Dharma Talk: The Four Immeasurable Minds

By Thich Nhat Hanh

During the lifetime of the Buddha, those of the Brahmanic faith prayed that after death they would go to Heaven to dwell eternally with Brahma, the universal God. One day a Brahmin man asked the Buddha, “What can I do to be sure that I will be with Brahma after I die?” and the Buddha replied, “As Brahma is the source of Love, to dwell with him you must practice the Brahma-viharas—love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.” A vihara is an abode or a dwelling place. Love in Sanskrit is maitri; in Pali it is metta. Compassion is karuna in both languages. Joy is mudita. Equanimity is upeksha in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali. The Brahmaviharas are four elements of true love. They are called Immeasurable, because if you practice them, they will grow every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier and those around you will become happier, also.

Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddha respected people’s desire to practice their own faith, so he answered the Brahmin’s question in a way that encouraged him to do so. If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation. If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation. But preserve your Jewish, Christian or Muslim roots. That is the way to continue the Buddha’s spirit. If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy.

According to Nagarjuna, the second-century Buddhist philosopher, practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Love extinguishes anger in the hearts of living beings. Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Compassion extin­guishes all sorrows and anxieties in the hearts of living beings. Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Joy extinguishes sadness and joylessness in the hearts of living beings. Practicing the Immeasurable Mind of Equanimity extinguishes hatred, aversion, and attachment in the hearts of living beings.

If we learn ways to practice love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, we will know how to heal the illnesses of anger, sorrow, insecurity, sadness, hatred, loneliness, and unhealthy attachments. In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha teaches, “If a mind of anger arises, the bhikkhu (monk) can practice the meditation on love, compassion, or equanimity for the person who has brought about the feeling of anger.”

Some sutra commentators have said that the Brahma-viharas are not the highest teaching of the Buddha, that they cannot put an end to suffering and afflictions. This is not correct. One time the Buddha said to his beloved attendant Ananda, “Teach these Four Immeasurable Minds to the young monks, and they will feel secure, strong, and joyful, without afflictions of body or mind. For the whole of their lives, they will be well equipped to practice the pure way of a monk.” On another occasion, a group of the Buddha’s disciples visited the monastery of a nearby sect, and the monks there asked, “We have heard that your teacher Gautama teaches the Four Immeasurable Minds of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Our master teaches this also. What is the difference?” The Buddha’s disciples did not know how to respond. When they returned to their monastery, the Buddha told them, “Whoever practices the Four Immeasurable Minds together with the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path will arrive deeply at enlightenment.” Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything.

The first aspect of true love is maitri, the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy. If you offer your beloved something she does not need, that is not maitri. You have to see her real situation or what you offer might bring her unhappiness.

In Southeast Asia, many people are extremely fond of a large, thorny fruit called durian. You could even say they are addicted to it. Its smell is extremely strong, and when some people finish eating the fruit, they put the skin under their bed so they can continue to smell it. To me, the smell of durian is horrible. One day when I was practicing chanting alone in my temple in Vietnam, there was a durian on the altar that had been offered to the Buddha. I was trying to recite The Lotus Sutra, using a wooden drum and a large bowl-shaped bell for accompaniment, but I could not concentrate at all. I finally carried the bell to the altar and turned it upside down to imprison the durian, so I could chant the sutra. After I finished, I bowed to the Buddha and liberated the durian. If you were to say to me, “Thay, I love you so much I would like you to eat some of this durian,” I would suffer. You love me, you want me to be happy, but you force me to eat durian. That is an example of love without understanding. Your intention is good, but you don’t have the correct understanding.

Without understanding, your love is not true love. You must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love. We all need love. Love brings us joy and well-being. It is as natural as the air. We are loved by the air; we need fresh air to be happy and well. We are loved by trees. We need trees to be healthy. In order to be loved, we have to love, which means we have to understand. For our love to continue, we have to take the appropriate action or non-action to protect the air, the trees, and our beloved.

Maitri can be translated as “love” or “loving kindness.” Some Buddhist teachers prefer “loving kindness,” as they find the word “love” too darigerous. But I prefer the word love. Words sometimes get sick and we have to heal them. We have been using the word “love” to mean appetite or desire, as in “I love hamburgers.” We have to use language more carefully. We have to restore the meaning of the word love. “Love” is a beautiful word. We have to restore its meaning. The word maitri has roots in the word mitra, which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary meaning of love is friendship.

We all have the seeds of love in us. We can develop this wonderful source of energy, nurturing the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return. When we understand someone deeply, even someone who has done us harm, we cannot resist loving him or her. Shakyamuni Buddha declared that the Buddha of the next eon will be named Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.

The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may he crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use “compassion” to translate karuna.

To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practice mindful breathing, deep listening, and deep looking. The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshvara as the bodhisattva who practices “looking with the eyes of compassion and listening deeply to the cries of the world.” Compassion contains deep concern. You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep commu­nication, deep communion with her, and that alone brings some relief.

One compassionate word, action, or thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha had enough understand­ing, calmness, and strength. That is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.

Commentators explain that happiness relates to both body and mind, whereas joy relates primarily to mind. This example is often given: Someone traveling in the desert sees a stream of cool water and experiences joy. On drinking the water, he experiences happiness. Ditthadhamma sukhavihari means “dwelling happily in the present moment.” We don’t rush to the future; we know that everything is here in the present moment. Many small things can bring us tremen­dous joy, such as the awareness that we have eyes in good condition. We just have to open our eyes and we can see the blue sky, the violet flowers, the children, the trees, and so many other kinds of forms and colors. Dwelling in mindful­ness, we can touch these wondrous and refreshing things, and our mind of joy arises naturally. Joy contains happiness and happiness contains joy.

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Some commentators have said that mudita means “sympathetic joy” or “altruistic joy,” the happi­ness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimi­nation, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upe means “over,” and ksh means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indiffer­ent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination.

Upeksha has the mark called samatajnana, “the wisdom of equality,” the ability to see everyone as equal, not discriminating between ourselves and others. In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides. We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or see others as different from us, we do not have true equanimity. We have to put ourselves “into the other person’s skin” and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him. When that happens, there is no “self’ and no “other.”

Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is upeksha.

For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy, and equanimity in it. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy, and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion, and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Minds. When the Buddha told the Brahmin man to practice the Four Immeasurable Minds, he was offering all of us a very important teaching. But we must look deeply and practice them for ourselves to bring these four aspects of love into our own lives and into the lives we love. 

This Dharma talk is from Teachings on Love, to be pub­lished by Parallax Press in March. 

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From the Editors

If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace …. -from Being Peace

In this Mindfulness Bell, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity in ourselves and others. Maxine Hong Kingston-calling joy an advanced state of human evolution-encourages us to develop an art and literature of joy. Other Sangha members share their insights into the Vietnamese roots of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, the second international Order of Interbeing conference, and family practice.

This issue marks the first time The Mindfulness Bell includes advertising. We hope you appreciate the chance to learn about the work and products of others in our extended community, and we also hope this will help us in the direction of breaking even. As always, we look forward to hearing from you about your successes and difficulties of practicing mindfulness in daily life.

Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, and Maria Duerr

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Retreat Center Update

In September, a breakthrough occurred in our search for a property to begin a rural retreat center and community. Real estate developer Pritam Singh, who developed the award-winning and environmentally sound Truman Annex community in Key West, Florida, as well as many other properties, has offered to help in our efforts. After practicing in another spiritual tradition for more than twenty years, Pritam came upon Peace Is Every Step and Thich Nhat Hanh’s other books and felt a deep conviction to practice and to help share the practice of mindful living widely. To our great joy, Pritam has offered his time and the resources of The Singh Companies as a gift to work with us establishing and developing this center.

On December I, at Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton, Virginia, Sangha members from Washington D.C., Charlottesville, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and even Paris, joined Pritam, architect Guy Grassie, and Pritam’s assistant, Ken Braverman, to discuss the functions such a center might serve, the forms it might take, and the process for accomplishing this. We began with sitting meditation. Anh Huong Nguyen then read a statement by Thfty about starting a retreat center. Therese Fitzgerald, Pritam, and I shared introductory thoughts, and then we met for the rest of the morning in small groups to set our visions down on easel paper and in discussion. We concluded the morning with walking meditation (indoors-it was a cold December rain outside). After a beautiful lunch, begun in silence, followed by mindful conversation, we spent the entire afternoon as a large group continuing the discussion on where we go from here. We finished with a short period of sitting. All of us had the sense that our dream was getting closer to reality, in terms of property and in terms of community building.

A similar meeting was held in Mill Valley, California, on December 15. In addition to talking about a national retreat center in Virginia, we also talked about the possibility of finding a small house and beginning a practice “corner” in the Bay Area. This seems to be a topic all over the world. Sangha members in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Montana, and several other places have recently shared with us their thoughts about starting a small center, or as Thfty has said, “Zen corner.”

A full report on our plans and our progress to date will be available soon. If you would like a copy, please send a 9×12 self-addressed, stamped envelope. Then do let us hear your comments. We very much look forward to proceeding together with you.

Arnie Kotler, for the Community of Mindful Living

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Writing Peace

By Maxine Hong Kingston

To write a scene, a story, or even a poetic moment of peace may not be easy to do. In the writing workshops that I share with veterans, most of the stories that come are traumatic scenes: a firefight where everybody except the writer is killed, going berserk in the vet hospital and breaking through a wall, giving orders for planes to bomb our own troops because the enemy is coming. It is easier to write about scenes like that than about moments of great joy because the habit energy of our culture tells us that the excitement of violence is more dramatic. Often people say, “Were you excited?” or, “That was really exciting!” We are addicted to excitement more than to calmness, ease, and peace. Violence, conflict, and excitement are what draw us to the movies, television programs, and books we choose. In fact, the whole point of the form of a novel is to lead to conflict and then resolution.

It is very easy to look over our lives and think of all the crises we have had. We think of those as times of growth. But what if you stopped and asked yourself, “When have I been happy?” It could be a childhood memory, but it would be wonderful if you had a happy moment yesterday, because that means that you are experiencing joy and delight now.

Please write a scene of joy. Find a quiet spot, breathe, and review your life. Think about a wonderful moment that has happened to you or that you have caused to happen in this world, a scene of delight, love, hope, or gratitude. When you put a great moment of joy into a story or poem, that joy is passed on to the reader who learns how to have that feeling through what is written. When we write our scenes of happiness and joy, we could be beginning a new kind of literature and changing the consciousness of what great art is.

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The words “love,” “joy,” “delight,” and “beauty” are abstractions. You need to write in a way that makes this moment very concrete. Peace, joy, and delight take place in our physical body as physical sensations. When you think of this happy moment, can you remember how your body felt? Where did the joy take place? In your stomach? In your chest? Sometimes I feel as though there is sunlight in my body, and I feel rays of light coming out of my ch.est. I also feel joy and agony in my hands. You are the physical embodiment of those feelings. You feel them in all parts of your body. So when you describe these feelings, remember to describe the way your body felt.

This joy and happiness is not just in your body, it also happens in a place. Write about what is inside of you, and then also write about what is in your surroundings that gives you those feelings.

A scene of joy takes place in sequential and continuous time. When you write a scene, write about a series of moments. Don’t skip forward or skip backward, just stay in that scene until you have described everything that contributed to the atmosphere. Use the senses of your body to see if your description is full and complete. Of all our sense organs, our eyes let in the most of the outside world. What does joy look like? Write down all the visual images that contributed to those wonderful feelings . What does peace smell like? What does it sound like? If there were people who contributed to the happiness, what did they talk about? What did you say that made everybody so happy? What tone of voice did they use? What does happiness feel like? There are times when the skin feels different, depending on what feelings and thoughts we’re having. What does joy taste like? As you look through your scene, check it for all of these senses. These are ways that we perceive and interact with the real world.

Story is cause and effect. As you write, think about what causes this feeling. Sometimes we have a flash of great happiness or a vision that seems to come out of nowhere, . but there is a cause for our happiness. Keep looking at what caused what, and keep describing what happened.

Don’t miss a moment of peace just because it is surrounded by unhappy moments. You may be able to find a diamond or a light of joy in the middle of a very traumatic moment in your life. My husband and I spend summers at the Grand Canyon and live with firefighters who often talk about being surrounded by fire. I know one young man who felt that there is a place of calm and peace even in the middle of a firestorm. It might have been inside of him or it might have been out there, but he was able to sit in the middle of the fire and write a poem.

One of the veterans in our writing group, Mike Wong, was a deserter during the war in Vietnam. He went to Canada and met American, Canadian, and Vietnamese draft resisters and evaders. Mike wrote a wonderful scene about a peace demonstration with his friends that turned into a sit-in in the middle of the street. These young men were risking deportation, arrest, and being put back in the army and shipped to Vietnam, but they sat in the middle of the street anyway. Suddenly, there was a moment of peace as the crowds went around them. In writing that scene, Mike described everything- the feel of the concrete street they were sitting on, the noise of the crowd, the excitement of the mounted policemen on their horses, the people shouting, “Take the street!” He wrote about the peacefulness and the great joy of things not happening-they were not arrested, they were not run down, they were not beaten up by the police-much like Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminder to appreciate a non-toothache. Mike had the ability to show a great moment of peace right in the middle of violence and fear.

Many psychotherapists have believed that people need to go deeply into their traumas and wounds and talk about them. But lately, there has been some thought that it might be better to strengthen the positive, joyful aspects of life. I learned about this in my hometown of Stockton, California. Several years ago, a man came into a schoolyard with a machine gun and killed many Southeast Asian children. Afterward, therapists from all over the state came to help the children. The therapists wanted the children to talk about the man with the gun, about who was killed next to them, and so on. But the Vietnamese community in Stockton said they had their own way of handling it. They had Sangha meetings, meditations, tea ceremonies, and games. They constantly had joyful practices with the children.

Last Thanksgiving at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh said to several of us, “Let go of your suffering. Don’t be attached to the suffering.” But we also remembered him saying at another time, “Stick to your suffering.” I have come to the conclusion that there is no contradiction in these statements. In our writing and in our contemplation, we do both. There are times when we attach to our suffering, we feel it, we contemplate it, we breathe it, we hold it, we write about it, and we find words for it. We almost instinctively do that. But the idea of letting go of suffering is a really new thought. Instead of coming directly at that suffering, we can contemplate our joy. When we do this, peace and joy become solid and strong and suffering takes care of itself. Human joy is an advanced stage of our evolution.

Maxine Hong Kingston, winner of the National Book Award, is author of The Woman Warrior, China Men, Hawaii One Summer, and Tripmaster Monkey. She leads meditation and writing workshops for veterans of war.

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Redwood Sangha

By Wendy Johnson

Many years ago Thich Nhat Hanh walked through the filtered light of the redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument and reminded us that West Coast Dharma students were practicing in the protection of a true “Redwood Sangha.” Just as the stately sugar maple of eastern Canada gives color and form to Maple Village ‘Sangha on the outskirts of Montreal, and the gnarly, drought-hardy manzanita defines the lines of Manzanita Village in the Anza-Borrego wilderness of Southern California, so does the old growth redwood of the Pacific Northwest sustain and deepen the Dharma practice of those of us living in the remnants of the Redwood Empire.

This empire once stretched in a vast, 2000-mile arc from Icy Strait on the North Alaskan panhandle as far south as the forested flanks of Monterey Bay in central California. When Europeans first entered these forests in the 1700s, they walked into woods that had grown undisturbed for millennia. The dominant conifers of these forests- western hemlock, Sitka spruce, noble fir, western red cedar, Douglas fir, Port Orford cedar, and coastal redwood- are all ancient trees, some growing to a height of 200-300 feet. By a million and a half years ago, these conifers had established their dominance on the temperate Pacific Slope where they have grown undisturbed since the dawn of time.

In the 1870s, commercial West Coast logging began in earnest and these forests came under the saw blade of a booming timber industry . Now, only a scant four percent of the original two million acres of old growth redwood remains. Loss of this ancient forest signals loss of life and habitat for numerous inhabitants of the forest including microscopic mycorrhizal fungi, the endangered Pacific giant salamander, the coho salmon, the California black bear, the red tree vole, the northern spotted owl and the elusive, threatened marbled murralet.

Old growth redwoods have been my home and my teacher for 25 years. Every winter at Green Gulch Farm we dedicate January and February to caring for these trees and plants. Each February since 1987, we have a Family Day of Mindfulness during which we plant and tend seedling redwood and Douglas fir trees. Some of our original trees now stand eight feet tall with their long limbs stretched to the sun. Children who attended our first plantings come every year to visit their young Redwood Sangha.

Over the last two years, I have joined many people in speaking out for the protection of our remaining old growth forests. In particular, I have been involved in the peaceful and steady campaign to protect the last stand of old growth redwoods on private land, the 60,000 acre Headwaters forest owned by Pacific Lumber Company in southern Humboldt County, California. Ten years ago, the company was taken over by Charles Hurwitz. In order to repay his sizable junk bond debt, Hurwitz has ordered that a massive swatch be cut out of this irreplaceable 2,000-year-old redwood empire.

When I ponder the loss of this ancient forest, I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, “We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?” I keep this statement on the wall of my closet. They help me slow down and think about what I am doing as I prepare to dress and go out to work in the world.

Last month a group of us from Green Gulch Farm organized an evening prayer vigil in Muir Woods in honor of the Headwaters forest. People came together in Muir Woods to pray for the nonviolent protection of the forest. We practiced walking meditation under the vast canopy of the old growth trees of Muir Woods, stopping for a long time near a huge, freshly fallen redwood tree that was hundreds of years old. In the last light of the day, our prayers were carried through Muir Woods and out to the Headwaters forest, some 250 miles north.

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A week after the prayer vigil I drove north with two young women friends to make a pilgrimage to the Headwaters forest. We camped with about 125 nonviolent activists on the banks of the Van Duzen River, sleeping, eating, speaking, and meditating in the shelter of a towering Redwood Sangha. Every night, we sat up in the dark with our backs against giant redwo.od elders. In the quiet of the forest we invited the bell of mindfulness and listened as the tones carried up to be received by the lowest limbs, some 50 feet above our heads.

David Brower, the founder of Friends of the Earth and an environmental activist of 70 years, has called for “CPR” for the old growth forests–conservation, protection, and restoration. I thought long and deeply about these values as we sat in the presence of the Headwaters Redwood Sangha. I wondered what action I could take to protect the life of these trees that would not also polarize and pit loggers against environmentalists. I took the time to compose a letter to Charles Hurwitz about his unique ability to offer CPR to the Headwaters forest and to the world by preserving the legacy of the ancient redwoods.

At the same time it was clear to me that I could not stand by and permit the logging of these trees . This wo.uld be disengaged mindfulness and unacceptable behavior. To stand by and do nothing would be true civil disobedience rather that obeying the civil call of thy forest. So, after much thought, my two friends and Ijoined about 15 other women in a peaceful action to block a main logging road leading into the forest. In the middle of the night we filled our pockets and backpacks with balls of colorful wool yarn and went to the road leading into the heart of the woods. All across this lonely road we wove a bright, thick web of wool to block the entrance to the forest. We worked in mindfulness and in joy, sending prayers to the loggers and to the trees, and receiving strength from the dark presence of the forest brooding just beyond the gate.

A web of wool can be slashed apart by a sharp knife, which is just what happened when the Pacific Lumber guard encountered our work. But we continued to weave and to send love to the forest and to this guard. We sang and prayed as we worked. One brave woman even crawled into the guard’s car and wrapped his gun with a web of gossamer wool. We were not angry, although the guard was. We treated him with respect and determination as he slashed down our web, again and again. Finally he called the sheriff who arrived irate and determined to flatten the now huge web that blocked the road. In the headlights of the sheriff s truck before he drove into the web and tore it down, we saw a shining net of mindfulness spun with love and attention to protect the trees from danger.

Now I am home again in our Muir Woods watershed, with the image of the Headwaters Redwood Sangha strong in my heart and mind. This image is deepened with the practice of mindfulness. I continue to work for CPR of the forest in whatever way I can, because I know that if I forget about this Redwood Sangha then I am truly lost. Just a few days ago I went with my daughter and friends to the heart of the financial district of San Francisco where more than 100 people gathered at Senator Feinstein ‘s office for a candlelight prayer vigil in support of the forest. Rabbis and ministers spoke and I offered the evocation of the Bodhisattvas’ names in honor of the forest. We closed the prayer vigil with a spirited group chanting of The Metta Sutta (Discourse on Love).

Recently I celebrated my 49th birthday by practicing walking meditation with my family and close friends at daybreak in Muir Woods. The dawn was warm, lit by the soft red-gold light of late Indian Summer. Far above us the small cones opened their primitive scales in the warmth and shook free their ripe seed, showering us with a rain of wealth. I knelt with my seven-year-old daughter Alisa in a cathedral grove of redwoods and gathered waves of cinnamon-brown seed. “Mama,” Alisa whispered with earnest intensity as we worked, “if we have to, we can replant the Headwaters forest with this good seed.”

Dharma teacher Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment, was the head gardener at Green Gulch Farm in Northern California for 20 years. She is currently writing a book about meditation and gardening.

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The Sangha Tree

By Ian Prattis

At the September retreat, Sister Ani Lodro and I decided to plant a tree as a gift to the Lower Hamlet. We purchased an apricot tree from the garden center in Bergerac. It has beautiful, delicate white flowers in the spring and rich orange-colored fruit in the autumn. We both had our personal reasons: Ani Lodro wished to commemorate her friend Kay, who had recently died an aware and beautiful death, and I wanted to establish a landmark for my son Alexander’s new life and commitment to a path free from drugs. But the project quickly grew beyond our individual concerns and we decided to associate the tree with the Third Refuge and the idea of Sangha-building. Each person is a cell in the body of the living Buddha that manifests through the Sangha, and this tree represents every Sangha we create through mindful practice.

On September 26, the tree was entrusted to the Earth, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and planted in the orchard next to the Buddha garden, circled by apple trees . We recited poems, sang songs, and placed some soil and our heartfelt prayers into the ground for its growth. Thay and Sister Chan Kh6ng graced the ceremony with their presence.

The tree came with a guarantee from the garden center if it does not work it can be traded in for a new one! There is no such guarantee for Sangha-building, however, other than the guidelines and encouragement from Thay which can help our Sanghas flower and bear fruit. When you next come to Plum Village, please visit the tree in the Lower Hamlet. Feel its beauty, and remember all it connects us to.

Ian Prattis, True Body of Understanding, practices with the Tu An Pagoda Sangha in Ottawa, Canada.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1

A blessing of winter to you–
When the earth lies asleep in the dark
In the cord that can chill our bones
May your heart stay awake and attentive
May you hear how “creation still groans.”

A blessing of springtime to you–
When all rivulets gurgle again
And wet branches unfurl their green,
May your heart’s tears of joy and
of gratefulness
Be the water to wash anger clean.

A blessing of summer to you–
When in orchards the fruit starts to glow
And in gardens the flowers are flaring,
May your heart come ablaze with the fire
That can kindle compassionate caring.

A blessing of autumn to you–
When the fragrance of fruit fills the air
As we wake to the call of wild geese,
May your heart find the home that it longs for
May you know where to seek your true peace.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

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Open Eyes

By Sam Dubois

Please do not ask me to shut my eyes
until you have demonstrated what a lotus is
and how I may be able to be it;
until you can show me how to understand
that along with the terrible, even unspeakable,
I carry along some kind of potential.
I do not mean to take advantage of you–
believe there is no viable alternative.
I know about being “saved” only to continue to hurt;
nothing exists beyond suffering and pain
and what little I can take
before someone takes again from me.
–Sam Dubois

Pour years ago, I started sitting, reading, and reaching out through Buddhist practice for a basis to begin understanding who I am and how I had come to deserve to be where I am. Two years ago, I received the first kind letter and some beautiful books from Therese Fitzgerald. A year later, she honored me with a humbling, joyful personal interview while she was in North Carolina. Therese spent some time with our chaplain and started the wheels rolling towards having two hours each month set aside for meditation in our prison chapel. Bob Repoley of the Charlotte, North Carolina Sangha, led our first Sangha-behind-bars in Harnett Correctional Institution. Joined by eight nervous fellow inmates, I sat on two hymnals for a cushion, trying to be still with my monkey brain climbing, shoving, swinging, and jumping over my extensive internal obstacle course. Not exactly a textbook meditation group, but an important one.

I would like to share some thoughts about practice in this setting from my own experiences. First, any generalization is suspect, but an awareness of who is in our prison population may be helpful. Most of us, through a combination of causes, have developed lies on which we base our thinking and through which we process any situation we encounter. We may manipulate and rationalize our behavior to allow ourselves to be unmindful. I believe most inmates would like to confront their errors in thinking. I also accept that some are operating from apparently sociopathic or even psychopathic reasoning. They may be incapable of empathy or compassion, and unprepared to be aware of the suffering they cause others and themselves.

There are no valid excuses or reasons for inappropriate behavior. There are only wrong choices, which come from a lack of values, morals, or precepts. More than anything else, the men, women, and youth in U.S. prisons need the firm, compassionate Mindfulness Trainings. Please understand that many will not be ready for the message, and a few may even be hostile. Yet some will, perhaps without being able to communicate it, find a degree of mindfulness and set in motion immeasurable actions that will constructively affect those they come into contact with, and prevent the suffering of those who would have been caught in the cycle of mindlessness.

It is also important to know that many inmates have been incarcerated since their early teens and know nothing about life except their experienced negatives. Most inmates have seen and/or caused too many things they do not want to think about, much less confront in unsupported stillness. One brief case history illustrates this point. It is a true story, and the worst is probably untold: A boy is born to a crack mother, with extensive prenatal abuse. His earliest experience is not being responded to when crying in hunger or need to be changed. He grows up without physical, social, moral, or sexual boundaries, knowing nothing except being violated and violating. Carries a gun to school in fourth grade to prevent assault on his person. Runs a line of prostitutes younger than he by the time he is 15. Snitched on by a disgruntled coke client. After four years in detention, four months on the street was enough time to earn 20 years in prison for assault, larceny, and possession. He is a streetwise young man, familiar with murder, betrayal, and distrust, afraid to walk down any quiet forest trail.

And finally , please realize that “prisoner” is another word for person, neighbor, friend, daughter, son, sister, and brother. We are not ignorant or irreversibly fixated in immaturity. We are very misinformed because of the absence of a constant, imitable experience. We are not unwilling nor incapable. But we have learned to expect social injustice, rejection, and failure.

I thank you for listening, and wish I could express myself more clearly. Every day I am angry, lonely, sad, and afraid. I know that the highest gift is the awareness that we do not have to fear. And I know this beautiful gift cannot be given or received from someone merely saying, “Do not be afraid”-it must come with risk and patience, wrapped in honest and persistent demonstration . .

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Sam DuBois is a peer counselor in the S.O.A.R. (Sex Offenders Accountability and Responsibility) program at the Harnett Correctional Institute in North Carolina. He invites readers to share thoughts and questions with him at P.O. Box 1569, Lillington, NC 27546.

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Prison Sangha

By Therese Fitzgerald

The chaplain said, “You know, it is unprecedented in the North CarolIna pnson system to have a Buddhist ceremony.” We were on the phone trying to rearrange a Five Mmdfulness Trainings ceremony for Sam DuBois an inmate at Harnett Correctional Institution. Charlotte Sangha member Bob Repoley had spent weeks arranging for a dozen sangha members to attend a ceremony that prison authorities cancelled at the last minute.

I was allowed to make a personal visit to Sam at the time of the scheduled ceremony. Having gotten lost in the nearby town of LIllIngton, I arrived ten minutes late. The female guard who checked me in exclaimed, “Sam’s been askin’ for you every minute!” Sam met me, and we were allowed to sit at a picnic table in the prison yard. We just sat together enjoying the autumnal air. Looking at the heavily pruned willow oak trees in the yard, I expressed gladness that they were at least there, however contorted. “We are surrounded by trees,” Sam beamed, pointing through the chain fencing topped by coils of barbed wire to the trees across the street from the prison. “I’m fortunate to have a window by my bed in the dormitory, so I can look out and enjoy the trees and the birds that fly overhead.” We discussed each Mindfulness Training, one by one, as well as the context of practicing the Trainings in a Sangha.

I gave the prison authorities a copy of the text for the Trainings ceremony without any Sanskrit words, to dispel any notion of cultish activities. For example, the authorities had referred to me as a “high priestess.” “You can refer to me as a minister,” I responded. Over the next two days, the Durham and Charlotte Sanghas and I prepared for the ceremony with the help of the chaplain. At the very last minute, the chaplain was able to give us the “OK.” Kim Warren and I drove as quickly as we mindfully could to arrive at the designated time.

At the prison, our persons and everything we brought zafus, incense, bells-were inspected at the gate. Once again, Sam was there, Johnny-on-the-spot, to greet us and usher us with the guard through groups of prisoners milling about, to the chapel. The chaplain graciously welcomed us into the chapel, a haven of quiet and calm on the otherwise noisy, crowded campus.

Seven men gathered to bear witness and to participate in Sam’s ordination. I looked each man in the eye with respect and a certain seriousness. We exchanged names and shook hands, and I invited everyone to sit in a circle. We sat in meditation to settle into an experience of ease and self-acceptance. We sat in support of Sam going for refuge and protection.

Just as we began the formal ceremony, Leslie Rawls and Bob Repoley arrived after a three-hour drive from Charlotte. The circle widened. Two inmates entered the room as observers. Incense was offered and the Mindfulness Training Transmission Ceremony took place. Sam emerged as “Courageous Understanding of the Source,” and man; smIles were present in the room. A fellow inmate told Sam “I share your joy.” We all felt the joy of the moment” welcoming. Sam into his formal acceptance and practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We were allowed a visit with Sam in the yard before departing, happy that this day had come to be.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is a Dharma teacher and the Director of the Community of Mindful Living. The Community of Mindful Living’s Prisoner’s Program provides books, subscriptions to The Mindfulness Bell, and other support to inmates around the U.S. If you are interested in assisting the project, please contact CML at P. 0. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, tel: (510)527-3751.


 

The following letters were received from other inmates who attended Sam’s ceremony and are part of the Harnett Correctional Center Sangha.

Our Sangha met Saturday. We did a reading meditation on anger. It went well. The bellmaster did a fabulous job-it’s funny how much I’ve come to enjoy the ringing of a bell. .. The thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I could be somehow instrumental in carrying the good news of what Bob [Repoley] and Sam [DuBois] have begun. I thirst for more knowledge and as time passes hopefully I’ll have other Dharma teachers to learn from. This path that has been presented to me offers something seldom experienced .. . This old heart of mine beats with much more loving kindness now. It’ll grow even more.
Edwyn Wright
Lillington, North Carolina

Thank you for your time, persistence, patience, and presence here at Harnett Correctional. The Mindfulness Training ceremony for Sam was beautiful. Since then, he has radiated with the same glow that you provided while here. I am most sincerely interested in more teachings surrounding the Mindfulness Trainings … I cannot help but see the benefits of meditation and the important support of my community. I have found that accountability and responsibility are universal. Much has been given to me, truly, much is required …
Frankie Palmer
Lillington, North Carolina

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Jewish Holidays

By Anne Rogal Winiker

Because the Jewish year is based upon an ancient lunar calendar, Jewish holidays are never on the same date from one year to the next. Thus, my nonrefundable plane tickets were already purchased when I realized that our most sacred holidays overlapped the time period of “The Heart of the Buddha,” the September retreat in Plum Village. I felt conflicted, but stuck to my decision to spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur far from home. My rationale that “spiritual work is spiritual work” did not appease my family. As I departed, my younger brother hugged me and hissed into my ear, “Have a safe trip, happy holidays, and don’t ever do this again!”

The day after my arrival at Plum Village was also three days before the first of these holy celebrations. There was a group of Jewish retreatants, and written recognition from Thay about the importance of this time “for our Jewish brothers and sisters.” But how would we celebrate without rabbi, services, or synagogue? The Jewish group numbered about 40, and most of us were now sitting in a big circle by the linden tree, trying to figure out how to create our own ceremonies.

“I feel like crying,” one woman said. “I can’t believe nothing has been organized.”

“I’d like to develop something accentuating Buddhist themes.”

“We have twenty-one days of Buddhist themes. I want a Jewish service.”

“We need a bell. Someone please ring a bell.”

“Maybe we should just go find a synagogue in Bordeaux.”

“Can we talk about process before content?”

“My name is Shalom,” said Shalom. She extended her hands, and one by one we connected our circle, closing our eyes, breathing, and finding ourselves united, after all.

The days passed, and a small group worked to .combine strongly-held philosophies and opinions, ceremonial objects and writings, and favorite songs and traditions. My sense of mission expanded abruptly when Ruby, a non-Jew, insisted that the celebrations should be offered to everyone at the retreat. “What a wonderful opportunity to experience our true interbeing,” she said. Startled, I realized the image I held of our Jewish group celebrating unobtrusively in some quiet corner. To share the significance of this time with non-Jews was unprecedented in my life.

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As the holidays approached, we prepared our texts so that an “outsider” would be able to understand them. We made announcements and public invitations. When we gathered by the bamboo grove to rehearse our music, we. were joined by new people, strangers to us and to the Jewish traditions. A large circle of singers formed, standing and swaying as our ancestors have done in worship through the ages. The newcomers approached the unfamiliar Hebrew words and haunting melodies with incredible zeal. Emanuele, a non-Jewish friend from Italy, said, “I feel as if I have always known this music.”

The 60-strong German Sangha loomed large for me. They circled us, clearly wanting to participate. Eulysia, gentle and self-effacing, had joined our first planning group. “I’m not a Jew, I don ‘ t know if it’s all right for me to be here, may I help with something?” I felt the sincerity of her intention, and a pain behind it. Why did I also feel a sense of annoyance, as if I wondered, “What could you do anyway?” The next day two handsome, blond men approached us, politely offering, ” May we share with you?” in German accents. As they sat down, I felt an intangible sense of threat, and could not get the phrase “perfect Aryan specimens” out of my mind. Several of my new Jewish friends were children of concentration camp survivors. I wondered if the religious services could somehow serve as a vehicle for German-Jewish reconciliation. But I didn’t know how to reconcile these visceral feelings that came from a time before many of us were even born.

Friday evening arrived, bringing the Sabbath and Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the New Year. To my amazement, perhaps 200 people gathered in the large meditation hall of the Upper Hamlet. Thay was there. The room glowed with warm candlelight, illuminating the flowers, fruit offerings, and rose-colored Buddha statue. Together, we sang the beautiful melodies. People’s arms extended around their neighbors. Together, we rose to call out the Shema, the “watchword of the Jewish faith,” affirming the Oneness of God. Stretching our arms to the sky, we affirmed the oneness of us all. We blessed bread and fed pieces to each other, saying, “May you never be hungry.” And we recited the Shehechianu, a prayer for blessing anything new. We were blessing not only the New Year, but also this new Sangha of Jews and non-Jews celebrating at a Buddhist retreat. As the service ended, Nel , a friend from Holland, rushed up to me. “I want to convert!” she exclaimed.

Tashlich” is the New Year’s Day ceremony symbolizing throwing away one’s sins. Thay led the Sangha on a mindful walk to the little pond in the Lower Hamlet. We had been instructed to gather small sticks along the way. At the water’s edge we stood silently for a few moments, then threw the twigs into the water and called out aspects of ourselves we’d like to cast away for the new year. Soft voices filled the air: “My greed, my impatience, my lack of involvement, my anger. .. ” We were told to imagine these attributes transformed into our aspirations for the coming year. Suddenly, miraculously, the sticks sprouted wings! Brown dragonflies arose from the pond and took flight.

As we turned to go back, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Andreas, one of the “Aryan duo.” In that profound moment I felt a warm recognition. We bowed, smiled, and embraced in a meditation hug. Then with silent accord we took each other by the hand and began to walk. I became terribly self-conscious: “I don’t know this man. German. Jew. It’s hot. Why is he walking so slowly? My shoulders feel so tense.” Eventually, mind and body relaxed, hands remaining gently linked. We were going slower and slower. Each pace took me deeper into my mind. I saw myself led on a death march into a concentration camp. But here was a German friend, and he was coming with me. I was an African child, leading a blind grandfather on the long walk from the river to our hut. I was the first of a long line of Jews, and he of Germans, with our ancestors and the generations to come stretched out behind, walking, walking. I was myself, and a student of mindfulness, taking one slow step after another, no attainment, no path, no destination. Thay’s gatha from walking meditation the previous day returned to me. I practiced it, linking silent words to my breathing and my footsteps: “Andreas, Andreas, I am here; Anne, Anne, I am here,” bringing myself with him into the present moment even as, absurdly, a loud megaphone from some nearby auto racetrack blasted noisy commentary across the fields. Present moment, wonderful moment.

Trust blossomed, and friendship without discrimination was born. The stereotyped German and Jewish concepts fell from me as gently as the sticks had fallen into the pond. Later after we had talked, we brought the idea of a German-Jewish dialogue back to our friends. This idea bore fruit. On two separate evenings, about 35 people from both groups met to share their historical wounds, fears, shame, guilt, and mistrust. Gentle mediation by the visiting Japanese Zen Roshi and the respectful setting of shared mindfulness brought healing for many.

After the ten “Days of A we” separating the two holidays had passed, we gathered again to celebrate the eve of the solemn Day of Atonement. The service opened with a poignant and powerful song, Kol Nidre. This ancient prayer absolves us of vows that could not be kept from the previous year, and symbolizes cleansing and purifying our failures. Jacqueline, a violinist whose Jewish parents raised her as a non-Jew, said that she had “lived, eaten, and breathed” the Kol Nidre music for two weeks at her tent site. Now she played it for the ceremony, and her violin cried and soared. We could feel the pain and joy of her Jewish spirit, finding its voice after a very long sleep.

On Yom Kippur, Jews and non-Jews gathered in the Transformation Hall throughout the entire day, fasting, praying, singing, breathing, and sharing together. The ceremonies were profound: meditations on forgiveness; recollecting our dead; casting rose petals into bowls of water as we shared our memories, traditional Hebrew prayers and song; a writing exercise, beginning with the words, “I remember” ; a symbolic purification ritual, washing of the hands; the prayer for healing, preceded by calling aloud the names of our loved ones who were ill. Then it was sundown, and we heard the thrilling, ancient sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. “May you have a good year!” We all embraced, went through the food lines together, and broke our fast in hungry and eager mindfulness. Over and over the words kept turning in my mind: “We are the heart of the Buddha.”

Anne Rogal Winiker is a wife, mother, musician, and physician living in Boston, Massachusetts. She practices with the Community of Interbeing.

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Seasonal Family Practice

By Sister Fern Dorresteyn

Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.

Begin your evening with
walking meditation. The clear,
crisp night sky in the winter is
wonderful and refreshing for the
spirit. When you come back,
each person can light a candle
from the center one and say a
special prayer:
Winter is here,
the time of night
we make our heart fire bright.
When we are kind and loving,
we give warmth
to the hearts of others.
Happiness is like
the candle flame
shining light into darkness.

Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:

Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.

Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food . May they be happy and safe through these winter days.

Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.

Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.

You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking “What can we doT We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.

Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.

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Ben’s Laces

By Peggy Mallette

Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist  with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.

Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.

I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:

Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.

Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Always Coming of Age

By Ariadne Thompson

I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.

The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’ s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.

Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves “blooming adults.” I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life:
May I develop the capacity to be alone;
to take time out from my day
and go places that I love
to speak with the earth,
reflecting on the beginning of the world
or talking about the weather.

Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.

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Devotion

By Nanda Currant

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Greg Keryk took the Fourteen Precepts in May at a ceremony in Santa Cruz. That evening, he became a member of the Order of Interbeing and received the name True Good Birth. Greg was the first person to receive his precept name via fax, and it was the first time the precepts were read by Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald for Thay. The stability of the practice and the kindness we felt that night guided us in the days and weeks that followed.

Sangha, family, and friends wove a wonderful web of community around the Keryks. The Ulrichs were like guardian angels, bringing food and care daily and postponing a vacation to come and help at the edge of life and death. Irene’s coworkers donated some of their sick days so that she could have nearly two months off to be with Greg. Greg gave richly to us with the remaining moments of his life. He watched over his adopted grand-nephew, Matthew Ulrich, with humor and interest. He wanted to know about Matthew’s new haircut and complimented him on the fine newsletter he has been doing for us. Matthew is 16 years old going on ancient, so it was fitting that he and Greg found each other at this time in their lives.

Greg came to the Sangha a few more times to sit with us, and then we took turns going to his house to sit with him, sometimes at his bedside. At one point, Irene set up a tent (intended for a summer camping trip) in their backyard and lay by Greg as he rested. We all sat outside and kept watch as the mosquitoes hovered around us.

In Irene’s face we saw the hope, resolve, and tenderness it took for her to sit lovingly by her husband’s side. He was less here than there, but he touched in with a tiny joke or a little ~ap. Sometimes he wandered around the. one-story house trying to find the “upstairs,” or to step In and out of the door to another life.

Irene’s devotion to Greg moved me. She was beautiful as she poured through wedding pictures on the living room floor while he rested nearby . Strong feelings intermingled with memories, moments, and plans which would never be met. As she told me about their wedding ceremony, the feeling floated into the ceiling and the walls and was there when Greg woke up and drank some water. She brought the wholeness of their relationship into the moments they had left together. It was a gift to experience that kind of love in a room with two people.

After my mother died when I was in my twenties, I began to work with Turning Point, a support group for children and their families with serious illness. Even though members of our group gradually stopped meeting, the awareness of that work lives on in our lives. My visits with Greo and his wife Irene reminded me of the time with those families . The presence of love was palpable, and the highly charged atmosphere was imbued with light in the midst of suffering. By sustaining love in a tenuous and fragile place in life, a very gentle and subtle quality is generated. It is something felt, not necessarily seen, an open quality that breathes into the atmosphere. Humanity is often at its best when life hangs in the balance. The courage and quiet devotion that pulls a family together, or gives an individual a stronger sense of the heart of his or her life, awakens us to the simple fact of existence.

Greg had a favorite oak tree that he visited throughout his life in both good and hard times. Although I was unable to attend a memorial ceremony held there, I was inspired to draw an oak tree with a seed floating in the sky above it. This seed is planted in all of us through our having known Greg and through our continued friendships with Irene and his lovely daughter Diana. Greg may no longer be with our Sangha, but he will always be a part of us as we breathe and move through the day . I don’t know if things turn out the way they should, but I do know that waking up is possible, and if we are lucky we get a glimpse of it now and then. We will miss Greg and his gritty, honest nature, humor, and inspiration.

Nanda Currant, True Good Nature, is an artist and does environmental restoration work with home-school students. She cofounded the Hearth Sangha in Santa Cruz.

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Remembering Greg

By Grace Sanchez

I first met Greg Keryk at the 1993 retreat held with Thay at Camp Swig in Northern California. He was hearty, strong, and straightforward. After the retreat, we attended Sangha meetings in Santa Cruz. Gradually, the meetings stopped happening, and I didn’t see Greg until two years later.

We met again in 1995 for another retreat with Thay. When I first saw Greg, I knew right away that he was ill. He told me very directly that he had cancer and was expected to live only two more months. I was somewhat shocked by his direct manner, but realized he felt safe in the atmosphere of the retreat setting. Greg was very happy that his wife, Irene, and daughter, Diana, were able to attend the retreat with him. At the retreat, Diana spoke with the young people’s group about what was most precious to her. She said that to her, life was the most precious thing. I was deeply moved by her sharing and clarity, which seemed to be brought about by the knowledge of impermanence.

Being so close to death, Greg understood the importance of the Sangha in supporting practice. He had an incredibly intense desire to learn from Thay, as well as to share his understanding of the Dharma. He lived much longer than he anticipated, and took leadership in sharing and teaching with the Sangha. At one of our meetings, a small group of us had a tea ceremony together. I knew it would be my last tea ceremony with Greg, but it was okay.

Greg’s death came just a few weeks before my own brother’s death. I am the only Buddhist in my family . While my brother was dying in the hospital, I sat by his side and read from Thay’s book Touching Peace. I felt very peaceful. I felt the Sangha holding me with compassion so that I could be present with my brother and my family . I feel this was a gift brought to me by Greg.

I think all of us feel Greg’s presence when the Sangha meets. We have learned how important it is to take care of and nourish this precious jewel.

Grace Sanchez is the mother of two children and practices with the Hearth Sangha in Santa Cruz, California. She is an occupational therapist.

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Poem: Greg’s Tree

Soft rain sweeps over pliant meadow grass.
Sparrow flocks scatter
as we slosh along trails pungent with bay.
Fog-veiled curtains hide an entire world from our view.
Through laughter and tears we press on,
remembering, approaching, Greg’s tree.

An image steals into my mind:
You, sitting there cross-legged,
smiling impishly, waiting for us
on a carpet of damp fallen leaves.

Wispy sprays of mist blow sideways around your tree
like the soft ash particles sprinkled
from a bone white vase.
Dressed now in green finery of damp velvet moss,
your solid trunk supports us
in our need to lean against your strength.

To trust this firmly rooted reliability
is to touch, once more, the same solidity that
your living, breathing human form once gave us,
in our need for you to lean against our strength.
Spouse, Friend, Father, Son, Spiritual Brother to us all.

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Jewels glisten on spider webs,
trusting permanence
until they evaporate.

Wind gusts tear
at such delicate threads.
Acorns stashed
in a hidden crevice
remind us of how we try
to hold on to what we love.

mb18-Gregs2

Stephanie Ulrich, Santa Cruz, California

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Being Wonderfully Together

Report from the Order of Interbeing Second International Conference

“Being Wonderfully Together” was the theme for the Second International Conference of the Order of Interbeing held September 30 to October 2, 1996, at Plum Village. More than 100 core community members from Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Canada, the U.S., Vietnam, and other countries attended. Most of the meeting time was devoted to working group meetings and reports, following an agenda prepared by agenda committee members Fred Eppsteiner, Howard Evans, Mai Nguyen, and Francoise Pottier. We also had one inspiring afternoon tea meditation.

Reports from Working Groups

Administrative Structure

After reviewing the current structure and the role of monastics and laypeople, we proposed that the work of the Order fall under the guidance of a Council of Elders (composed of members, both older in age and those who have practiced twenty years or longer) and a Coordinating Council (composed of nine positions). On the Coordinating Council, at least one monastic and layperson will share responsibility for each area (communication, practice, training, youth and family, Sangha building, and social action). We also proposed the formation of a small Administrative Committee, composed of two directors, two secretaries, and two treasurers. The Youth Council as such will be discontinued, but the YouthlFamily committee will provide for retreats and attention to youth issues. After discussion and nomination in the General Assembly, members of the current Administrative Committee are: Co-Directors: Thich Nguyen Hai, Jack Lawlor, Therese ~itzgerald, Fran~oise Pottier; Co-Secretaries: Thich Phap An, Karl Riedl, Fred Eppsteiner; Co-Treasurers: Sister Huong Nghiem, Lyn Fine, Andrew Weiss. The following are committee proposals. They are not Order resolutions:

Education/Training

Implicit in our recommendations is the need for local Sanghas to provide consistent opportunities and introductions to practicing mindful sitting and walking, chanting, tea meditation, etc. The four-year Dharma teacher training curriculum devised by Sister Annabel was reviewed and suggested as a course outline. We suggest flexibility in how local Sanghas implement their training programs. Each group must learn how to strike a balance between welcoming newcomers and deepening the practice of long-time members. Sanghas can integrate the training into their weeknight sittings, Days of Mindfulness, retreats, or whatever schedule is practical and enjoyable for the group. The Order will conduct a survey of members to determine, among other things, what talents are available to facilitate Sangha d ve opment, training, and retreat activity. Efforts will be made to coordinate with the Communications/Resources Group to create a library of videotapes, audiotapes, and transcripts of Thich Nhat Hanh’ s Dharma talks.

Communications I Transcribing I Resources

We discussed the need for transcriptions and translations; how local Sanghas could use their talents to help transcribe and edit Dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, following the lead of the Lotus Buds Sangha in Australia; how to develop archives of audio and videotapes; how talks could be indexed for particular topics; and how to facilitate individuals and groups obtaining audio and videotapes and transcriptions, especially of winter retreat talks which Thay gave in Vietnamese.

Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

Thay has replaced the term “precepts” with the telm “mindfulness trainings” to more accurately reflect their intention and purpose. A first draft was revised on the basis of suggestions from more than 30 people, and appears on pages 22-23.

Application for the Order of Interbeing

An application form and guidelines are being developed. General recommendations:

  1. Keep the current guidelines for applicants, but add requirement of a one-year mentoring period. When the core community reaches a decision on an applicant, it should use its Sangha eyes and nourish the bodhichitta of the applicant, even if that means suggesting a delay. While the Dharma teachers and core community make the decision on an application, long-standing members of the extended community should be consulted in the process.
  2. To encourage experimentation, local Sanghas are authorized to embellish the application procedures to address local culture, geography, and circumstances, provided that the goals and aspirations of the Order are not compromised. For example, local Sanghas may choose to formally celebrate the submission of an aspirant ‘s letter in a public or private ceremony, permit the aspirant to select a mentor or mentors from among the core and extended community (or another resource), and provide the aspirant with a gift copy of the book Interbeing.
  3. Provisions of the charter regarding ordination may be waived in individual cases under special circumstances (such as medical
    hardship) provided that the chairperson of the Order and the local or most appropriate Dharma teachers are first consulted and, if time permits, the local or most appropriate core community members.
  4. The charter’s existing description of the extended community should be retained,but it should emphasize that long-standing members of the extended community (i.e., those who have participated regularly for a year or more) should be consulted about potential ordinations, whether or not that member has taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
  5. While the charter may continue to state that partners of an Order member should be members of either the core or extended community, it is proposed that language be added stating that, in the alternative, an aspirant would live harmoniously with his or her partner so that the aspirant’s partner supports his or her practice.

Youth and Family Practice

The Youth and Family Practice group was a wonderful meadow of beautiful smiling flowers. We listened to each other deeply as we promised to have fun and to work from our own experiences rather than theory. We discussed the challenges to practice with youth. We recognized that sometimes children suffer rather than enjoy children’s programs on retreats. We encouraged each other to listen deeply to children and to look deeply at ourselves so that we might make creative growth experiences out of opportunities that arise. Our purpose statement embodies that vision:

We recognize the joy of mindfulness practice with children, families, and communities. We want to embrace the spark of children’s enthusiasm. Through the practice of looking through children’s eyes and into their hearts, we wish to provide loving opportunities for them to creatively explore the Dharma. We recognize the challenge of including children in our practice. We wish to share with each other our diverse experiences of practice. We honor the value of diversity and acknowledge the need for skillful means to make the Dharma available to children of different backgrounds. Therefore, to encourage an experientiallybased approach and to nourish the seeds of mindfulness, we envision these tools for practicing with children:

  • A family section in The Mindfulness Bell, composed of an “adults” page, with anecdotal experiences, suggestions for practice, seasonal practices, and family retreat information, and a children’s page with children’s writings and drawings.
  • A resource notebook which would serve as a family practice handbook. The notebook could be composed, in part, from Thay’ s Dharma talks and from the family section of The Mindfulness Bell.
  • Cassettes and videotapes (fun and instructional), some prepared by young people on retreat and some prepared for youth and children in practice.
  • Making Thay’s Dharma talks for children more widely available in tapes or transcripts.
  • Support for local family retreats through notice of retreats, sharing experience of what does and does not work in local Sanghas, and helping to organize family retreats.
  • A catalog of resources on practice with children, compiled by members of the Youth and Family Council with contributions from the larger Sangha.

Sangha Building

The role and responsibility of Order of Interbeing members is to practice, to offer practice, and to support other people in the practice. The following recommendations were made:

  1. Help Jack Lawlor revise the draft of the manual on starting a Sangha.
  2. Support Dharma teachers to lead retreats within and outside their geographic areas. Assist newer groups and individuals to organize these retreats.
  3. Commit ourselves to practicing consensus, Beginning Anew, and the Peace Treaty in our Sanghas, and deepening our Sangha relationships. Create a suggestion box as a way for newer people to offer their fresh perspective to the Sangha.
  4. Commit ourselves to develop shared leadership by teaching our skills and developing ourselves in less skilled areas, honoring different styles of approaching the work.
  5. Gain wisdom from elders. Help newer folks. Support and receive support from monks and nuns.
  6. Commit ourselves to look deeply at how our collective consciousness and individual experiences shape how we see differences between us, in order to understand and honor differences (e.g. cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, economic).
  7. Commit ourselves to helping Sanghas solve problems. Enlist support of Dharma teachers and international resources to help.
  8. Support and receive support from monastic community. Help Western aspirants enter the monastery. Support and receive support from residential practice centers In the West.
  9. Devise a calendar based on suggestions from Plum Village for international practice (monthly or weekly themes) incorporating seasonal changes, other religious traditions’ important holidays, etc.
  10. Develop mechanisms for networking and support: e.g., Order of Interbeing address and phone list.

Inclusiveness and Special Needs

Recognizing the interbeing nature of all humanity and the suffering caused by isolation and exclusion, we are aware that there are many silenced and marginalized groups in our society, and that we need to listen deeply to these groups and individuals in their own language and ways of living. We need to become more aware and open to the tensions and misunderstandings between us and to explore ways to address areas that reflect our own suffering.

We agree to be open to suggestions from all racial and ethnic groups regarding inclusiveness; to listen deeply to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual members to help eliminate misunderstandings which may exist; and to increase awareness of ways our Sanghas can welcome people with mental and physical disabilities and the chronically ill. Economic inclusion, financial support and scholarship to Sangha events, and health-related dietary needs were all identified. We hope that The Mindfulness Bell will present a broader picture with more diversity.

Social Action

To reflect the complex and diverse nature of social action, and to support our international community in responding to suffering, we submit the following:

  1. To facilitate the exchange of information and the networking of people, resources, materials, and spiritual support, we propose a designated time on the schedule during general retreats where those involved in social action can present their work to the Sangha. In addition, we propose that affinity groups concerning social action be encouraged and supported as part of the retreat schedule.
  2. We propose that The Mindfulness Bell provide a section in each issue to inform members about social action projects; resources and support needed and/or available both within and outside the community; continuing updates of the projects; immediate action calling for response to suffering and injustices. We encourage those involved in social action to write articles for The Mindfulness Bell.
  3. We propose organizing retreats for those involved or interested in social action, facilitated by experienced teachers both in and outside of the Order of Interbeing. We propose circulating the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in a non-Buddhist context as a skillful means of connecting and working with others.

Finances

We discussed the following issues:

  1. The membership fee of $50 for the Order of Interbeing is dana: it is suggested, not required. Of this, $18 goes for a subscription to The Mindfulness Bell. Payments outside of the U.S. can be made by Euro-check to one European account, or in U.S. dollars to the U.S. account.
  2. Local and national Sanghas are encouraged to have their own membership dues to cover local expenses. The UK Sangha has accomplished this by having their newsletter subscription be the Sangha dues.
  3. The Order of Interbeing finances are separate from the finances of Plum Village, Parallax Press, and the Community of Mindful Living.
  4. Questions for discussion: Should local Sanghas tithe 10% of their funds to the International Order of Interbeing? Should a portion (e.g., 25%) of receipts from Plum Village retreats and workshops with a significant involvement of Order of Interbeing members be tithed to the Order of Interbeing?
  5. Twenty to twenty-five percent of Order funds may be used for administrative costs, mailings, and phone calls. A portion of the remaining funds may be used to support Order of Interbeing retreatants at Plum Village and to respond to needs for social action.
  6. Questionnaires may be sent to determine the percentage of funds to go to scholarships and to needs for social action. Decisions about social action responses to be based on questionnaire responses. Decisions about scholarships may be made by financial coordinators.

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Reflections

By Jack Lawlor

After returning from this year’s meeting in Plum Village, I was immersed in gratitude for the mindfulness practices we share, and for the efforts of Thay, Sister True Emptiness, and the growing community of monks and nuns. I am also in awe of the spiritual growth and maturity in the Order since its first international meeting in 1992.

This collective deepening of our practice may be due to the steady growth of healthy Sanghas in over 20 countries during the past four years. When we met in 1992, there were many lay Order members who were not closely connected with a Sangha-apart from Plum Village-which could nourish their practice. As a result, our practice may have been wobbly and intermittent. More and more of us have begun to hear Thay’s gentle and consistent reminders about the value of practice with our home Sangha, however small it may be. The fruits are obvious-regular practice of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and the use of gathas is resulting in more stability and peace in our lives. We have become better listeners and communicators, though there is always room for improvement. In our daily verses, we vow to “practice wholeheartedly so that understanding and compassion will flower.” The quality of dialogue in the small group discussions held during the meeting showed that members have been practicing in this way.

During the meeting, we shared a moment of silent gratitude for the support of members of the extended community. Even though many in the extended community may not be able to afford the time necessary to practice as a formal member of the Order or the expense of going to Plum Village, they practice mindfulness diligently and to the best of their ability, consistent with their family responsibilities. Thus, it makes little sense to pursue the creation of an organization based solely on the thin reeds of certificates and robes. Both members of the Order and the extended community aspire instead to create genuine networks of spiritual communities which enable us to learn from each other in a warm, tolerant, and open-hearted atmosphere. Those who choose to ordain in the Order simply commit to make extraordinary efforts to help these community-building efforts succeed. When we do so, we may find that our wisdom and compassion flourish simultaneously in ways we could not foresee, and that our ability to understand, love, and help others is much deeper and more resilient than we had suspected. If the Order is to act consistently with its lineage and manifest the Bodhisattva ideal of “working mindfully and joyfully” for the sake of others, we must have a deep commitment to service, not only for the Order, but also for the extended community, for our blood families, and for our communities and biosphere.

As we learn the value of community, fewer people view the one-year waiting period before joining the Order as a barrier. In many countries, this time is being transformed from a negative source of impatience and frustration to an immensely positive period of spiritual training and friendship in the company of Sangha members who have gone before. If we rush into the Order, there should be little surprise that we feel a bit disoriented once we are ordained. But if we join after a period of spiritual friendship with a fellow Dharma brother or sister in the company of an accessible Sangha, the value of the Order and the extended community has been experienced through our pores, and there is little need for further written explanation.

A remarkable degree of experimentation is taking place within the Sangha to meet the needs of local culture and temperament. At this meeting, it was agreed to retain the guidelines for initiation into the Order. (See Charter of the Order of Interbeing in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Interbeing.) However, it was also agreed to emphasize the mutual benefits of the one-year mentoring period for both the aspirant and the Sangha in each country or region, stressing the need to nourish the bodhichiua of each aspirant, and allowing local Sanghas to embellish the admission process to reflect local culture, geography, and circumstances.

This experimentation has already resulted in the creation of several resources: the Sangha in the United Kingdom has developed extensive written materials about the ordination process; I have written the book Sangha Building to encourage the growth of new Sanghas and maintain the health of existing ones in the face of challenges which sometimes arise from excessive weariness or zeal. A number of Dharma teachers and Sanghas are developing explanations of how one may join the Order, which we hope will suit the needs of people in our regions.

There is much more work to be done. The Order has organized itself into committees of monks, nuns, and laypeople to enhance Sangha building, social action, youth and adult education, the development of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Charter, and communication within the Sangha. Everyone is encouraged to incorporate these efforts into practice, to accept help offered by others, and to know how and when to ask for help when needed. We’ ll undoubtedly make mistakes, but even mistakes are a healthy part of the beautiful maturation process which makes both the Order and the extended community so relevant to the transformation of human society.

Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, is one of the founders of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, and a newly elected co-director of the Order of Interbeing.

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The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

Thay has recently replaced the tenn “precepts” (sila) with the term “mindfulness trainings” (siksa) to more accurately reflect their intention and purpose. This is a term also used by the Buddha. Thay also rewrote the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, which were revised by Order Members in September and now read as follows:

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Nonattachment from Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever-such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination-to adopt our views. We will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, we are determined not to avoid or close our eyes before suffering. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images, and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Simple, Healthy Living

A ware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, we are determined not to take as the aim of our life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. We are committed to living simply and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those in need. We will practice mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs, or any other products that bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness.

The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Dealing with Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognize and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger comes up, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking and acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We will learn to look with the eyes of compassion at those we think are the cause of our anger.

The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness.

The Eighth Mindfulness Training: Community and Communication

Aware that the lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. We will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. We will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will not spread news that we do not know to be certain nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten our safety.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting the Sangha

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

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The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. A ware of global economic, political and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not investing in companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

A ware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world. We are determined not to kill and not to let others kill. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war.

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. We will practice generosity by sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: Right Conduct

(For lay members): Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a long-term commitment. In sexual relations, we must be aware of future suffering that may be caused. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with respect and preserve our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will meditate on the world into which we are bringing new beings.

(For monastic members): Aware that the aspiration of a monk or a nun can only be realized when he or she wholly leaves behind the bonds of worldly love, we are committed to practicing chastity and to helping others protect themselves. We are aware that loneliness and suffering cannot be alleviated by the coming together of two bodies in a sexual relationship, but by the practice of true understanding and compassion. We know that a sexual relationship will destroy our life as a monk or a nun, will prevent us from realizing our ideal of serving living beings, and will harm others. We are determined not to suppress or mistreat our body or to look upon our body as only an instrument, but to learn to handle our body with respect. We are determined to preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal.

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Sangha Profile

mb18-Sangha1Maple Village, Brossard, Canada
Contact: Chan Huy
9089 Richmond
Montreal, PQ J4X 2S 1, Canada
Tel: (514) 591-8726 Fax: (514)466-8958
Email: chanhuy@prisco.net

In 1984, Toan and Quyen Do enjoyed their experience at Plum Village so much that they invited about ten of us to organize a retreat in Montreal with Thay. At the time, what happens in a retreat was a mystery to almost all of us, but we enthusiastically organized it under Thay’s guidance. In September 1985, we had our first retreat with Thay at Camp Les Sommets, a simple weekend resort. That was all it took for the Maple Village Sangha to take form and begin its marvelous journey. Our small group spent many weekends searching for a good location. We gathered to make cushions for sitting meditation, prepare meal menus, and enjoy being together. We looked after almost everything; but none of us knew that we also needed a bell in a retreat! We ended up using a cassette tape and a speaker for the mindfulness bell. Thay called it our “electronic bell master.”

In 1986, we organized our second retreat with Thay at the Entrelac Scout Camp. This time we were better equipped, with big and small bells. The highlight of this retreat was the ordination of our first six Tiep Hien brothers and sisters. As Thay was sitting in his room searching for a Dharma name for our eldest brother, an oriental cactus plant which we brought along began to bloom. That night, instead of sitting meditation, we enjoyed two hours with Thay in a tea ceremony celebrating the Quynh flower, which blooms and withers within three hours. Thay gave our brother the Dharma names Tam Khai (Opening of the Heart)-Chan Hoi (True Understanding).

For five years, Thay came to teach us. Maple Village was not only blessed by his and Sister Chan Khong’s loving care, but also by contributions and support from friends in Canada, the U.S., and other countries. Five years after our first meeting, Maple Village made a home on a hilly wild land of 100 acres with a lake. A road was built and a simple building was constructed with electricity and water. The building, large enough to host 100 people, has a meditation, dining, and activity hall, and a dormitory.

In 1996, 11 years after our first retreat, we are still together on our mindful and joyful journey. Hundreds of people have joined us, and we cannot count the numbers of people who have taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings at Maple Village. Forty brothers and sisters belong to the Order of Interbeing, ten are Dharma teachers, and one sister has become a nun and now practices at Plum Village. Many have brought the practice back to their homes and built strong Sanghas in Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Quebec City. Every year, many come back to participate in our spring and fall retreats with Sister Annabel and other Dharma teachers, or in a summer Day of Mindfulness.

In Montreal, the present Sangha consists of 15 families. Meditations are held Sunday morning and night, and Wednesday and Friday nights. At Maple Village, we are all volunteers and work part-time for the Maple Village Society. We often speak three languages (French, English, and Vietnamese) at our retreats . We keep participation fees for activities as low as possible. Our core community includes many non-Order members, who are sometimes even more dedicated than the ordained ones.

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For many of us, Maple Village has become a second family . Slowly, we have discovered that we have more sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and friends than we previously perceived. A phone call from a caring elder sister, a small gift from a younger brother, advice from a concerned uncle, and a helping hand from a considerate friend are some of the most precious gifts we receive. Suddenly, for some of us who live alone, we are not truly alone anymore. This family link between us has developed through doing things with mindfulness, lovingkindness, and compassion. Together we practice sitting meditation, and together we clear bushes for a walking meditation path. Together we repair damages of a spring flood in the Village building, and together we sing “Breathing In, Breathing Out” for people in a prison. Together we celebrate the birth of a new baby, and together we mourn the death of a beloved brother.

We also have problems and improvements to make in this second family. We know that living together is an art to learn with the practice of mindfulness; but we know that we are trying our best. Come visit us and be part of our family. On this continuing mindful journey, many have joined us and discovered a familiar and comforting link, a Famille Sans Frontieres.

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Untitled Letter

Dear Friends,

Over the years, the number of Sanghas aq over the world has grown steadily, and requests for retreats addressed to Dharmacharyas at Plum Village have increased accordingly. We are happy that the practice is bringing so much joy into people’s lives and we always try our best to respond to all the requests we receive. We have traveled to many places and have had the pleasure of meeting and sharing the practice with many of you. Our brothers and sisters at home have always given us their full support, although at times they may have liked to have us with them.a little more often, so they too can benefit from our experience in the practice and we can benefit from their freshness and beginners’ minds. To our delight, Thay has recently transmitted the Lamp to more brothers and sisters in Plum Village. Now we will be able:to respond to all the requests for retreats as well as the wish of our Plum Village Sangha for Dharmacharyas to be able to spend more time here.

In order for this to be possible,we would appreciate it if you could address future requests for retreats to the newly installed Abbess (Sister Trung Chinh New Hamlet) or Abbot (Thay Nguyen Hai in the Upper Hamlet). We can then look at all requests and decide which Dharmacharya is eligible and most suitable to go and share the practice, taking the needs of both the requesting Sangha and the Plum Village Sangha into account. In this way,the worldwide Sangha can benefit more from the practice at Plum Village, as every Dharmacharya has his or her own experience and way of sharing that exprience with others. At the same time, the Plum Village Sangha can remain an integral Sangha, firmly planted in the practice, nourishing the larger Sangha.

According to the tradition, two Dharmacharyas will travel and lead retreats together, or a Dharmacharya may be accompanied and assisted by a younger brother or sister. If the requesting Sangha is not able to cover travel expenses for more than one person, Plum Village will look into the matter and try to meet some of the expenses. When a Sangha requests a certain Dharmacharya, we will take that into account. Because we wish to share all Dharmacharyas with everyone equally, we ask for your understanding in case another Dharmacharya is appointed for you to enjoy the practice with. Although we are of slightly different tastes, we all stem from the same tree. Thay has transmitted the Lamp to many Dharmacharyas in Asia, Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. These teachers have our full support and we are grateful for their commitment to the practice and their readiness to travel and share their experience joyfully with so many practitioners in their home countries and elsewhere. Holding hands and walking the Path of Understanding and Love together as a Sangha is our greatest happiness. We look forward to sharing the practice with you far into the future.

Thich Nu Chan KMng, Thich Giac Thanh, Thich Nu Chan Duc (Sister Annabel), Thich Nu Dieu Nghiem (Sister Jina)

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Temple Anniversary

By Sisters Annabel and Eleni

On November 14, monks and novices in Hue, Vietnam, observed a Day of Mindfulness in honor of the 150th anniversary of Tu Hieu Temple. Tu Hieu is the temple where Thay Nhat Hanh received novice precepts at the age of 16 and practiced as a young monk. Following faxed instructions from Thay, the monks and novices practiced listening to the sound of the bell, breathing mindfully, walking meditation, and enjoying the present moment.

The temple was built in honor of Dhyana Master Nhat Dinh in 1847. Master Nhat Dinh was born in 1783 in Quang Tri Province. He received his novice precepts at Thien Tho Temple and his Bhikshu Ordination at Quoc An Temple. At the age of 50, King Minh Mang appointed him Abbot of the Linh Huu Temple. Six years later, the King invited him to be the Leader of the Sangha at Giac Hoang Temple. By nature he was a simple monk and didn’ t enjoy being an Abbot. At the age of 60, he asked the King to accept his resignation. Because the King loved and respected him, his request was granted. Nhat Dinh wrote, “With one body and one begging bowl, the road for the mendicant monk to travel is very wide.”

He went to the Duong Xuan Thuong Mountain in Thua Thien Province and built the Peace Nourishing Hermitage. He practiced and lived there, enjoying the beauty and tranquility of nature.

Master Nhat Dinh is most widely known and respected for his example of filial piety, his love for his mother. It was said that when his mother was old and sick, he brought her to his hermitage so that he could take care of her. Although he was a vegetarian and a monk, he nonetheless went to the market to buy the fish his mother requested, withstanding people’s criticisms and astonishment at seeing a monk buy fish . On November 14, 1847, Master Nhat Dinh passed away. The Tu Hieu Temple, which means loving kindness or filial piety expressed as loving kindness, was built on the site of his hermitage.

Sister Annabel Laity, True Virtue, was ordained as a nun in 1988 and as a Dharma teacher in 1990. She lives at Plum Village. Sister Eleni Sarant, True Loving Kindness Adornment, has been a resident of Plum Village since 1990. She was ordained as a Dharma teacher in 1996.

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Devastating Floods in Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong

As I write these lines, Tho, who lives in Switzerland and often comes to Plum Village each summer, has had the opportunity to spend the night in Vietnam in a flood rescue van. Cold winds blew as flood waters from Mount Truong Son of the Ha Tinh area rushed past the parked van. The local residents advised the rescue team to spend the night at the foot of the mountain until the flood water subsided. Since the water in this area has the tendency to rise and fall quickly, it was hoped that by morning the water would have gone out to sea and made way for the van to continue its mission.

The rescue team slept and waited in the van throughout the night, but in the morning, the water had risen twice as high. Members of the rescue team decided to leave the van behind since the gift packages from Hue had already been distributed to the flood victims in Thanh Hoa.

The day before, the rescue team-Sister Chan Nhu Minh, Sister Minh Tu, Brother Le Van Dinh, Sister Chan Doan, Sister Chan Tam, and Tho—drove a van loaded with old clothes, 30 boxes of instant noodles, and 300 envelopes of 50 thousand dong each, from Hue to Thanh Hoa, then to two villages deep in the mountains, Tan Thinh and Tan Loc (of the province Thieu Yen). The van encountered dangerous conditions, traveling through winding, narrow mountain paths and crossing turbulent water on a raft, in order to provide flood victims with emergency supplies. Each family received five bags of instant noodles, one bag of old clothes, and 50 thousand dong. As the rescue team’s van tried to go forward in the storm, the powerful wind blowing in the opposite direction almost pushed it off the road. But once the team reached its destination, the people were so happy that they were moved to tears. Even the local authorities were touched by the team’s effort, since that area has suffered tremendous harvesting losses in three consecutive seasons. They allowed the team members to personally give the gift parcels to each victim.

Besides our aid, there has been no other outside help. Many villagers were forced to leave their homes to look for work in the city, but the majority of them ended up begging for food and sleeping on the street. The government’s Emergency Hunger Fund dried up long ago, and there is no means to restore it to provide for the poor.

After leaving their vehicle at Vinh, the team members continued their journey by train, since the train tracks are high up in the mountains and safe from the flood. On the way from Vinh to Quang Binh, they saw tens of thousands of acres of land covered in flood water. The water from the mountain and the rising tides of the sea overflowed the districts of Nghi Xuan, Hong Xuan, and Duc Tho. The roads from Lam River to Gianh also flooded, and hundreds of thousands of houses were filled to the roof with flood water. It was truly a sad sight. In witnessing people curling up under the cold, windy storm, no one was able to contain their tears. Tho wept softly as she whispered into her mother’s ear, “Mother, besides the money you gave to the flood victims, please lend me whatever else you have so I can give each family enough to buy blankets and food to lessen their suffering. I’ll work to pay you back.”

Two weeks before, another flood , in addition to a terrible storm, washed 86 boats to sea at Hau Loc Thanh Hoa province; 567 boat people were reported to be missing. Thousands of people lost their homes. In the same week, the Hong River rose to a very high level and many families were forced to camp out on a nearby shore.

On September 13, 1996, at Quang Tri province, flood water from the mountain took the lives of many people and washed away many properties. The districts of Huong Hoa and Vinh Linh suffered the most damage. Our social workers at Quang Tri received a request for help from the local Buddhist organization and sent that request along to Plum Village. At Thua Thien province, the villages of Thanh Trung and Thuan Loc were also flooded due to their low altitude, but fortunately, no one was killed. This year, the farmers of Thua Thien and Quang Tri had a good harvest; however, after this devastating flood, they will be left with empty hands. Hunger and poverty are the two biggest worries of the residents of this area. At the end of August, Plum Village sent $4,800 to Sister Nhu Minh to be distributed to the rescue workers of Thua Thien. But it was hardly enough to help everyone. The fire of misery is huge, but we can only stop it with a few buckets of water.

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My dear friends, from the kindness of your heart, please contribute as much as you can to help alleviate the suffering of the helpless flood victims. Any amount you give will be much appreciated: $1 can buy 10 bags of instant noodles. $5 can buy 20 pounds of rice. $7 can buy one big blanket for a family of four. In France, please send your donation to Eglise Bouddhique Unifee in care of Sister Gioi Nghiem, Meyrac, Loubes-Bernac 47120 Duras, France. In the United States, please send your donation to the Community of Mindful Living. Please send larger donations directly to the bank through which Plum Village sends money to Vietnam: Union Bank of Switzerland of BASLE, 4002 Aeschenplatz 1, Switzerland, Swift Code UBS WCHZH 40 A in favor of the Unified Buddhist Church account number 0233 557 622 60 M (if in U.S. dollars), 0233 557 622 63 (if in German marks), 0233557 62201 (if in Swiss francs). If in French francs, please send to Credit Agricole Mutuel of Lot-et Garonne France Swift AGRIFRPP 850 Account of Eglise Bouddhique Unifiee 15006/00042/4290119911157.

Knowing how you, my dear friends, wish to receive news about Thay and Plum Village, I would like to tell you that there were 1,197 retreatants from 22 countries at the Summer Retreat. The majority of the practitioners felt quite happy after one week of practice. Thliy is healthy and his lectures were, as always, thoughtful and wonderful. AIthough the 450 retreatants at the Fall Retreat did not have the opportunity to personally meet and converse with Thliy, they were very appreciative of the nuns and monks in their own hamlet. This year, Plum Village has five hamlets: Xom Thuong (Upper Hamlet), Xom Ha (Lower Hamlet), Xom Trung (Middle Hamlet), Xom Doai (West Hamlet), and Xom Moi (New Hamlet). Each hamlet has enough nuns and monks to cook, plan activities, drive cars, plan meals, and give guidance to the Sangha. Five times a week, the hamlets join for Dharma talk and walking meditation with Thliy, and our own Tam from Delices d’ Asie Restaurant in Bordeaux revealed her compassionate Buddha nature by helping to cook lunch for everyone. The atmosphere of 450 retreatants eating together in mindfulness was especially powerful.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, is a Dharma teacher and the author of Learning True Love. She assisted Thich Nhat Hanh in establishing the School of Youth for Social Service during the Vietnam war.

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Vietnam Update

By Stephen Denney

Thank you for your concern about the people suffering in Vietnam and your desire to help. At the Community of Mindful Living we have organized a program of humanitarian aid to the poorest people of Vietnam and have also circulated many appeals on behalf of imprisoned monks and other prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

With regard to the latter issue, we are pleased that there is more individual freedom in Vietnam than a few years ago, and that many prisoners of conscience have been released. People also have more freedom to participate in ordinary religious services than before. However, the Communist Party is still very afraid of losing power in Vietnam and for this reason punishes harshly those who openly challenge their political policies.

Among those detained are Venerables Thich Quang Do (age 69) and Thich Huyen Quang (age 77). They have been punished because of their leadership positions within the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and open protests of the government’s forced incorporation of the UBCV into a state-sponsored Buddhist Church. Ven. Quang Do was sentenced to five years in prison at a Jan. 1995 trial and is presently detained at B 14 prison in Hanoi. Ven. Thich Huyen Quang has been under house arrest for several years in central Vietnam (Quang Ngai province), is closely guarded and in poor health. Both monks are highly respected abroad and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 by the Irish recipients from the previous year.

Several other Buddhist monks have been arrested for supporting the protests of Venerables Quang Do and Huyen Quang. Among these are the following monks who were sentenced in 1995: Thich Khong Tanh (five years), Thich Nhat Bang (four years), Nhat Thuong (three years) and Thich Tri Luc ( two and a half years). They were charged with “undermining the policy of unity,” which appeared to be based on their efforts to carry out religious and social work in the name of the Unified Buddhist Church.

Other monks imprisoned include Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu, both serving 20 years (sentenced in 1988) for their nonviolent opposition to government policies; and Thich Hai Thinh and Thich Hai Chanh, who were arrested during a police raid on the Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue. These two monks had previously been detained from 1993 to 1995 for their involvement in a demonstration. In addition there are a number of prisoners of conscience:

  • Nguyen Dinh Huy, age 64, arrested in November 1993 along with ten other members of his movement for a democratic society in Vietnam. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in August 1995. He and six colleagues remain detained. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He is presently detained in Z30A prison camp of Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province.
  • Doan Viet Hoat, age 53, former professor of the Buddhist Van Hanh University in Saigon, was arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison (later reduced to 15 years) for leading a group of southern intellectuals who advocated a more democratic society in Vietnam. He is presently detained in the north under harsh conditions.
  • Nguyen Dan Que, a medical doctor from Saigon, was also arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison for advocating political democracy.
  • Phan Duc Kham, age 64, serving 12 years in prison for his involvement with the Freedom Forum group led by Doan Viet Hoat.

Our other human rights concerns in Vietnam include unfair political trials, increased use of the death penalty, and poor conditions in the prisons and re-education camps.

Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a longtime activist for human rights in Southeast Asia.

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Letters to The Mindfulness Bell

There isn’t anything that touches my soul more deeply than your newsletter, especially Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma talk. I cherish it, I carry it with me to many places, I reread it when I need to be reminded of the Way. I have read many important messages, good articles and books, but none have touched me more than Thay’s words. They have literally transformed me, although I keep working on all of the precepts. Thank you for being there and taking the effort to transmit his teachings, which are so in touch with human weaknesses.
Lorraine Keller de Schietekat
Mexico City, Mexico

I am a hospice nurse and carry a pager whenever I am away from home. Usually when I am paged I don’t get upset, but yesterday morning I was on my way to work, my pager went off and, much to my chagrin, my reaction was “!*@*!” I realized that, to the person who paged me, it was necessary and not done to annoy me. I drove back up the mountain road to my home, phoned in, took care of the  problem, and went on to work.

Issue 17 of The Mindfulness Bell was waiting for me when I got home that night. The next morning I read the tributes to Jim Fauss. I first heard of Jim when I read of his death in the last issue. I, too, was struck by his smile. I read Maxine Hong Kingston’s words, “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.” Those words rang a bell in my mind and I immediately thought of my reaction to my pager. I decided that my pager would become my “pager of mindfulness.” Each time it goes off I am reminded to breathe joyfully and smile. Thanks to Jim and to Maxine for sharing her story of him. I am reminded by this how interconnected we are, how we truly are a part of one another. Even though I never met Jim Fauss, I have been profoundly influenced by him and will continue to be each time my pager goes off.
Tina Moon
Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thank you for the recent issue of The Mindfulness Bell. I especially appreciated the many articles on Jim Fauss. Although I did not know him when he was alive, I now feel that I do know him and I am enriched for the experience.
Bob Repoley
Charlotte, North Carolina

I was particularly pleased that you printed Fred Eppsteiner’s letter in the last issue, as I felt that he raised substantial questions regarding Sangha building in a genuinely kind way. I was also interested in the article in a previous issue of The Mindfulness Bell which raised the issue of finding ways to invite African Americans into the Order of Interbeing.

These invitations to dialogue will, I feel, serve The Mindfulness Bell very well in its long-term commitment to growth and to reaching a wider reading public.
Mushim Ikeda-Nash
Oakland, California

I agree with Fred Eppsteiner’s letter that longer articles, where issues could be discussed in greater depth, would make The Mindfulness Bell more interesting to a wider range of readers . In addition, I would like to see more articles on the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. This is our “ancestral tradition,” but it is virtually unknown in the West. Western Buddhism must find its own forms and expressions, but a greater knowledge of those who went before us would certainly be useful.

Fred also commented, “I sometimes wonder if anybody in the Sangha is having traditional spiritual experiences in meditation, awakenings … which have been the experience and hard-won fruits of Buddhists for thousands of years.” I think people in our Sangha do have such experiences, but they are not much talked about. This may be a good thing. In the Rinzai Zen tradition where I practiced before, one pursued such experiences relentlessly, putting a lot of pressure on people and sacrificing interest in ethics and daily life practice. This strongly goal-oriented attitude made it very hard to enjoy the present moment. Probably too much of the focus in Western Zen has been on experience, satori, sudden awakenings, etc., and we have tended to neglect the gradual practice of transforming mental knots. Thay’s teachings address all kinds of suffering-psychological, interpersonal, social, ecological- as well as the great spiritual questions.

We don’t need to create barriers between psychotherapy and meditation, but must remember that meditation has a dimension of silence and going beyond personal issues that we may rarely find in psychotherapy. Iffew people write about this aspect, it may be out of modesty-not wanting to claim “great insights”-but it may also be for lack of language! I suspect that many modern people have become alienated from the language of Christianity (and possibly Judaism), and experience it as too filled with dualistic connotations. And we don’t always know the language of Buddhism well enough to express spiritual insights. The old Chinese Zen masters were great artists when it came to giving new and fresh words to the practice and insights of Buddhism. It’s silly to copy them, but their challenge is valid: how can we express our deepest, most transforming experiences?
Svein Myreng
Oslo, Norway

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