareness.

The day was wonderful. The tea ceremony brought us into the serene beauty of the tradition and formality of drinking tea. We were given a bit of tea history and strict instructions, including how to pass the bowl, when to admire its beautiful hand-painted designs, and how many gulps to drink. One at a time, we were passed the freshly made bowl of tea, drinking it in three gulps, admiring the floral design of the bowl, and passing the cup back to the server. We listened silently to the stirring, passing, and gulping of the tea as it went around the circle. The tranquility of tea was palpable. My haiku expressed my sense of being transported back into the stream of ancestral tea drinkers.

Green tea stirs my heart,
The ancient ones whispering
Enjoy every drop!

A growing sense of awareness of our presence and interconnectedness with the natural world seemed to be captured in the haikus that were written that day. The poems, like our cups crafted many years ago, are tangible evidence of our experiences. They embody the sense of clarity that grows when we take the time to share a day of mindfulness. Here are some examples.

Hands stretch to heaven
The sun is not far away
Feet sink through the earth.
Greg White, Mindful Clarity of the Heart

Damp concrete walkway
Urges my bubbling sole
To know its cool kiss
Christine Singer

Six shoes in a row
Where are the master’s feet now
Joyful in the grass
Sandra Relyea

Hot water pouring
The cup of tea goes around
Gulping the tea is magic
Susane Grabiel

Butterfly on stone
Wings opening and closing
She’s breathing the sky
Terry Helbick, True Original Land

As I reflect on this particular day of mindfulness through these poems, it is clear to me that the most important ingredient for a day of practice is the sincere presence and -willing participation of the Sangha members. The gifts of awareness that grow in us can be so beautifully expressed in art-making and other creative forms. Simply by welcoming and weaving into our practice the talents of our Sangha friends, the possibilities for creating beauty in mindfulness abound.

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Alexa Singer-Telles, Steady Friend of the Heart, is a member of the River Oak Sangha in Redding, California. A psychotherapist and artist, she is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.

  1. Ueda, Makoto, The Master Haiku Poet: Matsuo Basho. (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1982)

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Budding Lotuses

Children’s Program at Deer Park Monastery
July 3—July 7, 2003

By I-Lynn Teh

mb35-Budding1Forty  children ages twelve and younger and four monks and nuns swarmed into the dining hall of Clarity Hamlet on orientation night of the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery on July third. What had been a room filled with tables and chairs was converted into a welcoming space covered with straw mats.

The children sat together in a circle on the floor for the orientation. Their eyes were shimmering with enthusiasm as they tried to remember each other’s names while playing rhythmic name games and “Hot Potato.” They were invited by one of the brothers to listen intently to a sound of the bell and to describe it afterward. A little girl commented on how long the sound of the bell lasted, and a boy timing the duration, exclaimed excitedly that it took forty seconds! In a simple way, the brothers and sisters at Deer Park offered a means of practicing the art of mindfulness to the children.

On the second day of the retreat, Brother Phap Ung offered a Dharma talk directed to the children. He shared the teaching of interbeing, that we are not separate from our parents, that we can find our parents in ourselves if we look deeply enough. Some children were then invited to come to the front of the room with their parents and to share what their deepest wish for their parents was. One girl shared that her deepest wish is for her mother to trust her. The mother shared in turn that her deepest wish is for her daughter to be safe and happy, and that she will try her best to trust her daughter more in the future.

Later in the day, the children learned to make boxes out of popsicle sticks to help raise funds for the construction of the new meditation hall. Everyone put their creativity to work; some made boxes with covers, others made houses, and still others made decorative items for display.

The children continued to practice working together in harmony as they made cookies for a tea meditation ceremony on the third day of the retreat. They were given the choice to join the oatmeal, raisin, sugar, or peanut butter cookie team. Many loved mixing the cookie dough with their hands. In the spirit of deep observation often taught in meditation, they described vividly how the texture of the dough felt on their fingers. Later they made cards for their parents, expressing their appreciation and love.

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Parents were invited to the dining hall at Clarity Hamlet for the tea meditation ceremony. Kids volunteered to stand by the door, greeting parents by bowing deeply as they entered. One of the girls was bell-master, breathing deeply before inviting the bell to sound, and being mindful of her breaths while she made three sounds of the bell to initiate the ceremony. Other children served drinks and cookies. Everyone enjoyed eating the snacks in silence for the first few minutes.

Then the children were invited to present the cards they had made to their parents, offering thanks to the wonderful people who brought them up. Parents too were invited to bring little gifts and to offer their gratitude and appreciation to their children.

A pair of parents sat in front of their son and thanked him for always showing patience when things they promised seem slow in coming. A mother shared with her two daughters how much she appreciated their sticking with her when she underwent many ups and downs after separating from their father and moving many times. Her courage to admit her suffering to her daughters of six and twelve was admirable, and her expression of appreciation was deep and sincere. These sharings showed how capable children are of understanding adults when loving speech and patience are employed.

One of the last activities was the Rose Festival, a ceremony celebrating children’s appreciation of parents. Everyone entered the meditation hall with two roses pinned to their shirts, a red rose symbolizing a parent that is still alive, and a white one for a parent that had passed away. Children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents, monks, and nuns sat together and enjoyed a violin performance and a beautiful flower dance put on by the children and a nun. As we watched and listened, we contemplated the love our parents have showered on us. The ceremony concluded with hugging meditation.

I-Lynn Teh is from Singapore. She graduated from Northwestern University in June. Photography by Jan Mieszczanek. Illustration by Nguyen Thi Hop.

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Engaged Practice Mindfully

Preparing for Thay’s Public Talk in Chicago

By Jack and Laurie Lawlor

Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, was fortunate to facilitate Thich Nhat Hanh’s August 22 public talk on “Building a Century of Peace” at Loyola University Chicago. The event proved to be the largest ever held at the University’s Gentile Center, attracting approximately 5,600 people. Thay has invited us to reflect on the event.

Looking back, one can see that our ability to offer Thay’s message to so many people was dependent on the collective efforts of the Sangha and its deep, twelve-year-old roots in our community. We all aspired to make the event available to a diverse audience, and the seeds for that opportunity proved to lie within the Sangha itself. For years, graduate students from Loyola University Chicago’s Jesuit seminary have been practicing at Lakeside. With the support of the University’s president, the Jesuit community offered the free use of the University’s largest facility at no cost. This enabled us to place the event in one of Chicago’s most diverse and accessible neighborhoods.

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We knew from the outset that the event would be counterproductive if we became anxious or overwrought by all the many details of organizing, so we made a conscious decision to devote the same heightened degree of mindfulness often reserved for retreat to our earliest organizing efforts. We also decided to plan early and to implement our activities in an orderly fashion.

We began by drawing upon the talent and experience of Sangha members who had organized similar talks. This helped immensely. For example, Brother Phap Kham gave us a clear sense of the rhythm we should apply in doing our print advertising, mailings, and similar communications. Others offered helpful insights about publicity and how to organize volunteers to facilitate a large audience.

We drew upon local Sangha talent by holding three large Sangha-wide planning sessions. There we identified local ticket vendors, and with Brother Phap Kham’s help in setting up Ticketweb sales, we were ready to employ our earliest waves of publicity. First, we sent packages of posters produced with the help of Lien Ho of the Deer Park community to local interfaith networks, Buddhist temples and centers, community groups, and peace activists. Loyola University also spread the word to Catholic peace organizations and innumerable parishes and interfaith groups. We were delighted when a network of fifty Chicago area community activists from the historic Industrial Areas Foundation invited us to speak about Thay and mindfulness practice. With the technical help of Northwestern University students, we created a Web page complete with vendor information, travel instructions and maps. As a result, we sold approximately 1,000 tickets before our first print advertising appeared, about two months before the event. This included over 150 press releases sent to small community newspapers, television, and radio stations after an extensive review of Chicago media guides, in an effort to attract a diverse audience. As the event grew near, we appeared in the weekly free press, in monthly healthy living magazines, and in the Chicago Tribune.

With over 3,000 tickets distributed, it was time to organize for the event itself. Here is where years of Sanghabuilding bore fruit. After meeting several times with Loyola University’s staff, we had a clear grasp of the facility and the challenges we would face in seating such a large audience in an athletic center. We held another Sangha planning session, and after several weeks of recruiting had enlisted over eighty volunteers willing to help out. We rented walkie-talkies to coordinate the volunteers who directed patrons from University parking lots and transit stations. We located two “signers” to deliver Thay’s talk to the hearing impaired, who with the elderly and handicapped were provided special seating.

As the event drew near, we placed fifteen-second spots on public radio and a sixty-second spot on the local classical music station, each of which was broadcast for five days. These proved to be extremely effective, as all remaining seats were filled in less than one week.

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The Event

After ten months of continuous planning, the day of the event arrived. Our local Sangha, together with members of the monastic community, arrived hours early to prepare the building. Three hours before his public talk, Thay accepted an honorary doctorate and spoke to Loyola’s incoming freshman students and their parents, who were enjoying their first day on campus. Loyola is integrating Thay’s teaching into its courses, requiring the freshmen to study several of Thay’s books! This event served as a “practice” session for our evening talk, and everything, including the sound system, worked perfectly.

It was both inspiring and startling to see over 5,000 people stream into the building a few hours later. At Thay’s request, each person was handed a small sheet of paper containing instructions in mindful breathing and describing how everyone would be practicing sitting meditation in silence at their seats while the audience was assembling. Upon entering the meditation hall, it was striking to see Thay meditating in the lotus position on the stage in the company of eighty monks and nuns, with the backdrop of a lovely altar and flower arrangements designed and assembled by local Sangha members.

As the Buddha reminds us, life contains impermanence and surprise. Our biggest surprise was that the sound system that had worked so well while Thay stood and addressed the freshmen approximately three hours earlier was incapable of reaching everyone once Thay was seated, using a combination of lapel and lavolier microphones. Those in the highest seats, located closest to the building’s air vents, had to strain to hear Thay’s gentle voice through the “white noise” of vent fans. Thay generously invited those folks to sit on the floor nearest him. Other problems with the microphones weren’t resolved until after the first third of Thay’s talk, just in time for several rounds of applause as Thay offered insights into the challenges facing American society.

We were deeply sorry that, for various reasons, a portion of the audience could not hear Thay to their satisfaction. For those unable to hear no matter what we did, we promptly offered and subsequently provided refunds to over 100 people. The transcript of Thay’s talk is available at www.LakesideBuddha.com, thanks to the help of volunteers.

Done completely through volunteer effort, this is an example of what the maha-Sangha can collectively accomplish. There could not have been a better time to offer Thay’s message of peace. Let us hope that our local Sanghas can help nurture the seeds of Thay’s message in our communities in order to lessen the odds that our society will lurch from one crisis to the next without looking deeply into the underlying causes and conditions. As Thay reflects in For a Future to be Possible, “Good practitioners always keep Sangha-building in mind. Sangha-building is the work of months and years … We have to pool our strength in order to build a Sangha.”

Jack and Laurie Lawlor are Dharma teachers and founders of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Chicago, Illinois.

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A Call for Help

from the Program of Understanding and Love in Southern Vietnam

September18, 2003

Respected Thay, respected bhikshus, bhikshunis and friends of the Sangha of Interbeing,

This letter calling for your help comes from the remote villages of the mountainous region of Southern Vietnam, famous for its tea and coffee plantations. Every year in the dry season, tea plants stop growing and the poorest tea-pickers have a hard time surviving. So from March to June, the most destitute have to go to big cities and find manual labor. In July they return happily to the plantations, hoping to pick tea to earn their living.

This year, before they had time to rejoice at the sight of the abundant growth of green tea leaves, news came of the falling price of tea leaves. The price fell from 2200 VN dong per kilogram to 500 dong/kilo. Owners of small plots of tea plants and tea pickers looked up at the sky and exclaimed: “O God! The world is coming to an end!’’

There are young people, fifteen to twenty-four years old, from the poorest, most remote villages in Central Vietnam who come to pick tea in order to have enough money to eat and to send to their aging parents and young siblings. Most of them live in the store houses of the tea-plantation owners. When the owners cannot sell their tea leaves they no longer employ these young men and women, who are then forced to go to the cities to find other ways of making a living, sometimes illicitly.

Owners of small plantations who, in the past could live on the harvest of tea leaves, now also have to leave their homes and go to big cities to find any work available. It is not easy to find a healthy or honest job. Every day they try to buy rice on credit for their family but when they are in too much debt, all the rice shops refuse to sell to them. We are calling for help from people of goodwill who can afford to give $10, which will buy fifty kilograms of rice, enough to feed five persons for one month. There are more than 2000 families going hungry because of falling tea prices but if we can find sponsors for 500 families it will be of immense help.

In three remote mountainous districts you are already supporting 966 children in twenty-four schools and daycare centers. Because they are under five years old, 586 of the 966 have a meal at noon. The remaining 380 children of six and seven years old, go home hungry because we do not have enough money to feed them all. We hope some sponsors will send funds to feed all the children a noon meal. We send our love and respect to Thay and to all the good friends who are supporting us.

Please send your donation to the Committee for Hungry People, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-FourCorners, VT 05049 USA. Checks should be made out to the Unified Buddhist Church and earmarked: Committee for Hungry People.

TOUCHING AND HELPING PROGRAMS IN VIETNAM SPONSORSHIP FORM

Name:_________________________

E-mail:_________________________

Phone:_________________________

Address:_________________________

I wish to sponsor (please circle and fill in appropriate lines):

For $6 a month or $72 a year a preschool toddler in a daycare center or a 5-y-o child in kindergarten to receive 2 cups of milk and lunch every day at school ____boy(s) ____girl(s), a young college student ____boy(s) ____girl(s) or a destitute elderly or handicapped person ____male(s) ____female(s).

For $25 a month or $300 a year a teacher(s) who goes to remote rural areas to teach children in kindergarten through grade school levels (ages 5-12), a teenager(s) to receive vocational training in traditional Vietnamese crafts woodworking, embroidery, or tailoring, carpentry, mechanics and electricity  ____boy(s) ____girl(s).

Donation amount ____(specified by you) sponsor development programs in rural areas to build schools, build bridges, plant trees, dig wells and make roads, support victims of monsoon floods and tragedies to receive medical support and food and blankets.

Please make your check payable to Unified Buddhist Church. All money will be given to the persons who need help. No charge is deducted for administrative costs. Please send to or for more information contact Touching and Helping Committees at:

Europe: Plum Village, 13 Martineau, 33580, Dieulivol, France.
East Coast USA: Green Mountain Dharma Center, Box 182, Hartland-Four-Corners, VT 05049
West Coast USA: Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026

You are helping many people to lessen their hunger, to feel the love of humanity and to improve their lives. This act will continue its way to strengthen hope, understanding, and compassion in each of us. Our way of living and relating to the world in the present is the base for social changes. We look forward to receiving support from you.

A lotus for you,
Sister Chan Khong and the Touching and Helping Committees

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Dharma Talk: The Horse Is Technology

By Thich Nhat Hanh

November 10, 2013
Plum Village

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Good morning, dear Sangha. Today is the 10th of November, 2013, and we are in the Still Water Meditation Hall of the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. The Winter Retreat will start in five days and will last ninety days. The Winter Retreat is the most beautiful retreat in Plum Village because we can go deep into the teaching, and we have plenty of time to build brotherhood and sisterhood and transform ourselves.

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During this Winter Retreat we should stay in the compound of Plum Village, in the Sangha. We do not have permission to go out, even with the Internet. So there will be no individual email addresses and no Facebook. Facebook is neither good nor evil, but how you use it can bring more negative things than positive and can waste a lot of time. With Facebook, we are looking for something outside of us, and we do not have time to go back to ourselves and to take care of ourselves. So there will be absolutely no Facebook during this retreat. If you have anything that is not the Dharma, including iPod, iTouch, iTablet, films, and music, you have to throw it out.

Teaching at Google

On the 23rd of October, we spent the day at Google. We were in three groups at different locations, with Thay in one group and sixty monastics spread through the groups. Thay’s talk was seen and heard by everyone simultaneously.

We began with breakfast, and then at 8:30 we gave instructions on walking meditation. The people in the Google complex––they call it Googleplex––did walking meditation very seriously. At one point during the walking, we sat down, and Thay invited the small bell three times and had a cup of tea. Those who came late saw the calm atmosphere; it was very rare.

Then a Google representative delivered a welcome speech, and Thay gave a talk followed by a session of questions and answers. Thay offered a guided meditation that was used the next day at a plenary session broadcast worldwide. There were gifts exchanged, and at noon after sharing instructions on how to eat mindfully, Thay ate lunch with everyone. At 1:45, Sister Chan Khong led a session of total relaxation. At 3:00, Thay and some of the monastics met with senior Google executives, including a number of engineers. We had a long and deep discussion on how to make good use of technology in order to help people suffer less.

Google offered the theme, “Intention, Innovation, and Insight.” They wanted to know the interplay between intention, insight, and innovation, not only in terms of work, but also in all aspects of life. The basic question was: How can technology become a force for integration rather than destruction? Because so far, it is a force of destruction; it’s pulling us away from each other.

Before we went to Google, a number of monastics wrote to Thay, describing the situation there and suggesting some questions to address. The first question was, “How can we innovate in order to take good care of ourselves?” Second, “How can we take care of the health of our workforce and take care of Mother Earth?” There is enlightenment in this question: it shows that they see the negative aspects of technology. They have found that emotional health is decreasing and distress is increasing in the Google workforce. They want some teaching and practice to deal with that situation.

Another question was, “Given the high rate of burnout, is there a way that we as a corporation can assist employees to create a better work-life balance?” Many Googlers are addicted to their work, they have a hard time detaching from it, and it can take over their lives. Maybe each of us feels that way also. We are being taken over by our work, and we do not have the time and the capacity to live our life deeply. Life is a gift, and we are not able to enjoy it, to make the best of that gift.

Strangely, there is an eagerness to find a technological solution to technology addiction. There is a disease called technology addiction, and yet you want to use technology to heal. Can we heal drug addiction with drugs? Can we heal anger with anger? Can we heal violence with violence? That is a contradiction.

So that is the First Noble Truth, not only for Buddhists, but for everyone. We have to contemplate the First Noble Truth of ill-being. Technology is destructive. Technology is taking our time away. We do not have the time to take care of ourselves, our families, and nature. Our civilization is going in a wrong direction.

This question is the beginning of a kind of awakening. We recognize the ill-being, and we want to transform it. We are looking for the way, the path, to heal that ill-being. That is the Fourth Noble Truth: the noble path leading to the transformation of ill-being.

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Where Are We Going?

There is a Zen story about a person sitting on a horse, galloping very quickly. At a crossroads, a friend of his shouts, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I don’t know, ask the horse!”

This is our situation. The horse is technology. It carries us and we cannot control it. So we have to begin with intention, asking ourselves, what do we want? The unofficial slogan of Google is “Don’t be evil.” Can you make a lot of money without being evil? That’s what they try to do, but so far, not very successfully. You want to be wealthy. You want to be Number One, but that costs you your life, because you are carried away by work.

Searching for information on your computer becomes a way to distract you from your problems. In this way we run away from ourselves, from our family, from our Mother Earth. As a civilization, we are going in the wrong direction. Even if you don’t kill or rob anyone, you are losing your life. If you do not have time to take care of your family and nature, making money that way costs you your life, your happiness, and the life and happiness of your beloved ones and Mother Earth. So that way of making money is evil. But is there a way to make money without being evil?

People have suffering within themselves: loneliness, despair, anger, fear. Most people are afraid of going home to take care of themselves, because they think they will be overwhelmed by the suffering inside. Instead, we try to run away from ourselves or to cover up the suffering inside by consuming. Technology is helping us to do this, so in this way technology is evil.

The horse is supposed to carry us to a good destination, as is technology. But, so far, technology has mostly helped us to run away from ourselves at the cost of our own life and happiness, and the happiness of our beloved ones and the beauty of Mother Earth. So you cannot say that we are not evil, because while realizing your dream of being wealthy, you sacrifice your life, you sacrifice the happiness of your beloved ones, and you cause damage to Mother Earth. So it’s not so easy not to be evil.

But if technology can help you to go home to yourself and take care of your anger, take care of your despair, take care of your loneliness, if technology helps you to create joyful feelings, happy feelings for yourself and for your beloved ones, it’s going in a good way and you can make good use of technology. When you are happy, when you have time for yourself and your beloved ones, maybe you can be more successful in your business. Perhaps you will make more money if you are really happy, if you have good emotional health, if you reduce the amount of stress and despair within yourself.

The Four Nutriments

During his talk at Google, Thay spoke about the four nutriments. In Buddhist psychology there are five universal mental formations: contact, sparsa; attention, manaskara; feelings, vedana; perception, samjna; volition, cetana. They are always present, expressing themselves in our consciousness. The first one is contact, and the last one is volition. These two mental formations are considered to be the kind of food we don’t consume with our mouth.

Some of us use technology to consume in order to forget the suffering in us, in the same way that we sometimes use edible food. When we are lonely or fearful, we search in the refrigerator for something to eat, not because we need it, but we want to forget the suffering in us. Many of us are addicted to eating and become fat and suffer from many kinds of diseases, just because of this kind of consuming. Edible food is the first of the four nutriments.

The second nutriment the Buddha taught was sensory impressions. We pick up a book to read, hoping to have a sensation. We go to the Internet, looking for pictures and songs and music to have a certain feeling. When you listen to music or read a book or newspaper out of routine, you are doing it so you won’t encounter yourself. Many of us are afraid of going home to ourselves, because we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside of us. So we look for sensory impressions to consume. Technology, the Internet, is helping us to do this.

Many young people do this. A teenager confessed to us in a retreat that he spends at least eight hours each day with electronic games, and he cannot stop. At first he was playing games to forget, and now he’s addicted to it. In real life he does not feel any love or understanding in his family, school, or society. Many young people are trying to fill up the loneliness, the emptiness inside, by looking for sensory impressions. That is the second source of nutriment.

Now, as a Buddhist monk or nun, are we doing the same? If you go to the Internet and download a film and a song to enjoy, then you are doing the same. You have to do what the Buddha taught you to do: learn to go home to yourself without fear. Breathe and walk to generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration and insight, and go home and take care of the loneliness inside. We do not have time to look for sensory impressions to fill up the vacuum in us. If we do that, we are not really monastics, we are acting just like the people in the world. That is why in this Winter Retreat, we have to practice letting go from our own choice, not because Thay tells us to do it. We do it because there is an enlightenment, there is an awakening in this way of living, and you can help people in the world by choosing to live differently. We have to learn to go home to ourselves and take care of the suffering inside and get the peace, the joy that we need, so that we can help people.

That is why having no email address, no Internet, no Facebook, is not something that makes you suffer, but helps you to become a real practitioner. If you do it, if you wake up to that kind of truth, you will do it with joy, not with a sense of deprivation. There are many people who check their email several times a day and find nothing new. Because you are empty inside, you are looking for something new. You have to learn to generate something really new: a feeling of joy, a feeling of happiness. That is possible with the practice of mindfulness.

What Is Your Intention?

Volition is the third nutriment, another source of food. Volition is intention. What do you want to do with your life? That is the question. Of course, you have the right to look for material and affective comforts, but that is not your deepest desire. Do you have an ultimate concern? Do you know the meaning of your life? That can be a tremendous source of energy.

If your volition is only to make money, to become the number one corporation, that’s not enough, because there are those who have a lot of money, a lot of power, and yet they are not happy. They feel quite lonely and they don’t have time to live their life. Nobody understands them and they don’t understand anyone. Happiness is not there because there is no understanding or love.

So your volition is not to have a lot of money, to have social recognition, to have a lot of power or fame. What you really want may be something more. Maybe you want to reverse the direction of civilization. You want to help people know how to handle the suffering in themselves, how to heal and transform, how to generate joy and happiness, how to live deeply every moment of their life, so that they can help their beloved ones to do the same and help the Earth to restore her beauty. That is a good desire, a good nutriment. As a corporate leader, if you have that kind of energy, you will become very strong. That is the first item they wanted Thay to speak about at Google: the intention, the motivation that pushes us to do what we are doing.

The Buddha had a strong desire to transform himself, to have the freedom and compassion to help people suffer less. That is a good desire; that is good food. Animated by that kind of energy, he spent forty-five years teaching and helping all kinds of people. He had very strong energy.

So those of us who have a good source of the nutriment of volition can be very happy. To generate understanding and compassion, to be truly happy and to be able to help many people: that is good volition, good intention. If a corporate leader has that kind of bodhicitta, he can reverse the trend of civilization. He can be himself, he can control the horse, and he can make good use of technology.

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With a knife, you can chop vegetables and peel potatoes. The knife is a helpful tool. But a terrorist can use a knife to kill people also. Technology is like that. If you have compassion and insight, you can come up with innovations that make good use of technology, that will help you and others go home to themselves, take care of themselves and their beloved ones.

The fourth nutriment is consciousness. Your individual consciousness is a source of food. There are many good things in your consciousness: you have the capacity to love, to forgive, to understand, to be compassionate. You need to know how to cultivate these elements in your consciousness. We all have the seed of compassion in us. If we know how to water the seed of compassion every day, it will grow. Every time we touch the seed of compassion, it becomes a mental formation, and with compassion alive in you, you don’t suffer anymore. That is good food.

But compassion is not the only good food you have. You have the seeds of joy, of happiness, of tenderness, of forgiveness, of nondiscrimination––many good things in yourself. You have to learn to cultivate more of these elements so that you have good food to nourish you and make the people you love happy. In you, there are also negative seeds, like a seed of anger, a seed of despair, a seed of loneliness. If you consume in a way that waters these negative seeds, then when you read a newspaper or play an electronic game or have a conversation, anger, despair, jealousy may arise in you, and you cultivate food that is not healthy for you.

As a gardener, you grow things that are good for you to consume. We know that there are plants that can make us sick, like poison oak, so we don’t cultivate those. That is true with anger, despair, violence, discrimination. These are not good food.

All of us have the seeds of these negative things in us. The collective consciousness is also food. There are neighborhoods now full of violence, fear, anger, and despair. If you happen to live in that neighborhood, you consume the collective energy of anger and fear. You don’t want to be angry and fearful and violent like them, but if you continue to stay there for a few years, you consume that collective energy and you become like them. That is not good food.

When you come to a retreat, you see hundreds of people who know how to breathe, how to concentrate, how to release tension, how to generate compassion. They generate a powerful collective energy of mindfulness and compassion, and you consume it. You feel the peace, you feel the joy, you feel brotherhood, and you consume it. That is good food. Collective consciousness can be good food or can be poisonous. The collective consciousness nutriment is very important.

But at Google, we spoke more about volition, because understanding volition was the most direct response to their inquiry about intention. A corporate leader should have a clear volition, a desire to help people suffer less. If you have that kind of good food, you become a happy person and you can be a good leader. A corporate leader needs to learn how to go home to himself first, to listen and understand his own suffering, to have compassion and take care of himself. Then he can help people in his family to do that and his family will be his support. And then he can try to help his associates do the same, and they will practice helping all employees in the workforce to go home and take care of themselves and their families. You can inspire them to have that kind of volition, that kind of intention, that kind of motivation. You give them the third nutriment. As leader, you might say, “Dear friends, you come here not just to have a job and to feed your family. You come here to join us in helping people to suffer less. We work in a way that helps people go back to themselves and take care of themselves. In order to do that, we have to do it for ourselves.”

Making Good Use of Technology

Some of our brothers have proposed to Facebook and Google to create a website where people can come and learn how to breathe, how to walk, how to handle a strong emotion, how to generate a feeling of joy and happiness for themselves and for other people. Facebook has promised to help make that happen. If Google has a mindfulness website, all the employees of Google can go there and learn how to take care of themselves and their families. Then they will have insight into what kind of electronic gadget or device will help us to go in that direction.

Suppose you talk to your smartphone. “Dear friend, I suffer. What shall I do?” And your smartphone says, “Oh! The first thing you have to do is to breathe in mindfully and go back to yourself.” This is the advice of a good teacher. An electronic device can tell you, “Dear friend, you are not in a good situation to do something. You have anger in you. You have to go home and take care of your anger.” When you are driving a car while falling asleep, a sensor would detect that. It might invite the bell to sound and say, “Dear friend, you are sleepy. Wake up! It’s dangerous to drive in this condition.” That is the practice of mindfulness.

The electronic devices that you invent can do that kind of work. iReminder; iReminding; iReturning. Returning to yourself. We spent two hours consulting with Google executives and engineers to find ways to make good use of technology to help people take care of themselves and suffer less.

There are many new functions they can put in telephones to help us, like the bell of mindfulness every quarter of an hour so that you remember to go back to yourself and to take care of yourself. In Plum Village, every time we hear the bell, we stop our thinking, we stop our talking, we stop our action, bringing our mind back to our body, and having the insight, “Ah, we are alive! We are present, sitting, walking on this planet, how wonderful.” You enjoy breathing in and out three times in mindfulness in order to celebrate the fact that you are still alive. When you are confused, when you are angry, you can talk to your phone, and your phone can remind you what to do and what not to do.

There was a young engineer who said, “But if we do these things, it’s like we are imposing on others what they don’t need.” Thay said that there are real needs, and there are needs that are not real. When you look for something to eat when you are not hungry, but are trying to forget the suffering in yourself, that is not a real need. If technology is trying to satisfy these kinds of needs, you are not helping people, you are only giving them the kind of sense impressions that cover up their suffering. But they have real needs, like going home to themselves and taking care of themselves, taking care of their families. That is why you have to help people to identify the real needs, and needs that are not real.

I think we planted a lot of good seeds in the minds of these Googlers. Let us see what will come after a few months.

Enjoyment Is the Practice

Thinking that work is one thing and life is another thing is dualistic thinking. For example, after you park your car in the parking lot and begin to walk to your office, you can choose between mindful walking or walking just to arrive at your office. If you know how to walk mindfully, then every step from the parking lot to your office can bring you joy and happiness. You can release the tension in your body and touch the wonders of life with every step. Walking this way is a pleasure. On the one hand, you see walking as life; on the other hand, you see walking as labor, as work.

When you wash the dishes, there’s a way to do it that helps you to enjoy every moment of dishwashing, so washing the dishes is not work, it is life. If you want to know how to wash dishes, read my book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. If you know how to mop the floor and cook your breakfast in mindfulness, it becomes life, not work. When a doctor receives a patient, it is work. But with compassion, with joy, you can transform the meeting between you, the doctor, and the patient, into a beautiful relationship, and that’s life. So life and work are not two different things.

When Thay does calligraphy, he begins every session with a cup of tea. Tea was invented by monastics in the Zen tradition who found that by drinking it, they were more awake for sitting meditation. So tea and meditation have been together for thousands of years.

Then Thay mixes some of the tea with the ink, and when he draws half a circle, he follows his in-breath. When he draws the second half of the circle, he breathes out. So there is the breathing in the circle, there’s mindfulness in the circle. From time to time he invites his own teacher to do the circle with him. In his hand is the hand of the mother, of the father, of the ancestor, of the teacher, of the Buddha. To do the circle in mindfulness, there must be the hand of the Buddha in his hand. So during that practice of drawing the circle, there is mindfulness, there is concentration and insight. This insight is made not by a self, but by a collective of selves. The Buddha is there and helps to make the circle in mindfulness.

So if you say that Thay is working hard, you are not right, because he enjoys making the circle. That is also his life and his practice. Meditation, working, and practicing become one.

In the monastic life of Plum Village, we do four things in our daily life. We study the Dharma and we practice the Dharma. Third, we work: cleaning, cooking, organizing a retreat. And fourth, we play: having tea with each other, playing basketball, and things like that. These are the four aspects of monastic life.

These four aspects inter-are. You do not enjoy only the time of playing, because the time of playing is also learning, is also building brotherhood, sisterhood, and cultivating health. Enjoyment is the practice. So within the playing is the studying, the practice, and the work.

We learn and practice in a way that cultivates joy. We can do walking meditation and sitting meditation the same way we play a game. It can be very joyful, just sitting together and doing nothing, or walking together. When you listen to a Dharma talk, allow the seeds of joy in you to be watered. It’s not good practice if you suffer.

When we organize a retreat or a Day of Mindfulness, we do it with compassion. We have a chance to serve, and that gives us a lot of joy. That’s not work, that is practice. When people come and practice, we practice with them. So there is no distinction between working and living and practicing.

That is the meaning of monastic life. The four aspects of life: learning, practicing, working, and playing. Each of the four has the three others inside it. As a lay practitioner, you can do the same. That is why you have to transcend dualistic thinking about work and life. We have to train ourselves to do our work in such a way that every moment of work is a moment of life.

Edited by Barbara Casey and Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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