Dharma Talk: Immediate Protection

By Thich Nhat Hanh

In the 1960s, American young people marched in the streets, shouting “Make love, not war.” I reflected deeply on this. What kind of love were they speaking of? Was it true love? If it were true love, it would be the opposite of war. If it were only craving, one could not call it “true love.” Making love out of craving is making war at the same time. In 1971, during the war for Bangladesh indepen­dence, soldiers raped 250,000 women; ten percent of these women became pregnant. These soldiers made love and war simultaneously. That kind of love is not true love.

True love contains the elements of mindfulness, protection, and responsibility. It carries the energy of enlightenment, understanding, and compassion. A church has to dispense the teaching on true love to all members of the church and to the children. In the Buddhist teaching, detailed in the third Mindfulness Training, a sexual relationship should not take place without true love and a long-term commitment. We must be aware of the suffering we bring upon ourselves and others when we engage in unmindful sexual activities. We destroy ourselves. We destroy our beloved. We destroy our society.

Mindfulness in the act of loving is true love. This practice of mindfulness can take place today and serve as our immediate protection. All church members should begin today the practice of mindful sexual behaviors. This is what I call immediate protection for ourselves, our community, and our society. The role of church leaders, in my belief, is to first protect themselves and their own community. If not, they cannot help protect others. When we are on an airplane, the attendant reminds us that if there is not enough oxygen, we must put on our own oxygen mask before we help another person. Similarly, our self, our own family, and religious community should be the first target of our practice and action. The elements of awakening and enlightenment need to take place immediately in our own religious commu­nity.

Children and adults should be well-informed about the problems of HIV infection and AIDS. They should be aware of the suffering that can be brought upon the individual, as well as the family, commu­nity, and society, through unmindful sexual activities. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on. What is going on now is a tremendous amount of suffering. In the year 2000, more than five million people died of AIDS; many still weep over this loss. Members of the church must wake the church up to the reality of suffering.

The awareness of suffering is the first of the Four Noble Truths emphasized by the Buddha. Next, every member of the church and of the temple has to be aware of the roots of the suffering. This is the second Noble Truth. During the forty-five years of his teaching, the Buddha continued to repeat his state­ment: “I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering.” Only when we recognize and acknowl­edge our suffering, can we look deeply into it and discover what has brought it about. It may take one week, two weeks, or three weeks of intense activities before the whole community, the whole church, or the Sangha will wake up to the tragedies of HIV and AIDS in its own community, as well as in the world at large. When the church and all its mem­bers are aware of the reality of suffering and its root causes, we will know what to do and what not to do for protection to be possible. The appropriate course of action can transform our suffering into peace, joy, and libera­tion.

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Daily unmindful con­sumption in our society has contributed greatly to the present suffering. The Buddha said, “Nothing can survive without food.” Love cannot survive without food; neither can suffering. Consequently, if we know to look deeply into the nature of our suffering and to recognize the kind of nutriments that have fed and perpetuated it, we are already on the path of emanci­pation. Entertainment in the media is a deep source of suffering. Movies, television programs, advertise­ments, books, and magazines expose us and our children to a kind of unwholesome nutriment, which we ingest every day via our sense organs, namely eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. All of us are subject to invasions of these images, sounds, smells, tastes, and ideas. Unfortunately, these sorts of sounds, sights, and ideas in the media often water the seeds of craving, despair, and violence in our children and in us. There are so many items in the realms of entertainment that have destroyed us and our children. Many are drowned in alcohol, drugs, and sex. Therefore, to be mindful of what we consume—both edible foods and cultural items—is vital. The Fifth Mindfulness Training guides us to look at each nutriment we are about to ingest. If we see that something is toxic, we can refuse to look at it, listen to it, taste it, touch it, or allow it to penetrate into our body and our consciousness. We must practice to ingest only what is nourishing to our bodies and minds. The church has to offer this teaching and practice to all its members. The practice of protecting ourselves and our family is difficult, because the seeds of craving, violence, and anger are so powerful within us. We need the support of the Sangha. With the support of the Sangha, we can practice mindful consumption much more easily. Mindful consumption can bring us joy, peace, understanding, and compassion. We become what we consume.

Mindfulness also plays a critical role in relation­ships and communication. Relationships in the family are only possible if we know how to listen to each other with calm and loving kindness, if we know how to address each other with loving speech. Without the practice of loving speech and mindful listening, the communication between members of the family becomes tenuous. Suffering may result from this lack of communication. Many lose themselves in forget­fulness, and take refuge in sex, alcohol, violence, and tobacco. The problems of HIV infection and AIDS are intricately linked to these issues of poor relation­ship in the family and reckless consumption of sex and drugs. The layman Vimalakirti said, “Because the world is sick, I am sick. Because people suffer, I have to suffer.” The Buddha also made this state­ment. We live in this world not as separated, indi­vidual cells, but as an organism. When the whole world is devastated by the pandemics of HIV infection and AIDS, and many fellow humans are in desperate situations, our sense of responsibility and compassion should be heightened. We should not only call for help from the government and other organizations. Religious leaders need to take active roles in rebuilding our communities and reorganizing our churches by the embodiment of their own practice. The practice should aim to restore the communication between church members, between family members, and between ethnic groups. Com­munication will bring harmony and understanding. Once understanding is there in the church and the community, compassion will be born.

We know that with diseases, medical therapy alone is inadequate. We know that many people with HIV and AIDS are alienated from their own families and society. The church can offer understanding and compassion to people who suffer. They will no longer be lonely and cut off, because they will see that understanding is there, awakening is there, and compassion is there, not as abstract terms or ideas, but as realities. To me, that is the basic practice of the Sangha; that is the basic practice of the church. Without understanding and compassion, we will not be able to help anyone, no matter how talented and well-intentioned we are. Without understanding and compassion, it is difficult for healing to take place.

Thus, the practice of mindfulness should take place in the context of a Sangha—a community of people who strive to live in harmony and awareness. There are many things that we cannot do alone. However, with the presence and support of members of the community, these things can become easier for us to achieve. For example, when we have the Sangha to support us and shine light on us, we can have more success in the practices of sitting medita­tion, walking mediation, mindful eating, and mindful consumption. To me, Sangha building is the most noble task of our time.

In the Buddhist tradition, after we have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we come together every fortnight and recite them. After the recitation, we gather in a circle to have a Dharma discussion, learning more about these Five Trainings. We also discuss and share our personal experiences, in order to find better ways to apply the teaching and the practice of these trainings into our daily life. The Dharma teacher, the priest, or the monk attends the entire discussion session, contributes and guides the Sangha with his or her experiences and insights. If an individual in the Sangha has difficulties, the whole Sangha is available to support that person.

A true Sangha is a community that carries within herself the presence of the Buddha and the presence of the Dharma. The living Sangha always embodies the living Buddha and the living Dharma. The same must be true with other traditions. The Sangha, with her Sangha eyes, through the practice of mindfulness and deep looking, will be able to understand our situations and prescribe the appropriate course ofpractice for the protection of ourselves, our families, and society.

Today, many young people are leaving the church because the church does not offer them the appropri­ate teaching and the appropriate practice. The church does not respond to their real needs. Renewing the church by dispensing the appropriate teachings and practices is the only way to bring young people back to the church. We need to renew our church, rebuild our communities, and build Sanghas. This is the most basic and important practice. Again, in order to carry out this task, church leaders, whether clergy or laity, should embody the teaching and the practice. Young people do not only listen to our verbal messages. They observe our actions. Thus, we teach not with our sermons or our Dharma talks alone, but we teach through our behavior and our way of life.

Some people contract HIV or AIDS from blood transfusions, but often, the issue of HIV infection and AIDS is an issue of behavior. If mindfulness practice is there, and each person has the Sangha to help him or her be mindful, then we should be able to avoid bringing suffering upon ourselves, our families, our communities, and our society.

I often tell my students and others that the energy of mindfulness, generated by the practice in daily life, is equivalent to the Holy Spirit. The seed of mindfulness is there in each one of us. Once we know how to touch the seed of mindfulness in us through the practices of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful thinking and consuming, then it will become a living source of energy in us. Mindfulness always brings about concentration, insight, understanding, and compassion. The practice brings back the energy of awakening and generates the energy of God in our daily life. I have trained people with terminal illness to walk in the Kingdom of God every day. If you know how to dwell in the here and the now, and invest 100% of yourself into your in-breath and out-breath, you become free of the past and of the future. You can touch the wonders of life right in the present moment. The Kingdom of God is available in the here and the now, if you are a free person. This is not political freedom that I am talking about. This is freedom from worries and fear, freedom from the past and the future. If you can establish yourself in the here and the now, you have the basic condition for touching the Kingdom of God. There is not one day that I do not walk in the Kingdom of God. Even when I walk in the railway station, along the Great Wall, or at the airport, I always allow myself the opportunity to walk in the Kingdom of God. My definition of the Kingdom of God is where stability is, mindfulness is, understanding is, and compassion is.

Each person has the energy of mindfulness within. Each person has the capacity of dwelling in the here and the now. Once you are fully in the present moment, you touch all the wonders of life that are available within you and around you. Your eyes are wonders of life. Your heart is a wonder of life. The blue sky is a wonder of life. The songs of the birds are wonders of life. If you are available to life, then life will be available to you. All the wonders of the Kingdom of God are available to you today, at this very moment. The Kingdom of God is now or never. Thus the question becomes, are you available to the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God can be touched in every cell of your body. Infinite time and space are available in it, and if you train yourself, it will be possible for you to walk in the Kingdom of God in every cell of your body.

When we are able to touch the Holy Spirit through the energy of mindfulness, we will also be able to have a deeper understanding of our true nature. The Buddha taught that there are two dimen­sions to reality. The first is the Historical Dimension, which we perceive and experience chronologically from birth to death. The second is the Ultimate Dimension, where our true nature is revealed. In Buddhism, we may call the ultimate reality “Nir­vana,” or “Suchness.” In Christianity, we may call it “God.” If you are a Christian, you know that the birth of Jesus does not mean the beginning of Jesus. You cannot say that Jesus only begins to be on that day. If we look deeply into the nature of Jesus Christ, we find that his nature is the nature of no-birth and no-death. Birth and death cannot affect him. He is free from birth and death. In Buddhism, we often talk in terms of manifestations rather than creation.

If you look deeply into the notion of creation in terms of manifestation, you may discover many interesting things. I have a box of matches here with me, and I would like to invite you to practice looking deeply into this box of matches, to see whether or not the flame is there. You cannot characterize the flame as nonbeing or nonexistent. The flame is always there. The conditions for the manifestation of the flame are already there. It needs only one more condition. By looking deeply, I can already see the presence of the flame in the box, and I can call on it and make it manifest. “Dear flame, manifest your­self!” I strike the match on the box, and there, the flame manifests herself. It is not a creation. It is only a manifestation.

The birth of Jesus Christ is a manifestation, and the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is also a manifestation. If we know this, we will be able to touch the Living Christ. In the Buddhist teaching, not only the Buddha has the nature of no-birth and no-death, but every one of us, every leaf, every pebble, and every cloud has this nature. Our true nature is the nature of no-birth and no-death.

I have learned from my practice that only by touching the Ultimate Reality in us can we transcend fear. I have offered this teaching and practice to numerous people with terminal illness. Many of them have been able to enjoy the time that is left for them to live with joy and peace, and their lives have been prolonged. In certain cases, the doctors told them that they had just three months or so to live, but they took up the practice and they lived fifteen to twenty more years. My wish is that the church will dispense teaching and practice on how to touch our Ultimate Reality to people who have been struck with the HIV/ AIDS, and also to those who have not. We should be able to help members of our community live in such a way that we can all touch Nirvana, that we can all touch the Ultimate Dimension within us in our daily lives. With the learning and the practice, we will be able to touch our true nature of no-birth and no-death. That is the only way to remove fear. Once the wave realizes that her nature—her ground of being—is water, she will transcend all fear of birth and death, being and nonbeing. We can help the people who do not have much time to live, so that they are able to live deeply with joy and solidity for the rest of their lives.

Once we can establish ourselves in the here and the now, and the fear of death is removed, we become the instruments of peace, of God, of Nirvana. We become bodhisattvas—enlightened beings working to free others from their suffering. Those of us who have been struck with HIV/AIDS can become bodhisattvas, helping ourselves and other people, and acquire that energy of healing called bodhicitta, or the mind of love.

During the Vietnam War, numerous Vietnamese and American soldiers and civilians died, and many who survived were deeply affected. Twenty-five years later, the survivors continue to be devastated by this war. I have offered a number of retreats to American war veterans. I tell them that they can become bodhisattvas because they already know what the suffering of war is about. I advise them that they should play the role of the flame on the tip of the candle. It is hot, but it will help create the awareness, the realization, that war is what we do not want. We want the opposite. We want true love. Each person can transform into a bodhisattva, creating the awareness in his or her own people, so that we will never have a war like this one again. Your life will have a new meaning and the energy of true love will guide you.

The Fourth Noble Truth is the path to end suffering and attain well-being. This path you have chosen to end suffering—your own and others’— is the bodhisattva path. Not only can you transcend the suffering of the past, but you bring joy and peace to yourself and your beloved ones, because you are helping to awaken people in your own community and society. The war veterans can practice creating awareness and waking people up, and the people who have been struck by HIV and AIDS can do likewise. Once motivated by the desire to work for true love, we can engage our daily lives in the activities that awaken and embrace others as well as ourselves. The work of a bodhisattva will help our healing process to take place very quickly. Our lives may become longer and of deeper quality than the lives of many who do not have HIV or AIDS.

Everything I have said comes from the experience of my own practice. I do not tell you things that I have read in books. It is possible for us to install immediate protection today, for ourselves, our families, and our communities. It is possible to provide understanding and compassion to those who suffer, so that everyone has the appropriate opportu­nities and conditions to heal. It is possible to experi­ence the Kingdom of God in the here and the now. It is possible to help the world heal as we are healing ourselves. Whatever our religious background, we must practice in such a way that we bring forth understanding, compassion, true love, and non-fear, so that possibilities become actualities. If our practice does not yield these flowers and fruits, it is not true practice. We must have the courage to ask ourselves: “Is our practice correct? Do we generate understand­ing, awakening, and compassion every day?” If we do not, we have to change our way of teaching and our way of practicing.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the energy of God, representing the energy of mindfulness, of awakening to the reality of suffering. We have to bring the Holy Spirit back to our religious communities in order for people to have true faith and direction. I sincerely believe that Sangha building is the way. It is the most noble task of the twenty-first century. Not only church leaders, but health professionals, gays and lesbians, schoolteachers, and members of different ethnicity should build Sanghas. Please reflect on this. The practice of Sangha building is the practice of giving humanity a refuge, because a true Sangha always carries within herself the true Buddha and the true Dharma. When the Holy Spirit manifests in our church, God is with us.

Enjoy your breath, enjoy your steps, while we are still together as a Sangha. 

This article is from a talk given at the White House Summit on AIDS on December 1, 2000.

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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

On December 1, 2000, Thich Nhat Hanh gave a Dharma talk at the White House in Washington, D.C., during a conference on AIDS. Thay is deeply aware of the suffering caused by AIDS, and offered teachings to encourage those present to respond to that suffering and to conduct themselves in ways that would bring relief to themselves, their families, and society. In this issue of The Mindfulness Bell, Thay shares this talk with readers, and encourages us to also practice in ways that protect life and prevent suffering.

The theme articles in this issue focus on mindful consumption. Shakyamuni Buddha taught us to be aware of what we consume-through eating, through our senses, through our minds, and through our volition. Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor invites us to look at the habit energies present in our daily consumption. Peggy Rowe and Tracy Sarriugarte offer practices that cultivate consumption of nourishing and healing nutriments. And Patrecia Lenore and Toni Carlucci share reflections on the practice of mindful eating. We hope that these articles will nourish seeds of positive energy in your daily practice.

Other articles examine mindfulness practice in social action and daily practice. Pamela Overeynder shares the efforts of a Texas Sangha to encourage peace and address the problem of unexploded land mines left by wars. In the Daily Practice section, Sister Annabel invites us to touch the Pure Land in our daily lives; Bruce Kantner reports on building a lay residential practice center; and Paul Tingen shares mindful speech practice. And there is more! Please enjoy every bit of this issue!

On a more personal note: For over four years, I have enjoyed the great privilege of serving the Sangha by helping edit The Mindfulness Bell-as Family Practice editor and then, beginning in 1997, as Editor of the whole journal. I have benefited greatly from this opportunity to work with the teachings and to be in touch with many fellow practitioners. With this issue, I close my term as Editor and offer this rich opportunity to someone else.

Before I depart, I want to express my thanks. With gratitude as deep as the ocean, I bow to Thich Nhat Hanh, whose teaching breathed life into my practice and from whom I continue to learn. I offer deep thanks to Sister Chan Khong, whose unflagging energy and encouragement has provided such strong support to my work and my practice. And I offer heartfelt thanks to Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald who, when they were Senior Editors, took a chance on having an editor on the other side of the country, and from whom I learned so much. Finally, I thank you, the readers, for every Email, letter, and telephone call.

I hope to continue to support The Mindfulness Bell in a different way, to share the teachings, and to practice deeply and wholeheartedly with the Sangha.

A lotus for you, a buddha to be,

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Questioning Habit Energy

By Jack Lawlor

Each day, our culture sends innumerable messages urging us to consume. If we are modestly observant, we can see that many human consumption patterns threaten the air we breathe, the forests we admire, the other species we profess to love, and even the ability of less fortunate people to earn a living wage under adequate working conditions. And yet we struggle to curb our desire to consume even more, even when we’ve sensed that compulsive consuming thwarts-rather than enhances-our ability to live happily and to be truly free.

Our habit energies know us well, and we often feel stuck in them. Think of all the energy we expend on this never-ending, never satisfied cycle of appeasing our wants! The Irish novelist, Flann O’Brien, found a kind of humorous pathos in our tendency to be recidivist victims of desire. In his brilliant novel, The Third Policeman, O’Brien’s characters are condemned to an eternity of repeating the same patterns, circulating the same emotional landscape over and over, by their unacknowledged grasping. In Buddhist terms, O’Brien was describing manifestations of karma.

The teachings of the historic Buddha look deeply into the connection between desire and suffering. The First Noble Truth sets forth the Buddha’s observation that life contains suffering and unease; the Second Noble Truth observes that grasping and clinging are often a direct cause of this suffering. We are invited to experiment with these insights. We may well find that it is unhealthy to incessantly feed the flames of desire, yet we do. We often give in to compulsion in an effort to appease it, only to find that a fresh compulsion arises. If we give way to a fraction of the messages we receive urging us to consume, or if we give way to every desire that arises in us, we will find ourselves spent and exhausted. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the Second and Third Realizations of the Great Beings candidly assess the relationship between compulsive desire and our experience of unhappiness:

… more desire brings more suffering. All hardships in daily life arise from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition are able to relax; their bodies and minds are free from entanglement.

… the human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes unwholesome actions to ever increase. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace, in order to practice the Way, and consider the realization of understanding as their only career.

The good news experienced by the Buddha is that freedom from destructive habit energy is possible, and that the way is an Eightfold Path of appropriate view, thinking, mindfulness, speech, action, diligence, concentration, and livelihood-practices that enable us to dwell in freedom during this very lifetime. These teachings are known as the Third and Fourth Noble Truths. For most of us, liberation from compulsive behavior does not arise from intellectually grasping the Buddha’s analysis or memorizing the various lists that summarize the Buddha’s teachings. Instead we make real progress in liberating ourselves from compulsive behavior when we directly experience the fruit of the teaching.

We are fortunate to practice in a mindfulness tradition that emphasizes the centeredness and peace provided by conscious breathing. Everyone who has experimented wholeheartedly with sensing and feeling the breath has tasted the freedom from anxiety, fear, and compulsion afforded by just a few moments of dwelling in the present moment. Conscious breathing enhances our capacity to be aware and alert, not rutted or stuck on autopilot. This experience enables us to stop–samatha-and look deeply-vipassana. Taking refuge in the island of mindfulness in the midst of confused, chaotic, and turbo-charged contemporary circumstances enables us to be the calm person in the cultural boat of consumerism. When we practice samatha, we find a respite from our habit energy of consuming in order to fill the aching void we sometimes find within ourselves, particularly when we feel tired, stressed, or unappreciated.

Taking refuge in our breath in the midst of doubt and confusion provides a moment of freedom and the option to follow the road usually not taken. If the desire to consume frivolously arises, we can recognize its emergence and disengage from it for a moment by enjoying our breathing. Rather than be swept away by habit energy, we can pause and observe what is actually going on. We can take a moment to reflect on how our habit of giving way to compulsion often gives way to greater complications, weariness, and suffering. And we have an opportunity to look deeply into the causes and conditions of our desire, in order to transform at the base our habit of compulsive acquisitiveness. A complete mindfulness practice involves both stopping and looking deeply in this way.

I have found that moments of desire are a precious opportunity to practice an insight meditation inspired by the chapters on Right View and Right Thinking in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. There, Thay essentially invites us to ask ourselves four questions: “Am I sure?” “What am I doing?” “Hello, habit energy! What are you asking me to do without my knowledge?” and “Where is the bodhicitta, the mind of love, in myself and those I am with, and how do I nourish it?” For me, these questions are a kind of natural koan that arises in the context of daily life. The moment of freedom provided by our practice of conscious breathing gives us the chance to ask these questions when confronted by desire.

We are constantly urged to consume. When we are surrounded by the Sunday morning paper, gleaming with colorful advertisements, the thought arises in us that we need a new car. The day provides a wonderful opportunity to remain home, alone or with loved ones, but the seed of new car ownership is also arising. We breathe, smile, and say hello to the thought, perhaps breathing through it to sense its marrow. I find it is helpful to ask Thay’s question, “Am I sure? Am I sure I need a new car? Don’t I already have one with only 114,000 miles? Am I sure I want to disrupt the grace and ease of a lazy Sunday morning at home with the family, the funny papers, and Dave Barry’s humor column? And aren’t car dealerships closed on Sundays?”

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Nonetheless, the day will come when the air conditioning breaks down for the second time, making it uneconomical to engage in further auto repairs. I may find myself at the dealership, being magnetically attracted to the Behemoth showroom. Thay’s second question arises then, like a guided meditation, “What am I doing? I came here to buy a replacement for my 1991 Ford Taurus and I find myself eye-level with the floorboards of new Gigantors. The family, the dogs, and I can make do with much less. What am I doing? Why? Am I about to affiliate with a symbol rather than a reality? If the goal is to vacation with the family in a natural setting, why not go home and make plans to do that rather than purchase a symbol that proclaims that some day I may get around to doing it?”

If we look deeply into our consumption patterns, we may find the same theme recurring beneath the surface of our behavior. “Am I trying to make a statement rather than ‘walk the talk’? Am I trying to find an easy way to affiliate with an image rather than live genuinely and free? How much time, money, and energy are spent on this kind of behavior? How many hours of extra work?” This is Thay’s third question: “Hell o, habit energy. What are you asking me to do without my knowledge?”

Oftentimes, when we are mindful and awake, the mere recognition of habit energy will drain it of much of its strength. On the other hand, some of our habit energies are quite strong, having been well-nourished and accommodated for many years. When strong habit energies are encountered, we can also nourish what is strong and healthy in us. For example, many Americans have strong seeds that value equality and fairness. When we weigh our consumer tastes against the air pollution and resource depletion that results from our consuming, our desires may be tempered by empathy for other people and species who share our desires to breathe air and drink water that is as clear and unpolluted as possible. “Where is the bodhicitta in myself, and in those I am with?” we might ask. This is Thay’s fourth question: “What is the best way to nourish the mind of love?”

How do we nouri sh what is best in ourselves and others? How do we water the seeds of compassion? If our insight meditation proceeds to this question, the interdependence of self and other becomes clear, and the Dharma door to taking refuge in Sangha is thrown open. Individually, we feel weak in the face of habit energies, especially those that are fed with the vigor of our mass culture. Collectively, as a Sangha, we can slowly build what Thay and Father Daniel Berrigan call a “community of resistance” to societal and individual habit energies. Practicing alone, our efforts may seem minor and insignificant. Convening regularly as a Sangha to sit in meditation and explore the Mindfulness Trainings, we know that we are part of a collective effort to transform suffering at the base.

The practice has both individual and collective manifestations. A few years ago, I read a little cartoon showing two meditators sitting beside each other on their cushions. One turned to the other and said, “Can you watch my breath for me? I have to feed the parking meter.” Of course, neither the Buddha nor Thay–nor monks and nuns, nor the local Sangha–can watch our breath for us. They cannot practice samatha for us, or ask Thay’s four insightful questions about our habit energies. Nonetheless, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha serve us as a kind of collective compass that helps in moments of doubt and confusion. And even when doubt and confusion arise, with a few moments of conscious breathing, we can take refuge in the sanctuary of mindfulness. Taking refuge in this practice in the midst of temptation, habit energy, and confusion can provide us the opportunity to ask a few very important questions about what we are actually doing. Most practitioners find that stopping and looking deeply can free us from the compulsions that rob us of our time, our freedom, and our happiness. We can learn from small successes in taking the road not usually traveled. We build upon these small successes and pretty soon, we’re following the very Eightfold Path the Buddha spoke of as the means to transform our suffering.

As the founder of our lineage, Lieu Quan, observed in his enlightenment verse, “For the realization of True Emptiness to be possible, wisdom and action must go together.”

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Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, practices with Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, and leads retreats throughout the American Midwest.

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The Fifth Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption. I am committed to cultivating good health. both physical and mental. for myself. my family. and my society by practicing mindful eating. drinking. and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace. well-being. and joy in my body. in my consciousness. and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins. such as certain TV programs. magazines. books. films. and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray  y ancestors. my parents. my society. and future generations. I will work to  transform violence. fear. anger. and confusion in my self and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.


 

Making Friends with Time

By Tracy Sarriugarte and Peggy Rowe

Smell the Roses

People from a planet without flowers would
think we must be mad with joy the whole time to
have such things about us.
-Iris Murdoch

Beauty from nature is one of my favorite touchstones and it comes in all forms and shapes and sizes-trees, flowers, clouds, and creatures. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also in the ear and tongue and nose of the beholder. A bird song at midday can be as sweet as a soundless sunset. But beauty cannot touch us without our awareness, appreciation, and active participation.

I am passionately fond of roses, of every shape and hue and fragrance- especially fragrance. At my home, I cultivate long-stemmed hybrid teas, short and sassy floribundas, vigorous climbers, and wayward rugosas. My favorite roses have the most delightful names, like Angel Face, Sheer Bliss, Chrysler Imperial, Dainty Bess, and First Kiss.
mb28-MakingEvery rose in my garden is graced with scent. Some of my roses smell like cinnamon, some like honey, and some smell of citrus. My red roses have the deepest perfume, to match their rich, dark color; the white roses are the most delicately scented; and the yellow roses, my favorite, smell like summer sunshine. Yet with all their beautiful fragrance, a rose might as well be a weed if no one stops to smell it. In late spring, when the first roses burst into bloom, my garden is filled with delightful aromas and the humming of busy bees harvesting the sweet nectar and pollen. My neighbors, all busy people, hesitate a moment before getting into their cars to drive to work. I watch them stop and inhale deeply, standing with their car doors open, one leg already inside the car, and I often see them smile as they drive away. It makes me happy that their commute begins in a beautiful, aromatic way.

Seeing, hearing, or touching beauty reconnects us with our deep selves and with everything around us, of which we are a part. It’s as simple as smelling the many fragrances and aromas carried by the breeze, or listening to the sounds of children’s voices from the schoolyard, or touching the velvet fur of a beloved pet. When time seems to be moving away from us too quickly, the wonders of the natural world can bring us back to a deeper appreciation of life and true enjoyment of this moment in time.

Practice: Smell the Roses

  • What do you find beautiful? When are you touched by beauty?
  • Take a moment to appreciate the beauty around you right now-look around, sniff the air, listen for faint sounds in the distance, reach out to touch a different texture than where your hands now rest.
  • Get outside. Feel the caress of the air on your skin. Smell the fragrance of this season of the year. Touch a leaf or a blade of grass. Look up at the sky.
  • Notice what is most pleasing and beautiful to you. Make a note in your personal journal or share with another person how beauty touched you today.

Listen to Your Body

Each of us is a self-contained, free -standing
individual, labeled by specific protein configurations
at the surface of cells, identifiable by
whorls of fingertip skin, maybe even by special
medleys of fragrance. You’d think we’d never
stop dancing.
-Lewis Thomas, M.D.

Our body is the vehicle that helps us travel through time. Every feature of the human body was created with a special purpose. Meticulously designed, the body is a miracle. Every hair and every cell contain all the data necessary to make an entire universe. The body functions as a fully-integrated system much like a community. Each part benefits from the whole and if one part is disruptive, the whole system may be jeopardized.

Taking time to listen to the voice of our body is a practice of great benefit. If your body were to write you a letter, what would it say? Here is an example of a letter from my journal:

Dear Peggy: I’m enjoying the new diet. More water and greens help me feel strong and clear. I appreciate the regular meditation time. This helps me feel my natural rhythm and a sense of calm. I enjoy the walks with Suzanne. The movement is refreshing and the sun feels good. Thanks for listening. I love you, Your Body.

By putting ourselves in touch with our body, we come to feel and understand the body and learn concrete ways to bring it peace and joy. We know that stretching relieves tension and produces wellbeing; that we feel more alive after a walk; that we can change our state of mind by breathing deeply; that in dancing, we forget our worry; that our posture can reflect different attitudes and states of mind. Using our bodies in certain ways not only reconciles us to the physical world but also changes our state of mind in the present moment.

We can access body wisdom by stopping and listening, which can occur in a body session, during yoga or exercise, through letter writing and by prayer. Messages come to us via our senses, the experience of pain and pleasure, and through our dreams. Sometimes we can communicate with our body simply by looking in the mirror.

When I first sat down to have a chat with my body, I was frustrated. I couldn’t hear what my body had to say. As I looked more deeply into my experience, I realized that I had been out of touch with my body for some time. I had been dragging my body around like a stubborn puppy. As with any relationship, I would have to build trust. And that would take time.

As I continued to practice deep listening, I discovered that my body was communicating. The messages were just subtler than I had expected and I had to learn to understand them. Early body messages might be a twinge, an involuntary movement, or an itchy spot. I learned to follow body clues like a skilled tracker.

The first verbal message I consciously received from my body came to me as if it had been shouted. I was experiencing a sense of depression and I asked my body to help me understand my condition. The message I heard was, “You’re not depressed-you’re tired!” My body had been trying to communicate with me; in fact, it was sending the message as loudly and as clearly as it could. I had to say, “Quit shouting!” I instantly felt some relief from my body. I had heard! Hooray! No more shouting.

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The next chapter in my growing friendship with my body came in the form of information overload. Now that the communication lines were open and our relationship was on good terms, my body had a lot to say. During the next several months, I received Goldilocks-like messages such as: “like this” and “don’t like this,” “more of this” and “less of this,” “this hurts” and “this feels good.” After I began behaving in accordance with the information provided by my body, the communication settled down. Then, like Goldilocks, I discovered what was “just right.”

The food we eat, the way we breathe, how we treat our bodies can produce heaviness or lightness. Expressing concern and compassion for our body can bring us peace and joy. We discover how to rest and to refresh and restore to each part of the body the capacity to function normally. We can create positions of greater balance, experience well-being and even ecstasy. We can invent new harmonies and rhythms that help us step lightly, with grace and ease.

I find the voice of my body to be one of my greatest resources. My body is wise, relentlessly honest and, to my surprise, very kind. My body wants what is best for me. Depth psychologist Marion Woodman said, “If you can listen to the wisdom of your body, love this flesh and bone, dedicate yourself to its mystery, you may one day find yourself smiling from your mirror.”

Practice: Listen to Your Body

  • Take a few moments to listen to the voice of your body. Imagine that your body would like to write you a letter. Just let your hand and body write the letter.
  • This is a great practice for building regular communication with your body. It is also useful if you are feeling disconnected from your body or wishing to understand a particular condition or behavior.
  • What is your body saying right now? How do you want to respond?
  • What action can you take today that will let your body know that you are listening?

Notice Ordinary Miracles

Take, for example, a pencil, ashtray,
anything, and holding it before you in both
hands, regard it for a while. Forgetting its
use and name yet continuing to regard it,
ask yourself seriously, “What is it?” Its
dimension of wonder opens; for the mystery
of that being is identical with the mystery of
the being of the universe-and yourself.
-Joseph Campbell 

She was old for as long as I can remember. Shewore flower-sprigged dresses with a white apron and smelled of violets. She had sugar cookies as big as my fist and the cookie jar was always always full. When she was 81, she wrote her autobiography and called it My First 80 Years. My Grandmother Morris taught me the value of looking for ordinary miracles.

“Ordinary miracles are all around,” she said. Sometimes education helps us to see them. We learn in school how rainbows are created and we can never look at the sky again without knowing there are rainbows waiting in hiding. Other times, miracles are unveiled when we open our eyes and truly see what is there. This can be an experience of deeply appreciating a glorious sunset, responding to the touch of someone’s hand, or of feeling grateful for our own breath. And sometimes ordinary miracles reveal themselves in the company of one who is in touch with the extraordinary cloaked as ordinary.

Sand was one of my grandmother’s ordinary miracles. She had a large wooden storage shed full of jar after jar of sand. She began gathering sand when she was in her late teens. She first noticed sand when she was delivering Watkin’s spices from her horse and buggy route. The sun was striking the earth by the road and it looked like gold, she said, but it wasn’t gold, it was an ordinary miracle. Sand was never the same.

She married a fellow adventurer. Weekends and on vacation, they toured the country collecting sand. If anyone went on a trip, my grandmother knew what color of sand they could expect to find there. Her face would light up when she received a gift jar of sand. She would hurry into the shed to see if it was a new color.

This was the first ordinary miracle I learned about. I explored where to find the pink sand, black sand or orange sand. I discovered what created color. I learned to notice and value what was beneath my feet. I observed that the earth comes in all shades of the rainbow. I learned about rocks and minerals and to imagine a place with a pink beach.

The second ordinary miracle I learned about from my grandmother was that she transformed sand into art. She created sand paintings on plywood boards and in large glass bowls. I remember her with sand sifting through her hands, slowly and patiently creating works of art out of nature’s raw material. This was magic to me as a little girl, and the memory still is today. I look at sand and see color, art, and my grandmother.

We don’t need to go looking for ordinary miracles. They are everywhere and we see them when we stop, look, listen, and appreciate what is already in the circle of our own life. The value of doing this practice is that it can help us to stay open and available. It can help our hearts stay soft and connected to our own life. It can help us stay connected to the magic and the mystery that is present in our life. A pencil is a miracle; so is a sheet of paper, a matchstick, and a dinner plate. Experiencing an ordinary miracle stops time and opens us up to the timeless dimension. Pausing to appreciate ordinary miracles can help us remember that happiness is where we are and the miraculous is all around us.

Practice: Notice Ordinary Miracles

  • Find a comfortable place whether inside or in nature. Take a piece of paper and write down some of the ordinary miracles you observe.
  • Choose one of these ordinary miracles and sit with the item or being for five minutes. Forgetting its use and its name, hold the item or regard it and ask yourself, “What is this?” This is a practice of looking deeply and listening deeply.
  • What did you observe? What did you learn?
  • As you go throughout your day, anytime you see this item or being, see if you can recall the sensation or discovery that you made by looking deeply into an ordinary miracle.

Excerpted from Making Friends with Time (PBJ Productions 1999; available from Parallax Press) Tracy Sarriugarte is an ordained minister, an organizational consultant, and a creative entrepreneur. She practices with the Beginner’s Mind Sangha in Boise, Idaho. Peggy Rowe, True Original Vow, has more than twenty years of experience as a teacher and organizational consultant. She is a writer and gourd artist, and practices with the Still Water Sangha in Santa Barbara, California.

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Verses for Eating Mindfully

Looking At Your Empty Plate
My plate, empty now,
will soon be filled with precious food.

Serving Food
In this food,
I see clearly the
presence
of the entire universe
supporting my existence.

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Contemplating Your Food
This plate of food,
so fragrant and appetizing,
also contains much suffering

 

Beginning to Eat
With the first taste,
I promise to offer joy.
With the second,
I promise to help relieve
the suffering of others.
With the third,
I promise to see others’
joy as my own.
With the fourth,
I promise to learn the way
of nonattachment
and equanimity.

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Finishing Your Meal
The plate is empty.
My hunger is satisfied.
I vow to live
for the benefit of all beings.

 

Washing the Dishes
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

Drinking Tea
This cup of tea
in my two hands mindfulness is held uprightly!
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.

Drawings by Lynn Kennedy

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Mindful Eating

By Patrecia Lenore

Like all the Mindfulness Trainings, the fifth one on mindful consumption-has been a process for me. In my younger years, I drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes. In my early thirties, I gave up smoking, and sometime in my forties, I discovered that alcohol increased the symptoms of my illness, fibromyalgia, so I stopped drinking too. By the time I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 1993, drugs and alcohol were not a problem for me. But I did have an eating disorder that began in my childhood as a result of the unhealthy eating patterns in my family, and even more because of the abuse and neglect I experienced.

Food was my favorite escape and comfort during those very difficult years. When I baked cookies, half the dough went into my stomach before it was even baked. I would sneak food into my room when I could. Whenever I visited friends, I ate as much as I could. (My family also was very poor during my latter years at home and we often didn’t have enough, except for starchy foods.) When I married, I remember eating huge steaks and whole ice cream pies, not to mention a variety of other foods. I sometimes ate so much that I felt like I couldn’t move. I ate to cover up my feelings and my depression, and afterwards, I hated myself for doing it. All too often, it took me days to recover from eating binges, and I was not able to be very present for my husband or children, because I felt so sick and ashamed.

Eventually, I found a Twelve-Step program, as well as therapy, to address my eating disorder. Both helped. But when I read the Fifth Mindfulness Training in 1993, I felt a little panicky. I immediately thought of my eating disorder and knew I was still  not able to eat mindfully. Indeed, the silent meals on retreat were very difficult for me. Oddly enough, it felt okay to eat a lot very quickly, but to slow down and feel the entire eating process felt like torture. Sometimes I would find a place to eat alone. When difficult feelings came up at retreats, I wanted to binge, and, sad to say, often did.

At one point someone suggested that I stop, breathe, and ask myself what I was feeling, before I took that first bite leading to a binge. Later I also began to ask myself what I really needed in that moment. Often the answer was-and still is-love. Sometimes the love can be contact with a friend, receiving a hug or deep listening, or spending time with my daughters and grandchildren. Sometimes I try to nourish the seeds of joy in myself by resting, reading something wholesome, walking, listing things I’m grateful for, or reaching out and helping a friend. All of these things were what I needed in the past, but I didn’t know what to do and used food instead.

I am happy to say that this year I have been able to consistently refrain from overeating-at retreats and in my “regular” life. Sometimes it is very difficult. But when unwholesome food thoughts arise, I use the gentle practice of mindfulness to check in with myself, asking how I feel and what I need. Because mindfulness practice and the fifth training are always with me, I do not have to feel the terrible loneliness and fear of my childhood, and if those feelings do arise, I am learning to treat them gently, knowing they will pass.

I no longer need to hide in food. Food is just food, for the nourishment of my body and mind, so that I may live fully in the present. What a gift!

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Patrecia Lenore, Flower of True Virtue, teaches mindfulness in stress reduction courses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and practices with the New York Metro/Community of Mindful Living.

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Here Is the Pure Land. The Pure Land Is Here.

By  Sister Annabel

One day,  Queen Vaidehi asked the Buddha , “Is the place with no suffering very far away?” The Buddha replied, “No, it is not far away.” And then the Buddha taught the queen how to touch the land of Great Happiness in her own heart and in her own mind.

We talk about “the Pure Land.” In Sanskrit, the word is “Sukhavati. Sukha means happiness; vati means having: “The Place Which Has Happiness.” In the Chinese tradition, it is translated as the Pure Land, perhaps because of the nature of the writings about that place. These writings put us in touch with things we call pure. The Prajnaparamita writings were probably composed round about the same time as the Pure Land writing, and they say “No defiled, no immaculate.” And yet we talk about the Pure Land in Buddhism.

In the Pure Land, there are many kinds of wonderful birds. Let us think about a bird. The bird’s song sounds very pure, very beautiful. But we know the bird has to eat, and the food that the bird eats has waste matter, which we would consider impure. The sutra doesn’t tell us whether birds in the Pure Land eat or not. But if they do, there must be bird droppings in the Pure Land, which means that the Pure Land wouldn’t be quite so pure. Perhaps that is why the people who composed the Heart of the Prajnaparamita say, “No defiled” and “No immaculate.” We know that if there isn’t defiled, there can’t be immaculate.

To understand the teachings of the Pure Land, we need to understand about Buddhist psychology. We need to understand that the store consciousness contains all the seeds-seeds of purity and impurity, seeds of happiness and suffering. We need to learn skillful ways of touching the seeds of happiness and purity in us, particularly when we feel overwhelmed by impurity and suffering. The Buddha and other spiritual ancestral teachers have helped us find ways to touch the seeds of purity.

The Buddha gave teachings about places where there was a lot of happiness. He sometimes pointed to a city like Kushinagara, the city where the Buddha later passed away, and said that in former times, this place was a place of great happiness. He would describe how the people lived there in a lot of happiness. Probably some ancestral teacher put together the Sukhavati Sutras based on some of the things the Buddha had said about lands of great happiness.

The Sukhavati Sutras and the Avatamsaka Sutra may seem very strange when we read for the first time. We read descriptions of trees that have jewels for their leaves, flowers, and fruit, and descriptions of water with eight virtuous qualities- clarity, sweetness, purity, coolness, limpidity, etc. These descriptions are not for us to consider intellectually. We do not read the Pure Land Sutras or the Avatamsaka Sutra with an intellectual mind. But when we read them, the descriptions touch the seeds of purity in us. For instance, we do not see leaves of jewels on the  trees here. In autumn, the leaves here fall to the earth, decompose, and become one with the Earth again, whereas, a jewel doesn’t decompose. But actually, if we look deeply into it, a jewel comes from decomposed material, because the mineral realms are also made up of the plant realms. When we walk among the trees in the autumn on this planet Earth, we see the beautiful red and yellow colors like jewels shining in the sunlight. But sometimes, we don’t bring our mind to the presence of the trees, because we are lost in our worries or regrets. When we have been reading the Pure Land Sutras on a regular basis, then something in the depth of our consciousness knows that a tree is very precious, as precious as the most precious jewels. So whenever we meet a tree in mindfulness, we remember that it is precious, and we can be there with it in the present moment. And when we are really there in the present moment, we are already in the Pure Land.

There are different levels of belief in the Pure Land, and the highest level of Pure Land teaching is that your mind is the Pure Land, the Pure Land is available in your mind. The ancestral teachers put  together the Pure Land Sutras with a kind of wisdom that helps us be in touch, and helps us to have the deep aspiration to be in a Pure Land and also, to help to build a Pure Land.

In Plum Village, we often have to write assignments for Thay. One year, Thay gave us the assignment to write about the Pure Land that we wanted to be part of. He told us to give a very clear description. What kind of trees would be there? What kind of activities would there be? Everybody wrote about a slightly different Pure Land, so we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Pure Lands. In each of our minds, there is the Pure Land, and we can go about establishing the Pure Land. You may like to write about this also. It’s a very enjoyable assignment.

When we think about our own Pure Land, we have to come back to Queen Vaidehi’s question. “Lord Buddha, is there a place where there is no suffering?” Out of compassion, the Buddha said,  “Yes, there is.” Queen Vaidehi’s heartfelt aspiration to be in that place of no suffering came about because she  had suffered so much. If she hadn’t suffered, the idea of a place where  there is no suffering would never have occurred to her. So suffering and no-suffering go together, in the same way defiled and immaculate go together. They are not absolute realities; they are only relative realities. And sometimes the Buddha has to teach the relative truth in order to be compassionate, to help, and to encourage. And that is why the Buddha said there is a place where there is no suffering.

But we know that Queen Vaidehi would also want to help those who are suffering. In the Pure Land, we have many bodhisattvas. The great joy of being in the Pure Land is that we are near many bodhisattvas. And if a bodhisattva wants to help those who are suffering, there must be people who are suffering. Therefore, in the Pure Land, there are people who are suffering for us to help. When we wrote about our Pure Land in Plum Village, many of us wrote about how the bodhisattvas helped others. One person even had a hospital in the Pure Land.

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When you come to a Dharma talk, you feel very happy. Maybe you feel you are most happy when you are sitting and listening to the Dharma, because the Dharma is deep and lovely. It is beautiful in the beginning, it is beautiful in the middle, and beautiful at the end. In the Sukhavati Sutra, they say that in the Pure Land, you are always hearing teaching of the Dharma. But you don’t just hear the Buddha Amitabha- the Buddha Of Limitless Light, the Buddha who founded the Pure Land. You don’t just hear him giving teachings. You hear the birds giving teachings, you hear the trees giving teachings. Every time the wind rustles in the trees, that is a teaching of the Dharma; and every time the birds sing, that is a teaching of the Dharma. And when the people hear the wind rustling in the tree, they stop and remember the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Awakening, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the other teachings of the Buddha.

There is a song written by Thay in Vietnamese, and then translated into English and put to music: “Here Is the Pure Land.” I practice this song when I do jogging meditation. If I sing it in Vietnamese, then every syllable is one footstep. And I can also sing it in English and jog at the same time. It’s very wonderful to be jogging in the Pure Land.

The first words of the song are “Here is the Pure Land.” And the second sentence is “The Pure Land is here.” This is in the  tradition of the ancestral teachers. “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” We say things twice like that because our  consciousness receives the first word of a sentence as the most important word. So if we just said, “Form is emptiness,” our mind concentrates more on the word “form” than it does on “emptiness.” So we then say “Emptiness is form,” so our mind is equally concentrated on form and emptiness. In the same way, if we say “Here is the Pure Land,” our mind is more concentrated on the word “here.” And if we say “The Pure Land is here,” our mind is more concentrated on “the Pure Land.” So the words of the song allow us to be concentrated on both.

Watering the seeds of purity in our store consciousness helps establish a good balance between purity and impurity. We have the tendency sometimes to look on everything as being impure and we need to put the balance right. We practice watering the seeds of happiness for the same reason. We have the tendency to look on the planet Earth as a place of suffering, and we need to put the balance right by seeing the happiness also.

When the Buddha taught Queen Vaidehi, she asked him “If the Pure Land is not very far away, if it’s right here, how do I practice to be there?” The Buddha gave her a guided meditation in which she could touch the Pure Land. It’s a little bit like the guided meditation “Breathing in, I am a flower; Breathing out, I feel fresh.” He taught her to be in touch with the lotus flower in her own consciousness, the lotus flower blooming. He taught her to be in touch with the lake of the most clear, sweet water in her consciousness. In that way, she could begin by touching the seeds of happiness in her own consciousness. Then, when she was outside, walking in nature, she would also touch that world and feel happy.

Each of us has the capacity to build Pure Land a little bit in their own home, or by building a practice center, or by joining a practice center, or in their local Sangha. The local Sangha where we only meet each other once a week, or perhaps a bit more, is also a place where we can build Pure Land together. We can decide what kind of environment we can make. How can we arrange the sitting meditation hall in order to water the seeds of Right Attention in everyone who comes into the meditation hall?

The idea of attention in Buddhist psychology is quite important. It’s called manaskara in Sanskrit, and is one of the 51 mental formations. It’s one of the  first five mental formations, which we call “the universal mental formations.” Universal means that they are always occurring, they’re always there. We are always giving our attention to something. We know that we can give our attention in an appropriate way, or we can give our attention to what is inappropriate. So we have Appropriate Attention and Inappropriate Attention.

When we go into the town or turn on the television, we need to be very careful what we give our attention to. You may see newspapers with words and images on them, and even though you don’t stop to read them, if you give your attention to them, they can sometimes water the seeds in your consciousness that are not altogether wholesome. All kinds of information can flow into our consciousness through our eyes and our ears. We don’t have to intentionally  receive that information; it may still flow in. This is the meaning of universal mental formation (sarvatiaga); it is happening all the time.

So, we should make our environment a place where everything surrounding us helps nurture the best, the most refreshing things in us, things that can make us and other people happy. We can all do a little bit of this work-in our garden, in our home, in our school, in the place where we work. This is part of making a Pure Land.

Sister Annabel Laity is the Abbess of Maple Forest Monastery and Green Mountain Dharma Center in HartlandFour Corners, Vermont. This article is excerpted from a Dharma talk she gave in San DiegoCalifornia in September 2000.

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Lay Residential Sangha

By  Bruce Kantner

In about the Summer  1999 Mindfulness that Bell, my wife I wrote about the Sangha-ecovillage that my wife and I are working to start on our farm in southern New Hampshire. We propose to adopt a co-housing model combined with our nonprofit Geocommons center for interbeing studies. Our goal is to deepen our learning and practice of mindful, sustainable, compassionate living. We envision a community of 15-20 households that is intergenerational, diverse, interdenominational, and grounded in the Buddha’s wisdom. Important founding guides are the mindfulness teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, practice examples from the Community of Mindful Living, and principles of ecological sustainability and Earth wisdom.

This founding work has gone slowly. We’ ve tried different strategies to attract people, including a co-housing study circle that met biweekly for six months. At Thich Nhat Hanh’s Ascutney Retreat last September, East and West Coast sponsors held a joint meeting for people interested in a lay residential Sangha. Over twenty people attended and expressed lively interest, but so far only two have kept in touch with us, and we still haven’t formed a core group.

One lesson my wife and I have learned in this process is not to get discouraged. Just putting the idea of a residential lay Sangha out there nourishes the Earth community. It’s my heart speaking to other hearts, even though I may get few direct responses or confirmations from others. Interbeing practice is at the core of my life’s intention. Working on community, even mostly by myself, helps me remember that I am connected- that this funny, grand illusion of separate self is trying in many ways to expand its little, fearful boundaries.

Another lesson is that the lack of response from “out there” does not mean the world is not ready for this kind of intentional, mindful, sustainable community. It’s even possible for me occasionally to slip into feeling like a victim-nobody wants to join “my” wonderful visionary effort! These signals remind me to turn to mindfulness and to embrace, calm, and release these feelings. Sometimes I can see that Sangha is already around me, not just in the gifts of spiritual books and retreats, but in my neighbors who are working to save wildlife habitats and support ethical, caring candidates for public office. Just this past week I suddenly became involved with a small group of dedicated townsfolk who have been working to mitigate damage by a Canadian logging company to a magnificent 400 acre forest not far from our village center. Now I’m helping tie this effort into a new, regional project to conserve several thousands  of acres from the unskilled development pressures of the Boston megalopolis. All of this is fundamentally about mindfulness and people who join in Sangha-like efforts to respond when the conditions are ripe. I see that I must become more ready for Sangha myself through cultivating mindfulness and preparing my own house.

A third lesson is one that I’m contemplating, but have not yet engaged in. In his booklet Sangha Practice, Jack Lawlor suggests that we don’ t have to advertise or hold a meeting to start a Sangha. He says we might simply invite a few acquaintances to our home to share sitting mediation and conversation afterwards. I live in a rural setting where most of my closer friends over the years have been from outside the region. My Sangha is at Green Mountain Dharma Center, forty-five minutes away. The thought of inviting local folks over for meditation is a bit daunting. How would I deal with the Buddhist context? Could I explain it as stress reduction or a psycho-spiritual system for self-inquiry? What about Thay and the monastics? Would neighbors be afraid of what could appear to be a guru and his cult? Of course these questions apply even more strongly to a residential, lay Sangha that might evolve on this property one day.

This past week I attended two meetings with a skilled and sensitive land conservation organizer from Vermont. She stressed again and again the importance of inviting each neighbor over for muffins, coffee, and good conversation well before we held any public meetings on conservation issues. She urged us to meet each person with a completely open, fresh mind, holding no preconceptions from gossip or personal judgments. Her stories of success built on finding common ground were vivid and inspiring and reminded me of Thay’s teaching on being peace.

My next steps in building community involve working more from the inside out. This also feels appropriate to the coming of winter. I’m reminded of the Christmas carol, People Look East: “Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table… Love the Guest is on the way.” Subsequent verses refer to Love the Rose, Bird, Star, and Lord. If I’m ready in heart, mind, and home for the Guests, then I can happily invite them in for mindful conversation, sitting together, and enjoying muffins. These are seeds for our Sangha-ecovillage.

Bruce Kantner can be reached at Derbyshire FarmTemple, NH 03084, Tel: (603)654-2523, Email mev@tellink.net.

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Language of the Heart

By Paul Tingen

Out beyond ideas o/wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field.
/’II meet you there.
When the soul lies in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
Rumi

Imagine for a moment that you’re on a peace mission in another country with a few Sangha members, speaking to people who live in the area. Suddenly someone in the audience jumps up and yells at you: “Murderer! Assassin!” Before you know it, most of your audience have joined in, and the situation becomes threatening. How would you feel? What would you do? Breathing and smiling alone may calm you, but may not be enough to calm the anger in the crowd. Most of us would be deeply grateful for a strategy to defuse the situation, and more importantly, to connect with the hearts of the people in the audience. Such a strategy exists, can easily be learnt, and has been proven to work. In the real situation described above, the technique was so effective that the person holding the talk was invited to share a holy meal with the very person who first shouted “murderer!”

A few years ago, peace mediator Marshall Rosenberg experienced this very outburst during a talk in a Palestinian refugee camp. In response, he used Nonviolent Communication (NYC), or Compassionate Communication-a practice of mindful speech and deep listening. NVC is also known as “a language of the heart,” or “giraffe language,” because giraffes have the largest hearts of any land animal. Giraffes also have long necks with which they can more easily see future consequences of their actions, and pea-sized brains that make it impossible for them to make heady analyses, criticisms, blame, shame, and judgments of their unfortunate counterpart, the jackal. In NVC, the jackal symbolizes habit energies of criticizing, blaming, and shaming that undermine even our best intentions.

Dr. Rosenberg, an American psychologist who studied with Carl Rogers, developed Nonviolent Communication as “a process that strengthens our ability to inspire compassion from others and respond compassionately to others and ourselves.” Rosenberg noticed that certain people stay centered and loving in the face of the most challenging circumstances, even in a society that routinely expresses needs through coercive and controlling thinking and  language-blame, criticism, shame, and punishment. According to Rosenberg, this jackal approach is a “life-alienating form of thinking and communication,” and the root of the immense suffering and violence that plague our planet. In a similar vein, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “If you have a gun, you can kill a dozen people; if you have an ideology and try to enforce it, you can kill millions.”

Meditation is one way of quieting the noisy judgments of our rational mind. Thich Nhat Hanh calls meditation our “appointment with ourselves.” It is an opportunity to listen to ourselves, to listen to our heart, to practice compassion and deep understanding. Considering Thay’s emphasis on relationships, families, communities, and reconciliation, one could call his path “a practice of the heart.” My contention is that this “practice of the heart” and NVC’s “language of the heart” are delightfully complementary and mutually reinforcing.

Like mindfulness practice, Rosenberg’s “giraffe” language is simple and very powerful. In developing this practice, he looked deeply into the nature of the way we habitually think and communicate. The result, NVC, offers a radical and hopeful alternative for communication that fosters understanding. And like Thay’s teachings, NVC strongly emphasizes non-duality, not taking sides, and reconciliation. The giraffe-jackal duality that NVC appears to create is illusory, useful only to meet needs for learning and clarity. In the end, there are no jackals, only giraffes with a language problem.

The practice of NVC does away with coercive and controlling language-words like right, wrong, too this or too that, should, ought, and so on. When I first encountered NVC, I realized that during my years of spiritual training, all I’d done was extend the limits of “wrong” behavior that I was willing to look at with compassion and understanding. I still felt that there were right and wrong behaviors, and I still labeled people and their behavior in critical ways. In contrast, NVC recommends eradicating every sense of rightdoing and wrongdoing, encouraging us to go all the way and not even judge murder or the destruction of our environment as wrong. We can immediately sense the enormous ramifications. For most people, this feels like a terrifying leap. How can we protect our freedom and safety, and peace and the beauty and richness of our planet, if we cannot say that cutting down rainforests, murder, or selling weapons is wrong? But by not judging, NVC does not condone these actions. Instead it offers a powerful language with which we can express our likes and dislikes, our values and our needs, in a non-coercive, non-blaming, nonviolent way–one that is likely to be much more effective in creating the understanding and change we seek.

NYC employs three techniques to cultivate powerful, loving speech. First, NVC encourages us to explore how our feelings relate to our needs, and not to events around us, as we may first believe. Secondly, it encourages us to recognize human needs as universal, divine qualities that all human beings share. And thirdly, NYC distinguishes our needs from “specific, doable, here and now requests.” From these premises springs a common language of the heart that all human beings share and understand. This “giraffe language” is a way of connecting and communicating with the Buddha nature in ourselves and others.

To explain how NYC works, I need to spell out the fundamentals of giraffe language. It may seem a little bit complicated at first, and as with any new language, we must practice to become fluent. Once we get it, however, giraffe language will feel more natural than the habitual jackal language of blame, shame, and punishment.

Classic giraffe language employs four basic steps: observe, name feelings, identify needs, and make requests.

1) Observe. Identify what we see in purely descriptive language, without evaluation or interpretation. In mindfulness practice, Thay also emphasizes the importance of double-checking our perceptions, urging us to ask, “Am I sure?”

2) Name Feelings. Get in touch with how we feel in the present moment, and name pure feelings. “I feel rejected,” or “I feel misunderstood” are feelings mixed with evaluations, and unhelpful. Instead, name heart feelings such as: sad, hurt, frustrated, happy, skeptical, resistant, touched, serene, mindful, intrigued, relaxed, open, scared, or optimistic. Simply naming our feelings without evaluation is also an aspect of our mindfulness practice—one of many practices that are complementary with NVC.

3) Identify Needs. Identify the immediate need causing our feeling. For example, “I feel scared because my safety feels threatened,” or “I feel joyful because of the appreciation I’m getting,” or “I feel frustrated because I’m not getting respect.”

4) Make Requests. Ask for a specific action that is doable right here and now. This offers a practical opportunity for creating heart-connection and making each other’s life more wonderful. It is a bridge that connects people.

In real life, the practice may sound something like: “When I hear you screaming, I feel scared, because I’m not getting the safety I want. Please would you lower your voice?” Note that the speaker does not use any judgmental language, such as that the person screaming is “wrong,” or “too loud.” The speaker simply expresses his or her own feelings and needs, and follows it with a specific, doable request. Or giraffe language could be: “When I see you smile  at me, I feel warm and touched, because it meets my need for being seen and appreciated. Could you tell me how you feel when you hear me say that?”
mb28-Language

Note that giraffe grammar always puts “I” with “I” and “you with “you.” I feel something because I want something, and you feel things because you want something. A giraffe never believes that her feelings are caused by someone else’s actions, or that he can cause someone else’s feelings. A giraffe has two choices of expression: honesty, i.e., expressing her own feelings and needs, or empathy, i.e., hearing the other person’s feelings and needs regardless of how they are expressed. In contrast, jackal puts “I” in relation to “you,” e.g., “I feel scared because you’re shouting,” or “I feel warm because you’re smiling at me.”

When Marshall Rosenberg was called a murderer as he addressed the Palestinians in a refugee camp, he responded with empathy. He realized that the speaker’s exhortations might have had something to do with his American nationality, and the fact that the night before, tear gas canisters stamped with “Made in the USA” had been shot into the camp. Rosenberg explored the speaker’s feelings and needs: “Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently?” The man shouted more angry words in response. Rosenberg remembers, “Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for nearly twenty more minutes, and me listening for the feeling and need behind each statement. I didn’t disagree or agree. I received the man’s words not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human, willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with me. Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear me as I explained my purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, he invited me to his home for Ramadan dinner.” Rosenberg was able to practice compassionate listening and loving speech with the angry man because he was able to hear the man’s needs, and because he did not immediately try to fix things by suggesting practical solutions.

Separating the expression of needs from the expression of requests for solutions opens up the common ground of our needs-needs for air, food, shelter, sleep, empathy, love, compassion, understanding, connection, community, etc. A request seeks help with solutions, here-and-now action. Arguments and wars do not begin because people  disagree about needs, but rather because of the way people go about getting their needs met. If we can see the universal need of another person, we may begin to recognize his or her humanity.
It is sad how often we communicate our needs through a pointing finger, rather than an outstretched hand. NVC does not call this jackal behavior wrong, but points out that blame and judgment are tragic ways of expressing our unmet needs. Someone who uses jackal language is in pain and need. Recognizing this makes compassion and connection with the poor jackal- our own or someone else’s-not only possible, but necessary.

NVC, like mindfulness practice, emphasizes focus on present moment feelings and needs. Rosenberg says, “Spend more than five words on the past and the chances that you’ll get your present moment needs met diminish with every word.” The crucial question for a giraffe is always “What is alive in you or me in this moment?”

Like Thay’s teachings, NYC also recommends that we stop when we notice anger arising in us, and wait until we are sure that we can respond from a point of our choosing. It recommends that we use this stopping to watch the “jackal-show” in our head our angry tapes of judgment and blame-and to identify the feelings and needs that underlie our anger. Stopping is the core of our mindfulness practice, and conscious breathing is our wonderful vehicle. We can use this practice to look deeply, and identify our feelings and needs, meditating on the seeds of our anger. Once we have transformed our  anger enough, once we are in touch with our Buddha nature again, we can use giraffe language to express what we see, feel , and want. When we are ready, we communicate our feelings and needs. As Thay has said, our anger melts like snow in the sun when we have true understanding of a situation or a person. NVC makes the same point: When we are able to look deeply and connect with the human suffering that underlies another person’s actions, our anger often vanishes. Sometimes, however, my anger does not disappear even when I understand the other person, and now this is a sign for me that I need to look deeply into and express my feelings and needs. Usually I need empathy and understanding.

For me, giraffe language embodies the Fourth Mindfulness Training, and the Eighth and Ninth Mindfulness Trainings of the Order Of Interbeing: “Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. … We will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

Thay often stresses the importance of engaged Buddhist practice. NVC hands us a language for peaceful engagement. Combining NVC’s “language of the heart” with Thay’ s “practice of the heart” gives us powerful instruments for transformation of ourselves and our relationships, and enables us to contribute to the well-being of communities and the world.

Paul Tingen, True Artist of The Heart, can be emailed at paul@tingen.co.uk. Marshall Rosenberg has written a book on the practice of NVC: Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Compassion (PuddleDancer Press, ISBN: 1-892005-02-6). More information about NVC is available from the Centrfor Nonviolent Communication website: www.cnvc.org, or by phone: (800) 255-7696.

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Poem: Conch Shell

mb28-Conch

I found a conch shell on the
beach.
The corridors of life are permanently etched into it.
The endless spiral implies
infinity. Or nothing.
Layers of time converge in a
point, and then fan out like a
clan of pioneers seeking their
manifest destiny.
Here someone tried to get in.
There someone tried to get
out.
The ocean’s tough love has
liberated all.
Waves come and go-
through – as they wish now.
There are no more
boundaries.

Ruby Sinreich

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Watering the Seeds

By  Lennis Lyon

I n 1997, I asked my 23-year-old son, Tatian, if he would like to join me on my first visit to Plum Village. “Sure, I’ve never been to Europe,” he replied. I explained we would have one night in Paris, but the rest of the two weeks would be at a Buddhist monastery. His greatest fear was having to get up at 5:00 a.m.

When it came time to leave for France in December, I had a bad flu, and couldn’t fly. Tatian decided to go ahead. My bags were packed for a quick departure, but the unrelenting flu postponed my trip entirely. Meanwhile, Tatian called home with reports of his surprise at how good natured and humorous the monks were, how they let him sleep in (he never did meditate), and how for his first job a monk asked him to saw a fallen tree in half and pointed to the shed where he could find a saw. Being new at felling trees, Tatian chose a small saw, and was barely into the cut two days later. The monk laughed and recommended a larger saw.

Tatian was amazed at the trust the community had in his abilities, especially when he was asked to take charge of planning and preparing the evening meal for Upper Hamlet when the head cook was called away on a family emergency. When Tatian asked for the recipe, a monk motioned to the pantry, saying, “You can make whatever you want.” Not quite up to this task, Tatian asked for and received help.

Tatian also spoke of Thich Nhat Hanh’s meaningful talks, especially one on love.

I could not have been a happier sick person, knowing my son was experiencing firsthand the teachings and the monastic Sangha who have so deeply touched my life. Then, Tatian returned, moved 300 miles away, and nothing further was said about Buddhism.

In December, a year later, I asked the usual question, “What would you like for Christmas?” Tatian replied by naming clothes, CDs, electronic devices, and the Diamond Sutra. Wonderfully startled, I inquired as nonchalantly as possible, “How did you hear about the Diamond Sutra? “Thich Nhat Hanh gave a talk about it in Plum Village,” he answered.

I am grateful that the seeds of mindfulness have been watered in my son and in myself.

Lennis Lyon practices with Pot Luck Sangha in Oakland, California.

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The Bear in the Blueberries

By Linda Buckley

Twice a month a group of families gathers to practice mindfulness in Juneau, Alaska. We meet on Sunday afternoons in private homes. When a family is hosting the mindfulness family gathering, they decide on a theme, choose an activity to support the theme, and offer a mindful snack. Each snack is preceded by the five contemplations and a sharing circle looking deeply into the food we are about to eat.

In September, with the theme of harvest, our activity was to go out into the yard and pick blueberries for our snack. We selected some nice plump berries, washed them and put them in a large bowl. We recited the five contemplations and then began a discussion. Can you see the sun in the blueberries? Yes. Everyone could easily see the sun in the berries. Can you see the rain in the blueberries? Oh yes. Can you see the earth? Yes. Can you see the bear in the blueberries? Not really. In fact, the children agreed that the bear was not in the blueberries. The blueberries could be in the bear. But the bear could not be in the blueberries.

One of the children, Haley, had brought a small stuffed bear with her that day. She was putting the small bear on her head and balancing it there as she shared in the discussion. After seeing nearly the whole universe in the blueberries (except the bear) we passed the bowl around and mindfully began to let the sweet juice of the berries bring joy to our mouths. Each person would offer the bowl of berries, bow, and pass it on to the next. As Haley bowed to offer berries to her brother Alex, the bear perched on top of her head plopped into the blueberries. Everyone laughed and I asked, “Now can you see the bear in the blueberries?” YES!!

Then Alex said quite seriously, “The bear is in the blueberries because when the bear eats the blueberries and then goes to the bathroom, that goes into the earth and feeds the blueberry bush for next year … so the bear is in the blueberries.”

Linda Buckley, True Spiritual Fulfillment, is the Director of the Mindfulness Center of Juneau, Alaska. She is working on a book on family practice. For information on her book or ideas for family practice you may contact her at lbuckley@gci.net.

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Poem: Plum Blossom Poem

As bees
attendant to blossom,
we come

wedded to spring rain
and white petals;

soft step
among the orchard

the green clover
and thick, green grass.

The finger that sows the seed
is the root
our bodies, taut trunks
bear down
in earth
as seed and fruit

then reach upwards again
as branches
as blossoms unfold;
Open up thy hands
to receive the gift
of this, our Sun
and Father.

Slipping into the white blossom
the long tongue of the bee
reaches to the very roots

touches the seed
of rainwater,
suckles the petaled sun
and gathers nectar
on its honeyed tongue
to feed. itself,
its hive
and its young.

Yet the gift is wish less; it is
without purpose.

The honey bee pollinates
what it does not mean to plant:
Apple seeds, bloom in trees, in
raindrops,
And yes sometimes bees.

Just so do we
by our constant care and effort,
nurture ourselves
The finger that sows the seed
is the root
and impregnate joys

in others’ nest unknowing.

At our table
As our hands lift food from our
plates
they fill wooden crates
full of apples.

We are the harvest hands
who this morning rise to pick
the fruit of loving kindness and
giving
in living generosity,

singing at once
the selfsame harvest song;

In feeding ourselves
we feed others

In feeding others
we feed ourselves.

Chan Phap Tue
(inspired by the plum blossom festival, spring 2000)

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Poem: I Embrace the Sky

I embrace the sky
when her storms hurl me
into dark clouds
I remind myself
that we share the same matter
the clouds and I
Yet the clouds do not know
my fears, my judgments, my plans
I look up
and see a woman riding a billygoat
a cloud transforming through the
sky
I cannot hold on to the clouds

I embrace the sky
knowing she is ever-changing
Every morning she offers me
a new view
a new beginning
and I beam with her light
each moment
I realize I am witnessing
her freshness
in me

I embrace the sky
as 1 watch my actions
Fear strikes my depths
in old ruts worn deep
But when I look to her
I remember my being
and see that I am
not in the past
nor in the future
there is nothing to fear
right now
for she is smiling
in a sunrise
with me

I embrace the sky
when my body aches with pain
I breathe her air
and feel her touch my whole being
with energy from the belly of the
universe her
love soothes me
and I breathe out
in whispers of my essence
“I am so free
to let go of you
as I embrace you.”

I embrace the sky.

Erica Shane Hamilton

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A Collection of Gathas

Gathas are verses used to focus attention on the present moment during various tasks in daily life.
-Ed.

Gatha before Going to Sleep
I vow to bring awareness
into my sleep tonight
to dispel all fears
to see emptiness in all desires
to find my way with mindfulness
to know what is reality
what is an illusion

Listening to Bird Songs
The birds sing Dharma songs:
All things are here
All loved ones are here
We only need to be present
To celebrate this union and
happiness

Gratitude
this morning when I wake up
the raindrops follow my footsteps
each raindrop
deepens my gratitude for you.

Sister True Adornment with NonDiscrimination

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Precious Steps For Peace

By Pamela Overeynder

Members of Plum Blossom Sangha of Austin helped organize and participated in a public walking meditation on December 10, 2000, International Human Rights Day. The event, “Precious Steps for Peace,” was sponsored by the Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It was held to raise awareness about the international land mine crisis and to share with our Austin community the wonderful and ancient practice of walking meditation as a way to cultivate inner peace and compassion, and to diffuse anger and other unwholesome emotions.

About fifty people participated in the silent walk at the State Capitol. Most were not Buddhist and had never experienced walking meditation. As people arrived they were given a small card with Thay’s calligraphy which says, “What is most important is to find peace and to share it with others.” We gathered in a circle and invited everyone to:
Walk in silence.
Walk in support of our brothers and sisters
around the world.
Walk because you can.
Walk in gratitude.
Walk for peace.
Walk with all your heart for those who can’t.

Among the “walkers” were a woman in a wheelchair, a five-year-old girl and a soon to be born baby. We walked from the steps of the Capitol down the Great Walk, as it is called, toward the street. As I walked I repeated the gatha “Peace, Now.” During the walk, several people, including me, noticed the distinct smell of sandalwood incense. As far as we know, no one offered incense, but the smell was unmistakable. A large poster showing two children with prosthetic devices in place of legs was placed at the end of the walkway, inviting each person to pause there for a moment before turning to walk back to the Capitol steps.

There were many people visiting the Capitol who quietly and respectfully moved around and past us as we walked. Children played happily on old canons, (relics of past wars) while their parents posed for Christmas pictures in front of the Capitol. One walker noted how fast and nervous “normal” walking seemed in comparison to our slow walk. People were deeply moved by the experience and expressed gratitude for the practice and for increased awareness of others’ suffering.

We can play an important role as students of the Buddha by initiating and cultivating a dialogue about what it means to be peacemakers. Our walking meditation was one step in that direction.

Pamela Overeynder practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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The danger of unexploded land mines is one of the most pressing and immediate
impediments to peace in the world today. Peace is much more than the absence of war. Peace is only possible when all beings are free to walk unharmed wherever they wish, when children can play safely outside, when farmers can work the land free of the danger of unexploded land mines.

There are over 70 million unexploded land mines around the world. Every 22 minutes, someone is maimed or killed by a land mine. This is an unnecessary tragedy. Citizens’ groups around the world are joining in the massive effort to do what governments won’t do–clear the minefields now.

The Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign is a four-month project of the local chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States. The campaign, a global citizens’ effort, gives safe communities the opportunity to help endangered sister communities rid themselves of land mines. By adopting and raising funds to clear a minefield in the village of Praca in Bosma-Herzegovina, residents of Austin will help save lives and give hope to a people who desperately need to return to their homes. The goal of the Austin Campaign is to raise $50,000 to help clear the minefields in Praca. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ranked the village of Praca as a high priority for clean up and rebuilding.

As we reflect on the truth of interbeing, we see that all suffering is our own suffering. By recognizing our interconnectedness with all beings and acting now, we can make an immediate difference. Please join us in this very human endeavor to clear the path for a peaceful return home for the people of Praca after a long and bitter war.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Austin Campaign, please make your check out to the Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign and mail to 1212 Guadalupe, Suite 105, Austin, Texas 78701. The website is www.austinlandmines.org. To find out if there’s a campaign in your community, contact UNA-USA, 801 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10017, Attention: Oren Schlein. Phone: 212-907-1314. Visit the national website at www.landmine.org.

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Vietnam Update

By Sister Chan Khong

On a recent night, though it was very late, I could not sleep because I knew that hundreds of thousands of victims of the most recent flooding in Vietnam were sitting on their roofs, exhausted, cold, and hungry. I sat in my room, but I felt as if I was sitting on one of those houses in the village of Vinh Hung, Tam Nong District, Dong Thap Province.

My home village is not Vinh Hung where 27 people have drowned, nor is it Moc Hoa where 18 children and two elderly people died. But I feel that wherever people suffer, it is my homeland. My home town is not in Tan Chau District, Chau Doc Province, where the water rose to 18 feet high, and tens of thousands crouched together, waiting for help. Forty-three people died in this district. In Chau Doc province, there is an annual flood from August to October, but the water usually rises only one to two feet. The high water helps a rice plant called Iua sa grow fast, and gives a food harvest. Being used to these smaller annual floods, the people in Chau Doc tried to adapt instead of moving to higher ground, as the government had advised. But in a ten-day period in September 2000, the water rose higher than the highest level in the last forty years. When the water rises so fast and stays too long, all the rice plants rot. In the fall of 2000, thousands of rice fields and pineapple fields rotted, and huge fruit orchards were totally destroyed by the flooding.

The government was challenged to rescue the hundreds of thousands of victims hanging on their roofs, scattered across the immense area of eight provinces along the Mekong River. Many children fell in the water and drowned. Perhaps they were hungry, cold, and exhausted. In the province cities like Cao Lanh or Long Xuyen, the bodies of dead animals float with human excrement, creating an extremely unhealthy environment. The people often have no running water, electricity, or clean drinking water.

Green Mountain Dharma Center and Plum Village were able to send $10,000 US to help 4,000 families. Each farillly received eight kilograms of rice and five packages of instant noodles. We have hundreds of monks and nuns and lay practitioners in the troubled spots to do the rescue work on our behalf.

Please share what you can with these friends in Vietnam. With $3.00 US, we can offer 30 packages of instant noodles; with $20.00 US, we can offer 80 kilograms of rice to a family; with $50.00 US, we can offer a small boat for one family, as transportation and to make a living in this area of rivers and water. For $200.00 US, we can offer a family enough to buy seeds to replant their crops and rebuild their homes. Please send your tax deductible gift to: Attn. Sister Chan Hy Nghiem, GMDC, P.O. Box 182, Hartland Four
Comers, VT 05049.

May the energy of loving kindness be with you all year round.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, lives in Plum Village. She is the author of Learning True Love.

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Finding the Hermit in Italy

By Erika Manzan

One morning during Thich Nhat Hanh’s October retreat in Italy, he talked to the children about finding our own Hermit. Thay said that to meet our Hermit, we must pay attention, since he can take any form. At the end of the children’s Dharma talk, he invited them to write about their own experience and to send him their writings. Though I’m a mature woman and my hair all white, deep in my heart, I am one of those little girls. So I decided to write about my experience with my own Hermit.

During the retreat, I walked outdoors with Thay, the monastics and the whole Sangha. Walking slowly and peacefully through the pine woods was wonderful, relaxing, and full of harmony. And during just such a walking meditation, I met my Hermit.

I was walking attentively, following my breath, when my left foot bumped into something solid, sitting in the middle of my path. It was a big pine cone, tightly closed because of the night rain. “Here’s my Hermit!” I picked it up and brought it with me. Once in my room, I placed it on the table and bowed to it in welcome. Then I returned to the retreat activities.

That night, after the last sitting meditation, I came back to my “hermitage” and my Hermit was where I left it, sitting still with dignity. I said hello and started to prepare myself for the night. But lost in my thoughts, I suddenly knocked my forehead against the upper bunk of my bed. I usually don’t sleep in a bunk bed, but surely if I had not been absent-minded, I would have avoided that knock. With the pain came anger: I was angry with the Hermit. It was he who suddenly took the shape of the upper bed and hit me on the forehead! What should I do with him? Should I say to him “thank you,” or should I throw him out?

I breathed mindfully, and I felt moved. I asked my Hermit: “Who are you?” And suddenly, I could see! “You are a very precious part of me and I ignored you so often. Please, stay here with me, it is cold and dark and rainy out there.” For a long time I listened to the wind through the pine trees, then I fell asleep. That night I had a very quiet and restoring sleep. The next morning I woke to the sound of the bell. I rose and went to see my Hermit straight away. I bowed to him to say good morning; he was already awake.

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During the night, my Hermit had opened his arms; his seeds were scattered on the table. He was revealing to me a secret that yesterday he kept for himself alone. Deeply moved, I joined my palms together and said, “My dear Hermit, now I can say to you ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ ! I vow to take care of every seed and with your wisdom inside of me I’ll be able to water the seeds worth growing and to let the others sleep in their shells. The seeds are all the same, there isn’t any difference among them. Now I’m going to the morning meditation. Please feel free to take all the forms your wisdom suggests, for I will recognize you.”

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Erika Manzan is a member of Rome’s Sangha. In recent years, she has almost completely lost her eyesight.

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Poem: Home, Only One Flower Away

A poem dedicated to all teachers and participants at the Mindfulness Retreat in San Diego, California, September 2000

mb28-HomeAmazing life of purple-blue
Morning Glory its true name
Vibrant sunny face beams
Elegant breezy arms sway

Deeply I look at the flower
Softly violet hue nods back
Becoming one
The flower and me at play

Whole suchness
Lineage from gentle powerful teachers
Interbeing with quiet nurturing friends
Strength in a delicate way

Present moment, wonderful moment
Coming home to timelessness
No more tears
In smiles of oneness I stay

When my heart wearies again
From traveling on the road
I will always remember
Home, only one flower away

E.E.Ho

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San Diego Retreat

By Patricia Webb

If I had to use one word to describe our September retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, it would be gratitude. All of the events opened my heart-the Dharma talks by Thay, the daily sitting meditations, the early morning walks on the University of California at San Diego campus (a powerful experience of many souls gracefully and silently moving into dawn), an evening of Deep Relaxation and Touching the Earth, the healing wonder of silent meals, and receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

I was surprised every day at how the gratitude I experienced grew. It opened like a flower, and I was filled with the fragrance of it-my marriage, my family of origin, my children, my grandson were present with me each time I became still. My love for them and appreciation for my life just as it is, was almost too much to bear. I had not allowed myself to feel this joy for many years.

My husband and I buried his only daughter a few months before the retreat, in the Winter of 2000. The retreat allowed us to more deeply accept her passing by touching our gratitude for her beautiful and completed life.

I arrived at the retreat in a great deal of physical pain from an old injury to my back-pain so intense that I wondered if I would be able to sit to meditate at all. But fortunately, miraculously, the discipline of sitting properly in order to breathe began to correct the problem. In the weeks and months since the retreat, my back has almost completely healed and I am pain free. Another thing to be grateful for!

The following poem is given as a tribute to the global Sangha whose energy is with us here every day in Oklahoma City, showing me how to live mindfully, gratefully, and more healthfully than I ever dreamed possible.

In the silence,
I notice my own heartbeat.
Thank you, heart, for serving me so well
All these years.
In the silence, I notice my own breath.
Thank you, lungs, for your good service.

In the silence,
I notice the small things
Tiny rocks beneath my feet,
Insects that land on my arm.
I am aware of how much goes unnoticed
In my busy day.

The sun makes my paper neon bright,
Bright as my life is
When I can breathe my thanks
And beat my heart thanks
And know that though I am a small thing
In this vast universe,
I am not insignificant.

And my noticing
Is not insignificant.
For its strange and silent power
Makes me thankful.

Patricia Webb, Silent Service of the Heart, is a poet and Artist-in-Residence in Oklahoma. For the past ten years, she has worked in schools and hospitals to bring silence and journaling techniques for releasing inner wisdom. She and husband David McClesky, Auspicious Guide of the Heart, sponsor The Silence Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing mindfulness practice to schools and hospitals.

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Poem: Ascutney Retreat 2000

The mountaintop with her autumn
trees,
A silent ski lift, 2250 feet to the
top.
Laborious steps to the summit
then down.
The warm sun, green grass,
wild flowers.
A monk slowly eating alone at a
picnic table.
Small children playing with a
ball.
My eyes with glasses to see
them all.

A mindful silent meal,
Dharma talk, sitting meditation,
Practitioners slowly walking to
and fro.
Not clinging to the past,
Not pursuing the future.
It’s wonderful to be alive.

Bill Menza

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Poem: Walking Meditation at St. Michael’s College

I

We walk under a canopy of trees
Whose long early morning shadows
Sketch black lines on the landscape;
We inhale them.
Clouds accumulate their merit
above;
We exhale them.

The sharp cracks of rifles on the
nearby firing range
Enter our deep listening
calisthenics;
A fighter plane empowers the sky
To display its amazing hues.

Smiling, a monk,
Garbed in the dark brown of tree
trunks
Glides across the lawn,
Calling us by our true names
In Vietnamese.

II

We walk in the tempo of his footsteps
As he holds the hand of a little
child.
Both lead our multitude in a choir
of breath.
In unison we are One silent common
Holy Spirit:
One step, one breath;
Breathing in, breathing out;
Some in shoes whose soles
Crunch the sand in the path with
one sound;
Some with bare feet barely bend
the grass beside
This slowly moving conscience of
peace.

A crowd gathers round a crabapple
tree
To hear a Finch chirping to its
young.
Invisible, they answer from inside
The overhanging roof, where small
strings of nest
Spill out, caught like rain against
the clouds.

The steeple chimes a ringing resonance.
Our feet stop, at ease:
A breeze excites a burgundy Maple
tree
Waving its readied bunches of full-winged
seeds
Waiting to let go and expand into
space;
The wind pulls a murmur, then a
true song
From the trunk where the branches
grow from the center;
All the trees, a congregation of
choristers
Are warmed by the same earth’s
core;
All continents are moved by the
same stream of oceans

That rise and fall by the same
waves
Of the same moon time.

We are each a particle in that
transforming stream.

We resume our walk,
A lazy stroll, each touching a different
beat.
Our movement is the movement of
the moving ground.

Rosie Rosenzweig
(Composed during the 1999 three week retreat)

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