Dharma Talk: New Century Message From Thich Nhat Hanh

Tu Hieu Temple and Plum Village December 7, 1999 

To All Venerable Monks, Nuns, Lay Men And Lay Women Of The Sangha In The Tu Hieu Lineage, Inside And Outside Of Vietnam:

Dear Friends,

The Twentieth Century has been marred by mass violence and enormous bloodshed. With the development of technology, humanity now has the power to “conquer” Nature. We have even begun to intervene in the chemistry of life, adapting it to our own ends. At the same time, despite new and faster ways to communicate, we have become very lonely. Many have no spiritual beliefs. With no spiritual ground, we live only with the desire to satisfy our private pleasures.

We no longer believe in any ideology or faith, and many proclaim that God is dead. Without an ideal and a direction for our lives, we have been uprooted from our spiritual traditions, our ancestors, our family, and our society. Many of us, particularly young people, are heading towards a life of consump­tion and self-destruction.

Ideological wars, AIDS, cancer, mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction have become major burdens of this century. At the same time, progress in the fields of electronic and biological technology are creating new powers for mankind. In the 21st century, if humans cannot master themselves, these new powers will lead us and other living beings to mass destruction.

During the 20th century many seeds of wisdom have also sprouted. Science, especially physics and biology, has discovered the nature of interconnectedness, interbeing, and non-self. The fields of psychology and sociology have discovered much of these same truths. We know that this is, because that is, and this is like this, because that is like that. We know that we will live together or die together, and that without understanding, love is impossible.

From these insights, many positive efforts have recently been made. Many of us have worked to take care of the environment, to care for animals in a compassionate way, to reduce the consumption of meat, to abandon smoking and drinking alcohol, to do social relief work in underdeveloped countries, to campaign for peace and human rights, to promote simple living and consumption of health food, and to learn the practice of Buddhism as an art of living, aimed at transformation and healing. If we are able to recognize these positive developments of wisdom and action, they will become a bright torch of enlightenment, capable of showing mankind the right path to follow in the 21st century. Science and technology can then be reoriented to help build a new way of life moving in the direction of a living insight, as expressed in terms of interconnectedness, interbeing, and non-self.

If the 20th century was the century of humans conquering Nature, the 21st century should be one in which we conquer the root causes of the suffering in human beings our fears, ego, hatred, greed, etc. If  the 20th century was characterized by individualism and consumption, the 21st century can be character­ized by the insights of interbeing. In the 21st century, humans can live together in true harmony with each other and with nature, as bees live together in their bee hive or as cells live together in the same body, all in a real spirit of democracy and equality. Freedom will no longer be just a kind of liberty for self-destruction, or destruction of the environment, but the kind of freedom that protects us from being over­whelmed and carried away by craving, hatred, and pain.

The art of mindful living expressed in concrete terms, as found in the Five Mindfulness Trainings, can be the way for all of us. The Trainings point us in the right direction for the 21st century. Returning to one’s root spiritual tradition, we can find and restore the equivalent values and insights. This is a most urgent task for us all.

I respectfully propose to all Venerable Monks, Nuns, and Lay people within our Tu Hieu lineage, in Vietnam and outside of Vietnam, to carefully reflect upon the following recommendations, and to contrib­ute some part in helping to create the direction for mankind in the New Century:

1. We should continue to set up monasteries and practice centers. These centers can organize retreats—one day, three days, seven days, twenty-one days, ninety days, etc.—for monastics and for lay people, aimed at developing our capacity for transfor­mation and healing. Activities at these centers should cultivate understanding and compassion and teach the art of Sangha building. Temples and practice centers should embody a true spiritual life, and should be places where young people can get in touch with their spiritual roots. They should be centers where the practice of non-attachment to views according to the Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing can be experienced. To cultivate tolerance according to these trainings will prevent our country and mankind from getting caught in future cycles of religious and ideological wars.

2. We should study and practice the Five Mind­fulness Trainings in the context of a family, and establish our family as the basic unit for a larger Sangha. Practicing deep listening and mindful speech, we will create harmony and happiness, and feel rooted in our own family. Each family should set up a home altar for spiritual and blood ancestors. On important days, the entire family should gather to cultivate the awareness and appreciation of their roots and origins, thus deepening their consciousness of these spiritual and blood ancestors. Accepting the stream of ancestors in our own beings, we draw on their strengths and recognize their weakness, in order to transform generations of suffering. Each family should recognize the importance of having one member of their family devote his or her life to the learning and practice of the Dharma, as a monastic or a lay person. The family should invest in, support, and encourage this family member.

3. We should give up our lives of feverish consumption, and transfer all merits of action created by thoughts, speech, and work to the Sangha. Our happiness should arise from understanding, compassion, and harmony, and not from consumption. We should see the happiness of the Sangha as our own happiness.

4. We should invest the time and energy of our daily life in the noble task of Sangha building. We should share material things that can be used collec­tively by the Sangha, such as houses, cars, television, computers, etc. We should give up alcohol, drugs, and smoking. We should learn to live simply, so that we may have more time to live our daily life deeply and with freedom. Living simply, we become capable of touching the wonders of life, of transformation and healing, and of realizing our ideal of compassion in the educational, cultural, spiritual, and social domains of our lives.

The 21st century is a green, beautiful hill with an immense space, having stars, moons, and all wonders of life. Let us climb the hill of the next century, not as separate individuals but as a Sangha.

Let us go together, hand in hand, with our spiritual and blood ancestors, and our children. Let us enjoy the climb together with our songs and our smiles, and allow each step to create freedom and joy and peace.

Wishing you and your Sangha a wonderful century full of faith and happiness,

mb25-dharma1Thich Nhat Hanh
Elder of the Tu Hieu Lineage

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

From the Editor

After you finish reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma talk, if you read nothing else in this issue, please read about the flooding in Vietnam (pages 7-10). People there desperately need our help, and it takes very little to do a lot. Vietnam is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average per capita annual income of approximately $300 U.S. The November flooding devastated eight provinces in central Vietnam—the poorest part of this poor country and the area where Thay’s root temple is located. Sister Chan Khong and Sister Minh Tanh tell us of the monks’ efforts to bring relief to people, and of Plum Village’s donations to help. But the need is deep and available resources are inadequate. As this issue heads to press in early December, new flooding has begun, washing seeds away from the just planted fields and bringing more suffering. Imagine losing everything and then having no way to get food or fresh water, medical supplies, or even a blanket for your children. Many of us are blessed with material things, and with a governmental infrastructure capable of responding to natural disasters.

This fall, three hurricanes pummeled my home state of North Carolina, flooding the entire eastern half of the state twice. Because the rain fell on the headwaters of several rivers, the waters continued to rise for over two weeks. Many people here lost everything they owned. But in this nation of plenty, helicopters quickly airlifted food, fresh water, blankets, and medicine to towns surrounded by waters. Within a short time, people on rooftops were rescued, hospital patients were moved to safety, and temporary housing was set up. Vietnam’s resources, both public and private, are far less and cannot meet the need there. Please let us show our gratitude for the benefits of our material wealth by sharing what we can with our brothers and sisters who are in such desperate need.

I do hope that you read and enjoy the rest of The Mindfulness Bell, and that our efforts in bringing it to you enrich and nourish your practice. This issue contains important updates from Thich Nhat Hanh about unfolding events. It also includes an account of the trip to China last summer, experiences and teachings in the practice of meditation, reports from some retreats, and the entire Sangha Directory.

As you can see, we are also experimenting with The Mindfulness Bell design, as we implement Thay’s vision of a magazine that serves the needs and shares the experiences of the worldwide mindfulness Sangha. We welcome your thoughts on the shape we are taking. And please remember we always welcome submissions about experience in the practice, photographs, art, and issue theme suggestions.

A lotus for you,

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Poem: A Teacher Looking for His Disciple

By Thich Nhat Hanh

I have been looking for you, my child,
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity.
I was looking for you
When you were still in a deep sleep
Although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain,
I looked at distant lands
And recognized your footprints on so many different paths.

Where are you going, my child?
There have been times when the mist has come and enveloped the remote village,
But you are still wandering in faraway lands.
I have called your name with each breath,
Confident that even though you have lost your way over there,
You will finally find a way back to me.
Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path you are treading
But you still look at me as if I were a stranger.
You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives,
You cannot remember the old vow you made.
You have not recognized me
Because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future.

In former lifetimes, you have often taken my hand and we have enjoyed walking together.
We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees.
We have stood side by side in silence for hours,
Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us
And looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf
And I have taken you through forests deep in snow.
But wherever we go, we always return to our ancient mountain
To be near to the moon and stars
To invite the big bell every morning to sound,
And help living beings to wake up.
We have sat quietly on the An Tu mountain (1) with the Great Bamboo Forest Master (2)
Alongside the frangipani trees in blossom.
We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift.
We have helped Master Van Hanh (3) design the Thong Long capital.
We have built together a thatched hermitage,
And stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen (4)
When the sound of the rising tide was deafening
On the banks of the Tien Duong River.
Together we have opened the way and stepped into the immense space beyond space,
After many years of working to tear asunder the net of time.
We have saved up the light of shooting stars
And made it a torch helping those who want to go home
After decades of wandering in distant places.

But still there have been times when the seeds of a vagabond in you have come back to life.
You have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters.
Alone you go…
I look at you with compassion,
Although I know that this is not a true separation
(Because I am already in each cell of your body)

And that you may need once more to play the prodigal son.
That is why I promise I shall be there for you
Anytime you are in danger.
Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts.
I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade.
Late at night the cloud became dew
And the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink.
Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness
Completely alienated from your true home.
I have manifested myself as a long ladder and lightly thrown myself down
So that you can climb up to the area where there is light
To discover again the blue of the sky and the sounds of the brook and the birds.
Sometimes I recognized you in Birmingham,
In the Do Link district (5) or New England.
I have sometimes met you in Hang Chou, Xiamen, or Shanghai.
I have sometimes found you in St. Petersburg or East Berlin.
Sometimes, though only five years old, I have seen you and recognized you,
Because of the seed of bodhichitta you carry in your tender heart.
Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised my hand and made a signal to you,
Whether it be in Bac Ninh,(6) Saigon, or the Thuan An seaport.
Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain,
Or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest (7) during a winter night.
Often I have seen you
But you have not seen me,
Though while walking in the evening mist, your clothes have been soaked.
But finally you have always come home.

You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain,
Listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching
And the mountain chanting, echoing from the Buddha Hall.
You have come back to me, determined not to be a vagabond any longer.

This morning the birds of the morning joyfully welcome the bright sun.
Do you know, my child, that the white clouds are still floating in the vault of the sky?
Where are you now? The ancient mountain is still there
In this place of the present moment,
Although the white-crested wave still wants to go in the other direction.
Look again, you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud.
If you call my name, you will see me right away.
Where are you going?
The oldfrangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning.
You and I have never really been apart.
Spring has come. The pines have put out new shining green needles
And on the edge of the forest, the wild plum trees have burst into flower.

Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel Chan Duc.
1 A holy mountain in North Vietnam, where the Bamboo Forest meditation school was established.
2 The master who established the Bamboo Forest meditation school in the fourteenth century.
3 The meditation master who in the year 980, helped stabilize the political situation in Vietnam and prevent the Sung army from invading the country.
4 A reference to the poem “Kieu” by the poet Nguyen Du. Trac Tuyen is the Dharma name of Kieu who, when she could bear her suffering no more, threw herself into the Tien Duong River and was rescued by her elder sister and teacher in the Dharma.
5 A district in Central Vietnam.
6 The ancient capital of Vietnam in Bac Ninh province. It was a flourishing Buddhist center from the beginning of the Christian era.
7 In the hills near Dalat, where the author established the Fragrant Palm Leaves Practice Center.

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Floods Cover Central Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong

Up to seven feet of rain fell on parts of central Vietnam over three days in early November, creating widespread flooding and mountainous landslides. The devastation is tremendous. Reuters News Agency reports that at least 554 people have died. Over half the dead lived in Thua Thien Hue province; 467 alone lived in the imperial city of Hue, home of Thich Nhat Hanh’s root temple, Tu Hieu. Government officials estimate that 900,000 of the province’s 1.05 million residents were displaced. Highway One south of town is impassable due to flooding and landslides.

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The state radio reports that across seven provinces 1,000,000 homes were destroyed, 130,000 tons of warehouse food was saturated and is likely to rot, and 185,000 paddy fields were destroyed or damaged. The Huong (Perfume) River overflowed its banks and created a new estuary by sweeping seventy homes out to sea at Thuan An. Many homes are underwater; others have collapsed under landslides. Vegetable fields, fish breeding ponds, schools, and health care facilities have been destroyed. People have no electricity or gas. The cost of essentials, such as rice and kerosene, has skyrocketed. Medicines, food, and fresh water are in critically short supply, as the risk of disease escalates.

Our five monasteries—Tu Hieu, Dieu Nghiem, Pho Quang, Chau Lam, and Long Tho—are located on the mountain and are safe. Monks and nuns are in a position to help the flood victims. They have rainwater, reserves of rice, wood for cooking, courage, and a mind of love. For four days and nights, they worked ceaselessly to cook rice, make rice balls, and carry and distribute them in this most difficult situation. They could easily die in the stormy waters, but they have no fear. They know that they are the helping hands of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

We recently received the letter that follows, from Sister Minh Tanh of Long Tho Monastery in Hue. Hundreds of our brothers and sisters, helping hands of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, are waiting for our help to be able to bring your love to the people who are lost in despair. Dear friends, with the greatest efforts Plum Village and Green Mountain Dharma Center can make, we could offer each family barely five cents (twelve cents can buy a pound of rice). We have borrowed money from other projects to send $20,000 toThua Thien—$10,000 to Quang Nam and $ 10,000 to Da Nang and Quang Tri. As you can see, we urgently need your help to bring a token of concern to these desperate people.

For information about how you can help the relief efforts, please see page 10 of this issue.

With deep thanks, we send you our best regards. May the energy of Compassion protect you and your beloved ones, and keep you safe and in good health.

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Letter from Sister Minh Tanh

Long Tho Monastery, Hue City, Vietnam

November 4, 1999

After four days and three nights lost in darkness, without running water, electricity, or telephone lines, surrounded by fierce waters and cries for help, as we evoke the name of Avalokita, suddenly, the telephone rings and your voice is at the other end! How could that be? It must be a miracle from the Bodhisattva Avalokita who helped connect us with the outside world.

Sister, you may already know that Thua Thien, Quang Tri, and Quang Nam provinces now lie underwater. It is so frightening to see thousands of houses sinking down into the immense waters. While cooking rice (with wood because there is no electricity or gas), making rice balls, putting them into nylon bags, and  searching the way to bring them to the neediest people, we evoke the name of Avalokita with tears in our eyes. Only a few temples located on high lands are able to help—the Root Temple Tu Hieu, Nunneries Dieu Nghiem and Pho Quang, and my temple, Long Tho.

The monks at Tu Hieu Monastery brought out their whole year’s supply of rice, and for the last three days, have been cooking for the hundreds of sick people in the hospital, where there is no electricity or running water, as well as for the many families sitting on their rooftops, waiting for help. Surrounded by water, people are still dying of hunger and thirst, because the flood waters are polluted with corpses of humans and animals and much dirt and debris. We in these temples are able to help, thanks to large reserves of rice, rainwater we stored in big containers, and a lot of wood logs around the temples. Monks cut banana trees and made rafts around two square yards each, to carry big bags containing hundreds of small rice balls. They walked in chest-deep water, pushing rafts of food to the areas in need. In some dangerous areas, crossing the fierce stream, we must choose the best swimmers.

Only 200 meters from our temple, we heard a loud noise. Three children caught on the roof of their home were banging on a metal container to call for help. The water almost reached the beams near the roof. We wept, but none of us dared to cross the fierce, angry stream in front of our temple to reach the house.  overnment canoes, already overwhelmed with rescue work, have not been able to visit our area yet. They only arrived at Tunnel Bridge (Cau Lon), then turned back to the city. Finally, early on the morning of November 4, monks from Tu Hieu arrived by canoe and we could rescue the three children.

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On the third day of flooding, the monks in Tu Hieu were able to hire a large canoe, bringing big bags of rice balls and dried noodles to eight remote areas where no government officers dare to come: Quy Lai, Thuan Hoa, Tay Linh (Sister Nhu Minh’s area), Tay Loc, Cii Chanh (Sister Minh Tu’s area), Nam Hoa, and Bai Dau. The waters there are fierce and three government officers have drowned. Today, November 5, the monks visited and distributed food in Nam Hoa, Phu Hau, Van Cu, Co Lao, Huong Tra, Thiiy Bang, An Liiu (Phu Vang), Due Biiu, La Chu, Huong Chii, Huong Vinh, Le Khe, Thanh Trung, Thanh Nguyen, Kinh Doi, Long Ho, and Ngoc Ho. The Government is grateful and welcomes our activities, because we are of great help. By chance, Tu Hieu temple was preparing to distribute $20,000partly in cash and partly in food, to our 88 day-care  centers. The distribution had not yet started when the flooding began. Thus, our friends were ready to help efficiently, as if the ancestors had prepared for us to be able to help. Because, even if we have money in the bank, the Vietcom Bank of Hue is still under the waters!

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Update on the Floods

November 10, 1999

After receiving the $20,000 U.S. (120,000 FF), the Root Temple and related temples were able to send many monks and nuns to help the flood victims. The situation has become more difficult each day. They leave the temples at 5:00 a.m. and return at midnight. The next morning at 5:00, they set out again.

On November 2, the water rose very high in the city region. The monks rescued one family on Dien Bien Phu Street. As the water rose even higher, they heard people calling for rescue from another house. The water was flowing so fast, the current so strong, that no one dared approach to help. Dharma teachers and monks finally swam to the house and removed the roof, rescuing seven people inside.

During the night of November 2 and the morning of November 3, all electricity and water were cut off in Hue. The monks knew there was absolutely no food in many places, so they dug up and cooked the manioc roots in the temple. At 5:00 a.m., the monks cut down the banana trees to make rafts and carry the cooked manioc to the flood victims. Other monks stayed behind, and with the nuns from Dieu Nghiem Temple, cooked rice and made it into small packages to distribute.

The monks divided into five groups. Group one went to the upper part of the Bo River at Phong Son village; group two went to the upper source of the Huong River at Huong Tho village; group three brought food and water to the hospital, the mental hospital, and the tuberculosis camp; group four took food to the University area where hundreds of students were trapped on the upper floors of buildings with no food or water; and group five successfully searched for motor boats so help might reach the remote areas such as Tay Linh, Quy Lai, Thuan Hoa, Tay Loc, Cii Chanh, Nam H6a, and Bai Dau. From November third through the sixth, using banana rafts and two motorboats, 70 monks and 18 members of the Youth for Social Service continued to offer help from the mountains to the sea—in Thua Thien, Van Cu, Co Lao, Huong Tra, Thuy Bang, An Xuan.

From November sixth to the tenth, as flood waters began to withdraw, monks from Tu Hieu Temple were able to rent trucks to carry people, food, and blankets. To bring help, they drove on rough and dangerous roads. In some places in Thua Thien province, the floodwaters had not yet withdrawn enough to drive on the roads. The monks drove only five miles toward the villages in this area, before the roads were cut off by flooding. They moved the supplies onto ferryboats, but after an hour’s travel, the water became too shallow for the boats to continue. Carrying 50 kilo bags of rice and other supplies strapped to their shoulders, the monks continued on foot. They had to carry these heavy loads three, five, or even seven kilometers to reach certain areas.

The monks had hoped to provide relief for 200 families. Each was to receive 15 packages of instant noodles and ten kilos of rice. But when they arrived, they saw thousands of families starving. Considering the urgency of the situation, the monks thought they could give each family seven packages of instant noodles and one kilo of rice, but when they counted all the families, they realized they did not have nearly enough. Sharing equally with everyone, they were able to give only three packages of instant noodles and one-fourth of a pound of rice for each family. Although the monks were only able to give so little, they gave their hearts, love, care, and energy, and that moved people so much.

The monks worked very hard to help. In many places, they had to swim across the waters, wearing only T-shirts and shorts. The people recognized them as monks only because of their shaved heads. The monks were hungry too, and often unable to carry their heavy loads. But they tried to do their best to help.

In some places, such as An Xuan and Quang Dien, the floodwater has begun to withdraw slowly. Bloated corpses—human and animal—float everywhere and the stench is nauseating. Despite the terrible risk of disease, people are unable to bury the corpses, because the available ground is flooded. If you are able to support these desperate efforts to help thousands of people, please send your donation as soon as possible.

With deep gratitude and appreciation for your tremendous work. May all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas protect and support us all. Homage to Avalokiteshvara,  the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion.

Sister Chan Khong compiled this article from various reports received from the monks and nuns in Vietnam.


News from the Flooded Provinces

QUANG NGAI PROVINCE: This area has not been affected as badly as others, but avalanches on the mountain road from Son Ha to Son Tay buried sixty people. Five were rescued. As the rain kept falling, huge rocks swept down in avalanches and landslides. Around 7,000 houses are underwater and many fishermen drowned.

QUANG TRI PROVINCE: Dong Hoa train station is completely underwater. Five hundred buses are stuck at the north end of Quang Tri bridge. At least 60,000 houses have collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of flood victims sit on their roofs, waiting to be rescued. Thousands of them have been soaking in the water for four days and are hungry, exhausted, thirsty, and cold. Some are near death; many people have died. All nine counties of the province are flooded. Thanks to your generosity during Thay’s last trip to the United States, we were able to send $10,000 to the Brothers and Sisters working in the Understanding and Love Programs at Quang Tri sponsored by Plum Village.

HUE CITY & THUA THIEN PROVINCE: The worst counties affected by the flood are Quang Dien, Phong Dien, Huong Tra, Phu Vang and Phu Loc and all villages along the Perfume (Huong) River and Bo River. As of November 5, 1999, tens of thousands of families in these areas have not been able to connect with the outside world. More than 100,000 families still sit on their roofs, waiting for help.

DA NANG CITY & QUANG NAM PROVINCE: As of November 3, all roads were still underwater. The Da Bac Bridge has been carried away by the waters. Large rocks have fallen along the mountain pass of Hai Van making it impassable from Da Nang city to Thua Thien province. The water has risen one meter in the lowest parts of the Plateau Ngu Hanh Son, and seven meters in the districts Hoa Vang, Tam Ky, Dien Ban, Thanh Binh, Tuyen Phuoc, Dai Loc, Duy Xuyen and Que Son. The villages near the ocean in Nui Thanh district are also five to six meters underwater- Four-hundred-thousand victims are still sitting on their roofs waiting for help. On November 5, our team of social workers from the Tam Chanh group and Buddhist Youth Minh Tan came back from a rescue trip to bring 300 parcels of food to help relieve 300 families in Dai Loc district where waters are still immense and stormy. They were wondering how they could survive such a perilous trip—with the helping hands of Avalokita. In Hoa Van district, the water is seven meters high, and 24,400 houses have been completely covered with water. All the rice storage houses of the province have been washed away, and thousands of heads of livestock drowned.

QUANG BINH PROVINCE: More than 30,000 houses are underwater. The ferryboats have stopped working. In Le Thuy County, 24 of 27 villages are under the waters, with 18,300 houses immersed.


Please Help!

Since November 6, we have sent a total of $185,765 to help the victims of the flooding. But with so many people in need, even this seemingly large amount is very little in the desert of suffering. On November 16, the monks were able to give a handful of rice and three packages of instant noodles to each family. On November 27, each family received sixteen kilograms of rice and around $4.00 U.S. The government could only afford to offer each family one package of instant noodles, and this only once, eight days after the flood. But even with these combined efforts, each family is in great need of our help. The price of food has risen dramatically. The price of rice increased from 20 cents per kilo to 30 cents per kilo; instant noodles went from seven cents per package to ten cents per package.

With just $10 U.S. you can help take care of a family for one month:
• $1 buys fifteen packages of instant noodles
• $6 buys 20 kilos of rice
• $3 buys a blanket

Please make your check or money order payable to “UBC Flood Victims” and mail to: Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, VT 05049 USA. We will send your donations to Hue, Da Nang, or Quang Tri within two days of receipt. All donations are tax-deductible. You may also call Tu Hieu (the Root Temple) in Vietnam and ask for Venerable Thich Thai Hoa or Sister Minh Tanh, treasurer of the Root Temple at (84)54-824 865.

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Thay’s Teaching Still Banned In Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong

On April 29, 1999, Federico Mayor, General Director of UNESCO, wrote to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai of Vietnam requesting that the government allow the publication and circulation of books and tapes by Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam, and grant permission for Thich Nhat Hanh to return to teach in Vietnam after 34 years of exile. Many other people in Europe and America—including Senator Philippe Marini, Senator Bernard Dussaut, and Senator Jean Francois Poncet of France; President of the Commission of Foreign Affairs of the French National Assembly Jack Lang; President of the Swiss Confederation Flavio Cotti; and Senator John McCain and Congressman Richard Boucher of the United States—have written to the government of Vietnam for the same purpose. We need our friends to join in the campaign so that Thay’s teaching becomes available in his own country, and also so Thay can go back to visit his root temple (Tu Hieu in Hue, Vietnam) and offer direct teaching to his people. If you could help by urging important people in your own country to write to the government of Vietnam, that will be very wonderful. We are asking for these specific things:

  • Ten of Thay’s books be allowed to be published (Abbot Thich Chi Mau of Thay’s Root Temple wrote a letter to the government asking this half a year ago, and renewed the request on July 4, 1999. See below.)
  • Ten monks of the Root Temple be authorized to come for further training in Plum Village.
  • Ten monastics of Plum Village be authorized to go to the Root Temple for further training on traditional chanting.
  • A monastic and lay delegation from Plum Village led by Thich Nhat Hanh be allowed to go to Vietnam to offer public lectures and meditation retreats for a period of two months.

While the fourth project could take a year or more to materialize, the first three projects can be realized right now. If the first three projects cannot be realized, it will be impossible for the fourth to be accepted. Therefore, for the time being, we would like to insist that the first three steps be taken immediately.

Thay and a Plum Village delegation of 182 monastic and lay members representing sixteen countries visited China last May for a teaching tour. They were welcomed to offer retreats and public talks throughout China. Not only were visiting monastics welcome to stay in big monasteries such as Bai-lin and Gao Ming, but lay members were also warmly received. Thay’s books, including Old Path White Clouds, were published in China prior to his arrival. Also ten Chinese monks are being sent by the Buddhist Association of China to Plum Village for further training in engaged Buddhism.We believe that Vietnam should have little difficulty heading in the same direction and offering a similar welcome.

Dear friends, we count on you to help with this campaign, and we will be grateful for anything you can do to make Thay’s teaching available to his people.

Sister Chan Khong has been a close associate of Thich Nhat Hanh for over thirty years. She was one of the original six members of the Order of lnterbeing and is the author of Learning True Love.


Thich Chi Mau, Abbot of Tu Hieu Temple, has requested permission to publish the following books by Thich Nhat Hanh. As Sister Chan Khong explains, his repeated requests have not been answered by the Government of Vietnam.

1. Monastery Daily Chanting Book for the Year 2000
2. The Miracle of Mindfulness
3. Old Path White Clouds
4. Breathe! You Are Alive: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing
5. Daily Chanting Book for Lay People
6. Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness
7. Peace Is Every Step
8. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
9. Teachings on Love
10. Stepping into Freedom: An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training

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Meditation and Healing

By Thich Nhat Hanh

The first act of the meditator is to go back to his or her body as the object of mindfulness. Breath is the vehicle with which we go back to our body. The breath belongs to the body. It is a link between body and mind. As soon as you go back to your in-breath and out-breath and breathe mindfully, your mind comes home to your body and you are truly present in the here and now, truly alive.

Then, make another step. During your in-breath, be aware of not only your in-breath, but also of your body. That is the meaning of the exercise given by the Buddha, “Breathing in, I am aware of my body.” During my in-breath, I use the energy of mindfulness to embrace my body, to recognize its presence. The next exercise the Buddha proposed is that you calm your body. “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.” These exercises can be done sitting or lying down. Go back to your body, recognize it, embrace it, and calm it. Your body needs peace. There may be tension, conflict, and war in your body, and you have to be there for your body. “Darling, I am here for you.” And “darling” here is my own body.

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First, you embrace the body as a whole. You smile to the body. Next you begin to focus your mindfulness on one part of your body, like your eyes. Then you focus on your nose, your tongue, your brain, your lungs, and so on until you come to the soles of your feet. Scan your body with the beam of mindfulness. “Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes.” The meditator identifies each part of her body, recognizes it, embraces it, and smiles to it. When you arrive at a spot where there is a little bit of pain, you stay longer. You spend more time with that part of your body, embracing it and smiling to it.

Allowing your body to rest is very important. Your body has the capacity of self-healing if only you allow it to restore itself. Many of us have lost the capacity to rest. We are victims of stress and tension. We learned that habit, and we are no longer capable of resting. That is why it is difficult for our body to restore itself. When an animal in the forest gets hurt, it goes to a quiet place and lies down. It does not think of eating, drinking, or anything until the wound is healed. We used to do that, but we have lost that kind of habit. Every time something is wrong in our body, we worry so much, we get a lot of help, but we don’t allow our body a chance to rest and recover. So this is a very important practice recommended by the Buddha: be there for your body, allow it to be, and allow peace and harmony to be restored in your body by mindful living, mindful resting, mindful eating and consuming.

The second object of your meditation is your feelings. In each of us, there is a river where every drop of water is a feeling. If you are truly present, you’ll be able to identify your feelings—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or mixed—and look deeply into the nature of each feeling. That is meditation. Just recognizing. Not to be attached to a feeling, not to try to push it away. This is very important. Simply recognize each feeling as it arises, while it is there, and as it is dying down. You don’t fight your feeling, you just embrace it like the sunshine embracing the vegetation.

In the morning when the tulips are still not open, the sunlight embraces the flower. Each particle of the light continues to penetrate the flower, and after one or two hours, the tulip will open. In the same way, we don’t intervene or fight our feelings. We generate the energy of mindfulness in order to recognize and embrace the feeling.

We should not be afraid of our feelings and emotions. Sometimes an emotion can be very powerful, like a storm. It makes us suffer a lot. But we should remember that an emotion is only an emotion. Not more than an emotion. Sometimes we think that we are only our emotion. That is not correct.

Some of us, especially young people, suffer so much when they are overwhelmed by a strong emotion. Sometimes young people tend to believe that the only way to stop suffering is to kill themselves. When we observe a tree in a storm, if we focus on the top of the tree, we feel a lack of safety. The tree seems fragile, unable to withstand the storm. But if we focus on the trunk of the tree, we see its firmness. We see that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil and that it will withstand the storm. When we are overwhelmed by strong emotion, we should not focus on the level of the brain or the heart. We have to bring our attention down to the level of the navel. This is our trunk. We know that to stay in the storm is dangerous, so we go down and embrace the trunk. We practice mindful breathing, and focus all our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen during the storm of strong emotion. Breathe in and out deeply, and nourish your awareness that emotion is something that comes, stays a while, and goes away. And after ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, that strong emotion will go away.

An emotion is only an emotion, and you are much more than your emotion. Why do you have to die because of one emotion? We have to tell the young people that, and we have to train them to practice breathing with us. When a young person is shaken by a strong emotion, we must invite him or her to sit down with us. We can hold his hand. We can invite her to breathe in and out with us, focusing our attention on the rise and fall of our abdomens. “Darling, please breathe in deeply and breathe out deeply, and focus your attention on the rise and fall of your abdomen.” And you are channeling your energy to support the young person. You help that person to go across the storm. After a few times practicing with your support, she will be able to do it by herself. We may save a life if we know how to practice and how to help young people practice like that.

We should not wait until the emotion arises to begin the practice, because we will forget. We have to begin right now. The Buddha gave us these exercises: “Breathing in, I am aware of my feeling. Breathing out, I smile to my feeling. Breathing in, I am calming my feeling. Breathing out, I am calming my emotion.” If we practice for a few weeks, the practice will become a habit, and when strong emotion arises, we will know how to practice. We will remember to practice.

During practice, we should look deeply into the nature of our emotion, and identify the nutriments that have brought it into us. It is our way of consuming and being in touch with the world that has brought that strong emotion into us, whether it is fear or despair or anger. To meditate is to look deeply into what is there and understand the source, the deep causes of it, the true nature of it. We all have good seeds and bad seeds within us. If we allow the bad seeds to be watered every day, then we have the desire, the anger, the tendency to harm ourselves and other people around us. If we look deeply, we can identify the kind of nutriments we ingest in our daily life. Nothing can survive without food. There is so much violence in the bodies and consciousness of young people today, because they consumed so much violence in their daily life. They don’t know how to embrace, to look deeply and transform. They don’t know how to cut off that source of nutriment. They continue to consume the poisons of craving, hatred, despair, and violence in their daily life. To meditate is to go back to the river of feelings, identify every feeling, calm them, and look deeply into them, in order to understand their true nature in terms of nutriments.

In the Buddhist teaching, we hear of the practice of the six paramitas, crossing over to the other shore. This is the shore of suffering, the shore of ill-being, despair, fear, and anger. I don’t want to stay on this shore. I want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of well-being, forgiveness, peace, and compassion. Six kinds of boats can carry me from this shore to the other shore, the six paramitas. And the sixth one, the last one, is about understanding prajna. It is prajna paramita, the kind of understanding that can bring you to the other shore. When you practice to identify what is there and look deeply into the nature of what is there, you are practicing prajna paramita, and the insight you get will bring you to the other shore, the shore of liberation and well-being.

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Breathe!

by Sister Annabel Laity

Before I came to Plum Village I had been practicing in India with the Tibetans, a meditation called tonglen. In this practice, when you breathe in, you take all the suffering of the world on yourself and when you breathe out, you breathe out all your joy for the sake of the world. I was ill while I was in India. When I first became sick, my teachers told me that it would be very good to meditate in order to breathe in all the suffering and breathe out all my joy. In fact, I did not have any joy to breathe out. However deeply I looked, I could not find it. Although this meditation helped me concentrate on my breathing and grow accustomed to bringing my mind back to my breath, the part about suffering and joy was not very useful. When I was well again, I met another teacher and explained my difficulty. He said, “Why do you bother to distinguish between suffering and joy? The two are the same.” That put me in a little more difficult place, because I did not really understand what this meant.

When I came to Plum Village, Thay asked me, “What have you been practicing?” I said, “I’ve been trying to practice to see that suffering and joy are the same thing.” Thay looked at me with compassion and said, “I think that you need to come back to yourself and nourish the joy in yourself. I do not think you have enough happiness to do that kind of meditation.” Then every day, Thay would ask me, “Are you happy?” And I had to look deeply to see whether I was happy. I saw that if I can’t say “yes,” then I am not a very happy person. Although the seeds of happiness were in my consciousness, they had not been watered for a long time and therefore were not manifesting. Thay said, “Please do the kind of meditation that nourishes you, and when you are properly nourished with joy and happiness, you will be able to breathe out your joy and help other people.” I had to do that kind of meditation for three or four years. I concentrated on nourishing the seeds of joy and happiness in myself. In my sitting and walking meditation, I could not breathe in all the suffering anymore, but I could breathe in the compassion of my teacher and myself for my own suffering. When I felt nourished by my teacher’s compassion and my compassion for myself, I could breathe out
joy.

I practiced mouth yoga diligently. Mouth yoga is the practice of the half smile. I made myself smile every half hour, whether there was anything to smile about or not. It was a revelation to me. Everything I thought was so important no longer seemed important at all. I lived in the practice center, and every day the practice center penetrated me imperceptibly, just as when you walk in the mist and imperceptibly your clothes become wet. Our habit energies of sadness and despair are strong and they do not vanish overnight. They gradually cease to manifest with so much strength, and they give more space to the seeds of joy.

One morning I sat on my bed to drink a cup of hot water. That is sitting meditation, because while you are sitting, you are mindful and concentrated. Outside you could still see the stars, but it was beginning to grow light. Unintentionally I began to experience my ignorance. I felt as if I were walking through veils of mist. As I passed through one veil, I encountered another. However I knew that the sun was there too, although I could not see it. Wisdom and ignorance were present together. I knew that awakening can happen at any moment, in any place. You only have to practice and awakening is there. Habit energies can be overcome now by the practice of being truly there in the present moment. At that moment I was awakened about my ignorance. I knew and felt my ignorance and wrong perceptions deeply. So awakening was not the absence of ignorance, but awareness of the nature of ignorance.


 

 

The sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness includes some exercises on mindfulness of the body. One exercise that helps us feel less lonely and cut off is the meditation on the four elements. In the Chinese version, there are six elements; in the Pali, there are four. Those elements are earth, water, fire, and air. (The Chinese version adds space and consciousness.) The Buddha says that all these elements are in your body; they are the basic constituents of your body. And you should meditate first to see those different elements supporting your body. Then, you meditate to see those four elements working to support life everywhere, not just your body. Gradually, you see the oneness of your own life and the life of everything around you, so that you are not afraid to die. You know that those elements which support this little body support all others’ bodies and somehow, there isn’t such a thing as death because the elements continue to support life anyway. This is a very beautiful meditation.

You begin by saying, “Breathing in, I see the earth element in me.” Certain things in you are more solid than liquid—your bones, nails, tendons, excrement, flesh. Here you can see the earth element.

If you touch with your mindfulness everything in your body that is quite firm, then you are touching the earth element in you. And then, breathing out, “I smile to the earth element in me.” Next, “Breathing in, I see the water element in me.” And everything liquid in your body is the water element in you—your urine, your blood, your saliva, your perspiration. There is a lot of water in every part of your body. You are seventy percent water. And then, you see the water element outside of you—the rain, the sea—and you feel the oneness of all life.

You may decide, “Today I will just do the meditation on the earth element.” And throughout the day, you are aware of the earth element in you and the earth element all around you. You base your concentration on the earth element for the whole day. Another day, you can meditate on the water element. When you’re walking, you feel the water in your body and the water around you. Focusing on the air element, you see that the air in your body and the air outside are one. Of course the air is another thing which loves us and which is so essential for our lives. When we get caught up in worrying about unnecessary things, we can always look up and see that the air is there allowing us to breathe, and we know that there is nothing to worry about. Especially if we’re in a beautiful place where the air is good, we can feel supported by the air outside of us as we feel it coming into our lungs.


If I were to write out of my experience the recipe for nourishing happiness, I should write:

To nourish happiness, smile often;
walk and breathe in mindfulness many times
every day in order to touch the present moment deeply;
have a kind teacher and spiritual friends living
with you or near you so that you can visit them often;
read or listen to beautiful and meaningful
teachings which you can put into practice straight away; and
have the beauty of nature, its sights and sounds,
penetrate you daily.

On October 4, 1999 Sister Annabel, True Virtue, was installed as Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma

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Acceptance

By Patrecia Lenore

I have fibromyalgia, a close relative of chronic fatigue syndrome. I am always in pain, all over my body, sometimes low-grade, sometimes acute. When the pain is acute, it feels like my body is on fire and my bones are being scraped. I also have fatigue. Again, sometimes it is low-grade, sometimes so acute that it is difficult to breathe or eat. Although I cannot always prevent or predict acute attacks of pain or fatigue, I have learned a lot about how to manage my life so it is less likely that I will reach the acute stage. Meditation is one of my most valuable tools.

Meditation helps me notice the subtle signs of a possible flare-up. As Thay says about strong feelings in Peace Is Every Step, the first step is to be aware. If I’m aware of my body’s signals, I can see, hear, or feel the signs of weakness and pain. After the initial awareness, I usually have to work on accepting what my body is telling me. This is not always easy. In fact, it usually isn’t. Like most people, I want to finish what I’m doing, whether it is work or pleasure. It’s difficult to stop. But if I can concentrate on the fact that stopping and resting is being loving to myself, rather than focusing on the feelings of disappointment and deprivation, then I can allow myself to rest. Sometimes this means simply observing my breath with my eyes closed. Sometimes I am able to listen to quiet music. If I catch the signals soon enough, I might have the strength to talk to a friend or read a book. Often the most difficult part is watching my mind being scared and projecting that I will always feel this way. I try to remember that everything changes, even pain. And when I can’t remember that very well, I call a friend to remind me.

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I need to work on accepting my limitations within this illness and asking for help. Recently, I was caring for my grandchildren while my daughter and her husband moved into their new house. I wanted to help pack and carry things, but after a few minutes, was not able to continue because of the pain and fatigue. Immediately, thoughts about my deceased mother arose. She was almost always ill, and, I am sorry to say, my brothers and sisters and I felt very critical of her a lot of the time. Now I have a lot more compassion for her. I also had a lot of self-pitying thoughts. When that happens, I’m learning to gently turn my mind to what I can do. In this case, I reminded myself that perhaps my quiet presence was calming to those who were packing and moving, and that helping keep my grandchildren happy was enough. Without my meditation practice of looking deeply, I would not have known how sad I felt about my limitations or that I needed to gently change my focus to what I was able to do.

At the wonderful retreat in Santa Barbara this fall, I noticed it was easy to assist the staff in finding help for the differently-abled, but difficult to put myself in that category. An amusing thing happened. I helped find an alternate space for morning meditation for those unable to walk on the beach, never dreaming I would be one of those people. But on Monday morning, I found myself in that very space, because the ocean air was too cold for me. There were only a few of us, but each morning I had the pleasure of Sister Jina’s gentle and “solid like a mountain” presence, leading us in meditation and mindful movements. Her presence brought me and the others joy and peace. What a treat!

Here is a meditation verse I composed to help remind me that it’s okay to ask for help.

Breathing in, I scan my body;
Breathing out, I smile gently to my body.
Breathing in, I scan my mind;
Breathing out, I smile gently to my mind.
Breathing in, I feel tiredness (or pain);
Breathing out, I open to my tiredness.
Breathing in, I see I need assistance;
Breathing out, I ask for help, knowing it helps others too.
Breathing in, I accept others’ assistance;
Breathing out, I feel gratitude.

I offer this verse in loving gratitude to Thay and all the wonderful teachers that I have encountered in myriad forms—people, animals, plants and minerals.

Patrecia Lenore, Flower of True Virtue, practices with the Community of Mindfulness/New York Metro.

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Open Heart Posture

By Margaret Kirschner

We sat facing Een—Eileen Kiera—our mindfulness teacher at Indianola, in a serene campground on the shores of Puget Sound, Washington. She was giving us a gift, she said, as she instructed us on how to sit or stand: slight pelvic tilt, sternum lifted as if pulled gently upward by a string, allowing the shoulders to rest slightly back and downward.

Familiar instructions given by yoga teachers, physical therapists. I had often used them myself as I trained chronic pain patients to relax at the hospital where I work. Yet I had a hard time with them personally—reminding myself to alter the chronic slump in my back each time I sat to meditate. Sitting upright was tiring and I would catch myself humped over again and again. Then I heard Een’s words, “Lifting your sternum opens your heart.”

“Of course I want my heart open,” I thought as I raised my ribcage and let my shoulders slip back. For the first time, I had found a position that felt comfortable and relaxing. My mind opened as an awareness shot through me: I had been protecting my heart since my divorce. I had been curling up to protect my soft underbelly—like any animal would do. I realized that I did not need to do that any longer.

I maintained the open heart posture during sitting throughout our week-long retreat, and have been able to continue the posture since. “My heart is open” has become a mantra. To my great joy, I find myself being more spontaneous, having a more open attitude toward others, giving more gifts of smiles or time or material things. That the open heart posture lifts my spirit and changes my behavior is only to be expected when we remember that body, mind, and spirit are one. But it has been my often successful habit to use my mind to change my body. When I remember that I am one with the universe, I find it natural that the universe reflects an open heart posture towards me: a chance meeting with an acquaintance who says he considers me his friend, or being introduced to someone who admires my “caring face.” Small but meaningful events that nourish my open heart.

Lifting my ribcage
I feel my heart opening.
My whole body smiles.

Margaret Kirschner, Mutual Support of the Heart, lives and practices in Bend, Oregon.

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Meditation and the Threefold Trainings

By Jack Lawlor

Our local Sangha consists of people from all walks of life, and many ethnic and religious backgrounds and age groups. When we host a potluck meal, the diversity of backgrounds and tastes is plain to see—and delicious to enjoy! For almost nine years—each of the nearly 500 times we have convened—we have regularly enjoyed one particularly good, spiritual meal: sitting and walking meditation together. While many practices help establish mindfulness and bring us together as a Sangha, meditation is perhaps the most important. We offer periodic instruction in meditation, and “veterans” as well as newcomers thrive on it.

People sometimes ask Thay how we might make our meditation practice “deeper.” On occasion, he reframes the question to ask how we might make it more “genuine,” in a way that liberates us from compulsive behavior, enabling us to look and listen deeply, understand, love, and act appropriately. Thay’s approach to meditation is based on the Buddha’s two primary texts on meditation: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing and Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. Thay discusses these sutras in Breathe! You Are Alive and Transformation and Healing. A genuine approach to incorporating meditation into our lives can be understood in terms of the traditional Threefold Trainings in Buddhism: concentration (samadhi), insight (prajna), and the Mindfulness Trainings (sila).

Concentration-Samadhi

Conscious breathing is an exercise in concentration. This simple practice can mend the aching dispersion we often feel—a dissonance between what our body is doing and what our mind is doing, as well as between our spiritual aspirations and behavior. We follow the breath, and if a thought or feeling arises, we recognize it, accept it, smile to it, and gently let it go. We return to the breath. The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness describes how this simple practice can sometimes result in the experience of joy. I believe that this joy arises, in part, from experiencing that we are more than our emotions and thoughts, that these emotions and thoughts have causes and conditions that are impermanent, and that we have the ability, the freedom, to be responsive to them rather than reactive. A verse from Tsuchiya Fumiaki puts it this way:

At long last my heart calms down as evening comes,
And in the Four Directions I hear fresh springs. 

The Buddha taught that consistent practice takes us beyond the periodic experience of joy to the consistent experience of happiness, which covers us from head to foot like a robe, or a good Midwestern overcoat!

Insight-Prajna

Many people aspire to insight and understanding. Insight meditation is intentionally more inclusive. We remain centered in the breath while continuously aware of one other phenomenon—a sensation in the body, a feeling, a thought, or our surroundings. For example, following the breath is a form of meditating on the body. We are not sitting in the high-tech control tower of our mind observing what our lowtech body is doing. We are the breathing. It’s the difference between watching your hand rub the surface of the carpet and focusing your attention into the sensation at your fingertips. Our attention penetrates and merges with what is observed. Once centered in the breath, we have the capacity to merge our bare attention in this way into the rest of our body, our feelings, and the world around us. We have a calm, direct experience of the fluid, impermanent and interrelated nature of all that exists. This is the experience of Zen Master Yamada Mumon:

Is the moon I?
Or am I the moon?
I cannot tell.
This autumn moon is so clear, so quiet.

The experience goes beyond notions and concepts, opening the way to understanding, compassion, and the ability to love and to serve. Thay explains that “seeing and loving always go together. Seeing and loving are one. Shallow understanding accompanies shallow compassion. Great understanding goes with great compassion.”

The practice of conscious breathing thus develops a gentle, fluid concentration. Not rigid concentration, but one that is alive and at ease. The practice of insight, in turn, deepens our concentration and breaks through the bonds of conceptual thought and our tendencies to judge and categorize, as we experience firsthand the myriad causes and conditions of this impermanent world. The practices of concentration (samadhi) and of insight (prajna) are not competing schools of meditation. They complement each other and take us along the path to understanding together, like the right and left wings of a bird. Many newcomers want to leap immediately into deep, profound insights on impermanence and interbeing. “Why do we need to develop concentration?”

Intellectually, it is not especially difficult to grasp what the Buddha and Thay are teaching. But we can see, listen, understand, and love much more deeply from a mind that is centered, at ease, and peaceful.

Suppose you want to see Jupiter. A friend tells you that the planet’s largest moons are off to one side this evening, making Jupiter appear enormous. The Earth’s moon is rising and you fear its light will interfere with your view. Racing along the highway to a hill above the city, you know you can’t get a clear view of the planet from a telescope hastily mounted on your dashboard. If you’re anxious when you reach the hilltop, your nervousness and haste will jiggle the tripod, and Jupiter will appear jumpy and blurred in your scope. If, however, as evening approaches, you prepare mindfully to view the titan, setting up your tripod carefully and using the telescope with calm and ease, you will see Jupiter clearly. When the moon lights the night sky, obscuring Jupiter, you can embrace the moon as your friend, not resent it as a competitor.

The Tao Te Ching asks, “Who can be still until the mud settles?’ Experiment. You may find that stillness, anchored in conscious breathing, is a consistent, reliable foundation for insight. When I rush into my favorite wetland, carrying my small kayak, I can journey through the reeds to a beautiful glacial lake and not see many turtles, frogs, or fish. They are there, but I miss them because my own “mud” hasn’t settled. I consistently find that sitting and walking meditation before I embark guarantees the presence of wildlife. Rooted in conscious breathing, practicing drifting boat meditation, I discover a rich world along the reedy banks—beneath me, above me, surrounding me. My practice of deep looking enhances conscious breathing, and my sense of self and other dissolves into sheer seeing, sheer listening, sheer being.

Mindfulness Trainings–Sila

The simple practice of conscious breathing can become our good friend during a retreat, where we are isolated from many temptations that feed our habit energy. But when we return home, our cravings and desires can easily be stimulated once again. It is more challenging to practice simple conscious breathing, much less insight meditation, when we return home. That is why the Third Learning in Buddhism—the Mindfulness Trainings—and consistent Sangha practice are so important.

The Mindfulness Trainings are lifelong teachers in the art of stopping—samatha. We must stop compulsion and habit if we sincerely aspire to develop mindfulness and insight. We must learn to rest, content with the present moment. If we pursue every compulsion and desire that arises during the day, we will be exhausted. How can we then reasonably expect to find calm and insight during the twenty minutes spent atop our black cushions? It is like trying to view Jupiter through a delicate telescope with someone tugging on our sleeve, or trying to see the rich life beneath the surface of a clear lake while paddling our kayak at high speeds. We need to learn to let go of our cravings, desires, and compulsions. With time and experimentation, wholehearted attention to the Mindfulness Trainings can help genuinely transform our behavior and enhance our meditation.

We are social beings. Our ability to enjoy sitting meditation and deepen our understanding of the Mindfulness Trainings is enhanced when we practice in a consistently available, local Sangha. I have seen people’s faces transform with time in the context of Sangha practice. Frowns and tension lines relax and soften in the company of good spiritual friends who share the simple practices of sitting and walking meditation, and who explore release from aversion and compulsion through group study of the Mindfulness Trainings. Active lay people have the capacity to cultivate the Threefold Trainings. Local Sanghas can develop ways to make this possible.

The interaction of the Threefold Trainings is beautifully affirmed in the insight verse of Lieu Quan, a Vietnamese Zen master who lived during the time of George Washington and founded the school of Zen in which we now practice:

The Great Way of Reality
is our True Natures pure ocean.
The source of Mind penetrates everywhere.
From the roots of virtue springs the practice of
compassion.
Precepts, concentration, and insight—
the nature and function of all three are one.
The fruit of transcendent wisdom
can be realized by being wonderfully together.
Maintain and transmit the wonderful principle
in order to reveal the true teaching!
For the Realization of True Emptiness to be possible,
Wisdom and Action must go together.

Dharma Teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, practices with Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois and leads retreats in the midwestern United States

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Maitri Meditation

By Karl Schmied

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Shakyamuni Buddha taught that the next Buddha will be called Maitreya—the Buddha of Love. When we practice maitri meditation, we water the seeds of this future Buddha in ourselves and strengthen our ability to love. It is the perfect antidote for resentment, hate, and anger. It has been especially useful to me in reconciling conflicts and creating stability in difficult situations. Maitri meditation helps me be more open, and enables me to act and react positively to others—from my parents (though no longer alive) to friends and partners in private and business life. The nine verses are:

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.
May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

We first direct the verses to ourselves. As long as we cannot accept ourselves as we are—including our capacity to transform unwholesome qualities—our loving relationships with others will also be awry. Next, we direct our meditation to a person we love, then to a person for whom we experience neutral feelings, and finally to a person with whom we experience difficulties. When we begin the meditation with “May I” or “May he/she” it is not a pious wish, but rather our earnest intention to master this ability and this state, to practice and to wish this also for other persons in our meditation.

The unfolding of maitri begins first in thoughts, then as internal attitude which includes feelings and sensations, and finally it develops into a pure “being” without differentiating between you and I, friend and foe. Practicing this way, we begin to better understand the object of our meditation—ourselves or another person. Maitri will then permeate our thoughts, words, and deeds more and more strongly, and the Buddha Maitreya will become a loving reality within us.

Amoghavajra Karl Schmied, True Dharma Eye, is the Dharma teacher of the Community of Mindful Living in the Munich area, and one of the three Dharma teachers of Haus Maitreya in Hohenau.

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Sangha Building at the California Events

By Caleb Cushing

Our Sangha has often thought about participating in a special project that would reflect our care and understanding. I’d silently wondered who would come forth first and commit. To my surprise, it was the Sangha as a whole.

As we practiced together, our stability, joy, and gratitude grew, and so did our numbers. As a regular host, I expressed concern that my sitting room couldn’t accommodate more than the 25 who came regularly. Looking with Sangha eyes, we recognized that we enjoy newcomers and we were all newcomers once. We remembered how we struggled to practice alone, and how the open door brought us together. We discussed dividing, relocating, and adding sessions, but settled on a moratorium on newcomers. However, we also determined to help new practitioners connect to existing Sanghas and build new ones. And so, our project sprouted.

Twenty-two of us attended Thich Nhat Hanh’s Santa Barbara retreat. With Jack Lawlor, we organized a Sangha-building meeting, at the end of which people exchanged names and addresses and scheduled first meetings of home Sanghas. We also distributed Sangha listings, some Sangha profiles from The Mindfulness Bell, and an excerpt from Jack Lawlor’s Sangha Building book.

A short time later, Thay led a Day of Mindfulness in Oakland. We printed more of the materials, and designed a sign-up program for people interested in local Sanghas. At long tables organized by cities and regions, we offered sign-up sheets with the heading “I am interested in joining or starting a local meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.” Each sheet had spaces for contact information, and a column to indicate if people could host a group. We also provided lots of pencils. A few days later, we used the same techniques at Thay’s lecture in Berkeley. Between the two events, 678 people signed up. One out of eight volunteered to host a Sangha.

People signing up tended to be either relieved and joyful, or quiet and thoughtful. At the end of the Oakland event, two older women came by, clutching handbags and dressed in hand-knit white cardigans. They asked if there were any practice groups in Stockton, an old farm town in the heart of California’s central valley. I directed them to the “other areas” sign-up, and they read the top page, noting one Stockton registrant. They turned the page, reading silently until one crowed, “Look! Melody’s on the list, too!” They both signed up, joyfully. As they walked off, arm in arm, I heard one say, “I can’t wait to get home and call Melody!”

Our Sangha is processing the names and helping organize new Sanghas. We called the 436 people from our area, let them know what Sanghas exist, and that new hosts will call later. We’ve invited the new hosts to practice periods where we sit, walk, offer guided meditations, and share our experiences. We encourage co-hosting, and provide each host with a list of people in their area and suggestions about scheduling the first gathering. We also expect to visit the new Sanghas in small groups.

We’re providing other tangible support: lists of local Sanghas, courtesy of the Bay Area Mindfulness Community; a roster of local Tiep Hien members; some of Thay’s books; reprinted Plum Village Chanting Books; and an invitation to register with the Bay Area Mindfulness Community so as to be visible to others and receive information about upcoming events. We notified all northern California Order members and Sanghas in Thay’s tradition to expect inquiries. For Sanghas beyond our area, we gave lists of their locals who signed up, and confirmed that the Sanghas were interested and available to welcome the newcomers or to help them connect with other Sanghas.

The Dharma is attractive to lay people, because it can be realized in a deeply personal way. The Buddha reminds us in the Kalama Sutta:

It is fine to have doubt. Do not believe in something just because people think highly of it, or because it has come from tradition, or because it is found in scriptures. Consider whether it goes against your judgment, whether it could cause harm, whether it is condemned by wise people, and above all, whether put into practice it would bring about destruction and pain. Anything that you judge to be beautiful, accords with your judgment, is appreciated by wise people, and once put into practice will bring about joy and happiness, can be accepted and put into practice. 

Lay Sanghas model this teaching well. Organized to be responsive, accessible, and pragmatic, they are grass-roots, organic, and fulfilling. “We make the way by walking.” Or as my Dharma brother Glen observes, “We’re laying the track as we go, and the train’s right behind us.”

Caleb Cushing, True Original Commitment, is an architect and practices with the Pot Luck Sangha in Oakland, California.

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With Thay in England

By Rosamond Richardson

Thay once wrote a poem called “Froglessness,” about a frog’s tendency, when put on a plate, to jump off again and again. My frogness was doing well when I arrived at Wymondham College in Norfolk for a five day retreat last spring. It was my first experience in Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence, although I had read several of his books, heard tapes, and been on two Sangha retreats. The frog was destined to have an interesting time.

At first, I felt overwhelmed by the nearly 500 people, uncomfortable at sharing a room, and underwhelmed by my surroundings. The bath and shower on the landing did not work. I felt homesick. People did not respond to smiles. But the food was excellent, served with grace and sweetness by the college staff; the spring weather was perfect; and the college grounds were beautiful.

By day five, all my negative seeds had been supplanted by spring flowers of joy and understanding. And the frog had calmed down. How did this happen?

My turning point was Thay’s second Dharma talk when I experienced Thay as an embodiment of wisdom and compassion. With his elegant lacing of humour, I was spellbound. Thay taught that mindfulness can arouse us from the unconscious state in which we choose to live. He told wonderful stories illustrating how suffering often results from wrong perception, and how we frequently find what we seek in unexpected places. The frog began to relax and listen.

It was the start of a beautiful day. After a quiet yoga practise I soaked in a bath (yes, the plumbers had called!) and absorbed the richness of the teaching. After lunch, Sister Chan Khong led Total Relaxation. In nearly twenty years of yoga, I had never experienced going so deep. Her beautiful singing took me to a place I didn’t know was in me. The session seemed to untie every knot and iron every crease, right to my core.

That afternoon, the monks and nuns offered a “Question and Answer” session. Several people asked about joy, pointing out the lack of its manifestation around the campus. From then on, we gave ourselves permission to smile, to feel cheerful, and above all to enjoy the practice. The atmosphere changed and everyone became more relaxed.

Later that day, someone told me a single room had become available. I went to see it and wandered back to my room to pack, but on entering realised that I no longer needed solitariness. I had moved through a defensive wall and opened up to actually enjoy sharing (a first for me). I had, I think, negotiated a passage to the island of my soul and had no need to close a physical door between me and others. My breath was a perfect refuge if I needed one. That evening’s meditation was deeper and more peaceful than before.

The following morning, Brother Michael led a guided meditation on seeing ourselves and our parents as five-year olds in order to heal and reconcile, and then to transform our relationships. I found it profoundly moving, and allowed the tears to run freely. One section hit an incredibly painful spot, but by allowing the pain to release, I healed a very old misunderstanding. This was appropriate preparation for Thay’s Dharma talk, where he reminded us of our interconnectedness to our ancestors. He went deeper into the Heart of Understanding, clarifying it with such crystalline simplicity that it was easy to absorb. My admiration for him as a teacher, let alone as a human being, was increasing by the minute. The way he related interbeing to quantum physics was masterly. Taking the now axiomatic “waves are particles, particles are waves” he turned to write “wavicles” on the board. Non-duality with a smile.

When Thay addressed the children each morning, the child in me received those teachings vividly. Watching the children absorb the atmosphere and the teachings was deeply touching. On the last day, they sang a song and presented Thay with a card of The Buddha Within, drawn and signed by them all. I was moved to happy tears.

“You are already what you want to become,” Thay said. What a relief to let go, and simply be. “When you sit,” he said, “just smile and be yourself. To meditate is not to achieve, but to be. There is no attainment. Only then is stopping possible.” In answer to a question about the butterfly mind, he said to love the butterfly, to embrace it with the practice of breathing. Me and my frog, we were beginning to do the same thing.

The last morning I walked alone around the park after a quiet meditation in the chapel and absorbed the primroses under the great beech tree. As I walked towards the sheltered pond a green woodpecker flew out of the thicket and went to drink. I walked past waving poplars shimmering in the early sunshine and felt at one. The retreat had reconnected me not only with the joy of life (which comes fairly naturally to a frog), but also to its sheer beauty. What a wonderful gift. The path of joy and understanding was no longer just words, it was a living reality.

Rosamond Richardson practices with the Cambridge Sangha. She is an author and a yoga teacher.

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Returning to Our Spiritual Roots

By Mitchell Ratner and Jerry Braza

Early in the morning we leave our Beijing hotel on five deluxe buses: 150 of us from 16 countries, traveling with Thich Nhat Hanh and 30 monks and nuns from Plum Village and the Green Mountain Dharma Center. The major urban arteries are crowded with new cars, bicycles, and tricycles hauling goods and people. Commercial buildings on the major boulevard display billboards for Western products such as Pepsi Cola and Marlboro cigarettes. Thirty minutes later, the buses turn into an older neighborhood where they barely have room to maneuver in the narrow streets. Branches scrape our windows.

The buses stop, and as we were instructed, the monastics disembark first. We put on our ao trangs, the long grey temple robes traditionally worn in Vietnam. Tiep Hien members put their brown coats on over their ao trangs. We pass through the temple gates and enter the compound of the Ling Guang Temple. The city buildings and noise push their way to the gates of this compound, but the guardian figures, huge incense burners, trees, courtyards, and temple halls inside evoke a different world. We move through courtyards and shrine rooms. Thay and the monks walk ahead; we form a long procession behind. On both sides of us are lay people who have come to greet us and hear Thay speak. They bow with palms together, often saying “Amitofo, Amitofo, ” “Homage to Amitaba Buddha.” Many hand us prayer bead bracelets and pictures of Buddhas. Later we learn that the proper etiquette is for us to place our palms together in a lotus and keep walking mindfully, as Thay does when he enters a Dharma hall, but in this first temple visit, we try to return every smile, every bow, and yet keep moving.

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Some minutes later we catch up with the head of the procession. Thay and the monastics are met by the abbot and monks of this temple. Together they enter a large Buddha hall and stand in front of three huge gilded Buddhas, the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. We file in behind the monks. Some of the Chinese lay people come behind us. Others stand in the courtyard or crowd the doors, attempting to get a better view. The abbot, representing the Buddhist Association of China, greets us warmly, noting that it is the first time the association has sponsored a visiting delegation from 16 countries. Thay then leads the delegation in touching the earth three times, honoring the buddhas and the abbot. The abbot, Thay explains, represents not only the Buddhists of today’s China but also all the teachers from many generations: “We are here in China because Buddhism has been treasured and nurtured here for twenty centuries. The Buddhist culture in China is like refreshing water that lies deep in the Earth. The world suffers. If we practice deeply, we can make the water of Buddhism available to others.”

So began May 15, 1999, our first full day of a journey to honor the Chinese roots of the Buddhist tradition that we have learned through the teachings and presence of Thich Nhat Hanh. During the next twenty days, we traveled from Beijing south to Guangzhou, visiting temples, monasteries, monastic training institutes, and historical sites in ten cities. Along the way we were deeply inspired by a sense of reverence from just being where fabled events occurred. We walked in Nan Jing, where in 225 A.D. the Vietnamese-trained monk Tang Hoi brought Buddhism to the Wu Empire and ordained the first Buddhist monks in China. We visited the Guangxio Temple in Guangzhou established by the legendary Bodhidharma, who brought the Dharma to the Emperor of the Liang dynasty in 525 A.D. and established the line of Chinese Patriarchs. In the mountains east of Guangzhou, we walked the ground of Nan Hua Temple, established in the seventh century by Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, the enlightened kitchen worker who received the Fifth Patriarch’s bowl and robe and was then forced to flee south.

Four hours by bus from Beijing we stayed three nights in Bai Lin Temple, established in the ninth century by Chao-Chou, one of the many Dharma descendants of the Sixth Patriarch, whose insight lives on in numerous Zen teaching stories. A short bus ride from the Bai Lin Temple is the Big Buddha Temple where Lin Chi taught. A contemporary of Chao-Chou, he grounded Ch’an Buddhism in appreciation of daily life: “The miracle is not to walk on water, it is to walk on this earth.” Sister Chan Khong noted that for us, as students of Thich Nhat Hanh, Lin Chi is our spiritual “Grandfather Monk.” The Lin Chi lineage was brought to Vietnam in the 12th century and Thich Nhat Hanh is of the 42nd generation of Dharma teachers in this tradition.

Our longest stay was six nights at the Gao Ming Ch’an Monastery, situated on the Grand Canal, an hour’s drive from the city of Yang Zhou. For several centuries, Gao Ming has been a center for the preservation and transmission of Ch’an Buddhism. During the Cultural Revolution it was essentially destroyed. The monks were scattered and the main buildings were converted to a silk weaving factory. In the 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution, the monks were able to reclaim their land and in the past fifteen years they have rebuilt and rejuvenated the monastery. Much of the financial support comes from the overseas Chinese Buddhist community, many of whose teachers were trained at Gao Ming.

Although we traveled and visited historic sites, our visit was not simply a tour. It was a pilgrimage and a cultural exchange. The tone was set the first night when Thay explained that we were in China not as individuals, but as a family, as a Sangha, a traveling community of practitioners. Our practice would be the Plum Village practice of maintaining a mindful state of being in all of our activities, supported by our conscious breathing, mindful eating, and mindful walking. “Whether we walk in a railroad station, Buddhist temple, or on the Great Wall, our practice is the same. We walk with mindfulness.”

During our journey, the lessons came in many forms. Sangha building began even before the trip. Via the internet, participants helped each other prepare for the trip and shared information, concerns, and encouragement. In response to the unrest caused by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Thay said not to worry. “Our Chinese ancestors will protect us as we practice peacefully and joyfully together.” Along the way, the teachings of compassion and love helped us face the physical and emotional challenges of traveling in China with a large group. Often we returned to Thay’s counsel, “When one is not grateful, one suffers.” When we were mindful, each step, each meal, and each encounter offered an opportunity to be grateful. Although Thay gave numerous Dharma talks, for many of us the most memorable teachings came when we were with Thay in an airport lounge or encountered him late at night in the shadows of a monastery courtyard. He was always modeling the practice for us, silently encouraging us to slow down and enjoy this very moment.

In addition to deepening our knowledge and practice, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to share the Plum Village practice with Chinese practitioners. Knowledge of Thay’s teaching is slowly growing in China—a Chinese translation of Old Path, White Clouds was published to coincide with our visit. When the abbots of the temples and monasteries introduced Thay or thanked him, they often acknowledged his rare ability to translate Buddhist insights into clear images and practical actions that modern women and men can understand and follow. Thay frequently returned to the theme of making the practice joyful, especially in his talks to young Chinese monastics.

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At Bai Lin and Gao Ming Monasteries, we joined with the monks in their Ch’an practice, which was diiferent from Plum Village practice. We sat on elevated benches, facing Buddha statues in the middle of the meditation hall. Even in warm weather, the monks tightly wrapped blankets around their legs, to hold in spiritual energy. A sitting was forty to sixty minutes (traditionally, one incense stick). Walking meditation was fast to very fast. In Bai Lin, the walking paths in the meditation hall were arranged in concentric circles—the inner circle being for the speediest, the outer for the slow walkers, usually the ill and old. In Gao Ming, there was no option, we all walked fast. The fast pace was intended to assist one in concentrating on walking rather than the thoughts that arise.

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The underlying orientation to the meditation practice was also different. In Plum Village, practitioners are encouraged to be ever mindful of their breath and develop insight into the interrelated nature of life. Chinese monks in the Ch’an tradition usually work with a koan, especially the practice of always asking themselves “Who is?” “Who is sitting? Who is eating? Who is walking? Who is invoking the Buddha’s name?” As both Thay and the abbots of the monasteries pointed out, however, the differences are outer forms only. They share a common essence established by the Buddha in India, by the Chinese Patriarchs, and by Lin Chi, to whom the abbots and Thay all trace their Dharma heritage.

During an informal conversation, someone mentioned to Thay that it was too bad certain high monks were not able to hear his Dharma talk. Thay replied that it didn’t matter, they didn’t need to hear the talks. If we practiced well, all they needed to do was look at us. This was true of both the visitors and the hosts. Communication, respect, and admiration flowed both ways, even when no words could be exchanged. Many in our group were especially taken by the kindness, dignified bearing, and bright smile of Master De Lin, the 85-year-old abbot of Gao Ming Monastery. Thay said of him: “His heart is full of compassion, and yet he is very firm.”

Throughout the trip, we were touched by the simple generosities offered by Chinese monastics and lay people: a smile, a picture, a waiting bowl of fruit, a heartfelt bow, or simple guidance. Collectively, we were brought to grateful tears when it was announced during our leave-taking banquet at Gao Ming Monastery that the staff who cleaned our rooms, prepared our meals, served us, and cleaned up afterwards were all volunteers who had given up their vacation time and left their families to make our stay comfortable.

When Master De Lin gave us a tour of Gao Ming’s new Buddha hall, much of which he himself had designed, he mentioned that behind the Buddha was a bas-relief of Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion, relieving many beings of their suffering. He then suggested that perhaps the best way to relieve suffering in the world is to become friends. In many ways, he was summing up our journey. As a traveling sangha we had lived and practiced together and become closer as friends. And as communities of Buddhist practice from Plum Village and from the temples, monasteries, and training institutes of China, we had shared from our hearts, learned from each other, and established bonds of respect and friendship.

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Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center in Takoma Park, Maryland. Jerry Braza, True Great Response, practices with the River Sangha in Salem, Oregon.

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Compassionate Action

By Allen Sandler

Last spring, the Mindfulness Community of Hampton Roads raised funds so that, following the retreat with Thay in China, a Sangha representative could become personally involved in a service project in Vietnam. The project would be sponsored by the Sangha. We consulted with Anh-Huong Nguyen, who founded the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam (CRPCV) in 1980. She helped us identify a school that had been only partially completed due to lack of funds. Another $8,000 was needed to finish construction and purchase equipment and supplies. The unfinished school, which we later named “Happy Sparrow School,” was in a beautiful wooded area in the outskirts of Hue only a few hundred meters from Thay’s Root Temple, Tu Hieu.

After our brief but successful fundraising effort, I headed for China with $8,000 in traveler’s checks in my pack, and following the China retreat, traveled to Vietnam. My contact in Hue was Sister Minh Tanh, abbess of Long Tho Pagoda. Sister Minh Tanh has been a nun for 37 years, and was one of the early members of Thay’s School of Youth for Social Service. She continues to coordinate the social service projects in the Hue area, funded by Plum Village and other philanthropic groups. She is a wonderful cook, a gracious hostess, and ongoing source of inspiration! While having tea with her after touring the school site, I learned that during the Vietnam War (they call it the American War), a group of citizens from Hue were buried alive one night by the Viet Cong near the site of this school. Sister Minh Tanh heard the sound of shovels and muffled cries from her room in the nearby nunnery, but could do nothing to help. During the three-week occupation of Hue by the North during the Tet Offensive in 1968, approximately 3,000 civilians, including Buddhist monks, were executed. We are hopeful that our school can help bring peace back to that soil.

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The Happy Sparrow School presently serves 70 children between the ages of three and six years old. They attend the school without cost. These children come from poor families in the villages surrounding Thay’s Root Temple, Tu Hieu. Before Happy Sparrow School opened, some of these young children had to tend their family’s livestock or help sell produce raised by their family. As Anh-Huong said at the onset of our fundraising effort, our school can provide its little sprouts good soil in which to grow. Our Sangha has sent Sister Minh Tanh $90 each month to pay the salaries of two teachers and two cooks at the school.

In cooperation with CRPCV, our Sangha is now raising funds to build and operate a school for children with severe disabilities in Hue. This school will serve 61 children living in the vicinity of Thay’s Root Temple, who have disabilities such as severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy, and who are not now attending school. Of the 500,000 children with intellectual disabilities in Vietnam, only about 400 attend school. We anticipate that our school will eventually serve children with severe disabilities throughout Hue city, and may serve as a model for other programs in Vietnam. Through the efforts of our Swiss Dharma brother and cosponsor of this project, Ha Vinh Tho, we recently received a grant from the Lord Michelham Foundation in Geneva, which will cover one-half the cost of building this school and operating it for three years. We now must raise the other needed funds.

You or your Sangha may wish to support these or other service projects in Vietnam. Vietnam is such a poor country and there are so many needs. A small amount of money can accomplish so much!

Allen Sandler, True Original Tranquility, is engaged in research and teacher training in the area of severe disabilities at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. If you or your Sangha is interested in getting involved in the school for children with severe disabilities or other service projects in Vietnam.

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Buddhaverse Prisons

By Samuel DuBois & the Mountain View Correctional Facility Sangna

Prisons are often compared to monasteries—one is given limited choices, allowed few personal possessions, subject to rigid schedules, offered bland food, and required to work, but with time to meditate, walk, and study. Inmates often laugh at this analogy. Our environment is more like a loud, rowdy, gambling parlor, whorehouse, and TV bar—an abusive, intrusive, hostile program teaching hate, violence, and mistrust; a competitive combat event with much yelling and pain. Perhaps there are elements of both scenarios in prison. Either way, prison can be a clear bell of mindfulness. With Buddhist teaching, demonstration, and Sangha encouragement, prisons could be powerful practice centers. To be sure, prisons are full of relentless teachers. But the probability is slim that, without intervention, prisons will become the houses of healing that they need to and could so easily become.

mb25-BuddhaverseHere in Mountain View, we strive to create a “buddhaverse,” as described by Robert Thurman in Inner Revolution (Riverhead Books 1998). A buddhaverse is an environment (universe) where we train our mindfulness and other factors of awakening—investigating Dharmas, energy, joy, ease, concentration, and letting go—and where we engage in activities directed toward practicing understanding and developing enlightenment. If we could create buddhaverse prisons, how wonderful it would be for our society and for the many inmates who acknowledge that they have caused much suffering in themselves and others, and who sincerely wish to change. Interestingly, the current political climate in the United States may be ripe for this ideal.

With Presidential candidate Governor George Bush pushing to funnel monies into “faith-based prisons,” Buddhists in America may be in a position to fill a very real need.This undertaking would involve a lot of work, time, problems, red tape, and responsibility. A buddhaverse prison is possible, however, if we are willing to invest, plan, support, and/or work there. Imagine an open-to-the public, education, training, practice and retreat center with prisoners and other residents. One that incorporates subsistence gardening, baking, aesthetic grounds, ecological awareness, and cottage industries. Perhaps such a prison could even become a public temple or retreat center in fifteen or twenty years.

Our national Sanghas are full of people with experience and practice that could mean a lifetime of difference to inmates in a buddhaverse prison and would have an immeasurable positive effect on the lives that the inmates touch, during and after their incarceration. Prisoners who choose to participate would be clearly informed of the objectives, expectations, and schedules. They would be interviewed and advised that noncooperation will result in their return to state facilities. The programs could involve a number of stages, beginning with three to six months in close groups for training and intensive practice, and progressing into more open activities requiring more individual responsibility. In the process, inmates could construct and maintain much of the facilities and programs. If the program is well planned, carefully recruited, and managed properly, there should be few, if any, serious problems. Of course, there are a lot of ifs and many questions, including those regarding security. How would we deal with fences, pepper spray, and locks? But we must understand that our country’s prison system is a failure. We can see clearly the many negative results. We should look deeply and honestly at the short and long-term possibilities of a buddhaverse prison.

We invite others to investigate this vision with us. Perhaps together we can build a realistic model. Please share your opinions, questions, and suggestions. Prisoners, please write our local Sangha contact, Pat Tompkins, RR1, Box 140D, Bakersville, NC 28705. Others, please write Samuel DuBois, DOC# 0112717, P.O. Box 629, Spruce Pine, NC 28777.

Samuel DuBois, Courageous Understanding of the Source, is an inmate in Mountain View Correctional Facility in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, which is run by a private company on behalf of the state. Its management and programs are similar to those of state-run prisons. Their Sangha is able to meet five times each month.

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Hanging Out with Impatience

By Barbara Casey

These days I am walking steadily with my old friend impatience. The more I get to know my ancestors, the more seeds of anger and impatience I find. My grandfather, Papa, had a “terrible temper,” as my father put it. And I remember Nonie, my mother’s mother, jangling her keys in her hand every time we drove her home from dinner at our house. Usually one of us would reach over and cover her hand and smile, since the song of her impatience was driving the rest of us crazy—possibly being a bit too close to our own feelings. If you put your water glass down at my mom’s house, it will be in the dishwasher before you can reach for the next swallow.

Probably neither of my parents has ever been late for an appointment, so religious was the practice of being on time.

And then, I married Robert thirteen years ago. Robert is slow, methodical, calm, laid-back—a kapha type in the Ayurvedic system. He always seems to have just what anyone might need in the backpack he carries around, but there is a price: every time we get out of the car to do an errand, the many items in the backpack—hat, sunglasses, lip balm, water, and many others—must be inventoried and possibly transferred to his fanny pack. Then the window screen goes up on the windshield, all windows are closed, and changing shoes takes place. By this time, I am out of the car, down the street, and in the store or restaurant, having already picked out what to purchase. Of course, I’ve forgotten my water, jacket, and lip balm, but hey! I’m ready for the next event. Robert usually takes about twice as long as I do to make a simple meal, but his has an unmistakable gourmet flair. He’s braised the veggies in sun-dried tomato stock or caramelized the onions for 20 minutes over slow heat. And he is the king of mindful eating. He eats one forkful at a time, putting down the implement between each bit, stopping the process entirely to talk and sometimes even, to listen.

You get the idea. I’ve been partnered with a bodhisattva, if not of mindfulness, at least of slowness, which is a good first step. Sometimes it drives me crazy.

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So I spend a lot of time at the edge of my own momentum, hearing the gears grind and not wanting to downshift. When I let go and simply slow down, my peace returns and my heart opens. When it’s just me jumping around in a rush, none of it makes sense. After all, I’m retired from a full-time job and live in the mountains with the trees and the clouds, who have their own slow sense of timing. But when I realize that Nonie and Papa, Mom and Dad, and numerous other ancestors are pushing, pushing, pushing me to cross things off my “to do” list, I can relax and have compassion for all of us. This is my practice: to welcome and greet my impatient self and all the ancestors. This practice has taught me to invite them all to walk with me and to sit in silence, holding the energy of impatience gently, like a precious jewel. Looking deeply into its heart to find the pure love of life that is its essence.

As Thay says, “Life is too short to do things quickly.”

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, was ordained into the Order of Interbeing in Santa Barbara on September 9, 1999.

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Fresh Air

By Octavio Feliciano

I came to Spain to study and dance flamenco. When I arrived, I called Plum Village to locate the Madrid Sangha. “There is none,” I was told. “Maybe you could start one.” So, missing my New York Sangha, I began practicing with other Buddhist communities, while allowing a mindfulness group to gather. But last winter, after a lifetime of good health, I was unexpectedly hospitalized with pneumonia. I have danced professionally and been active in sports all my life. I took my healthy lungs for granted. Suddenly I could not get enough air without an oxygen mask. I was unable even to practice sitting meditation; my lungs could not bear up.

My parents flew from their home in Puerto Rico to bring me warmth, humor, and love. Friends and relatives phoned and visited me. I was supported also by the meditation practice I began at age twelve, following my grandfather’s example. I was painfully aware of every breath—gratefully and joyfully aware. Even if my sitting practice was now lying-down practice, my breath was still there.

One day, when my friend Jean-Pierre brought my mail to the hospital, there was an envelope postmarked New York. Inside was a photograph of a well-tended vegetable garden and a card from the mindful gardeners of the Manhattan Sangha. They were on retreat and sent me their nourishing refuge. For the first time in nearly three weeks of hospitalization, tears came to my heart. I had received so much kindness. My heart was filled with gratitude for the palpable blessings of the Three Precious Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

When you take refuge in the Sangha, everything you do is for the well-being of others as well as your own well-being. I have to take care of the Sangha to take care of myself, and I have to take care of myself to take care of the Sangha.

After I left the hospital, I received calls from other practitioners in Madrid who had been to Plum Village. We began meeting once a week for sitting meditation, sutra study, Mindfulness Trainings recitation, and Dharma discussion. Another family, another Sangha. We encourage each other to deepen our practice through retreats and regular daily practice. The Sangha practice is fresh air. Grateful for being able to sit and breathe, I take refuge in the Sangha and the Sangha takes refuge in me.

Octavio Feliciano, Sincere Direction of the Heart, dances flamenco, studies ikebana, and is translating Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hank into Spanish.

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Feeling Happy, Smiling

I feel happy today
Because I am alive.
I can smile and laugh.
I can be kind,
To myself too,
With understanding.

The sun warms me.
The moon and stars shine.
The trees and flowers so beautiful,
Like loving family and friends.
All nurturing.

Only need to stop,
To look, listen, feel
The constant impermanent change
That holds on to nothing.

Here today,
Gone tomorrow.
Life is very short.

Enjoy the wonder
Of it all,
Smiling.

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Bill Menza
Fairfax, Virginia, USA

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Balancing

By Peggy Denial

For about a year, my husband and I were involved with our son’s biological family in a major legal battle over adoption, custody, and other aspects of Matthew’s daily life. After living in six different homes, Matthew moved in with us almost five years ago. His maternal grandparents, who rarely visited him, had most of the legal control over his life.

In these circumstances, I’ve been more dependent on practice, while at the same time, it has been more difficult for me to practice. I had to return to the most elementary practices, especially when my fear of Matthew’s being taken away was highest. While meditating, I could follow my breathing using the words “in” and “out,” but not a more complex gatha. Some days all I could do was recite the three refuges, and I needed to recite them almost all day long to keep a minimum of calm in my life. I did almost no work. I wasn’t able to write. I had difficulty seeing other people.

Almost every day, it seemed as if the practice was not working. The pain did not go away. I stayed calm as long as I kept my focus on practice, but once I let my mind wander, I immediately lost my calm. I thought about Sister Chan Khong’s recommendation in her book, Learning True Love, to stay mindful of each task. I tried to be aware of what I was doing. “I am chopping vegetables.” “I am washing dishes.” “I am putting my son to bed.” I was deeply aware that Matthew was with us now, and I tried to stay mindful of that fact in the present moment. But the moment also included the court battle, and I was deeply afraid. Each day I’d alternate between feeling that this practice does not work and feeling that I don’t do it right. Yet each day I returned to mindfulness. I had nothing else to lean on. My husband encouraged me, and I reminded myself that practice has always worked in the past.

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I see now that the practice was working all along
It was keeping me calm and present. A lot of the time, the present moment was very difficult. It wasn’t that I wasn’t present; I just didn’t like it. However, by staying calm and present those many months, I was able to practice Right Speech and Right Action so as not to make a bad situation worse. I was also able to seize an opportunity to change the situation.

After one court session, I saw an opportunity to meet Matthew’s birthmother, Linda. I had to make a split-second decision. Because of my daily practice, I saw the opportunity and knew how to use it. We had been kept away from Linda by her parents, and I was unaware of how much she wanted to talk to me. When he was three, Matthew was taken from her because of criminal abuse and neglect. She had not taken advantage of her right to visit him in seven years. For about forty minutes, I was able to listen deeply to Linda. And I held her for a long time after that. I was able to let her know that I did not judge her for what she did to Matthew. 1 was able to assure her that we would take care of him, and to let her know how deeply grateful we are to her for bringing him into the world. Without the practices of deep listening, deep looking, and deep holding, I could not have been there with her. And I could not have helped her turn this situation around.

Two weeks later we met in court again. Linda told the judge that she no longer wanted to fight the situation. She said that she had been very angry, thinking that we were taking Matthew from her, but now she understood that this was in Matthew’s best interest. She talked about her love for him and the deep pain in her life. She said she understands that Matthew wants to be adopted and that she wants to be able to give this to him. Later, I told Matthew what she had said. Now he feels differently about her. In time, when they meet again, it will be possible for them to heal their wounds.

Peggy Denial, True Spiritual Wonder, practices with her family and the Sonoma County Sangha in northern California.

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Poem: Teacher, Teacher

mb25-TeacherChildren, the Great Consciousness in its myriad forms. May I honor each one as we work together.

I enter a room filled with small eager beings
busy with things to see, learn, do.
It’s kindergarten class, and I’m the guest
teacher

Suddenly there’s a tap on my leg,
a tug on my sleeve,
so many touches at once,

I can’t think.

I want to stop these pawing hands, these voices,
voices, voices.
The world that clamors for my attention.

“Teacher, teacher, see I can write my name.”
“Teacher, teacher, look at the building we
made.”
“Teacher, teacher, listen to the story I wrote.”

“Calm yourself,” I mutter, “these are only little
kids.”
But their never-ending touches drive my nerve
endings to the edge of sanity.

“Teacher, teacher, do you like my picture?”
“Teacher, teacher, I catched the ball three
times.”
“Teacher, teacher, listen to the song I know.”

I look down
noses taking the breath of life,
mouths excited with the formation of words,
skin luminescent with newness
hair carefully braided, hair straggly and
brittle,
eyes all shades, large and luminous, deep and
dark,
clear blue, hazel, gray, brown, black, open.

Hands holding a picture—
“Special, for you teacher.”
the voice soft as milkweed about to fly off on the
wind.

“Teacher, teacher, see, I sharpened the pencil all by
myself.”
“Teacher, teacher, look at the puzzle I
finished.”
“Teacher, teacher, I can count to 100.”

I am looking into the soul of the universe
the Great Consciousness
fresh from its source.

I breathe in once, twice, three times.
Now the tapping feels like gentle waves lapping
my thigh,
Fall leaves brushing against me as I walk.
Buddha nature, present, visible, vibrant.

“Teacher, teacher, see how high I can jump.”
“Teacher, teacher, look, I put everything away.”
“Teacher, teacher, read me this story.”

And suddenly, “teacher, teacher” is my bell of
mindfulness.

I turn.
On the edge of class a child sits, eyes clouded, face
tight, lips pulled.
So soon?
I walk over, the child shrinks into himself.
The Great Source in pain.
“You are beautiful, special,” I whisper in passing,
“I’m glad you’re here.”

Oh, that I could be open and compassionate all day
long.
That I didn’t slip,
wasn’t short,
never used a sharp voice.

But the children help.
“Teacher, teacher,” they say,
and the mindfulness bell rings again.

“Teacher, teacher, I cut good with my scissors,
don’t I?”
“Teacher, teacher, please tie my shoe.”
“Teacher, teacher, I like you.”

Diane L. Ste. Marie
Seattle, Washington, USA

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International Mindfulness Network

A Message from Thich Nhat Hanh
November 2 , 1999
Plum Village, France

Sharing a Practice

Twelve years ago, at a retreat in Montreal, a lady told me after the first session of walking meditation practice, “Thay, it is wonderful to walk this way. I have never felt relaxed and happy like this before when I walked. Would you allow me to share this practice of mindful walking with my friends at home?” I looked at her and smiled: “Why not?” It is wonderful to share your practice with others, when the practice brings you joy and well-being. We should be able to share the Dharma, and by doing so, we build a Sangha, a community of practice. When we have a Sangha, we have a refuge, and many others will also profit from that Sangha. Sharing the practice can be a great joy. It helps other people. And it helps us. Naturally we want to learn more, and to practice more in order to be able to share more.

The Meaning of “Lamp Transmission”

The Dharma can be transmitted continuously in each moment of the day. By practicing, the teachers and the sisters and brothers in the Dharma are already transmitting the Dharma every minute of their life. Very often the Dharma is transmitted without verbal expressions. We do not need an “authorization” to share the Dharma. The “Lamp Transmission” Ceremony performed in Plum Village is not an authorization to teach the Dharma; it is only an encouragement, a support, and an empowerment.

Sangha-Building

If you have joined in one or more retreats of mindfulness practice, you may like to organize and lead a Day of Mindfulness or a small retreat by yourselves or with other experienced practitioners in order to share the Dharma, and to practice with others. And you may like to receive further training or attend other retreats of mindfulness to learn more, to improve the quality of your practice and your skills in organizing and leading a retreat.

Organizing a retreat and practicing with others is a wonderful way to build a Sangha. Sangha-building is the noblest thing for us to do. Everyone needs a Sangha to continue and get support for his/her practice. Without a Sangha, one can abandon one’s practice after a few months of practicing alone. The Sangha is like a boat carrying us and preventing us from sinking into the river of suffering, because the Sangha contains also the Buddha and the Dharma.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are also powerful tools for Sangha-building. The Five Trainings are the most concrete expression of the practice. They are the basis for individual and collective transformation and healing. Everyone in the Sangha should be encouraged to receive the Five Trainings and bring them into his or her daily life. On Days of Mindfulness and in mindfulness retreats, it is beneficial to recite the Five Trainings and to organize Dharma discussion to deepen our understanding of the Trainings and to help us know how to apply them better.

True practice can bring a lot of relief and joy and nourishment. Suppose your Sangha has fifteen members and you would like to call it by a name, like Lotus Seeds Sangha. You may like to use a letterhead with the following:
Lotus Seeds Sangha
A Community of Mindful Living
Address
Phone Number/Fax/Email

Communities of Mindful Living Network 

There will soon be thousands of Communities of Mindful Living like yours in many countries, and people who live in your area may find you and join your Sangha through the Internet or through The Mindfulness Bell magazine. What characterizes a Community of Mindful Living or a Mindfulness Practice Center is the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We cannot call our community a Community of Mindful Living or a Mindfulness Practice Center if we do not live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The Mindfulness Bell magazine will continue to be a great support for Sangha-building, sharing information about the practice and the worldwide Sangha.

From time to time you may like to co-organize a larger retreat with other Communities of Mindful Living in your region. You may like to invite a Dharma Teacher through the Communities of Mindful Living Network, because there is now a Coordinating Council of the Communities of Mindful Living. The Council has an office in Albany, California, and you can contact the office in order to seek help with planning, materials, training, information, teachers, and other matters.

We have opened a new Dharma door called a Mindfulness Practice Center to introduce the practice to as many people as possible in a nonsectarian manner. You may want to contact the Mindfulness Practice Center Association and explore initiating a Mindfulness Practice Center in your city, institution, or workplace.

The Order of Interbeing

If you are an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, your task is to build a Sangha and support the practice of the Sangha. Your Sangha can be called a Community of Mindful Living. Those of us who have formally received the Fourteen Trainings are members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing, and all others are members of the extended community of the Order. You may like to invite everyone in your Sangha to come and participate in the recitation ceremony of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing are expected to keep sixty days of mindfulness a year, be active in Sangha-building and organizing Days of Mindfulness and mindfulness retreats.

There will soon be a Council of the Order of Interbeing forming in each country or region. We may get in touch with this Council to get the support we need. The dates for Days of Mindfulness and retreats can be set up one year in advance, and practitioners can have access to this information through the Internet or The Mindfulness Bell magazine.

The Institute of Mindfulness Training located at Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont is a place where we can receive more intensive training in the practice of mindfulness. The Head of the Institute is Sister Annabel Laity, Abbess of the Green Mountain Dharma Center.

Parallax Press

Parallax Press will continue to be the primary publisher and distributor of Thay’s books and of other books on socially engaged Buddhism. My hope is that Parallax Press will lead the way in showing others how our practice and our work lives can be integrated, that Parallax Press will succeed in being both financially viable and a center of practice.

The Unified Buddhist Church

The Unified Buddhist Church (UBC) was founded by Thay in 1971 to serve as the legal and financial entity behind Dharma projects such as the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation (1971-76), Sweet Potatoes Community (1976-82), the boat people rescue project (1976-1989), Plum Village (1982-Present), and the organization of retreats in Europe, Asia, and Australia (1983-Present). In 1998, the UBC was incorporated as a church in the United States to provide a focus for the expanding network of Dharma projects, such as the Green Mountain Dharma Center, Parallax Press, and the Communities of Mindful Living. The UBC is guided by a Board of Directors that include Thay, monastics, and a lay Dharmacarya.


The following names and addresses may be useful:

Unified Buddhist Church Board
The Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh (Plum Village)
Sister Chan Khong (Plum Village, New Hamlet)
Brother Phap An (Plum Village, Upper Hamlet)
Sister Thoai Nghiem (Plum Village, Lower Hamlet)
Sr. Chan Due, Annabel Laity (Green Mountain
Dharma Center)
Sr. Thuc Nghiem, Susan (Green Mountain Dharma
Center)
Dharmacarya Anh-Huong Nguyen (MPC of Fairfax,
Virginia)

Plum Village—New Hamlet
Martineau 13, 33580 Dieulivol, France
Tel:(33)5 5661 8418 or (33)5 5661 6688
Fax:(33)5 5661 6151

Plum Village—Lower Hamlet
Meyrac, 47120 Loubes Bernac, France

Plum Village-Upper Hamlet
Lepey, 24240 Thenac, France

Green Mountain Dharma Center and Maple Forest Monastery
P.O. Box 182
Hartland-Four Corners, Vermont 05049, USA
Tel:(802)436-1103; Fax:(802)436-1101

Coordinating Council of the Communities of Mindful Living
(For information about local Sanghas, The Mindfulness Bell, the Order of Interbeing, and Mindfulness Practice Centers)
P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA
Tel:(510) 527-3710; Fax:(510)525-7129

Parallax Press
P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA
Tel:(800)863-5290 (Book orders);
(510)525-0101 (Other calls)
Fax:(510)525-7129; email:parapress@aol.com

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Announcements

Passages

Married: Linda Buckley, True Spiritual Fulfillment, and Jeff Robertson were married on October 18, 1999 in Hamakua, Hawai’i.

New Book by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, was recently published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York. The book is a collection of Christmas Dharma talks given by Thay during the winter retreats in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

Poetry Book

In March, Parallax Press published Plum. Poems, a collection of mindful poems and short articles by Dharma teacher Svein Myreng.

Parallax Press Publishers Outlet

Parallax Press invites you to visit our offices and practice center in Albany (North Berkeley), California. Our publisher’s outlet offers a complete assortment of books and tapes by Thich Nhat Hanh and other authors on Buddhism, mindfulness, and related topics. Stop by to browse, enjoy a cup of tea, and observe our efforts to practice mindfulness in the workplace at 850 Talbot Avenue, Albany, California. We are open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

We wish all readers of The Mindfulness Bell a happy and peaceful holiday season.

Parallax Press Needs Vehicle

Parallax Press is looking for a used van or pickup truck to transport books and passengers. Should be in good running condition. Please contact Travis at (510)525-0101.

Southern California Dharma Center

At the request of thousands of practitioners living in the western United States, Thay and the Sangha decided to establish a permanent monastery and retreat center in southern California. During Thay’s United States retreats this fall, we announced our hope to obtain a former youth camp in San Diego County. Since the retreats, however, the county has withdrawn the property from the market—perhaps only until February 2000. Meanwhile, we will continue to look for anotherbeautiful property south of Los Angeles, in the area of Orange County and San Diego County. We anticipate a cost of approximately $2.5 million. When property is located and repairs to the facilities are complete, Plum Village will send a Sangha of twelve monks and twelve nuns to practice there permanently. Several lots of land will be located nearby for those who would like to live near the monastery. Buying a lot for your home would also help purchase and support the Center.

Please help build a 21st century for our younger generation by making this center a reality. You could pledge $5, $10, $20, or more each month for the next 36 months, or donate whatever you can afford. All donations are taxdeductible. Checks should be make payable to Unified Buddhist Church and sent to Green Mountain Dharma Center at the address below. Please contact us for details on donating shares of stock.

For information about the progress of the Southern California Dharma Center, please contact us at Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, Vermont, 05049 USA; phone:(802)436-l 103, fax:(802)436-1101; Email: sc-center@plumvillage.org. You can also visit our website at http://www.plumvillage.org.

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Letters to the Mindfulness Bell

The Spring issue of The Mindfulness Bell, dedicated to Sangha Dynamics, prompted me to write and share an endeavor that has enriched our Sangha family. Several months ago, I read Learning True Love by Sister Chan Khong, and was totally moved by the work she does. I decided to write her at the address in the back of the book to find out how I could sponsor a child or student. Her response was a report which she had prepared for her various supporters. From this report I learned that $5.00 U.S. per month buys rice for a poor orphaned child, a toddler staying for lunch in the local day care, a handicapped person, an elderly person, or a young college or university student. Ten U.S. dollars a month provides a young person over the age of fifteen with vocational training. When I realized how much could be done with so little, I decided to share the information with my Sangha. They were equally enthused, and we decided to prepare a donation box to set out each week when we meet. Now we look forward to emptying the box at the end of each month, and writing a check for our extended family in Vietnam.

In July, four of my Sangha family visited the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. There they learned of Sister Chan Hy Nghiem’s recent trip to Vietnam and saw videos of food and packages being delivered to the poor. They saw the excitement and appreciation of those we help and returned to Sangha filled with gratitude and further resolve. They also shared with us a sponsorship program emanating from the Dharma Center. This program makes it possible to sponsor a specific child, toddler, student, handicapped, or elderly person for just $60 (U.S.) per year, and to be in touch directly with that person. A sponsor form and information about this program can be obtained from the UBC Relief Committee, Attn.: Sister Chan Hy Nghiem, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, VT 05049, USA.

Our Sangha family has benefitted both individually and collectively by developing our compassion through the understanding that other people’s suffering is greater than our own. Perhaps other Sanghas would also benefit from sharing in this way.

Marian Gable
Elberson, Pennsylvania, USA

Thank you so much for the helpful magazine. I find Thay’s Dharma talks especially helpful. It is important to read how others are integrating mindfulness practice into their lives. Reading The Mindfulness Bell is like tapping into the larger Sangha.

Lynda Schaller
Gay Mills, Wisconsin, USA

mb25-Letters

I enjoyed the latest issue of The Mindfulness Bell very much. The contributions on Sangha practice reverberate with lots of common issues. I am pleased to see the greater Sangha finally entering a new phase of practice—touching and dealing with real difficulties. Nothing beats “Sangha eyes.”

Khanh Le Van
Sydney, Australia

I have a concern about The Mindfulness Bell. The last few issues have read to me sort of like “how-to” manuals for mindfulness practice. I’m sure they are useful when everyone is trying to figure out how to “make Sanghas work,” but I miss very much the old style where there seemed to be many more articles by individuals simply sharing their practice in a great variety of situations. I find those articles so inspiring, so vital, and so enlivening. The variety was a big part of vitality of the mix.

Perhaps Thay’s notion of a magazine will be the inspiration we need to really express the very dynamic mix of democratic and elder-oriented [elements] in our governing and decision-making. I hope in our publishing practices as well, we will honor the creative forces of the individual as he approaches the living mystery of life with awareness and conscience.

Katharine Cook
California, USA

Thank you for the beautiful work you do for us all in producing The Mindfulness Bell. We will be using much of the most recent edition [Sangha Dynamics, issue no. 24] for a Sangha-building retreat here in Adelaide. May you be well loved.

Peter Hawkins
Adelaide, Australia

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