Dharma Talk: The Practice of Prayer

By Thich Nhat Hanh

What is prayer? To whom should we pray? Does prayer bring results?

Thich Nhat Hanh

A five-year-old boy who loved playing with his pet mouse was deeply wounded when his mouse tunneled deep into the earth and didn’t come back, but the mouse never returned. Later, when he was a college student, the same young man attended a class that began each day with a prayer. The prayers mostly seemed silly to him, such as, “I pray it will be sunny tomorrow so we can have a picnic.” But one day a fellow student came into class crying. She told the professor that doctors had just discovered that her mother had a brain tumor and might survive only one more week.

The professor stood up, looked deeply at each student, and said, “If you do not believe in the healing power of God, please leave the room. We are going to pray for Nancy’s mother.” The young man wanted to leave but didn’t have the courage. Then the professor asked everyone to kneel down, and he offered a short but very powerful prayer: “God, I thank you for healing Nancy’s mother right now. In the name of Christ, Amen.” Two weeks later, they learned that Nancy’s mother’s tumor had disappeared without a trace. Her healing was a miracle, and the young man’s belief in prayer was renewed.

Why do some prayers succeed and some not? Are there methods that can guarantee our prayers? If your prayers do not bring good results, is it because we do not have enough faith or love? In the Bible, is says that faith can move mountains. If we want our bulb to light up, there has to be current running through the electrical line.

Last summer a practitioner at Plum Village was very ill with cancer. Sister Chan Khong suggested that she pray to her grandmother, who had lived to be 97. Sister Chan Khong said, “The strong genes of your grandmother are in you. Ask them to help you transform the sick cells that are also in you.” Sister Chan Khong taught her for only fifteen minutes, but because she had a lot of faith, she understood the teaching and put it into practice. The young lady prayed to her grandmother in herself while she ate, while she walked, while she sat, and while she touched the earth.

When I practice sitting meditation, I always send loving energy to my students. Sister Dam Nguyen in Vietnam and Jim Fauss in California both have had cancer. Whether my students know I love them or not, when I send my energy to them, I am sure it arrives. What matters most is that my heart is open. I only need to touch the source of love in me and send my love in my thoughts and also in my actions. This is a basic form of prayer that can be practiced not just in church or a meditation hall, but in every act. You touch the deep source of beauty and goodness in yourself and share it. When you pray or chant the words of the Buddha or Christ, it encourages peace in yourself, in others, and in the environment. Behind it is the practice of mindful living.

All the Vietnamese Buddhists know this prayer (De Tu Kinh Lay): “I have been a victim of craving, anger, arrogance, jealousy, and confusion, living in suffering and darkness for thousands of generations. Thanks to the light of the Buddha, I now see the roots of my afflictions, and I vow to begin anew to transform these afflictions in order to live happily.” This prayer is a mirror, an effort to look deeply into ourselves and see the seeds of craving, anger, ignorance, and confusion in us. “The light of the Buddha” is our mindfulness. We look deeply into our negative habit energies, see our shortcomings, and try to transform them.

I vow to avoid wrong actions and to take the path of goodness. I ask for the Buddha’s compassion to help me to have a healthy body and a mind free of suffering and confusion.” We pray for a body without disease and a mind without suffering, so we can enjoy peace, stability, and liberty and be released from the cycle of suffering. This prayer helps us live a life filled with health, happiness, and stability, free from craving, anger, and ignorance. We make some effort, and outside efforts follow. In fact, there is no boundary between our efforts and those from outside.

Whom should we address our prayers to? God? Buddha? Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva? We have to look deeply into the nature of God, the nature of the Buddha, the nature of Avalokiteshvara. Whenever we join our palms and bow our heads, we can ask, “Who am I and who is the object of my venerations and what is the connection between us?” If we think there is no connection between God and us, that we are different from God, our prayer is just superstition.

When I was sixteen, my teacher asked me to memorize this sentence: “The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both by nature empty.” I recited this sentence for ten years before I realized its meaning. The Buddha is in me, and I am in the Buddha. We are two, yet we are one. We are both empty of a separate self, so the communication between us is perfect. We can pray to God, because we are a part of God. We don’t need time or space. The deep link is immediate. There is electricity in our power line.

For prayer to bring results, the first condition is the establishment of communication and the second is the establishment of the electrical line, which is mindfulness, concentration, understanding, and love. When we have these conditions, the power line will surely work, and the result of our prayer will be realized immediately, beyond time and space. When body and mind are in oneness, when there is concentration and understanding, you can touch the actual cells of your grandmother in you, and these cells can be transformed and healed. When you touch God, the Buddha, or the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in you, their energy and your energy become one. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is the symbol of love. Manjushri is the symbol of understanding. Samantabhadra is the symbol of action with understanding. We cannot deny their existences. When love exists, Avalokiteshvara exists.

If God’s will decides everything, what is the use of praying? How can we change the fruit of our actions? The answer is understanding. When we understand deeply that our ancestors are in us, that there is no distance at all between our cells, our grandmother’s cells and our cancer can be transformed. The will of God is also our will, because we and God are one. If we decide to change, everyone, even those hostile to us, will change also.

To pray, we must have great understanding. If we want God, the Buddha, or a bodhisattva to do something for us and if we make a kind of program for them to follow, we may think that will make us happy. We might pray that no living beings will be killed, no trees cut, or no river polluted and we create a program for God to implement point by point. But in God’s program, there is also death. If insects don’t die, millions of acres of wheat may be destroyed. Living beings eat other living beings, and the result is a kind of balance. Do we have the insight to create a balanced environment? If we do not, our prayer may be naïve. We pray for ourselves and those we love, but if God fulfills these prayers it may cause disorder in the world. Our prayers must always go together with understanding and insight. To develop insight, we practice mindful breathing to calm ourselves and restore the peace and serenity in us.

An American doctor has said that God is like a communications satellite. Our wishes and aspirations are sent to that satellite, and then God sends back grace to those we pray for. Buddhists would call that satellite our collective consciousness (alaya vijnana). Whenever there is a transformation in our individual consciousness, there is also a transformation in the collective consciousness, including the consciousness of those we pray for. In this way, our mind is a creator of the collective consciousness. So we have to go back to our mind and transform ourselves. When we do so, it is quicker than a satellite. When you send a prayer to a satellite, it takes a few ksana (a fraction of a second) to arrive. Even light takes time. But when we touch our store consciousness and thereby the collective store consciousness, the part of God that is within us, we touch God right away. This satellite is not out in space; it is within us. As long as we have the notion that we and God are separate entities, it takes time for our prayer to reach the satellite and for God to receive and send it to the one we pray for. But in deep Christianity and deep Buddhism, we see that the one we pray to and the one we pray for are both in the same satellite, which is in us. Collective consciousness and individual consciousness exist simultaneously. When we are in touch with our own consciousness, we are already in touch with the collective consciousness. Touching the collective consciousness, we also touch our individual consciousness.

We think that those who have passed away no longer exist, but according to Buddhism, that is not correct. They are still there, everywhere, including in us. Although your grandmother has passed away, she is still in you. When you understand this, your prayers will be effective. Buddha is the nature of beauty and goodness in you. When you touch the Buddha in you, you can do what he had done. When you are angry or sad, if you touch those seeds of beauty and goodness in you, you will see more clearly. The Buddha in you helps you overcome difficulties. He helps you accept thinks that are difficult to accept. He transforms you.

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If you hear that the Buddha will lead a walking meditation on Gridhrakuta Mountain and if you want to fly to India to join him, I would certainly understand. But if you practice walking meditation every day and know how to be deeply in touch with life, you will not need to fly to Gridhrakuta Mountain. Buddha is not a concept, but the true nature of awakening. You can take a step right here and now, and you are already walking hand in hand with the Buddha.

We can pray not only to God, the Buddha, or our ancestors, but also to those who are still alive. When we have difficulties, if we think of someone who has stability, joy, peace, and a clear mind, we feel supported. These living bodhisattvas have the ability to listen to us and use their energy to help us. We should pray no only to bodhisattvas who are in the clouds, like Avalokiteshvara, but to those who are alive on earth. Your own roommate may be a bodhisattva, but if you don’t hold her in high enough esteem, you will not see her. If she listens with all her heart, with all her attention and compassion, she is Avalokiteshvara. If you open your heart only to bodhisattvas in the clouds, you may miss many real bodhisattvas here who have love and care, who listen to you deeply. Bodhisattvas are people who have practiced day after day so that their insight has grown. When you walk in mindfulness and have more peace and joy, your insight is growing. It is not only the Buddha who has insight. You also have your insight. You might have been less compassionate in the past, but through the practice your compassion has grown.

I often pray to those who are still alive. There are many small Sanghas everywhere of people who really practice and transform their suffering. I feel deeply supported by them. This is real prayer. I also pray to trees, the moon, and the stars. They are strong and stable, and they can support us. Do not pray to God as a concept. Touch God in His creations. You are a creation, so you can touch God in yourself and in those around you. Let us look at The Lord’s Prayer: 

Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Amen. 

“Thy Kingdom come.” The best way to chant, sing, or pray is to touch the kingdom of God right here and now. ”Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the key. The Lord’s will must be realized not only in heaven, but also on earth. Don’t wait until you reach the kingdom of God – until you pass away – to obtain stability, peace, and joy. Touch it here and now. A Zen master was asked, “Where do you find the world of no-birth and no-death?” And he said, “Right in the world of birth and death.”

Give us this day our daily bread,” is the practice of mindfulness. We only need food here and now. “Form is emptiness” is not enough. Emptiness is also form. We always want to save for the future, but to live in the present moment deeply is most important. We have to pray throughout the day, not only before going to sleep. How can there be eternity if there is no present moment?

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Trespasses are the mistakes we have made with those we love. We have said something unkind; we have acted or thought in ways that have caused suffering. We have made many mistakes and hurt others. We have to live in a way that allows us to forgife ourselves and forgive those who have hurt us. We have not been mindful, and we have to release our hurts and the hurts of others. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of action.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What kinds of temptation? – craving, anger, arrogance, doubt jealousy, suspicion. Practice is much easier with a Sangha, a community of friends. When you are alone, you are easily tempted, but with a Sangha, when you become angry or afraid, your brothers and sisters will help calm you down. With a Sangha, you are very stable and will not fall into the lower realms. Many people are in hell right now, living in loneliness, anger, or despair. Others are in heaven, living beautifully.

We have to learn the art of praying deeply. Usually, when we have some difficulty, we call upon God and say, “Help me.” This is okay, but we also have to learn to pray on a large scale. Our aim is to cross the ocean of birth and death without fear. Asking God to do something for us is too superficial. At other times we bargain with God: “If you give me such and such, I will shave my head and be a vegetarian for three months.” When they cross the ocean, many Vietnamese boat people say that if they survive they will shave their heads for three months. There is nothing wrong with that. I only want you to practice more deeply, so you can smile to that bargaining part of you.

We usually pray for good health, success, or harmony. But it is a dream to think our health can be perfect. We are alive now because we were sick in the past. Thanks to our illnesses, we have immunity from certain diseases. Don’t dream of perfect health. Please learn to live with these little diseases, and enjoy the 98% health you have.

There has been a lot of progress in medicine in the past fifty years. People now see that the health of the body is deeply linked to the health of the mind. If we learn how to resolve the blocking points in our mind, many of our diseases will be cured. A good physician must look deeply.

We are at the gateway to a new step in medicine, that can be called “collective-manifestation-medicine” or the “medicine of one mind.” We see that many elements, near and far, make us sick and cure us. We may suffer from something our grandfather did two generations ago, or from the effects of an atomic bomb that was dropped in the South Pacific, or from someone else’s unhappiness. When someone is unhappy, he may hurt us deeply. Because we don’t have a separate self, we are connected in all directions, through time and through space.

Success is also usually seen as an element for our happiness. But our success may requires another person’s failure. When we are able to pray for ourselves, for those we love, and also for those who cause us problems, the energy of mindfulness, concentration, understanding, and love in us grows stronger. If you cannot pray for those who cause us difficulty, do not blame God or the Buddha if you do not have good results.

We also pray for harmony in the world. But life is filled with harmony and disharmony, successes and failures, ups and downs. When we are in touch with the ultimate dimension, harmony or disharmony, success or failure are all okay. We try our best to make life more harmonious. That’s all. When you step into the world of the Avatamsaka, into the Kingdom of God, whatever happens to your health is okay, whether you have so-called success or failure is okay, whether you live one or ten more years is okay. When you have touched the ultimate dimension deeply, you can dwell in the cycle of samsara with a smile.

In the past, if you had a success, you were happy. If you had a failure, you were unhappy. But once you have touched the ultimate dimension, you see that failure is also fine. Because of your failure, other people may succeed. Others may see disharmony, but you see harmony. The deep aim of a practitioner is to touch the ultimate dimension in daily life. Everywhere you go, you see that you and others are one. Even if your health is not perfect, even if your success is not great, it’s okay. The prayer of the practitioner is very deep and not on the level of the historical dimension and touch the ultimate reality. Then your relationships with others, your relationship with God, and your relationship with the Buddha will be relationships of oneness.

At Plum Village, we try to open many doors of happiness to help you keep your balance. When you return home, you have to establish your own breathing room, your own Sangha, where you can breathe, listen to Dharma talks, and have Dharma discussions, so you have more peace to help you cope with the unhappiness of people. When others are unhappy and thrown their unhappiness on you, you have to receive it and transform it.

In the collective consciousness is the collective consciousness of many bodhisattvas, many buddhas, you yourself, and also those who are not happy. Try to use the new step in medicine to bring you to that realm of buddhas and bodhisattvas, where you will not be drowned in the sickness of negativity. This new medicine is not limited by time. It can happen millions of years in the past or the future. It is not limited by space. When Kepler discovered that the tides on earth are influenced by the moon, no one believed him. Even Galileo thought Kepler had imagined it. Now we know that the gravity of the moon influences the earth, and the stars influence us.

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Our health is the same. Those who live far from us can make us very happy or unhappy. In “oneness-of-mind medicine,” the doctor also has to pray for his or her patients, because we know that the mindfulness and compassion of our physician influences us. A physician cannot be just a mechanic: “Here is a prescription. Open your mouth.” She must go the next step. After making her best prognosis, she must say, “I will pray for you, too.” And she sends her love, care, and compassion to her patients. Before seeing a patient, she has to breathe, calm herself to restore the peace and happiness of her own body and mind, and then look deeply into the patient, diagnose, and while giving the patient a prescription, say, “Follow this, and I will pray for you. I will send my love to you.” We have to do this also, not just physicians. When your brother is sick, you cannot just say, “The hospital will take care of him.” You also have to send your love and care to your brother in the hospital. You have to send your love and care to all who are in danger. You cannot just say, “They will take care of themselves.” We deeply influence each other.

Dr. Larry Dossey says that in our time we have to open the door to this new step in medicine. He proposes that every physician encourage his patients to pray, and physicians who forbid their patients from praying be subject to suit. Physicians have to care not only about medicine and the body, but also about spirit. For your happiness with yourself and the happiness of your brothers and sisters in the Dharma and in your blood family, you have to send your love everywhere. With every step I take, I send compassion to myself and to brothers and sisters near and far away. It heals me and it will heal them. Even though Sister Dam Nguyen is in Hanoi and Jim Fauss is in California, when I send my love to them, I am sure they receive it right away.

Sending love to people is not a superstition. It is based on something scientific. When we sit together, we create a great collective energy that can support many near and far. Collective consciousness can be governed by understanding or by ignorance. The more our collective consciousness is full of ignorance, the more sickness we have in our body and mind. When we have more understanding, we have more loving kindness, and health and healing are possible. In the medicine of one mind, the collective consciousness plays a significant role in the happiness of our beloved ones and ourselves.

We have to find the root causes of our diseases, most of which come from the collective store consciousness. In medical school, they don’t teach you how to go into the unconscious domain. The unconscious of Western psychology is only a small part of the collective consciousness, and the healing of most disease comes from there. If you want to heal a diseases, organize a good store consciousness. Practice mindful sitting, walking, speaking, and  eating. Water the seeds of joy and peace in yourself every day. Enjoy the present moment and share your peace and love with other. This is real prayer.

This Dharma talk was given by Thay at Plum Village in March 1996.

Photos:
First and second photo by Gloria Norgang.
Third photo by Carole Melkonian.

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From the Editors

In this issue of The Mindfulness Bell, we focus on prayer in its many forms. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma teaching explores how we define prayer and its effectiveness. Several Sangha members offer reflections on how they have woven a “tapestry of prayer and mindfulness practice” into their lives. In the next section, many friends offer a tribute to Jim Fauss, who died this past April. These remembrances attest to the fact that Jim’s life itself was a kind of prayer.

The Mindfulness Bell is the newsletter for the international Order of Interbeing, and we strive to represent the worldwide community. In this issue, we are delighted to share accounts of Thay’s visits to Italy, France, Germany, and Sister Annabel’s visit to Thailand. We warmly encourage other Sangha members in Europe and Asia to write articles for future issues.

We hope you use The Mindfulness Bell as a tool to help deepen your practice individually and in community. The letters we receive from readers are generally appreciative, and we bow in gratitude for your support. At the same time, we believe that our Sangha and our practice can be strengthened through engaged, thoughtful, and constructive dialogue. Please share with us your insights and concerns.

Beginning next issue, we will accept a limited number of mindfulness-related advertisements in The Mindfulness Bell (see page 36 for details). After being short at least $5,000 each issue, we can no longer wait until our subscription base reaches 3,500 people to cover costs. We hope you will appreciate our decision, which is a small step in the direction of self-sufficiency.

We welcome our new managing editor and production manager, Maria Duerr. Maria’s relationship with the Community of Mindful Living began three years ago when she attended graduate school in cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. That fall, she went to Thay’s lecture in Berkeley, and later interned at Parallax Press. She has continued to practice with Sanghas in the Bay Area and received the Five Precepts with Dharma teacher Joan Halifax. With Maria’s help, this Mindfulness Bell was by far the smoothest and most on schedule yet. We hope you enjoy this issue, and we look forward to hearing from you.

—Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, Ellen Peskin

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Retreat Center Update

Arnie and I just returned from a trip to the Washington, D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia areas, where we looked at several very promising properties. We were focused primarily on a beautifully serene place 20 miles south of Charlottesville in pastoral Albemarle County—700 acres and spacious lawns shaded by old oak and beech trees, a large barn that could be renovated into a meditation hall and dormitories, a quartz mansion in disrepair but basically sound, including plenty of rooms for residents and guest students, and a wonderful meditation hall space and meeting rooms on the ground floor. We began negotiations with an offer of $550,000, estimating another $200,000 or more for basic repair work, but a higher offer from another party will probably be accepted.

We also visited a farm near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, that is on the National Historic Registry and belongs to a family who would like to insure its care to the Community of Mindful Living. We are discussing the details of a possible “merger” with this family.

Now, after two years of looking almost exclusively in the D.C./Virginia area, we have decided to open the doors wide to find the right place wherever it may be in this country. We are also considering smaller, less expensive places. Your input, as always, will be greatly appreciated. —Therese Fitzgerald

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A Breath Prayer

By Marjean Bailey

When I was young, I was taught that prayer was “talking with God” and that there were two kinds of prayer: praise and petition. I was not quite sure what praise was, but guessed that it was taken care of with words like, “Thank you God for this fine day” (even though when I was young I did not think every day was a fine day). Petition, on the other hand, seemed to be not so much talking with God as telling God what to do and what I wanted.

Although I tried at various times to build a prayer life, I could not maintain this practice for more than a few weeks. I got very tired of my list of wishes and wondered if God tired of them as well. I was yearning for something more, but did not know what it was. Listening to long, pastoral prayers seemed very pious but did not make me feel any closer to God.

What seemed to make prayer so hard for me was that God was external, so removed. I believed that God was good and I was not. I wanted desperately to be good but, try as I might, I could not get past the feeling that I first had to prove myself. Deep down, I believed I didn’t do very well with prayer because something was wrong with me.

We in Western Christianity have focused so exclusively on our sinful nature that we have created a barrier to closeness with a loving God, removing us from ourselves and all of creation. I began to have a new understanding of prayer when I learned about the biblical admonition to “pray without ceasing.” This phrase was adopted by a group of church fathers in the first centuries A.D. who wanted to be in an attitude of prayer as they lived out their lives in faithful work and service. This took the form of a “breath prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.” Since we were already steeped in notions of our sinfulness, this prayer would not work for me and I was encouraged to find a “breath prayer” of my own, a mantra that came from the depths of my being and included my name for God. I would start with praise, saying, “I know that you are there in the vastness of the universe and I am happy,” and then I would make a short statement about the deepest desire of my heart, a petition. I repeated this in sitting meditation and as many times during the day as I could remember: while waiting in traffic, brushing my teeth, at the supermarket, at the ring of the telephone. This prayer soon became as close to me as my breathing and has been a very precious part of my understanding and experience of prayer.

A few times, this prayer of my heart slipped down into my being and I found myself in the presence of the beauty of holiness that transcends all words, emotions, and feelings. However, even the God with whom I was connecting in this way seemed external to me. I had not yet let go of some control over the connection between myself and my self, between my mind and my soul, between my breathing and my breath. During this time, I found it very hard to pray for friends who needed help, for parishioners, and for places in the world that were in turmoil and war. I prayed the words, but something was missing.

Once when the prophet Elijah was very frightened and wanted to run away from everything—his calling, his mission, and his truth—it was revealed to him that what he was looking for was not to be found in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the “gentle voice of stillness.” When I discovered that mindfulness and prayer meant breathing deeply in the silence that existed as much within me as without, I began a whole new journey in prayer. As I deepened my practice, I discovered that to breathe in and “relax my body and my mind” meant that in the silence of my breathing, everything was filled with newness, with breath.

The Hebrew word for breath comes from the same word as wind and spirit. The wind of God was the Spirit that was breathed into the clay when humankind was created. For Christians, the Christ Spirit is breathed into each one at baptism. So when breathing out, “I smile for joy,” it is not because I do not still have to work with my angers, griefs, and fears, but because the more deeply I breathe Christ Spirit into every cell of my being, the more surely there is a container for everything else.

Prayer is practice in breathing, mindful that it is the very essence of spirit, God, Christ, Buddha; of the stars, the seas, the trees, the pure being of me, the silence that is everything. As I breathe into every aspect of my being—body, intellect and feeling—then can come words, images, and actions. This way, when I want to ask for something—the healing of a friend’s illness, the pain of a colleague’s failure, the joy of a newborn infant, the word that might transform hate into understanding—it is more real. I can often find the patience to wait for the better word, the clearer action, and the kinder deed because it comes out of practice that is prayer. The spoken words come from a deeper place within that is also, paradoxically, the universal spirit without. The angers, griefs, and fears are still there, but they have a home in which to be held and transformed in our daily life. Then, daily life too becomes a prayer and a practice, and leads me back to breathing and silence.

Reverend Marjean Bailey is the Vicar of The Mission Parish of St. Peter, an Episcopal Church in Londonderry, New Hampshire. She has attended Thay’s retreats for the past ten years and sits with a small group in Londonderry.

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A Prayer of Mercy

By Jim Forest

In 1967 and 1968, I was often Thich Nhat Hanh’s traveling companion. In the 1970s I lived with him for a time in France, so I carry from those years not only memories of what he said but what it was like living with him.

To this day, when I climb up flights of stairs, Thay is present because he taught me how to breathe while climbing the five flights that stood between the street and my apartment. To breathe and walk in a mindful way means not being breathless but feeling refreshed at the end of the ascent. He is often with me when I feel anger, for he had good advice about how to breathe in such times: inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply, aware of each breath, an action that can convert rage to compassion.

What Thay teaches, I have come to appreciate, is a way of prayer that reaches even the areas of deepest bitterness and hopelessness. Thanks to him, I have found it easier to practice one of the harder disciplines Jesus imposes on his followers: prayer for enemies. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thay asks us to contemplate the features of a person we hate, and to examine what makes this person happy and what causes them suffering. This should be continued until we feel compassion rising in our heart. Perhaps the hardest part of such a simple exercise is making the first step—wanting to want good rather than bad for a person whose name or image makes your blood boil and steam come out of your ears. The truth is you don’t yet want good things to happen to this person, but you are trying to want it. This is hard work. But I can vouch for the wisdom and effectiveness of this advice. Just to contemplate a hated person’s face is more than a beginning.

In my practice as a Christian of the Russian Orthodox tradition, I have learned to connect this both to my breathing and the Jesus Prayer (sometimes called the Prayer of the Heart). In its simplest, shortest form, the prayer is, “Jesus, mercy.” In its longer, probably most widely used form, it is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” but for some of us, that text might well ring the wrong bells and require a long explanation. The main thing is simply to say that Thay’s exercise can be linked with a simple prayer for mercy and that can be connected with breathing.

Jim Forest is the author of several books, including Living with Wisdom, a biography of Thomas Merton, Religion in the New Russia, and Love is the Measure, a biography of Dorothy Day. He lives in Holland where he is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, In Communion

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Holy Week

By Joan Monastero

Each year, I spend Holy Week at the Nevada Test Site. The groups I have come to cherish there are Nevada Desert Experience, The Catholic Worker, and Pace e Bene—all part of the movement to stop underground nuclear testing at the site. These groups provide a faith-based witness of peace and nonviolence amidst a very destructive situation.

This year, I was invited to help prepare the liturgy for Good Friday at the Nevada Test Site. We created fourteen Stations of the Cross for the occasion, using enlarged photos of contemporary situations of suffering such as war, poverty, homelessness, and the death penalty. During this procession of about 50 people, I offered the bell of mindfulness. At each station, the bell was invited at the beginning and end of the reflection. When we reached the entrance of the test site at the end of the walk, we formed a circle and read the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

The Fourteen Stations of the Cross and the Fourteen Precepts had a unique collaboration on that most solemn of days in the Christian tradition. The Stations of the Cross are reflections on the suffering of Christ and the suffering in our world. The precepts offer us balance—a way to address suffering. Like a prayer, the precepts bring hope, much like the promise of spring and Easter resurrection, elevating and renewing our lives.

Joan Monastero, Complete Cultivation of the Heart, lives in Saugerties, New York, and practices with the Budding Flower Sangha.

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Tapestry of Prayer

By Susan Murphy

Since 1982, I have been practicing Buddhist meditation and Christian contemplative prayer. Both have been very meaningful in my own spiritual formation, and I have come to recognize both traditions as my spiritual roots. This integration has deepened so that they have truly become one fabric, one tapestry. For me, contemplative prayer is an awareness of spacious presence. Many of the meditation practices in The Miracle of Mindfulness have counterparts in Christian prayer. For example, “phrase and breath” can be done as “centering prayer,” in which a word is given in receptive silent prayer and then is repeated silently with the breath. The mindfulness practice on those who are suffering is similar to intercessory prayer, in which we open our hearts in compassion to others and offer ourselves to be available to relieve their suffering. During times when my mind is going too quickly or is insistently preoccupied, I find counting the breath to be very helpful.

As a Quaker, I have been inspired by the similarities between Quaker and Buddhist practice, especially the Quaker queries and the Buddhist precepts. In addition to individual contemplative prayer and “practicing the presence” in daily life, Quakers also come together as a community, sitting in silence, during which we are receptive to the “presence in the midst.” If someone is moved to do so, they  may stand and speak. If not, we simply sit in prayerful receptiveness, listening to what is given in the spirit. This experience of collective contemplative prayerfulness is at the heart of Quaker faith and practice and is the foundation for community discernment. It provides guidance for taking compassionate action in the world. Thay often speaks of the peace, joy, stability, and compassion which are natural outcomes of our meditation practice. Quakers also recognize that sitting in the divine presence results in the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, and gentleness.

It is not cultural context or external form that brings us to the deep center, to that place of peace, joy, compassion, wisdom, and discernment, but rather a very intimate attention to the most simple presence.

Susan Murphy, True Good Birth, is a member of the Palo Alto Friends’ Meeting and facilitates the Friends’ Mindfulness Sangha.

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The Dawn

By Webb Batchelor

I have been very bitter for many years of my life because of serious disappointments and difficulties. For almost 60 years, it has seemed that pain, fear, and sorrow will go on forever. Yesterday I was in a wretched, miserable state of mind. I saw no escape, no relief, and what felt like “eternal damnation.” My only hope was to embark on mindful walking, as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh. Fortunately I had done it many times before, so it was easy. After 45 minutes, I began to feel some peace and joy. Over and over again, Thich Nhat Hanh’s guidelines have worked for me like a happiness pill when I feel depressed, scared, or angry. I am wise enough to know that beer drinking only makes my life worse, and I have not drunk for ten years. Instead of buying a 12-pack of beer when I feel horrible, all I need to do is get a Thich Nhat Hanh book and follow the easy instructions! When I feel doomed to hell, I have to be attracted into doing what is good. Forcing myself just doesn’t work.

When I gave up beer drinking because it was obvious it was destroying me, immediately I saw AA as a pleasant substitute. I suspect that I saw the pleasant substitute first, then quit drinking. Soon I discovered books and developed a growing interest in Buddhism, until I became really hooked, and now Buddha has another tired old fish in his net.

Everyone has the right to believe that, in a miserable night, dawn will inevitably come, and can come at any time. Misery and despair are caused by confusion, so we need calmness to clear up the confusion and see properly. If we are told by someone with wisdom, “Hey, pal, it’s going to be all right,” or “God will bring you through all this to the Promised Land of sunshine in your soul,” then we can relax and be attracted to good action. It’s like being told that the train we are on is taking us to a good place. Then we can breathe a sigh of relief and be mindful of the scenery passing by. When I first came across Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, I knew that I had found someone who really understood. Through his teachings, I have realized that many people have it harder than I do, so I can turn my attention to whatever can be accomplished that would benefit those most in need. I want to be a friend to anyone who wants me as a friend. I have realized that life is worth living.

Jesus, Buddha, and other great teachers certainly have greater love, understanding, and clarity than I, so in spite of the doubts in my raving mind, if they tell a dying man that there is good news for everyone, I will believe them.

Webb Batchelor lives with his wife in Keister, Minnesota. He has been sober for the last ten years.

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Solitary Practice in “The Hole”

By Mark French

Recently I was taken away to solitary confinement for investigation purposes. “The Hole” is supposed to be the most restrictive prison environment—one man, one bare cell, and only personal hygiene, writing, and religious materials allowed. There is no exercise yard, gym, library, or going to meals—just 24 hours in a cell with meals brought in.

My first day was quite miserable. All I did was run through memories of the past to try and figure out what went wrong or tremble from fears of what the future might bring. But on the second day, I received a Community of Mindful Living envelope containing a beautiful brochure and a letter from Therese about the various programs. As I was reading the section about mindfulness retreats, I realized what a golden opportunity I had. I was touched by the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “This is not a retreat. It is a treat.” I decided then that I would treat myself to my own personal solitary mindfulness retreat.

I began to enjoy each moment in the next Days of Mindfulness. I’m no artist, but the Buddha I drew was beautiful to me. My cell became my meditation hall with my pencil sketch of the Buddha and pictures of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong from the brochure. Each remaining day began with a light breakfast and a lying down meditation as I remembered from Wherever You Go, There You Are. After a mid-morning snack, I had two 20-minute sitting periods followed by 30-minute walking meditations in my six-by-ten-foot meditation hall. After dinner at 4:00,1 had two more sitting and walking periods.

Each day I had two exercise periods and two Dharma study periods consisting of mindfully reading the CML brochure and Therese’s letter. I ate my meals silently, mindfully. By the end of my 18-day solitary retreat, I was thankful for having had the opportunity to practice, to be alone with each moment. I now view this experience not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to learn first-hand what life in a monastery might be like. It was, indeed, a treat. I can’t say I haven’t agonized over the backward steps I’ve taken, nor have I avoided thinking about what the future holds. But I am fortunate to have a renewed outlook on mindfulness and living in the moment.

Mark French is an inmate in Deer Lodge Correctional Facility, Montana.

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Poem: Blossom

I am a bulb.
For many years I have been locked
inside a cold garage.
I have been very sad.
I have been very lonely.
I almost turned into dust.
It’s a wonder I survived!
But I am here now still,
and this season I will be planted;
happy to be in the warm, moist soil.
With tender loving care
I will blossom, smile,
and carry many flowers,
bringing great joy into the world.

Royce Wilson
Sonoma, California

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Closing the Door

By Mushim Ikeda-Nash

On Thursday, April 11, my father, Robert Yoshizo Ikeda, died in his sleep at his home on Lake Anna in Virginia. My son Joshua and I were visiting at the time, mostly to help my mother, who is recovering from lymphoma and needs to be driven back and forth from a hospital in Richmond for blood transfusions. My father was 71 years old and his death was almost completely unexpected by everyone except his doctor, who diagnosed massive cardiac arrest without an examination.

At the time my father died, my mother was in the coronary ward of the hospital in Richmond, receiving some tests and being observed for effects of a new medication to regulate her heart beat. My sister, who lives in Charlottesville only 50 miles away, was in Honolulu delivering a talk, ironically enough, on “Japanese Death Poetry.” My brother, an M.D./Ph.D. research scientist, was in Georgia. I felt quite alone when I discovered my father’s body on Friday morning. He was lying on his left side; his face and hands were dark blue and very cold and stiff.

My heart was pounding and I began to feel faint. I saw clearly what I needed to do. I left the room, closing the door behind me, and walked slowly around the living room, breathing deeply and slowly. At that moment, I felt the responsibility to become calm and clear for Joshua’s sake; he was still sleeping in the family room in the basement and would wake up soon. The sun was shining through the big windows that cover one whole side of the house and open onto a view of the lake. During those moments of walking meditation, I felt that the meditation practices I began in 1981 were resources I could draw upon to stabilize me, even to give me some joy that there was no sign of struggle or suffering in the room where my father’s body lay. I knew this would be a stressful day with many pressures and decisions, and I felt that I wanted it to be a good day.

When I felt calm, I went downstairs and woke Josh up. He is seven years old. “Something important has happened,” I told him. “Grandpa died last night.” He put his head under the blankets, then raised it and said, “Maybe if we go out for a long walk and come back, Grandpa will just be in a deep sleep.” I told him that this was not the case, and Grandpa really was dead. I said he needed to put on his clothes, come upstairs and have breakfast, after which I would be very busy making phone calls and arrangements. We had a quiet and peaceful breakfast looking out at the lake, then I called the neighbors and set in motion the official investigation and removal of the body. My brother-in-law, a Jodo Buddhist priest from Brazil, and my five-year-old nephew arrived from Charlottesville to help. As the funeral service men carried my dad out of the house, Josh stood at attention with a toy Japanese sword that my grandpa had sent my brother from Hawaii at least 35 years ago. Although the funeral home men had suggested I take the children into another room, I had asked Josh what he wanted. My father had died very naturally; I did not want it to become a secret and scary process. “I want to watch,” he told me. “This is the last time we will see Grandpa in his earthly form.”

A light rain began to fall as they loaded my father’s body into a van. I placed my palms together and bowed as they closed the doors.

Although my father was against organized religion, we ended up having a small Buddhist funeral, with my brother-in-law, Kensaku Yuba, presiding. This was according to my mother’s wishes. Seven days later we held another service with my father’s ashes at the lake house. My cousin, Mary Oshima-Nakade, flew in from San Francisco with her two children and her mom, and brought some copies of a service from the Plum Village Chanting Book. As part of the service, I read the “introduction” part of the funeral service, requesting the community to listen calmly and clearly, and to recall that the joy of the children and grandchildren is the joy of the deceased as well. We sang “Breathing In, Breathing Out” together. My husband Chris had flown in from Oakland, and, with Josh sitting on my lap, I felt happy and secure. During Ken’s Japanese chanting, which was very beautiful, Joshua and Mary’s four-year-old son Ryan both fell asleep on their mother’s laps.

I wish to thank all of you for your work in making Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings available to me and to my family. I have always felt profoundly influenced by Thay’s emphasis on relaxation, joy, and slowing down the pace of one’s life in order to appreciate and feel what is truly around and within us. My father suffered a great deal from massive anxieties, racial discrimination and isolation, financial hardship, anger, and paranoia during his life. He grew up on a farm in Indiana during the Great Depression and was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after World War II ended. The extent that we were able to create an atmosphere of spiritual support, joy, and loving kindness after he died was of benefit to my whole family and to my father. I really cannot adequately express my gratitude for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I bow to all of you.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash lives in Oakland, California with her partner and son. She is a writer and proofreader, and a former nun in the Korean Zen Buddhist tradition.

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Remembering Jim

By Artie Fauss

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James Tecumseh Fauss grew up in the great San Joaquin Valley of California, where winters are cold and gray with Tule fog and summers blaze with temperatures of more than 100 degrees. His father and mother, Harold and Fern, owned a dairy farm before moving to Ceres, California. Jim learning the plumbing trade from his dad. The lessons went far beyond how to use a pipe wrench. He heard his father’s World War II stories of civilian service in Panama, was challenged to soak up street names and geography, and become observant and aware. Fern said Harold was everyone’s encyclopedia, and Jim became the second edition.

At Ceres High, Jim played football, was a cheerleader, and played saxophone in the band—sometimes all at the same game. As the result of a dispute with the principal concerning the degree of his sobriety at a basketball game, Jim left school without a diploma. He was not yet 18 when he joined the Army in 1957. He spent the next year learning Vietnamese at the Army Language School in Monterey. At 19, he married his high school sweetheart, but the rigors of Army life and pay took its toll. He went alone to Washington, D.C., where he was an interpreter at die National Security Agency. There, he interpreted decoded military messages and saw the results in the Washington Post a few days later. He felt directly responsible for political deaths in Cambodia and quit. The Army was livid. For weeks, he waited to find out whether they would let him retrain as a medic, court-martial him, or just shoot him some dark night.

The Army did not understand that young people like Jim learned more than words for “tank,” “gun,” and “missile” when they studied another human being’s language. Every day, Jim got to know Vietnamese teachers who dreamed of returning to the villages where they were born. The spirit of a gentle people, whose lives had been interrupted for decades by war and occupation, captured the imagination of his sensitive soul. Years later, Jim would reflect on this experience in a poem titled, “How Can a Human Being Learn to Love a People, Then Kill Them?”

Jim was a plumber, reader, drug user, vegetarian, beatnik, lover, husband, father, bus driver, political activist, prisoner, ultra-runner, utilities inspector, climber, storyteller, mountain rescuer, private investigator, realtor, Buddhist, philosopher, ordained minister (sort of), traveler, and poet. He also became a cancer patient who learned to make peace with his disease to the point where he could counsel grieving family members of other patients at the hospice. I believe they trusted Jim because he had cancer and was such a dedicated scholar of fear. He was real. No one could get angrier, louder, or more passionate about love, politics, basketball, religion, drug addiction, animals, children, teenagers, and life.

Jim’s best moments might have been holding his children for the first time; running on canal banks at dawn in summer while foraging for blackberries, peaches, or grapes; standing in awe at the lift-off of a blue heron; encouraging progress against racism, sexism, and poverty; watching the Golden State Warriors win; winning a twist contest himself at age 40-plus; seeing his daughter sound and whole again; learning that his stepchildren loved him too; talking with Buddhist monks in Vietnamese at a monastery in Hue; finding a new family of brothers and sisters in Buddhism; and being visited by so many of his family and friends at hospitals in Stanford and Modesto.

Jim’s last words were, “I love,” but for those of us who love him and love all the decent things he stood for in his life, his voice will continue through us and we’ll remember him well, not only for the way he felt about summer, but for all seasons.

Artie and Jim Fauss were married in 1983 and raised four grown children together. Artie is a realtor in Modesto, California.

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Five Remembrances of Jim

By Therese Fitzgerald

1.  I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. One time when Arnie and I visited Jim in the hospital, I asked Jim if there was anything he’d like us to read from the Plum Village Chanting Book. He responded, “Sure, I’ll read “The Five Remembrances.'” After reading the first remembrance, he paused and, with a big grin, said, “That sure sounds good to me.”

2. I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health. The remembrance of ill-health is one that Jim had to be very aware of since he was diagnosed with cancer in 1991. From time to time he would say, “This is no way to live, having injections and treatments all the time.” We can empathize with him. He raged against it, but he also reached that strong place of acceptance, even to some humor and detachment. We learned much from him.

3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. Jim’s awareness of death fueled his urgency to live fully and completely in every moment. At a September retreat with Thay, Jim looked at me and said, in no uncertain terms, “Therese, please give me something to do. I don’t need to be here for myself. Let me do something to help others.”

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. We appreciate so much how strong Artie is in her love for Jim to bear with this loss. There is a nugget of inconsolable grief, but there is also the joy of remembering what Jim taught us, and allowing him to continue in us.

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. The last time we visited Jim in the hospital, he was completely lucid, although in much pain. At that time, the almond blossoms were in full bloom. I bent down to Jim’s ear and said to him, “Jim, the Almond Blossom Sangha is blooming beautifully now.” He had so much energy, joy, and love to share with others that we all joined with him and asked for his help whenever we could. He created places of refuge for people to come, sit themselves down, and try to make peace with all the stuff kicking around inside. He set out on a course of meditation to center himself, to ready himself to meet death with as much ease as he could, with the help of all his wonderful family and friends—friends in the Hospice Movement, his veteran buddies, his friends in the Methodist Church, the Almond Blossom and Order of Interbeing Sanghas, the Jewish Synagogue, and many other places of prayer and contemplation that he made his home.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, assisted Arnie Kotler in celebrating Jim’s Memorial Ceremony, held on May 26 at the Lotus Garden in Modesto, one of Jim’s favorite spots.

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Poem: Untitled Poem

The following poem by Jim was read at the memorial service by Jim’s friend Ed Miller.

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Remember me in fall,
when days are warm and nights are cool,
when trees show off warm colors
stored up from summer’s heat,
and everyone has somewhere to invite me to go.

Remember me in winter,
when everyone has a holiday
and I love to celebrate them all,
when the Solstice promises longer days to come.

Remember me in spring,
when young lovers lie in grass by the river,
when warmth of midday
lets us swim in nearly full canals,
when the promise of summer
brings such joy to my heart.

But especially, remember me in summer
when the bright heat of day
warms me to the bone.

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Tributes to Jim

Dear Jim, We were contemporaries, close to the same age, survivors of the Vietnam era, and coordinators of our respective Sanghas, so you will probably appreciate the line from the James Taylor song that has been running through my head: “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone.”

I opened The Mindfulness Bell to the second page and saw your sweet face. I said to myself, “There’s my friend, Jim.” As I began to read the caption, I had already assumed your picture was there because you had accepted a position at Plum Village; your devotion to the practice and the fact that you were fluent in Vietnamese made it seem logical. Then the waves of feelings when I read of your death—sorrow for me and your family; joy that you had time to say good-bye to your dear wife and that you moved on in the state of awareness that I know you had achieved.

We were brought together for only one week out of our lives but I feel I was able to develop an appreciation for the person you were. I will always remember how sweet you were to me. As coleaders of a small group at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat in California last September, I was in awe of your accomplishments and your level of practice. Yet you treated me as an equal because I happened to be comfortable with leading group discussion.

It’s funny what we remember. I was so proud that your current profession was a bus driver. Though I own a car and am a product of the American car culture, I frequently take the bus. Thay reminds us in the Fourth Precept how powerful our words can be: “Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering.” I have seen this to be especially true when it comes to bus drivers. A happy hello versus snarling because a passenger is confused about the fare or the route can set the tone for someone’s whole day. When I would get on the bus in the morning, I would periodically picture you bestowing compassion on some confused rider. It just made me feel better to know you were out there.

I’ll never be able to be in a small group at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh again without thinking about you. And as the song continues, “I always thought that I’d see you, one more time again.”

Ah, Impermanence!
—Rosemary Donnell

I met Jim in the summer of 1994 at Plum Village for the Fragrant Mountain Ordination. As roommates in the dark room above the library in the Lower Hamlet, Jim indeed lived up to his Dharma name, “True Great Illumination.” The light of his smile and gentle spirit touched my life as we prepared to take the Fourteen Precepts. As I return to Plum Village this fall, the spirit of Jim will illuminate many precious moments for myself and others who were fortunate enough to be warmed by his spirit and light.
—Jerry Braza

mb17-Tributes

On the day of Jim’s memorial service, the comfortable warmth of the day pressed on every side—a harbinger of the summer heat to come. Spring flowers rose from the earth, reaching for the sun and the blue sky. A Buddhist bell was invited to sound its clear message. Nearby, the river flowed deeply and slowly—meandering in that vast transitional expanse between the foothills and the sea. Songbirds, mostly hidden in trees, added their voices and music as if to celebrate their lives, the lives of the people gathering in this idyllic spot, and that of our friend, Jim Fauss.

While this peaceful scene was unfolding, two seemingly incongruous things were occurring at the same time. Every few minutes, a loud, shrill animal noise pierced the almost still surroundings, perhaps in celebration of life. At the same time, snow-like wisps of white material were gently flying through the warm air. Some were searching for a place to land, others were content to drift aimlessly on. I had forgotten about Cottonwood trees and their ability to generate these wintry signs in May—a subtle reminder, that the winter of our lives is not far removed from the spring.

Many beautiful and loving words were said about Jim that afternoon. Family and friends remembered, and tears were softly shed. I had not known Jim very well before this day, but at its conclusion I felt a genuine kinship to this spiritual being. I particularly liked what Maxine had to say about him. She considered their friendship cemented by a mutual love of intense valley heat. Six days later, at the Vietnam veterans’ workshop, she looked up into the heavens and said that Jim must be up there directing the weather to provide this beautiful, soon-to-be hot day for his friends to celebrate life and to remember him.
—Bill Boykin

Jim Fauss was our smiling bodhisattva. He perfected smiling meditation. Whenever I remember him smiling, I smile too. He has an immortal smile, which he taught to the people who rode his bus. A passenger pulled the bell cord, and Jim took a joyful breath and smiled. That smile flowered on the faces of the passengers, who passed it on to the many people they met. Jim’s smile multiplies.

Jim spoke Vietnamese and Spanish to the people on the bus. He especially liked practicing Vietnamese and Spanish with the children. How miraculous it is for me to know that a veteran speaking Vietnamese welcomed those immigrants and children of immigrants to America.

Jim is a home-boy to me. We both lived and worked in Stockton; we’re exactly the same age. We have friends and place and time in common. It is so good to know that Stockton and Modesto and Salida—the wild west, the valley towns—can bring forth and nourish a smiling bodhisattva.

Artie and Jim are one of the few couples in our writing sangha. They were marriage partners and writing partners. They sat and walked together holding hands. Their long and loving marriage inspires us. Their love embraced others. When our veterans writing group met with peace activist Grace Paley, Artie and Jim made her feel at home. Artie wrote one of her strongest war and peace stories. And Jim spoke with understanding of war and peace veterans.

My homie Jim traveled from Stockton, to Modesto, to Salida, to Sebastopol, to Oakland, to Berkeley, to Albany, to Vietnam, and to Plum Village. How lucky I am to have had this smiling companion on so many journeys.
—Maxine Hong Kingston

I remember Jim Fauss by his smile. At Jim’s memorial service, several people spoke of his smile. Apparently all who knew him now treasure their inheritance, Jim’s bestowal of his smile to us. Jim’s smile was affirming, sometimes humorous, always inviting. As I remember his smile now, I see a face that lived from light and was open to silence. I didn’t spend much time with Jim, but I knew him. I loved his smile, still do. I don’t need a picture to see Jim smiling. I can enjoy it all my life.
—Jim Janko

Jim and I met at the 1993 retreat at Camp Swig. His cushion was next to my bench in the main hall for that week. Even though the retreat was silent, much authentic communication can transpire in shared silence. We had some time to talk in which he shared how he came to know Thay. He truly knew what it meant to “walk through the fire” in life, learning how to transform prior experiences into gold. Our mutual gestures of greeting, his wonderful smile, and his great humility will stay with me as tributes to his peaceful presence in life.
—Susan Murphy

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Tea at Plum Village

By Jim Fauss

Four of us returned to the Lower Hamlet about 8:30 p.m., after seeing off our dear sister Tuyen at the train station. As we drove up, we could see light coming from the limestone building. A tea was being held in the Red Candle Meditation Hall. Kees and Liane went off in the direction of their tent. Elan and I entered and found places in the circle of about 25 monks, nuns, and civilians.

Thay An Nhiac was the bell master. The occasion was to say good-bye to two nuns who were leaving in the morning to return to Hanoi. We went around the circle as we sipped tea and ate goodies and each person offered a poem or a song—sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. When we came to Thay Due Thien, he didn’t say much about the two nuns because he had arrived with them and in a week would also be returning to Hanoi. Instead, he chose to talk about me, about how we had become friends during our stay at Plum Village. He wanted everyone to know that I too was leaving in the morning, that I spoke Vietnamese, that my Vietnamese name was Nguyen Van Phan, and that I was one of the first Americans to protest the war in Vietnam. I always laughed when he said my Vietnamese name, and he did too.

My heart was so full. I sat there thinking what a beautiful evening it was—and then came the recognition from a monk from Hanoi. How many times over the years had I dreamed of the lakes, parks, and boulevards of that beautiful city. In March of 1960, a 19-year-old boy was an Army private first class working in intelligence. He had also been studying Buddhism and the life of Gandhi. He requested a word with his boss and said, “I feel that what we are doing in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam is wrong and I do not want to be part of it anymore.”

He felt very much alone. How could he know that 34 years later someone would say just a few words and make it seem so perfectly right? How could he know that with every breath he took and every word he spoke, the whole universe was there to breathe and speak with him?

When I was 19,1 thought I was the only one capable of seeing what was going on. Later, in my 20s and 30s, I was quite critical of my 19-year-old self. Now I have some compassion for that kid and I am not ashamed of him. I don’t know if I could be that brave again today.

My memory of that last night at Plum Village, drinking tea, sitting in the circle, singing songs, sharing moments with those beautiful sisters and brothers, is and always will be one of the most perfect in my life.

As I reread these words, my eyes fill with tears and my heart goes out to all the young men and women who face the moral decisions that this world forces upon them. For the future of our planet, I hope and pray that they are making the right choices. I hope we can help them.

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True Serenity in France

By Lan Phuong

When Daniel Milles told me about Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat in the Paris area at the end of March, I was very surprised. There was some indication of a low interest for Thay’s teachings in France—his last retreat in Paris had taken place five years before; the French group at Plum Village each summer represented a tiny part of the community; and though Thay’s books are best-sellers in the U.S., they can be hard to find in Paris. But then I learned that this retreat was almost fully booked, and more than a thousand people were expected for his two Dharma talks. Once more, I realized the futility of holding onto beliefs and opinions.

As I drove to the retreat at Bois le Roi, the afternoon sun and clouds were playing hide-and-seek, and the highways were jammed. I had to make an effort to remain calm. At one point, a road sign caught my attention—the “Bonsai Hotel” promised serenity to anyone taking refuge within its walls. I smiled and began to relax. Then I remembered Thay’s basic teaching: the practice of mindfulness at every moment, necessary to counterbalance what French surrealist writer Andre Breton calls “la poursuite eperdue“—the energy that propels you into the future or makes you indulge in the past. According to Breton, this energy is a flight in response to fear and existential anxiety. For the time being, it was depriving me of a precious moment of my life as I drove to the retreat with someone I loved, surrounded by a paradise of color and form.

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I began to understand that the retreat had already begun: being in retreat means to stop, let go of worldly goals, and disentangle oneself from patterns and habits which can make one live in forgetfulness.

The arrival at the retreat turned into a celebration: all my Plum Village friends were there, fresh and serene despite tiring trips from Paris, the Dordogne, and abroad. The place was pleasant and welcoming—nearby, a lake and riding school attracted all the children. Final preparations were well under way. Melodie took my hand and together we led the newcomers to their rooms. A shuttle was being organized to pick up those arriving by train. People met, others recognized old friends, and the invisible network of Thay’s friends was very alive.

While waiting for Thay’s introductory talk, Brother Doji led us in a silent meal. The quality of the silence at the meal became a good way to measure people’s absorption in the retreat. Already the next day, we noticed that the restaurant staff was becoming more silent and mindful. Even the music seemed to adapt to our rhythm!

Thay’s public talk took place in the grand room of the castle, the wooden panels of its walls and ceiling decorated with lys, the flower symbolizing royalty. Thay seemed particularly happy to express himself in French in front of a large gathering of receptive people. His first words were a little hesitant, as he does not have many opportunities to speak the language, but soon they flowed and he cited the French writers and poets of his youth.

Through the examples of a flower, a breath, and a wave, Thay taught both how easy and how difficult the practice of mindfulness can be. He demonstrated how to walk in a joyful and steady way, thus becoming a source of inspiration to others. Thay told us that joy is the fruit of mindfulness practice and is available to us all the time—when we feel, see, smell, hear, and touch. Thay also asked us to find the true master, who can help us touch the inner master. We will find him when we fully trust the practice.

Everyone entered the retreat with their whole being. From the very beginning, the atmosphere was focused and the program followed in a precise way: sitting and walking meditation, silent meals, Thay’s talks, and Dharma discussion groups. Sangha-building groups were organized in response to Thay’s wish that his students form local Sanghas. These groups worked hard and obtained fruitful results. People shared their experiences and realized that, although they came from very different horizons, they had much in common.

The conclusion of the retreat was not an end, but a continuation, demonstrating the relativity of every cessation. Most of us met again the next few days at La Mutuelite conference hall in Paris to listen to two beautiful talks. These provided the impetus for many of us to gather the following Sunday for a Day of Mindfulness at Fleur de Cactus, the Sangha house on the bank of the Marne River. In Paris, a new meditation group started in the wake of these events, adding a stone in our Zen garden.

Lan Phuong, Root Mountain of the Heart, is a college student in Paris and also translates at Plum Village.

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The Joyful Path to Italy

By Alberto Annicchiarico

After an absence of three years, Thich Nhat Hanh was given a very hearty welcome during his March visit to Italy. On the evening of March 18, more than 600 people gathered in the ancient, beautiful church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome to listen to his public talk. The next day, 340 people followed Thay on the “Joyful Path”—the name given to the four-day retreat which had been beautifully organized by the Sangha of Rome. The retreat took place at the “Mondo Migliore (A Better World),” a Catholic institute on Lake Castelgandolfo.

The “Our Father,” one of the most important prayers of the Christian tradition, was the wonderful final topic of the incredibly touching retreat. Thay spoke about nirvana, the historical dimension, the ultimate dimension, the Kingdom of God, and the Holy Spirit. Many people were surprised and amazed to hear such clear, deep, and mystical explanations of their own tradition from a Buddhist master, right in front of a Catholic altar and a cross.

Thay gave teachings on sitting, walking, and eating mindfully. He also underlined the importance of knowing how to deal with everyday emotions, difficulties, and worries. In his Dharma talks, Thay focused on the Four Mantras of Love, which, he explained, we should practice in our families and with our beloved ones. He reminded us that if the person who makes us suffer is somebody we care about, the pain which comes from being wounded is even bigger—that’s why we need to practice the Four Mantras.

Thay asked the children, “Do your teachers teach you what to do and what not to do when somebody makes you angry? Do you know how to behave while your parents argue or tell you off?” The answer was negative. He explained to both the children and the grown-ups how to embrace anger when it arises. Thay invited those present to practice the second mantra, “I know you are there, that’s why I’m happy.” It was very touching to see children teaching their parents to look deeply in their eyes, say the second mantra in silence, and then hug them tenderly. It was a moment of great intensity and many people were moved to tears.

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Sister Chan Khong sweetly guided the practice of “Touching the Earth,” and one evening was dedicated to the Five Precepts. Those who were considering receiving the precepts were encouraged by five people who spoke about their own way of practicing the precepts.

During the Dharma discussions, the emphasis was on the importance of putting the teachings into practice, free from ideas and notions, and from an attitude of self-pity. Some shared their fear and skepticism about keeping a stable practice in every situation. A facilitator reminded us that there were no miracles to wait for. “Maybe,” he noted, “the only magic is the sound of the bell. Inviting the bell to sound in order to come back to our true home has the power to create a real miracle.” One woman spoke about facing her daughter’s death. She said, “For more than 50 years, I have lived and traveled in adventure and excitement. But in the last four years, when I decided to stop and started to practice meditation, I experienced intense emotions. Thanks to Buddhist meditation, I have found the courage to go on living and, after a few years, to take back the pictures of my daughter.”

The Five Precepts Transmission Ceremony was held on the last morning of the retreat. Many people decided to receive the precepts, and the church, temporarily being used as a zendo, was literally divided in two by the long queue of the ordinees. While it looked like a massive “conversion” in Catholic Italy, Thay encouraged all the ordinees to discover the jewel in their own religion and to stay in touch with their spiritual roots. He said, “That is what should be done for peace, reconciliation, and the happiness of future generations.”

Thay’s Italian visit concluded in Venice on March 25 with a lecture organized by the Maitreya Foundation. A few weeks later, we received the good news that Living Buddha, Living Christ had been published in Italian. The “Joyful Path” is now brighter and we can go through it with more awareness.

Alberto Annicchiarico practices with the Sangha of Milano.

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Interbeing in Germany

By Marcel Geisser

The second meeting of the German-speaking members of the Order of Interbeing was held on June 10, 1996. Present were Thay Nhat Hanh, Sr. Chan Khong, Sr. Jina, Marcel Geisser, Karl Schmied, Karl and Helga Riedl, Manfred Folkers, Gabriela Flagge, Annette and Reiner Landgraf, Steffi Hoeltje, and Margret de Backere.

Thay’s visit in June was a big event and successful on all levels. His public lectures at Oldenburg, Cologne, and Mainz were sold out, and each of them drew an audience of around 1,200 people. It was also a big test on how well the Order of Interbeing would work as a Sangha on such a large five-day retreat of 370 people. It was inspiring for all of us, and we happily realized, even though we are a group of many different personalities, we were really able to work together as a Sangha in harmony.

After the retreat at Oldenburg and the two Days of Mindfulness on the Museum-Island Hombroich, we experienced an extremely informative morning with Thay, discussing questions concerning the Order. On our part the following crucial questions arose:

  • How can the Order help and support in view of the expanding and in many places newly arising communities and thereby assure a durable quality of the practice?
  • What can we do about the furtherance of our spiritual achievements?
  • In the long run, do we need a more distinct organizational structure, e.g. in the form of an incorporated society?
  • How much liberty do we have concerning organization and rituals?
  • How do we deal with the fact that some people are also rooted in different traditions or in the future even could wish to work together with a different teacher or become his (or her) disciple?
  • What does the financial situation of the Order look like, and may members in future attend retreats at cost price?

Here are some summarized answers given by Thay: Thay is inclined to return with increased force to traditions that have stood in test during a history of 2,600 years as far as subjects of the Dharma are concerned. He sees some of the work we do as part of a transition period. It is Thay’s wish that Dharma teachers and members of the Order make an effort to attend longer retreats, such as the three-month winter retreat at Plum Village, this being at present the best opportunity for future training.

The Beginning Anew and the Commitment to Harmony practices are valid as models for solving conflicts, and the latter needs to be revised.

The admission of new Order members requires the consent of the regional Sangha. The exact procedure has to be worked out. The main reason to apply for admission to the Order can be found in the wish to found a community or to support one already existing or to pass on the practice of training.

Regional leaders of a Sangha should be offered advanced training. Dharma teachers will have to elaborate a workable draft by the beginning of the retreat in September. At present, all Sangha leaders are requested to make use of this type of further training.

In principle we are desired to audit seminars of teachers of different traditions and learn from them. The condition for this is a well-founded practice in one’s own tradition. Work with a different teacher should deepen one’s own tradition and the relation to one’s root teacher.

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A Sangha should not split up before it has four Order members. It is not necessary for each member to found a separate Sangha, but he/she should practice together with other members. This point is not obligatory, but rather a guiding recommendation.

The German Order of Interbeing should in future encompass all German-speaking countries as one unit. Certain organizational and legal domains should only be dealt with at a national level (e.g. founding of an incorporated society).

Particular emphasis was put on a question of advanced training. Concerning this subject, Dharma teachers will consult the model of RIGPA and Jack Lawlor’s manual. General remark: Cooperation, Dharmic education, and the problem of finding consent are in the focus of interest.

These notes were submitted by Dharma teacher Marcel Geisser, True Realisation, the cofounder of Haus Tao in Switzerland.

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Renewing Buddhism

By Sister Annabel Laity

Sister Tue Nghiem and I visited Thailand in March, the hottest month of the year there. Apart from enjoying a wonderful selection of tropical fruits and mango with sticky rice, we led retreats and gave Dharma talks.

The young people were those most interested in the teachings of Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is wonderful for us from the West to be in a country whose roots are Buddhist and to learn from that tradition. On the other hand, traditional Buddhism can be molded in forms which are no longer suitable. Buddhism, like everything else, needs constant renewal: building on the old but giving it new, appropriate forms. We were very happy to see the commitment to renewing Buddhism in some monks. They were willing to sing Dharma songs with us and participate in a meditation guided by a Thai artist. Whenever either of the sisters gave teachings, they listened most attentively.

We stayed with Thai nuns, who are called mae chi (reverend mothers). These nuns are not allowed by the government to receive the ten novice precepts or the bhikshuni precepts. Instead, they practice the eight precepts which include celibacy, not eating after noon, and not having luxury items. Officially however, they are seen as laypeople. There is a movement to have the novice-precept ordination for women made legal, and it is supported by many young people, especially young men. Some mae chi organize themselves in communities and do social work especially with prostitutes, those who have been raped, and single mothers.

Parts of Thailand have become devastated by deforestation and over-cultivation. Monks, nuns, and committed lay practitioners are trying to reforest these barren lands. We visited one center being created by city architects to renew the old Thai traditions. They have many baby plants and trees prepared to make green, fresh, and cool again a place which feels like a desert.

The laypeople are devoted to serving the monks and, in some cases, the nuns. They rise early in the morning to cook and offer food to monks, who make the almsround before six o’clock. The laypeople, as in any culture where Western habits are starting to take root, are subject to much stress and need a practice they can incorporate into their daily lives. Those who work in the field of social action often suffer from burnout. We know that the teachings of Master Thich Nhat Hanh are a wonderful remedy for them. So we hope you will all support a renewal of Buddhism in Thailand and that in a few years, we shall see real shramanerika (novice nuns) practicing in all parts of Thailand. The time seems ripe.

Sister Annabel Laity, True Virtue, is a Dharma teacher and the Head of Practice at Plum Village.


Excerpt from interview in The Bangkok Post

BP: In Thailand, we believe that the bhikshuni lineage is long broken. How, then, were you ordained?

Sr. A: The bhikshuni lineage was never broken. The daughter of King Asoka was ordained a bhikshuni in India and then established the lineage in Sri Lanka. In the 5th century, 12 bhikshunis from Sri Lanka went to China and established the bhikshuni order there. Some nuns from Vietnam were ordained in China very soon after, and took the lineage back to Vietnam. I was ordained in Vietnam, into the same bhikshuni that dates back to Buddha’s times. China, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan still observe the bhikshuni tradition…. If society realizes the value of bhikshuni, they will make an effort to bring them back one way or the other. There are also old feelings that women are obstacles to monks’ spiritual liberation. But if monks are strong, then women are no problem for them. Like anger, sexual desire comes from the seeds within you. Sexual desire comes from monks, not from women. To make the bhikshuni possible, it is necessary for society to realize first that women are equally capable of meditation and teaching Dharma…. Lay women need bhikshuni because women need women role models. They did in Buddha’s time…. Why not in Thailand?

BP: How do you feel being relegated to a lower status than monks while here in Thailand?

Sr. A: Buddha teaches us to be aware of how society works. In Asia, women are in second place. While here, I’m happy to conform, to prostrate to the monks. It is only an outer form. If we don’t conform, people will be shocked and they won’t come to listen and learn from Dharma talks. If monks want me to bow, I can accept that. The people bowing and bowed to are the same in nature. Both are empty. While bowing, I meditate: I’m empty and you’re empty too. Empty means being made up of everything else but not you. But if they say women cannot meditate or be Dharma teachers, that I cannot accept. Monks here respect me as a Dharma teacher, and I’m happy with that….

BP: What have you learned from Buddhism in Thailand?

Sr. A: The monks’ simplicity of life and their freedom. This learning is very important, especially for Buddhists in the West. We have no Buddhist roots, and then have to take the best from each school to build our own Western Buddhism. We must take what is most applicable to our situations while remaining true to the spirit of simplicity. Buddhism adapts to the countries it goes to…. The important thing is to keep the essence, which is what we need so much in Western society.

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Sangha Profile

Open Way Sangha, Missoula, Montana

Contact: Michel Colville
1440 Harrison Street
Missoula, MT 59802 USA
Tel: (406) 543-6443 Email: darwin@selway.umt.edu

In November 1989, a small group of Missoula residents began sitting together on Sunday evenings inspired by retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh earlier in the year. Open Way wasn’t Open Way then. Nobody had thought up a name. Through that first winter, people thought and sat until the name emerged in the Spring of 1990. The name “Open Way” has become an inspiration for our practice.

The heart of our practice together over the last six years has been Sunday evening meetings. We use three standard formats on an alternating basis. Once a month, we have a single sitting meditation period followed by recitation of the precepts and a discussion. On other Sundays, we have a single sitting period followed by tea meditation and discussion, or we sit for two periods and then have a Plum Village-style service. Approximately 15 to 20 people attend these meetings. We have met in several different locations over the years. Open Way currently meets at the Quaker Meeting House in Missoula, and we are searching for our own zendo for Sunday evening and other events.

We also meet on Thursday evenings. On the first Thursday evening each month, we have a community meeting to discuss Sangha business. We have Dharma discussions on the other Thursday evenings. We usually schedule one special event each month that may be a Day of Mindfulness or an “intersangha event” with local Sanghas from other traditions. The last few years we have held an “Interdependence Day” picnic on the 4th of July featuring volleyball, plastic baseball, and outdoor walking meditation.

For the last four years, Open Way has celebrated Winter Solstice together. This celebration, initiated by Roily Meinholtz, observes the beginning of the sun’s return in the midst of the snow, short days, and long nights of a Montana winter. This practice was described in the Winter 1995-96 edition of The Mindfulness Bell.

Open Way took a big step forward when it sponsored its first residential retreat in October 1991. Some dozen meditators attended that retreat led by Dharmacharya Eileen Kiera (True Lamp); Eileen has led many retreats since then and has become our primary Dharma teacher. In April 1992, Sisters Annabel Laity and Jina van Hengel from Plum Village led fifty people in a powerful retreat that firmly established Open Way. Since then, Open Way has brought in Dharmacharyas each spring and fall to lead a residential retreat, including Jack Lawlor, Arnie Kotler, and Therese Fitzgerald. Sister Jina returned to Montana last fall to lead our first retreat that included a children’s program.

Our residential retreats have been attended regularly by several Sangha members who live outside of Missoula. Our “retreat Sangha” includes members from throughout western Montana and northern Idaho who join our Missoula members twice each year. The wide open spaces of Montana have given new meaning to our name of Open Way Sangha. Groups of Open Way members sit regularly in Kalispell, Helena, and Grass Range.

Our quarterly newsletter, News and Views, has evolved over the years. Bill Clarke firmly established the newsletter as a quality publication in his more than three years as editor. In the Spring of 1996, Bill passed editorial duties to Suzanne Aboulfadl. News and Views contains Dharma articles, and a schedule of Sangha and local events.

Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, was ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing in 1992. Rowan has been a mainstay of the Sangha and has inspired many others to become Sangha members through his Eightfold Path class that he has taught many times over the years. In 1995, Open Way Sangha became a religious nonprofit corporation registered in Montana as a local Sangha of the Order of Interbeing. There are currently over 40 registered members and dozens of unregistered/informal members who join us for retreats, sittings, discussions, and other events. Five members are ordained in the Order of Interbeing.

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Today, Open Way Sangha is firmly established in each of its communities: Missoula, Western Montana, the Order of Interbeing, and the community of all beings. May the merits of this practice benefit all beings and bring peace.

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Announcements

Jade Candles Transmission Ceremony

You are warmly invited to the Jade Candles Precepts Transmission Ceremony, to be held in Plum Village from November 30 to December 3 this year. A jade candle signifies peace in all seasons, thorough illumination, and constant harmony in the universe. Candidates who wish to receive the precepts should register by letter by October 30. Those who wish to receive the Ten Novice Precepts, the Siksamana Precepts, or the Bhikshu and the Bhikshuni Precepts need to have a letter of recommendation from their religious teacher. Candidates for the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing need a letter of recommendation from their local Sangha. Those who wish to receive the Bhikshu or Bhikshuni Precepts and who do not belong to the residential community of Plum Village need to be present at Plum Village at least two weeks before the beginning of the Precepts Transmission on November 30 to attend a special course of practice and instruction.

The Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies at Plum Village has invited the Upadhayaya Thich Quang The (Vietnam), Upadhyaya Thich Nhu Hue (Australia), Upadhyaya Thich Man Giac (USA), Upadhyayika Thich Nu Dieu Tri (Hue, Vietnam), Upadhyayika Thich Nu Dam Anh (Vietnam), and Upadhyayika Thich Nu Dam Luu (USA) to be part of the Precepts Transmitting Councils. Many other elder monks and nuns from Vietnam and elsewhere have been invited to be on the council. Dhyana Master Thich Nhat Hanh will transmit the precepts. For further information, write to Sister Eleni or Sister Annabel at Plum Village.

Passages

Ordained: At Plum Village on June 30, Minh Tarn, Susan Swann, and Fern Dorresteyn were ordained as nuns; Kiyo and Michael Ciborski as monks.

On May 27, Greg Keryk, True Good Birth, was ordained into the Order of Interbeing in Santa Cruz, California, with Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald officiating on Thay’s behalf.

Married: On March 4, Shantum Seth, True Right Path, and Gitanjali Varma were married alongside the Ganges River at Kaudiyala, India.

On March 9, Svein Myreng, True Door, and Eevi Beck, Pure Manifestation of the Source, were married at Hoybraten Church in Oslo in a beautiful ceremony conducted by Eevi’s father , a Protestant minister. A second ceremony will be held at Plum Village on July 26, celebrated by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Mindfulness Bell Will Accept Advertising

Beginning with the December issue, The Mindfulness Bell will accept a limited amount of mindfulness-related advertisements. Please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Maria Duerr, c/o The Mindfulness Bell, for ad rate sheet. Ads for the next issue are due October 15.

Update: Documentary Film about Thay

The editors of Legacy Production’s film about Thich Nhat Hanh, “Peace Is Every Step,” have reviewed all the footage—over 100 hours of tape and film, including some archival material—and they have completed a first assembly or “rough cut.” They will soon move into the “off-line” studio to produce the “fine cut,” which will take six to eight weeks to complete. The final, or “online” editing phase of two weeks will occur after the fine cut is assembled, with music, narration by Ben Kingsley, titles, and effects mixed and added. If all goes well, and with continuation of funding help, the film should be completed by the end of the year.

The Buddhist AIDS Project

The Buddhist Aids Project (BAP) provides free information on Buddhist resources and alternative AIDS services to persons living with HIV, including family, friends, caregivers, and people who are HIV negative. The group networks Buddhist resources with each other and existing AIDS services. Donations and requests for lists of articles, videos, and audiotapes may be sent to BAP, 555 John Muir Dr. #803, San Francisco, CA 94132, (415) 522-7473. BAP is compiling an anthology entitled On Meditation and AIDS: Buddhist Practice and Living with HIV, to be published by Parallax Press in 1997. Contributors include Thay, Robert Thurman, Joan Halifax, and others. Essays for this book are welcome and are being accepted until September.

Meditation & PTSD: Request for Information

The Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center in Albany, NY, is incorporating mindfulness-based meditation with the therapy of Vietnam veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans who have used meditation to transform their relationship to traumatic events are encouraged to send information about changes in the frequency and intensity of meditation, and other therapy received. Write to: Stephen Flynn, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Stratton Medical Center, 113 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12208.

Conference for Vietnam Ministers

The National Conference of Vietnam Ministers will meet October 15-20, 1996 in Attleboro, Massachusetts. For more information, contact Rev. Philip Salois, (508) 222-7313.

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Vietnam: Call to Action

By Stephen Denney

Since the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell, the situation of the two most prominent imprisoned monks has not changed significantly. Ven. Thich Quang Do, Sec.-Gen. of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBC) of Vietnam, has been moved to a prison camp near Hanoi. He was recently awarded by Human Rights Watch (along with Hanoi intellectual Hoang Minh Chinh) the Hellman-Hammet Award for Persecuted Writers. Ven. Thich Huyen Quang, 77, Exec. Secretary of the UBC, is still detained in a one-room hut in Quang Ngai province, surrounded by Security Police. He has developed a chronic lung disorder as a result of heavy insecticide spraying in nearby fields and has asked authorities to return him to his previous place of house arrest in Quang Ngai.

In the last issue, we also discussed the perilous situation of two prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, Ven. Thich Hai Tang of Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue, and Professor Doan Viet Hoat, former vice rector of the Buddhist Van Hanh University. We are happy to report that the situation of Thich Hai Tang has improved somewhat. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Professor Hoat. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet many Vietnamese refugees and have learned of the suffering they have endured during the war, in prison camps afterwards, fleeing on the high seas in leaky boats, or the pain of separation from their loved ones in Vietnam. But the ones who have suffered the most, it seems, are those whose loved ones are still detained in Vietnam. One such person is Tran Thi Thuc, the wife of Professor Hoat. Since leaving Vietnam two years ago, she has traveled around the world, urging the release of her husband and others detained for their beliefs in Vietnam. Let us join Thuc in her efforts. The following sample letter, that brings out the details of Professor Hoat’s situation, may be used verbatim or as a model for your own letter. It can be faxed directly from the CML web site: www.parallax.org

His Excellency Vo Van Kiet
Chairman, Council of Ministers
1 Hoang Hoa Tham Street
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
Fax: 84-4-845-5464

Your Excellency,

It is with deep concern that we bring to your attention the suffering of Professor Doan Viet Hoat, former vice rector of Van Hanh University. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his nonviolent advocacy of a more democratic system in Vietnam. He is detained at Thanh Cam prison in a jungle area near the Lao border, 1,400 kilometers from his home.

We are especially worried about his frail health. He suffers from a serious kidney disorder and has been urinating blood. He has lost much weight and is extremely weak from malnutrition. His family has sent him abundant supplies of food, medicine, and money, but these do not seem to have reached him. Instead, he is fed barely enough rice to keep alive.

We are also worried about his isolation. His fellow inmates are hardened criminals. Visits by his family members have been extremely restricted. He has been forbidden to read any publications.

With these sad facts in mind, we appeal to you to:

  • Allow a team of medical doctors from an international human rights organization to visit him.
  • Allow Professor Hoat to receive all necessary supplies sent to him by his family.
  • Allow Professor Hoat to communicate with his family by mail.
  • Allow him visitation rights and allow family members from overseas to return to Vietnam to visit him.

Most importantly, we urge you to consider his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory. While we understand that you may not share his political views, we hope you agree that a man’s life—and the lives of his loved ones—should not be so deeply disrupted because he does not share the political views of the government and works nonviolently to change the society. Professor Hoat has spent almost all of the last 20 years in prison. Please release him and all other prisoners detained for the nonviolent expression of their dissent.

Respectfully,
(Your signature)

Letters and/or faxes can also be sent to:
His Excellency Do Muoi
Secretary General
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
Fax: 84-4-825-920537

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Letters to the Mindfulness Bell

On my drive home from the Open Way Sangha retreat at Loon Lake, Montana, I stopped in Deer Lodge to stretch and rest from the no-speed-limit limit in Montana. I pulled up nearby the prison and found myself thinking about the people inside, what sort of misdirection, difficult childhood, etc. brought them to such a place, what their lives must be like inside, perhaps their only freedom being the freedom that mindfulness can bring. I thought of Thay’s poem, “Call Me By My True Names.”

It was lovely to return home and find the Spring issue of The Mindfulness Bell. I was especially touched by Mark French’s essay written from inside that very place, Deer Lodge Correctional Facility. (Ed. note: see p. 14, issue number 16; p. 10 this issue.) I also loved reading Lee Swenson’s and Richard Gilman’s essays about the Vietnam War Veterans Writing Group. Every time I read these kind of stories I am brought to tears. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the last two veterans retreats at Omega with the help of scholarships. These men and women and their stories helped me rediscover my own. I know those moments Lee Swenson speaks of, when it seems impossible to breathe. I smiled then when I read Thay’s Dharma discussion and thought how I have looked longingly at the top of another mountain, this three-year community of writers on war. Thay helps me to sit still and happy right where I am. Thank you for this issue of The Mindfulness Bell.
Susan Austin
Tetonia, Idaho

The new Mindfulness Bell arrived today. It is beautiful! This issue seems different in ways I can’t quite pinpoint. It feels like a fragrant, ripe tangerine, each section promising a sweet taste of the universe. Many thanks for all you do to make it available to us.
Leslie Rawls
Charlotte, North Carolina

I was given the book Peace Is Every Step by a guest speaker who attended the Ashram class that is taught here in the facility where I am presently incarcerated. It is the first book I have read by Thich Nhat Hanh and I was deeply moved by the step-by-step teachings in this wonderful book. Over the last six months I have become aware of the need to obtain inner peace. I have read many books by many authors, but none of them has moved me as much as Thich Nhat Hanh. Peace Is Every Step has given me a much clearer view of what life really is and what true peace is all about.
Mark Rice #95A4228
Elmira, New York

In response to a recent request for feedback about The Mindfulness Bell, I offer these thoughts. As an inspirational journal focusing on the positive aspects of practice in various settings and situations, the Bell serves the Sangha well. As a journal that takes a hard look at important issues, I would say the Bell leans towards the benign, and often sugarcoats the reality of practitioners’ lives and their daily struggles with Buddhist practices and their applications.

I would love to see the Bell document how Buddhist practice has the power to transform lives and awaken people to new realities and not simply make their lives better in a psychological sense. I must admit, I sometimes wonder if anybody in the Sangha is having traditional spiritual experiences in meditation, “awakenings,” experiences of emptiness (sunyata), which have been the experience and hard-won fruits of Buddhists for thousands of years, especially in the Zen lineages. Not to negate the importance of daily life experiences, but also to give weight to the truly transformative experience of waking up! As a practicing psychotherapist, I note that many of the benefits that members glean from mindfulness practice seem to fall within the same realm as the benefits of good psychotherapy. This is not to fault either system, but to yearn that Buddhist practice can take one “beyond” the personal and interpersonal, and yet be able to enrich both.

I would also appreciate longer and more in-depth articles, as opposed to the short and often “lite” articles that fill up much of the Bell. I can’t imagine that in a young and growing community there aren’t issues that need to be fully examined in the light of awareness and compassion, matters that plague all communities and organizations: money, power relationships, special interest groups, hierarchy, and decision making. How are things decided, who makes decisions, and under what authority? In the vacuum of openness and clarity, other less noble motivations can dominate. Those of us involved in Buddhist communities over the past 30 years can attest to this unfortunate reality.

When I was a young Zen student and met Thay over 20 years ago, he emphatically emphasized that for Buddhism to become truly American, it must be nourished by new energies, new models of practice, and not simply replicate foreign models (which are often in disrepute in their own cultures). Thay’s message was a powerful fresh wind that blew away the restrictive concepts dominating my Buddhist practice. His message is as relevant today with a community numbering in the thousands as it was when he was living almost as a layman in a small apartment outside of Paris.

I am using this letter to formulate the unformulated within me, and in no manner intend any negativism towards the wonderful manifestation of Dharma that The Mindfulness Bell represents. For me, to live the Fourteen Precepts means to be able to speak and listen honestly and constructively, in a spirit of compassion and love, so that we can all benefit from the warmth and wisdom of the Sangha.
Fred Eppsteiner
Naples, Florida

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