Dharma Talk: Liberation from Suffering

Questions and Answers with Thich Nhat Hanh 

Each Saturday afternoon during the September 1996 “Heart of the Buddha” retreat at Plum Village in southwestern France, the entire community gathered in the New Hamlet for a question-and-answer session with Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay responded to written questions that had been left inside the large bowl-shaped bell and also to raised hands. The following is a selection of these dia­logues. 

Thich Nhat Hanh

Q: When thoughts and feelings arise in my meditation, I try to note them, watch them pass, and come back to my breathing. But sometimes I just become engulfed by my pain. What advice can you offer?

Thay: You feel you are engulfed by pain because the energy you use to embrace it is not strong enough. That is why it is crucial to cultivate the energy of mindfulness as the agent of transformation and healing. When you are mindful, you are strong, the Buddha is with you, and you are not afraid of the afflictions that arise.

Suffering and happiness inter-are. You cannot eradicate suffering and retain only happiness. That is like wanting only day and not night. When you suffer, you learn compas­sion and understanding. But your suffering can also overwhelm you and harden your heart. When this happens, you cannot enjoy life or learn compassion. To suffer some is important, but the dosage should be correct for us. We need to learn the art of taking good care of our suffering so we can learn the art of transforming it.

Mindfulness does not regard pain as an enemy that needs to be suppressed. It does not want to throw the pain out. It knows the pain is a part of us. It is like a mother embracing her baby. The mother knows the baby is a part of her. The crying baby is our pain, and the mother is our tenderness. There is no barrier between our tenderness and our pain.

Almost all pain is born from a lack of understanding of reality. The Buddha teaches us to remember that it is not the object of craving that makes us suffer, it is the craving that makes us suffer. It is like a hook hidden in the bait. The bait looks like an insect, and the fish sees something it thinks is tasty, not knowing that there is a hook inside. It bites and the hook catches it. Our temptation and craving are due to a lack of understanding of the true nature of the object we crave. When mindfulness is present, we begin to understand the nature of our craving and our pain, and this understanding can liberate us.

Q: My mother had Alzheimer’s when she was 65. I am now 63 years old and my short-term memory does not work as well as it used to. I can’t remember names, and I have to write down many things so I will not forget them. Please shine your light on this problem.

Thay: I used to have a very good memory, and the first time I noticed my memory betraying me, I suffered. You realize that you are no longer young, and you don’t believe it. You find out that you are no longer bright, remembering everything, and you feel hurt. It can be difficult to accept the fact that you are growing old. But we have to accept the situation as it is.

The Buddha said, “When I was young, I was arrogant of my youth, my intelligence, and my learning. To get rid of this kind of arrogance, I learned about impermanence.” Every one of us has to go through this same process of change. One night, I could not sleep because I had forgotten the name of a person. I just could not accept the fact that I had grown old. That night I suffered, but I began to learn to accept reality as it is. Since that time I have been at peace with my reality. Now if I can’t remember something, if I cannot do something as well as I used to, I just smile.

Not remembering everything may be a good thing, because you have a better opportunity to enjoy what is there in the present moment. All of us have some kind of disability. Sometimes it is very apparent, sometimes it is not. We are much more than our disability. There are many ways of being alive, and we should learn from each other.

Q: Thay, you said that we should look into the nature of our suffering to see where it comes from. You also said that to understand suffering, we don’t need to go to the past—if we look at it in the present moment, we will understand its nature. Is there a conflict in these two practices?

Thay: You may think that you have to lose the present moment to understand the cause of your suffering, but that is not correct. It is possible to bring the past into focus as the object of your inquiry, while staying firmly grounded in the present moment. This is very different from not paying attention to what is going on in the present moment and getting lost in the past.

The present is made up of the past. If you touch the present moment deeply, you touch the past. If in the past you did something that created happiness for someone, that happiness is still here. In the present moment, you can touch that, and it can still make you happy. If you made a mistake—said something unkind, hurt someone—you feel regret, and that is still there in you. You can practice Beginning Anew with that person, even if she is no longer there, and heal the wound of the past. People say we cannot go back to the past and repair the damage. But if you understand that the past is still available, you can touch it through the present moment. Touching the present deeply, you touch all your ancestors, and you have the power to transform the past.

The same is true with the future. If you are firmly rooted in the present moment, you can make plans for the future without losing yourself in fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.

Taking care of the present moment does not mean ignoring the past or the future. If you are fully alive and in the present moment, you can heal the past and be fully ready for the future. Do not divide time into three parts and think that to be in the present moment, you have to oppose the past or the future. Remember the interbeing nature of time.

Q: As an artist, passion is awakened in me when I create, and this sometimes takes me away from mindfulness. Is it possible to create and still live in the world of the Dharma?

Thay: Inspiration brings us energy and motivates us to create. If you are inspired by an idea, your passion to realize your idea may not be a negative thing. Just accept your inspirations as they arrive. As practitioners, we practice breathing in and out mindfully and recognize that feeling and look into it. It’s not a matter of discarding our passion and our inspiration. There are ways we can make them into positive things that can make people very happy.

When we think of those who will look at our painting, eat the food we are cooking, or read the novel we are writing, we will know what to paint, what to cook, and what to write. Because we practice the Five Mindful­ness Trainings, we know that we don’t want to offer toxins to those who will consume our art. As artists, we also need to be nourished with wholesome nutriments. If we consume negative things, we will offer negative things to the people who consume our art. As responsible people, we have to practice looking deeply into our lives, our passion, and our inspiration.

Compassion and loving kindness are elements of art. If we know how to use them, we can create very beautiful art. We may write a song that will inspire people to see into their true nature, smile, and get in touch with the wonders of life. When you write a novel, use your mindfulness to create compassion. As a poet and a writer, I know that I create in every moment of my daily life, not just when I sit at my desk with a sheet of paper in front of me. That is the moment when I deliver my baby, but I conceive the baby throughout my daily life. A Buddhist scholar said to me, “Thay, I hear that you grow lettuce. Wouldn’t it be better to spend your time writing poetry? Anyone can grow lettuce, but not many people write poems the way you do.” I told her, “If I don’t grow lettuce, I will not be able to write poems like this.” Mindfulness is our guide, nourishing our inspiration and our passion. With mindfulness, we know that the babies we create need to grow up into bodhisattvas for the sake of the world.

Q: How can I stay informed about violence in the world without consuming violence as a nutriment?

Thay: It is good to know what is going on, but it may not be necessary to watch the morning, afternoon, and evening news. It is possible to listen to the news only once a week or once in three months and still be in touch with what is going on. One of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings asks us that we stay in touch with suffering, so that compassion can be born in us. Compassion is the energy that motivates us to alleviate suffering. We must touch the suffering, but we have to be aware of our limits. The amount of suffering we touch must not be more than we can digest; otherwise, we will not be able to help anyone. If we listen to bad news every day, we may be overcome by despair.

We must also listen to the good news. Good news can bring us joy and hope, but it is seldom broadcast because it is not sensational. During a mindfulness retreat, we can be happy in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The transfor­mation of anger is quite an achievement. This is a kind of news, but no one comes here to report about it. It is not sensational enough by media standards. We are co-respon­sible for the kind of information the media offers us. If we consume bad news, they report bad news. If we don’t buy it, the media will not produce it.

Q: Can a marriage be happy if one person is practicing and the other is not?

Thay: The best way to share the practice is formlessly. If you practice breathing, smiling, and looking deeply, at some point your partner will see the benefits of your practice and ask, “Why are you so happy, so relaxed, smiling so much?” Then, they will begin to ask, “When you get frustrated, when you get angry, what do you do? I would like to learn.” At that time, you will have a chance to share your practice. You might say, “Darling, when I get angry, I practice walking meditation, and I feel better. I don’t know if you want to try it, but this is how I survive.” Use ord­inary language. Don’t make it too Buddhist. If you dwell too much on the form, it might turn the other person off.

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When you practice walking meditation, just walk naturally. When you walk along the path by the river or in a garden, don’t look too ceremonious. You can be very happy and natural, smiling, without turning people off. You don’t need incense. You don’t need to bow a lot. Do not impose your practice on your partner. Don’t say, “I am practicing spirituality, and you don’t know anything about it!” Try to avoid saying, “Darling, I am practicing Buddhism.” Just let the methods of practice enter you in a gentle, natural way. Practice well, and when you become more refreshed and tolerant, she may ask, “Darling, how do you do it?” Perhaps she has been practic­ing something already. Learn about her practice. When it is your turn, you can share.

Q: Last year in Canada, a father and his three young children were struck by another car. Two of them died immediately, another after three days, and another managed to live after three days in a coma. If they had left home one second later or earlier, the tragedy might not have oc­curred. Why do things like this happen? In our search for sense in a senseless world, is there a karmic connection in tragedy like this?

Thay: I would like to offer an answer to this question in two parts. The first half of the answer is to ask ourselves, “Who is responsible for this?”

There is sickness, old age, and death. This is natural suffering. But there is also much suffering that can be avoided. Because of our lack of mindfulness and insight, because of our ignorance, craving, and anger, we create suffering for ourselves and others. Looking deeply, we can see that in our hands we have the power to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.

Accidents on highways are due to many causes, includ­ing drinking too much. Have we done anything to reduce the drinking of alcohol and other dangers on highways? We may think that someone somewhere else is deciding all these things. We pray to God or blame him when these things happen. We are co-responsible for everything that happens, and we can, to some extent, reduce the suffering that people are undergoing at this moment.

The second half of the answer is to remember that we have a way to cope with uncertainty and suffering. When a three-year-old child dies because of an illness that cannot be healed, or when many people are killed in a plane crash, if we look deeply. we can see the causes leading to some of these events. But there are other things that happen that we have no means to investigate or understand. If we look with the eyes of the Buddha, we discover that what happens to one happens to all. If a danger befalls one person in the family, not only does that person suffer, but the whole family suffers. Yesterday while we were practicing medita­tion, someone was killed on the highway. If we look deeply, we see that this was an accident for us also. We have to bear the suffering together if we have the insight of non-self.

If other people are not happy, we cannot be happy either. We have to do our best to make someone happy, and then happiness will be ours also. The same is true with suffering. When you know that children are dying of hunger, you cannot be happy. But when you know that you can do a little every day to contribute to the removal of some pain, you feel better. You are not doing it only for the dying children. You are also doing it for yourself.

If we learn to live deeply in the present moment, we will not regret having not lived the moments that have been given to us, and we will not suffer too much. If you love someone, don’t wait until she dies in order to cry. Today, if you can do anything to make her happy, do it. That is the only answer to accidents.

Q: Thay, I think I understand the precept not to kill and also the teaching of impermanence. If a person is suffering very deeply, although he enjoys his beautiful life, is it wrong for him to decide, calmly and with love and understanding, to shorten his life just a little bit and kill himself?

Thay: The question is very delicate, and we should avoid as much as possible making generalizations. It is always open and not dogmatic. I wouldn’t say that it is always wrong, but the decision is difficult, and not only do you rely on your insight, you have to also rely on the insight of your Sangha. Other people who practice with love, understanding, and an open heart can shine light on reality and support you.

In the time of the Buddha, there were a few cases when a monk or a layperson suffered so much he or she had to use that kind of means. He or she was not condemned by the Buddha. But the Buddha had a lot of understanding and wisdom. When we make a decision like that, we need to be wise and know that we will not cause a lot of suffering to the people we love. There are cases when it is possible, or may be advisable, to take one’s own life. But I don’t want people to make use of that kind of answer so easily. There­fore, I would say that I would do my best to use my eyes of wisdom, and I would also want the Sangha eyes to tell me what to do. Your family is a Sangha and your friends are also a Sangha. We trust that those who love us have enough understanding to support us in such a situation. 

Q: What happens to the consciousness after death?

Thay: It may be more helpful to ask, “What happens to the consciousness before death?” If you touch your conscious­ness deeply and understand it, you will be able to answer this question by yourself. If you do not know what your consciousness is now, what is the use of asking what it will become after death? Your consciousness is something wonderful. There is a huge volume of literature in Bud­dhism called the Abhidharma, concerning how the mind works. Understanding your mind helps tremendously in dealing with internal formations like fear, anger, or despair.

Consciousness manifests according to conditions. When conditions are sufficient, we perceive a flower and we call it “being” or “existing.” Later, if one or more conditions are no longer present, the flower will not be there for us to perceive, and we say it does not exist. But the flower is still there. It is just not manifested in a way that we can perceive. The same is true if your grandmother dies. Everything depends on conditions in order to reveal itself. “Reveal” is a better word than “born.” When the conditions cease to be sufficient, the flower hides itself, and we call this “nonexistence” or “nonbeing.” If you bring in the missing condition, it will appear again. This is also true with your grandma. You may think she is no longer here, but she is always here.

Life is too short to speculate about such questions. If you touch everything in your daily life deeply, including your consciousness, you will be able to answer this question in the best way, with no speculation at all. 

Q: How can one be a true seeker for spiritual truth without being attached to the search?

Thay: To me, spiritual is not separate from non-spiritual. If I drink a cup of tea in mindfulness, it is spiritual. During that time, I am a free person, totally present in that moment of life. Tea-drinking becomes spiritual because I feel happy and free doing it.

You can change your baby’s diaper mindfully, breathing and smiling. You don’t have to quit being a mother to practice spirituality. But it takes some training. We come to a retreat to learn to do everything mindfully and spiritually. If, in a retreat, you are able to walk, brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, and go to the toilet mindfully, when you go home you will be able to practice everything like that.

Spirituality is not something you search for by abandon­ing your daily life. To be spiritual is to be free. It does not make sense to say that you are attached to spirituality unless spirituality is defined in another way. In the context of our practice, spirituality is drinking your tea or changing your baby’s diaper in mindfulness. 

Q: During my time at Plum Village, I have felt embraced by the affection of the Sangha and the beauty of your teaching. Now I’m going home, where there is a lot of violence, and I feel like an orphan. This soft, sweet message of affection could make me seem weak in front of all the violence. What can I do to face these challenges without compromising and renouncing this message?

Thay: Your problem is like that of a gardener. Suppose you go to a land far away from your home and see beautiful crops. You would like to bring some of the seeds home because you want your friends to enjoy the same crops. You come home with seeds in your pocket. Our time together here is to get these seeds. They are now there in your store consciousness and you are going home with the intention of cultivating them so that you, your family, and your society can enjoy the pleasure of harvesting that crop. Therefore, you have to treasure these seeds and not allow them to be destroyed. Organize your daily life in a way that encourages you to cherish these seeds. Create a nursery so that chickens and other animals will not destroy the first tender plants. When the seedlings become strong, together with friends you can plant a real garden. Like a gardener, we are taking care of the seeds and the plants. We practice watering, cultivating, and protecting our crop.

It would be wonderful if a few friends join you, but many of us begin with one person. Mahatma Gandhi said that one person is enough in the beginning. One person can bring down a dictatorial regime. Have faith in yourself and in the Buddha within you. The Buddha also began alone. You are a future Buddha, therefore, you can do it. 

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and the author of over 70 books. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He lives in France, where he guides the practice of 100 monks, nuns, and lay practitioners. He also travels worldwide, lecturing and leading retreats on “the art of mindful living.”

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From the Editor

As we enjoy the warming breezes and fresh blossoms of spring here in California, we remember how different the seasons are on the other side of the Earth. Our Sangha brothers and sisters in New Zealand and Australia are featured in this issue’s Sangha Profile and in a travel account by Therese Fitzgerald. We also hear from voices in India and England, sharing reflections on Thich Nhat Hanh’s recent journeys there. The schedule and registration information for Thay’s fall visit to the United States are also included (see inside back cover).

We also look at the many facets of liberation. Sister Annabel’s helpful commentary tells us that one translation of the word is “to disentangle.” Our lead article, drawn from the question-and-answer sessions from the September “Heart of the Buddha” Retreat, shows Thich Nhat Hanh’s clear and compassionate guidance in untangling ourselves from perceptions that can cause suffering. The bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism teaches us that there is no individual liberation; all beings reach enlightenment together. The Daily Practice articles are contemplations on liberating ourselves and others in various situations, including a moving piece by Jarvis Masters about mindfulness practice in prison.

We are happy to introduce “Sangha Tools”- a new section which we hope will be helpful to readers who are involved in community building. This section is intended to provide practical information and guidance on Sangha-related activities and issues. Richard Brady has contributed the first article on facilitating Dharma discussion groups. We intend to have a future issue of The Mindjitlness Bell focus on Sangha-building, and invite your submissions on this topic.

-Maria Duerr, Managing Editor

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Liberation

By Sister Annabel Laity

The Chinese word for ” liberation” is made up of two characters. According to the Dictionary, of Chinese Buddhist Terms by W. E. Soothill and L. Hodous, the characters mean ” to unloose, let go, release, untie, disentangle, explain, expound.” The Sanskrit words for liberation are mukti, moksha, vinmkti, and vimoksha. Mukti and moksha are translated as ” loosing, release, deliverance, emancipation .” The addition of vi– means “complete,” or “absolute.”

The three concentrations on emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness are also called the Three Doors of Liberation. Liberation is not something which takes place when we reach the end of the road, but in every moment of our lives as we walk, work, eat, and re late to others. Liberation comes through understanding but understanding can only be when the right causes and conditions are present. When mindfulness, the Sangha, humility, openness , and the right time are available then there is a possibility for understanding. Liberation is always liberation from something. If in a moment of irritation or anger, we are able to come back to ourselves and transform that energy into something positive, that is liberation from irritat ion . As we continue to use our concentration to look deeply into the emptiness (non- self nature) of ourse lves and the other, our liberation from anger will be complete. At every moment of the day , we can li berate ourselves from fixed ideas and perceptions by using our breath to stay in the present moment and to be deeply in touch. At that moment we are practicing emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness.

Sister Annabel Laity, True Virtue, has been a resident of Plum Village since 1986. She was ordained as a nun in 1988 and as a Dharma teacher in 1990.

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Liberating Sacred Cows

By Brother Ivar

Like many of us, there are times when I wish I had a little more control over a situation. I always thought I had a lot of patience, but now I am finding out what a shallow base that patience had, because the condition for it was many years of living as a bachelor. The only being that I had to agree with was a fairly lovable dog. Now, living in the context of a diverse, multicultural community at Plum Village, it sometimes seems my capacity to let go is stretched to the breaking point. And that is just the point, because what is breaking is my resistance to accepting things as they are, my ego’s will to have control over things.

In October, Thay spoke about cows, not the ones wandering the streets of Calcutta, but the ones wandering the pathways of our mind which we sometimes call our “sacred cows.” He suggested that we look into ourselves to find out what our sacred cow is-a responsibility, an expectation, a compelling idea, a motivating force, a condition we think our happiness is contingent upon but which may be an obstacle to our happiness and take our freedom away if we let it. Most of us probably have these cows at the feeding troughs of our mind, feeding on our freedom.

The fattest cow I have is my resistance to accepting things as they are. This acceptance is much different from the resignation for which some might mistake it. Now, when I accept conditions, I am letting go of my desire to control events that I have no need or ability to control. My perception had been that controlling certain events would make me happy. As Thay has said, in 60, 100, or 300 years, the conditions I think are so important will amount to a hill of beans. I’m also realizing how requiring these conditions for my happiness creates a prison of my own making and causes my mind to be at war with itself. As I let go of these false conditions for my happiness, I simultaneously try to take refuge in “what’s not wrong” as Thay has suggested. I try to see “the beautiful and wholesome things in the environment, breathe the fresh air, and enjoy the miracle of walking on this earth.” This has been a true source of liberation and joy for me.

This is not a docile acceptance of absolutely everything life puts on my plate. As the newly revised Ninth Mindfulness Training suggests, “We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten our safety.” But how does one know when to come forward and when to step aside, when to speak out and when to bow your head and let the universe unfold, however it may? Robert Aitken Roshi and Brother David Steindl-Rast coauthored a delightful book called The Ground We Share. In it, they touch on this question quite eloquently. Aitken Roshi suggested looking at the word “willful” as “full of will. In other words, full of my own will, full of myself.” Brother David writes that he likes “to make a distinction between one’s own will and self-will. The only power that can overcome self-will is one’s own will. Our own will is to be built up and made strong. It is our willingness, not our willfulness, that we want to cultivate through practice.” When we have enough clarity to listen and look at a situation with the ears and eyes of our heart, then we can approach the situation with compassion instead of adversity, and have a clearer understanding of an appropriate course of action.

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My practice here at Plum Village has helped me experience the distinction that Brother David is talking about and begin to free myself from my will’s agenda so I can be available for my “appointment with life.” In the meantime, when I occasionally open the gate to let the cow out of that pasture in my mind, I can smile and know that everything will be okay as long as I give life permission to live me.

Brother Ivar, Phap Tri, lives in Plum Village. He was ordained as a monk in 1996.

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Pipe-Down Dharma

By Jarvis Masters

When I awoke that early morning in my cell to begin my daily meditation practice, I tried to envision myself as a peace activist in the rough neighborhood of my life in prison. The night before, the cell adjacent to mine was filled with the raging screams and yells of a new inmate. I had dreamed of hearing loud mumbling voices in my deep sleep, but refused to awaken, to lose that very comfortable place that made sleeping on a hard concrete prison bunk easy.

Now, in the light of dawn appearing from the window opposite’ my cell across the tier, I quietly placed my folded blankets on the cold floor of my cell. The loud voice of my new neighbor began to scream again. “I kill you … I kill you all you damn son of bitches if y’all don’t let me out of here!” He went on yelling like that to no one. I could see in my mind his hands taking hold of his cell bars and shaking and rattling them, like a storm, so loud I was certain this thunder of human rage could be heard throughout the housing unit. The noise caused me to wonder if I could be just as determined to sit with my meditation practice as I must have been to sleep through all of this since the time my neighbor had been moved into his cell. I remembered when my teacher, Chagdud Rinpoche, had sent me a transcription of one of his Dharma talks where he mentioned a particular kind of joy in meditating at airports while waiting for the many flights on his schedule. I wished I could remember why he liked this! I decided the solution could be found in Rinpoche’s saying that there was no time to lose to invoke the practice of Dharma. I smiled to myself, wanting to try this kind of meditation. I had always been able to meditate within ear range of lots of noise, but never anything as loud and as close as the steel bars which vibrated like a jumbo jet breaking through the skies.

I was only minutes into my practice when my new neighbor called over to me. “Hey, dude in cell number 15,” he shouted. “Save me half of that damn cigarette.”

Huh? I thought, my mantra interrupted. What cigarette? I haven’t smoked in years, I thought, at the same time trying to get my mind back to meditating. I smiled, imagining my teacher being asked such a question while he was sitting at the airport. No, no one would dare! I chuckled silently to myself. Then I began to smell the fumes of someone smoking in one of the cells not far from me. The smoking of my fellow inmates brought a certain morning scent to the air to which I had become so accustomed that on my best days, I would simply accept it as my prison-brand of incense. With each lit cigarette, the air shaped itself into a smoky altar to meditate around.

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When I felt the wall between my new neighbor and myself move almost like in an earthquake, I was tempted to half jokingly ask him to knock off the banging and to invite him to sit in meditation with me instead. But this would have only made me a target for his rage and possibly would have so insulted him that his mission in life would become to make our adjacent living situation pure misery for both of us. And I didn’t want this.

“Hey dude in cell number 15,” my neighbor shouted again, this time pounding on the wall between us. “Let me have a few tokes of that cigarette man, I know you smokin’ over there. I know you hear me, man!”

“Hey, hey!” I responded loudly, finally having enough and by now being totally convinced that I was no Rinpoche. “Man! You don’t need to shout and go on beating the wall like a damn fool!” I stood up and stepped to my cell bars.

“Man, whatever your name is: that is not me smoking. I don’t smoke. I haven’t been smoking in years. And even if I did smoke, check: the way you are going about shouting and beating on that poor wall all this morning which has been trying to mind its own business, just like me, man-I wouldn’t give you jackshit, ok?”

“Ah, man.” My neighbor tried to calm his voice, “They call me Bosshog. And all I want is a mothert’uckin’ smoke, you know?”

“Well, I’m Jarvis,” I replied, “and all I want is my freedom. Believe me, Bosshog, this is not to say that I want it more than you want a cigarette right about now, because I know what cigarettes can make you feel. But by beating on the wall like you have, you’re taking what little freedom I have away from me, and that ain’t right, you know?”

“Okay, well, do you think you can find me a cigarette?” my neighbor pleaded, ”’cause I swear to God, man, I’ve been needing a cigarette all morning, like poor folk in hell need ice water!”

I laughed. I liked the way Bosshog seemed to think only poor people needed ice water in hell. As for a cigarette, I always keep extra things in my cell for people like Bosshog. I would collect old magazines and novels and purchase inexpensive soap, toothpaste, and smoking tobacco for new inmates, who may have none of these things. I had vowed to do this seventeen years ago when I had arrived at San Quentin and had to use kitchen butter from my breakfast tray to treat my badly chapped dry skin, because I had no funds to purchase lotion from the prison commissary.

“Yeah, I think I can find you a bit of tobacco and some rolling papers,” I told him. I sensed from my many years of having neighbors of all sorts that he was just one of so many youngsters over-flooding the prison system for smoking crack or for violating their parole.

“I’ll find you a bit of tobacco,” I repeated, “but only if you stay cool and don’t go screaming and rattling your cell bars and beating the walls, disturbing the peace on the tier again. Is that a deal?”

Long seconds passed. Bosshog was taking his word seriously. This made him a rare breed, since few new prisoners would take even as much as a whole second before saying anything for a free cigarette. “Yeah, man,” he finally answered, “you drive a hard bargain, but you got a deal! I’ll keep it all on cool, my word, man.”

“Okay, give me a minute.” I walked to the back of my cell, rummaging in the box underneath my bunk where I keep the can of tobacco. I was surprised to find more than half of the can left. I had no intention of giving it all to Boss. There was a likelihood that other newcomers would be needing some too. Also, the long seconds Boss had taken before deciding to come to terms with our agreement probably meant that it would be a struggle for him to keep his end of the bargain. Rationing out the tobacco would keep him at bay.

I took a pinch of tobacco and looked around my cell for some paper. A long time ago, a friend had photocopied and sent me Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Being Peace. Some time afterwards, I received the actual book, so I no longer needed the photocopied pages. I reckoned it wouldn’t hurt to wrap the tobacco into one of them, and who knows, I thought wistfully, ol’ Thich Nhat Hanh might appeal to the Bosshog-one single page at a time. “Hey Boss,” I asked, “do you have a fishline over there!”

“I just found this one under the bunk. Your last neighbor must have left it.” He quickly threw the fishline in front of my cell. I retrieved it then tied on the rolled-up piece of paper with the tobacco inside and watched him pull it in.

“Man, right-on! Righteous!” he exclaimed happily. “I really appreciate all this smoke!”

“No problem. Perhaps I can send you more in a day or so, you know?”

“Oh, this is cool, real cool!” said Bosshog.

The bright sun shining through the window on the wall said that there wasn’t much left of the morning to sit in meditation, but it also ushered in a quiet feeling of having spent time as a simple kind of engaged peace activist. For days that turned into months, I continued sending Boss his daily supply of tobacco. And gradually, in his own way, he came to adore Thich Nhat Hanh through the writings that he received along with his tobacco. It was like adopting a Sangha brother who was still a bit off his rocker. He would try his very best, but drew the line at formal sitting meditation. “My word,” he would say, “to wake up in the early morning hours to go on some ol’ meditation trip with you. No way!”

When Bosshog was finally released from San Quentin some 18 months later, he stood in front of my cell before leaving, and he and I smiled at each other, trying not to say good-bye. Almost in the same breath, we repeated what had become his favorite mantra whenever he felt he was about to blow his top: “Man, man … if we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”

Jarvis Masters is a death row inmate housed in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, a maximum-security housing unit for both death row and other high-security inmates. He is currently working on a collection of essays on his practice, due to be published early next year.

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In the Buddha’s Footsteps

By Shantum Seth

Thich Nhat Hanh, along with 12 monks and nuns from Plum Village and friends from the U.S. , Europe, and Australia, spent three weeks in February and March traveling through India and visiting many important sites of the Buddha’s life.

On February 18, the group’s first evening in New Delhi, the Attorney General of India, Mr. Ashok Desai, released the Hindi translations of Old Path White Clouds Our, Appointment with Life, Cultivating the Mind of Love, and The Stone Boy at a well-attended press conference. Nearly 20 newspapers and some television channels carried news reports of Thay’s visit.

Thay and the Sangha visited our home in Noida the next day for a wonderful silent lunch in the garden with family and friends who helped to organize the trip . This is a lovely time of the year in Delhi and roses, poppies, larkspurs, dahlias, calendulas, and marigolds were all blossoming. On the morning of February 20, we vis ited the Jain Bird Hospital in Old Delhi. Although the Buddha and Mahavir, the founder of Jainism, were contemporaries and preached in the same areas, there has been some unease between the two communities for 2,500 years. Thay’s visit was a symbolic healing, and the managers and doctors were very welcoming. After giving some medicine to a bird who had problems with its eyes, Thay and the other monks and nuns released birds that had been healed at the hospital.

That afternoon, Thay met with the Vice President of India, Mr. K.R. Narayanan. The scheduled 20-minute meeting extended to over an hour. It was the opening day of the budget session of Parliament and the Vice President is the Speaker of the Upper House, so Thay thanked Mr. Narayanan for meeting on such a busy day . The Vice President said he was always happy to make time to meet monks. Thay offered constructive and practical suggestions on how the affairs of Parliament may be conducted in greater harmony, and the Vice President was keen that he come back to India to address the Parliamentarians. Consequent to their meeting, the Vice President set up an Ethics Committee in Parliament.

Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and Sister Jina had dinner that evening with the Attorney General, who has been influenced by Thay’s books for a few years. Thay also met with other respected leaders including Ms. Kapila Vatsayyan, the Director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and the President of the India International Centre.

The following morning, the monks and nuns visited the Vasant Valley School, where they had lunch with the teachers and spent time talking with the children and teaching them songs and basic meditation. The children were enchanted and loved the nuns and monks. One man came for the Day of Mindfulness because his son was so happy after meeting with the monks and nuns. That evening, Thay gave a talk on “Worlds in Harmony” to a full house at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundati on, one of the most presti gio us institutes in India.

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On a beautiful Saturday morning, Tibet House organised a practice instruction at Buddha Jayanti Park. Flowers lined our walki ng path, and then we sat under a tree fo r questions and answers. In the afternoon, Professor Ramachandra Chandra Gandhi , the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, introduced Thay at the India International Centre. The lawns were filled with over 1,200 people. Thuy spoke about “Walking Lightly,” the four mantras, and the relationship between father and son.

Three hundred people attended a Day of Mindfulness on Sunday, February 23, at a beautiful park and home of a local Jain patron at the Sanskriti Kendra. Thuy spoke about relationships. Sister Chan Khong led deep relaxation and “Touching the Earth,” and we enjoyed a kino meditation (a kino is a cross between a tangerine and an orange). The day ended with questions and answers. The practice and walking mll1dfully touched everyone, and the usual Delhi pace had slowed down perceptibly.

Early the next morning, 29 o f us new to Patna and then were driven to Bodh Gaya. In good Bihari style there was a banner across the road we lcoming “Thich Nhat Hanh and friends.” As we sat under the Bodhi tree the next morning, Thay offered the tree and the Buddha copies of the Hindi and English version s of Old Path White Clollds. We chanted and sat in silence while pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Japan, and other countries recited sutras in their own languages and Hindi film music blared from across the street. The tree has been dressed up with many pieces of cloth as has the diamond seat, which has a gold canopy on it protected by plastic. Thay commented that this was so different from nine years ago when he visited and there was no decoration. We walked mindfully around the temple complex and then went across the Neranjara River to the village of Sujata and Svasti. We met the Headman of the village and Thay presented translations of Old Path White Clouds to the village library and school. One of the school teachers read a passage from the Hindi book telling stories of the village children 2,500 years ago when they met Buddha. In the afternoon, Thay gave a talk, ‘The Earth as Witness,” at the Mahabodhi Society Hall. The next morning, after another lovely dawn sitting under the Bodhi tree, we left for Rajgir.

Before sunrise the next day, we climbed Vulture Peak, the Buddha’s favorite meditation place, and spent the whole day on the hill. Thay gave a Dharma talk, we ate lunch, then some of us rested on the hillsides and others of us in the caves of Ananda and Shariputra. In the early evening, the nuns and monks shaved their heads just as Sisters Chan Khong, Annabel, and Chan Vi had done nine years earlier when they were first ordained. After watching the sun set, we walked down the path that had been built 2,500 years ago by King Bimbisara when he wanted to visit the Buddha. Sister Chan Khong and the nuns cooked a wonderful dinner. Only the most enthusiastic nuns and monks went up for the sunrise at Vulture Peak the next morning.

We ate our breakfast at the Bamboo Grove, the first land given to the Sangha, and heard stories about the Buddha’s life, the visit of Anathapindika, and how Shariputra came to join the Buddha. The children who were begging here soon became friends with Thay’s gentle handling. He held their hands and slowly they relaxed. Later he and the others played games with the children by the Karanda Lake, and then we all ate lunch together. The children, who had been begging and grabbing only a short while before, passed food to each other with great dignity. After lunch we drove through mustard fields and mango trees to the remains of the famous monastic university at Nalanda, where the Mahayana school developed.

The next day we flew to Calcutta. Thay gave a touching talk at a large Hindu temple and visited the local market. In the evening, over 100 of us shared a silent meal. We ate slowly, enjoying many new tastes and textures.

On Monday, March 3, we boarded the flight for Madras, now known as Chennai. This beautiful land, with many old trees by the coast, was a perfect setting for a five-day retreat. Thay gave a talk every morning. In the afternoons, we had Dharma discussions, tea meditation, total relaxation, and “Touching the Earth.” After dinner, we enjoyed presentations and sitting before going to sleep. Some of our morning sittings were at the beach where we watched as the sun rose over the ocean and the fisherman went out to bring in their catch. Flowers and leaves fell at our feet as we took our steps on the earth during walking meditation. On the last day, over 40 people took the Five Mindfulness Trainings and decided to continue to practise with a Sangha in Chennail Madras. Thay gave two well-attended public talks before catching the flight back to Delhi, where there was another packed press conference for the release of some audiotapes and two more books, including Being Peace. On the last evening in Delhi, our traveling Sangha had a closing circle and many recited insight poems.

Thay won the hearts of many people in India and offered his help in practical ways. We continue to hear stories of how people are putting into practice what they heard, and over 40 came to our first Sangha meeting in Delhi on March 16. At the first press conference, Thay had introduced himself as a son of India and said that his spiritual ancestor was the Buddha. We felt that Thay was very happy to be in India, and we would be happy to welcome him any time to come back and make his home here as his ancestors did.

Shantum Seth, True Path, organized Thay’s visit in India and leads pilgrimages to sacred sites of the Buddha’s life in India and Nepal. He is the coordinator of all inter-regional United Nations program/or artisan support.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 3

Oh India, sacred holy sights of Lord Buddha,
cool greens lawns of Delhi,
hot sandy river bed of the Neranjara,
jagged rock formations of Gridhrakuta Mountain,
rich rice paddy fields in Bihar,
bustling, dirty old streets of Varanasi, Calcutta,
lush tropical paradise of Madras.
Walking equally through all in peace.
Oh India, Great Land of the Buddha,
thank you. I am smiling.

Michael Grossi, California

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Touching Peace in England

By Kate Atchley

Touching Peace” was the theme of a deeply moving four-day retreat led by Thich Nhat Hanh, along with ten nuns and monks from Plum Village, in late March at Stourbridge, near Birmingham. The retreat was held in Old Swinford Hospital, whose grounds lent themselves well to walking meditation and provided superb evening viewing of the Hale-Bopp comet. Some 400 retreatants attended, including children of all ages.

For me, the retreat brought an unexpected awakening: I touched within myself a deeply reverential student. Throughout my 52 years, I have tussled with authority, sought to debunk teachers and parents, and treated all who held themselves out to know best with varying degrees of skepticism. I came to the retreat with some knowledge of Buddhism and Thay’s teachings, but when I sat close to him, I felt he spoke directly to me. I experienced an openness of heart and mind I had not known before and fulfilled a great longing in myself to feel love and admiration for a teacher. In all the hours of listening intently to his words, I heard nothing to which I did not say yes.

Thay spoke about the everyday suffering caused by unskillful communication, anger, greed, pride, and fear. He spoke with the immediacy and accuracy of someone who himself has been enmeshed in the difficulties we encounter in our families, work, and with our loved ones. “Love can be turned into hate,” said Thay, “and hate can be turned into love.” The first part of this equation is painfully familiar and raw in me. “The positive is us, the negative is us; we must not allow war within us,” Thay taught. If I can stop my war within, peace with others will be possible. If my pride does not rise up, disguised in all manner of innocent garb, it will not block my listening and my compassion.

Using the poetic image of a tree blown by a fierce wind, Thay taught us how to handle strong emotion. The upper branches look close to breaking as they sway and swirl, but as you look lower down the tree, you know that it is firmly rooted in the ground. So it can be for us. In the face of a strong emotion, we should meditate and breathe in and out. We can practise “belly breathing” and move our centre of gravity down from our minds to beneath our abdomen and stay there, in our trunk. “Be a mountain, solid,” said Thay. “An emotion is only an emotion.” He added. “When your house is on fire, you should go home and put out the fire, not run after the person you think is the arsonist.”

Thay wove into his teachings the Christian theme of Easter, death, and resurrection, and spoke of Jesus and the meaning of his life. On Maundy Thursday. Thay spoke of the happiness of breathing in and breathing out: “It reminds me I am alive … you touch the miracle of being alive.” It is the practice of resurrection, he said. We know, again, that we live, and we remember not to throw our life away.

On Good Friday, Thay said, “Something has to die in order that something be born. Our wrong perceptions, our grasping, have to die to allow the new being to arise.” Jesus pretended to die, Thay told us. Those of us from Christian traditions listened intently as he explained. Jesus existed in the historical dimension as the Son of God, made man, and in the ultimate dimension, as the Son of God. In the historical dimension there is birth and death, and so as a man, Jesus died. But in the ultimate dimension, there is no such thing as birth and death. As the Son of God, Jesus only pretended to die. The true nature of Jesus, as of a wave, is no-birth and no-death. “To touch the ultimate is to touch God and to be without fear of death.”

On a sparkling spring Easter Sunday, Thay told us. “You are already of the Kingdom of God. You are already what you want to become. Your loneliness is only an illusion. The entire cosmos is in you. The entire lineage of your ancestors is in you.” Fifteen children received the Two Promises, 84 adults took the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and four members of the UK Community were received into the Order of Interbeing. Thay’s saffron robes and those of the nuns and monks, along with the great bunches of yellow daffodils before us, were bathed in pure, bright light, a golden celebration of our four days together.

Kate Atchley is a member of the London Sangha. She is a mother and businesswoman and has been practicing Buddhism for three years.

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Thay Calls for UK Dharma Centre

During the Easter retreat in England, Thay called for the UK Sangha to set up a Dharma centre. There is, he said, a “desperate need” for such centres in England where the practice can be learned and strengthened. Thay suggested that the centre be called “Being Peace” and that Sister Jina be appointed as teh first Abbess, with up to three other resident monks or nuns from the monastic order. Thay hopes to visit England annually and offered the possibility of Sister Annabel leading several retreats at the centre each year. Only weeks earlier, the UK Sangha had established a small group to study this same issue. We are now actively engaged in seeking to fulfill Thay’s request. Donatiosn will be gratefully received from friends world-wide. Please send a cheque or bankers’ draft, in pounds sterling to “Interbeing Dharma Centre Fund,” c/o Kate Atchley, 52 Brookfield, Highgate West Hill, London N66AT, England, Fax: (44) 181-347-6713, Email: kate@atchley.demon.co.uk.

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No Down Under, No Up Over

By Therese Fitzgerald

Arnie Kotler and I arrived in Sydney, Australia, on January 2. When I awoke the next morning at seven, it was already warm. It was summer for sure and nothing would ever be quite the same again. The sun still set in the west and rose in the east, but it traveled across the northern sky (the direction from which warm weather comes!). Our hosts, Khanh and Dan LeVan, live above a beautiful eucalyptus canyon full of exotic birds, including kookaburra (“laughing birds”) and brilliantly colored parrots.

We had a well-attended Day of Mindfulness in the Blue Mountains, spending much of the day outdoors under the tall pine and gum trees, with our meditation and discussion punctuated by wild and raucous songs of the bush birds.

On Sunday morning, we gave a presentation on meditation and knowing our deep purpose in life to several hundred young people at a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. Tuesday evening, we gave a Dharma talk at the Sydney Zen Centre on practice as partners. The next night we gave a presentation on Living Buddha. Living Christ at the Buddhist Library.

We packed up for the weekend retreat at Wat Buddha Dhamma, a Theravadan retreat center in a very hot part of the country. The hour-long drive down a dirt road was awesomely beautiful, through a wilderness of great gum trees and massive sandstone cliffs and ridges. The retreat was brief yet deep. One retreatant, Anh Thu Ton, wrote, “As I seated myself ill a comfortable position … I began to think about finding joy in breathing and about the patterns and habits of my life which have been going in a completely different direction. What I needed to do most was to slow down and renew each moment …. It was easy to absorb the calmness of the retreat. Practicillg ill a group with other retreatants was enjoyable alld kept me on track. I liked the way others spoke openly about the joys and difficulties of mindfulness practice. and I could not forget the four speakers who shared their experiences that first night. I found myself being very inspired. saddened by some of the stories. and on many occasions I could barely restrain from laughter.”

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Our last day in the Sydney area was a most vivid one. Tony Mills, with whom we had traveled in Vietnam two years earlier, took us to a trail above a beach south of Sydney. It was an exquisite six-kilometer walk through tall forests vibrating with birdsongs, along high, burnt-out bush with fabulous vistas of the seacoast, down through rainforest, to a sandy glade for a picnic. As we entered a great open field that led down to the ocean, there was concern that we would not make it back home in time to greet the evening’s guests. I could hardly bear the thought that we might not complete the hike and experience a swim in the ocean, and I made that clear by hardly stopping to consider our plans. I forged ahead to the sea with the wind at my face like a wild stallion. I plunged in first, ecstatic with the taste of salt water. When I came back towards the shore, Tony warned me, “There’s a rip. so don’t go out beyond your depth.” When Arnie came into the sea, I told him to keep walking against the tide, as this is what I had understood from Tony’s warning. The next thing I knew, Arnie was drifting quickly out to sea, seemingly relaxed, with his feet up. I went toward him and saw that he was struggling. He said, “Therese, take my hand. I can’t get back in.” I swam out to him, took his hand, and tried to pull him and myself towards the shore, to no avail. The sea had us in her strong arms. We were caught in a rip tide. Arnie let go, saying, “It’s not working.” I continued in front of him, treading water, and suggested that he do the sidestroke to relax. He tried a few more strokes and then disappeared from my view.

At the same time, Dan appeared beside me with eyes wide open, saying, “This is serious.” I looked at the shore and saw Tony and Khanh waving their arms in alarm. My breath was very short, and I began swallowing some water. I felt weak and feared losing Arnie and Dan. I realized that I must stop panicking and put all my energy into swimming to shore. After getting on my back to relax and breathe more eas il y, I kicked and pulled as hard as I could. The next thing I knew, Dan was standing up and exclaiming, “Arnie is all right. He’s on shore.” I was so happy I reached for Dan’s hand and held it as we went back to shore together.

Liana, our friend in New Zealand, later asked me, “Did you practice conscious breathing during your experience in the riptide?” I realized that I had been quite aware that my breathing was shallow as I gasped, and those were the signals to me that I was panicking. I realized that my life depended on getting into a comfortable position to allow for more relaxed breathing. It was a difficult choice, though, that I felt I had to make-to focus on my own position and breathing when, as far as I could tell, Arnie was drifting farther out.

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The way home was a time to process our experience. We stood for quite a while above the sea trying to understand a rip tide. I realized how strong my will had been; how I had not paused enough to consider the wisdom of going all the way to the sea; how we should have paused altogether on the shore to understand the danger of the surf that day. We did get back home just in time to greet members of the Sangha gathered for a lovely tea and farewell.

The next day we flew to Auckland, New Zealand, where we gave a public lecture at a Unitarian Church and had a Day of Mindfulness at a lovely Franciscan friary.

We also had an interesting opportunity to give a lecture at a Vietnamese temple to around 70 people. We presented basic practices for making peace within and without and reflected on some of the lessons learned from Thay and Sister Chan Khong’s work during the Vietnam War. When we departed, it seemed that the Long White Cloud Sangha may begin a fruitful relationship with the temple.

On Sunday, we traveled to the Coromandel Peninsula for a six-day retreat at Mana Retreat Centre with 30 adults and 13 lively young people. During two evening presentations, core Sangha members shared their vivid experience of the Mindfulness Trainings and other practices that have helped them. It was inspiring to witness the wholehearted enthusiasm and conviction of a country that is attuned to the wisdom of its native people. New Zealanders have taken steps to protect Maori land and people and have refused to allow the nuclear age to encroach upon their shores, despite U.S. pressure. The discussion about learning ways to protect the purity of their air, water, earth, and peoples by Right Action through the Five Mindfulness Trainings was powerful, especially because New Zealanders and Australians have a hole in their ozone layer to contend with. We had a joyous Five Mindfulness Trainings Transmission Ceremony in which a dozen people received the Trainings.

On the morning of the last day of the retreat, we celebrated the marriage vows of Liana Meredith and Kees Lodder. Keriata Suart, a Maori practitioner, greeted the procession with a Maori song. After Kees and Liana recited the Five Awarenesses, friends offered songs, flute and recorder music, Sufi dances, and native crafts. The children offered a play, complete with two lassies on horseback! We enjoyed a banquet of sparkling grape juice, delightful summer dishes, and favorite desserts before forming a closing circle to end the retreat.

We spent the next night at Te Moata, a Buddhist retreat center on 1,800 acres of wild bush. In the morning, we hiked with Tim and Anne Wyn-Harris along a stream and high up to a cabin that is ideal for a solo retreat. Then we hiked over to a barn which is a perfect retreat facility for young people.

The next day we drove south to Wellington through the Tongiriro National Park, full of volcanic mountains and high desert. In Wellington, we boarded the ferry to Picton, then caught a bus and traveled along the hil ls by the sea to Nelson. After a short rest and supper under a beautiful magnolia tree, we gave a presentation to 25 people in a lovely neighborhood center, The Fairfield House, about mindfulness practice as protection and nurturance in the midst of our busy lives.

The next morning, we set out for Wangapeka Retreat Centre in Wakefield, southwest of Nelson. Mark Vette flew down from Auckland and was a pillar of practice and support during our weekend retreat. On Saturday evening we had a wonderful walking meditation under a clear sky of bright stars, ending with hot chocolate. We finished the retreat with a mindful feast on the lawn.

Our last two days “down under” were spent seeing some of the beautiful South Island. We walked by Lake Rotuito in an alpine forest of beech trees with a carpet of mosses and lichens, hiked in Abel Tasman National Park, swam in the emerald water of secluded Split Apple Beach, and went to the underground source of the Riwaka River. We kissed New Zealand and Australia good-bye with tears of joy and a warm feeling that much had transpired that was good and beautiful.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, was ordained a Dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1994 and is Director of the Community of Mindful Living.

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On Dharma Discussions

By Richard Brady

Dharma discussions are a fundamental part of Sangha gatherings, retreats, and Plum Village life. At their best they embody qualities of group meditation, enabling us to enter a place of quiet in which we can stop and listen deeply to ourselves and each other. They are opportunities for us to deepen our understanding of the teachings and find practices which apply to our lives. Dharma discussions have several other important functions. During large retreats, especially silent ones, they can be a home base. When retreatants get in touch with painful emotions, these groups are often the place they can go for help. In Sanghas where organizational work is often performed by a small group, they give others an opportunity to be known by the community.

How can our Dharma discussions provide a better space for us to be in contact with our inner buddhas and feel invited to ask for and give support? In our Washington Mindfulness Community groups we begin by giving our names, home communities, and, if needed, request a ride home. This simple practice brings everyone into the discussion. Introductions are even more important in retreat settings where many of us are strangers. During the Plum Village summer opening, Eveline Beumkes suggested a variation on the usual introduction: an internal weather report. Some participants gave bare bones reports: “Stormy, with a few rainbows.” Others described the nature of their storms and rainbows. Some reported on their emotional states. These reports allow group members to feel safe, establish connections, and open the way for further sharing.

Creating an atmosphere where all participants feel invited to share can be challenging. When the number in our Sangha’s group exceeds 20, we divide into two. Even in smaller groups, some people hardly ever speak. Some of the discussions I feel best about are the few in which none of the senior members of the community felt called to speak. When senior members sit quietly and listen, they empower every member to share his or her own experience of the Dharma. What a strong message! After a recent discussion at Plum Village, a newcomer shared with me that she did not feel ready to speak but hoped she would next time. During that particular session, several of the participants had spoken three or four times. I began our next one by asking everyone to share only once, waiting to speak again until everyone had had an opportunity. This time my quiet friend was the first to speak. She thanked me afterwards for my encouragement. I don’t know whether we ought to make such suggestions routinely, but we might at least make them privately to Sangha members who speak frequently.

When Thay answers questions from his personal experience of Buddhist teachings, he helps make the teachings come alive and be accessible to retreatants for use in everyday life. Dharma discussions have this same goal: to help us see connections between our experience and Buddhist teachings, to be “lamps unto ourselves.” To accomplish this, participants need to look within and share from their own experience. After our Sangha listens to a tape of Thay, we begin the discussion with a reminder: we now have an opportunity to share where the talk has touched us, something from our practice, or some success or difficulty to which others can speak. Leaders can encourage reflection by asking questions. In a recent discussion, a participant asked about the meaning of “true self.” I asked if he was requesting that people talk about their experiences of being in touch with their true selves. His “yes” led to deep sharing about vulnerability, compassion, and self-acceptance, and avoided conceptual answers.

At new groups, I sometimes mention the importance of periods of silence. I have observed a connection between the depth of the discussion and the quality of the silence from which it emerges. Often, one sharing immediately follows another, as if there were pressure to keep the conversation going. Inviting the mindfulness bell at these times is particularly appropriate. When silence stretches to the point where it feels unproductive, it can be difficult for me to decide whether to return to the previous topic or to move on to new concerns, to ask the group a question or to share an experience of my own. My ability to see how best to facilitate reflects the degree to which I am present.

Group members occasionally address questions directly to the facilitator. At these times, I like to sit back, listen, and learn. When I know that anyone in the group may have a helpful response to a question, I am less tempted to jump in and teach. By inviting others to answer first, we can avoid turning group discussions into two-person conversations with an audience. If a discussion has lost contact with Buddhist teachings, I may ask how the Dharma might be of assistance. If it becomes absorbed with the teachings in a disembodied way, I might ask if someone has an illustration from his or her life.

Last fall, our Sangha had several special Dharma discussions. At our family and friends weekend, each person shared what he or she had been looking for in first coming to the Sangha, what had worked, and what new directions he or she wished for. A commitment to begin a major evaluation of our activities resulted from this discussion, as well as a deeper appreciation of each other. We devoted two evenings to similar discussions where every participant, new and old. spoke from the heart, many affirming their connection to the Sangha. We experienced a deep sense of community. Now our Sangha is working to make this experience an enduring reality.

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, helped found the Washington, D. C. Mindfulness Community.

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Planting a Sunflower Paradise

By Wendy Johnson

mb19-PlantingLast summer in the Green Gulch garden, we planted a glorious  “house” of sunflowers on our Family Day. We chose sunflowers from all over the world and started them in early March in our greenhouse. By the beginning of May they were ready to transplant. We asked the young people to design a secret garden house made of flowers where they could play all summer. The house was a great success! The children chose to plant in a circle. First we dug the earth and added compost. Then the children drew the blueprint for the house, spreading garden sweet-lime on the soil so they knew where to plant. The house was 12 feet in diameter with four pathways leading in. Two wider paths might be better since the sunflowers eventually closed them off. The center was left unplanted so the children could play games and have tea parties. We staggered the sunflowers, one foot apart.

You can also plant a rectangular house with one gateway. Plant two rows, also with staggered spacing, and sow heavenly blue morning glory seeds in between. The morning glory will twine up the sunflower stems and make a beautiful flower wall for the playhouse. Once the sunflowers grow tall, climb a stepladder with a friend on the opposite “wall” of the house. Tie a string around the upper neck of the sunflowers and send it back and forth to your friend, weaving a web ceiling. The morning glory vines will soon climb across the string and create a woven flower roof.

Sunflowers and morning glories do not love to be transplanted. We did it because of the ravenous, seed-eating birds of our farm. If you prepare your ground with good, aged compost or manure, you can plant directly in a small trench. Water every day and once your seeds sprout, keep them well-weeded. We recommend Russian Mammoth (the old-fashioned, huge-headed), Tarahumara White Seeded (single disc head with pure white seed), Prado Red (dark mahogany red, multi-headed), Gloriosa polyheaded sunflowers (multi-headed golden), and Mexican Sunflower Tithonia (bright orange). The best commercial seed sources are: Cook’s Garden Seeds, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148, (802) 824-3400; Bountiful Garden Seed Co. , 5798 Ridgewood Rd. , Willits, CA 95490, (707) 459-6410; Seeds of Change, P.O. Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87506, (505) 438-8080; Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, 30 Irene Street, Torrington, CT 06790, (860) 482-3638 .

After we planted our house, we found a book full of wonderful ideas, Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages by Sharon Lovejoy, 1993, Interweave Press (800-272-2193). Instructions for planting a sunflower sanctuary are also available from Vaughn Lovejoy , 364 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT 841 11 . Happy gardening!

Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment. is a Dharma teacher and a gardener living at Green Gulch Zen Center in Northern California.

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Aimless Walking

By Kees Lodder

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Walking meditation with our 16-month-old son Jeremy has a totally different meaning since I returned from Plum Village. He mostly doesn’t want to be carried anymore and he definitely doesn’t want to hold my hand. He puts his hands immediately behind his back when I offer mine and says, “uhm,” which means no. This would not be such a problem if a) he would walk on the road or path and b) if he went in one direction. He does neither. So I have created-or better, Jeremy has created for me- the practice of aimless walking meditation. I realize that he is teaching me a far more advanced practice than simple walking meditation. We spend at least an hour a day practicing aimless walking and non-walking. Jeremy often sits down wherever he likes. Sitting when you feel like it is also a very advanced practice, of course. From the start Jeremy enjoyed all this tremendously. Because I’m not as developed, it took me a few days to grasp the full potential of the practice. Now I find aimless walking with Jeremy enormously relaxing.

Kees Lodder, True Great Gathering, and Jeremy walk in Auckland, New Zealand, where they practice with the Long White Cloud Sangha.

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Poem: A Child’s Grace

By Alice C. Henderson

The silver rain,
The golden sun,
The fields where scarlet poppies run,
And all the ripples of the wheat
Are in the bread that I do eat.
So when I pause for every meal
And say this grace,
I always feel
That I am eating rain and sun
And fields where scarlet poppies run.

Nine-year-old Shoshanna Brady of Takoma Park, Maryland learned this verse n Waldorf School. Shoshanna and her family practice with the Washington, D. C. Mindfulness Community.

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Poem: Recipe for Friendship

By Gaia Thurston-Shaine

mb19-RecipeMaking friends is like baking a cake ingredients
must be added
in the right proportions.
Respect is the flour–
without it,
you could not even have a biscuit.
Love is the sugar,
a sweet and happy hug.
As baking powder
helps a cake to rise,
communication bridges gaps
and helps a relationship to grow.
And understanding is the egg
holding it all together.

Gaia Thurston-Shaine, Precious Jewel of the Source. lives in both Port Townsend, Washington, and McCarthy, Alaska. She is 16 years old and has spent the last five summers in Plum Village.

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Sangha Profile

Lotus Buds Sangha, Sydney, Australia
Contact: Khanh and Dan Le Van
43 Osprey Drive
Illawong, NSW 2234 Australia
Tel: (61) 2-9543-7823  Fax: (61) 2- 9541-1271

I n late 1986, Thay was invited by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship to lead retreats in Australia. During his visit in Sydney, the Vietnamese community had a rare opportunity to enjoy mindfulness practice with him. During that five-day retreat, many of us tasted true peace and joy for the first time. The practices Thay offered were like beautiful fresh air gently blowing over our community, and he also chose the name of our Sangha. He mentioned that there was Plum Village in France and Maple Village in Canada, but that the name “Eucalyptus Village” did not sound right in Vietnamese. He invited us to think of another name. At that time, some of us did not have any idea about building a Sangha or forming a practice centre. One day Mai and Nguyen visited Thay while he was giving a retreat south of Sydney. They were invited to have lunch with him, followed by a walking meditation. Returning from the walk, he told them, with a beautiful soft smile, that he had found a name for our Sangha: Lang Sen Bup or Lotus Buds Village. He explained that every time we joined our palms together to greet one another, a lotus would be there. Since there would be many of us together, there would be many lotuses. Mai and Nguyen bowed deeply to show their gratitude.

After Thay left Australia, a number of us who had been to the retreat decided to continue the practice. We met once a month and each family hosted events for the next year. We were touched when we received a parcel from Thay containing a mokyu and a big bell.

During the initial stage of searching ‘for a suitable place, Thay paid a brief visit to the land. We spent eight months looking at various places and finally settled on the first piece of land we had inspected with Thay. Lotus Buds acquired three pieces of adjoining land with a total of 100 acres about 170 km northwest of Sydney. It has beautiful big rocks, old trees, birds, kangaroos, foxes, rabbits, and many other wild animals. We took walks to the top of the mountain to watch the sunsets, feeling as though we were also sitting at the Gridhrakuta Mountain in India.

In early 1989, with a small budget, we started to build a meditation hall. Thay seemed to know through past experience that if one were to start with big plans and cling to a dream place, one might never have the opportunity to put the Dharma into practice. We remembered his advice: “You can start with a shed as a temporary meditation hall.” The hall was the former Phap Baa Temple, recycled with the help of many friends, children, and Tony Coote, an architect from the Sydney Zen Centre. Feelings of togetherness during the hard labour time brought us closer. and it was a period of great joy and peace. We continued regular sitting meditation early in the morning and at night throughout our construction period. We rejoiced at the simple but adequate facilities of the land, using only rain water, gas, and candles or kerosene lamps for everyday activities. For the quarterly retreats, we camped outside. Since there are no sleeping accommodations, we also hold retreats elsewhere for non-members. The place is simple and yet has witnessed several precepts transmissions ceremonies.

Although Thay has not been able to visit Australia since 1986, we feel blessed to have had monks and nuns from Plum Village lead retreats during the past six years, and to hear tapes from Plum Village which strengthen our practice. In 1988 we had two Tiep Hien members. Now there are 19 of us, including two Dharma teachers.

Lotus Buds continues to hold monthly Days of Mindfulness. Since 1992, more Australians have been coming, inspiring us to revise our programme for participants from both cultures. We practice sitting, walking, and eating together but split into two streams for the Dharma talks and discuss ions. We fee l blessed and happy to have two young Australian children currently practicing regularly with the Sangha. As parents, we feel deep gratitude to Thay for being so interested in young people’s activities and for encouraging open communication within families and teaching reconciliation techniques. We also have regular sutra study nights in Vietnamese and English in different suburban areas. We recite th  Mindfulness Trainings monthly, rotating among members’ homes in Sydney. Quarterly retreats are held on the Lotus Buds land . Dharma teacher Khanh Le Van, backed up by Dan and Lam, teaches meditation weekly at the Buddhist Library downtown. During the last two years, a few brothers and sisters of the German, English, and Italian Sanghas have joined us for meditation while visiting Sydney.

mb19-Sangha

Some of us feel the need to have our own centre in the city, but until conditions are more favourable, we continue to practice happily as is. We also raise funds for the rejuvenation program in Vietnam, work with destitute young people. and distribute Thay ‘s books and tapes throughout Australia. For the past year, we have enjoyed transcribing and editing Thay’s Dhmma talks.

If you plan to travel Down Under, you are most welcome to contact us. Even though thousands of kilometers separate us, we are close in spirit.

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North American Order of Interbeing Gathering

By Richard Brady

Twenty-six Order members from across the U.S. gathered February 15-17 at the Ralston White Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the weekend, we enjoyed sitting meditation, walking amidst the redwoods, group sharing, and delicious, mindful meals. The joyful feeling of being with sisters and brothers at this time in the evolution of our Order suffused the event. Because of the Order’s growth during the past several years (almost 250 members now in North America), and Thay’s focus on training the growing number of monks and nuns, we feIt the timeliness of efforts such as this gathering and last September’s Plum Village conference to organize the Order.

Jack Lawlor and Lyn Fine began with reflections on the Order and last fall’s conference. They talked about the diversity of members and Sanghas. Jack asked, “What does an Order member look like?” and directed us to the Order’s charter, Sister Chan Khong’s Learnillg True Love, and the writings of Alfred Hassler for some answers. Lyn suggested that we cannot really know what we look like, and, in the words of Paolo Freire, “We make the road by walking.”

We discussed local Sangha involvement in social action. Many of us and members of our Sanghas do social service work as our livelihood. A few groups have been involved in prison work, supporting Vietnamese and Cambodian relief efforts, and working in soup kitchens . Sanghas provide a place for us to maintain our equanimity in the midst of this work. Nevertheless, one participant asked whether outsiders would see the work of the Order as “engaged.” Bringing Thay’s teachings to many emotionally wounded people is also an important form of engagement. As more people become aware of Thay’s teachings, we are increasingly asked to share and interpret mindfulness practices and teachings. Several participants stressed the importance of offering mindfulness practices to receptive children and young adults. The Communi ty of Mindful Living, with its small staff and limited financial resources, could especially benefit from the service Sanghas could provide. Jerry Braza suggested creating a “Dharma Corps” of volunteers who would ass is the CML staff (see Announcements, page 35). One person suggested that Sanghas or individuals be guest editors for issues of The Mindfulness Bell. Another asked for more articles addressing topics related to Sangha practice, participation, and decision making.

Another topic was preparation of Order aspirants for ordination. In the past, there have been times when local Sangha members expressed their desire to be ordained shortly before one of Thay’s visits. This put local Order members in an awkward position and pointed out the need for clarity and good communication about the process. Different Sanghas carry out the preparation process in different ways. In the San Francisco Bay Area, aspirants meet monthly with Order members to study selected practices and teachings. In the Chicago area, Jack Lawlor mentors several aspirants. One person suggested that the one-year preparation period could be seen as an opportunity for deepening rather than as a barrier. Recommendations for revising the Charter’s provisions about the ordination process were made at the September conference (see Mindfulness Bell # 18). Jack welcomes comments about these recommendations.

mb19-North

The new version of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings was another topic. Members described their rich words as facets of a jewel, reflecting the light of mindfulness practice from different angles. Many felt they had not yet had enough time to fully realize the benefits of the revisions, but saw that both versions shared a common core of mindfulness. One participant described how his Sangha alternated between reading the old and new versions, using one to deepen the understanding of the other. At the end of the September conference, Thay welcomed responses to the new language. Some Sangha members have expressed an initial sense of discomfort with the word “Trainings,” feeling it has a hierarchical tone. The phrase, “Fourteen Mindfulness Practices,” was suggested as a substitute. Regardless of the wording, we agreed that Sangha elders (ordained or not) have a role to play in helping younger Sangha members develop their practice.

Smaller groups discussed consensus decision-making, transforming conflicts, and designing inclusive Sangha programs for non-participating partners and children. There were also presentations on family practice, maintaining warmth and tolerance in Sanghas, and engaged Buddhism.

We discussed how to incorporate Plum Village practices and forms into our Sanghas in a way that supports all our members, both those who find support in form and those who are refugees from too rigid a form. Inviting the bell, bowing, walking meditation, and other practices provide a constant, familiar environment that facilitates mindfulness for many . In one Sangha, new people are trained as bell master to reduce the sense of hierarchy. Instruction is given with a light touch, tolerant toward the little mistakes everyone makes when learning this practice. The Beginning Anew practice is a strong way to promote healing, but only a few Sanghas use it due to the regular presence of visitors and newcomers.

Arnold Kotler spoke about progress in establishing a national center. Thay has asked Dharma teachers Arnie Kot ler, Anh Huong Nguyen, Wendy Johnson, Jack Lawlor, Therese Fitzgerald, and Lyn Fine to comprise the Program and Practice Committee of the center. With support from Pritam Singh and his development company, attention is now focused on finding a property in northern Virginia.

Everyone agreed it would be valuable to have regular North American Order of Interbeing gatherings, perhaps every six months. One person was concerned that frequent Order meetings might detract from local Sanghas and create a sense of separateness from the Extended Community. Another expressed the feeling, ” let a thousand flowers bloom.” Penelope Thompson (3 10-392-1796), Linda Parker (713-880-3130), and Richard Brady (30 1-270-3923) will inves tigate the possibility of future gatherings, including one after Thay’s September retreat in Santa Barbara. Please contact them with your interest. Susan Murphy (415-969-3452), who helped to coordinate this meeting, is also a resource for those interested in planning similar events.

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Announcements

The “Dharma Corps”

During one of our discussions at the recent Order gathering . (see story on pp. 33-34), Therese Fitzgerald commented on the amount of work required to operate the Community of Mindful Living (CML). CML is responsible for publishing The Mindfulness Bell, facilitating Sangha activities and maintaining a Sangha directory, and many daily office activities needed to provide leadership for the growth of Dharma in the West. In addition, Thay’s upcoming visit to the United States will require enormous support to facilitate his talks and retreats. With these increasing demands, it will become more challenging to practice breathing and smiling while providing quality service.

How can we help? Jerry Braza has suggested the development of a “Dharma Corps,” on the model of the Peace Corps. Members of the Order and others could volunteer at least one week of support during times of peak need. Through involvement in the Dharma Corps, we will be better able to understand the needs of our organization and how we can support each other and Thay’s teachings. Please consider spending one or several weeks in the Berkeley area or offer your skills in other creative ways so that we can practice interbeing in peace and joy. An anonymous Order member has agreed to help by providing half of the transportation costs for those who need financial assistance, on the condition that they first request support from their local Sangha for the other half. CML will assist volunteers in finding housing. Please contact Therese Fitzgerald or Barbara Machtinger at (510) 527-3751 if you are interested in joining this effort.

Dana Opportunities

Plum Village is looking for a PC to handle their voice recognition software and other projects. Specifically, they are looking for Pentium 150 (133-180), 16-32 MB RAM, 1.2-1.5 GB Hard Disk. 2MB Video Card. 14″-15″ Monitor. Please contact Brendan Sillifent at the Lower Hamlet, tel: (33) 553-94-75-40, fax: (33) 553-94-75-90.

The Community of Mindful Living is also looking for several pieces of equipment to more effectively serve the Sangha. Especially needed are: Macintosh computers. a fax machine, a laser printer. a phone/voicemail system. and an email system for a Macintosh network. If you are able to help with any of these items. please contact Barbara Machtinger at (510) 527-3751.

Order Training/Gathering

Order of Interbeing members and confirmed aspirants are invited to a gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area July 11-13 to practice together and review and develop resources that help us be strong. Call the Community of Mindful Living (510-527-3751) if you are interested.

Passages

Ordained: The following people received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and joined the core community of the Order of Interbeing:
Plum Village, France, February 14. 1997:
Tran Nguyen Duc, Chan Minh Hanh
Duong Thi Doan, Chan Dong Hanh
Susan McCarn, True Compassionate Vow
Salt Lake City, Utah. March 16. 1997:
Vaughn Lovejoy, Joanne Lovejoy
Stourbridge. England, March 29. 1997:
Jean Michel Aubaret, True Light of Loving Kindness
Caroline Brazier, True Function of Loving Kindness
Christina Campbell-Thomson, True Forest of Loving Kindness
Paul Tingen, True Harmony of Loving Kindness
Chappell Hill, Texas. ApriL 6, 1997: 
Peter Barnard
Married: Kees Lodder and Liana Meredith celebrated their marriage vows with Dharma teachers Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald and the New Zealand Sangha on January 25. 1997 in Coromandel. New Zealand.

Recent Publications by Order Members

Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness by Jerry Braza, Ph.D. (Charles E. Tuttle Co . Inc.) This book provides valuable techniques for enjoying each moment. It teaches us to quiet the mind. manage stress. enhance productivity, and transform feelings.
The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia by Elizabeth Wood (Indiana University Press. scheduled to be published in Fall 1997).
Making Sense of Consensus by Don Wells and the faculty of Carolina Friends School, a Friends Council on Education pamphlet. Contact Richard Brady at 332 Boyd Avenue. Takoma Park. MD 20912. Email: brady@sidwell.edu.

Mindfulness Bell Call for Submissions

We invite you to send brief anecdotes about the joys and challenges of daily practice for “Sangha Voices” (see Sangha News. this issue). We are also interested in photos of groups engaged in activities and original artwork. Please send to Maria Duerr, Managing Editor. P.O. Box 7355. Berkeley. CA 94707, Email:parapress@aol.com.

Prison Projects

If you would like to help facilitate meditation and discussion groups in North Carolina prisons, especially in Morganton, Raleigh. and Fayetteville. contact Bob Repoley. 923 Mineral Springs Rd., Charlotte. NC 28262. tel: (704)597-0304.

The Gateway Journal contains stories about practice on death row and in prison. The journal is available free of charge to inmates of correctional institutions. The general public may subscribe for a tax-deductible donation of $25 for four issues. Checks should be made payable to “The Engaged Zen Foundation.” P.O. Box 700, Ramsey. NJ 07466-0700.

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Letters to The Mindfulness Bell

I was moved by the tributes to Jini Fauss in issue # 17 of The Mindfulness Bell and especially so by Jim’s own article.

I also found that Fred Eppsteiner’s letter expressed some very important thoughts regarding the service you now and might in the future provide practitioners. It is important to relate the struggles and awakenings of individuals. However, this is something I am fortunate to be able to hear about (a lot about the former, a little about the latter) in Sangha Dharma discussions. What would really benefit me is to hear about the struggles that Sanghas have had/are having and how they successfully or unsuccessfully deal with them. Can you help us look a little more deeply at what Thay tells us will be the next Buddha?
Richard Brady
Takoma Park, Maryland

In response to Fred Eppsteiner’s question: Yes, people in the Sangha have had traditional spiritual experiences and awakenings. I am sure I am not the only one who has left this aspect of meditation practice behind. Satori is a profound experience and a difficult one to release. Thinking about how satori was/will be, attempting to recapture the experience becomes simply another attachment. The razzle-dazzle (sidhi) which accompany such experiences is even more distracting. If such an experience comes, that is good; if one does not come, that is also good.

The fundamental beauty of our practice is the realization that walking on a sidewalk is the true miracle-no psychic gymnastics or elusive experiences required. Then satori becomes not a spiritual experience, but a way of life. Thank you for opening the discussion.
Alice Barrett
Greenfield, Massachussetts

I’d like to share my thoughts about why Mindfulness Bell subscriptions are not increasing enough to cover expenses so that paid advertising is now used. The first time I saw a friend’s copy and read on the back cover that it is the “Journal of the Order of Interbeing” and “published three times a year by the Community of Mindful Living, students of Thich Nhat Hanh who want to help one another be more mindful in daily life,” I interpreted that the publication was not for me. I had not taken the Fourteen Precepts and had not joined the Order, so I he~itated to subscribe. Only after getting more involved with Sangha members did I find out that The Mindfulness Bell was for everyone.

If my experience is not isolated, I’d suggest rewriting the paragraph to include a clear, open invitation to all students of ThAy whether in a Sangha or not, whether having gone to retreats or simply a student through the books they have read. By the way, with or without paid advertising I deeply appreciate The Mindfulness Bell.
Laurie Ross
Seattle, WA

Thank you for delivering such a beautiful, inspiring newsletter. Whenever I read it, I am filled with hope and gladness.
Gaynor Bigelbach
West Somerville, Massuchessetts

Many thanks for making The Milldfulness Bell available. It is as beautiful and helpful and moving as I expected when I subscribed. I have only read one issue and already I feel like  I know so many other people in the Community.
Amy Ballenger
Charlottesville. V A

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