Dharma Talk: Cultivating Our Bodhisattva Qualities

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Bodhisattvas are awakened beings. We also have our nature of awakening, no less than they, but we have to train ourselves. One way is to practice invoking the names of four great bodhisattvas—Avalokiteshvara (Regarder of the Cries of the World), Manjushri (Great Understanding), Samantabhadra (Universal Good­ness), and Kshitigarbha (Earth Store). When we recite their names in a deep, relaxed way, every word can touch our hearts and the hearts of those listening. In the beginning, we still feel separate from these bodhisattvas. But, practicing steadily, we realize that we are Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Samantabhadra, and Kshitigarbha. It is not important whether they were historic figures, born in such and such a year or in such and such a place. The key is to realize their qualities within ourselves. 

Thich Nhat Hanh

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and openheartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

When we are able to communicate with another person, it is a big relief. We have e-mail, faxes, and telephones. We can send news to the other side of the planet instantly. But communication between parents and children, between those living together has become very difficult. We spend hours on our computer without really looking at the person nearby who loves and cares for us. We are alienated by so many things. Listening deeply helps reestablish the commu­nication between us.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva represents great love, great compassion, and deep listening. When you manifest these qualities, you become the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Avalokiteshvara vows to listen deeply in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. To listen deeply, you must be one hundred percent present. Listening with all your attention, you release the past and the future, and focus entirely on the other person. We have this ability, but we seldom use it. We are usually lost in the past or the future and listening with just half an ear. The practice is to be present and to listen with one hundred percent of ourselves.

Even when we listen, we may have a notion, a “preju­dice,” about the other person and what she is saying. Our habit energy is to judge whether what she says is correct or not. Then, when she speaks, it isn’t her words we hear, only our judgment. We must learn to be space. Space can hold everything. If we are like a wall, impenetrable, whatever the other person says will just bounce back to her, and she won’t feel relief. A Vietnamese musician said, “We have to be space so that love can enter.” We have to empty ourselves of preconceived ideas in order to be present in the heart of the other, in her fears and difficulties.

A philosopher came to visit a Zen master. While the master was preparing tea, the philosopher talked endlessly, showing the master how much he knew. When the tea was ready, the master poured it into the philosopher’s cup, and he continued pouring even after the cup was full. The tea was flowing all over the table, and the philosopher yelled, “Stop!” The master smiled and said, “Your mind is also overflowing. How can you receive anything from me?”

When people come to a practice center, they may act as though they are quite fine. Only after several days do they begin to share some of their difficulties. What they say, at first, is not the deepest reality, only the surface, because they are afraid of being judged. But if you listen deeply, even when they repeat themselves (not saying, “You already said that”), and try to understand what is being said and also what is being left unsaid, you may be able to see the key point and ask the right questions to help.

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One day I was weeding the garden with a teenager, and he said to me, “Sometimes I see something that is very beautiful, but my mother says it is not beautiful.” I looked deeply into his situation, and I said, “Is there a young lady you think is beautiful but your mother does not?” He was shocked. “How did you know that?” He thought I could read his mind, but when you listen deeply, with all your attention, you can understand many things right away. After that, he revealed the whole story to me, and I had the opportunity to help him. I said, “True beauty is profound. Don’t be attracted just by a smile, hair, or eyes. Try to see the depth of beauty.” I suspected this is what his mother had wanted to tell him, but had not been able to. The aim of deep listening is understanding. When someone is suffering, if she can find one person with the willingness and capacity to sit quietly beside her and listen, that is a great encouragement. Whether what she says is easy to hear or shocking, we don’t reject it. We train ourselves to listen in order to understand. When we listen deeply, we are Avalokiteshvara. When we understand deeply, we are Manjushri. Looking with the eyes of interbeing, we see that Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri are not separate. 

We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.

Manjushri Bodhisattva represents great understanding. When you pay respect to the qualities of great wisdom and understanding, you are paying respect to Manjushri, and, at the same time, you are paying homage to these qualities in yourself.

These days everyone is running so quickly. We sit in a silent meal, but we might be still running. Whether we are sitting, walking, standing, or eating, we have to learn to stop. Bodhisattva Manjushri knows how to stop—in order to see deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of those around him. We have to learn to stop our mind in order to look deeply. As Avalokiteshvara, we learn to listen without prejudice. As Manjushri, we learn to look without judging. To understand the suffering of the Palestinians, for example, Israelis have to learn to look in the way a Palestinian looks. To understand the Israelis, Palestinians must learn to understand an Israeli—his suffering and his fear. After looking deeply in that way, we see that both sides suffer, that each person has anger and fear. If we continue to punish each other, we will not go far. It is better to take the other person’s hand and work together toward a solution that is beneficial for both sides. In our Sanghas, if we notice two members who are unable to look at each other, we have the responsibility to help them communicate by practicing stopping and looking deeply, without preju­dice.

When we look deeply, we see and understand the roots of suffering. When we are angry, we say that the other person is at fault, but by looking deeply, we come to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and her fears. We un­derstand why she behaved in that way. We see that we are only the victim of her suffering and our sorrow vanishes. To cut the bonds of ignorance, we must use the sword of understanding every day. If we suffer unnecessarily, it is because we are not using the sword of understanding.

We invoke your name, Samantabhadra. We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compas­sion; to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice whole heartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.

Samantabhadra is the bodhisattva of great action and universal goodness. He works hard and has the willingness and capacity to help. To act deeply, we must understand and love deeply. To save the world, we need the eyes of Manjushri, the heart of Avalokiteshvara, and the hands of Samantabhadra.

People who do not practice suffer a lot. Entering a spiritual practice you feel joyful. If you aren’t a joyful practitioner, look more deeply in order to discover the joy that exists within you. Sometimes one piece of bad news invades our whole mind, and we forget the many joyful elements in us. The practice is to observe our unfortunate situation—yes, something happened—but also to stay in touch with the many joyful elements, so we will not drown in our difficulties.

The practice of Samantabhadra is not to talk a lot, but to act. We make the effort to bring joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the suffering of one person in the afternoon. When you are just beginning to be a bodhisattva, you can do this. When you are a bigger bodhisattva, you can bring joy to many people and help relieve the suffering of many others. Every word, every look, every act, and every smile can bring happiness to others. When you know how to walk mindfully, with happiness, kindness, and humility, you are already bringing joy to many people. Practicing diligently, we become a source of peace and joy to those we love and all living beings. The joy of others is our own joy. This is the wisdom of interbeing.

We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha. We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffer­ing, oppression and despair, so that we may bring light, hope, relief and liberation to those places. We are deter­mined not to forget about or abandon those who are in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with them when they cannot find a way out of their suffering and when their cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth, and we do not want to contribute to making more hells on Earth. We will do our best to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.

Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva represents the great vow to save all living beings, especially those who are caught in the most hellish conditions. Kshitigarbha makes the commitment never to abandon anyone. Wherever people are suffer­ing the most, that is where we will find him. Kshitigarbha will always do his best to approach and support those in jails, torture chambers, and in all the hells where people are undergoing the utmost suffering. He represents the quality of not abandoning anyone.

Kshitigarbha’s vow is, “Until all the hells are emptied, I will not become a Buddha. I will remain on Earth until every sentient being is liberated.” This is the greatest of vows. It means he will not abandon those who suffer. We cannot abandon the one we love. She may be difficult, but we cannot abandon her. When she is in hell, when she is suffering, that is the moment she needs us the most.

There are countries where people are jailed unfairly, where people are deprived of basic human rights and live in oppression, where people are so desperate to communicate the reality of their suffering to the outside world that they pour gasoline on their own bodies and burn themselves. If we don’t do anything to help them, we fail in our vow. We live in a society with plenty of material luxuries. We are covetous of this or that little thing, and we don’t realize that there are people in prison who just want to live with dignity. The practice of Kshitigarbha is to reach into these desperate situations, to do his best to be there and to help.

There are people who have never heard the name of Kshitigarbha, but who manifest these qualities every day. In big cities like Chicago, New York, Manila, and Washington D.C., there are many hells. We have to find these hells and dismantle them in order to help people and relieve their suffering. We may have the idea that we didn’t create that hell, so we are not responsible. But we are constantly creating hells by our forgetfulness, our jealousy, and our craving. When we act or speak unmindfully, we cause suffering to those around us. Hell exists everywhere, yet we continue to live in ways that harm others. By living mind­fully, we make it clear that we do not want to create more hells, that we do not want to contribute to anyone’s suffer­ing anymore. 

Kshitigarbha means “Earth Store.” The earth never discriminates. She absorbs everything and transforms it all into flowers. We want to learn to be like the earth—solid, stable, and deep. The earth has the quality of accepting and releasing everything. How can we support others if we don’t have the solidity of the earth? If we see that we are not solid, we must train ourselves to become solid.

Recently, I received this letter: 

Dear Thay, 

I have been on death row for seventeen years. During this time, I have felt a lot of suffering and despair. But within me there is still the will to transcend all these psychological and emotional wounds. There are moments when I cannot transcend my anger, when I am being crushed by my hatred. My only vow is to survive my time in prison without hatred toward those who put me in jail and those who have tortured me. I don’t know if I can do it. Sometimes I feel I am going insane. 

I never think that I am better or higher than others. I am satisfied being an ordinary person. I’m just grateful that after seventeen years in jail, I’m not crazy. With this gratitude, I can treasure whatever happens. In my last cell, for twelve years I was only able to look at a brick wall. Here there is a small window where I can see the city and a lot of trees. The first time I came in touch with trees, I was so moved that I cried. When I see the sunset through this little window, I feel a lot of happiness. 

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When I read Living Buddha Living Christ, which someone sent me, it was the first time I learned to dwell peacefully in the present moment. I understood yourteaching right away. Although I have a lot of difficulties, I have learned to treasure short moments of awareness. During these mindful moments, fear and despair cannot master me, and I tune in to my own humanness. I believe if I continue, I will find transformation. 

If one day I am executed, I can accept that. I wish that from this garbage, I can transform into a flower. During my search for peace, I have learned to accept myself as well as those around me. My only dream is that if I am ever re­leased, people will come to me and say, “How after twenty years in jail are you still a normal person, not insane?” 

I write to you hoping that these simple words can share with you the humanness in me. I write, not in the name of one person on death row, but as someone who has been sent to prison to learn and grow in a situation where there is little hope for the future. My main point is to tell you, Thay, that humanness exists in me and that a death row prisoner can find peace and joy in hell. Please take good care of yourself.

After reading this, I asked Sister Thuc Nghiem to send him the book about walking meditation, and I asked him to practice walking meditation in his cell, and, if he can, to request permission to go into the prison yard to practice. If he can help other prisoners practice walking meditation and if they can feel some peace, it can help a lot. It is encourag­ing to know that you are practicing being in the present moment and giving a chance for the best in you and others to manifest. True freedom is freedom from afflictions, such as despair, anger, and hatred. There are so many people in the world who are not free, who suffer tremendously.

Another prisoner on death row, Jarvis Jay Masters, wrote a book called Finding Freedom. Jarvis took the Five Mindfulness Trainings with a Tibetan monk. One day, a nearby prisoner was banging on his wall and shouting, and then he said to Jarvis, “Give me some tobacco!” Jarvis did not smoke, but he did have some tobacco to share with others. So he said to the other man, “When you ask for a ciga­rette, ask politely. Now sit quietly, and I’ll try to help you.”

Then he took a little tobacco and wrapped it in a photocopied page of my book, Being Peace. He had received a photocopy of Being Peace from a friend. Later, he received a real copy of the book, so he used the first page of the photocopy to wrap the tobacco. Three days later, he gave the same man a little more tobacco wrapped in the second page of Being Peace. Then the man began to ask him for just the pages. Eventually he read the whole photocopied version of the book, page by page, and he began to practice breathing mindfully and dwelling in the present moment. Soon after that, he was released, and on his way out, he stopped to thank Jarvis. The two men looked at each other, smiled, and recited this sentence from the book: “If you are peaceful, if you are happy, you can smile, and everyone in your family, your entire society will benefit from your peace.”

Kshitigarbha is not just a legendary personality. Kshitigarbha is you, me, both of these prisoners, and many others. We only need to train ourselves, and we will be able to reach into the places of utmost suffering and oppression. The ability to love, understand, act, save people, and vow not to abandon those who suffer are qualities in us that we cannot deny. If you say you have a lot of love but you don’t do anything when you are needed, that is just talk. It’s not important whether you call yourself a “Buddhist.” There are people in organizations like Medecins sans Frontieres and Amnesty International who have never heard about Buddhas or bodhisattvas, but who actualize the teachings of love and compassion every day through their lives. We know from our direct experience that these four bodhisattvas and many other luminous beings exist. We can see their qualities in many people and ourselves. The practice is to learn ways to make the Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Samantabhadra, and Kshitigarbha inside of us grow. 

From a Dharma Talk at Plum Village on January 15, 1998. Translated into English by Sister Chan Khong. Edited for publication by Brother Phap Hai, Arnold Kotler, and Leslie Rawls. 

Photos:
First photo courtesy of Plum Village.
Second photo by Yen Nguyen
Third photo by Ger-Ulrich Rump

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

Buddhist Monks Released

By Sister Chan Khong

On September 2, 1998, Vietnam Independence Day, the authorities released 5,219 prisoners, including the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, the poet monk Thich Tue Sy, and the scholar monk Thich Tri Sieu. Many Mindfulness Bell readers and other friends of Thich Nhat Hanh have written more than once to the Vietnamese Government requesting their release. These three friends send deep thanks to you all-especially Stephen Denney and Therese Fitzgerald of the Community of Mindful Living, who ceaselessly worked for their release since 1984.

They would be moved to receive a postcard or letter from you with a few encouraging words such as: “Knowing that our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh appreciates you and being encouraged by him, tens of thousands of us wrote letters, faxes, and telegrams requesting your release. We learned that you had a very free mind while you were in jail, but still we are overjoyed to hear that you have been released. We write this letter to see whether it will reach you and if there is true liberty for you.”

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Send your letters to:

The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do
Thanh Minh Thien Vien
105 Tran Huy Lieu Street
Phu Nhuan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Venerable Thich Toe Sy
Chua Hai Duc
Khu Thuy Zuong
Nha Trang City
Khanh Hoa, Vietnam

Venerable Thich Tri Sieu
Chua Gia Lam
498/11 Le Quang Dinh Street
Go Vap, Gia Dinh
Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam

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From the Editor

In the last Mindfulness Bell, Thay encouraged us to find ways to offer mindfulness as a nonsectarian practice in many settings. In this issue, practitioners share their experiences of bringing .mindfulness into schools, prisons, and hospitals; to impoverished people; and to the Earth herself. We know there are many such stories and hope to include an ongoing Social Action column in future issues. We are happy to welcome Beth Redwood as designer of The Mindfulness Bell. We hope you enjoy the clean, upbeat look of this issue, thanks to Beth.
– Leslie Rawls

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Finding Ways to Help

By Sister Chan Khong

I n 1975, Thich Nhat Hanh and I moved with several fliends to a house near Fontvannes, France. The war in Vietnam had ended and we were cut off from our country with no way to help. We named our community Les Patates Douces, Sweet Potatoes. In Vietnam, when peasants have no lice, they eat dried sweet potatoes. It is the poorest food, and we knew we needed some way to be in touch with the poorest people in our country. Thanks to that house and land, we were able to heal some of our wounds and appreciate the beauties of France.

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Life at Sweet Potato Community was beautiful, but I felt forlorn. More than anything, I wanted to help the hungry children of Vietnam. Then, one day in my meditation, I realized that I could go to Thailand, Bangladesh, or another country to work for social change. There was so much suffering in the world. If I could not help the Vietnamese at this time, why not help somewhere else? In less than a month, I flew to Bangkok and started working in the slums with two Thai friends. But, within a few weeks, I realized that my friends did not do things as I did. I could not reproach them for not following my advice. I knew I was ignorant of their culture and could not impose my plans on them. After three-and-a-half weeks, I decided to return to France. On the way home, I stopped in India and Bangladesh, and I saw the great misery there. Children and adults were so thin they looked like skeletons under the burning sun, as they canied huge bags of rocks and soil. In the mines, the daily wage was less than the price of one kilo of rice. These workers could barely feed themselves, much less their families. I tried to find good local organizations that I could support.

After six weeks, I returned to France, even sadder than before. I had been unable to help anywhere. All I could do at Sweet Potato was to immerse myself in sitting meditation, walking meditation, planting-lettuce meditation, doing everything while following my breathing to stay focused and not carried away by my sadness or thoughts. After many months, I had an insight. Because I was born in Vietnam, I knew the language, culture, and moral values of Vietnam; I was an expert in that part of the world. I had to devote all my energies to finding ways to help there!

A few weeks later during sitting meditation, I remembered a sentence in a letter from my sister: “The medicine you sent Mother for hypertension was very useful, but she didn’t need the other medical supplies you sent, so we sold them in the market, and with that money we were able to buy several hundred kilograms of rice.” When I read the letter, I had felt sad, but in my meditation, I realized that this was the solution! If I could not send money to the orphans without its being confiscated by the new regime, I could send medical supplies for them to sell at the market.

Thay always teaches that when we are in a difficult situation, if we calm ourselves, we may find a solution. But he also says that the first solution that comes into our mind may not be the best; in a few days, another solution may arise that is even better. So I continued to practice sitting and walking meditation, sowing fresh, calm seeds of peace in my mind, and after a few days, I remembered another sentence in the letter. My sister had written that she was interrogated at the police station several times because of her relationship with me. I knew that if I wanted to send medicine to hungry children, I could not use my own name. So, I began sending parcels of medicine to social workers we had worked with in the past, and with each package I gave myself a new name and wrote in a different handwriting. If I used my name, the workers could get into trouble. I enclosed a letter saying that I was a person living abroad who had lived in the same province in Vietnam as that social worker. Sometimes I was a nun, sometimes an old lady, sometimes a little girl. I wrote that I wanted to send medicine to the social worker, but that if she did not need all of it, she might wish to exchange some for food and share it with hungry children. Then I asked her to send me the addresses of some destitute families so that I could send aid to them directly. In tltis way, I began to accumulate a list of the poorest families.

In just a few months, I had more contacts than I could stay in touch with by myself. I could only send packages to 200 or 300 families by myself, because I was concerned that my address would become suspicious to the communists. So I decided to ask a number of young Vietnamese refugees who came to Sweet Potato to help me.

This made the work even more enjoyable. I was able to get in touch with our network of sponsors, and I could establish a relationship between the sponsors who contributed the funds, the young refugees who helped me write the letters and pack the medicine, and the children who received the medical supplies. I tried to be deeply in touch with each child, to find out his or her worries and aspirations. With this new project, I was able to correspond with each child. In my letters, I taught them how to enjoy the many positive things around them, not just the food and medicine, but their healthy eyes that opened to a world of shapes and colors and many other beauties of their homeland. In some cases, I was also able to help the parents through the child. It is difficult to teach adults when you are giving them money; they might feel offended. So, I tried to teach the children in ways that could also benefit the parents. In just two years, we set up dozens of small groups of young Vietnamese in Europe and Amellca working silently for hungry children.

In October 1982 we left Sweet Potato and moved to Plum Village. Here, many friends and I continue the work to relieve the suffering of poor children and families in Vietnam by sending parcels and finding sponsors to help support our efforts.

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One day, seeing how absorbed I was wrapping parcels for hungry children in Vietnam, Thay Nhat Hanh asked me, “If you were to die tonight, are you prepared?” He said that we must live our lives so that even if we die suddenly, we will have nothing to regret. “Chan Khong, you have to learn how to live as freely as the clouds or the rain. If you die tonight, you should not feel any fear or regret. You will become something else, as wonderful as you are now. But if you regret losing your present form, you are not liberated. To be liberated means to realize that nothing can hinder you, even while crossing the ocean of birth and death.”

His words pierced through me, and I remained silent for several days. No, I was not prepared to die. My work was my life. Being a nun in the West, I do not carry undernourished babies in my arms, but teenagers and adults do cry silently as they share the stories of their childhoods of sadness and abuse. By listening attentively to their pain and helping them renew themselves, I am able to help heal many of these wounded “children.” I also had found ways to help the hungry children, despite the difficulties. I knew that every time people received one of my packages or some other helping act, new hope was born in them, and also in their sponsors in Europe and America. If I were to die suddenly, who would continue this work?

When Thay asked me about dying, I contemplated many practical questions while following my breath. I was not exactly trying to find a solution. I knew the ability to find one was in me and that when I was calm enough, an answer would reveal itself. So I continued to breathe and smile, and a few days later, I did see a solution. I knew that the only way I could die peacefully would be if I were reborn now in others who wished to do the same work. Then my aspiration could continue even if this body of mine were to pass away. I thought about the young people who came to practice mindfulness with Thay, and I decided to share with them my experiences and deepest desires about helping suffering people. I would teach them how to choose medicines, how to wrap parcels, how to write personal letters to the poor, and how to keep Western people in touch with the suffering of the Vietnamese people. Under my guidance, a few young people were inspired to start their own committees for hungry children. With those who wanted to do my work in the West, helping those who suffer a lot in their minds, I asked them to join the Plum Village Sangha, to be trained as a monk or a nun, like me, trying to live in peace 24 hours per day with those who are very different, so that in a few years, they will be able to listen to the pain of others and try to help. If I die tonight, by a car accident or a heart attack, these 38 small groups working for hungry children, my 38 incarnations and these young monks and nuns-my continuations–will allow me to die in peace. If tonight my heart ceases to beat, you will see me in all these sisters and brothers-those who enjoy my work for hungry children, those who enjoy my work of listening to the suffering of people in order to help them be healed. You can see my smile in their look and hear my voice in their words.

Whenever I do anything, I see the eyes of my parents and grandparents in me. When I worked with villagers, I always had the impression that I was doing the work together with them and also with the loving hands of those friends who saved a handful of rice or a few dong to support the work. My hands are their hands. My love is the wonderful love of the network of ancestors, parents, relatives, and friends born in me. The work I do is the work of everyone. Even now, I can see that I am already reborn in many of my young sisters and brothers, and in many of you too, who continue my work.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, is a nun living in Plum Village. She has been Thich Nhat Hanh’s associate for over thirty years. This article is excerpted from Learning True Love (Parallax Press). She continues her humanitarian work in Vietnam. (Please see The Mindfulness Bell, Issue 21.) Since Spring 1998, seven new self-help villages have started: four in Phong Dien, Thua Thien Province, one in Suoi Bac, one in Ba Ria, and one in Lam Dong.

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Beginning Anew in Mexico

By Jo-ann Rosen

I n the early 1990s, the impoverished people of Chiapas State revolted against the Mexican government. Initially, the battles were widely reported. The war has now faded from the public eye, but the fighting and suffering are escalating with paramilitary takeovers of communities, massacres, looting, rape, and this spring, widespread fires. Despair penetrates the people as deeply as the smoke which blankets the state. In the last year, 13,000 people fled their Chiapas homes in terror. They live under tarps in the cold hills, unable to go home and plant the crops that keep them from starving. Orphaned children wander the camps, crying for their parents. Some bear terrible wounds from the fighting. Parents, suffering their own traumas, are unable to address the emotional needs of their children.

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I am living in San Cristobal de las Casas, center of the controversy. Here, we have been training local social workers to help children deal with the continuing trauma.Throughout our work, unexpected hurdles have popped up repeatedly, frustrating our efforts and creating divisive conflicts within the team of workers. The conflicts slowed our work and undermined the crucial sense of community. Discouraged by repeated setbacks, I was inspired by the chapter on Beginning Anew in Teachings on Love and wondered if we might use Beginning Anew to rebuild our sense of community. In Mexican culture, the process itself would be unusual. Saying something bothers you is generally not done directly, but the group agreed to try.

Each week we used one piece of the ceremony, which I modified to be more cross-cultural and accessible to the group. The first week, we gave positive feedback. This alone greatly relieved tensions and created seeds of hope. The second week we did self-criticism, but with a twist each person looked deeply at the source of their actions and did not speak without coming to self-compassion. Finding self-compassion seemed difficult, but the sharing was very moving. I could see layers of accumulated shame and judgment evaporating. The third week we offered criticisms of each other, but with an adaptation from another of Thay’s teachings, the Peace Treaty. Before speaking, we looked deeply into ourselves and into the other person.

Though difficult, our Beginning Anew almost worked magic. Our team has been energized. Meetings are more open, direct, and congenial. Individual talents have been recognized, and some who held back are finding their voices. We have all realized that we cannot help the displaced recover from the wounds of division and war without addressing those same issues among ourselves. In this place where hope is difficult to maintain, we are beginning to build places of refuge and healing.

Jo-ann Rosen, True River of Understanding, is a psychotherapist on sabbatical in Chiapas.

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Choice and Dignity

By Heidi Larsen

mb22-Choice1As Buddhism enters American culture, it sometimes seems self-centered and commercial. Teachings flow into practice centers, but nothing flows out. Only those of a certain income level can afford the books, tapes, retreats, and time to become “enlightened.” It’s refreshing, therefore, to read Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings that speak of giving and receiving; of working out individual peace while interbeing as a community member; of accepting the prostitute and the Wall Street investor, anger as well as love.

I am one of the poorer people who comes from the streets-with all the violence and exploitation that goes with it. People like me need to start at the beginning, learning to breathe, to walk, to accept ourselves unconditionally into the dignity of being that belongs to everything. Simple things like awareness of the body and emotions in the present moment are huge tasks for us, because so many traumatic memories are locked in the body and psyche. It can seem impossible. But, it just takes a lot of gentle acceptance, trust, respect, and a very long time-often a lifetime.

Many poor people have always been tossed around by outside forces. They have not experienced a sense of control over their own lives. Gaining a sense of control may be difficult for poorer people, because it also requires an end to a victim mentality and an acceptance of self-responsibility. Accepting responsibility for self means to accept all the pain, fear, and anger that are part of self.

How can a poor person feel control over their lives in the midst of hunger, violence, and rape? A sense of control means recognizing and accepting one’s power of choice the basis of a sense of dignity. It is amazing how determined people find ways to exercise choice. I remember some hungry and homeless in a soup kitchen where I worked, declaring that they “never ate peas” or insisting that they had to re-wash a spoon which was not quite clean enough.

Everyone has the power of choice over their very core their breath, how they react to events, their patterns of thought. Isn’t it strange that if you choose to fast, it is fairly peaceful, but if deprived of food by outside forces, you are filled with turmoil and fear? The events are the samebeing hungry-but the perception is different. Exercising conscious choice assures a measure of dignity.

The lower working-class and people of the street need Buddhism’s lessons of conscious choice, dignity of being, and self-responsibility. Sangha members who can “afford enlightenment” should ask: “How can we make the Sangha and the teachings known and more approachable for people of less means?” Asking these questions is the practice of interbeing.

Heidi Larsen is an intern working with homeless children in Olympia, Washington.

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Poem: Interrelationship

By Thich Nhat Hanh

mb22-InterrelationshipYou are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.

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Transforming Conflict

 By Lyn Fine

mb22-TransformingSince 1985, I have been associated with the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program sponsored by Educators for Social Responsibility. In this context, I have enjoyed introducing teachers and students in New York City public schools to the practices of awareness of breathing, stopping and breathing while listening to the beautiful sound of the bell of mindfulness, and the Beginning Anew practices of flower-watering and speaking regrets. Sometimes we practice with the Peace Treaty, and set aside a peace comer or a meditation comer. Here are a few of the program’s activities which may also benefit Sanghas and other groups. Deep listening is a key element in these activities, as it is in transforming conflict.

1) Web. On newsprint, the facilitator writes a key word, such as CONFLICT, PEACE, or ANGER and circles it. For two minutes, people in the group call out images, feelings, or associations with the key word, with no cross-talk. The facilitator draws lines out from the circle and records each phrase on one line. After two minutes, the group reflects together on the associations.

2) Deep Listening in Micro-Labs. Working in groups of three or four, each person speaks briefly in response to a question offered by the facilitator, with no interrupting or cross-talk. In the first go-round, each person responds to the question: What messages did you receive about conflict while you were growing up? In the second: How do you currently handle conflict? What is your conflict style? In the third: What would you like to change about the way you handle conflict? After the three go-rounds, each small group can talk together for a few minutes. Then, the whole group can reflect on new learnings. Specifics from smaller groups are kept confidential.

3) Listening in Order to Understand: Paraphrasing. One person is a speaker and one a listener. The speaker talks about a designated topic or perhaps, their life. The listener restates what she or he has understood. If the speaker does not feel accurately heard, she or he elaborates, and the listener again paraphrases. The process is repeated until the speaker feels accurately heard. Then, roles reverse.

4) Assertive Speaking. The usual formula for an assertive statement is: “I felt/feel when you ____ , because and I would like ____
Using this formula internally can help transform blaming or attacking mental formations by clearly identifying and naming the feelings. In role-plays, people can practice using this formula in pairs with case-study situations. As appropriate, a person can speak assertively and calmly, directly to a person with whom there is a conflict.

5) Taking a Stand. The facilitator makes a potentially controversial statement about social policy or ethical behavior. To signal agreement or disagreement, people go to different ends of the room or to some point in the middle. Within each group, people share why they chose to stand where they did. Then each group shares views with the others.

6) Peer Mediation. First, disputants agree to four guidelines: No interrupting, no put-downs, intend to resolve the conflict, and respect confidentiality. Then, the mediator asks one person, “What happened from your point of view?” After paraphrasing the response, the mediator asks, “How are you feeling right now?” She or he encourages the disputant to use “I-statements,” which express the speaker’s real feelings without blaming or attacking. The mediator then asks the other person the same questions. She listens deeply and paraphrases until both parties feel heard and understood.

In the second phase, the mediator asks each party in tum, “What do you think you could have done differently?” and “How are you feeling right now?” The mediator listens deeply and paraphrases the responses.

In the third phase, the mediator asks the reframing question: “How can we resolve this so both parties are satisfied and happy?” Possible resolutions are brainstormed. Other beneficial questions are: “How would you like your relationship to be in the future? What do you want the other party to agree to? What would you like to happen now?” The mediator again listens deeply to each response and paraphrases it. Sometimes, the disputants need to revisit the first and second phases before they can. brainstorm resolutions. When the disputants envision an agreement, they write it down, specifying a time period for experimenting with it, after which they will “check in” with each other and the mediator, and revise the agreement if necessary.

Ideally, mediation results in not only a resolution, but also transformation so that each party feels empowered and respected, and recognizes the “other” as not “other.” Comparing mind, blaming, and guilt often trigger societal as well as interpersonal conflict. Unmet needs for respect and self-respect underlie the rigidity with which each party holds its position. Each is a “hungry ghost” yearning to be recognized, yearning for respect and love, and feeling unheard. If the common suffering can be clearly identified and named, a conflict can be not only resolved and managed, but transformed.

Thay has offered us the Buddha’s teaching: “Whoever imagines ‘I am equal, I am better, I am inferior’ will be involved in disputes. The person who is unshakable never thinks she or he is equal, better, or worse.” As individuals, we can develop our capacity to transform conflict into deeper understanding by learning to recognize and transform our comparing mind and to name our emotions of grief, anger, and fear. In families, Sanghas, and workplaces, we can practice open-ended questioning, deep listening and paraphrasing, assertive speaking, and mindful mediation. We can include in our regular Sangha practice Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names, Beginning Anew, the Peace Treaty, and the Four Mantras. Let us also regularly inspire and encourage each other by sharing the fruits of our practice of the fourth mindfulness training “to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

mb22-Transforming2

As we continue to practice, may our wisdom and compassion, our insight into interbeing, impermanence and the non-reality of all concepts and ideas, be deep and solid enough so that we can offer our understanding, our smile, and our peace for the benefit of all that is.

Dharma Teacher Lyn Fine, True Goodness, practices with the Community of Mindfulnessl New York Metro.

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May All Children Live as Children

By Michele Benzamin-Masuda

I t was another weekly visit to Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Russell was showing us the Special Lock Down Unit. He opened a door and I walked into one of the solitary confinement rooms. A solid door with a peephole closed behind me. A camera sat behind a protective screen above the door. In the back of the room was a tightly-screened, ban’ed window. I stood for a moment, barely able to breathe. A sadness came over me that the staff member picked up on. “It is prison,” he said. In silence I wondered how I, let alone a child, would feel locked in this room. We moved on to the monitor room, where screens showed two similar rooms occupied by small bodies wrapped up completely in sheets. They lay motionless the whole time we were there.

This unit holds the long-term residents kids too violent or suicidal to be with others, Young, at-risk meditators in East Los Angeles older, high-risk offenders awaiting sentencing, and those under the Witness Protection Program. As the tour ended, Mr. Russell expressed hope that we could start a meditation project in the unit. Many members of our Ordinary Dharma Sangha now teach meditation at Central Juvenile Hall through our “Jizo Project.” With other Buddhist organizations, such as International Buddhist Meditation Center and Zen Center of LA, we work with the older high-risk offenders incarcerated for violent Climes, the girls’ unit, the younger boys’ unit, and occasionally, the special unit devoted to youth with misdemeanor offenses.

mb22-May

We have a special relationship with Harvier Stauring, the Catholic Lay Chaplain in the prison. Harvier supports our work and offers his church space to our Days of Mindfulness, peace programs, and lectures. The church is in an enclosed area in the middle of the prison-a peaceful setting for mindfulness practice. We share common goals of helping the kids be in this place, giving them choices for not returning, and especially, coping with their home life.

I am deeply moved every time I visit this facility. I have worked with a wide range of kids here, but my choice and circumstances have put me in the younger boys’ unit. Mr. Russell refers to this unit as the test for all programs. “These kids need meditation the most!” he says.

The youngest boy I’ve worked with was eight years old- a very hyperactive, talkative, tiny boy with wide eyes and furrowed brow. He needed of a lot of attention and was afraid to close his eyes during the meditation. The boy seemed so stressed for his age. I stayed with him and tried various techniques to teach him to relax. He eventually calmed down. I later learned that the day before my visit, this boy was put in solitary confinement because of the overflow in his unit, and attempted to take his life. His short life has included gangs, malnutrition, drugs, and stealing.

The general rule is not to ask the kids about their crimes. I don’t need to know how they got here. When I look at them, I see children wanting desperately to be children, to be guided, make mistakes, to grow and learn, and most of all, be happy. What grounds me is to see the young boy in all of them, to talk to the part of them that desires to be a kid, do kid things, and hold kid dreams. Most of them worry about court, their families, and when they’ll get out.

They all need a good night’s sleep, so I teach them relaxation and lying-down meditation. We also talk about anger. They get pepper-sprayed a lot in this unit because of their inability to control themselves. I teach them to stop and breathe deeply, count to ten, and see that to act out anger and get pepper-sprayed is not worth it.

A lot of the kids are in for drug use. I show them a way to get naturally high through breath, yoga, and chanting. Many miss their families, so I teach them how to visit their loved ones through a guided lovingkindness meditation they can do later on their own. Many kids are Christian, so I refer to it as a form of prayer. We discuss the Five Mindfulness Trainings, especially right speech. There are many benefits to speaking kindly or practicing silence and listening. Much of the fighting with each other and the trouble with staff comes from unskillful speech.

A visit from someone who cares can be the thread that saves a young person’s life. Understanding this is what keeps me fresh and feeling undefeated by the system. Often I get only one opportunity to work with these boys, on occasion three or four times. Then, they are gone. Juvenile Halls are where kids wait for a sentence or placement. They do not serve time here, though some older ones are here a long time, sometimes years.

When I asked these young boys what are the benefits of meditation, they offered these gems. It helps you relax, focus, open your mind, pray, see your loved ones, go home, get a good night’s sleep, deal with anger and sadness. And one beauty of an 11-year-old boy looked at me quite seriously and said, “It helps you get in touch with your feminine side.”

I am now setting up Meditation and Peace Education programs with some local community-based organizations for probation kids and kids-at-risk during the critical afterschool hours. Our youth play an integral part in the future of this planet. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to live peaceably.

Michele Benzamin-Masuda, True Treasure, is a resident meditation teacher and co-founder of Manzanita Village Retreat Center. She holds a fourth-degree blackbelt in Aikido and a third-degree in laido sword.

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Meditation at Juvenile Hall

By Soren Gordhamer

t took eight months to begin meditation classes at the local Juvenile Hall-seven months of talking about it and one month of letters, phone calls, and meetings with the director. The director was not sure the kids would go for it. He said if we expected them to sit down, cross their legs, and watch their breath for forty-five minutes, we were mistaken. My co-leader was a former resident of the hall and works as a drug rehabilitation counselor with a similar population. He said, “We could teach basket weaving and if we are genuine, they will go for it. They watch you, not what you say.” The director gave us a more clear warning: “You need to be a master of your art. If you show signs of weakness or doubt, they will see it and blow you away. They won’t hold back.” I was not sure what to expect.

The first night, we walked through three locked gates and a quad to arrive in an all-purpose room which would serve as a meditation hall. As we put the chairs in a circle, a worker asked, “We got some kids who misbehaved and are in lock-down. You want them in here?” “Sure,” we responded. “Also, Johnny is planning on coming. He has the attention span of a fly. You sure you want him in here?” “Yes, of course.”

Ten boys and girls finally meandered through the door. They were primarily between the ages of 14 and 16 with about an equal number of boys and girls. Some had tattoos, others had funky hair styles, and all had a particular toughness about them. We introduced ourselves, went over the guidelines of the class, talked about respect, and then spoke in simple terms about meditation-finding what is true, being with the moment as it is, developing mindfulness. We then went around and asked what they wanted out of the class.

“An ability to levitate,” said the first kid. Everyone laughed. Most of the others talked about wanting to better control their anger. Juan sat back in his chair and announced, “I love two things in life: marijuana and violence. But violence gets me into trouble. I know when I get out of here it will be easy to get back in a gang and start busting people up. I don’t want to do that anymore.” Anger was the primary theme of the class. We led them in a guided silent mindfulness of breathing meditation which went fairly well. No one walked out, yelled, or made too many wise cracks. Johnny, with the short attention span, nervously shook his leg the entire time, but hung in there. Most of the kids kept their eyes closed and did their best. For many, sitting still is probably the hardest thing to do.

Next we conducted a short lovingkindness meditation, focusing on sending love to oneself then spreading it out into the world. This seemed much easier. Since this was the first class we did not ask for comments about their experiences. We wanted to let the kids keep the experience to themselves. However, after the lovingkindness meditation, Audrey looked up and spontaneously said, “That was tight.” “You mean you were tense?” I inquired, uncertain what she meant. “No, it was tight. That means it was good; it was cool.” “Oh.”

In the following five classes, the kids taught me a great deal. They had seen and experienced intense suffering and they had deep questions. Our class had its difficult moments, however. Johnny, in particular, made a lot of wise cracks and disrupted the group occasionally. I was not experienced in dealing with such behavior in a meditation class. Finally, Audrey had all she could take. During one supposedly silent meditation, Johnny decided to eat an orange loudly. I thought of Thay’s tangerine meditation and said nothing, but Audrey was fuming. After the meditation, she pointed at him across the room and shouted, “He’s f-ing up my meditation.” I was dumbfounded. I had never heard the F-word and the M-word used in the same sentence. No one had ever cussed or shouted in any meditation group I had been in. Should I get mad at her for cussing or at him for making noise? I did the only thing I could think of at the time: sat there with my mouth open. The girl gave him an ultimatum: “F-ing take this seriously or else f-ing leave.” He left. A great weight lifted from the class. Everyone seemed much more committed and focused. Something had cleared. I was confused by this. While much of their cussing was hard to take, there was a directness about these kids that I liked and I was happy that Audrey cared enough about her meditation to defend her right to sit quietly.

The classes were rarely what I expected. Once during guided meditation, we encouraged them to see their thoughts arising and passing away as if watching train cars pass by. After the meditation, Juan said, “That was great. I was just sitting there smoking a joint and watching a train go by.” Not exactly what I had in mind, but what do you say? Strangely, Juan seemed to get more out of the classes than anyone else and expressed the desire to continue the practice after he got released.

During these classes, I found myself listening much more than speaking. I knew if we were going to work together, we needed to trust one another and listening develops trust. I needed to learn about their world-where they came from, what issues were central in their life, what struggles they were facing . I had gone in thinking that I was going to “lead” a meditation class. I did guide the meditations, but the rest of the time I felt like I was in “Youth Issues 101.” I learned about the medications they were taking, what life was like in the hall, whose parents had disowned them, how it was to be locked up.

The story for many youth today is not a happy one. The rate of suicide in American adolescents has quadrupled since 1980. Violent crime among juveniles has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Weapons offenses for children ages 10 to 17 have doubled in the last decade. Kids are being incarcerated at younger and younger ages. Youth are raised thinking that money is everything and it does not matter how one goes about getting it. In a June 1997 Time Magazine poll, 33% of Generation Xers agreed with the statement ‘The only measure of success is money.”

Youth today face gangs, violence, and drug addiction problems without easy answers. Any remedy must include elders who are willing to make themselves available. We do not need the greatest wisdom or expertise, but we do need to show up. We need the passion and determination of youth, but for youth to use these energies wisely, they need the help of elders. For many youth, elders are nowhere to be found. Among the 1.4 million people incarcerated for substance abuse offenses are parents of 2.4 million children. Dharma centers can playa central role in offering alternative ways to explore one’s mind, body, and heart, but youth must first feel invited and welcomed.

Taiy has said certain problems are too big for one person and must be addressed by the entire community. The challenges and struggles of youth are such issues. The current trend is to either lock up youth or think their every need will be satisfied by a new technology, without ever addressing their inner life or exploring ethics. Dharma practice can help provide ways to nurture the inner life and an outer sense of responsibility. There are no easy answers as to how mindfulness practice can be offered so that it speaks to and benefits challenging populations, such as youth at Juvenile Hall, but any creative effort made with joy and mindfulness has a good chance.

Soren Gordhamer is working on a meditation book directed to young adults. He has taught meditation for teens through Spirit Rock Center, Kaiser Hospital, and at Juvenile Halls. He lives in Soquel, California.

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The Gateless Sangha

By Calvin Malone

In 1994, hundreds of inmates were transferred to Airway Heights Correction Center, a new minimum security prison near Spokane, Washington. When one inmate jokingly said, ”I’m a Buddhist,” the chaplain undertook to locate an outside group to sit with interested inmates. He found the Padma Ling Center with two lamas who now sit with us weekly. Rowan Comad of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana also visits regularly to lead mindfulness retreats and support our practice. Despite the tremendous obstacles inherent in prison life, our Sangha has grown to nearly 70.

Here, we are allowed only one meal a year that is not prison food. In the past two years, our Sangha has enjoyed these meals by hosting Buddhist celebrations. Our first event was The Freedom Celebration in 1996. Thirty-one Buddhist inmates and 17 outside guests enjoyed food, community, and teachings. In September 1997, 53 Buddhist inmates and 21 guests attended our Friends of Peace Festival.

The cost of these events is a serious consideration. Seventy-five percent of our Sangha members have no income, 5% earn minimum wage, and 20% earn $1 or less per hour. Some Sangha members felt our money was better spent helping to ease suffering. Others felt that once a year we could spend a bit to ease our own suffering. After much debate, we have decided to use our annual event to raise funds for outside Buddhist groups.

mb22-TheGatelessOn September 19, 1998, we held our third annual event. With the funds raised, we plan to sponsor the education of a child in Nepal, and contribute to three groups: The Free Tibet Project which supports the work of the Dalai Lama; the Engaged Zen Foundation which works with inmates; and Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living’s efforts to rebuild and support monasteries in Vietnam. From this practice of compassion, our name was born-The Gateless Sangha.

Through mindfulness, we are learning if one life is abused, we are all abused, and if one life is enriched, we are all enriched. Our efforts to support others have inspired and enriched our lives. We sincerely hope we inspire others as well.

Calvin Malone, 702364 MB28L, is an inmate at AHCC, P.O. Box 2049, Airway Heights, WA, 99001-2049

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An Interview with Kobutsu

By Carole Melkonian

Reverend Kobutsu, Kevin Malone, is ordained in the Rinzai Zen tradition, and has been teaching meditation in prisons since 1992. The following excerpts are from a conversation with Kobutsu during Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York last October.

How did you make the connection between your spiritual practice and prisons?

In 1992 the Vice Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji, Edio Shimano Roshi’s monastery in upstate New York, asked me to take over a meditation group at Sing-Sing, a maximum security prison in Ossining, New York. I readily agreed.

What is practice like in the prison?

We begin by cultivating a relationship between the individual prisoner and his community. For example, when a man comes to the prison “zendo,” the first thing we teach him is to bow to the other men in his community. This recognition and respect is the first gift they receive and is so valuable in prison culture. It is very much what Zen training in prison is about.

Before I started coming, the group sat for five minutes of meditation and then had unstructured time. Now, we chant the Heart Sutra and sit in meditation for four 30 minute periods. The “zen do” is open two evenings and one morning each week. We also hold retreats and a basic Buddhism class is taught monthly by a Buddhist nun. We have been recognized by the New York Department of Correctional Services as running a very well-structured program. More importantly, the men are tremendously grateful to have access to Zen practice, and to be able to practice refraining from violence. Those who sit regularly are able to begin to express compassion to their fellow inmates and to corrections officers.

You have been working with people on death row, and you accompanied Jusan Parker to his death in an Arkansas prison. Could you speak about your experiences with people on death row?

On August 8, 1996, Jusan Frankie Parker, my friend and Dharma brother, was executed despite letters from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and many other renowned Dharma teachers. During the last six months of Jusan’s life, we worked to gain clemency for him. With the support of thousands of people, we did our best and are without regrets.

I spent the last day of Jusan’s life with him. We held hands and meditated together. I joined him for his last meal, helped him answer letters, and assisted him writing an after death statement which I read at a press conference immediately after his death. We chanted the Three Refuges together as we walked down “the last mile,” a hall lined with officers in riot gear, toward the execution chamber. Our chanting continued as we approached our shrine, a cardboard box covered with a piece of felt on which a Buddha figure sat. We bowed to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Before Jusan entered the death chamber, we did three deep bows to each other. We stopped chanting and I looked directly into his eyes. A single tear glistened as it rolled down his cheek. We embraced, and he whispered in my ear, “I love you, my brother. Thank you so much.” We bowed to each other one more time. This time our foreheads touched. It was the last contact we had. We began chanting the Three Refuges again. The guards ushered me out a side door as Frankie was moved into the death chamber. I saw the waiting hearse and felt totally empty inside. I was brought to the death chamber viewing room where the state witnesses were seated. I continued chanting and watched as he was injected with poison. He died within minutes. His last words were “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”

Since Jusan’s death, I have received many letters from people on death row-some are Buddhist, others are not. I will probably have to watch some of these people die at the hands of the State; that is, at the hands of all of us. I will stand by any person who asks me to, whether a Buddhist or not. All I can do is bear witness and treat those who are executed and the executioners themselves with honesty, dignity, and compassion.

Reverend Kobutsu corresponds with close to a thousand prisoners, including 16 people on death row. To support his work or to receive Gateway Journal, a publication dedicated to the emancipation of the hearts and minds of incarcerated people, please write to The Engaged Zen Foundation, P.O. Box 700, Ramsey, NJ, 07446-0700. All donations are tax deductible. 

Carole Melkonian, True Grace, is a nurse in the intensive care unit of a Northern California hospital.


The following is an excerpt of a letter from Jusan
Frankie Parker to Kobutsu while on death row: “Being convicted of killing two people caused me to seek some way of trying to understand my actions. It led me to karma and the karmic winds that blow us through life, winds that we generate ourselves. I am the first person to become a Buddhist priest while incarcerated in the Arkansas prison system. Through contemplative practice I’ve learned patience, the greatest thing you can have in a prison environment. Now I smile more often than not. I enjoy every second, and I’ve learned the most important tbing a sentient being can learn-how to die. Every night when I close my eyes to sleep, I think I am dying. Soon I may be murdered by the State. I’ll die with a smile on my ugly old face . They will not understand, but you’ll know.”

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Inmates and Outmates

By Bob Repoley

For the past few years, practitioners from several North Carolina Sanghas have practiced mindfulness and meditation with inmates in the state prisons. North Carolina is a conservative state and Buddhists are often viewed as strange. For example, one prison officer called us “Voodists” and was convinced Jesus would want her to stay away from us. Still, we have established four prison Sanghas in three facilities, reaching more than 50 inmates each month-from teenagers to older adults. Meetings typically include sitting meditation and discussion about teachings and practice. One chaplain we work with featured the Five Mindfulness Trainings in his monthly newsletter. Another allows the Sangha in his prison to meet weekly. We hope to establish a women’s prison group soon.

Three factors contribute to our success: local Sanghas, volunteers, and prison Sanghas. Local Sanghas are generous with time and resources. While not all members visit, many help with loving encouragement or donations for literature and supplies. Sangha discussions help shape the programs and discussions within the prisons.

In our state, most inmates can meet only when volunteers come. The prisons are spread across the state, some in remote areas. Volunteers travel thousands of miles to be with the inmates, to attend annual training required by the state, and to meet for planning and support. Their compassion and dedication is critical.

Prison Sanghas are the third factor in the success. While volunteers may have more meditation experience than most inmates, practicing together emiches us all. When things go wrong, the prison Sangha’s strength often pulls us through. Recently, in a prison hostile to our presence, the Sangha was bumped from the comfortable chapel, where we had met for a long time, to a hot, noisy room. We volunteers saw the move developing before our visit and were angry over being harassed yet again by the administration. With the inmates, we looked at the seeds of our anger, then chose to water seeds of lovingkindness towards everyone involved. We realized that wherever we met, the group was sacred to us.

Nine months after our encounter with the officer who called us “Voodists,” I ran into her again at the front gate. As I signed in, she called the control room to say I had arrived. “Here comes another one,” she said with a straight face. I smiled and said to her, “Yes, here comes another one.” We both laughed. A few minutes later, she stopped me on my way in and looked me right in the eyes. “Teach them something good today,” she said seriously. “I’ll do my best,” I replied. We both smiled and I entered the prison.

Bob Repoley, Compassion of the Source, practices with the Charlotte Community of Mindfulness in North Carolina.

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Prison Mindfulness

By Mair Honan

A few years ago, the word “prison” arose repeatedly in my meditation. I thought it referred to an internal prison and laughed when the words “Thomaston prison” arose one day. Thomaston is a nearby state prison. I had no conscious desire to enter the prison and no experience in prison work. But, a week later I bumped into someone who works at Thomaston and asked about bringing meditation in. After an interview with the education office, our mindfulness program began.

We present mindfulness meditation as a way to focus the mind and develop peace and clarity in life, rather than as a Buddhist practice. We openly speak about our teachers, however, and the inmates know we have taken Buddhist precepts. Dharma teacher Lyn Fine came to the prison to transmit the Five Mindfulness Trainings to one dedicated practitioner. Each new person receives instructions from The Miracle of Mindfulness. We remind them they can get a free copy of We ‘re All Doing Time from Human Kindness Foundation in Durham, North Carolina and free books from Parallax Press. When someone wants to learn about Buddhism, we try to help.

During the sessions, the inmates sit on chairs. We sit in meditation at the beginning and end of each session. We also read and discuss a short piece from a variety of teachers. The guys may have questions or want to discuss their practices. During one session, I offered walking meditation, but it activated too much tension in the small room. For now, we pass out instructions from Thay’s Guide to Walking Meditation and encourage them to try mindful walking alone in their cell or out in the field.

About nine months after we began, I saw a connection between the inmates and my brother, my closest sibling. One evening, an inmate laughed a particular way and it felt as if my brother was there. A few years ago, through alcohol abuse, my brother killed himself and another young man. Such pain-I loved him so dearly. When I heard the inmate laugh, I remembered that my brother was arrested in his teens and spent a short time in prison awaiting trial. I had wondered why I felt so comfortable with these guys. As Thay says, the past and the future reside in the present.

We’re all learning from each other. I am particularly grateful to these men who are unwittingly helping me heal a deep grief. From the beginning, I knew this could work only with the Sangha’s help. Six regional Sangha members are cunently involved in the prison practice. We are all grateful to the Thomaston Prison staff. Without their openness, Support, and thoughtfulness, we would not have a meditation program in the prison.

Mair Honan, True Seal of Enlightenment, practices with the True Heart Sangha in Maine.

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A Treasure Vase

By Wendy Johnson

The ancient forests of the maritime Pacific Northwest are the last remaining forests of the temperate zone on the North American continent. The redwood trees here once covered more than two million acres; now less than four percent of the old-growth redwoods remain.

Redwoods are the tallest living creatures on earth. They are infants at 100 years, young adolescents at 500, and mature at 1,000 years of age. The rings on fallen redwood giants reveal that some are 2,500 years old. And yet, even as I write, these extraordinary trees are being cut and milled for lumber.

I remember years ago Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Too many people distinguish between the inner working of our mind and the world outside. These worlds are not really separate. They belong to the same reality.” These words have stayed with me over the years and deeply influenced my practice. They remind me steadily how important it is to connect with the world and to practice in a way that engages with the life of the world.

For the last ten years, I have worked to protect old-growth redwood forests, and to replant and sustain young redwood forests. In particular, I have been active with a core group of Dharma friends protecting Headwaters Forest, the last stand of privately-owned old growth redwoods, about 250 miles north of my home.

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A little less than a year ago, Banka, a 25-year-old friend who has practiced at Green Gulch Farm and Plum Village, joined the front-line campaign to protest the cutting in Headwaters. She left her monastic Zen practice and moved to the forest. She was one of five young people sprayed with pepper spray by local authorities last year in a nonviolent action in the heart of the redwood empire. When I learned what had happened to Banka, I knew that-without choosing sides-I had to respond more directly to what was happening in the ancient forests.

A few years ago, my Dharma sister, Cynthia Jurs, returned from a pilgrimage to Nepal where she had learned of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice of burying an earth treasure vase in endangered, threatened land. Entrusted with a small collection of treasure vases formed by the monks of Thongboche Monastery, Cynthia brought one of these clay vessels to Green Gulch so that we could fill it with prayers and life-enhancing substances and bury it in the Headwaters forest. Cynthia arrived with the vase just after the pepper spray incident.

It was an amazing coincidence. Some of us practicing in the forest had begun to feel that the only response to the violence and plunder of the old groves was to pray for peaceful reconciliation, and in our prayer, to follow Thay’s guidelines not to separate the inner work of our minds from the outer world. The treasure vase gave us a real opportunity to manifest our prayers for peace in the old-growth forests with a peaceful, radical action.

Our vase was a round, eight-inch-high clay pot, dressed in colorful silks and ready for work. We took it everywhere to receive prayers, offerings, and blessings for the well-being of the forests and for all beings connected with the forest. The veterans writing group held the vase and so did the warm hands of hundreds of young children. The vase grew heavy with prayers and offerings for the life of the forest. After three months of practice, we made the pilgrimage north to bury the treasure vase. Cynthia had reminded us that there was no set pattern for burying the vase. “Just entrust the vase to the earth and let it do its work,” she advised.

In Eureka, California, eight of us left at daybreak with the vase four meditation students from Green Gulch and four front-line forest activists, including our friend Banka. We crossed onto private land and walked illegally on muddy logging roads into the heart of the forest. After many hours of walking, we left the road and skirted a raw, 20-acre clear cut before entering unmarked forest. We passed through 1,000-year-old redwoods to the headwaters of the Elk River. The forest was huge and alive all around us.

Our guides took us to a section of the forest where they had never been. We sat in meditation for a long while before planting the prayer vase. When we had buried the vase, we covered our tracks with redwood duff, the litter of the ages. A slow, timeless rain began to fall. Silently we walked out of the forest. Far behind us, buried in the old forest, the treasure vase began its slow decay, radiating prayer out along the fungal network of the ancient trees.

Dharma Teacher Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment, practices at Green Gulch Zen Center in Northern California, where she teaches organic gardening and meditation, working with children and adults from all walks of life.

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Healing Trees

By Vaughn Lovejoy

My work with TreeUtah, a nonprofit tree planting organization, allows me to work with inner city schools, neighborhood projects, and ecological restoration projects. I came to this job out of concern for the natural world. Though it, my heart has opened to the beautiful, young children living amidst poverty, violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, and broken families in my community. I have come to see that environmental and social issues are connected, and I have tried to use tree planting and mindfulness to address both issues.

This year we introduced the Healing Tree Program. We plant a tree to bring healing to the neighborhood or schoolyard where it will grow. I explain to the elementary school students that for thousands of years, trees have been a symbol of the unification of heaven and earth. The roots of a tree go deep within the earth and the branches reach into the sky. I explain that the earth is like our body and the sky is like our mind. If mind and body are brought together in harmony, then like a tree, we can be a blessing to our community.

Before we plant the tree, I have the children imagine a tree of light in their hearts. I suggest that they may plant a healing tree in their own inner world, where they can go for nourishment and safety whenever they need to. I tell them that like the tree we are planting in their schoolyard, the trees they plant in their hearts need care. I tell them that I spend time every day taking care of my inner healing tree by paying attention to my breathing. On my in-breath I imagine healing light nourishing my tree and say “healing” silently. On my out-breath I imagine loving light going out to the world and say silently “loving.” While following this practice, the children and I plant the tree together.

Vaughn Lovejoy, True Holy Seed, practices with the Salt Lake Community of Mindfulness in Utah.

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Being Present with Dying

By Kate Small

I’ve been privileged to work closely with death and dying for the past six years. This work has challenged me, taught me, and changed my life. It brought me to practice. People close to death are skilled at detecting lies and often demand a high level of honesty from the people around them. Of course, I can only be honest with others by first being honest with myself. I practice walking meditation in the hallways on the floor where I work.

On the first rounds of a shift, I stop before entering each room and take three conscious breaths so I am fresh for the people in the room. I aspire to this practice all the time but, in the face of strong emotions or just plain busyness, I sometimes forget. I wrote a gatha that helps me to stop and breathe when working: “Normal saline, salty blood, ocean waters. Mindfully flushing this IV, I am aware of my connection to all of life.” I also use the beeping of IV pumps as mindfulness bells, calling me back to the present moment.

There is really no separation between the caregiver and the person receiving the care. The people I’ve worked with have been mirrors for me. Working with a young man with extreme self-hatred was an invitation to see how strongly self-hatred lives in me. When I act out.of understanding, it is easy for me to take care of myself and others.

Kate Small, True Lotus of Understanding, is a Registered Nurse who works part-time with people with AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases, providing end of life care.

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Volkshochschulen

By Manfred Folkers

mb22-VolkshochschulenMany German workers have an annual, government-sponsored vacation for learning new skills. Most people use the week for training in their professions. Mindfulness, spiritual life, and compassion are not usually aspects of this training, in part because many people resist learning things which seem to have only an indirect influence on their work. But, our German Volkshochschulen (adult education schools) increasingly offer courses with spiritual components.

For several years, I have offered five-day “Mindfulness and Inner Peace” seminars at various Volkshochschulen. Participants are mainly social or educational workers on their “learning vacations.” They range from 20 to 60 years old and most are women. Many complain of job stress. We discuss alienation, bum-out, motivation, and frustration before approaching the foundations of mindful living. Then, we examine the Five Mindfulness Trainings and discuss the importance of bringing heart and mind together. During the five days, participants enjoy sitting and walking meditation, noble silence, mindful meals, touching the earth, and of course, a tea ceremony.

These seminar participants don’t want to become Buddhist. They seek the opportunity for mindfulness practice. Unfortunately, when the seminar is over, most of them must practice alone, because there isn’t a Sangha or a Mindfulness Practice Center close to home. Without the support of a Sangha, it is very hard to continue the practice in daily life.

Manfred Folkers, True Great Togetherness, works for several Volkshochschulen in Germany. He lives and practices in Oldenburg.

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Gratitude

By Dewain Belgard

In closing his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote: “En panti eucharisteite. (In everything, give thanks.)” He was advising them no matter how negative a situation, to be mindful of the elements of joy and blessing also present.

In the practice of gratitude I have discovered the paradox that my capacity to be aware of suffering increases in direct proportion to my capacity to experience joy and to be mindful of blessings in every situation. Compassion and joy are inseparable. Ifwe harden our hearts and close our eyes to suffering, we also cut off our capacity to experience joy and happiness. And, if we are not continually mindful of the joyful and beautiful elements of life, we cut off our capacity for compassion.

Some years ago, Jim, my dear friend and life companion for many years, lay sick in the New Orleans Veterans Hospital. One day he told me he could no longer get to the toilet. He asked if I would help him with the bedpan. I was overjoyed at the opportunity to help. He asked if I would spend the night with him, because he was embarrassed to ask the nurse or orderly to help him with personal hygiene. I called the physician and asked her permission. With some reluctance, she agreed. It was about one-thirty in the afternoon. I told Jim I would go home to take care of our dogs and cats and return about seven o’clock. He asked me to fix his watch on a nearby shelf so he could tell the time. I arranged his watch. Then I kissed him good-bye and left.

When I returned about six-thirty, Jim appeared to be asleep. He was lying on his side where he could see his watch, but his eyes were closed His facial expression was peaceful. Then I noticed how still he was, and as I drew closer I realized that he was dead. I think he tried to hold on to life until seven o’clock when he knew I would return. But he wasn’t able to hold on long enough.

For several days I could hardly stop crying. I cried myself to sleep at night. I even cried in my dreams. I woke up in the morning crying. But with the help of friends, I began to see how fortunate we were that Jim had been spared a long, agonizing death.

I feel truly blessed to have known Jim and to have shared so many years with him. His life continues in many wonderful ways. For instance, he designed and built the room where our Sangha meets. In the years since Jim’s death, I have come to see, especially with the help of Thay Nhat Hanh’s teachings, that for me the practice of gratitude in all circumstances is a fundamental and indispensable practice.

Nearly everyone can recount similar experiences of pain, grief, and loss. Life is difficult for us all at times. In Pali, the word dukkha-often translated as “suffering”-in its root sense means “difficult.” Life is dukkha. That is the First Noble Truth. Though it may seem paradoxical, that truth is why I find it so necessary to practice St. Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians: “En panti, eucharisteite!” In all circumstances, be grateful!

Dewain Belgard, True Good Source, is a social worker and practices with the Blue Iris Sangha in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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The Death Penalty

By Lorena Monda

mb22-TheDeathTwo years ago, my dear friend Darcie Silver was murdered. She was twenty-seven years old. Darcie was very close to my family, especially my daughter Lisa, who was twelve when Darcie was killed. She was a beautiful, gentle, vibrant woman-the kind of woman I want Lisa to become.

Darcie was found strangled in her apartment. She had been raped and her body mutilated. Imagine how hard this was to explain to a twelve-year-old.

More than a year later, a 27-year-old man was arrested for Darcie’s murder. He was her co-worker, wanted also for the murder of another woman the month before Darcie’s death.

Words cannot convey the depth of my feelings. I grieved for Darcie, and for my daughter who experienced such horror at a young age. I felt rage at the person who could murder in cold blood, and at the world that could create such a person. I feared for my daughter’s safety growing up in such a world, and felt frantic for ways to prevent this from happening to her. In my most anguished moments, I wondered how I could go on living in a world that contained such violence.

Lisa wrote these words, which were read at Darcie’s memorial service:

I love Darcie because she was very nice and kind and gentle. We always hadfun together. I miss her. If I could change one thing about the world I would bring her back. If I could change another thing in the world I would make it that there was no violence and that no one would ever die like Darcie did. 

We ‘re going to make a special flower garden in our yard for her.

Every night we have been praying for Darcie. We have a candle burning for her. I pray she is safe and happy wherever she is, and 1 tell her that we all miss her and 1 tell her some of the things that have been going on, and that there are a lot of people who are very sad. We imagine that her spirit turns into light. On the second night, my mom drew an angel card for her. The card she drew was “LIGHT.”

At night we have been looking at the comet in the Northern sky that came when Darcie died. We decided that was Darcie’s comet, and that she could ride it whenever she wants.

Needless to way, the issue of the death penalty came very close to home. Ironically, before Darcie’s death, I had mixed feelings about it. Philosophically, I felt it was wrong- because killing was wrong-but I also felt if anyone could murder someone else in cold blood, perhaps they deserved to die. As a parent, I have felt I could kill someone who hurt my child. But after Darcie died, despite my anguish, I began to see that the death penalty, revenge on this 27-year-old man who brutally murdered at least two women, would not bring Darcie back. Even more, it would be a dishonor to all that Darcie was when she was alive. And even more, I recognized that I am patt of the society that created this, by patticipation or by neglect.

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Now, I grieve also for a 27-year-old man so lost that he murdered our beautiful friend. And my despair has become a commitment to help create a world where no one would be murdered- by an individual or by the State.

Lorena Monda, True Perfect Way, and Lisa Monda, now 14, live and practice in Placitas, New Mexico.

Drawing at top of page courtesy of Beth Redwood.

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Pauline Asthita Vegting

True Torch of Understanding

By Anneke Brinkerink

With great sadness, the Dutch Sangha learned of the sudden passing away of Pauline Asthita Vegting on Ascension Day, 21 May 1998. She was 65 years old. A Buddhist ceremony in celebration of Pauline’s life was led by Nico Tydeman. Participants came from many Buddhist groups-Maha Karuna Ch’an, de Noorder Poort, Tiltenberg, Kanzeon Sangha, Buddhist Broadcast, Dutch Sangha of the Order of Interbeing, Vipassana, from the interreligious movement, and from students in Pauline’s newly founded center, “The Rainbow Sangha,” located in Stone Bridge.

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Pauline had been planning many activities for the autumn in her new Dharma and meditation center. In addition to the intensive practice of Vipassana and Zen, she had prepared classes on the deepening of the Heart Sutra and on themes such as suffering, enlightenment, and reincarnation.

After a full life, Pauline was following more and more the voice of her heart, and was deepening her understanding of Buddhism. She was ordained into the Order of Interbeing in September 1996 and received the name “True Torch of Understanding.” Pauline was a real teacher, who had developed an eclectic method from her Buddhist wanderings.

On the occasion of her recent 65th birthday, I sent Pauline the words of Confucius:
When I was fifteen, I dedicated myself to study,
When I was thirty, I began to live,
When I was forty, I made my choice,
When I was fifty, I was aware of the fate
the heavens had destined to me,
When I was sixty, I followed what I heard,
When I was sixty-five, I followed the voice of my heart
and had no need of norms anymore.
Pauline answered me: “This is exactly so.”
Happy Continuation, Pauline.

Anneke Brinkerink, True Compassionate Nature, practices with the Sunflower Sangha in Holland.

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My Father’s Teachings

By Fred Eppsteiner

I t wasn’t easy for my father to age. To see his hair turn grey, his hairline recede, and then gradually disappear till only a few strands remained. To lose the energy of his youth and feel the weariness and discomfort of his aging body. He was both saddened and angered by this “unexpected” turn of events. He mourned the loss of his body, this form he thought he’d always be.

But old age was not the only infirmity my father endured in his golden years. Four years ago, he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease. I watched as he lost first mucb of his short-term memory, then his medium-term memory, and, finally, his long-term memory began to go as well. In addition, his reasoning and cognitive functioning slowly became impaired. His ability to think, to retain and process information, and to converse became confused and impeded. To these losses, he responded with frustration, anger, and despair.

As I watched these profound changes in my father, I realized I was also viewing the disintegration of his self-concept. His idea of himself that he had mentally constructed for seventy-five years and that he had held together by imagining a permanent self that continues over time, moment-to-moment, year to year, was no longer functioning. His self that had accomplished this and done that, a self that could remember itself, a self that came from here and went there, that was productive-he couldn’t find any of those selves anymore. He became lost and frightened. He didn’t know who he was anymore! And he had lost the ability to recreate a new self to solve this profound dilemma. My father fell into a state of depression, alternating between despair, fear, and rage. It is a common emotional state for people with Alzheimer’s in our culture.

As I lived with him, observed, and listened, I realized something else was occurring. As his cognitive capacity diminished and he slowly got used to his new condition, he began to live more and more in the present moment. The whole apparatus of conceptualization through which he had always related to reality no longer functioned, and he just experienced things directly. I joked with him that be had attained what many meditators and seekers worked so hard for-to do nothing, accomplish nothing. I told him that to spend a day looking, sitting, walking, eating was enough; he was enough just as he was.That it just didn’t matter that he couldn’t remember what he ate five minutes before, or what he did that morning, or even who he was.

And gradually my father began to change, to soften, open, and accept. A complicated man for much of his life, he became simpler and more direct. A man of some hardness and emotional distance, he became much softer and loving. He would constantly tell us, his family, how much he loved us and would ask us to love him. He would want to kiss us and to have us kiss him. A man who would always fall asleep when my mother took him to a classical music concert was now in love with music and dance. And every concelt and performance he went to was always “the best one ever.”

I want to relate a little story that happened two years ago. My father would come to our meditations, sit and listen, and the people in our Sangha got to know him. One day, one of the men told me that when he had greeted my father before the sitting, my father had asked him, “Lee, do you love me?” Lee, who is sixty-six, told me this anecdote with tears in his eyes. In his whole life, he said, never had a man asked him that question, and it had touched him deeply.

I also watched as my father became a child again (or perhaps one he never was). All his higher cortical functioning, his social training, his adult self-consciousness fell away. He could be impulsive, inappropriate, spontaneous. A man who was never known for his sense of humor, and certainly never the clown, now delighted (sometimes mischievously) in making people laugh, in being a buffoon at times. Music would play, and he would just stand up and dance by himself, impervious to the judgment of others. Like a child, he thought he was always terrific!

For me, the son as caregiver, I had to constantly reaffirm to my father that it’s all right not to remember, not to think, analyze or judge; not to retain any information for more than a brief moment. Yet, on the other band, I had a very strong concept, supported by fifty-plus years of experience and memory, of who and what my father was, and should be. I had to deal with my own judgment, evaluations, selfconsciousness, and often embarrassment as I watched my familiar father disappear and become someone totally different from all my prior concepts about him. I had to learn to accept, to let go and to love my father in the most challenging and unusual way of my life.

Then, unexpectedly, came death. My father, who had never had a heart problem, had a mild heart attack and was hospitalized. My brother, sister, and I came to New York to be with him and my mother, and to aid in some decision-making about a course of medical intervention. The doctors gave him six months to a year to live. There he lay in cardiac intensive care, hooked up to endless tubes and monitors, and all he wanted to do was “go home” or as he said, “just let me get up and I’ll come right back.” And then he died. One minute alive and then, all the vital signs disappeared one by one on the monitors. There, before my eyes, he exited his body, he was gone. The doctors and nurses all disappeared and we were alone with him. Holding him, stroking him, kissing him. Expressing our gratitude to him for all he had given us in this life and wishing him well on his journey. We stayed with him for several hours, his face serene, his body becoming colder and colder. For thirty years I’ve studied and practiced the Buddha’s teaching, and yet never so clearly had the truth of impermanence, of birth and death, of death and deathlessness, of change and changelessness, so directly and clearly been pointed out. In that hospital room with my father, mother, brother, and sister, a palpable sacredness emerged, a profound experience of Dharma that brought my palms together in deepest gratitude.

Several days later, my father was cremated. We took his ashes to his family plot in Queens, New York and dug a hole by the graves of his mother and father. Lighting incense and chanting the Heart Sutra, his wife, children, and grandchildren each put a spoonful of his ashes in the hole, said good-bye, and wished him a speedy and auspicious rebirth.
Your body, cold to my touch.
Your face, peacefully at rest.
The candle’s wick, all burnt up.
Shakyamuni’s Truths, totally revealed.
With moist eyes, I receive your final gift.

Dharma Teacher Fred Eppsteiner, True Energy, was 52 and his father, Larry Eppsteiner, was 80 when he died. Fred is a psychotherapist in Naples, Florida.

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Going to a Soup Kitchen

By Alisa Rudnick

First we picked the lettuce from our farm, which I have done many times before, but I never knew where it was going. Then I asked, “When are we going to the soap kitchen?” ”Thursday,” Mom said. “It’s a soup kitchen, Alisa, not a soap kitchen,” said my friend Cora.

Two days later we were driving to the soup kitchen. When we got there, we unloaded the 20 boxes of vegetables. We were given a short tour and got to work making sandwiches. We must have made 300!

We served so many people. Then, we realized it was the same people over and over-some of them must have come three times. More than a couple of people told us how nice it was to see kid volunteers. Then, it was our tum to eat. The food was delicious. I’m glad I had a chance to help people.

Alisa, age 9, lives at Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach, California, with her parents, Wendy Johnson and Peter Rudnick.

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Locks of Love

By K.C. Collins & Caitlin O’Donnell

mb22-LocksOn Tuesday, July 21, I walked into Supercuts with my close friend Caitlin and my mom. My heart was pounding because I was so excited. Soon a long-haired lady came to cut my hair. Caitlin watched behind the bar separating the hair-cutting chairs from the waiting chairs. The lady took out a little pair of scissors and said, “No turning back now.” I felt my head getting lighter with each cut. Then I saw my ponytail handed to my mom, and it felt strange to have most of my hair gone. -K.C.

I sat in the waiting room of Supercuts on Wednesday, July 22. My heart thumped in my chest. I turned to my friend K.c. who has known me since birth. (We’re the exact same age, by four days.) I whispered in a small voice, getting louder and louder, “If they don’t hurry up, I’m running out of here screaming!” Almost immediately, a brown lady with a shaved head came towards me. I followed her to the seats. K.C. followed close behind; she had come to be my model since her hair had just been cut. K.C stood beside the chair and asked, “Do you want me to hold your hand?” I shook my head, my long brown hair flying. I was nervous. After watching K.C.’s hair being cut with a small pair of scissors, I was afraid it was going to take too long. But the lady pulled out a giant pair of scissors instead. She quickly put my hair in a pony tail and cut it off. The ponytail fell into her hands. She handed it to my mother. As I left, I felt light-headed and wonderful. -Caitlin

We sent our hair to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children who lost their hair from illnesses. They use real kids’ hair because grownups’ hair is a different texture. They want the wigs to look real and not like a Barbie Doll’s hair. We did it because we like helping people and making them feel happy. We hope a kid will be happy with our hair and if any of you want to cut your hair, we hope they will be happy with yours too.

K.C. Collins, 9, and Caitlin O’Donnell, 9, practice with Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in northern California. They both live in Berkeley, California. You can call Locks of Love at 1-888-896-1588. If you send your hair, it should be at least ten inches long and you should be under eighteen years old.

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Punk Palace in the Moonlight

By Ian Prattis

My eighteen-year-old son, Alexander, was studying at the Glasgow School of Art. From our transatlantic calls, I knew he was in trouble with drugs. I arranged to visit him. At the airport I scarcely recognized him in his multicoloured hairstyle. He met me with a warm hug and a big smile.

At his apartment, I knew something was dreadfully amiss. There were no books or art materials. The large apartment was occupied by a shifting population of punks, drug users, and dealers. Alexander left for a while; I sat inhis squalid room wondering about him. Several hours later, he returned, badly beaten up in a drug deal gone wrong. He confessed that his requests for money to complete summer courses were false; he needed the money because he was deep in Glasgow’s drug world. I listened quietly, calmly washed his rearranged face, and learned that he could easily have been killed that night.

We walked to nearby Kelvingrove Park where I introduced him to walking meditation, encouraging him to trust the earth to absorb his pain and distress on each out-breath. As he calmed, I suggested perhaps the beating was a wakeup call. I offered him two options: £500 cash to enter drugdealing in a bigger way, or spending the next several weeks living mindfully with me. He refused the money, so I will never know how much bluff I used.

Alexander and I read most of The Miracle of Mindfulness together and did some of the exercises. Together we practiced sitting and walking meditation, enjoying silent meals, and conscious breathing. I taught him to coordinate body movement with breath, and also to defend himself with martial arts. We discovered that we enjoyed one another’s company and humour.

The residents of “Punk Palace,” as I named the place, gathered each evening to listen to heavy metal music, do drugs, and talk. Committed not to take drugs while I was there, Alexander smoked cigarettes. I listened quietly to these young people pour out their lives. For this short time, they became my family. No other parent ever visited them, let alone lived with them.

One night several punks asked me to teach them walking meditation. I agreed-if they remained drug-free for two days. Two evenings later, my punk friends boosted me into a tree and told me to crawl along a branch that hung over a private park. They bounced over the fifteen-foot-high railings and caught me as I dropped. After we picked ourselves up and stopped laughing, I introduced them to walking meditation. Slowly and mindfully for over two hours, we walked barefoot in the grass.

The next evening the punks spoke of their awareness of my presence in Punk Palace. Drugs were used less; my new friends turned their music down. No drug deals went down while I was there, and the kitchen even got a cursory clean! I thanked them and quietly said I was also aware of them, of every acid hit and cocaine use, of every moment of their despair and anger. Silence followed. Two people began crying. I softly thanked them all for their kindness and consideration, and said I was there for them. I then left them among themselves. These young people knew everything interconnects. They were simply lost.

Alexander and I worked on practical matters for which we prepared with meditation. We met with college tutors who had not seen him for six months, his college counsellor, and his bank manager. I enrolled him in a martial arts academy run by a kick-boxing champion who treated his students as family and began and ended sessions with meditation.

The final step was to talk to the drug dealers. We met in Alexander’s room. They were the most hardened young people I have ever met. I cleared Alexander’s outstanding debts, and quietly and firmly told them he was out of drugs. The tension could be cut with a knife. I breathed slowly in and out, extending love and compassion to them. After a time, they too relaxed. They asked about my martial arts background, which Alexander had no doubt exaggerated. It was our only common ground apart from Alexander. I wove a web of stories and showed them some drills, mentioning how many martial arts experts end up in healing and meditative practices. The more I talked quietly and directly to them, the more violence left the room. When they left, I knew they would leave Alexander alone, but their energy disturbed me.

It would be ideal to say the whole situation did not get to me, but it did. After one all-night party, I got really angry over Alexander’s wasted opportunities and irresponsibility. I did walking meditation, unsuccessfully trying to calm down. At 6:00 a.m., I packed my bags, found Alex, and asked him to walk me to the bus stop- I was leaving. His face showed fear that I was walking out of his life.

We walked silently. Alexander insisted on carrying my bags. They were much too heavy, but I let him. Then I stopped, told him to put the bags down, and hugged him. I told him I love him. We both cried. I told him why I had been so angry and invited him to join me at the airpolt hotel for a few days to continue our mindfulness training. Relief flooded his face.

Our mindfulness training continued at the hotel with emphasis on life skills-budgeting finances, handling peer pressure, completing college assignments, etc. We meditated and continued breath work with martial arts training. Once again we drew closer. When I left, Alexander saw me off and the real test began for us both: Alexander has to choose how he wants to walk through life and I have to allow him the freedom to choose.

This article is excerpted from a longer work by Ian Prattis, True Body of Understanding, who teaches anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

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Settling in at St. Michael’s

By Kim Warren

Over 300 people gathered at St. Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont last May for Thay’s 21-day retreat on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Thay, monks, nuns, and lay Dharma teachers led us as we learned about and practiced the exercises in the sutra.

Being together at an urban college presented challenges and opportunities. Summer school and urban life around the college continued. A hurrying professor noticed us all stop with the chapel bell. He stopped and smiled, too. The dining hall staff not only adapted to, but honored silence. By our second week, the lovely woman counting us as we entered the dining hall was greeting us with joined palms. These things reminded me that, even on retreat, we inter-are with everyone.

Another nearby community presented more of a challenge. St Michael’s is near a military base. Sometimes we could hear gunfire. During Dharma talks, planes roared overhead. Each Tuesday afternoon we had a beautiful formal meal; each Tuesday afternoon the fighter jets went out for exercises. What is our smiling and walking in the presence of fighter jets? Sometimes it felt small. As the retreat deepened, it felt big enough. Watering seeds of peace is what we can do.

On Saturday June 6, we went on a field trip to the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Hartland and the Mindfulness Practice Center in Woodstock. Thay led a lovely ceremony to dedicate the new Buddha’s Horse Dharma Hall. Feeling the energy blossom, feeling this place become sacred, was a very powerful experience. Afterward, while Sister Chan Khong offered deep relaxation, Thay and Sister Jina offered the water of compassion to the Sangha. Sprinkling water and laying a hand on each person’s head, they shared deep compassion with us.

In a Dharma talk about joy, Thay invited us to make two lists: a list of conditions for happiness that are available to us right now, including things we often take for granted, like our eyes or our heart, and a second list of things we thought were indispensable to our happiness-a job, material possessions, an idea, an ideology, anything we thought we couldn’t be happy without. He asked us to look deeply at our lists.

Would the things we thought necessary truly bring happiness or were they obstacles to genuine happiness? Through the teachings, Tbay helped us touch the ultimate dimension during our time together, the water as well as the wave.

Kim Warren, True Original Garden, practices with the Eno River Buddhist Community in Durham, North Carolina.

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Mindful Living at Omega

By Howard Evans

Five days at Omega-an amazing experience for 800 retreatants, including 50 children. The intense joy was sometimes palpable. At one point, as the children prepared to sing for the Sangha, Thay asked them to wait while he came down to sit in front and see their happy faces as they sang. In his Dharma talks, Thay spoke of our habit energies that bring suffering, and developing mindfulness so we might notice and transform these habits, slowing or stopping their effect. He spoke about the seeds in store consciousness that manifest in mind consciousness, and skillful ways of being with them. Which seeds are we watering in ourselves and others? Which are we giving life to in our thinking, speech, actions, consumption, and consciousness? He also suggested we contract with a stairway or a path we walk every day to walk there in mindfulness.

Dharma discussion groups served as human anchors in the sea of people we didn’t know. We gathered every afternoon to talk about the Dharma, discuss questions, sing, and sip tea. Our group lacked tea pitchers one day, so, almost searnlessly, we enjoyed cookie meditation, letting circumstances change the form. The tea was exceptional that day.

One afternoon, affinity groups met to discuss topics such as the Green Mountain Dharma Center and Mindfulness Practice Centers, death and dying, practice in couples and families, and practice as lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. I was fortunate to meet with 70 health care practitioners who bring mindfulness and insight to others in a variety of ways. It emphasized for me the incredible importance of building and sustaining mindfulness, and of a Sangha. By our energy and example, we can bring deeper healing to our patients and clients, supervisors and co-workers. Everyone left feeling supported and ready to serve through their work. The only problem was that we wanted to meet more and the end of the retreat was near.

Omega’s supportive staff and excellent food aid any retreat. In a way one could gauge the depth of the retreat by watching the staff. As our practice deepened, so did they, stopping easily in the dining room for the bells and mindfully caring for this large group. Staff and retreatants grew to count on the other’s practice for their own well-being and joy.

Friday morning, 350 heads bowed to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings. It never fails to touch me, seeing another group of aspirants, ready to commit to a life imbued with mindfulness and careful, deep looking.

Howard Evans, True Insight, practices with the Morgan Bay Zendo in Surry, Maine.

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Core Community Gathering

By Ellie Hayes

mb22-CoreA perfect early-summer day greeted Order of Interbeing members gathered for a Day of Mindfulness with Thay, May 30 at Green Mountain Dharma Center. As we stood in a circle, Brother Phap Niem led us in singing old “camp favorites.” After Thay joined us, we practiced walking meditation together down the tree-lined driveway, past fields and orchards, around and through the colossal barn, and back to the main house.

Under a modest tent, Thay invited our questions. He wrote them all down and then responded extemporaneously. During the questions, Eva Mondon, True Welcome from Putney, Vermont, presented Thay with a proclamation from Vermont Governor Howard Dean, welcoming Thay and the monks and nuns establishing Maple Forest Monastery. Eva also shared an old Vermont saying: “Sometimes it’s nice to sit and think, and sometimes it’s nice to just sit.”

In due time, the nuns organized a silent, informal lunch. Thay generously stayed and ate with us. He announced that one of the delicious dishes was prepared by a Vietnamese woman living in Burlington, Vermont. As a baby in Vietnam, she had been rescued from a trash heap by a nun, and raised by this nun and her Buddhist sisters. Hearing that Thay would be here, she wanted to offer food prepared with her love and gratitude.

The afternoon Tea Ceremony consisted of fruit juice, cookies, and “Peace Pops”-ice cream popsicles donated by Ben & Jerry’s of Vermont. During the tea, Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, presented Thay with a T-shirt created by The Gateless Sangha at Airway Heights prison in Spokane, Washington. The design shows a prisoner behind bars and is captioned, “Escape … Why?” Proceeds from sale of the T-shirts will help prisoners transition to life outside.

Also attending tea were four arborvitae -“trees of life,” members of the cedar family. The four trees were meant to represent the fourfold Sangha taking root here in Vermont: monks, nuns, laywomen, and laymen. Dharma buddies David Dimmack, Frank Boccio, Judith Toy, and I planted them at the Dharma center the next day.

Penetrating sun, warm smiles, mindful hugs, words of thanks and encouragement completed a very nourishing day.

Ellie Hayes, True Equanimity, practices with the Fire on the Mountain Sangha in East Calais, Vermont.

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Announcements

Growing Green Mountain
As fall arrives, we want to let you know of our plans for future retreats at Green Mountain Dharma Center. Since it is taking longer than anticipated to acquire the zoning permit, we shall not be able to accommodate live-in retreats before next summer. Presently, we are receiving one or two guests to stay a week at a time in the house and practice with the monastic community. We shall continue this until October. Then, the number of monks and nuns from Plum Village will significantly increase, making it impossible for us to accommodate guests in the house. However, we anticipate the purchase of a guest house nearby where guest retreatants can stay overnight. During the winter retreat, November 15-February 15, we hope guests will be able to stay in the guest house and join us each day for retreat activities. Please let us know if you are interested in coming then. The Green Mountain Dharma Center will continue to be open on Thursdays and Saturdays for Days of Mindfulness, and every other Wednesday evening for training in Mindfulness Practice Center facilitation. Contact: Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O Box 182, Hartland-Four Comers, Vermont 05049; tel: (802) 435-1102; fax: (802) 436-1101.
– Sister Annabel Laity

Passages
Born: Lucas Haley Masch, born April 11, 1998 to Travis Masch, True Maintenance of Practice, and LeeAnne Haglund of San Francisco, California.
Died: Pauline Asthita Vegting, True Torch of Understanding, of the Dutch Sangha on May 21, 1998. (See page 19 for tribute.)
Cathy Bontke, wife of Bob McDonald, True Original Voice, died suddenly on June 11, 1998, the day Bob received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings at the 21-day retreat with Thay. Bob thanks everyone who reached out to him during the retreat and since.

Medical Alert
At least three retreatants contracted Lyme disease during Thay’s retreats at the Omega Institute and in Vermont this summer. The disease can be treated by antibiotics in its early stages. If not treated early, severe complications involving the joints, heart, and brain can occur. The disease is spread by ticks, which may be in their nymph stage and no bigger than a pinhead. Symptoms may include a red rash at the site of the bite or elsewhere on the body, headaches, chills and fever, body aches, or joint inflammation. These flu-like symptoms may disappear for some time. When they return, the disease can be more serious and difficult to treat. Please seek medical attention immediately if you exhibit any of these symptoms.

Mindfulness in Education
At the Omega retreat with Thay in June 1998,35 educators and students shared ways they have offered mindfulness practice in classroom settings. We hope to continue sharing through The Mindfulness Bell and perhaps, in a newsletter. If interested, please contact Lyn Fine, 530 West End Ave #5B, NY, NY 10024.212-362-5923; email: leonoref@aol.com.

Healing Racism in Our Sanghas
On Saturday, November 7, there will be a one-day workshop to explore issues of racism in Buddhist communities and to deepen awareness of racial conditioning and its impact. 1924 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA. Information: 510-464-3012.

Order of Interbeing Dues
Ordained members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing, please remember to send your annual dues to the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA, 94707. Suggested amounts are $50 per person or $75 per couple. Questions? Call Leslie Rawls, 704-583-1279.

North American Order Retreat
North American members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing will gather for a weekend retreat at the Green Mountain Dharma Center, October 9-12, 1998. If you are an ordained member of the Order and have not received registration information, please contact Mitchell Ratner or Richard Brady, 301-681-1036, voice mail #2, wmc@langmai.org.

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Letters to The Mindfulness Bell

Thank you for the hot MB issue! Well done. I think the guidelines for Order of Interbeing mentoring needed to be addressed. We are still a developing order. I hope we do not get caught in the “institution” idea, so that the essence of the practice can be realized. However, I believe the “Sangha eyes” will protect us from going too far from Thay’s teachings.
KhanhLeVan
Sydney, Australia

Greetings from wind-swept London. The Mindfulness Bell goes from strength to strength and we greatly appreciated the last issue. The American Sangha appears vibrant and strong, full of joy in situations of suffering and distress as well as celebration, and we learn a lot from you. Thank you. I’m not sure how much interfaith or inter-tradition work is taking place in the States. There is a growing interest here, not an intellectual dialogue, but shared meditation, daily practice, social engagement, retreats, etc. Thay gives us a good basis for this. With the world situation as it is, maybe we should all be linking up to some extent with people of like mind, but different tradition. Maybe sometime in the future The Mindfulness Bell could foster interest in this area by seeing what contacts there are in the U.S. local or regional Sanghas. These would seem to be strong enough now to open up, to share the Dharma, and to receive insights from (what may be thought to be) “outside.”
Maire Pompe
London, England

An informal discussion group for political/social activists met weekly during the 21-day retreat in Vermont last May. We were an international group, involved in many projects-world hunger, work to free political prisoners, organizing community-based discussion forums and peace vigils. We discussed issues such as how to work within social movements where there is anger, and how to work within organizations with hyperactive and stressed-out cultures or where the organization is invested in attacking “enemies” whom we hope to transform. We talked about Thay’s teachings at the retreat on the importance of supporting brothers and sisters who have looked deeply at suffering and are ready to take action as engaged Buddhists. We discussed ways to be present in our various social activist meetings and projects, looking at each endeavor as a practice opportunity . We agreed to continue these discussions at retreats, to seek support from our Sanghas, and to encourage The Mindfulness Bell and other Order and Sangha communications to find ways of supporting activist work.
Roberta Wall
Brooklyn, New York

Thank you for the insight and awareness with which you presented articles on subjects which might otherwise be difficult to digest. It touched me deeply to read articles about biological depression, incest, and transexuality, presented in a calm, clear way. I was especially moved by the discussion of the role of medications in treating depression, having struggled with that myself. From the article I saw the wisdom in judicious use of medication and that the disease itself sometimes argues us out of doing what is healthiest.
Katharine Cook
Corte Madera, California

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