In the Eyes of the Sangha

By Soren Kisiel

mb53-InTheEyes1

“Thay…will not be coming to Colorado.” My friend’s words were carefully chosen: neutral, to lessen the blow.

Volunteering at the Order of Interbeing sign-in table, I heard those words before most people. Some of the Dharma teachers had been informed, and I found myself privy to their whispered conversations.

mb53-InTheEyes2

My first thought was for Thay’s health. But once it had been explained to me that he was in good hands and didn’t seem to be in danger, disappointment came to me in such a rush that my head swam. I thought of my wife’s efforts, single-parenting for a week so I could be here, and of the money I’d spent to get here. I would be ordaining in the Order of Interbeing at this retreat. But without Thay? What would that mean? Could one be ordained without Thay?

A line was forming at my registration table. “If you can’t practice nonattachment here,” I whispered to myself, “where can you?” I took a few breaths, found a smile, and continued signing people in.

the morning sun
brightens the mountainsides
whether my heart is light or not

Thay’s letter was read to us, and the monastics forged ahead with the retreat. I decided: this retreat would be all about my practice. My disappointment began to lift. I could make the best of the opportunity by practicing fervently. I was here.

Then something happened. As the monastics began to share with us, in the Dharma talk and private hellos: there was our teacher! There was Thay, right before our eyes! His teaching, his understanding, his gentleness, so carefully transmitted to our monastic brothers and sisters. We were dazzled with how diligently they’d learned, and I was filled with gratitude for their efforts. In return we all sat a little straighter, practiced a little deeper. More people practiced mindful walking after that first Dharma talk than I’d seen at any other retreat.

Within a day or so, as we became used to seeing Thay in each monk and nun, we began to look for him in every one of us. And there he was. In each person’s eyes, in each smile, in each gentle step. His presence permeated the retreat. Something very precious was taking place. We all felt it. We discussed this in our Dharma groups. Here was interbeing, right before our eyes. Thay and the Sangha were one and the same. We and the Sangha were one and the same. Here was Thay, present with each of us, in each of us.

Suddenly I felt lucky to be at this retreat. The Sangha was crystallizing into a glittering diamond. It was developing confidence in itself, in its strength and ability to support, to carry on. How fortunate to be here for that—to be a part of this magical and precious teaching.

When I shared my feelings with Brother Phap Hai, he joked, “Oh, great. When Thay calls tonight, I’ll tell him you’re glad he’s not here.”

my brother
is listening
I can see myself in his eyes

When I first came to the practice eighteen years ago, I was living on my own in Sri Lanka, and the practice for me became wrapped in a sort of lonely romance. It wasn’t something I wanted to share with others; it was my own pursuit, meaningful, intimate, and private. I practiced alone.

After more than a decade of this style, I found Thay’s teaching, and it turned my practice on its head. Thay stressed Sangha, community, to a degree that I found startling. My mentor for ordainment, Rowan Conrad, tells a story of first arriving at Plum Village in the late 1980s. “You think you are here to see Thay,” he reports Thay saying, “but that is a misperception. You are here to see the Sangha.”

Once that seed was planted, Sangha became key to my practice as well, its support taking me to depths I hadn’t imagined possible, teaching me that compassion was every bit as important as wisdom. My practice began to bloom, but as one blossom in a wide field of flowers.

without a sound
a dewdrop
has fallen into the lake

As my ordination into the Order of Interbeing approached, to my surprise I found myself feeling that Thay’s absence made a sort of sense. I missed Thay that morning, and wished he were there to be a part of it. On my way to the Dharma hall, I sat on a bench to quietly thank Thay for all I was learning. In my heart I sent my ordination to Thay as a get-well gift. But as I took this step into the community, I knew the only individual that had to be there was me. Me, and the Sangha.

“You think you are here to ordain with Thay,” I said to myself, “but that is a misperception. You are here to ordain with the Sangha.”

The Be-In celebration that evening was filled with light and love and joy. We had seen something in one another and in ourselves. The energy of our smiles filled the room to bursting. The bears in the hills, I’m quite certain, could hear our laughter.

dragonflies
dazzled with one another
—late summer in the Rockies

The first time I wore my brown jacket at the retreat, shortly after ordination, a woman stopped me and asked me to instruct her in walking meditation. I was thrilled at the opportunity to share.

After some initial guidance, we walked together. “Picture lotuses blooming in each footstep,” I told her quietly, paraphrasing Thay. “You are leaving a path of lotuses behind you.”

She breathed deeply at the image and smiled, eyes wet. I knew in that moment she saw Thay in me. And, in that moment, I could too. Gratitude flooded through me, deep and strong. And my eyes, too, filled with tears.

mb53-InTheEyes4

mb53-InTheEyes3Soren Kisiel, True Land of Serenity, was ordained last summer, and is part of the Deer Park Dharmacast team. His home Sanghas are the Open Way and Flowing Mountain Sanghas in Montana.

PDF of this article

A Living Thay

By Caleb Lazaro

mb53-ALiving1

Words about a sickly Thay were on the lips of most of us during the first two days of retreat. But as our practice deepened, this notion withered away, it slowly left our thoughts, and the reality of a living Thay––within us and among us––began to fill our broken hearts. Whatever peace, love, and compassion the monks and nuns had during these six days, they poured over us selflessly, as if we were their own blood children. And the very experience of this community became Thay’s presence––the spirit of relentless and compassionate love being expressed mutually, mindfully, and unconditionally wherever we turned. To hear about this is not enough. To experience it is to know that the Kingdom of God is truly at hand.

Caleb Lazaro, Selfless Strength of the Heart, is a member of Sun Mountain Sangha in Colorado Springs. He is developing an innovative Christian community called “The Light.”

PDF of this article

The Buddha of the Future

By Trish Nelson

In 2007, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Thich Nhat Hanh quoted Master Lin Chi: “Don’t come to me for your enlightenment!” I was a little stunned to hear him say that. You can imagine how I felt at the Colorado retreat two years later when he was not there at all.

Thich Nhat Hanh is made of non-Thich Nhat Hanh elements. This is the teaching of non-self, and we all got to practice it at the Colorado retreat––like a kid who had just lost the training wheels from her bike, and didn’t know if she was going to wipe out or keep flying down the hill. Non-self means a flower could not be without the sunshine, the water, the earth. Likewise, Thich Nhat Hanh could not be without his students, without the practice, without the community that supports the practice, or without the beautiful earth that is always nurturing the practice through her beauty and freshness.

Facing the absence of our teacher, who turned eighty-four in October, helped prepare us for what it will be like when his form passes. We have been told by him, “All forms are impermanent.” Yes, but, don’t leave us! We saw together that although all forms are impermanent, the seed of awakening is in every one of us. And just as we carry our blood ancestors in our DNA, we also carry our spiritual teacher in our heart.

It has been said that the Buddha of the future, Maitreya, is not an individual but a community. If so, it is certainly a community of people practicing to live in the present, transform their own suffering, and help awaken others. It is a community of people who care about each other. Letting their own light shine, and being a light unto themselves, they also make light for the rest of the world.

mb53-TheBuddha1

Trish Nelson, Compassionate Understanding of the Heart, practices with the Santa Cruz Heart Sangha after relocating from Oregon to Northern California.

PDF of this article

Present in Thay’s Absence

By Lucy Mail

I am a Buddhist at heart but I’m not a disciplined practitioner. I come to the retreats every year to listen and see our dear Thay. In 2005, when I first heard Thay speak, he broke my heart and then put it back together with his words, compassion, and wisdom. Since then, my practice has been to do what Thay asks of me. I joined a Sangha, I use the skills he taught me to live in harmony with my significant other, I practice compassion with my co-workers and my patients, and during the retreats, I try to move as one with the Sangha. During the YMCA retreat in Colorado, I worried about Thay’s health to the degree that I was almost unable to participate in meditations or Dharma talks without breaking down. I realized at this retreat that everything I have done in my practice has been to please my teacher and not to find my own way. Thay’s absence helped me realize this. I love Thay dearly and want him to be at peace, not experience pain or disease, and be pleased with the progress of the Sangha, to the point that I missed his message. Thay’s teachings are present even in his absence.

Lucy Mail, Gentlest Diligence of the Heart, is a physical therapist on the Texas Gulf Coast. She finds Thay’s teachings to be very powerful when assisting her patients.

PDF of this article

One Rock Star is Not Enough

By Angelina Chin

I came back from the Colorado retreat totally transformed. Before the trip to Colorado I’d read several of Thay’s books but had never been to a retreat or practiced with his Sangha before. Nor had I ever met Thay in person.

To be honest, when I arrived the first evening and realized that Thay was not there, I was very disappointed and felt cheated. I even told one friend that it was as if I had gone to a rock concert but the rock star had bailed out!

I was a night owl, so I couldn’t fall asleep on my first night, and by the time I finally felt sleepy it was time to get up to do walking meditation. It was very difficult for me to keep up with the activities of the first two days. Because of the lack of sleep, I slept through the Dharma talks. And while many of the Sangha members found the food to be quite decent, I didn’t enjoy it during the first two days. I wasn’t used to a vegan diet. Of course I practiced eating meditation, but the more I meditated, the more I thought about the food I enjoyed outside the retreat. I also formed negative perceptions of some Sangha members.

I’m not exactly sure what happened to me in the following days, but gradually I found myself enjoying every moment of the retreat. I think the wonderful songs were a great help. It was very healing to be able to sing and practice with a Sangha of nearly 1,000 people. Everyone was so friendly, focused and happy. It was very comforting to me, especially because I grew up in a different cultural environment and always have felt racial and gender discrimination around me. Toward the end of the retreat I became quite mindful. The food became tastier. Before the retreat I had only known Thay’s works by their titles, but his teachings really sank in during the retreat.

After a few days I began to realize that Thay’s physical absence was a good lesson in itself. It had been so silly of me to compare the retreat to a rock concert! I’d attended the retreat to practice mindfulness, not to look for the rock star! I think because Thay was not there, the members were less attached to his presence and became more focused on the practice itself. I did feel Thay’s spiritual presence, and I missed him very much. But I also want to express my gratitude to the monastic brothers and sisters who tried so hard to make the retreat possible. It must have been a great deal of pressure on them. I could totally see both the Buddha and Thay in all of them! Thank you, Thay, for training our future teachers.

I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings on the last day. I hadn’t planned to do so. But since the day after the retreat was my birthday, and I wanted to celebrate my transformation (rebirth?) and show my commitment to becoming more mindful, I decided to receive them. I also was given a beautiful Dharma name—Wonderful Fragrance of the Heart. I felt peaceful when I left Colorado.

Here are a few of the ways my life has changed since the retreat:

  • I had insomnia before, and couldn’t get up until around 10:00 a.m. Now the insomnia has been cured and I wake up at 7:00 every morning.
  • I practice walking meditation every day.
  • I’ve cut down my meat and seafood consumption by 40%. I’ve also decided not to cook meat at home.
  • I try not to kill any living beings.
  • I can concentrate much better at meetings.
  • I’ve practiced “beginning anew” with friends. These friendships are now better than ever. I will continue to listen to them with my heart.
  • I used to have an inferiority complex, which had been affecting my life in many ways. Now I am more aware of my mental formations and try not to water my negative seeds. Life is more pleasant and I feel more confident and engaged.
  • I’ve become less judgmental of others and have built new relationships!
  • I drive more mindfully. I think I’m a safer driver now.
  • I’ve witnessed some improvement in my meditation and breathing practices.
  • Even though negative emotions still visit me frequently, I’ve learned to be patient and try my best to take care of them.

I was so inspired that I attended a Day of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery for the first time and finally met Thay! It was a blessing.

mb53-OneRock1

Angelina Chin, Wonderful Fragrance of the Heart, lives in Southern California. She was born and grew up in Hong Kong. She teaches East Asian history at Pomona College.

PDF of this article

Support Monastics in Vietnam

By Susan O’Leary, Mitchell Ratner, and Members of the Monastic Community

mb53-Support1On September 27, 2009, 379 monastics practicing in the Plum Village tradition were violently evicted from their monastery, Bat Nha, in the central highlands of Vietnam, by a government-organized mob. Emergency calls made to the police were ignored. The monks were forced from their buildings, and made to stand for hours in monsoon rain while the monastery buildings were ransacked. Several dozen were pushed into cars and driven away; the rest were made to march in the rain over fifteen kilometers to Bao Loc, the nearest town. Some nuns were also forced to march in the rain. The remaining nuns took refuge in their dormitories and fled the next morning.

That day, the Venerable Thai Thuan, abbot of the small Phuoc Hue Temple in Bao Loc, courageously offered protective sanctuary. There were no arrests for the beatings or property destruction. Two of the senior monks, Phap Sy and Phap Hoi, were held under house arrest. Police and local authorities in Bao Loc continued to harass the Bat Nha monastics, broadcasting threatening announcements over city loudspeakers, restricting access to the temple, and searching the temple several times a day. Police from the monastics’ home provinces came to talk with the monks’ and nuns’ parents, and threatened that their families would suffer consequences if the young monks and nuns did not leave Phuoc Hue.

Within Vietnam, there has been an unusually strong response to this assault on the monastics. Hundreds of writers, academics, scientists, and Communist Party members have signed an open letter to the government decrying the attack and calling for an immediate investigation. Nguyen Dac Xuan, a journalist and Communist party member for thirty-six years who witnessed the eviction from Bat Nha, has courageously written a public letter condemning what he saw. Thich Nhat Hanh has been writing to the monastics as a loving parent, encouraging them to continue their deep practice of mindfulness and compassion.

The Bat Nha monastics are requesting the government of Vietnam and authorities in Lam Dong Province to:

  • Immediately stop the current campaign of persecution against the community and its supporters in Vietnam, including all attempts to intimidate, harass, defame, disrupt, and forcefully disperse the community and its individual members.
  • Officially confirm the Bat Nha monks’ and nuns’ full legal status (guaranteed by the law of Vietnam and international treaties to which Vietnam is party, and already stated in government documents 212/CV/HDTS and 525/TGCPPG issued in 2006) to practice Buddhism according to the
  • Vietnamese Plum Village tradition, together as a community, in an established location of their own.
  • Allow the monks and nuns to live and practice peacefully all together at their temporary location, Phuoc Hue Temple (or another appropriate location the Sangha agrees to), until the current situation is resolved. The two brothers currently under house arrest, Phap Hoi and Phap Sy, should be immediately released; threats to arrest other community members should be withdrawn. As we go to press, the situation appears to again be worsening. Signs indicate that the Vietnamese government’s intention is to break up the Bat Nha community, and to force the monks and nuns practicing in the tradition of Plum Village to renounce their vows and leave the monastic life.

How you can help:

World governments have been responding to the situation. In October the U.S. Embassy made an official visit to Phuoc Hue Temple to express concern. On November 26, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the expulsion of the monastics from Bat Nha and urging the Vietnamese government to curb its violations of freedom of expression, religion, and assembly. The United Nations Human Rights Council has recommended sending a United Nations Special Rapporteur to Vietnam to examine the situation.

  1. Practice diligently so as to nourish the energies of equanimity, compassion, and non-duality.
  2. Deepen your understanding of the situation of the Bat Nha monastics through following the HelpBatNha website (www.HelpBatNha.org) and through studying other sources. A useful source is the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report, http://www.uscirf.gov/images/AR2009/final%20ar2009%20with%20cover.pdf.
  3. Develop and maintain relations with your national government and national representatives, keeping them informed of new developments and suggesting concrete actions they could take. The governments who have expressed concern have done so after being contacted by Sangha members.
  4. Contribute to the Help Bat Nha fund, which will be used to support the monastics in Vietnam as well as pay for the operational costs of international support efforts. (Contribute at www.HelpBatNha.org.)
  5. Send a message of support to the Bat Nha monks and nuns at: we.are.all.here.for.you@gmail.com.

PDF of this article

The Last Walking Meditation

By a Young Monastic Sister from Bat Nha Monastery

In September 2009, over 350 monastic disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh were violently expelled from Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery in Vietnam’s central highlands. They took emergency refuge at Phuoc Hue temple in the nearby town of Bao Loc. Following is an eyewitness account from a young monastic sister from Bat Nha. Further stories, photos, press coverage, petitions, and opportunities to help can be found at www.helpbatnha.org.

mb53-TheLast1

mb53-TheLast2

On Sunday, September 27, we had the opportunity to do sitting meditation together, and then to do walking meditation around the Garuda Wing Meditation Hall. It was raining heavily that day. My brothers’ and sisters’ robes were soaking wet, but we continued to walk next to each other in peace, love, and understanding. In me, the mind of love and faith reignited brightly.

We never thought that this would be our last walking meditation on this lovely piece of land that was full of life. The atmosphere was still peaceful, and everyone was ready for the next activity, a Day of Mindfulness. For our class, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings,” the topic of the four nutriments was going to be presented, but it had to be cancelled. Perhaps that presentation became the non-verbal Dharma talk, manifesting its insights through our love and profound brotherhood and sisterhood.

At 8:00 a.m., all of us returned to our rooms and sat on our own beds, waiting. I did not know what I was waiting for; I only thought of it as a routine Sunday schedule. Over the last few months, there had been no Sunday when we were not shouted and cursed at. We only knew to sit still and keep our minds calm and receptive.

At 9:00 a.m., we—the sisters in the Mountain Cloud Hamlet— received the news that the brothers’ hamlet, Fragrant Palm Leaf Hamlet, was being attacked. Everything was being destroyed and thrown into the rain. A number of elder and younger brothers were dragged outside and driven away. We were shocked by the news, and we did not believe that it could be true. Soon after that, I saw one elder brother and one young novice running toward Mountain Cloud Hamlet in soaking wet robes. They only had enough time to bring their Sanghatis [monastic ceremonial robes] wrapped on their shoulders.

Victims of Ignorance

At 10:30 a.m., we were allowed to take our food. I was on the cleaning team, so I stayed back to clean up and put things away before I went to eat. As soon as I sat down on the straw mat and picked up my alms bowl, I was told to get my things immediately. All of us put down our alms bowls and went to pack our belongings. We only thought about bringing our Sanghatis, alms bowls, monastic certificates, and identification cards. It would be all right if people came and took the rest of our belongings for their own use. We understood that they were only victims of poverty and constant struggle. They were unfortunate to grow up and live in negative environments, so they were easily “brainwashed” and incited by distorted information.

mb53-TheLast3

In fact, these people deserve love as much as we do. We are victims of violence. But they are victims of ignorance and lack of reflection. Only 70,000 to 100,000 dong [Vietnamese currency] was enough to hire them to do something unwholesome. How pitiful that is! Is that the value of a human being? What about the days and months to follow, when they would suffer from the gnawing of their own conscience? Who would pay them a salary?

At 11:30 a.m., six men walked around our hamlet and knocked on the sisters’ doors, shouting, “The nuns have to leave this place. Do not make us get angry and hurt you. If you don’t leave this place, you will have to suffer the consequences.” All of us sat next to each other quietly. We listened to the sounds of glass windows being broken. People came into every room and herded us outside. They held long iron bars, which were used to hit us if we resisted. One by one, we walked out of our rooms and went out in the front yard. It was raining heavily. Perhaps the sky gods also cried for us.

Not Someone to Love or Hate

When everyone was down in the front yard, we discovered that young sister Cong Nghiem was not with us. She had recently had an accident, so she could not move. We begged the uncles [the attacking men] to allow us to go back and carry her down. All of us were so moved looking at our elder sister carrying our young sister on her back.

The more we looked, the more we also felt sorry for the uncles. There was one uncle about fifty years old, who wore a helmet and walked with a limp. While he was smashing the windows his hand got cut, and it was bleeding severely. We ran to the first aid cabinet, which was completely destroyed. We were lucky to find some cotton balls, gauze, and alcohol to clean and dress his wound. Looking into his eyes, I saw that he was deeply moved; he realized we did not hate him, but instead we took care of him wholeheartedly. During that time, for me, there was not someone to love or someone to hate. I did not think about what they had done to us. There was only this person who needed our help.

After we dressed his wound, he lowered his head to thank us and situated himself quietly in the corner, watching us standing next to each other in the rainstorm. He was not violent anymore. Then I saw him leaving quietly. At that point, all of us were together and safe. No one was stuck inside. We felt so happy to realize that we loved each other, and that we could sacrifice our lives for each other, for our ideals, and for this path of understanding and love.

We Love Vietnam

That morning, about 100 women and men came down to the sisters’ hamlet. Whenever they saw a monk, they would jump in to tear at his clothes and beat him. When we tried to protect our brothers and sisters, we suffered the same fate—they pushed us down; the women used umbrellas and rocks to hit and kick us on our hands and backs. Some of them even slapped our faces. We only knew to endure it or duck. We did not do anything else.

When all of that happened to us, we did not shed one tear or complain. We only felt that our society was full of violence, hatred, and fear. We felt that we needed to protect and guard our ideals, bringing understanding and love to humankind. It pains me to see that the Vietnamese nation was loving, gentle, and ethical, and that the four thousand years of history for which Vietnam has been praised is now lost at the hands of Vietnamese people. We love Vietnam. We love the gentle and kind people. We love the humanist culture that our ancestors cultivated. That is why we have chosen this path, to protect and guard the beauty in the Vietnamese people.

mb53-TheLast4

The pain, the shame, is too great. The beating and eviction are all right, because as monks and nuns, we have no property to be attached to. It only pains us that the dignity and humanity of our society have been brought to such a low level. I thought to myself: How happy I had felt, reading the history of those before me in the Ly and Tran dynasties! We have the right to raise our heads and feel our national pride. However, our children and future generations, when they recall the events at Bat Nha, will have to lower their heads in shame. Time will erase all the physical traces, but the wounds in the heart, the shame, the hatred, the fear, and the violence will be transmitted. With such a transmission, the ethics of our society cannot help but seriously decline. How sad that would be!

We brothers and sisters speak our own hearts; we cannot plant and spread more of those negative seeds. We have to water this arid, thorny land of the human mind with drops of wholesome nectar, so that we can revive the flowers of understanding, love, inclusiveness, and non-harming. Only because of that, we—who are carrying in our hearts the great love, the great vow—are determined not to allow those unwholesome seeds to develop further in the hearts of our people.

We love the sound of the phrase “my motherland.” We love the Vietnamese people. Even if they accuse us of being traitors, even if they beat us down, we never want “chicks of the same hen” to attack or hurt one another. So, from the moment when we were forced out on the street to stand in the rain, accepting the heckling and the beatings, enduring the dirty water tossed into our faces, we continued to stand next to each other and protect each other. Even though we were cornered, beaten, pushed and pulled, we would not leave each other.

“We Will Never Lose You”

At 5:00 p.m. that day, we were forced outside the gate of Mountain Cloud Hamlet. It was painful for us to see that we could not protect our elder Brothers Phap Hoi and Phap Sy from the violence of the uncles. We watched with deep pain as they were taken away. They tried to shoo us, but we all stood silently in the rain. We were cold and hungry.

Only when it was dark outside did we quietly walk to our sisters’ Warm Hearth Hamlet. We were moved by the way our sisters greeted us and received us. They were able to start two fires so that we could warm ourselves. Then they cooked ramen noodles for us to eat. We all felt a burning in our eyes. Was it from the smoke or from the love for each other?

That night, the Warm Hearth Hamlet was left temporarily in peace. We sat next to each other and looked at each other carefully for a long time. We knew that it would be difficult for us to be united like this again. Even though I was tired, I could not sleep. As soon as I lay down, the image of Thay Phap Hoi and the other brothers being taken away arose in my mind. I was afraid that it would be the last image, and the last time that I was able to see him. If this were true, then we would cherish even more deeply his silent sacrifice. It would further affirm our confidence in our path of practice. “Rest assured, dear elder brother. You are present in us. You have transmitted to us your quietness, your calm, and your solidity in those moments. We will never lose you.”

That night, the rainstorm continued strong. I sat up to look around our room in the “Phuong Vy 2” dormitory. Seeing my sisters sleeping, my heart surged with love. If my sacrifice would bring them peace so that they could live and practice, I would do it. Fear in my heart yielded to a powerful love. Two streams of tears ran down, and down. These were the first tears shed since what happened in Bat Nha. The teardrops came from an unlimited source of love.

At five o’clock the next morning, one by one, we got on the bus to Phuoc Hue temple. I was on the second trip. Looking at my sisters’ faces—so young, innocent, and pure—my heart jolted with a sharp pain. We began to sing Here is Our Beloved Bat Nha. Everyone’s eyes became red and teary. When we got to “Here is our beloved Bat Nha, with those who carry in our hearts the Great Vow, to live together and to build the Pure Land right here…,” we could not sing anymore. We just cried. The driver saw us, and he was also moved to tears.

Never before had we cherished so much every moment we were together. To be able to stay together, we were willing to endure any amount of poverty, pain, and suffering. Only five minutes were spent in deep sadness; then we continued to sing our practice songs. We sang and sang until the bus stopped in front of Phuoc Hue temple. From that moment on, our life has moved on to a new page, not any less beautiful or majestic.

PDF of this article

The German Maitreya Fonds

Helping Our Sisters and Brothers in Vietnam

By Eva K. Neumaier

For a period that seemed longer than it really was, we were squeezed together in a small bus, rocking along over a pothole-strewn gravel road on the way to a village near the Vietnamese coast. After a wonderful retreat under the guidance of Thay, our much honored and beloved teacher, and a splendid celebration of Vesak 2008, we were eager to learn more about Thay’s native land and her people. We were about to visit a poverty-stricken area where the Maitreya Fonds (Maitreya Funds) supports children’s day care facilities.

 

mb53-TheGerman1

Sitting near me on the bus, fellow retreatants asked about the Maitreya Fonds. Everybody on the bus was interested in learning more about this aid project. I explained that the Maitreya Fonds was created by the late Karl Schmied in Germany in 1992, in response to the poverty widespread among rural communities in Vietnam. Under the leadership of Christian Kaufl, a small group of dedicated volunteers—all students of Thay—has come together, working hard to raise funds to finance various projects in Vietnam. I promised to provide my fellow retreatants with more information once I returned to Germany.

mb53-TheGerman2

Kindergarten Is a Privilege

With a sharp jolt our bus came to a stop and retreatants from all over the world poured into the tiny coastal village of Phu An. Children crowded around us, eyes wide with excitement. Sister Chan Khong provided the basic facts about the kindergarten and the dire circumstances of life the parents and their children face.

mb53-TheGerman6

The kindergarten consists of one room with tables and benches made from roughly hewn boards; a thatched roof provides minimal protection from the scorching sun and constant downpours. There are no extra amenities in this room, nothing that is not absolutely necessary, and yet for the village children it is a privilege to attend the kindergarten. It means that they are not left to their own devices to forage for edibles in the fields while their parents look for work wherever they can find it as hired laborers.

mb53-TheGerman3

The children formed a circle and, led by their teachers, sang several songs. We returned to the bus, leaving with a mixture of feelings. On one hand, we were happy that the children were able to enjoy some education, care, and love, but on the other hand we were saddened by the magnitude of poverty and need in this country.

mb53-TheGerman5

When I returned to Germany, I decided to be one of the volunteers working for the Maitreya Fonds, providing help to those so greatly in need in Vietnam—a humble way of showing my deep gratitude to our teacher and our spiritual ancestors. It took almost a year for me to pull together the information for my fellow retreatants on that bus. Assuming most of them will read the Mindfulness Bell, I am summarizing our work for them and any other readers here.

mb53-TheGerman4

Where Help Is Needed

The Maitreya Fonds is a charitable association registered with the German government. All the work is done by eleven volunteers. Some of them visit the various projects in Vietnam on an annual basis, covering all their travel expenses themselves. Therefore only two percent of raised funds are needed to cover administrative costs, which consist mostly of banking fees for transferring money. On his annual visits to Vietnam, Christian Kaufl meets with social workers who are members of the Thien Hiep (Interbeing) Order, to learn about the progress made with some projects and newly-arisen needs in other areas.

The work of the Maitreya Fonds is possible only through the close cooperation of the volunteers in Germany with Plum Village and the social workers in Vietnam. The Vietnamese social workers understand where the need is most severe and where help is needed and possible, and propose projects for funding to the Maitreya Fonds accordingly. In mutual consultation with the social workers in Vietnam and Plum Village, the Board decides which projects will be funded. The work of the German volunteers consists primarily in raising the necessary money to fund the projects. On average we raise about $420,000 annually.

Our work is firmly grounded in the principles of engaged Buddhism as taught by Thay. Our basic philosophy is to assist people in gaining self-sufficiency. We believe that education and vocational training are the basis for improving one’s life. A severe problem in Vietnam is that teachers and social workers are paid less in rural areas than in urban ones, resulting in widespread teacher migration from the villages to the big urban centers, leaving rural communities destitute of educators. Therefore, a signifi     portion of Maitreya Fonds money goes to covering the salaries of teachers and social workers so that they may remain in rural areas where they are urgently needed. We also provide vocational training in sewing, carpentry, and computer technology, so that individuals will be able to support themselves and their families.

Another big project consists of providing children with supplementary food while they attend school or kindergarten. In general, parents must pay for the lunches their children get at school, but many parents lack the money. As a result, some children remain unfed while watching their peers eat. The Maitreya Fonds tries to cover this inequity, but sadly, at present we cannot provide adequate food for all the children in the schools and kindergartens we support.

Facilitating children’s education also requires basic physical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and buildings which are sturdy enough to withstand the regular flooding during the annual rainy season. The Maitreya Fonds offers modern know-how to local builders and craftsmen to ensure that financial aid is spent in the most efficient and sustainable way.

While in general the Vietnamese honor and care for their aged parents and grandparents, there are situations in which elderly people cannot rely on the help and love of younger ones. In addition, lepers, shunned by most as outcasts, cannot look after themselves and are without hope. The Maitreya Fonds provides basic care for these two groups to ensure that these unfortunate people have a decent, humane life.

Without doubt, the material aid is much needed and also highly appreciated. But more precious than the material support is the education of children according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In every kindergarten, the children are gently introduced to the practice of mindfulness. Teachers and social workers celebrate a monthly Day of Mindfulness with the children, an occasion of singing and joyful togetherness. Beginning at a tender age, children learn to abstain from opinionated and biased behavior, replacing anger with love and understanding. Thus the ideological rift that has caused so much pain to the people of Vietnam finds no breeding ground among this younger generation. The aid provided by the Maitreya Fonds is based on the practice of mindfulness, love, and understanding, setting it apart from other charitable operations in Vietnam.

mb53-TheGerman7

Among our first efforts at the Maitreya Fonds was the creation of an informative website in German, which was later translated into English and Vietnamese. All of the vital information is available there (www.maitreya-fonds.de) in all three languages, including past and present budgets and annual reports. The website provides all the necessary details for an easy, secure means, grounded in the Five Mindfulness Trainings, of supporting children and other destitute people in Vietnam. We welcome your support of Plum Village or the Maitreya Fonds, to reduce poverty in the home country of Thich Nhat Hanh.

For more information please contact Maitreya Fonds (www.maitreya-fonds.de).

mb53-TheGerman8Eva Neumaier, Peaceful Spring of the Heart, was born in Germany in 1937. She has studied Indian and Tibetan languages and taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

PDF of this article

New Habits, New Life

A Winter Retreat at Home

By Participants in the Maison de l’Inspir Winter Retreat

“Doing the winter retreat while staying at home, why not?”

Thanks to this wonderful idea, the first winter retreat for laypeople at the Maison de l’Inspir was manifested. The Maison de l’Inspir (literally, House of the In-breath) is a small monastery of monks and nuns in the eastern suburb of Paris, which opened its doors in early 2008. Sister Giac Nghiem (Sister Elisabeth) is its abbess.

In November 2008, a proposition was made to the members of the Paris Sangha to commit to a program of regular practice during the three-month winter retreat, linked with the Maison de l’Inspir. In a week, about fifteen people had expressed their wish to participate in this adventure, and thus to deepen their practice during the winter retreat while remaining at home.

mb53-New1

A Commitment to Practice

Inspired by the monastics’ winter retreat activities, we committed to the following practices:

Listen to at least one of the two teachings given by Thay each week of the retreat. It was possible to listen to this teaching either on Thursday at the Maison de l’Inspir during the Day of Mindfulness, or at home at any time thanks to the Internet.

Make one or two resolutions.

Write daily in one’s journal.

Share about our practice once a week during meetings at the Maison de l’Inspir with Sister Ton Nghiem (Sister Stephanie). On the occasions when we could not come together in person, sharings were done by email.

Practice a new gatha each week. Gathas are little poems that are recited with daily activities to help us go back to ourselves in mindfulness (see the book Present Moment, Wonderful Moment – Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living).

We practiced the gathas for opening the tap, opening or closing a door, throwing out the garbage, sitting down, lying down, contemplating our food, beginning to eat, and finishing our meal. During the course of the retreat, we began to re-write the gathas in rhyming verses that were short and very pleasant to recite.

The gatha for throwing out the garbage (In the garbage I see a rose; In the rose I see the garbage; Everything is in transformation; Even permanence is impermanent) became:

Rose et déchets,

Tout inter-est.

(Rose and rubbish,

All inter-is.)

The one for finishing our meal (The plate is empty. My hunger is satisfied. I vow to live for the benefit of all beings) became:

L’assiette finie,

Je n’ai plus faim.

Voeu pour ma vie:

De tous, le bien.

(The plate finished,

I am not hungry any more.

A vow for my life:

For the good for all.)

mb53-New2A New Level of Mindfulness

When one does a retreat in Plum Village, it has a very strong effect which makes it possible to reach a state of deep calm and concentration. After this experience one always feels like going back to this state, and it is a strong motivation. However, as soon as one goes back home, I find that one loses that state, more or less rapidly, depending on the environment to which one returns.

The winter retreat at the Maison de l’Inspir was a different experience, which presented two big advantages. First, as we tried to practice during the retreat, we were forced to find solutions and adjustments in our usual environment, and this elevated the level of our mindfulness. The new quality of mindfulness remained less than the one attainable in Plum Village, but I found that it was more solid: it was in our normal life, at home, that we had created new habits. Secondly, by doing the retreat without being physically separated from the family, there was the possibility for the family to be associated with it. This is what happened with my husband, although he was not particularly interested in practicing.

One retreatant, Francoise, wrote: “This winter retreat at home, in the office, in the metro, in the streets of Paris, generated space and time for a more intense spiritual practice. I have a dream that the seeds that we have sown will germinate in other sanghas, and for the winter retreat 2009-2010 we will be a thousand laypeople participating in the retreat ‘at home.’ I make the wish that the energy generated by our collective meditation dispels the veil of ignorance and soothes the suffering of all living beings around us.”

Another practitioner, Celine, shared: “To summarize how I feel about this retreat I would like to tell this story. A magnificent hundred-year-old bonzai was given to a friend; despite all the care taken as far as light and hygrometry, after a few months, the bonzai was losing all its leaves and was showing less and less vitality. My friend took his bonzai back to the shop, and they told him to come back in three months’ time. Three months later, the bonzai was splendid with brand new leaves, and my friend asked: ‘What did you do?’The answer was simple: ‘Nothing, I just put it with the others.’ I feel deeply the necessity of practicing/sharing in the Sangha to help each other out. Moreover, the other is a mirror.”

This retreat was very beneficial for our practice and brought us a lot of joy. And its first manifestation had a beautiful continuation. During the winter of 2009, French members of the Order of Interbeing made the “winter retreat at home” available in many places throughout the country. OI members signed up to facilitate weekly groups to talk about the special practices offered by monastics via email. More than 170 people participated in the retreat at home!

PDF of this article

 

Conscious Work

A Mindfulness Training

By Meryl Bovard

I wrote this mindfulness training during my process of aspirancy to ordain in the Order of Interbeing. One of my mentors, Lyn Fine, suggested I write a mindfulness training for an area of my life in need of transformation. It really helped. Five years later, my work life is much healthier, and I take time to rest and practice deep relaxation each day.

mb53-Conscious1

Aware of the suffering caused by overworking, I am committed to cultivating compassion for myself and learning ways to protect my life. I am determined not to overwork, and not to support my compulsion to create additional work projects. I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for the benefit of myself, my family, my Sangha, and society, by balancing a healthy diet, work, and rest. I will seek and accept only work which preserves well-being and joy in my body and in my consciousness, as well as the collective body and consciousness of my family, my Sangha, my clients, and society. I am determined not to ingest certain conversations, which water my seeds of overwork. I am aware that to damage my body or consciousness with extreme fatigue and burnout is to betray my ancestors, my family, my Sangha, and society.

I will work to transform the seeds of fear of scarcity, peoplepleasing, and status-seeking in myself by practicing a diet of meditation, rest, and mindful awareness of the abundance of the kingdom of God within me and within each moment. I will work to transform the seeds of greed and overwork in myself and my society by practicing circulation and sharing of my resources, generosity, ecological conservation, and mindful stopping and resting in order to protect myself. I understand that to water seeds of good health, rest, generosity, simple living, and awareness of the abundance of the present moment is crucial for my self-transformation, as well as for the transformation of my society.

mb53-Conscious2Meryl Bovard, True Heavenly Peace, co-founded Quiet Mountain Sangha, and also practices with Blue Cliff Monastery Sangha. Meryl practices photography meditation and is studying to become a yoga teacher.

PDF of this article

Poem: Bees in Lavender

mb53-Bees1

What perfect immediacy:
the intense concentration of bees
in lavender.
How like pendulums entrained
they refuse distraction,
yellow monks draped in
purple robes, flyig zazen,
their circle of wings
forgetting all attachments,
no words to disconnect
them from the world.

–Alexis Roberts, Awakened Sound of the Heart

PDF of this article

Meditation in the Library

By Kenley Neufeld

I’m the Library Director at a large community college in Santa Barbara, California. For the past three years I’ve been leading weekly and, for one semester, daily meditation sessions on campus. All students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in “Meditation in the Library”. The purpose is two-fold: to provide a space to introduce mindfulness practice into the community, and to provide me with time for sitting in the middle of the workday.

mb53-Meditation1

We typically meet in my office once a week, for twenty minutes. Fortunately, I have a large office and can easily accommodate up to eight people sitting in chairs or on the floor—though our numbers are usually two to four people per week. Each semester I invite the community to “Meditation in the Library” by sending out a campus-wide email message describing mindfulness meditation in a non-sectarian manner. Though many cannot attend due to scheduling conflicts, I often receive return messages from staff and faculty expressing a desire to participate or thanking me for providing the opportunity. In addition to the email, I usually place flyers around campus and put an ad on the student web portal. Since I’ve been offering the meditation sessions for three years now, the community is coming to expect them.

The room is set up with chairs facing one direction, though there is space to sit on the floor as well. We keep the lights off, but plenty of light comes in through the windows, so it’s not completely dark. If new people are present, I may start with suggestions on sitting posture and then begin a guided meditation focusing on the breath. We sit for twenty minutes and end with one sound of a bell. A person or two may engage in casual conversation at the end, but we generally do not share thoughts. There are one or two regulars; the rest of the participants are rather transient due to the changing schedules of college students.

On occasion, students participate to get extra credit in their Personal Development course. This course is designed to help students be successful in college, and one element of success is stress management. The students earning extra credit have also invited me to speak in their class. I attempt to keep the conversation non-sectarian, but in a thirty-minute presentation to a classroom full of students, questions about my personal practice often arise. In these class sessions I present my experience with meditation and provide concrete examples to show how meditation supports me in my work and in my relationships with other people. I provide details on sitting and breathing, plus opportunities to practice mindfulness. We end the class presentation with a five-minute guided meditation.

Having “Meditation in the Library” has been very nourishing for my practice. Reminders to practice in the work environment, and especially making others aware that I have a regular meditation practice, help my energy level and bring awareness to my interactions with others on campus.

mb53-Meditation2Kenley Neufeld, True Recollection of Joy, leads the Being Peace Zendo in Ojai and “Meditation in the Library”at Santa Barbara City College. He can be reached at sangha@neuhouse.com.

PDF of this article

Mindful In Any Weather

By Frank Doyle

mb53-Mindful1

I work as a postman in South East England. My workplace consists of a small, quiet sorting office for the first part of the day, and then the High Street and the narrow streets that lead off it for the rest of the day.

I’ve been doing this job since 1979. Years ago, I worked in a larger office in a nearby town, and that was a much noisier place to be, particularly at 5:00 a.m. when we started work.You wouldn’t think that we had all just woken up. In fact, when one man began working there, he remarked that he thought he had stumbled upon the annex to a lunatic asylum: music playing, shouting, insults (mostly friendly), laughter, complaints, arguments with management, none of it at all mindful. When I think back to how I behaved myself at that time, oh dear! But, as we all behaved very much in the same way, no one could see anything wrong with it.

The first time I heard about mindfulness was around 1990, when I came across a book called When the Iron Eagle Flies by Ayya Khema. The author wrote about washing dishes while washing dishes, quoting the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. This was the first time I had heard of Thay. I can remember thinking that this was an interesting idea—washing dishes while washing dishes. Ultimately, it meant being mindful all the time, something I thought only an enlightened person could do.

Having found out about Thay, I went in search of some of his books, in which he explains how mindfulness works, and that it is possible to be mindful of everything we do; we just have to practice, quite a lot.

I am now working in our reasonably quiet little office by the sea. Over time, since I have been studying Thay’s teachings and have become more committed to Dharma practice, I can see that mindfulness helps me to be more aware of what I am thinking, saying, feeling, and doing. It has helped me to accept things as they are much more easily.

As an example, I might feel that I am not happy with having to be at work, delivering mail in the wind and rain on a winter’s day. But by being mindful, I can become aware of the feelings in my body and the thoughts in my head, and say, “These are just thoughts and feelings; I don’t have to believe them; they will change anyway.” The remarkable thing is that they begin to diminish and fade away. “Hey! This really works,” I remember thinking once. Gradually, with much practice, I have been able to exchange negative thoughts and feelings for more positive ones. Now I can enjoy the work a lot more regardless of the weather; in fact, I quite like the days when the weather is really wild.

mb53-Mindful2

What has helped me most is being able to practice with Dharma friends. I attended an extended Day of Mindfulness led by Brother Michael at New Barn, South West England, in September 1997. The practice, the warm welcome, new friends, walking meditation in the fields, and the sound of the bell bringing us back to the present moment, all made me feel truly at home.

When I arrived back home and back at work, I decided that I would remember the sound of the bell at a couple of places on my delivery, where I could stop for a few moments, take three mindful breaths, or more, and try and be present for myself. Just stopping and taking three breaths has a wonderful effect, bringing me back to awareness, and so I am refreshed and ready to continue on my way.

At a recent retreat led by Sister Annabel, also at New Barn, she spoke about a pebble she carries in her pocket. When she feels it there, it reminds her to breathe mindfully. When she spoke about it I thought of a pebble I had at home that would be just right to use. Now I keep it in my pocket and use it during the day. It’s a reminder not only to breathe but also to come back to awareness.

On the last day of the retreat I took the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I knew that I needed to work on the fourth training, concerning mindful speech and deep listening. Mindful speech was something I felt I should be more aware of. The workplace is where I can be least mindful of what I say. Some of the topics and the language used may be acceptable to a degree in my working environment, but not anywhere else. I may find myself taking part in a conversation at work, using language that is unacceptable, and being the loudest voice, but I now am able to see what I am doing much more quickly. I’m able to see how I am watering the negative seeds within and how they affect me as they rise up. If I am aware enough, I will stop. And then, eventually, I won’t take part in unmindful speech in the first place.

mb53-Mindful3Frank Doyle, Wonderful Sharing of the Heart, took Thay’s advice and started a Sangha in South East England, called the Folkestone and Hythe Sangha. He also practices with Deep Listening Sangha, a telephone conference Sangha in the UK.

PDF of this article

The Ultimate Dimension

A Practice with Dying and Death

By Haven Tobias

Some friends and I joined in a practice to write about death and dying.* When we shared what we had written, we learned that the following drama was everybody’s worst-case scenario.

I am in a nursing home where, even if someone cared enough to prop me up so that I could look out the window, I would see only a parking lot. The nursing home is so institutionally gray and dull, and my room is so gray and dull, that I cannot tell what time of day it is, much less what season. There are no flowers or plants in my room. Whatever it is I am dying of, it is taking a while, and I have been lying in this bed a long time, becoming a drooling, pants-wetting, shriveled-up old lady. I am being warehoused, away from contact with human beings, other than a nurse’s aide, whose sole expression seems to be annoyance. I can no longer see to read, or watch movies, or do jigsaw puzzles. There is no one to read to me, or play Cyrano to my Roxanne, bringing me the news of the day. There is no one to spread lotion on my dry and cracked back and feet. There is no discernible end to this nightmare—no death, just a drawn-out dying by increments.

There was an end to the nightmare—it was a writing exercise, not immediate reality. My friends and I could conceive of more horrific circumstances, such as being kidnapped and tortured to death. But all of us agreed that the worst-case scenario, lingering on without loving care in an institutional setting, was worst precisely because it was common and probable.

While I kept trying, as I wrote, to turn my attention to compassion for all those who languish in nursing homes, honesty compels me to admit I was wallowing in self-pity for that lonely little old lady that was me.

Fortunately, the exercise did not finish with the worst-case scenario. It was with some relief that I moved on to the second part of the exercise, writing about my ideal scenario.

Ideally, I know in advance that I am dying. I can take a gentle leave of my friends and family and remove myself to the sea, to a cottage along the coast in Massachusetts or Maine. I have my wits about me. The pain comes and goes, and when it comes I am able to breathe and say, hello, I know you are just pain. Perhaps my daughter is with me. I know she understands I am at peace about my death. She knows I am at peace about my dying, too.

It is late spring or early autumn. It is warm, and I am still physically able to walk to the shore when the day becomes night and sit on the beach, listening to the waves and watching the stars. As first light comes and I watch the sky over the water turn to pearl, I have enough acuity to remember the closing gatha of the Diamond Sutra: “Thus should one view all of the fleeting world; a drop of dew, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a star at dawn, a phantom and a dream.” I lie down in the sand and die.

Sharing our ideal death made all of us more emotional than sharing the worst-case scenario. There was fear that the ideal was so much less likely than the worst case. Almost all of us wanted to die on a shore or mountaintop or under a tree, and not in a hospital or nursing home, but we feared the odds.

We were ready for the third part of the exercise: what can we do, here and now, to make a life worth dying for? Most of us, perhaps to calm our emotions, became very practical. We made promises to work on wills and to speak with family members about worries and fears and wishes and feelings. But we also understood that preparation for death is not limited to practicalities.

As for myself, in preparation, I have read and reread Thay’s book No Death, No Fear. Thay teaches that when the fear of dying is exacerbated by the fear of death, it is like receiving a second arrow in a wound. Thay also teaches about recognizing choices. Choice permeates every aspect of our life, the way we live it, and the way we die.

There is no element of choice in death. The self that I call “I” will die. But I can choose to overcome fear of death.

There is an element of choice in dying. Whatever the causes and conditions of my dying may be, I can choose to participate in the process with equanimity. I have two daily practices to help me understand the process and to water the seeds of equanimity.

The Five Remembrances

I practice every day with the Five Remembrances, a meditation taught by the Buddha:

This body is of the nature to grow old. This body cannot escape old age.

This body is of the nature to decline in health. This body cannot escape ill health.

This body is of the nature to die. This body cannot escape death.

Everyone I love, and everything I have, I will one day have to let go. I cannot escape this.

I am the heir of my karma; my karma is my heir.

This teaching of the Buddha about the impermanence of life in the historical dimension, in the “mundane world,” is a core practice in Buddhism. I am also mindful, as I practice the Five Remembrances, of Thay’s teachings about the ultimate dimension, or what some would call nirvana. Awareness of the ultimate dimension informs both my understanding of the mundane world and my grasp of the reality of no-death.

This body is of the nature to grow old. This body cannot escape old age. But I am not this body, and this body is not me.

This body is of the nature to decline in health. This body cannot escape ill health. But mindfulness practice guides me to protect my health as best I can, in my choices of what to eat or not eat, and what to drink or not drink, and in the choices I make about my activities and my attitudes. The reality of interbeing, which is the truth that no self is a separate self but rather “inter-is” with every other being, teaches me that every choice I make has consequences for myself, for my family, and for society. I cannot choose to eat a steak every day, I cannot choose to drink a bottle of wine every day, I cannot opt to watch a violent program on TV instead of taking a walk outdoors, and pretend there are no personal and societal consequences.

This body is of the nature to die. This body cannot escape death. But I was never born, and I will never die. When causes and conditions were sufficient, I manifested in this body. When causes and conditions cease to be sufficient, I will no longer manifest in this body. But just as surely as the morning star is still “there” even after the sun rises, so shall I be. There is a famous Zen koan: what did you look like before your grandparents were born; what will you look like in one hundred years?

Everyone I love, and everything I have, I will one day have to let go. I cannot escape this. We all have to leave our stuff behind. That house we put so much of ourselves into, that car we thought was so important to own, the jewelry, the gadgets—all of it will turn to junk, before or after we’ve left. The important thing is love, and because the ultimate reality is the reality of interbeing—that we all contain one another—love does not die. Love continues in every kind word I have ever spoken and every smile I have ever smiled. Kind words and loving smiles get passed around the world and back again.

I am the heir of my karma; my karma is my heir. Where I am now, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, is the sum total of all that I have done before now. Karma is the consequence of every action I’ve taken. But karma is not my fate. If I have had a tendency in the past to act in a certain situation with anger or anxiety, I can choose, now, not to act in that situation with anger or anxiety. In every moment, I can choose to nourish my seeds of peace and compassion rather than feeding my seeds of anger or fear.

mb53-TheUltimate1

Never the Same Path

My second daily practice is a walking meditation. I always walk with Thay, and breathe with the Buddha. Here, now. Walking, breathing. Walking with Thay. Happy feet, peaceful steps. Breathing with the Buddha. Releasing, letting go.

I walk the same path every day at the same time. But of course, it is never the same path and it is never the same time. I know, because the whole cosmos has told me on these walks that I am not walking the same path at the same time. The whole cosmos tells me that nothing lasts forever as it is now. And that is a blessing.

If everything lasted forever as it is now, five-year-olds could never become teachers or nurses or mothers or fathers. New friendships could not begin. Relationships could not deepen. Everything is in the process of change. Sometimes if we are fearful or grieving, it feels like loss. But it is not loss; it is transformation.

When I start my walk, I count the stars. I count a couple of dozen without even moving my head. After twenty minutes, I look again and count maybe fifteen stars. I walk a little longer, and it is dawn, and there is only the morning star. Are all the stars gone? They are here. It’s just that you can’t see them. They are not gone. Night has become morning in the natural process of change. But maybe indeed one of those stars has transformed. I could have been seeing the light of a star that exploded zillions of years ago. Is it gone? Or are we all stardust, interchanging our energies?

I close my walk, as I hope to close my life, with the Diamond Sutra: “Thus should one view all of the fleeting world; a drop of dew, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a star at dawn, a phantom and a dream.”

These two daily practices, sitting with the Buddha’s Five Remembrances, and walking with Thay’s interbeing, help me to develop equanimity about death and dying. And, oh, about life and living too, and the gift of the present moment.

* This practice was adapted from one recommended by Joan Halifax Roshi in her book Being with Dying. She advises that the exercise be done in community, so each writer has support. On two separate occasions, I facilitated different members of my meditation group sharing this practice. We found that intimacy is one consequence of this exercise and that therefore trust and respect are essential.

Hmb53-TheUltimate2aven Tobias, Embracing Freshness of the Heart, facilitates the Norman Meditation Group, which includes practitioners from many traditions. She is a semi-retired lawyer.

PDF of this article

Releasing Regret

By Patricia Webb

Last summer my husband, David McCleskey, was diagnosed with liver cancer. Forty days from his diagnosis, he made his passage. He died in the arms of our Sangha. In fact, the Sangha was sitting in our house sending David a loving kindness meditation at the moment he passed. Our Sangha and the practice gave comfort to David and to me, and the Sangha received a beautiful gift by being present. The following story is one of many in a book I’m writing about David’s dying.

mb53-Releasing1

Nights were always difficult. Like a newborn baby, David awoke frequently, and his days and nights were all mixed up. He never complained, but he needed things: water, help to the commode, light on, light off, more blankets, fewer blankets. On this night, however, David was more agitated than usual. He began to kick the bedcovers off and sigh heavily.

mb53-Releasing2

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’m miserable, so miserable,” he said. “Do you need something, some water?”

“Nothing, no, nothing. I’ve wasted my life, wasted too much time. My work isn’t finished. And there isn’t any way to fix that now.”

mb53-Releasing3

I turned on the light. David’s face was full of grief and despair. Everything in me wanted to blurt out, “No, darling, that isn’t true. You’ve done so much with your life. You’ve had a great and wonderful life.” But a voice inside me said, “Keep still.” What to do then? I rubbed David’s shoulder. “It’s okay, okay,” I said.

He reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly, letting out a great sigh. That giant out-breath was like a message. An inner voice said, “He’s releasing. Allow it.”

Over the next several hours, David poured out mountains of regret in great sighs. His words were very few and I was not sure what exactly was being released. But I knew that each sigh, each word, held great substance and meaning for David. Our bedroom was a container for the dark and dense energy that came from my beloved’s being that night. The air was so thick that it was hard to breathe. I was not afraid of the energy itself, heavy though it was. I was afraid of the harm that might come to David if he couldn’t stop generating these terrible, agonizing regrets. I did not want my sweetheart to die with these thoughts on his mind.

Near dawn, a soft pink glow permeated the room. A presence whispered in my ear: “Patricia, everyone walks this valley of regret. You will many times; you have already done so many times. All of our work on earth is unfinished and we are unfinished and it is okay.”

I knew that David felt this presence also because he opened his eyes, smiled a very tiny smile, and said, “This is exhausting.”

“Yes it is,” I said. “But you’re letting go of a lot of bad feelings. I think everyone has regrets like this, don’t you?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” He was thoughtful for a moment. His breathing shifted, becoming more rhythmic and relaxed. We slept then until the phone rang around 8:00 a.m. Our Dharma teachers, Peggy Rowe (True Original Source) and Larry Ward (True Great Sound) were calling to check on us. I told them what had been going on. Larry asked to speak with David.

“David, how are you today? Are you getting enough rest?” He asked.

“I’m miserable,” said David. “I’ve messed it all up.” “Understood,” Larry replied. “Okay now, David. Now is an excellent time to remember your Dharma name—True Mountain of Goodness, right? David, your practice is to bring to mind, to focus on the thoughts, the words, the actions of yours that have brought goodness. There is so much to recall, David, great fields of goodness. And you know that, man. Dwell on that. And dwell, too, on the goodness that has come to you. This is the time for that, okay?”

“Got it. Right,” David said. Then Peggy came on the line. “Remember, David, how much we love you. Your Sangha, your friends, we are with you. You’re doing a great job with this journey.” David smiled.

Watching David in the moments just after that phone call was like watching a sunrise. He gently allowed his consciousness to shift, letting light come in. I saw him surrender to the force of bright, positive consciousness. As he focused on his breathing, I quietly busied myself, making ready for the day. His mood brightened slowly as he continued the beautiful work.

After a while we knew it was time to close this ritual time. With David’s blessing, I opened the bedroom door to the garden, turned on the fan, burned sage, invited our small bell, sprinkled lemon and lavender—all to help the night’s sad energy depart.

David lived several weeks after this event, yet he never again voiced a single regret. Later that day, in a moment of sweet attention so characteristic of him, he caught my eye and simply said, “You’re a good wife.”

Our spiritual names come from a well of knowing deeper than any person or group, and they bless us in times of need. On that morning, True Mountain of Goodness surrendered to the human experience of regret, released it, and embraced the boundless goodness of his being. I continue to live in gratitude that David had a Sangha and a practice that enabled his transition to be so beautiful.

mb53-Releasing4Patricia Webb, True Mountain of Action, sits with Prairie Wind Sangha of Oklahoma City. She is a writer and artist, and has been a member of the Order of Interbeing since 2005.

PDF of this article

Poem: Mom’s Haiku

mb53-Moms1

Death spoke softly
Brushing her cheek
With a white feather.
Mother said
Yes.

Tears flow
The river carries leaves
Touched by
Lengthening shadows.

A bright quarter moon
Rises over the palm trees.
My mother’s smile
Lives.

I was very fortunate to be fully present for my mom as she was making her transition into death in March, 2008. After she died, these haiku came to me. Mom continues to be present with me.

Sheila Klein, Flower of True Emptiness

PDF of this article

Touching Sunlight

By Peter Smith

mb53-Touching1

When the tree died, she continued as a violin, a chopping board, and a floorboard.

At first the violin was very content. She felt grateful for the skill, care, and love with which she had been crafted.

But, over time, the violin started to feel a little haughty. She looked down on the chopping board and floorboard and said, “When I sing, I can touch the hearts of a thousand people in a packed auditorium! Dear chopping board, all you can do is give a few people the fleeting pleasure of a tasty meal, and, as for you, floorboard, how can you let people walk all over you?”

The violinist, hearing this, decided to have a quiet word with the violin.

“Dear violin, how could there even be an auditorium without floorboards? Where would the people sit, and where would I stand to play you? If I had nothing to eat, if there was no chopping board, how would I have the energy to play you? Your song certainly is beautiful, yet it wouldn’t be possible without help from all your sisters and brothers. You all come from the same tree—a tree born of seed, soil, water, and sunlight.”

Reflecting on this, the violin felt more connected with her sisters.

The next time she played there was something different about it. The violin sang out in such a way as to touch the sunlight in the floorboards, in the chopping board and in herself. Music full of sunlight filled the auditorium and there was such a sense of peace and harmony that the audience was moved to tears.

Those tears evaporated to become clouds and rain. They watered the young saplings of the forest, and, at nature’s pace, the next generation of trees, rooted firmly in the earth, reached up towards the sky.

Peter Smith practices with Wild Geese Sangha in Edinburgh, Scotland.

PDF of this article

Meditating with Mary

By Starr DiCiurcio

mb53-Meditating1

Volunteering for Hospice brings a wealth of deep experiences, including opportunities for practice. Two years ago I was asked to visit Mary, who was dying of bone cancer and suffering from dementia. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law in a quiet, small village home, and her family needed support.

Before each visit, I sat in the car and did metta meditation for myself, Mary, those caring for Mary, and all beings. With peaceful steps, I walked to the house and introduced myself.

Mary was a charming woman with great stories of her family and travels. She was intelligent and asked insightful questions about my life and work. But then, on most visits, she would get lost in her own mind. Her dementia was a torment. When she felt it coming on, she would often realize what was happening and comment on losing her mind. As it progressed, she would become fearful of strangers breaking into the house and would weep over the death of her very alive daughter. This was heartbreaking to witness. Although her physical pain was well under control, her mind was far from it. Together we took deep breaths and held hands. This was never quite enough to bring her back to the room.

Her family told me that she used to practice as a Catholic, my root tradition. They thought she might like me to pray with her, but didn’t think she knew a lot of prayers herself. When asked, they told me she hadn’t said a rosary in years. I asked permission to give it a try. With little confidence, they agreed.

First I had to find a rosary, which I did—buried in my bedside table. My parents had had it blessed for me by Pope Pius XII and I’d never had the heart to part with it. Now was its time to shine! Then I had to find a prayer book that covered the rosary, since I was more than rusty. One of these was also waiting on a bookshelf. Things were coming together for my experiment.

As an interfaith minister, it is my work to find bridges between faith experiences. I thought the rosary was quite similar to the mala. In our tradition, to the best of my knowledge, the mala beads are used by monks to follow their breath. Our practice centers on the breath, and I wanted to find a way to bring this to Mary in a manner that she could understand and apply without introducing a Buddhist concept.

In time we were able to effectively use the breath to ease her suffering, with her rosary beads as a sustaining guide. It was like a miracle to see her agitation settling down and calm taking root. But it wasn’t a miracle at all. It was solid practice beyond the terminology and labels of traditions. As Mary took her prayer beads, we paused and followed our breath. In, out. After each short prayer, so familiar and comfortable to her, we took another breath. In, out. Steadying. Integrating. Mary found her way back to her true self.

When Mary transitioned, I felt a real loss. But in the last months of her life she was able to be more present and more peaceful thanks to the practice of mindfulness, the practice she never knew by name. It was the gift of my own practice, that I could share it and pass it along. Why else are we alive?

mb53-Meditating2Starr DiCiurcio, True Understanding of the Sangha, practices with Kingfisher Sangha of Schenectady and Greenwich, New York. She and her husband recently moved to Glens Falls, New York, where she works as an interfaith minister.

PDF of this article

Mourning My Daughter

By Janice Rubin

mb53-Mourning1

The evening I was scheduled to facilitate our Sangha sitting, I learned that my younger daughter had committed suicide. I had planned to talk about cultivating joy, read from Thich Nhat Hanh’s 20th anniversary edition of Breathe, You Are Alive!, and do a guided meditation from The Blooming of a Lotus on the joy of meditation as nourishment, and I did. It was my way of beginning the mourning process.

I am the convener of the Practice Community at Franklin Lakes, and I have felt wonderfully supported by my Sangha. When I finally acknowledged the reality and finality of my daughter’s act, I was able to tell my sisters and brothers in the practice that I was having a difficult time dealing with her death and I knew they understood. Sharing and writing about my experience has freed others in our community to talk about their life-altering experiences with suicide. One spoke of the effect of her mother’s suicide on her when she was five years old. Another told of her daughter’s several unsuccessful attempts to end her life.

I was no stranger to loss and abandonment. When I was five, the only person who I thought loved me unconditionally, my favorite uncle, abandoned me. My mother died when I was in my teens, and I was left with an indifferent father who had little interest in me, or later in my children, his only grandchildren. More recently, I felt strongly the loss of the person who established our Sangha ten years ago, and with whom I was co-leader the past few years, when he left the area. But surviving the death of a child by suicide is like nothing I had ever experienced and I’m not sure I will be able to come to terms with it during my lifetime.

At this time, I tell people my consolation lies in the fact that my daughter is no longer suffering the excruciating feelings of unworthiness engendered by the extremes of bipolarity. I also tell them it is comforting to know that because of her generosity, the lives of many people have been saved or extended because they received her organs and tissues. I say these things, but I don’t feel consoled or comforted.

I speak to her dear husband regularly—he needs a compassionate, nonjudgmental listener—and I learn more and more about the suffering she experienced and visited on others. I sometimes cry for days after we talk, but I will be there for him as long as he needs me, as I would have been for my daughter, if she had let me.

Every day a dozen things bring her to mind. I see her as her husband found her when he came home from work—in the driver’s seat of her locked car in the garage with a hose hooked up to the exhaust and taped in the passenger window—and I cry.

People remark how strong I am because I did not miss one sit of our Sangha or any of the classes I teach, and because I have not collapsed and given up on life. I do not feel strong. I feel incredibly weak and vulnerable, but I believe that without my Sangha to sustain me I would not be in as strong a position as I am.

I know that over time I will continue to feel better able to deal with my grief; that by continuing to practice watering the seeds of the good memories of my daughter, I will feel less sad when I think of her; and that, as in the past, I will find solace in my own island as I continue to be faithful to my practice. I know that she is part of the matter of the universe and that I have only to look into my hand to always find her. Until these thoughts become the feelings of my heart, my loss will be real and I will miss her every day.

mb53-Mourning2Janice Rubin is the convener of the Practice Community at Franklin Lakes. She is a former journalist and the author of  Looking Back, Moving On: Memoir as Prolog, and Four Lives: Despite the Odds.

PDF of this article

Diamond Life

Losing my Brother in a New York State of Mind

By Nate Metzker

mb53-Diamond1My girlfriend, Cameron, and I moved to New York City in 2005 with great expectations for her career as an educator and my career as a musician and novelist. My girlfriend’s career soon exceeded expectations. I, on the other hand, did not fare as well. By the end of six months, I’d run out of savings and found it difficult to locate a job that gave me time for my art.

Optimism carried me for a while, but eventually, my optimism began to wear off: gigs were hard to come by, selling music was next to impossible, and depression set in. I was attending Sangha meetings in the city, which I enjoyed, but I was not able to let go of my attachments to my version of success.

I had been at Deer Park Monastery the day it opened, and had spent a lot of time there—sometimes months without leaving—and now I returned to the monastery, thinking I could get my head together. And I did. And it was wonderful. But when I returned to the city, I began a slow descent back into depression. I started to think I needed to get back to the monastery again, but then realized: No, Nate, you need to deepen your practice where you live. I vowed that I would go back to Deer Park only when I had been able to become peaceful and happy in New York City.

Transforming New York City

My plan of action was simple. Scheduled meditation was difficult for me, so I had to recognize that, and not be too hard on myself. I was spending a lot of time en route to different parts of the city to participate in open mics, jam with other musicians, explore, and commute to temp jobs. So, the sidewalks had to become my mountain paths, and the subway had to become my hermitage.

The reason people walk so fast in New York is not because the entire city is composed of Type A go-getters. It’s because one often has to walk long city blocks, over long bridges, or to and from subway stops. If you walk slowly here, it takes forever to get anywhere. I decided on a pace that would get me where I needed to go, but allow me to relax at the same time—something along the lines of driving on the highway at sixty or sixty-five miles per hour rather than seventy; just enough of an adjustment to take the edge off. At that pace, I could really enjoy my steps and take each one with all my love and compassion.

mb53-Diamond2

Breathing in, love and compassion flow from the soles of my feet.

Breathing out, I am happy.

Love and compassion.

Happy.

This meditation allowed me to smile to passersby and enjoy the city for the extraordinary place that it is. It inspired me to write positive music that deepened my practice, instead of turning to laments and despair.

mb53-Diamond3

Time on the subway became a time of deep practice for me as well. Once I found a job, I had to commute forty to fifty minutes each way, and wanted to make sure that I was alive during that time. I always had a book about the practice with me, and I often carried my Five Mindfulness Trainings certificate too. On the subway, I would enjoy my reading for a while, then stop, breathe, and look at the people around me. It was easy to see what a wonderful, extraordinary situation I was in: people from all nations, cultures, and religions packed into a small space together. With this new perspective, I was constantly amazed at how courteous people were—giving seats to the elderly, helping people onto trains, making space for others. There are many places in the world where this doesn’t happen.

Many times I’ve heard Thich Nhat Hanh say, “At the airport, when they search you before boarding a plane, they are not looking for your Buddha nature—they are looking for your terrorist nature. We have to start to recognize our Buddha nature.” It was important for me to notice manifestations of Buddha nature in the city.

Sometimes I sat, closed my eyes, and meditated on my breath. I got in over an hour of sitting meditation every day, and just as much walking meditation (I almost always took the stairs at the workplace). The only other place in which I had that much time to practice was at the monastery.

In the spring of 2008, my worldly situation hadn’t changed a lot, yet I was much happier. Practicing mindfulness had allowed me to transform New York City in my mind, so I was now able to walk in a city that was a beautiful practice center. At that time, I was studying Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion. Reading the text helped me achieve a lot of insight into the nature of interbeing, and the way we erroneously define our world. In the Diamond Sutra, there are ideas akin to: A tree is not a tree; that is why we call it a tree. After some meditation, I took a tree is not a tree to mean that a tree is the whole cosmos, composed of awakened nature. We call it a tree because we are under the illusion that it has a separate self. But like everything else, a tree is of the nature to be both birthless and deathless. With the teachings of the Diamond Sutra in my heart, looking at the faces in the subway car became even more wonderful because I felt more connected to my community.

My Brother’s Presence

On May 28, I got a phone call in the middle of the night with the news that my brother, Jason, had died. He was thirty-seven years old. In a hotel in Elko, Nevada, where he worked as a dentist, he had run up three flights of stairs to avoid being on a full elevator. He then bought a drink from a vending machine, turned from the machine, took a few steps, fell forward with his arms hugging his chest, and died. We later found out that he had died from an overdose of Demerol.

My family went through a complex process of mourning. And while Jason was the sibling to whom I felt closest, I am sure that my suffering was reduced because I entered it meditating on interbeing and our birthless and deathless nature. When I saw my other siblings and cried, I wasn’t always crying because Jason wasn’t there with us. Sometimes I cried because I was so happy to be in the presence of my family. Now, many months later, much of my family is still sometimes crippled with despair and sadness. But, because of my practice, I feel very in touch with my brother and feel his presence in all things when I am mindful. In fact— and I know this may sound strange—his death feels to me like he made a decision to move forward with his life.

Everything’s in Everything

I returned to Deer Park in the second half of December, 2008. I’d achieved my goal of deepening my practice in New York City and now felt I had to be in a quiet place to make sure I wasn’t in a state of denial about my brother’s death.

During my retreat at Deer Park, we were put into groups for Dharma discussion. I told the group about my experience with the Diamond Sutra and my brother. There was another man in the group—I’ll call him “H”—who had also lost his brother the year before, and still appeared to be in a lot of pain. The next day, as the Sangha walked among the sage and boulders of the surrounding mountains, I thought to myself, Jason is not Jason. That’s why we call him Jason. “H” was walking ahead of me, and he immediately stopped and turned around. He smiled and gave me a great big hug that pushed my hat askew and stopped the long line behind us.

We walked to an open space where we all sat on boulders and ate our lunch. I smiled, remembering a conversation I once had with Brother Phap Dung, the abbot of Deer Park, about being at the monastery. “Here,” he said, “when you need a brother or sister, a brother or sister is there for you. When you need a mom, a mom tends to appear.”

A simple, childlike painting that Cameron made hangs in our bedroom in New York. It’s a large group of people, all colors and sizes, each with a heart in their chest, sitting under a yellow sun and torn-paper sky. If you look closely, you can see that the little clouds are words torn from a dictionary: we…all…have…a…beating…heart…in…our…chest. On Christmas Eve, I played a song to the Sangha gathered in the meditation hall at Deer Park. I looked at all the faces there—the children, parents, brothers, sisters, monks, and nuns—and told them how much they reminded me of the painting. The song was called Everything’s in Everything, inspired by Cameron’s painting, The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion, and the reality of interbeing.

We all have a beating heart in our chest

There is nothing separating East and West

We are breathing in and out the same sky

We are looking at each other with new eyes Everything’s in Everything

Everyone’s in Everything

Everything’s in Everyone

Everyone’s in Everyone

I love all the people passing by me

I love all the buildings in the sky of the city

I know all the forests are my lungs breathing

I know all the oceans are my blood streaming

Peace is resting in the palm of our hands

We can see it in a tiny grain of sand

Breathing in and out we smile to the moment

Everything’s in everything and always flowing

mb53-Diamond4Nate Metzker, Compassionate Sound of the Heart, is a novelist and musician who lives in Brooklyn and teaches at the McCarton School for Children with Autism. On his website, www.natemetzker.com, is an mp3 of the song mentioned in this story.

PDF of this article

Sangha News

Seeding Hope and Peace

mb53-SanghaNews1

Magnolia…sweet wafting among the plum blossoms

Dogwood…upright and delicate

Roses…reaching toward the sun, perfuming the sky

Lilies…orange marmalade springing from precious earth

Lotus…in the crescent pond subtle and engaging

During the 21-day retreat last June in Plum Village, amid the perfumed fragrances of early summer, a group of monastic and lay practitioners were inspired by Thay’s teachings, and met to discuss ways in which the practices of mindfulness could be offered more widely as a means of reducing the suffering caused by social conflicts. Our particular objective was to reach out to groups that are currently using violence as a means to achieve political ends in inter-group conflicts.

During late summer, the initiative became the Seeding Hope and Peace Project, under the spiritual leadership of Thay and Sister Chan Khong. The members of the group’s Steering Committee are: Sister Chan Khong, Thay Phap An, Brother Phap Son, Sister Tung Nghiem (Sr. Pine), Sister An Nghiem (Sr. Peace), Baruch Shalev, Dan Urech, Mitchell Ratner, Shantum Seth, and Pritam Singh. The Advisory Board includes Dharma Teachers and Order of Interbeing members from all over the world who practice the peaceful resolution of violent group conflict.

mb53-SanghaNews2

The Steering Committee has worked to create a clear statement of objectives and strategies for the Seeding Hope and Peace Project, which is shared below for the benefit of the worldwide Sangha:

Vision
Our vision is that peoples of different faiths and cultures use the practice of mindfulness, watering the seeds of hope and peace, to resolve conflicts within themselves, their families, and their communities, and between groups and nations, thereby creating the conditions for enduring peace.

Mission
Across the world, thousands of civilians are injured or killed each year because of violent struggles between ethnic or social groups. Violence plays out in communities, homes, and people.

Our aspiration is to offer the peaceful practice and insights of mindfulness to leaders, emerging leaders, and society at large through education, so that we may understand how the seeds of peace and hope can flower.

Background
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that the true source of peace is in the mind and that it is always possible to nourish peace and reconciliation. During the worst years of the war in Vietnam, when millions were dying, he founded the School of Youth for Social Service with Sister Chan Khong. Risking their lives, they and thousands of young people went to the countryside to establish schools and health clinics and to rebuild villages destroyed in the fighting. Thich Nhat Hanh did not choose sides; he worked to bring peace rather than war to divided Vietnam. Because of his courageous efforts, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

Strategy
With the support and spiritual guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong, Seeding Hope and Peace seeks to assist in moving toward the realization of peace, justice, and reconciliation. The group’s initial effort will be to offer two special retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh at the Plum Village Practice Center.

The first retreat for twenty to forty people will take place the first week of May, 2010. It will bring together the Steering Committee of Seeding Hope and Peace with recognized peacemakers, who will be recommended by the Advisory Board. The peacemakers will be individuals who are known both for their nonviolent methods and for their ability to work directly with groups engaged in violent conflicts. The peacemakers might be religious leaders or leaders of social organizations, who are genuine messengers of hope and peace. It may include Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and nominees.

During the week-long retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, the group will practice together and develop plans for the second retreat, planned for May, 2011, which will include leaders and emerging leaders from conflict zones.

During the second retreat, under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong, the participants will learn and practice the tools of peace and reconciliation, including deep listening, mindful speech, trust, understanding, and compassion.

It is anticipated that the teachings, along with the experience of practicing and living together in the Plum Village community, will nourish personal transformation and encourage new ways of thinking about and moving toward peace and reconciliation.

Seeding Hope and Peace begins at an auspicious time, when the President of the United States and other world leaders are encouraging open communication and alternatives to violent conflicts. The retreats and future efforts provide a way for the Plum Village community, the Order of Interbeing, and the extended community to share our collective experience and support others in making our world, our communities, and ourselves peaceful.

We look forward to working together with the support of all our Dharma friends to realize the deep aspirations of the Seeding Hope and Peace Project. For further information, please contact pvbelovedcommunity@gmail.com.

PDF of this article

Media Reviews

mb53-MediaReviews1Happiness
Essential Mindfulness Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2009
Softcover, 160 pages

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

This book is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for longtime practitioners, beginners, anyone who is curious about the practice of mindfulness. Happiness summarizes in concise, clear chapters what Thay has been teaching for the last sixty years.

It also answers, for me, the question of what the word “practice” means in our tradition. Several years ago, twenty or so lay people gathered at Plum Village to consider the idea of a lay community. It soon became clear that people had vastly different meanings when they spoke of “practice.” Some meant formal sitting meditation, chanting, reciting sutras. And while those activities can enhance our experience of the Dharma, they are not the essence of our daily practice. “Mindfulness,” writes Thay in the introduction, “is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment…. The practice of stopping is crucial. How do we stop? We stop by means of our in-breath, our out-breath, and our step. If you master these practices, then you can practice mindful eating, mindful drinking, mindful cooking, mindful driving, and so on, and you are always in the here and the now.”

The book is divided into six sections; each short chapter is a gem. “Daily Practices” covers the basics, such as breathing, sitting and walking meditation, bowing, gathas, and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. “Eating Practices” and “Physical Practices” are guidelines for caring for body and soul. The section on “Relationship and Community Practices” describes how to start and maintain a Sangha. It also offers techniques for creating healthy relationships, such as beginning anew, hugging meditation, deep listening, and loving speech. Several pages are devoted to anger and other strong emotions.

Some “Exended Practices” include solitude and silence, as well as lazy day, touching the earth, metta/love meditation, and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. The section on “Practicing with Children” contains many useful tips for parents and teachers: listening to young people, walking meditation with children, the breathing room, and so on.

These are familiar teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh, which many of us have heard in Dharma talks or read in other books. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to read them again and again, because we might need to be reminded to actually practice them. And they really do work! I can vouch for that. Even practicing as unskillfully as I have, has made a huge difference in my life. In the six years since I committed myself wholeheartedly to Thay’s tradition, I have experienced deep healing and transformation. I am far happier than ever before.

Happiness is aptly titled. “We have a rich inheritance, but we don’t know it,” writes Thay at the end of the book. “We behave as if we were poor; a destitute son or daughter. Instead we can recognize that we have a treasure of enlightenment, understanding, love, and joy inside us. It’s time to go back to receive our inheritance. These practices can help us claim it.”

mb53-MediaReviews2Savor
Mindful Eating, Mindful Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung
HarperOne, March 2010
Hardback, 256 pages

Reviewed by Sister Chau Nghiem (Sister Jewel)

Two out of three people in the United States are overweight and one in three is obese. Obesity is becoming a pandemic around the globe. Most methods of weight loss focus on the symptoms, not the root of the problem, which lies not only in our way of thinking and living as individuals, but very much in the increasingly unhealthy and toxic societies in which we live, which encourage us to eat more, to eat foods that undermine our health, and to move less.

Based on both the profound Buddhist wisdom of mindfulness as well as the latest science on nutrition, this book by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung offers a new and penetrating perspective on how we arrived at our current weight problem and what we can do to reverse it, individually and collectively. The authors gracefully apply the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Nutriments, and other key Buddhist teachings to help readers understand and transform the suffering of excess weight and obesity.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, of the Harvard School of Public Health, compassionately and engagingly encourage readers to have faith in their ability to change and improve their life situation, no matter what difficulties they may have had in the past around weight loss. With the latest data on the health and environmental benefits of a more plant-based diet, meditative verses that help us incorporate mindfulness in all our activities, detailed guidelines for creating and implementing a mindful living plan that incorporates weekly goals for eating, exercising, and living more mindfully, and inspiring stories and suggestions for social activism, the book is packed with a wealth of resources for how to begin to make significant and lasting changes in our weight, in our life, and in the world, starting now.

mb53-MediaReviews3Failsafe
Saving the Earth from Ourselves

By Ian Prattis
Manor House Publishing, 2008
Paperback, 192 pages

Reviewed by Christopher Titmuss (excerpted with permission from www.resurgence.org)

Ian Prattis, a former professor of Anthropology and Religion at Carleton University, Canada, belongs to a growing school of thought that believes humanity requires a real shift in consciousness to handle the global crises—environmental, political, and economic. A core tenet of Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves is the simple maxim that our thinking has to change if the current worldview is to change.

Under the guidance of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Prattis states that the three poisons of the mind (to quote the Buddha) have become institutionalized. Greed pervades the corporate world. Hate pervades the military. Delusion pervades advertising. The poisoning of land, water, and air, and the catastrophes for the world’s poor and marginalized have their origins in the state of mind of those who run our institutions and their intentions to make profit, act violently upon people and the earth, and manipulate the public mind. There are signs of soul-searching in our major institutions, but the pace is painfully slow.

Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru, told Prattis that only two percent of the global population needs to meditate on a daily basis to transform human consciousness. Prattis endorses such a view and encourages people to slow down their relentless “doing” in order to experience a sense of “being”: a slowing down of thought, making it possible for fresh ways of thinking to emerge.

The book serves as a valuable collection of reflections on global issues and the part each one of us can play in making the necessary changes. While drawing on the wisdom of various authorities, past and present, Failsafe reminds us of the Buddha’s recipe for global ills—namely mindfulness, letting go, reflection, inner change, watching desire, inter-connection, and the transformation of consciousness.

Prattis writes that he remains “confident and optimistic about making the world a better place environmentally.” He has usefully employed his own experiences, the wise voices of others, and practical advice to address concerns about life on Earth. Failsafe concludes with a list of useful websites that inform and inspire further exploration.

mb53-MediaReviews4Touch the Earth

By Joe Reilly
CD, 40 minutes

Reviewed by Nicole Brossman

Touch the Earth showcases true genre diversity, taking listeners through an intriguing landscape of rock, hip-hop, country, eco-rock, and meditative balladry. Reilly’s honest voice and consistent message have the unique ability to pull the eclectic mix together. With his Native American heritage, roots and upbringing in contemporary Catholic folk music, ever-deepening understanding of life through Buddhist meditation practice, and academic studies in environmental justice and racism, Joe Reilly is able to unite people across diverse lines of race, class, gender, age, religion, ability, and musical genre.

While listening to Touch the Earth, listeners are able to engage in lyrical discussions of ecological cycles, meditation, global warming, war, and spirituality with an open mind. Reilly’s music strengthens community while embracing diversity, inspiring listeners to experience the interconnection with one another and their environment, and inviting them to look deeper and connect with the positive aspects in their own nature. This is exemplified when he asks, in the title song, “Where’s the Earth?,” then answers, “in your hands, underneath your feet right where you stand…. It’s what you eat. Take off your shoes and socks and sink your feet in the mud of the Earth, it’s the blood of your birth.”

Reilly is a practitioner in the Plum Village tradition, and practices with the Huron River Sangha in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also practices at Deer Park Monastery, where he received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 2004, with the Dharma name True Faith of the Heart. He has visited Plum Village twice, and wrote many of the songs on Touch the Earth while he was there. It’s clear from the first track of the album, when Reilly sings “Keep it E-A-S-Y,” that his songwriting invites listeners to smile, laugh, and sing along with him. Reilly’s creativity brings both humor and depth to things that seem very ordinary. Through his songs we learn that a tree, a tomato, a guitar, and a human being are not separate and isolated.

PDF of this article

Dharma Talk – Bat Nha: A Koan

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat HanhDo not just look for what you want to see,
that would be futile.
Do not look for anything,
but allow the insight to have a chance to come by itself.
That insight will help liberate you.

– Nhat Hanh

Bat Nha is a monastery in the central highlands of Vietnam. It is a community of monks and nuns being persecuted by the Vietnamese government, and it is the great crisis of Vietnamese Buddhism at the dawn of the 21st century.

A koan (known in Chinese as a gong an, and in Vietnamese as a cong an) is a mediation device, a special kind of Zen riddle. Koans are solved not with the intellect but with the practice of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. A koan can be contemplated and practiced individually or collectively, but as long as it remains unsolved, a koan is unsettling. It is like an arrow piercing our body which we cannot take out; as long as it is lodged there we can neither be happy nor at peace. Yet the koan’s arrow has not really come from outside, nor is it a misfortune. A koan is an opportunity to look deeply and transcend our worries and confusion. A koan forces us to address the great questions of life, questions about our future, about the future of our country and about our own true happiness.

A koan cannot be solved by intellectual arguments, logic or reason, nor by debates such as whether there is only mind or matter. A koan can only be solved through the power of right mindfulness and right concentration. Once we have penetrated a koan, we feel a sense of relief and have no more fears or questioning. We see our path and realize great peace.

If you think Bat Nha is only a problem for 400 monks and nuns in Vietnam, a problem that simply needs a “reasonable and appropriate” solution, then that is not a koan. Bat Nha truly becomes a koan only when you understand it as your own problem, one that deeply concerns your own happiness, your own suffering, your own future, and the future of your country and your people. If you cannot solve the koan, if you cannot sleep, eat, or work at peace, then Bat Nha has become your koan.

“Mindfulness” means to recollect something, to hold it in our heart day and night. The koan must remain in our consciousness every second, every minute of the day, never leaving us even for a moment. Mindfulness must be continuous and uninterrupted; and continuous mindfulness brings concentration. While eating, getting dressed, urinating and defecating, the practitioner needs to bring the koan to mind and look deeply into it. The koan is always at the forefront of your mind. Who is the Buddha whose name we should invoke? Who is doing the invoking? Who am I? You must find out. As long as you haven’t found out you haven’t made the breakthrough, you are not yet fully awake, you have not understood.

I AM A MONASTIC FROM THE BAT NHA COMMUNITY. Every day I contemplate the koan of Bat Nha—I sit with it in meditation, I walk with it in mindfulness, I am with it when I cook, when I wash my clothes, peel vegetables or sweep the floor; in every moment Bat Nha is my koan. I must produce mindfulness and concentration, because for me it is a matter of life and death, of my ideals and my future.

We know we’ve been successful in our practice, because despite all the oppression and harassment, many of us in our community are still able to generate peace and love, and not be dragged down by worries, fears, or hatred. One young nun offered an insight poem to our teacher: “The Bat Nha of yesterday has become rain, falling to the earth, sprouting the seed of awakening.” She has successfully penetrated the koan of Bat Nha.

All we want is to practice—why can’t we? The senior monks of Vietnam want to protect and sponsor us—so why does the government stop them? We don’t know anything about politics—so why do they keep saying Bat Nha is a threat to national security? Why was dispersing Bat Nha so important that they had to resort to using hired mobs, slander, deceit, beatings, and threats? If the government forbids us from living together and forces us to scatter in all directions, how will our community be reunited? Why is it that in other countries people can practice this tradition freely, and we can’t? These questions come up relentlessly. But the energy of mindfulness is like fire that burns away all these haunting thoughts and questions.

The Bat Nha of yesterday was happiness. For the first time in our lives we were in an environment where we could speak openly and share our deepest thoughts and feelings with our brothers and sisters—without suspicion, without fear of betrayal. We had the opportunity as young people to serve the world, in the spirit of true brotherhood and sisterhood. This was the greatest happiness. Then Bat Nha became a nightmare, but no one will ever take from us the inner freedom we discovered there. I have found my path. Whether or not Bat Nha exists, I am no longer afraid.

We already have the seed and we already have our path, so we are no longer afraid for the future—our own or that of our country. Tomorrow we will have the chance to help those who persecute us today. We know that many of those who attacked us and made us suffer have already begun to see the truth. Prejudices and wrong perceptions eventually disintegrate. There is no need to worry or despair. We can laugh as brightly as the morning sun.

I AM A CHIEF OF POLICE IN VIETNAM. At first, I believed that the order from my superiors to wipe out Bat Nha must have been justified. However, as I carried out the order, I saw things that broke my heart. Bat Nha has become a koan for my life. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I toss and turn throughout the night. I ask myself: what have these people done, that I should treat them as reactionaries and threats to public safety? They seem so peaceful— but I have no peace at all. If I don’t have peace in my heart, how can I keep the peace in my society?

The young monks and nuns have not broken any laws. We forced them to leave the place they helped to build, where they had been living peacefully for years. They lived with such integrity. They ate vegan food, sat in meditation, listened to sutras, shared with each other, and did no harm to anyone. How can we say they are dangerous? And yet we have threatened and harassed them, we cut off their electricity and water, we did everything we could to break their spirit. But they never said a reproachful word, they offered us tea, they sang for us and asked to take souvenir photos with us.

In the end we hired mobs to destroy their community, to assault them, and expel them. Not once did they fight back. Their only weapons were chanting the Buddha’s name, sitting in meditation, and locking arms to stop us from separating them as we forced them into the waiting cars.

My orders came from above and I had to obey; but I feel deeply ashamed. At first I thought they were just temporary measures, for the greater good of the country, for the sake of preserving national unity. Now I know that the whole operation was deceitful, cruel, and offensive to human conscience. I am forced to keep these thoughts to myself. I don’t dare to share them with the officers in my unit, let alone my superiors. I can’t go forward and I can’t go back; I am a cog in a machine and I can’t get out. What must I do to be true to myself?

I AM A MEMBER OF THE BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM. Bat Nha haunts me night and day. I know those young monastics are practicing the true Dharma. So why are we powerless to protect them? Why do we have to live and behave like government employees? When will I realize my dream of practicing religion without political interference?

We are brothers and sisters, children of the Buddha. Is it because our practice of brotherhood is not solid enough that they have been able to divide us, that we have fallen into blaming and hating each other? But surely we have learned a lesson: if we can accept each other and reconcile with one another, we can still resurrect our brotherhood and sisterhood, inspire the confidence of our fellow citizens, and be role models for everyone. Even though we’ve left it so long, the situation can still be saved. Just one moment of awakening is enough to change the situation. If we in the Buddhist Church have been cornered into betraying our own brothers and sisters it is because our spiritual integrity is not yet strong enough. How can we be wholehearted and determined enough in our daily practice to attain the spiritual strength we need?

Vietnamese Buddhists have respected and followed the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha for the last two thousand years. But now groups of people hired by government officers wore shoes into the Buddha Hall, put up offensive banners on the altar, yelled and cursed, threw human excrement at venerable monks, and destroyed sacred objects. They violently attacked, beat, and expelled monks and nuns from their temple. This is an ugly stain on the history of Buddhism in Vietnam. It disgusts us and sickens us, yet why don’t we dare to speak out? Can the Buddhist Church of Vietnam, whose members were slandered, falsely accused, and framed by the government, shake off this insult and prove the innocence of Vietnamese Buddhists?

I AM A HIGH RANKING MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM. Bat Nha is an opportunity for me to look deeply at the truth and find peace in my own heart and mind. But how can I have peace when I don’t really believe in the path I walk on, and especially when I don’t have faith or trust in those I call my comrades? Why can’t I share my real thoughts and feelings with those I call my comrades? Am I afraid of being denounced? Of losing my position? Why do we all have to say exactly the same things when none of us believe it?

My greatest dream is for my own happiness to be in harmony with my country’s. Just as trees have their roots and water has its source, our homeland has its heritage of spiritual insight. The Ly dynasty was the most peaceful and compassionate dynasty in our country’s history. Under the Tran dynasty, the People’s unity was strong enough to enable them to push back the attacks from the North. This unity was possible thanks to Buddhism’s contribution as an inclusive and accepting spiritual path that could co-exist with other spiritual and ethical traditions, such as Taoism and Confucianism, and so build a country that never needed to expel or eliminate anyone.

How can we eradicate the hideous social evils of drug abuse, prostitution, gambling, violence, corruption and abuse of power, when the officials responsible for abolishing them are themselves caught up in those very evils? How can the government’s policy of “cultural districts” and “cultural villages” ever be successful if it is based merely on perfunctory inspections and punishment? Who is the one that needs to be inspected and who is the one that needs to be punished?

For the last two thousand years, Buddhism has been teaching people how to live ethical lives, be vegetarian, and keep the trainings. At this very time, the young monks and nuns of Bat Nha are reinvigorating this ethical way of living. They have the potential to succeed. Why can’t I open my heart to practice like them, to be one with them and benefit from their support? Why can’t we do as the kings of the Tran and Ly dynasties did? Just because we are Marxists, does that mean we don’t have the right to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, to be vegetarian and practice the mindfulness trainings?

I know that corruption and abuse of power have become a national catastrophe. We have been lamenting it for so many years already, and yet the situation just gets worse with every passing day. Why? Is it because I’m only able to proudly boast of my ancestors’ glorious past, and am not in fact able to do as they did? And today, when there are young people actually doing it, why do we block and suppress them?

I have gone along with the false reports and allowed the people I supervise to use lies, deception, and oppression against these gentle people who never have caused any disturbance to society. In the end, I am put in a position where I become the enemy of the very things I once cherished. Are my true enemies really outside of me? My enemies are within. Do I have enough courage and intelligence to face my own weaknesses? That is the fundamental question.

The Plum Village practices offer a rare opportunity to modernize Buddhism in Vietnam; the last four years have proved their effectiveness. Why are we allowing ourselves to be pressured by our powerful neighbor into persecuting and destroying such a precious living treasure? What will we get that is so precious, in return for destroying this treasure we already have?

I AM A HEAD OF STATE OR FOREIGN MINISTER. My country is or is not a member of the Security Council or the UN commission on human rights. I know that events like Bat Nha, Tam Toa, Tiananmen Square, and the annexation of Tibet are serious violations of Human Rights. But because of national interest, because our country wants to continue to do business with them, because we want to sell arms, airplanes, fast trains, nuclear power plants, and other technologies, because we want a market for our products, I cannot express myself frankly and make real decisions that can create pressure on that country so they stop violating human rights.

I feel ashamed. My conscience is not at peace but because I want my party and my government to succeed, I tell myself that these violations are not serious enough for my country to take a stance. It seems that I too am caught in a system, a kind of machinery, and I cannot really be myself. I’m not able to give voice to my real feelings or to speak out about the situation. What do I have to do to get the peace that I so badly need? Bat Nha is of course a situation in Vietnam, but it has also become a koan for a high-ranking political leader like me. What path can I take in order to really be myself?

The koan Bat Nha is everyone’s koan; it is the koan of every individual and every community. Bat Nha is an opportunity, because Bat Nha can help you see clearly what you couldn’t—or didn’t want to—see before.

In the Zen tradition, there are retreats of seven, twenty-one, and forty-nine days. During these retreats, the practitioner invests their whole heart and mind into the koan. Every moment of their daily life is also a moment of looking deeply: when sitting, walking, breathing, eating, brushing their teeth, or washing their clothes. At every moment the mind is concentrated on the koan. Every day the practitioner gets the chance to interact with the Zen master in the direct guidance session. The Zen master offers guidance to help the practitioner direct their concentration in the correct way, opening up their mind, and helping them to see, showing them the situation so the truth can reveal itself clearly.

In the direct guidance sessions the truth is not transmitted from master to practitioner. Practitioners must realize the truth for themselves. The Zen master may give about ten minutes of guidance, to open your mind and point things out, and then everyone returns to their own sitting place to continue to look deeply. Sometimes there are hundreds of practitioners, all sitting together in the meditation hall, facing the wall. After a period of sitting meditation, there is a period of walking meditation. Practitioners walk slowly, each and every step bringing them back to the koan. At meal times, practitioners may eat at their meditation cushion. While eating they contemplate the koan. Urinating and defecating are also opportunities to look deeply. Noble silence is essential for meditative enquiry; that is why outside the meditation hall there is always a sign that reads ‘Noble Silence.’

If you want to be successful in your practice of koans, you must be able to let go of all intellectual knowledge, all notions, and all points of view you currently hold. If you are caught in a personal opinion, standpoint, or ideology, you do not have enough freedom to allow the koan’s insight to break forth into your consciousness. You have to release everything you have encountered before, everything you have previously taken to be the truth. As long as you believe you already hold the truth in your hand, the door to your mind is closed. Even if the truth comes knocking, you will not be able to receive it. Present knowledge is an obstacle. Buddhism demands freedom. Freedom of thought is the basic condition for progress. It is the true spirit of science. It is precisely in that space of freedom that the flower of wisdom can bloom.

In the Zen tradition, community is a very positive element. When hundreds of practitioners silently look deeply together, the collective energy of mindfulness and concentration is very powerful. This collective energy nourishes your concentration in every minute and every second, giving you the opportunity to have a breakthrough in your practice of the koan. The firm discipline of your meditation practice, the favorable environment for concentration, as well as the guidance of the Zen master and silent support of fellow practitioners, all provide you with many opportunities to succeed.

The suggestions given above can be seen as direct guidance to help you in your practice of looking deeply. You have to see these words as an instrument, not as the truth. They are the raft that can bring you to the other shore; they are not the shore itself. Once you reach the other shore, you have to abandon the raft. If you are successful in looking deeply, you will have freedom, you will be able to see your path. Then you can just burn these words or throw them away.

I wish you all success in the work of looking deeply into the Bat Nha koan,

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Sitting Still Hut, Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, France
19 January 2010

This excerpt from Bat Nha: A Koan was edited by Barbara Casey.

PDF of this article

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

Letter from the Editor

mb54-Editor1Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

When I was young I wanted to be a teacher. I held summer classes for the neighborhood kids, complete with handouts, recess, and homework (and they tolerated it!). Later I set aside that dream, believing I lacked the authority and knowledge to teach. But having taught meditation for the past year, I’ve learned that compassion and mindfulness are the most powerful teaching tools—much more powerful than knowledge.

This summer I’ll be teaching creative writing to children. To prepare for the job I observed a young teacher at the writing school. He gave his undivided attention and encouragement to each six-year-old budding writer. I realized that to teach, we don’t need to know everything about our subject. We only need to love the topic and give the class our full, caring attention. In mutual exchange, we discover and learn with our students. Similarly, if we love eating our meals with mindfulness, love being fully present with each footstep, we’ll naturally share this beloved practice and exchange discoveries with friends who practice too.

With its theme of Mindful Education, this issue offers a wonderful collection of stories, photos, activities, and resources on teaching and learning. This issue isn’t just for classroom professors and students. It’s for all of us. As students of Thay, of the Buddha, we are studying the way of awareness and always teaching by example. These stories show us how we might bring mindful practices not just to schools, but also to our families, friends, and co-workers—the people we teach every day with our actions, our words, our presence.

One of my Sangha mentors, Glen Schneider, shared an insight he learned from Thay: “What should a student expect from a teacher? The student should expect that the teacher is a free person, free from craving, fear, and despair. What should a teacher expect from a student? You should expect from your students their transformation, their healing, their freedom.” Such simple, profound expectations can alter the course of an education, a relationship, a life.

Instead of a Dharma talk from Thay, in this issue we include his essay, Bat Nha: A Koan. Thay shines a penetrating light on the coercion and violence that happened at Prajna Temple in Vietnam. Our teacher guides us to cultivate insight by looking compassionately into the hearts of others, and invites us into a fearless practice of interbeing.

May you be peaceful and at ease, enjoying your breathing as you read this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. May these stories enrich your practice and awaken your bodhicitta, your mind of love.

Editor-NBsig

Benevolent Respect of the Heart

PDF of this article

Letters

Dear Editor,

I know the suffering of bipolar illness and suicide, so reading Janice Rubin’s story (Winter/Spring 2010) touched deep chords in me. Having lost my father to suicide when he was 46, and I was 15, the pull to “follow my father into death” was so strong that in my 46th year, I had to be hospitalized. My younger brother took his own life at age 46 in 1986. My daughter was diagnosed bipolar after the birth of her first child—so I am familiar with the extraordinary suffering of the mother.

Thich Nhat Hanh arrived at San Francisco Zen Center in 1983 and his teachings saved my life. I took them to heart. I attended two retreats in Plum Village and others in California. Due to practicing his teachings, I have become a strong and healthy 72-year-old, delighted that my daughter is finding healing in therapy. Thay’s teachings that enabled deep healing for me are numerous; among them are walking meditation, understanding how transformation of the storehouse consciousness occurs, letting go of mental formations, and awareness of the Four Nutriments. When Thay read “Please Call Me by My True Names” at Green Gulch Farm, and named the suffering and consequences of rape, decades of deep suffering were released in me, as I cried and cried, hearing this suffering acknowledged by a man. I owe much of my present life, happy, healthy and strong, as well as that of my daughter, to Thay’s teachings.

— Katharine Cook, Flower Essence of the Heart

PDF of this article

Compassion Is the Energy that Protects

By Brother Chan Phap Lai

mb54-Compassion1

Thay’s offering, Bat Nha: A Koan, is intended to nourish our collective bodhicitta—the mind of love. Thay has contributed his deep insight and invites us all to read, contemplate and practice in order to come to our own insight—the kind of insight that can show a way out.

The situation, as it has developed, is certainly sad in many ways. The Vietnamese Communist Party’s aggressive policy remains steadfast. We continue to pursue our request of France to allow some of the brothers and sisters to take refuge in Plum Village. Still, there is a greater happiness to celebrate. From a spiritual point of view, Bat Nha is a huge success. Here, I want to share a few anecdotes that for me personally gave a more intimate connection to this success.

mb54-Compassion2Recently, a number of Most Venerable monks and nuns from Vietnam were able to come to Plum Village and, along with Thay, preside over our annual ordination ceremonies. Some stayed after the week of ceremonies and shared about their monastic life in Vietnam. I asked Ven. Minh Nghia if he would mind my writing articles about his involvement with our Sangha. I understood the Venerables were likely to be given some trouble on their return from Plum Village. Although Ven. Minh Nghia has already been outspoken in his actions to support the Bat Nha Sangha within Vietnam, I wanted to be sensitive. I was most impressed by his response: “You can write what is true—the truth is good.”

There are, of course, many aspects to the truth. One aspect is that the conduct and spirit of the Bat Nha Sangha was admired by the elder monastic community, and they truly wanted to help us. They risked their peaceful coexistence with the government and put their elderly bodies in harm’s way. Ven. Minh Nghia said, “When we saw how bravely the young brothers and sisters were acting, exemplifying the precepts and enduring immense difficulties, we had to act. How could we call ourselves elders of these young monastics if we did nothing but stand by and watch?”

One beautiful aspect of the truth is that the poor townspeople of Bao Loc and neighboring villages loved us. They demonstrated their love in many ways, including secretly bringing food in the middle of the night to the 400 young monastics. This proved a lifeline during the last three months in Bat Nha monastery when electricity and running water had been purposefully cut off. After the forcible eviction from Bat Nha in September, the community took refuge in Phuoc Hue temple in the town of Bao Loc. Here, the government, try as they might, using blackmail, bribes, and relentless propaganda, found it was impossible to enlist locals against the community. Even if the local people could not intercede directly, gaining their respect and love was a spiritual success that made staying in Bat Nha and Phuoc Hue Temple possible and left the local community changed forever.

In an interview concerning the September eviction, Chan Phap Si described how a sister, during a lull in the unpleasantness of the day, handed him a moon cake. (The monastics had, in effect, been starved during the months leading up to the eviction, and were very hungry on the day of eviction.) Phap Si, having noticed a lone policeman standing in the courtyard and knowing the other police had taken time for a lunch break, walked over and offered to share the moon cake. The policeman looked at Phap Si strangely, then politely declined, saying, “You will need it; you have a long journey ahead.” Phap Si was later forcibly driven to his home town and placed under house arrest. In the months that followed, police came around on spot visits to interrogate him. When they came into his house, he skillfully had them partake in a silent tea meditation before answering their questions. As a result, trust developed, and Phap Si found himself listening to the policemen’s personal suffering. They shared their pain concerning the fact that, as police, they often had to do things they felt were wrong.

On the day of eviction from Bat Nha, both Phap Si and Phap Lam placed themselves under a taxi in an effort to prevent their younger brothers from being driven off. They had accepted they were being forced out of their home but were determined not to be dispersed. Phap Lam described his state of mind: “I was not angry with the violent actions of the police and the hired thugs. I was only conscious of my deep love for the brothers.” This desire to protect them led him to place himself under the taxi. His action did not come from an idea to demonstrate non-violently, but was the natural response of a monk who had cultivated no-harm as a way of being, yet wanted to prevent the community from being dispersed.

In Phap Si’s account we heard how a heavy-set policeman tried to drag him away from the taxi wheel he had clasped. The policeman drew back his fist to hit Phap Si. The punch would have been injurious, given the large studded ring Phap Si observed on the policeman’s index finger. At this moment Phap Si said he looked into the eyes of the policeman about to hit him. “I was completely concentrated on compassion, having no fear or resentment, focused only on protecting my younger brothers. I believe the policeman was affected by this because as his fist bore down it seems he lost the heart to follow through and his fist only glanced my face.” Phap Si is convinced it was his concentration on compassion that protected him. “In truth we had nothing and no one to protect us from the ill-will and violence of that day— it was only the energy of compassion generated among us that protected.” There are so many elating anecdotes like this—small triumphs of love over hate.

We are all sad for the country of Vietnam and the dispersion of the Sangha. The Abbot of Phuoc Hue, the Venerable Thai Thuan, cried and cried. Thay says these tears of love shall go down in the history books. Thay also shared that the Sangha has been more united by this experience than divided by the government’s actions. “The Bat Nha Sangha is already a legend in the history of Buddhism in Vietnam,” one which, I believe, we can allow to inspire and instruct for years to come.

Dear friends, it would be remiss of me to ask you to share your personal insight on the koan without sharing my own. So I will end with my reflections on this never-ending koan:

Compassion is the energy that protects. With compassion and nonviolence as our way of being, we discover non-fear and need not act from anger. Bat Nha is not a distant event, remote from our lives in the West, but a collective experience of our international community. We are in this together. As individuals and as countries we should protect our integrity so that we have the moral right to speak out and are free (from vested interest) to act. The brothers and sisters of Bat Nha used their time to prepare mentally and spiritually for what they knew would come. They made the very best of the present moment, enjoying every day of practice. We might do the same.

May your koan practice benefit all living beings. May all be well, peaceful, safe, and happy. May all attain enlightenment. No discrimination.

Thay suggests we offer our insight in written form to be published on www.helpbatnha.org. Please send your personal insights on Bat Nha: A Koan to batnhakoan@gmail.com.

PDF of this article

No Enemy, No Duality

Thay’s Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary

By Susan O’Leary

mb54-NoEnemy1Within weeks of the final official dispersion of the Bat Nha monastics, Thay presented us with two powerful teachings: Bat Nha: A Koan and Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary. The koan asks us to look deeply, to become determined to penetrate its meaning by reading and remaining with the experiences, perceptions, and questions of five people touched by Bat Nha. The Twelve Proposals—based not in Zen stories but in ethical action—can also be pivotal teachings for Thay’s students as we practice engaged Buddhism in the world. Strong, fearless proposals grounded in the thousand-year-old wisdom of Zen Master Van Hanh, they remind us to return to our roots as refuge when acting. They call for compassion and generosity, ethical study and leadership, global care and stewardship, and true ecumenical religious freedom.

The koan and the proposals are close teachings of the Bat Nha era. In the koan story of the communist government official, Thay refers to the 1,000-year anniversary of the founding of Hanoi.

Reading them together and remembering in our hearts the loving, concentrated actions of the Bat Nha monks and nuns, might shed light for practitioners on the Tenth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, a sometimes difficult training to resolve.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Just as the personages of the koan kept questioning, we might also ask questions like these in reading Thay’s proposals:

  • Am I taking a clear stand against oppression and injustice?
  • Are my actions grounded in inclusiveness, non-fear, and nonduality?
  • Is my action an action or reaction? Does it demonstrate that I do not see others as separate from myself?
  • Does my action arise from an inner freedom of compassion and understanding?

Thay’s writings of this era remind us to be engaged in the world while having no enemies. To find the beauty as we breathe and walk in moments of suffering. An engaged Buddhist political action resides in non-fear and non-duality. It is grounded in kindness and inclusiveness, and does take a stand. The action itself manifests the teachings.

Susan O’Leary, Deep Confidence of the Heart, practices with the SnowFlower Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the author of several books and essays.

PDF of this article

Walking the Talk

Peaceful Relations at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Clare Sartori

mb54-Walking1At the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) in Chicago, I first heard Thich Nhat Hanh ask, “What is our capacity to enjoy peace?” Seventeen years later, I continue to ask the question of myself, my clients, and my students.

The PWR gathers people practicing in various spiritual traditions around the world in order to deepen mutual understanding. The gatherings are informational and inspirational. And while “talk” is the base root of the word parliament, participants make consistent and conscientious efforts to fi ways to “walk the talk.” Many seek to act upon the life-affirming goals and teachings received throughout the week.

Taking part in the parliaments with my husband, Art, has been a great learning and sharing experience. Since I heard Thay’s question in 1993, I have attended the three subsequent PWRs: in Cape Town, Barcelona and most recently, Melbourne. The December 2009 Melbourne Parliament included an exhibit entitled “Sacred Sites, Sacred Solidarity.” The display featured posters of sanctuaries, shrines, holy cities, and sacred mountains in many faith traditions. Each site was or is threatened by environmental or political attacks.

The Engaged Buddhism poster featured Bat Nha monastery and included a summary of recent events. Standing at the exhibit, I collected over 200 signatures to send to U.S. White House officials, the European Parliament, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Consul General in Hanoi. The signatures represented over nineteen faiths and fourteen countries. A Vietnamese man living in Australia thanked me profusely and photographed me with the Bat Nha poster for a journal article for Vietnamese Catholics in Australia. The Mindfulness Practice Communities of Australia collaborated to produce a pamphlet on the Bat Nha monastics that circulated through the week. The pamphlet included Plum Village contact information and the helpbatnha. org website.

Wearing my Tiep Hien Order brown jacket during the Parliament was an honor and a responsibility. I was careful to walk mindfully throughout the day. A few other Order members were present and it was gratifying to connect. I also felt supported by the presence of Buddhist practitioners and people from other spiritual traditions.

An Obama administration representative came to hear what people of various faiths felt were the most pressing issues. He said he’s a Buddhist who gained a lot from Thich Nhat Hanh. He was well informed about Bat Nha and discouraged by the response from the Vietnamese government. He claimed the government had been trying to cast the situation in terms of inter-Buddhist rivalries, but that was clearly a false perception.

mb54-Walking2After one talk, I met a Buddhist nun, the Reverend Guo Cheen, who was eager to discuss Bat Nha. She became instrumental in organizing a discussion of possible actions to support the peaceful monks and nuns being harassed. Reverend Cheen facilitated the session and follow-up actions by posting the Bat Nha petition and Thay’s koan on websites for The Compassionate Action Network and Peace Next.

The Bat Nha discussion followed a recorded talk by Thay, addressed to parliamentarians and those planning to attend the Copenhagen Climate Change summit. We were delighted when Brother Phap Kham joined the group. We were also joined by a young Buddhist monk from another tradition who lived in Vietnam and had been harassed by the religious police. Brother Phap Kham began our meeting with singing, then offered the latest news. He said that the monastics would appreciate our expressions of spiritual solidarity and prayers. The next morning, a gentleman from our group, Hal, created a YouTube video (http://www.vimeo. com/8115448) that the monastics could see in Vietnam. The video includes individual expressions of spiritual support for the monastics, beautiful images, and loving verses of hope and comfort. When Hal asked some Vietnamese if they would like to be in the video, they looked quite fearful. They explained they didn’t want to risk losing their visas to return to Vietnam.

Every day outside the Parliament, a group of people stood with signs saying their brand of truth was the only truth. The first day I passed them, my shoulders rose in an involuntary defensive stance. I became aware of my breath, smiled, then dropped my shoulders. I frequently practiced metta along my walks. The last day, I walked over to the people holding the banner and spoke with them. We were able to find some common ground and maintain mutual respect. My heart had truly widened; I felt much compassion for them and gratitude to Thay and for the circumstances that brought me to this practice.

mb54-Walking3

The title “Unified Buddhist Church” is so much more meaningful to me following my experience in Melbourne. Interfacing with people of various traditions is an example of how we can practice interbeing, learning from others as we allow the Dharma to flower within our presence. Like many practitioners, I remain connected to my root tradition. I attend a weekly gathering at a church in our home community in Rhode Island. The gathering includes ministers and lay people from various Christian faiths, all engaged in social justice issues. They have welcomed learning about Buddhist practices such a non-dualistic thinking, nonattachment to views, awareness of suffering, mindful speech and deep listening. Because the monastics of Bat Nha are not permitted to practice together in Vietnam, they are present within me as I practice and I believe they smile as I forge harmonious relationships with people who have different views.

mb54-Walking4Clare Sartori, True Mountain of Peace, practices with Clear Heart Sangha in Wakefield, Rhode Island. She is a psychotherapist and has been involved in interfaith activities for over 20 years.

PDF of this article

Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary

Twelve Proposals

By Thich Nhat Hanh

mb54-Celebrating1

In the year 1010, one thousand years ago, the first king of the Ly dynasty founded Thang Long, the city now known as Hanoi. The Ly dynasty has been described as “the most compassionate, peaceful and harmonious in the history of Vietnam” by the eminent historian Hoang Xuan Han. This, he wrote, was “thanks to the influence of Buddhism.”

The first king of the Ly dynasty was Ly Thai To. From a very young age he had been trained as a Buddhist monastic aspirant at Luc To temple by Zen Master Van Hanh. When he ascended to the throne he organized political and cultural life in the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

The practice of Buddhism gave the nation a solid foundation of peace and happiness that lasted for centuries. Ly Nhah Tong, the fourth king in the Ly Dynasty, spoke of Master Van Hanh with great respect. “Master Van Hanh’s actions embraced the whole of the past, present, and future,” he said. “His words presaged events with extraordinary accuracy. In his hometown Co Phap, he needed only to plant his staff in the ground and sit in stillness, and the city of Thang Long could enjoy stability and peace for ever.”

Ten thousand actions embrace past, present, and future,
Words of foretelling are effective,
With a monk’s staff firmly planted in Co Phap
Stability reigns in the kingdom.

The best way to celebrate 1,000 years of Hanoi is for the government and the whole nation to endeavour to take up and continue the work our forefathers began in founding the capital, namely:

  1. To establish a university with the name Van Hanh, offering courses that have the capacity to transmit the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Master Van Hanh. Other campuses can be established simultaneously in other major cities of the country.
  2. To allocate time for the daily study of global ethics at all levels of education, and invest money in training teachers to teach ethics, in the light both of traditional Vietnamese cultural values and global ethics. The classes should offer concrete practices that can be applied to address contemporary social evils such as domestic violence, divorce, suicide, drug abuse, prostitution, abuse of power, and corruption. In this way, the policy of model ethical towns and villages can be realized.
  3. To call for a summit of all religious traditions and charitable organizations in Vietnam to draft a non-sectarian Charter of Ethics that can be a basis for the practice of ethics throughout the country. This text should have the capacity to bring about a healthy and compassionate society and save the planet. Each tradition should present and contribute their own ethical code (for example, Buddhism would present the Revised Five Mindfulness Trainings), and together discuss, exchange, and learn from one another how these principles can be applied in family life, schools, and workplaces. Recitations of the resulting non-sectarian text can be organized once a month in every temple, church, town hall, or library. Government officials should also attend recitations alongside ordinary citizens.
  4. To establish councils of wise and ethical people in villages, towns, and cities. These councils should be composed of people renowned for their kindness and virtue, who can be ethical role models for the community. The councils could include Catholic priests, Protestant Ministers, and Buddhist Abbots and Abbesses, who would care for the ethical well-being of the community with their wisdom, loving kindness, encouragement, and firmness.
  5. To offer an amnesty for all those in exile abroad, banished from their hometown within Vietnam, or imprisoned, whether for being members of unauthorized organizations or churches or because they have called for pluralism, multi-partyism, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech. A number of prisoners should be given early release on social work under the guidance and sponsorship of ordained members of all religions.
  6. To repeal taxes for anyone without a home, a job, or a source of income.
  7. To establish Sunday as a “No Car Day” in Hanoi and other big cities and towns: citizens should only use bicycles, rickshaws, or horse carriages, or walk, except in emergencies. Sunday should also be a No-Smoking Day and No-Alcohol Day—a day on which no cigarettes, wine, or beer is sold.
  8. To support the establishment of vegetarian restaurants in the capital and other major cities. Every restaurant must offer at least a few vegetarian dishes on the menu, and everyone should be encouraged to be vegetarian for at least 15 days a month (according to the UN’s recommendations to cut back meat consumption by 50% to save the planet). Those who fully embrace a vegetarian diet can benefit from a 50% discount on their health insurance contributions.
  9. To subsidize solar power technology for cooking rice, boiling water, lighting, preparing tea, washing clothes, and so on.
  10. To end the production and use of plastic bags and packaging.
  11. To call for a Great Buddhist Summit, and invite Venerable monks and nuns from inside and outside the country to re-establish a People’s Buddhist Church, totally free from political  interference.
  12. To organize retreats in Vietnam for Vietnamese people and foreigners to learn and practice ways to transform violence and build brotherhood and sisterhood in the spirit of openness and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

If the government, law-makers, and law-enforcers of the country do not want to, or cannot, realize these proposals, then we, the People, will do it by ourselves, beginning with the Buddhists and with the support of other religions and charitable associations.

The Zen Master’s name “Van Hanh” means “Ten Thousand Actions;” The Zen Master’s name “Nhat Hanh” means “One Action.” Thich Nhat Hanh founded a “Van Hanh Buddhist University” in Saigon in the early 1960s.

PDF of this article

My Path as a Mindful Educator

By Richard Brady

mb54-MyPath1

“Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to awaken them.” This is the first of the four great bodhisattva vows of Mahayana Buddhism. Whether or not we aspire to be bodhisattvas, once we embark on the Buddhist path we realize that we are practicing not only for ourselves but for the world. As an educator working with young people, I’ve been particularly aware of the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given to help others awaken.

mb54-MyPath2

My involvement with Thay and with mindfulness in education began almost simultaneously. It was 1987, and I was working as a high school mathematics teacher. My school community was experiencing an unusual amount of stress following four attempted suicides. One day that winter I began reading The Miracle of Mindfulness and saw immediately how useful its teachings could be for my very busy students. If they incorporated mindfulness into their lives, they would be able to cope with life’s inevitable challenges. The very next day I began to share short readings from the book with my classes, following our opening silence. Starting from the initial lesson about how to have unlimited time for oneself, students appreciated these readings as supplements to their mathematical learning. When I finished reading that book, the students asked for another, and I read them The Sun My Heart.

mb54-MyPath3

Thay’s teachings sounded wonderful to me. However, the way of living he portrayed in these books felt so different from my own. It seemed to me that I could not get there from where I was. As fate would have it, near the end of that school year when the seniors returned from three weeks of working off-campus on senior projects, I noticed a presentation by one of the seniors—a boy named Chris—about his project at the Zen Center of Washington, DC. “Here is someone with meditation experience, someone I can learn from,” I thought. Chris began his presentation by telling us that a classmate and he had been reading Eastern religion and philosophy since seventh grade. Recently, he had discovered the local Zen center and “decided to put my body where my mind was.” I felt Chris was talking directly to me.

He spoke of his experience with tremendous enthusiasm. He showed pictures and recounted some dramatic experiences he’d had during the three-day intensive meditation retreat he attended as part of his project. At the conclusion of his talk, another student asked Chris whether his life was different now in any way besides the amount of time he spent sitting on cushions. Chris responded by saying that meditation had many effects on him. “However,” he added, “most are so subtle I can’t put them into words.” After a pause, he went on, “I can tell you that I am less angry.” Chris’s presentation, especially this last statement, was very moving to me. I thanked him and made a promise to him and to myself that I would try to meditate.

One year later I met Thay at Omega Institute in New York. There I was introduced to the custom of stopping at the sound of a bell and giving my full attention to the present moment. I came home with a small bell and brought it to my math classes. I sounded it at the beginning of class, and from time to time during the class period, to help the students stop and center themselves. Time seemed to stop during those brief moments. The students responded to the bell with respect. When I came home, I also began a daily sitting practice and helped found the Washington Mindfulness Community.

As my meditation practice matured, my life started to slow down. I became more relaxed. Mindfulness practice was helping me handle my emotions in a healthy way, improving my awareness, and increasing my sense of well-being. I now had the confidence I needed to teach it to students. In the health component of our Freshman Studies course, I began teaching meditation to help our ninth-graders create more space in their lives and reduce stress. Then, since math tests were a source of stress for so many students, I started to offer guided meditations before each test and quiz. First I asked students to get in touch with their emotions—excitement, nervousness, even fear—and then to observe these emotions without getting carried away by them. Next, I asked them to visualize a time when they had felt good about some mathematical accomplishment, perhaps learning to count or solving a particularly challenging algebra problem. After a couple of minutes, students were ready to begin work with a positive focus.

I was the only teacher in my school sharing mindfulness practices with students, so I was most gratified when Thay extended a special invitation to educators to attend his two U.S. retreats in 2001. During these retreats, educators had opportunities to meet in interest groups and share thoughts about promoting mindfulness in their educational institutions. After the retreats several of us formed the Mindfulness in Education Network (MiEN) as a continuation of these groups. MiEN’s first endeavor was the creation of a listserv, which started with 86 people. It now has 550 participants worldwide, ranging from kindergarten teachers to university professors and adult educators. Participants use the listserv to share their successes, challenges, and advice. More recently, the MiEN website (www.mindfuled.org) was developed. It includes many resources on mindfulness in education and instructions on how to join the listserv.

Wanting to expand the role of mindfulness in my mathematics teaching, I attended The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s fi weeklong summer workshop on contemplative curriculum development in 2005. My plan was to add a contemplative component to my tenth-grade honors geometry course. The workshop presenters and the other participants, thirty-five professors from the U.S. and Canada, were inspiring. I returned home with new ideas about contemplative reading and journaling and, more importantly, a profound sense of trust in the whole endeavor. I knew I still had a lot to learn and that I would make mistakes. I also saw that it would take time for many of my students to reap the full benefits of contemplative methods of learning. I was clear about their value and would try to communicate that clarity to my students. I would use these methods myself and grow as a learner alongside them. The course featured five minutes of contemplative practice (journal writing, meditation, or yoga) at the beginning of each class. I’ve described it in the paper Learning to Stop, Stopping to Learn, which can be found on my website, www.mindingyourlife.net.

In 2007 I retired from high school math teaching, wanting to work full time promoting mindfulness in education. During the past three years, I’ve offered mindfulness programs to educators and students, written articles, co-edited a book (Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning), and coordinated the first three MiEN national conferences. The conferences bring together several hundred participants, including early childhood educators, professors, counselors, and yoga teachers. They come to hear leaders in their fields describe the latest results in mindfulness research, university courses based on mindfulness, and creative approaches for sharing mindfulness with K-12 students. And they come to network with others who share a common passion. I leave each conference feeling informed, energized, and supported by the work of many others.

It has been my privilege to be involved with other organizations that focus on mindfulness in education. These include The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which has supported contemplative pedagogy in higher education since the early 1990s, and its recently formed Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. It also includes Inner Kids, and the Association for Mindfulness in Education, which focus on K-12 education. Links to these and other organizations can be found on the MiEN website. My greatest joy remains finding skillful ways to invite educators and students to practice, whether through including poems and short teaching stories in my writings, or offering short practice opportunities during my presentations.

mb54-MyPath4

Those of us who share mindfulness with young people often ask ourselves, “At the end of the day, has it made a difference?” We believe it has, but controlled research studies aside, do we really know? Four years ago, at my school’s annual holiday alumni reception, I had a memorable conversation with Tom, a former student whom I had last seen when he graduated in 1989. Tom shared something of his career path, ending with his current job as a compliance lawyer for the World Bank. When he asked me what I was up to, I handed him my Minding Your Life business card. “Mindfulness Education,” he read. “That’s like the story you read to us about washing the dishes.” (He was referring to Thay’s story about being present to washing the dishes from The Miracle of Mindfulness.) I was surprised Tom remembered the story eighteen years later. It turned out that in the interim he had also read several books on mindfulness.

Five weeks later I discovered that the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society would be holding a meditation retreat for law professionals at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the spring. I sent Tom an email suggesting he check it out. I also mentioned that I had been moved by his recollection of the dishwashing story. Tom replied immediately, thanking me for the recommendation and concluding, “And if it means something to you, I’d be very surprised if there are any of us who were in that BC Calculus class back in ’88–’89 who don’t remember the introduction you gave us then to Thich Nhat Hanh.”

mb54-MyPath5Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, received the Lamp Transmission in 2001 to work with young people. He lives in Putney, Vermont, where he practices with the Mountains and Rivers Mindfulness  Community.

PDF of this article