Dharma Talk: Cultivating Compassion, Responding to Violence

A Dharma talk offered by Thich Nhat Hanh

Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, California
September 13, 2001

Thich Nhat Hanh and 80 monks and nuns began the public talk with a ceremony to send the energy of peace and compassion to all those who were suffering from the events of September — those who had passed away and those who were presently struggling to survive; the families and, friends and the whole world that was deeply affected by the violent actions in New York City, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania on that day. 

The ceremony began with an in­cense offering. Usually the incense is offered facing a Buddha altar but in this moment Thich Nhat Hanh chose to face the audience, showing that all of humanity can be an altar worthy of respect. Holding the stick of incense in two hands, Thich Nhat Hanh offered these opening words:

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Let us please offer humanity the best flowers and fruits of our practice: lucidity, solidity, brotherhood, understanding and compassion. Breathing, I am aware that most of us have not been able to overcome the shock. We are aware that there is a tremen­dous amount of suffering going on, a tremendous amount of fear, anger, and hatred. But we know deep in our heart that anger and hatred cannot be responded to with anger and hatred. Respond­ing to hatred with hatred will only cause hatred to multiply a thousandfold. Only with compassion can we deal with hatred and anger.

In this very moment we invoke all of our spiritual teachers, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, to be with us helping us to embrace the suffering of America as a nation, as a country, to embrace the world as a nation, as a country, and to embrace humanity as a family. May we become lucid and calm so that we know exactly what to do and what not to do to make the situation worse. We know that there are those of us who are trying to rescue and to support and we are grateful to them.

There are those who are crying, who are suffering terribly in this very moment. Let us be there for all of them and embrace them tenderly with all our compassion, with our understanding, with our awareness. We know that there are many of us who are trying to see to it that violence will not happen again. We know that responding to hatred and violence with compassion seems to be the only path for all of us.

Let us bring our attention to our in breath and our out breath. Those of you who find it comfortable to join your palms, please do so as we offer this incense to all our spiritual teachers and we ask them to support us in this very difficult moment.

Opening the Door for Communication 

My dear friends, this summer in Plum Village where we live and practice, there were about 1,800 people who came and practiced with us during the Summer Opening and among them were a few dozen Palestinians and Israelis. We sponsored these lovely people, hoping they would have an occasion to practice walking mediation together, to share a meal together, to listen to the Dharma and to sit down and listen to each other. They were young people ranging from twenty-five to forty years old. They spent two weeks with us. They participated in all activities with us, silent meals, walking meditation, Dharma talks, everything. At the end they came up and gave a report to the whole community. It was a very lovely report. Only two weeks of practice had helped them to transform very deeply. We looked up and we saw a community of brothers and sisters. “Dear community, dear Thay, when we first came to Plum Village we couldn’t believe it. Plum Village is some­thing that does not look real to us because it is too peaceful.”

In Plum Village, our friends did not feel the kind of anger, tension and fear that they feel constantly in the Middle East. People look at each other with kind eyes, they speak to each other lovingly. There is peace, there is communication and there is brotherhood and sisterhood. That did not seem real to them. One member of the delegation wrote to me and said, “Thay, we spent two weeks in paradise.” Another person wrote to me before leav­ing Plum Village and said, “Thay, this is the first time that I believe peace is possible in the Middle East.” We did not do much. We just embraced our friends who had come from the Middle East as brothers and sisters. They learned to walk mindfully with us, to breathe in and out mindfully with us, to try to stop and to be there in the present moment to get in touch with what is pleasant, nour­ishing, and healing around them and within themselves. The practice is very simple. Supported by a practicing Sangha it was possible for them to succeed and to feel that peace and happiness could be touched within each of themselves.

The basic practice is to do everything mindfully, whether you breathe or walk or brush your teeth or use the toilet or chop the vegetables. We try to do everything mindfully, to establish ourselves in the here and the now in order to touch life deeply. That is the basic daily practice. On that ground our friends learned to practice listening deeply to the other people. We offered our support because many of us are capable of listening with com­passion. We sat with them and we practiced listening with com­passion in our heart. People had the chance to speak about their fear, their anger, their hatred and despair. They felt for the first time that they were listened to, they were being understood and that could relieve a lot of suffering within them.

Those who spoke were trained to speak in such a way that could be understandable and accepted by the other side. We have the right and the duty to tell everything within our heart. With the practice of mindful breathing we try to say it in a calm way, not condemning anyone, not judging anyone. Just telling the other side all the suffering that has happened to us, to our children, to our societies, all our fear and our despair. We learn to listen deeply, opening our heart with the intention to help the other people to express themselves. We know that listening like that is very healing. Two weeks of practice of deep listening and using loving speech brought a lot of joy, not only to the group but to all of us in Plum Village. Before going back to the Middle East, our friends promised us that they will continue the practice. On the local level, they will organize weekly meetings where they can walk, sit together and breathe together, sharing a meal and listen to each other. And every month they will have a national event to do the same. We promise that we will offer our support.

We know that the practice of compassionate listening and the practice of loving speech can bring us a lot of relief from our suffering. We can open the door of our heart and restore commu­nication. This is a very important practice. We suffer and we do violence to each other just because we cannot understand each other’s suffering. We believe that we are the only people who suffer. We think that the other side does not suffer. We believe that they only enjoy our suffering. That is why the basic practice of peace is the practice of restoring communication. For that we should use deep listening, compassionate listening and kind and loving speech. It would be very beneficial to set up an environ­ment like the one in Plum Village so that this kind of loving speech and deep listening could be possible.

Negotiations for Peace 

When you come to a negotiation table you want peace, you have hope for peace. But if you do not master the art of compas­sionate listening and loving speech it is very difficult for you to get concrete results. In us there is an obstruction of hatred, fear and pain which prevents us from communicating, understanding one another and making peace.

I beg the nations and the governments who would like to bring peace to the Middle East to pay attention to this fact. We need them to organize so that peace negotiations will be fruitful. They should know that creating a setting where the practice of restoring communication can be done is a very important factor for success. They may have to spend one month or two just for people to listen to each other. We are not in a hurry to reach a conclusion or an agreement about what to do for peace to be possible. One month or two months is nothing. With the practice of deep listening and kind and loving speech it can dissolve a lot of bitterness, a lot of fear and prejudice in the hearts of the people. Then when people are capable of communicating with each other, peace will be much easier.

I remember a number of years ago when I went to India and had the opportunity to meet with the chairperson of the Indian parliament, Mr. Narayan. We discussed the practice of compas­sionate listening and kind speech in the congress. He was very attentive to what I had to say. I said, “Mr. President, maybe it is good to begin every session with the practice of mindful breath­ing. Then a few lines could be read to bring awareness into everyone’s mind, such as: ‘Dear colleagues, the people who have elected us expect that we will communicate with each other deeply using kind and respectful speech and deep listening in order to share our insight. This will enable the congress to make the best decisions for the benefit of the nation and the people.’ It may take less than one minute to read such a text. And something like the bell of mindfulness could be used. Everytime the debate is too hot, if people are insulting each other and condemning each other, then the chairperson may invite the bell of mindfulness inviting everyone to breathe in and out — breathing in calming, breathing out smiling — until the atmosphere of the congress becomes calm. Then the one who is speaking is invited to continue his or her speech.”

Mr. Narayan was very attentive to what I said. He invited me to come back and address the Indian parliament on that issue. Ten days later I was leading a retreat of mindfulness in Madras and someone brought me a newspaper. There was an article an­nouncing that the President had set up a committee on communi­cation for the parliament, to develop the practice of deep listening and loving speech in the congress. In that committee different parties were represented and also the Prime Minister was included. Mr. Narayan is no longer the chair of the parliament because he has become the president of India.

I think we may like to write our senators and representatives so that in the U.S. Congress they may try to practice deep listen­ing and loving speech. I would like to vote for those who have the capacity to listen and to use loving speech. I would suggest that in the Senate and in the House of Representatives there should be a committee on deep listening and loving speech. Not only should they listen to their own colleagues in the Congress but also they should listen to the suffering of people in their own country and to the suffering of people a little bit everywhere in the world. It is not easy to listen with compassion. The quality of deep listening is the fruit of practice. If we don’t train ourselves it is very difficult to listen to the other person or people. We know there are many couples who can not listen to each other. There are fathers who are incapable of communicating with their sons and daughters. There are mothers who are not able to talk to their children, even if they want to very much. They deeply wish that they could communicate with their daughter and their son or their partner but they can not do so. They may be determined to use loving speech and compassionate listening. But without training they may give up after just a few minutes of listening or trying to tell what is in their hearts. The blocks of pain and anger may be so big and important in their hearts that as they continue to listen, what they hear touches and waters the seeds of anger, of violence and of despair in them. They are no longer capable of listening anymore, even if they have a lot of willingness to do so.

For the person who is determined to speak with loving kind­ness, we know that goodwill is there. But as she or he continues to speak, the block of suffering, of despair, of irritation and of anger are touched in them. That is why very soon their speech will be full of judgment, blaming and irritation, and the other per­son cannot bear to listen. If we do not train in the art of compas­sionate listening and loving speech we cannot do it. But if we have a great determination, then five days may be enough to restore communication between the other person and ourselves. In the case of our Palestinian friends and our Israeli friends, two weeks was enough for them to understand and to accept each other as brothers and sisters. Two weeks was enough for them to have hope.

The Secret of Listening

The secret of success is that when you listen to the other person you have only one purpose. Your only purpose is to offer him or her an opportunity to empty his or her heart. If you are able to keep that awareness and compassion alive in you, then you can sit for one hour and listen even if what the other person says contains a lot of wrong perceptions, condemnations and bitter­ness. You can continue to listen because you are already pro­tected by the nectar of compassion in your heart. If you do not practice mindful breathing in order to keep that compassion alive you lose your capacity of listening. Irritation and anger will come up and the other person will see it and he or she will not be able to continue. We have the awareness that listening like this has only one purpose: allowing the other person a chance to empty his or her heart. If we are capable of keeping that awareness alive dur­ing the time of listening then we are safe, because compassion will always be there if that awareness is still there.

We do not try to correct the wrong perceptions of the other person while listening. We just say, “I am sorry you have suf­fered so much.” Later on, maybe in a few days or weeks, we will find an appropriate occasion to offer some information to help the other person or people correct their perceptions. But we do not try to correct all of their misperceptions at one time. Truth heals, but it should be released in small doses over time, like a medicine. If you force the other person to drink all the medicine at one time, he will die.

I am sure that all of us here know that hatred, anger and violence can only be neutralized and healed with one substance. That is compassion. The antidote of violence and hatred is com­passion. There is no other medicine. Unfortunately, compassion is not available in supermarkets. You have to generate the nectar of compassion in your heart. The teaching of the Buddha gives us very concrete means in order to generate the energy of com­passion. If understanding is there, compassion will be born, and understanding is the fruit of looking deeply. Do we have the time to stop and look deeply into our situation, into the situation of the other person, into the situation of the other group of people? If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, by our uncertainty, by our craving, how can we have the time to stop and to look deeply into the situation? How can we look into our own situation, the situation of our beloved one, the situation of our family, of our community, of our nation and of the other nations? Looking deeply we find out that not only do we suffer, but also the other person suffers deeply. Not only our group suffers but the other group also suffers deeply. If that kind of awareness is born we will know that punishing is not the answer.

Our Basic Practice

All violence is injustice. We should not inflict that injustice on us and on the other person, on the other group of people. The one who wants to punish is inhabited by violence. The one who enjoys the suffering of the other person is inhabited by the energy of violence. We know that violence cannot be ended with violence. It is the Buddha who said that responding to hatred with hatred can only increase hatred by a thousandfold. Only by responding to hatred with compassion can we disintegrate hatred. What should we do in order for the energy of compassion to be born? That is our practice every day. How to be nourished by the nectar of compassion and the nectar of understanding? That is our basic practice.

During the war in Vietnam we suffered terribly. And yet our practice allowed us to see that our world is still beautiful with all the wonders of life available. There were moments when we wished there would be a cease-fire for twenty-four hours. if we were given twenty-four hours of peace we would be able to breathe in and out and smile to the flowers and the blue sky. And even the flowers have the courage to bloom. Twenty-four hours of peace — that is what we wanted, badly, during the time of war.

When I came to the West in 1966 to call for a cessation to the war I was not allowed by my government to go home. Suddenly I was cut off from alI my friends, my disciples, my Sangha in Vietnam. I dreamed of going home almost every night. I would wake up in the middle of the dream and realize that I was in exile. During that time I was practicing mindfulness. I practiced to be in touch with what was there in Europe and in America. I learned to be with children and adults. I learned to contemplate the trees and the singing of the birds. Everything seemed different from what we knew in Vietnam. And yet the wonders of life were avail­able there. To me the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha is always available even if suffering is still there. It is possible for us to touch the Kingdom of God in our daily life and to get nourishment and healing so that we will have enough strength and hope to repair the damage caused by violence and war. If we do not receive nourishment we will be the victims of despair. That was my awareness.

During the war in Vietnam the young people came to me many times and asked. “Thay, do you think there will be an end to the war?” I could not answer them right away. I practiced mindful breathing in and out. After a long time I looked at them and said, “My dear friends, the Buddha said everything is impermanent, including war.”

Touching Suffering 

Let us practice peace and bring hope to the nation and to the world. To me the Kingdom of God is not a place where there is no suffering. The Pure Land is not a place where there is no suffer­ing. I myself would not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. Because I know without suffering we will have no chance to learn how to understand and to be compassionate. It is by being in touch with suffering that we can cultivate our under­standing and our compassion. If suffering is not there, under­standing and compassion will not be there either and it will not he the Pure Land of the Buddha. It could not be the Kingdom of God. My definition of the Kingdom of God is not a place where there is no suffering. My definition of the Kingdom of God is the place where there is understanding and compassion. The Pure Land of the Buddha is the place where there is understanding and com­passion. We know that to cultivate understanding and compas­sion we need to be in touch with suffering.

In Plum Village we have three hamlets. In each hamlet there is a lotus pond. Every summer when you come you will see beauti­ful lotus flowers. We know that in order for the lotus to grow you need mud. You cannot plant a lotus on marble. You have to plant it on mud. Looking into the beautiful and fragrant lotus flower, you see the mud. Mud and lotus, they inter-are. Without one the other cannot be, that is the teaching of the Buddha. This is be­cause that is. Suffering is needed for understanding and compas­sion to be born. It’s like garbage and flowers. Looking into a flower, you see that a flower is made only of non-flower elements: sunshine, rain, the earth, the minerals and also the compost. You can see that the element garbage is one of the non-flower ele­ments that have helped the flower to manifest herself. If you are a good practitioner, looking into the flower you can see the gar­bage in it right in the here and the now, just as you can see the sunshine and the rain in it. If you remove the sunshine from the flower, there will be no flower. If you remove the rain from the flower, the flower cannot be there. If you remove the garbage from the flower, then the flower cannot be there. Look at the beautiful lotus flower. If you remove the mud from it, it cannot be there for you. This is because that is.

Our practice is to accept suffering and to learn to transform suffering hack into hope, into compassion. We work exactly like an organic gardener. They know that it is possible to transform garbage back into flowers. Let us learn to look at our suffering, the suffering of our world, as a kind of compost. From that mud we can create beautiful, fragrant lotuses — understanding and compassion. Together we can cultivate the flower of understand­ing and compassion together. I am sure that everyone has had the feeling that the Kingdom of God is somewhere very close. The Pure Land of the Buddha is also close. All the wonders of life are there.

Nourishing Peace and Joy 

mb30-dharma2This morning I picked up a branch of flowers on the path of walking meditation and I gave it to a monk who was on my left. I told him. “This belongs to the Pure Land of the. Buddha. Only the Pure Land of the Buddha has such a beautiful branch of flowers. Only the Kingdom of God has such a miracle as this branch of flowers.” The blue skies, the beautiful vegetation, the lovely face of your child, the song of the birds, all of these things belong to the Pure Land of the Buddha. If we are free enough we can step into the Kingdom of God and enjoy walking in it. It is my practice to enjoy walking in the Kingdom of God every day, to enjoy walking in the Pure Land of the Buddha every day. Even if I am aware that suf­fering is there; anger and hatred are there, it is still possible for me to walk in the Kingdom of God every day. I can tell you that there is no day when I do not enjoy walking in the Kingdom of God.

Every step should bring me peace and joy. I need it in order to continue my work, my work to build up more brotherhood, more understanding, and more com­passion. Without that kind of nourishment, how can you continue? Going back to the present moment, become fully alive. Don’t run anymore. Go back to the here and the now and get in touch with the wonders of life that are available for our nourishment and healing. This is the basic prac­tice of peace. If we can do that we have enough strength and joy to help repair the damage caused by the war, by violence and hatred, by misunderstanding. And we will know exactly how to live our daily life in order not to contribute to the kind of action leading to more discrimination and more war, to more violence. Living in such a way that we can embody peace, that we can be peace in every moment of our daily life. It is possible for everyone to generate the energy of peace in every step. Peace is every step. If you know that the Kingdom of God is available in the here and the now, why do you have to run anymore?

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In the Gospel there is a parable of a person who discovered a treasure in a field. After that he got rid of everything in order to buy this field. When you are able to touch the Kingdom of God, to get in touch with the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now, you can very easily release everything else. You do not want to run anymore. We have been running after the objects of our desire: fame, profit, and power. We think they are essential to our happiness. But we know that our running has brought us a lot of suffering. We have not had the chance to live, to love and take care of our loved ones because we cannot stop running. We run even when we sleep. That is why the Buddha advises us to stop. According to the teaching, it is possible to be happy right in the here and the now. Going back to the here and the now with your mindful breathing and mindful walking, you will recognize many conditions of happiness that are already avail­able. You can be happy right here and now.

You know that the future is a notion. The future is made only with one substance, that is the present. If you are taking good care of the present moment, why do you have to worry about the future? By taking care of the present you are doing everything you can to assure a good future. Is there anything else to do? We should live our present moment in such a way that peace and joy may be possible in the here and the now — that love and under­standing may be possible. That is all that we can do for the fu­ture.

When we are capable of tasting true happiness and peace. it is very easy to trans­form the anger in us. We don’t have to fight anymore. Our an­ger begins to dissolve in us because we are able to bring into our body and into our con­sciousness elements of peace and joy every day. Mindfulness helps us not to bring into our body and into our consciousness elements of war and violence. That is the basic practice in order to transform the anger, the fear and the violence within us. 

Mindful Consumption 

The Buddha spoke about the path of emancipation in terms of consumption. Perhaps you have heard of a discourse called The Discourse on the Son’s Flesh. In that discourse the Buddha described four kinds of nutriments. If we know the nature of our food, if we are aware of what we are consuming every day, then we can transform the suffering that is inside of us and around us. I would like to tell you a little bit about this discourse. I wish to translate it and offer concrete exercises of practice.

The first kind of nutriment the Buddha spoke about is edible food. He advised us to eat mindfully so that compassion can be maintained in our heart. He knew that compassion is the only kind of energy that helps us to relate to other living beings, in­cluding human beings. Whatever we eat or drink, whatever we ingest in terms of edible food should not contain the toxins that will destroy our body. He used the example of a young couple who wanted to flee their country and to live in another country. The young couple brought their little boy with them and a quan­tity of food with them. But halfway through the desert they ran out of food. They knew that they were going to die. After much debate they decided to kill the little boy and to eat his flesh. The title of the sutra is, The Son’s Flesh. They killed the little boy and they ate one piece of that flesh and they preserved the rest on their shoulders for the sun to dry. Every time they ate a piece of flesh of their son they asked the question, “Where is our beloved son now? Where are you, our beloved son?” They beat their chests and they pulled their hair. They suffered tremendously. But finally they were able to cross the desert and enter the other country.

The Buddha turned to his monks and asked, “Dear friends, do you think the couple enjoyed eating the flesh of their son?” And the monks said, “No, how could anyone enjoy eating the flesh of their own son?” The Buddha said, if we do not consume mindfully we are eating the flesh of our own son or daughter.

This body has been transmitted to us by our parents. If we bring into it poisons and toxins we destroy this body and we are eating the flesh of our mother, our father and our ancestors. If we destroy our body by unmindful eating and consuming we eat the flesh of our son and daughter and their children also. UNESCO reported that 40,000 children die every day because they do not have enough to eat. And many of us overeat in the West. We are eating the flesh of these children. We have been using a lot of wheat and oats in order to fabricate meat. The way we raise animals for food is very violent. We destroy Mother Earth. Eat­ing can be very violent.

Report on U.S. Resources

I have a report on how we use our land and water and for­ests in the United States of America for food.

Land: Of all agricultural land in the U.S., 87% is used to raise animals for food. That is 45% of the total land mass in the US.

Water: More than half of all the water consumed in the U.S. for all purposes is used to raise animals for food. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. That is 25 versus 2,500 gal­lons of water. A totally vegetarian diet requires 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat eating diet requires 4,000 gallons of water per day.

Pollution: Raising animals for food causes more water pollu­tion in the U.S. than any other industry. Animals raised for food produce 130 times the excrement of the entire human population, 87,000 pounds per second. Much of the waste from factory farms and slaughterhouses flows into streams and rivers, contaminat­ing water sources.

Deforestation: Each vegetarian saves an acre of trees every year. More than 260 million acres of the U.S. forests have been cleared to grow crops to feed animals raised for meat. An acre of trees disappears every eight seconds. The tropical rain forests are being destroyed to create grazing land for cattle. Fifty-five square feet of rain forest may be cleared to produce just one quarter pound burger.

Resources: In the U.S. animals raised for food are fed more than 80% of the corn that we grow and more than 95% of the oats. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equivalent to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on earth.

Mindfulness helps us to be aware of what is going on. Our way of eating and producing food can be very violent. We are eating our mother, our father, and our children. We are eating the Earth. That is why the Buddha proposed that we look back into our situation of consumption. We should learn to eat together in such a way that compassion can remain in our hearts. Otherwise we will suffer and we will make ourselves and all species around us suffer deeply. A Dharma discussion should be organized so that the whole society can sit down together and discuss how we produce and consume food. The way out is mindful consump­tion.

The Second Nutriment

The second kind of food that the Buddha spoke about is sensory impressions. We eat with our eyes, our ears, nose, tongue, body and mind: our six sense organs. A television program is food. A conversation is food; music is food; radio is food. When you drive through the city, even if you don’t want to consume you consume anyway. What you see, what you hear is the food. Magazines are food. And these items of consumption might be highly toxic. An article in a magazine or a television program can contain a lot of violence, a lot of anger, a lot of despair. We continue to consume these poisons every day and we allow our children to consume these toxins every day. We are bringing into our consciousness a lot of poisons every day. The seeds of violence, of despair, of craving and hatred in us have been nour­ished by what we consume and have become so important. The country is getting angrier and angrier every day.

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When a child finishes elementary school she has watched about 100,000 acts of violence on television, and she has seen 8,000 murders on television. That is too much. That is the sec­ond kind of food that we consume. We consume thoughts of despair. We consume ideas of craving, of hatred, of despair ev­ery day. The Buddha advises us to be mindful, to refuse the items that can bring craving, despair, hatred and violence into our con­sciousness. He used the image of a cow with skin disease. The skin disease is so serious that the cow does not seem to have any skin anymore. When you bring the cow close to a tree all the tiny living beings will come out and suck the blood on the body of the cow. When you bring the cow close to an ancient wall, all the tiny animals living inside the wall will come out and suck the blood of the cow. The cow has no means for self-protection. If we are not equipped with the practice of mindful consumption we will be like a cow without skin and the toxins of violence, despair and craving will continue to penetrate into us. That is why it is very important to wake up and to reject the kind of production and consumption that is destroying us, destroying our nation, and our young people. Every one of us has to practice. As parents, as schoolteachers, as film makers, as journalists we have to practice looking deeply into our situation and see if we are creating violence every day and if we are offering that not only to the people in our country, but also to people around the world.

The Third Nutriment 

The third nutriment that the Buddha spoke of is volition. Volition is what you want to do the most, your deepest desire. Every one of us has a deepest desire. We have to identify it, we have to call it by its true name. The Buddha had a desire; he wanted to transform all his suffering. He wanted to get enlightened in order to be able to help other people. He did not believe that by being a politician he could help many people, that is why he chose the way of a monk. There are those of us who believe that happi­ness is only possible when we get a lot of money, a lot of fame, a lot of power, and a lot of sex. That kind of desire belongs to the third category of food spoken of by the Buddha.

The Buddha offered this image to illustrate his teaching: There is a young man who loves to be alive, he doesn’t want to die. And yet two very strong men are dragging him to a place where there is a pit of burning charcoal and want to throw him into the glowing embers so he will die.

He resisted but he had to die because the two men were too strong. The Buddha said, “Your deepest desire will bring you either to a place where there is happiness or to hell.” That is why it is very important to look into the nature of your deepest desire, namely volition. The Buddha said that craving will lead you to a lot of suffering, whether there is craving for wealth, sex, power, or fame. But if you have a healthy desire; like the desire to protect life, to protect the environment or to help people to live a simple life with time to take care of yourself, to love and to take care of your beloved ones, that is the kind of desire that will bring you to happiness. But if you are pushed by the craving for fame, for wealth, for power, you will have to suffer a lot. And that desire will drag you into hell, into the pit of glowing embers, and you will have to die.

There are people everywhere in the world that consider ven­geance as their deepest desire. They become terrorists. When we have hatred and vengeance as our deepest desire, we will suffer terribly also, like the young person who has been dragged by the two strong men to be thrown into the pit of glowing em­bers. Our deepest desire should be to love, to help and not to revenge, not to punish, not to kill. And I am confident that New Yorkers have that wisdom. Hatred can never answer hatred; all violence is injustice. Responding to violence with violence can only bring more violence and injustice, more suffering, not only to other people but suffering to ourselves. This is wisdom that is in every one of us. We need to breathe deeply, to get calm in order to touch the seed of wisdom. I know that if the seed of wisdom and of compassion of the American people could be watered regu­larly during one week or so, it will bring a lot of relief, it will reduce the anger and the hatred. And America will be able to perform an act of forgiveness that will bring about a great relief to America and to the world. That is why my suggestion is the practice of being calm, being concentrated, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already in us, and learning the art of mindful consumption. This is a true revolution, the only kind of revolution that can help us get out from this difficult situation where violence and hatred prevail.

Looking Deeply 

Our Senate, our Congress has to practice looking deeply. They should help us to make the laws to prohibit the production of items full of anger, full of craving and violence. We should be determined to talk to our children, to make a commitment in our family and in our community to practice mindful consumption. These are the real practices of peace. It is possible for us to practice so that we can get the nourishment and healing in our daily life. It is possible for us to practice embracing the pain, the sorrow, and the violence in us in order to transform.

The basic practice is to be aware of what is going on. By going back to the present moment and taking the time to look deeply and to understand the roots of our suffering, the path of emancipation will be revealed to us. The Buddha said, what has come to be does have a source. When we are able to look deeply into what has come to be and to recognize its source of nutriment you are already on the path of emancipation. What has come to us may be our depression, our despair and our anger. We have been nourished by the kinds of food that are available in our market. We want to consume them. It is not without reason that our depression is there. We have invited it in by our way of unmindful consumption. Looking deeply into our ill-being, the ill-being of our society and identifying the source in terms of con­sumption — that is what the Buddha recommended. Looking deeply into our ill being and identifying the source of nutriment that has brought it into you — that is already the beginning of healing and transformation.

We have to practice looking deeply as a nation if we want to get out of this difficult situation. And our practice will help the other nations to practice. I am sure that America is very capable of punishment. You can send us a bomb; we know you are very capable of doing so. But America is great when America knows how to act with lucidity and compassion. I urge that in these days when we have not been able to overcome the tremendous shock yet, we should not do anything, we should not say anything. We should go home to ourselves and practice mindful breathing and mindful walking to allow ourselves to calm down and to allow lucidity to come, so we can understand the real roots of our suf­fering and the suffering of the world. Only with that understand­ing can compassion arise. America can be a great nation if she knows how to act with compassion instead of punishment. We offer peace. We offer the relief for transformation and healing.

Building a Spiritual Alliance between Vietnam and the United States 

The trade agreement between the United States and Vietnam has been approved by the Congress. It is my deep wish that the American people and the Vietnamese people can be spiritual al­lies. We can practice compassion together. Vietnam and other countries need development, but we also badly need spiritual growth. That we can do together. We have been able to offer mindfulness retreats for war veterans. We have been able to visit prisons in America and to offer the practice and bring hope to the people in prisons. We have offered retreats for peace activists, psychotherapists, and people who work for the environment. We are trying to be your allies in spiritual growth. We know that without a spiritual dimension we cannot really improve the situa­tion of the world. We come together, like tonight, as a family in order to look deeply into our own situation and the situation of the world. There are things we can do. Practicing peace is pos­sible with every step, with every breath. It is possible that we practice together and bring hope and compassion into our daily lives and into the lives of our family, our community, our nation and the world. 

Concrete Steps That America can take to Uproot Terrorism 

By Thich Nhat Hanh 

The proposal in brief:

Following are concrete steps that could be taken by the U.S.A. to uproot terrorism and to ensure the peace and safety of the American people and of people in nations around the world that are in relationship to America. The foundation of the whole pro­cess is communication, listening to the difficulties and experi­ences of those involved and using that understanding to inform our actions.

The first step of the process is to listen to and understand the difficulties of American people. A national Council of Sages could be created. The national Council of Sages would be com­posed of people who have experience in the practice of reconcili­ation and peace making and who are in touch with the suffering and the real situations of people in America. This national Coun­cil of Sages would function as a support for the American govern­ment and the Congress by offering advice and insight as to how to reduce the suffering of people within America.

Secondly, an international Council of Sages would be formed to create a forum for listening to the difficulties and the real situ­ations of groups and nations who are believed to be the base for terrorist activity towards the U.S.A. The understanding gained from listening and looking deeply into the situation would be the foundation for implementing concrete strategies to uproot the causes for terrorism and to begin to take actions to heal the wounds of violence and hatred that have been inflicted on the parties involved.

1. The Practice of ListeningNon 

A Council of Wise People (sages) could be formed to prac­tice listening deeply, without judgement or condemnation to the suffering of people in America. Representatives of people in America who feel they are victims of discrimination, injustice and exclusion should be invited to express themselves before the Council of Sages. People who experience exclusion may include poor people, minorities, immigrants, homeless people, Jews, Mus­lims, the elderly, people with HIV/AIDS and so on.

The Council of Sages should be made up of non-political people who have lived closely with and understand the suffering of the above mentioned people. This practice of deep listening (or compassionate listening) should be conducted in an atmo­sphere of calm and non-fear. It could last from five to eight months or longer. These sessions could be televised so that the Ameri­can people could participate in the practice. The practice will be a success if the concerned people are able to describe their fears, their anger, their hatred, their despair and their hope.

The question could be asked, “What concrete steps can the American Congress and government take to reduce the suffering of the people living in the U.S.A.?” Representatives of diverse groups in America could answer this question with details in the presence of the Council of Sages. After which the Council of Sages could make a presentation to the American government and Congress offering insight into the current situation and con­crete recommendations based on what they have heard from the representatives and their collective wisdom.

Result of the practice: Even before the government and Con­gress begins to do anything to reduce the suffering, a relief will already be obtained, because the people who suffer, for the first time, will feel that they are being listened to and are being under­stood. This practice can already inspire respect on the interna­tional level, because other nations will see that America is ca­pable of listening to the suffering of her own people.

We can learn from the experience of other countries such as South Africa where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to heal the wounds of apartheid. The Commission was headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu and received the support of both blacks and whites as a legitimate forum for understanding and reconciliation to occur. Televised sessions were organized where members of the different racial groups were able to listen to and to be heard by each other, bringing the tangible result that blacks and whites could begin to find a way to coexist peacefully and respectfully together in South Africa. This is a concrete example of the powerful effect that direct and compassionate com­munication can have on a national and international level.

2. The Practice of Non-violent Communication 

In interpersonal relationships we know that open and caring communication is essential for a healthy relationship. On the national and international level honest and non-violent communi­cation is also essential for healthy and supportive relationships to exist between members of a society and between nations.

Following is an example of how the government of the U.S.A. might address the people and countries who are believed to be the base of terrorism:

“You must have suffered terribly, you must have hated us terribly to have done such a thing to us (the September 11, 2001 attack). You must have thought that we were your enemy, that we have tried to discriminate against you and to destroy you as a religion, as a people or as a race. You may believe that we do not recognize your values, that we represent a way of life that op­poses your values. Therefore you may have tried to destroy us in the name of what you believe in. It may be that you have many wrong perceptions about us.

“We believe that we do not have any intention to destroy you or to discriminate against you. But, there may be some things that we have said or done that have given you the impression that we want to discriminate against you or to destroy you. We may have taken actions that have brought harm to you. Please tell us about your suffering and your despair. We want to listen to you and to understand your experience and your perceptions. So that we can recognize and understand what we have done or said that has created misunderstanding and suffering in you.

“We ourselves do not want to live in fear or to suffer and we do not want your people to live in fear or to suffer either. We want you to live in peace, in safety and in dignity because we know that only when you have peace, safety and dignity can we also enjoy peace, safety and dignity. Let us create together an occa­sion for mutual listening and understanding which can be the foundation for real reconciliation and peace.”

3.The Practice of Looking Deeply 

Looking deeply means to use the information and insights gained from listening to the suffering of others to develop a more extensive and in depth understanding of our situation.

A safe and peaceful setting should be arranged for represen­tatives of conflicting groups and nations to practice looking deeply. An international Council of Sages facilitated by spiritual leaders could create such a setting and help conduct the sessions of deep listening and deep looking. Plenty of time should be given to this practice. It may take half a year or more. Sessions of deep looking should be televised so that people in many parts of the world can participate and gain a deeper understanding of the experience and real situations of the participants.

This practice should be conducted as a non-political activity. Therefore, it should be supervised by humanist, humanitarian and spiritual leaders who are known to be free from discrimination and partisanship.

Countries representing the six continents (Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Australia and Pacifica, and Eu­rope) should be invited to sponsor and support this practice.

4. Political, Social and Spiritual Solutions to Conflicts 

Negotiations for peace, reconciliation and mutual coopera­tion between conflicting peoples and nations should be made based on the insights gained from this process, namely deep lis­tening and mutual understanding in order to maintain the peace and safety of all nations. People from various sectors of society in the involved countries should be able to participate in each step of the process by expressing their insights and their support for a peaceful resolution.

Military and political leaders could also participate in these processes by listening to the representatives of various peoples from the nations that are in conflict. But priority would be given to listen to those voices that are not represented already in the decision making processes of the involved nations, for example, citizens who are not military or political leaders. These might include schoolteachers, spiritual leaders, doctors, parents, union workers, business people, artists, writers, children, social work­ers, experienced mediators, psychologists, nurses and so on.

By taking these steps America will show great courage and spiritual strength. If America is capable of such acts of listening and understanding she will be making a great contribution to the peace and safety of the whole world. America will be acting in the spirit and with the support of her forefathers such as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln who made great efforts to pro­mote democracy, mutual respect and understanding among peoples of different backgrounds and beliefs, for the peace and security of everyone.

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

Excerpt from Breathing

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Breathing in,
I see myself as a flower.
I am the freshness
of a dewdrop.
Breathing out,
my eyes have become flowers.
Please look at me.
I am looking
with the eyes of love.

Breathing in,
I am a mountain,
imperturbable,
still,
alive,
vigorous.
Breathing out,
I feel solid.
The waves of emotion
can never carry me away.

excerpt from “Breathing” by Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1999)

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“Strike against Terror” is a Misleading Expression

Terror is in the human heart. We must remove this terror from the heart. Destroying the
human heart, both physically and psychologically, is what we should avoid. The root of terrorism should be identified so that it can be removed. The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, hatred and violence. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of calming and looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening, restoring communication and compassion can it be transformed and removed.

Darkness cannot be dissipated with more darkness. More darkness will make darkness
thicker. Only light can dissipate darkness. Violence and hatred cannot be removed with violence and hatred. Rather, this will make violence and hatred grow a thousandfold. Only understanding and compassion can dissolve violence and hatred. “Strike against terror” is a misleading expression. What we are striking against is not the real cause or the root of terror. The object of our strike is still human life. We are sowing seeds of violence as we strike. Striking in this way we will only bring more hatred and violence into the world. This is exactly what we do not want to do.

Hatred and violence are in the hearts of human beings. A terrorist is a human being with
hatred, violence and misunderstanding in his or her heart. Acting without understanding, acting out of hatred, violence and fear, we help sow more terror, bringing terror to the homes of others and bringing terror back to our own homes. Whole societies are living constantly in fear with our nerves being attacked day and night. This is the greatest casualty we may suffer from as a result of our wrong thinking and action. Such a state of confusion, fear and anxiety is extremely dangerous. It can bring about another world war, this time extremely destructive.

We must learn to speak out so that the voice of the Buddha can be heard in this dangerous and pivotal moment of history. Those of us who have the light should display the light and offer it so that the world will not sink into total darkness. Everyone has the seed of awakening and insight within his or her heart. Let us help each other touch these seeds in ourselves so that everyone could have the courage to speak out. We must ensure that the way we live our daily lives (with or without mindful consumption, with or without discrimination, with or without participating in injustice) does not create more terrorism in the world. We need a collective awakening to stop this course of self-destruction.

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An Experience with Fasting

a sharing from the Editor

On September 19, I learned of Thay’s intention to fast for ten days as a prayer for the missing and their loved ones, and as a call for peace. He invited us to join him, and my heart said yes. I am familiar with the practice of fasting, and had recently done a three and a half day juice fast. But I had never done a ten day fast of just water and herbal tea, and since I am in good health, I felt ready to begin. My purpose in doing this was to respond to the violence that had occurred and to join Thay in his efforts to offer a peaceful and happy way of life to everyone in the world. Part of this was to learn to treat my body with love and respect and to allow it to rest and cleanse. Another part was to become aware of my habit energies in relation to eating, and to become friends with the desire and craving that habitually come up around food.

As I began the fast, I was very aware of Thay’s support in the process. Many days I took long walks on the beach, receiving nourishment from the fresh ocean breezes and the feel of the sand under my feet. I would talk with Thay and ask him to help me in this practice. On the seventh day, our practice center was blessed with a visit from eleven monks and nuns on their way home to Deer Park Monastery. They dropped in for lunch, and as we served the buffet, they asked me to join them. When I told them I was fasting with Thay, they thanked me for supporting him . That was the first time I realized that, not only had Thay been supporting me in my practice, but also that my practice had been supporting Thay. One brother looked at me over the food and said. “You are Thay.” Several days into the fast, I began to notice that the element of stopping had blossomed in me. In sitting meditation, when the bell rang to walk, I noticed that I had really stopped and had no desire to rise or not rise. And when the bell rang to sit again, I noticed I had no desire to stop walking or to continue walking. By stopping one habit pattern, I had taught my whole self that stopping is okay, that stopping can be nourishment of the deepest kind .

I was also confronted by my beliefs about how much I need to consume to stay healthy. During the first week I saw that, except for climbing hills or lifting heavy objects, my energy was not significantly reduced . As the fast neared the end, I did notice that I was becoming weaker and that my skin was becoming dry. I began to see images of starving Biafran children and maybe for the first time, really imagined what it would be like to live my whole life in those conditions. The contrast between what I consume and what they receive is a startling picture I am often not ready to experience.

I have now committed to fast one day a week, offering my body a lazy day and my mind an opportunity to observe its grasping nature with love and compassion. In general, I am also making a small but consistent effort to consume less. I thank Thay for helping me get to know myself and for ceaselessly being present with me in my suffering and in my happiness.

I know that for many of us, when we heard of the tragedies of September 11, a deep longing arose to hear words of comfort and understanding from our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. This issue contains a special section with some of his responses: a special piece written October 19, called ” ‘Strike Against Terror’: is a Misleading Expression”; his Dharma talk from Berkeley on September 13; and stories of practitioners who were with Thay during this time. Though it has been three months since that morning, the impact is still being deeply felt in our society and within our own hearts. May each of us find solace and understanding from the teacher within.

In gratitude, Barbara Casey

 

Poem: Defuse Me

If I were a bomb
ready to explode,
if I have become
dangerous to your life,
then you must take care of me.
You think you can get away from me,
but how?
I am here, right in your midst.
(You cannot remove me from your life.)
And I may explode
at any time.
I need your care.
I need your time.
I need you to defuse me.
You are responsible for me,
because you have made the vow (and I heard it)
to love and to care.

I know that to take care of me
you need much patience,
much coolness.
I realize that in you
there is also a bomb to be defused.
So why don’t we help each other?

I need you to listen to me.
No one has listened to me.
No one understands my suffering,
including the ones who say they love me.
The pain inside of me
is suffocating me.
It is the TNT
that makes up the bomb.
There is no one else
who will listen to me.
That is why I need you.
But you seem to be getting away from me.
You want to run for your safety,
the kind of safety
that does not exist.

I have not created my own bomb.
It is you.
It is society.
It is family.
It is school.
It is tradition.
So please don’t blame me for it.
Come and help,
if not, I will explode.
This is not a threat.
It is only a plea for help.
I will also be of help
when it is your turn .

Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1999)

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Poem: Earth Touching

Here is the foot of a tree.
Here is an empty, quiet place.
Here is a cushion.
Brother, why don’t you sit down?

Sit upright.
Sit with solidity.
Sit in peace.
Don’t let your thoughts lift you up into the air.
Sit so that you can really touch the Earth
and be one with her.
You may like to smile, brother.
Earth will transmit to you her solidity,
her peace, and her joy.
With your mindful breathing,
with your peaceful smile,
you sustain the mudra of Earth Touching.

Thich Nhat Hanh
excerpted from “Earth Touching” in Please Call Me By My True Names.

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Untitled Article

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On September 13th I was crossing 14th Street in New York City. The street was guarded by police. At the center o f this crowd were former President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea. It was totally unbelievable to me that they would be there. At one point a woman from Pakistan talked to Clinton. After that he turned to the crowd and said, “Listen, people, I have something to say to you. This woman has been maligned, she’s very sad. We can have no more of that – we’ re all the same, we’re all immigrants and we don’t have the time or the energy for that kind of abuse. That must stop.” The crowd was yelling, “Right on, Bill.”

Two days later I went to an emergency meeting with media representatives of the South Asian Journalists Association, of which I am a member. In a question and answer session I raised my hand and I told about the incident with Clinton. A woman popped up in the audience and said, “That was me.” After the meeting I talked to her and she asked me to come to Brooklyn the next day for a vigil started by the Arab Women’s Association. Then she came to Riverside Church that night to hear Thich Nhat Hanh. I introduced her to Sister Annabel. She’s from Pakistan and is very concerned about her family that is stiII over there.

Photos and story by Nancy Rudolf, True Gathering of Peace

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1

The voice of your tears,
is the fragrance of your heart when it smiles,
is the color of your freedom.

Winds of peace, let me be your paint,
Paint me like the clouds over the sky,
On the face of a refugee,
On the falling rocks of holy rage,
On the abyss of fear,
On the eyes of an oppressed child,
On the mouth of a hungry ghost.

I will have no form.

Please come softly,
Or you’ll find my door closed
My house empty, I’m not there.
Confused and shrunk I am nowhere to be found,
Please blow softly.

Wake me up with a warm and tender hand,
So I can be here
To be your paint.

by Hagit Harmon

written at Plum Village, Summer 2000 

Hagit, Deep Aspiration on Love of the Heart, lives in Israel and practices with the Jerusalem Sangha.

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Poem: For Warmth

I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm –
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

by Thich Nhat Hanh, written after the bombing of Ben Tre, Vietnam when an American military man made the comment, “We had to destroy the town in order to save it.” Call Me By My hue Names (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1999)

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A Loving-Kindness Meditation

offered by Roberta Wall

September 16, 2001
Another day in precious holy Brooklyn, with vigils, peace walks and interfaith services everywhere.

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Seven hundred people came together in the Brooklyn Museum to honor fallen firefighters from two local stations. The first four rows of the packed auditorium were filled with mourning families. Black folks and white folks crowded together to pray for peace, to sing civil rights songs, to grieve, to find wisdom. The aisles were lined with firefighters in full gear, their trucks outside, waiting to be called to the next fire as they stood in silent prayer and meditation with us.

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I felt the power of interfaith service in a way far deeper than ever before. I heard as one voice, one people, one prayer, the Imam’s prayers from the Koran and the cantor’s prayer from the Jewish prayer book. As the Catholic priest prayed that we not turn to vengeance and the minister prayed that guidance come to us from the deepest places of wisdom, I felt that there is indeed only one God.

I was asked to offer the closing meditation, a Buddhist metta, a loving-kindness prayer. I asked everyone to close their eyes, and led us in the praying, “May I be happy, may I be safe. Breathing in and out, each breath bringing in a deeper wish to dwell in peace, safety, free from anxiety, worry and fear.” Then I asked everyone to open  their eyes and find someone nearby in the room to send the same blessings of peace, safety, and freedom. “May you be happy, peaceful, and safe. May you be free from anxiety, worry and fear.”

My whole body began to shake as I watched people turn to each other with loving, tear-filled, tender eyes. Then we extended the metta out to everyone, to all beings, and for
those who were ready, even to those whom we may have considered to be enemies. The
depth of the energy of holding peace and love in the room was breathtaking. We finished to the sound of the bell being invited twenty-one times in honor of the firefighters lost from the two stations. After the service ended, firefighters, wives of missing ones, clerics, and my two wonderful daughters told me how wonderful and helpful the meditation was. May we all live in peace. May this truly be a time of turning to dialogue, to a new way of resolving conflict, of being with suffering, of exploring nonviolent ways to live on Earth.

A Loving-Kindness Meditation

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from angel; afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

Roberta Wall, True Insight of Peace, is living and practicing in Woodstock, New York, where she is starting a Sangha.

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Inhaling the Dust, Yearning for Light

Being with suffering in New York City after September 11th

By Larry Ward

I had an opportunity to go to New York to be with Thich Nhat Hanh and some of the monks and nuns to conduct a service at Riverside Church on September 25. My flight to New York was the first time I had been on an airplane since September 11. When the tragedy of the World Trade towers occurred, I was in the air on a flight to Denver, which of course was re-routed. It has been part of my spiritual practice for over thirty years to be aware that every flight I take could be my last. So that part of it was not a big deal for me, but I was interested to see what I noticed. The first things I noticed on September 24 were visual and physical: all the security at the Santa Barbara airport and how far away I had to park. More importantly, I started to noice fear and anxiety in people at a higher level than normal, and I started to notice gallows humor. I noticed that going through security, I had to give up my fingernail clippers. And then I noticed that there were only ten of us on the airplane. We flew to Denver and I changed planes there, connecting to a flight to La Guardia, in New York. That plane seated 250 people and there were thirty-two of us on that flight. One of the people on that flight appeared to be Arabic and his seat was next to me. I noticed how nervous and afraid he was, and how difficult it was for him to make eye contact with anyone including myself.

When our pilot announced our approach to La Guardia, I looked out the window and I was suddenly disoriented because the World Trade buildings were no longer there as a reference point. As we descended down through thick white clouds, I realized that I didn’t have any idea what was happening next with this airplane. We could have been flying into another skyscraper for all I knew. I was deeply aware of how much trust I had put in the hands of so many unknown people for so many years. We landed without difficulty and passengers applauded. Upon exiting the plane as I walked out the door I could see from the gate all the way to the outside of the airport because it was almost empty except for security, and a few vendors who didn’t have any customers.

I hailed a taxi to my friends’ house on West 22nd Street. We had dinner that evening and talked about their experience of what happened. They shared with me feelings of shock, sadness and sorrow. They expressed a sense of newfound vulnerability and anxiety present in the lives of individuals, families and institutions located on Manhattan Island. I invited them to join me at Riverside Church the next evening to be with Thay and the community to practice making peace with our anger together.

Before I left Santa Barbara I had told some Sangha members that I planned to do walking meditation at Ground Zero, making at least 5,000 steps, one for each of the missing people. The next morning I got up early and went to Canal Street, which is as far south as you can get in a vehicle in Manhattan. I then began my mindful walk the other twelve blocks down and then six blocks across to Ground Zero. Breathing with each step and seeing deep heartbreak in the faces I passed, I practiced looking into each face as if it were one of the missing ones. As I got closer to Ground Zero the pungent smell of rubber burning filled my nostrils and a smoke-filled haze irritated my eyes. I continued to breathe, with every step for a lost one.

I proceeded to do walking meditation for four and a half hours. I walked from every possible angle. After forty-five minutes I stood with my first glimpse of Ground Zero. It took me into deep, deep silence. My mind could not take in what I was witnessing. The site was overflowing with people, some just standing and crying, others taking pictures or walking by in disbelief. The police and military were busy keeping order but even they were filled with an eerie silence. The grief at Ground Zero was so thick with substance it had erected its own monument to the tragedy. My mind could not take in what I was witnessing within and around me. I walked to view the site from yet another angle and then another. About two hours into this humbling process I began to notice the dust and ash. All the buildings within six or seven blocks of the site were covered with dusty ash and as I looked down I saw that I too had become covered. I then realized that I had been breathing that dusty ash, and then I realized that it was the dust of a policeman, it was the dust of a fireman, it was the dust of a stockbroker, a janitor, a secretary, a maid, a delivery person who just showed up on his bicycle to deliver a package like he did every other day when he went to work.

The dust of the September 11th World Trade tragedy was in me now as I was in it, in every cell of my body, in every mindful step, every fiber of my heart and the mystery of my every breath.

I am so grateful to our dear teacher who with his whole heart  has transmitted to us Buddha feet, Buddha eyes and the instruments of the Doors of Liberation. The Doors of Signlessness, Aimlessness and Emptiness, are so important to practice with. I know the World Trade buildings looked really solid and strong and tall. They were never eternally solid; they were empty of any permanence. All dharmas, all phenomena are marked with emptiness and signlessness. They have no enduring separate self and are always in disguise. Every building, every political regime, every civilization, every tree, every bush, every Larry, every policeman, every fireman, all are marked. Our ability to experience Buddha feet, Buddha eyes and insight into the Doors of Liberation are rooted in our capacity to experience aimlessness, which begins with our mindfulness practice of stopping and looking deeply.

I went to Riverside Church at 3:30 pm to help with preparations. When I arrived, there were already 100 people lined up and the program did not start until 7 p.m. Part of my helping out was to keep checking outside. The next time I went outside there were 400 people lined up twice around the block, and about fifteen minutes later there were 2,000. About a hal f an hour later there were over 3,000 people. The church only seats 2,500; we had standing room only, fitting in about 3,000 people, and the re were still many people standing outside Riverside. Participants in the evening were so grateful for the presence of our Fourfold Sangha. We chanted the Heart Sutra and Thay gave a Dharma talk on practicing with anger. Sister Chan Khong told the story of her hometown in Vietnam that was destroyed during the Vietnamese-American war and she talked about how she practiced with that.

It was so profound to see the fruit of the practice. Those of us who were there, Thay Nhat Hanh and the monastic community, Order members, and local Sanghas were able to hold the grief of 3,000 plus people without getting caught by it. We practice for ourselves, yes, to develop our own solidity, our calmness, our own insight. But we practice in that way so that we can offer it to other people when they need it.

Quite a few people asked me one question: “Where are you from?” I said, “I’m from California.” Their second question was, “Did you come here just for this?” And I said, “Yes.” And many started weeping. I felt grateful to have enough calmness, enough solidity and stillness to be there. I felt that the whole Sangha had enough of the paramita of inclusivity, of forbearance to be present there. The paramita of inclusiveness is not just the capacity to hold suffering, it’s also about the capacity to practice in such a way, to live in such a way that we can transform the world’s suffering into light. We develop and nurture this capacity when we practice Noble Silence, when we practice conscious breathing and sitting mindfully together, when we practice mindful walking and the mindfulness trainings together.I came back from New York clearer than ever before. One, this is the time for Maitreya Buddha. This is the exact moment for, as Thay Nhat Hanh would say, “Mr. Love and Ms. Love.” Actually if you look closely and you look deeply at what has happened and what is happening, you can see him and you can see her already here. Now is the time to deepen our practice. It was clear to me in New York that I could have stayed there and expanded local Sanghas and initiated residential practice communities, because people were so clear what doesn’t matter and what does matter. Two, this is a time of transformation and healing. I know from my own study of hi story that whenever there is war, hidden underneath the sorrow and the confusion and the chaos that war creates is a profound spiritual opportunity. I don ‘t intend to miss it. So I’m in the process of rearranging my life, so that I can spend more time practicing mindful living, mindful breathing, mindful walking and mindful Sangha building. I want to be fully present for the Dharma and the work it inspires in our world of suffering and confusion.

The world is experiencing a deep yearning; it is yearning for the light of its true home in the midst of this darkness. We are yearning for the light of the Buddha which is present in each of us; the light of the Dharma which is present in reality itself; and the light of the Sangha, our capacity to live in harmony and awareness.

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Larry Ward, True Great Voice, lives at the Clear View Practice Center in Santa Barbara, California and is a cofounder of the Stillwater Sangha there.

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Poem: Morning Song

This morning.
a fog-filled canyon captured me.
Rolled out its net of white and drew me in.
Was I then caught?
Was l set free?

The fog said, “Rest.
I am life’s breath.
Please take me in.
Exhale. Exalt.”

Fog wrapped me up and held me close.
And sang a white-wool lullaby:
“I will never leave you, dear.
Breathe, my darling child.”

by Constance Alexander
written at the UCSD retreat. August 2001. Constance lives in Ashland, Oregon and practices with the Community of Mindful Living. Southern Oregon.

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The Son’s Flesh Sutra

Translated by Sister Annabel Laity

The Son’s Flesh Sutra
(Puttamamsa Sutta) Samyutta Nikaya II, 97.

The discourse was heard at Savatthi.

The Buddha began speaking.

“Monks, there are four kinds of nourishment which maintain living beings and make possible the coming to be of living beings.

“What are the four

“There is the nourishment which we take by the mouth. It is edible food and can be course or fine. Secondly, there is the nourishment of sense impressions. Thirdly there id nourishment of volition or desire and fourthly there is nourishment of consciousness.

“How could we describe edible food?

“It is like this. Suppose two parents with their only child were to set out on a journey through the desert with a small amount of provisions. Their only son whom they take with them is very dear to them. On their journey they finish what provisions they have taken with them and the are completely exhausted by hunger. It seems that they will not complete their journey out of the desert alive.

“So they come to this conclusion: ‘What little food we has is exhausted and our difficult journey has not yet come to an end. Why do we not kill our only son who is so dear to us and when the flesh is dry we can salt it and eat it? Thus we shall have the strength to make our way out of the desert and all of us will not die.’

“Thus it was, monks, that the parents killed their only son who was so dear to them. They ate the dried flesh seasoned with salt and so managed to accomplish their journey, but when they had eaten the flesh they beat their chests and cried: ‘Where is our only son, our dear son?’

“What do you think, monks? Was it for amusement or enjoyment
that they took this food? Was it out of indulgence? Was it
to comfort themselves or escape from themselves?”

“No, respected teacher.”

“Did they take that food to help them make their way out of the desert?”

“Yes, respected teacher,”

“I suggest that you regard edible food in this way.

“When you have right understanding concerning the food
you eat you also have right understanding concerning the five
kinds of desire. When there is right understanding concerning
the five desires, there are no longer the internal formations, which
bind the practitioner and lead to rebirth in the desire realm.

“How could we describe the nourishment of sense impression?

“It can be described like this. Suppose there is a cow who has lost most of its hide. When the cow leans against an earthen wall, all the little creatures who inhabit the wall come and eat the flesh of the cow. The same happens when the cow leans against a tree. If the cow were to step into water, all the little creatures who lived in the water would come and suck the blood of the cow, and if the cow were exposed to the air all the creatures in the air would come and feed off the cow.

“This is way I propose you regard the food of sense impression. When you understand the food of sense impression. When you understand the three kinds of feeling correctly. When the noble practitioner understands the three kinds of feeling, there is nothing higher she needs to do.

“How would we describe the nourishment of volition?

“lt is like this, monks. Suppose there were a pit of burning charcoal as deep as a man is tall, filled with smokeless, red-hot charcoal. A man is standing near the pit. He is someone who wants to live and never wants to die. He longs for happiness and never wants to experience ill-being. There are two strong men take hold of his arms and drag him to the pit. At that time his greatest wish, his greatest intention and aspiration is to be far from the pit. He knows very well that if he were to fall into the pit it would mean death for him: there could only be death and pain.

“In this way, monks, I suggest you should regard the food of volition. When the nourishment of volition is rightly understood, . the three cravings are rightly understood. When the three cravings are rightly understood, there is nothing higher the noble practitioner needs to do.

“How could we describe the food of consciousness?

“It is like this. Suppose someone who is guilty of a serious crime is arrested and brought before the king. The people say: ‘This man is guilty of a very serious crime. Your majesty may inflict whatever punishment your majesty wishes.’

“Concerning the appropriate punishment the king replies: ‘In the morning take him out and stab him with one hundred knives.’

“In the morning they take him out and stab him with one
hundred knives. At noon the king may say: ‘What has happened
to that man?’

‘He is still alive, your majesty.’

‘Then you should stab him with one hundred knives in the middle of the day.’

“In the middle of the day they take him out and stab him with one hundred knives. In the evening the king asks: ‘What has happened to that man?’

‘He is still alive, your majesty.’

‘Then you should stab him with one hundred knives in the evening.’

“So in the evening he is stabbed with one hundred knives.

“What do you think, monks? Would that man, who, in one day, was subject to being stabbed three times by one hundred knives, experience great pain and anguish?’

“Respected teacher, to be stabbed once by one hundred knives is ground enough for great suffering and anguish, not to speak of three times.”

“In this way I propose, monks, we should regard the food of consciousness. When the nourishment of consciousness is rightly understood, name and form are rightly understood. When name and form are rightly understood, there is nothing higher the noble disciple needs to do.”

At this time there may be no more pertinent Buddhist text for the people of the U.S. than the discourse on the son’s flesh. It is a sutra about what we consume every day and the consequences to ourselves and others of that consumption. Thay Nhat Hanh repeatedly referred to this sutra in talks given to the North American people after the disasters of September 11th. Thay has suggested that we compile a book from his teachings on this sutra.

The Buddha said that everything depends on food for its existence and if we can understand the nature of the food which nourishes a phenomenon, then we are already on the path of emancipation. The phenomena which we need to understand above all in our present situation are anger and violence. The four kinds of food , which the Buddha talks about here all have a part in feeding anger and violence.

The Son’s Flesh Sutra is found in both the Pali and the Chinese canons of Buddhist sacred texts. In the Pali canon it is found in the second volume of the Samyutta Nikaya in the Nidanavagga. This translation is of the text found in the Pali Canon. In some places where the references are not applicable to our own times, it has been updated.

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Sister Annabel Laity (Sister True Virtue) is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. She is also the senior editor of The Mindfulness Bell.

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A Biography of Thay Giac Thanh

In Loving Memory of
Thay Giac Thanh
June 9, 1947 – October 15, 2001

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That you are a real gentleman is known by everyone
The work of a true practitioner has been accomplished
When you stupa has just been raised on the hillside
The sound of children’s laughter will already be heard

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A Biography of Thay Giac Thanh

Offered by his Dharma brother Thay Phuoc Tinh from Vietnam at Deer Park Monastery on October 19, 2001, the day of Thay Giac Thanh’s cremation. Thay Phuoc Tinh and Thay Giac Thanh ordained as novice monks together in Vietnam. Translated from Vietnamese by Chan Hao and Chan Tue Nang.
(Some minor changes and additions have been made lor the English. version.)

Venerable Tam Tong, Chan Giac Thanh, Tram Nhien, birth name Le Van Hieu, was born on June 9, 1947 in the quiet and remote hamlet of Tra Loc, in Soc Son village, Tli Ton district, Rach Gia province. His father was Le Van Dat and his mother was Nguyen Thi Nho. He was the third child in the family of four sons and two daughters.

Like many other children in the countryside of Vietnam growing up in the great suffering of their country caused by wars and poverty, Thay Giac Thanh had to learn at an early age to follow his older brothers and sisters to gather food and catch fish. From this, his elegant face became golden-tanned by the tropical sunlight. In spite of his hardships, the seed of compassion had been present within him, perhaps for many lifetimes. At the early age of seven or eight, he shed tears when thinking of our small human life in the vastness of infinite existence.

Thay’s stay in this little village ended when his parents moved to Rach Gia city. While in the city, he began learning to write his first alphabet. During this time there were some relatively peaceful periods without bombings and fighting, as a result of the Geneva peace accords.

As time passed, the little boy with the golden-tanned face from the remote hamlet of Tra Loc became one of the best students of Nguyen Trung Truc School, very intelligent and especially very brave. Perhaps he had inherited his bravery from patriot Nguyen Trung Truc. Thay Giac Thanh once expressed his love for his country in his first poem, “Crying for My Country.”
My dear country
Loving you, I shed my tears in long and tranquil nights.
Country! What crime have you committed
That the devils have ill-treated you
Without compassion, sympathy, or human kindness?
They sold you to the Devil King.
Loving you, I would buy you back with my flesh and blood,
With my heart and mind and and with my whole body.
This body can become ash and dust
Yet I vow to clear the path for peace. ( 1967)

There is a saying, “Man should have a determination to penetrate the deep skies.” If one does not want to be a speck of dust blown away by the whirlwind destroying one’s own country, then one should not participate in the destruction. Better, one should be a lone traveler on the path of no-birth and no-death. Thay Giac Thanh turned his life towards cultivating his ideal of great compassion and liberation through inner discovery. In 1967, he became a novice monk at Temple Thanh Hoa, Tan My village, Cho Moi district, Long Xuyen province. His Dharma name, Giac Thanh (Awakening Sound), was given to him by his teacher, Venerable Pho Hue. Before becoming a monk he had lain awake crying for the suffering of his motherland. Now in the monastery he also lay awake feeling an emptiness in his heart and longing to find the path that would lead him to realize his true nature. Oh! He felt the path to realize the way is so far. He overcame worldly obstacles, left his hometown, learnt the ways of practice, attended retreats, and received the precepts and still he experienced the feeling of emptiness in his heart. He stayed in Temple Giac Nguyen (in Saigon) in 1968, and then in Temple Xa Loi in 1969. He was fully ordained in Temple Giac Vien in the autumn of 1970. In 1971, he attended the University of Van Hanh to further his studies in Buddhism. He also participated in talks on the Diamond Sutra given by Venerable Hue Hung from Temple Hue Quang, and in talks on Buddhist psychology given by Venerable Tri Tinh. He never stopped searching; wherever there was a talk by a well known teacher, he would be there. He said to his friends nowhere is there a program of practice which is as helpful as that which is followed at the monastery of Master Thanh Tu. And then he received further inspiration on his path when he came across the first book of rules and regulations for the True Emptiness Monastery, a book of guidelines for the monastic life at this particular practice center.

In the spring of 1974, he decided to leave the dusty city and to lay down his student pen. He returned to True Emptiness Monastery, entering his second four-year program. The days passed, listening to sutras in the morning, meditating in the afternoon, drinking tea, looking at dewdrops hanging from the leafy roof, and watching rays of sunlight shining and merging with the firelight in the hearth. The love from his brothers and receiving the Dharma milk of his old teacher on the peak of Tao Phung Mountain opened his heart and lit up the path for this young monk to come home. Thay Giac Thanh was a very good meditator and one of the most beloved elder brothers at True Emptiness Monastery. Almost everybody who had a chance to know him had beautiful memories of him. He offered love, tenderness and support to his newly ordained brothers and sisters. With his deep understanding and compassion, he created great harmony in the Sangha. For instance, in mid-1974, one of the brothers had to leave the monastery to become the abbot of Thuong Chieu Monastery. With some tea and some words of farewell, he was able to strengthen the brotherhood, and he artistically presented the cultural beauty of the art of drinking tea. The fragrance of that cup of tea seems to be very present still.

Once again Vietnam’s history turned to a new page. After the spring of 1975, when the communists took over the whole country, the peaceful years at True Emptiness Monastery faded into the past. Everybody now had to work hard in the fields under the hot, burning sun. While working, Thay Giac Thanh sometimes stopped and asked the question, “One’s awakening is not yet realized. Why should one waste one’s precious life just to gain some food? My dear younger brothers and sisters, we should give ourselves time for reflection.” Whenever there was an opportunity, he would contemplate with his little tea set, beside the bamboo grove in the front yard. Often at dawn and dusk, seeing the floating fog, he also felt a human love floating and fading away. He wrote:
As a human in this life,
I exist! I know how to enjoy tea alone.
Thirty years are like a dream gone by.
Day and night, the little teapot is my only friend. (1976)

In the winter of 1977, he left Thuong Chieu Monastery and build An Khong hut in My Luong village. This hut was made with bamboo leaves. Next to the hut was his small meditation space. The setting expressed the meditative taste of a Zen master with a simple and noble life, but it also expressed the artistry of a poet. After four years, he left An Khong hut as described in the last paragraph of the poem “Mong Vang Hoa”:
I am a dusty world traveler
In the infinity of time.
My mind seemed to get lost in the isolated island.
One morning, the island woke up.
Birds shouting, I hastily continued on my path.
The dusty life seems to be washed off
In the immense ocean of waves and water. (1978)

In July of 1981, he escaped out of Vietnam by boat to Indonesia. Like many other  dangerous escapes of the Vietnamese, he was not able to avoid pirates. Seeing the cruel raping of women and grabbing of jewelry, angrily he said, “Do you have a heart? How could you be so cruel to your fellow humans?” The pirates were very angry and threw him into the ocean. Fortunately, the head pirate, in a flash of sympathy, tossed him a rope and pulled him up onto the boat. So the game of birth and death was once postponed.

Thay Giac Thanh was in Song La refugee camp in Indonesia from July 1981 to early 1982. He was sponsored by Venerable Thich Man Giac to come to Los Angeles. He spent his first refugee allowance of $300 to buy an expensive, antique tea set and some tea, and offered the first cup of tea to Venerable Thich Man Giac and said, “Dear Venerable, I am a wanderer. Loving me, you sponsored me to come here. I haven’t done anything to show my gratitude. With my first allowance I bought this tea and I offer this to express my gratitude to you for your great care and deep love.” What was the cost of a cup of tea? A small expense, but this action expressed the gratefulness of a young wandering man. The Venerable offered a cooling shade and a loving harbor for the wandering man. During Thay Giac Thanh’s brief stay at Phat Giao Viet Nam Temple in Los Angeles, the Venerable, like a tender and caring mother, offered the loving energy which healed the wounds in the wanderer’s heart. At the end of Spring 1982, Thay Tri Tue (one of the Venerable’s students) visited the teacher. The Venerable told Thay Giac Thanh, “Thay Tri Tue from Nam Tuyen Temple (in Virginia) is very busy and there is nobody helping him right now. Could you please help him? You two brothers, live and practice together and keep each other company.” Thay Giac Thanh lived happily with Thay Tri Tue in Virginia from 1982 to 1989. During that time, he also lived and practiced in Japanese, Korean, and Burmese practice centers. The appeal of a traveler’s life faded, however, as his journey of coming home was still burning deep within him. Continuously he searched, knocking at different great teacher’s doors, for the final breakthrough to penetrate directly into infinite space.

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In one of the North American retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh, seeing him practice with intense and strained effort, Thay Nhat Hanh said to him, “Thay Giac Thanh, you do not need to strive so much. Just be joyful and relaxed. Practice so that you can enjoy what is here in the present moment.” These teaching words of Thay Nhat Hanh were like a few drops of water causing a full cup to overflow, like lightning penetrating deep layers of clouds and illuminating the immense sky. Since then, he stopped the search through strained effort. In the summer retreat of 1990 at Plum Village, the retreatants had a chance to practice with a Vietnamese monk, Thay Giac Thanh, with his beautiful smile  that expressed inner peace. In 1990, he began residing at Plum Village and there he lived happily with his teacher, Thay Nhat Hanhthe old oak tree, and he himself became an oak tree protecting his younger brothers and sisters, young oak trees. He also led Days of  Mindfulness at the Cactus Meditation Center located near Paris, France. And he was called by a very poetic name, Thay Cactus. He was given this name because he looked after the Cactus Meditation Center, but it was an appropriate name for hjs permeating but gentle radiance and upright manner. In the summer of 1992, he received the Lamp Transmjssion to become a Dharma Teacher and a gatha from Thay Nhat Hanh. The gatha is:
The awakened nature is the true nature.
Pure sound is the manifestation of the Wonderful Sound.
The full moon’s light illuminates Ty Lo Ocean.
The musical waves are still strong and sonorous.

And this is Thay Giac Thanh’s insight gatha offered to his teacher and the Sangha at his Lamp Transmission:
Formless Samadhi
The limpid water on one side.
Yellow water on the other side.
All will return to sky, cloud,
Ocean and river
There is sunlight during daytime
And moonlight at night,
Shining my way.

Plum Village was a promised land for Thay Giac Thanh. In the past, the promised land had been a dream formed from his faith. Now the promised land was a cradle in which all of humankind’s happiness could flourish, and was a field in which the seeds of compassion and understanding could be sown. Plum Village created a vast space in his heart so that the flower of wisdom could bloom. And with solid steps he fully entered life. He wrote a poem to express his respect and admiration for his teacher:
Just a thunder look
Can press down many great walls.
I bow my head to receive
And vow to keep (the teachings) life after life. (1991)

Perhaps the time he lived in Floating Clouds hut in Plum Village was one of the most beautiful times in his life. Thay Nhat Hanh offered him this small wooden hut on the forest edge, beside his own. All year round, one could hear the birds singing and see many different flowers blooming arollnd his hut. He liked the name Floating Clouds. He walked freely and solidly, and his smiles and words carried a profound peace to people around him.

In 1992, he was first invited to New York City to lead Days of Mindfulness. His presence helped strengthen the bonds with the New York Sanghas and a very special friendship blossomed between him and the Sangha members. In the autumn of 1995, he was invited again to New York and to other East Coast cities to lead various retreats. One thing is for sure, wherever he went — France, America, Australia, Canada, Vermont, Deer Park — from the beginning of his teaching to his last breath, all of us could receive his tender, fresh and peaceful energy.  And he was respected and deeply loved by all of us.

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In 1995 he contracted tuberculosis and his diabetes worsened. With his mindful breathing he embraced his illnesses, which he had lived with since 1992 or earlier. He embraced and took care of his illnesses like a mother loving her child, never complaining no matter
how demanding the child was. Many of our ancestors also faced challenging obstacles but took them as opportunities to realize full enlightenment. Simjlarly, even with these serious illnesses, Thay Giac Thanh could live peacefully and happily, and this was clearly expressed in his poems, such as:
Dharma Seal
Stepping out the land of reality,
Fresh beautiful flowers bloom everywhere.
Only one deep mindfulness shines through
And the three realms have been surpassed … (1997)

Light of Winter
Facing white snow,
Suddenly,
One-self fading away
The whole universe
Turning info a great lamp. (1998)

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In 1997 Thay Giac Thanh became Head of Practice at the Maple Forest Monastery at the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont, the first American off-spring from Plum Village, and offered a stable and joyful presence for the young brothers and sisters and lay practitioners practicing there. A few years later in early 2000, some of the Plum Village Sangha members began looking for property to start a West Coast monastery.  Acquiring the land for Deer Park Monastery, and then becomjng the abbot of the Monastery, Thay Giac Thanh knew that this place would be the last one of his life. Therefore, he used all of his remaining strength to build this place in showing his gratitude to his most respected teacher. Since last year, his illnesses became seriously life-threatening, and finally, like the cycles of birth and death of all phenomena, he returned his impermanent body to Mother Earth. Thay Giac Thanh arrived in Deer Park Monastery in the summer of 2000 and left us in the autumn of 2001. His stay at Deer Park was very short compared to an average human life span, and nothing compared to the age of stars and moons, but his accomplishment is great and that has entered into the hearts of all of us. A kind, gentle and loving voice, a joyful smile untiI the end of his life, a deep and clear wisdom and great compassion, and peaceful steps, all revealed his profound understanding of no-coming, no-going. And that is the greatest gift he has offered to his brothers and sisters and to the Sanghas all over the world. As the Arahats said upon entering Nirvana, “The most important task has been completed.”

He is truly a Dhanna Teacher of many Western and Vietnamese practitioners. Although he passed away, he has transformed to be one with us. His words are like essential keys to open the door to one’s wisdom, happiness and compassion, especially his last Dharma talks in the Full Moon Meditation Hall. How deep his words are! He is the most loved elder brother. Each of us remembers him in our own way. He is a brother, protective, sometimes strict. He is a mother, loving and caring for us. He is a friend, opening his heart to us. He loved his brothers and sisters wholeheartedly. He is a meadow, full of exotic, simple and beautiful flowers and grass, in which each one of us can play freely. Being with him, we see ourselves disappearing and merging with him, like a river merging into the ocean. And we all think it is very difficult to find another elder brother like him. Here are a few lines from a poem written for his younger brothers and sisters:
Please do not scold or condemn
my younger brothers and sisters.
Because I am afraid that the gray color
of sadness and heartache
Will encase their innocence and clarity. (1991)

Thay Giac Thanh was also a student with deep gratitude; he always did his best to help his teachers in spreading the teaching, even when he was very sick.

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In his first return to Vietnrun, in 1992, his old friends were very surprised by his simplicity, and they could not believe that he had experienced great suffering, disappointments, many ups and downs, profound transformations, and attained great wisdom and understandding of the Dharma from inspiring teachers. Wearing the brown Tiep Hien jacket and carrying his monk shoulder bag, he traveled humbly without formal welcoming or farewells. With his gentle smiles, he overcame all the political obstacles he encountered while in Vietnam and therefore was able to successfully offer the Dharma and charity to many people there. Although he had a busy schedule, he still spent time with his relatives and old friends, monastics and non-monastics. He treated them with love from his whole heart. When they saw him again, they were deeply moved to tears. Before coming back to the United States, he searched for and bought a special tea set as a gift for his closest friend. Not many of his old friends were able to be with him in the hospital or attend his funeral, but the deep caring and love from those who were present revealed how much love he has given us. In his second return to Vietnam, in 1999, he told his friends, “I came back to visit all of you for the last time. I don’t think that I will be able to make another trip.” His words seemed like a joke, and nobody could believe what he said would be true. In this trip, one of his childhood friends helped him to fulfill his long-standing wish in helping his family.

He lived humbly, freely and with dignity. So beautifully he came and left. His life is like a pristine cactus flower blooming at night. He left a collection of over fifty poems, not yet published. These poems have been kept by his close friends. His early poems are full of romantic and poetic imagery, but his subsequent poems convey his profound wisdom and vast spaciousness of his heart. Close to death, he seemed to dwell more in the other realm, but when Thay Nhat Hanh spoke to him from Beijing the day before he died, he smiled and his face lit up, and he opened his eyes to receive his teacher’s words. Thay Nhat Hanh read the poem he had just written in honor of Thay Giac Thanh (printed on page 22). Later he added these two lines:
One maple leaf has fallen down
And yet you continue to climb the hill of the
twenty-first century with us.
Thousands of daffodils are beginning to bloom
and the earth continues to be with the sky
singing the song of no-birth and no-death.

Our ancestors said that once the most important task in life has been completed, one needs no longer return to this world. However, Great Beings come and go freely to continue the bodhisattva’s work. Dear Thay Giac Thanh, we vow to be your companion on this path of love and liberation, life after life.

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Acting and Mindfulness

an interview with Jeffrey King

Interviewed by Barbara Casey

Jeff, what led you to become an actor? 

When I was a senior in high school I got into a drama class because the physical education class I wanted to be in was closed, In the drama class I started to feel a kind of release, a contact with something really deep, a feeling of being a conduit. The only way I knew to continue to follow that feeling was to act. And still that’s the reason I do it, to experience that kind of heightened and widened awareness. It ·feels like, having been introduced to an experience that was so necessary and essential in my life, I just followed it.

When were you introduced to mindfulness and how did that become your practice?

Acting was my practice long before I had any understanding of what mindfulness practice was, because it afforded these moments of opening, of heightened awareness. Following the same impulse as when I started acting, I began reading books on Buddhism, which I did for a long time, thinking that was the practice. Then I realized that reading wasn’t affecting my life the way it would be if I actually did the things that I read about. So I went to the Zen Center in Los Angeles and I asked to learn to sit. Then I met Christopher/Caitriona Reed and I started sitting with her and became more aware of Thay and his way of approaching practice and that seemed more in tune with what felt right for me. There was much more interaction with nature and there was a feeling of real contact with the world, and a feeling. that when you’re sitting you don’t try to keep things out, you let things be and you observe them. That really drew me.

How has the practice of mindfulness affected your acting?

It’s made acting easier. An actor needs to go in the direction the story or the character goes. But there’s a freedom within that to allow the moment to be as it is; this is what’s happened for me over the past several years. I’m less interested in making moments happen a certain way because I’m much more aware that the audience and I, the other actors and technicians are all creating our world in this time we’re together.

Acting is much less stressful than in the past, and the special moments that used to come up once in a while are now more like one big long moment. I’m more often not thinking of something else when I’m on stage; I’m just listening to what’s happening and breathing. One night I was doing Life Is a Dream and I had a thought that wasn’t involved in the play and I just noted it, like I would if I were sitting; I said “thinking” and came back to the moment. I was actually experiencing the play as a meditation. It makes me more free and spontaneous and willing to accept whatever’s happening within the context of the play.

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Jeff plays a featured role in Life Is a Dream, one of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s plays this season. Written in the 16th century by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, a Brazilian Catholic priest, the play is a strong and direct message of how mindfulness can transform the life of a person who is suffering through awareness of the preciousness of each moment. Two speeches by Segismundo, the main character, reflect this awakening:
Segismundo:
I’ll dream the dream of courts and kings and drums
and swords. But this time I will know it. A dream
– but this time I will know that it is happening.
This time be aware of it – be mindful of the
moments as they pass – and this time I will be
there for the living of them. Knowing from the
start it all shall pass away will take away the fear
– take away the few; and ease the pain.
There. There. I feel it – a pair of steel gloves
-lightening themselves around my heart. Hot
blood rising in my throat. I can see it. Red and
smoking – I can look it in the eye. It is not me. It
is anger – not a part o.l me. Not me. It is a dream.
It is a dream. It is a dream. Let it go. Let it go. I
can see it. I can let it go.

Jeff, being an actor is a performance art and usually involves projecting some sort of ego; is that a hindrance to the practice of mindfulness?

If I’ m trying to get something personal out of acting, I fall on my face because it precludes being really alive and present. And when my ego is out of it, it happens spontaneously. I’m doing Merry Wives of Windsor right now, and to do comedy I have to be so awake for the audience and present in the moment. If I’m thinking, “I’ l look better this way or that way,” the moment is gone.

Tell us a little bit about your current play, Life Is a Dream:

It’s been very important to do this play because it exemplifies the central understanding of my practice, and that is, if you wake up in this moment, you are totally free. Part of this is learning to stop clinging to the past without forgetting the past. This is what happens to the main character, Segismundo; after being kept prisoner and being treated badly, he’s freed and made the prince. His first reaction is to hang on to what’s happened to him and to react out of that pain and he does unskillful things, he kills a man. So he’s put back into his captivity and then through some awakenings within the story he’s freed again and comes to genuinely forgive those who have put him there because he is now free to be alive right this moment. Part of that comes through his understanding that we dream the reality that we inhabit and we dream the identities that we possess. For him and for the character that I play, there is a spiritual awakening that has to do with release and with presentness.

It feels like right livelihood to be doing this play because 600 people a day come and see it and they are affected by it, they consider whether it’s possible for someone to be treated that way and then to forgive those who did it to him. And it’s a way of broadening my own practice and my own sense of compassion and generosity in the world.

How does being a member of the Order of Interbeing influence your acting?

Taking the Five Mindfulness Trainings was very important to me, because getting up in front of the community and saying, “This is how 1’m going to live” was really powerful. Over the course of time and coming to understand what the Order was about, it seemed like a way to deepen, to be an example within my Sangha, to my family and to myself. The Mindfulness Trainings feel like a natural way to live; they support me to be a natural person. In reciting them, I often see that I haven’t studied and practiced one very well, and that’s okay, because I will do it in the next two weeks. They support everything that 1’m trying to embody. I share a dressing room in the theater with thirty guys and the talk can get kind of raw. Sometimes I just write a number “4” and put it up on the wall, and I see it and remember, 1’m free to be mindful of my speech down here. That’s very helpful and I thin.k it influences everyone in the room without my even saying anything.

If there are mindfulness practitioners who have a desire to act, what would you say to them?

If they really want to, they should just do it. If you are practicing mindfulness, then you are already way ahead of the game with acting because good acting is the embodiment of mindfulness. Performing can be a wonderful way to drop off a lot of constrictions about who you think you have to be. It’s a very free place on stage; when you see someone acting who is really alive, they affect you. It doesn’t matter where you are doing it,just walk onto a stage and breathe, walk out the door and breathe, it’s the same life, it’s just very free.

Jeffrey King, True Awakening of the Dharma, is an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife and two children, and sits with the Community o/Mindful Living, Southern Oregon.

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Bicycle Meditation

By David Percival 

For most of us, the commute to and from work is a daily reality. I am fortunate to be able to bicycle to work, weather permitting, which in New Mexico is most of the time. Unfortunately, I think it is safe to describe the streets of most of our cities as not being bastions of mindfulness. Furthermore, most streets and roads have been designed for cars, not bicycles. You can be entering a battleground of inattentive, careless and sometimes hostile drivers, narrow roads full of holes and glass, and the occasional vicious dog. Yet, it is a joy to leave the car in the garage, enjoy the peace and cal m of an empty road in the early morning before the heat of the day takes over, go through a quiet neighborhood, and do your small part to lessen congestion and pollution.

First, plan ahead, especially if you have just started riding. Get a map and plot the safest, most direct route. Avoid, when possible, riding on major highways and busy main streets during the rush hour. Imagine trying to be mindful on a heavily traveled main street during the evening rush hour when you end up too close to cars parked on your right and vehicles are rushing by you on the left.

As you leave your house in the calm of a peaceful morning, understand that this situation could change in an instant. Leaving your driveway is an important time to be mindful of the present moment, to be aware of where you are and of your surroundings, and to focus on what you and others are doing this moment. As you get ready to leave, stop for a moment and take a few seconds to breathe. Concentrate on the task at hand: to get from your house to where you work happily and in one piece. Be aware that at any moment you may suddenly find yourself in a sea of unmindful drivers in large metal objects that could cause you harm.As in others situations, when you bicycle it is easy to be lost in your thoughts, worrying about the project you have to complete at work, or wondering if your children are safe at school. Be totally aware you are riding your bicycle, not thinking about home, work, or problems. Riding your bicycle is the most important thing in your life at that moment. Being mindful and in the present moment has never been more important.

You may think at first that the constantly changing pace of bicycling does not lend itself to mindfulness. It is frantic at times, when you are trying to wind your way through rush hour traffic, make it up that long hill you are unable to avoid, or wait for the traffic to clear so you can cross a busy street. Yet, like most things we do, bicycling is made up of a series of changing rhythms. And, as in sports or other aerobic activity, bicycling is a wonderful opportunity to observe and monitor your breathing. Indeed, bicycling is a working meditation, where your breath can be uncomfortably obvious at times, particularly when you reach the top of that long hill.

As you change gears, note the changing rhythm of your pedaling. Listen to the rhythm of the cracks in the road. Follow the rhythm of your heart as it talks to you. Note the ever changing rhythms as you proceed down the street, going slower, faster, stopping, starting, easing into traffic, moving out of the way of other vehicles. If your breath is fast on a hill, note that your breath is fast; when it slows down on a flat stretch, note that it is slower. With eyes wide open, concentrate on the constantly changing rhythms of your breathing. On your daily ride when your mind starts slipping away, keep coming back to the reality of the present moment. As thoughts come to mind, be aware of them, then let them go.

Events happen fast on roads and highways and often there is no time for reflection. You must react with an instant mindfulness.

Continue to bring yourself back to the present with your breathing, to your little moving space on a city street. Your awareness of your space and what is around you and what is just ahead is your protection. Be in complete awareness by watching the changing rhythms of your breath. Thay says in The Miracle of Mindfulness, “Keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise – this is mindfulness.”

Make things that you see or hem” along the road be beacons of mindfulness: stoplights, stop signs, church bells, factory sirens, trains, buses, bus stops, familiar landmarks you see everyday such as parks, playgrounds, gardens, statues, towers, antennas, unusual buildings or special trees. Let them all be Buddhas, bells of mindfulness. Come back to your breath as you see these friends; smile as you go by.

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Often, you can’t avoid crossing a busy street; you have to wait for traffic to clear and your movement is halted. Take a moment to rest, slow yourself down, observe the neighborhood, note your heartbeat, check on the rhythm of your breathing at the moment, breathe in and out and smile at the passing traffic, note the rhythm of the endless stream of passing cars, and then carefully move across the street when it is safe.

As you move along the streets of your city, continue to smile at passing cars and people in their yards. Smile and wave your thanks to drivers who allow you the right-of-way. Observe the unmindful, careless intensity of some drivers intent on getting somewhere at any cost. Smile compassionately at them and let them go.

Beware of the seeds of your anger. These seeds are in us and can sprout instantly, sometimes at the slightest infraction. Anger can grab us and throw us into a profoundly unmindful state and lead to distraction and forgetfulness. New riders, especially, have to learn not to cling to anger and frustration which can put us in danger. Anger while bicycling is often a knee-jerk reaction to an object on the road or another person’s mindlessness and forgetfulness. I have found myself angry at a pothole, a puddle, a broken bottle, at other people’s anger, and other equally insignificant things. I have driven for several city blocks with no recollection of doing so because of being taken over by my anger.

After many year of riding, I have trained myself to tum it all around, to let the potholes, the puddles, the broken bottles, the unmindful drivers, and the angry dogs be flashing beacons of mindfulness. These beacons transmit an instant message to me: let the feeling go and return to mindfulness. Remember, the driver that cut you off is gone; the pothole that jarred your brain is behind you; the obnoxious dog ran off. Let your negative angry thoughts do the same.

I have also found that keeping a half-smile on my face is of great importance. It is very difficult to be angry when I am smiling. Sometimes I do as Thay has suggested and make a contract with my pathway to ride mindfully the entire distance. Another way to stay mindful is to make up a gatha and recite it at regular intervals, such as:
I am riding the path of mindfulness.
I am riding the street of peace.
I am riding the road of understanding.

Now when I ride, when seeds of anger or frustration do appear in my consciousness, through continuing practice they dissolve almost instantly and are gone. It is possible to immediately come back to myself.

Allow the rhythms of your breathing and your mindfulness to be your protection during your daily bicycle commute or any other time you are riding. And, by the way, wear a helmet, go with the traffic, follow the rules of the road, use lights at night, and keep a smile on your face.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a founding member of the Rainbow Sangha. He was ordained into the Order of Interbeing at the San Diego retreat in August.

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10 Points for Working in Mindful Awareness

By Hannah S. Wilder

As an executive and leadership coach, I am able to combine my spiritual and professional practices. Most of my coaching takes the form of asking questions to raise awareness, reflecting what I see, and checking to see if the executive sees some truth in my perceptions. Then we identify what is desired as a change, and figure out how to change behaviors and results.

Busy leaders like simple reminder lists that help them learn and remember practices new to them, so I developed the following Ten Principles for Working in Mindful Awareness:

1. Always be conscious of your breath and come back to that awareness when you find yourself being forgetful, confused, or reactive.

2. Let go of attachment to any system of working or managing, so that, through being mindful, you can observe with “beginner’s mind” what is best for everyone present.

3. Open your heart so that you can be sensitive to your own pain and struggle, and that of others, because what affects one affects all. We are all connected.

4. Simplify everything, eliminate clutter, and do only one thing at a time.

5. Let go of anger, resentment, criticism, and self-judgment.

6. Look and listen deeply to see and hear what is below the surface.

7. Speak the truth, with compassion and kindness, from your heart.

8. Actively cultivate personal, organizational, and environmental health and well-being.

9. Choose to work with those who practice mindful awareness in their relationships with you.

10. Invite others to practice by your example, never by coercion (which wouldn’t work, anyway!).

(10 points copyrighted by Hannah S. Wilder and reprinted with her permission.)

Hannah S. Wilder, True Good Heart, practices with the Cloud Floating Free Sangha in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is Principal of Wiseheart Global Leadership Coaching.

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Awareness of the Body in the Body

A Massage Therapist Practices the First Establishment of Mindfulness

By Pamela Overeynder

I have been a massage therapist for many years. I have practiced mindfulness for many years yet somehow it took a long time for me to realize that these are not two separate practices. In the past I did massage very unmindfully. I would mentally drift, led along by endless thoughts or I would go into a vague trancelike state. I was in a passive state and not practicing at all, even though I thought I was at peace. Sometimes I worked very hard to remove adhesions and pain in my client as though it were my responsibility single-handedly to fix the person. After such sessions my body was tired and tense. I often had the feeling I had given away my energy. One day I had the insight again that living in the present moment means breathing with awareness in every activity. It means being with things just as they are without trying to change or fix them but allowing the energy of awareness to be the transforming force.

Slowly I have begun to transform my own practice of massage by observing and working with the first of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, awareness of the body in the body. I began to notice how often I hold my breath while I work, how often my tummy is contracted and tense, how often I allow my mind to roam away from the body. I saw how much unnecessary force I used to “help” my client. I could see that working unmindfully caused my own body to suffer. I wasn’t treating my body with compassion. Lack of awareness of my body, lack of kindness for my body was affecting my health and the quality of the massage I offered. These realizations (still unfolding) naturally led to the desire to share elements of the practice with my clients.

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Early on in my massage practice I recognized that in those rare moments when I am completely present and aware of my body and breath, my clients benefit in some intangible as well as tangible ways. For a long time I avoided unnecessary talk while giving massage. I wanted to offer silence. One of the fruits of my own work with the First Establishment of Mindfulness is a willingness to share the practice of awareness of the breath and body as a kind of guided meditation. I don’t use Buddhist language. I simply tell the client that I will guide him into a deeper state of relaxation using our collaborative awareness. This practice has been received enthusiastically by almost everyone, and the visible result is a much deeper relaxation and joyful smiles of appreciation at the end of the massage.

I am aware that when someone comes to me for massage, the pain and tension in the body are externalized manifestations of internal states. We live in difficult times. Stress is widespread and has devastating effects on the body. As a massage therapist I see the effects of stress on the physical body and, of course, I have the experience of my own body. Very few of us know how to adapt to challenging external conditions without producing unhealthy stress.

Many people share their emotional suffering with me – i.e., “I just left my husband, our baby is sick, I lost my job, my work is so stressful.” My job is to listen deeply without judgment or solutions, simply reflecting the pain I hear in their voices and feel in their bodies, and to assist them with words and touch in letting go in the way that is most appropriate for them. As Thay says, our job is to listen deeply so that the other person can empty her heart. Sometimes the client doesn’t say anything at all but I can see suffering in her face and feel the lack of ease and presence with the body. I know the right medicine is awareness and I try to relax and allow the transformation to occur. Each session begins with gentle contact and silent metta: “May he be safe and well. May he be peaceful. May he be filled with light.” Often I continue the metta throughout the massage. Every session is different because every human being is unique. I use my intuition to decide what to say and how to say it. Sometimes I do an extended meditation on the parts of the body, the organs, etc. as we do in the practice of Total Relaxation. Sometimes, I say very little, simply encouraging the person to be aware of her body and breath.

I let the client know I will be following my breath and maintaining awareness of my body even as I am encouraging her to do the same. Together we will enjoy our breath and stay present in order to move towards greater ease, relaxation and transformation of the body’s suffering. I use my voice as a soothing tool to help establish basic awareness of the breath and body and to maintain that awareness. Of course, this supports my practice as well.

Often I use gathas. “As you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. As you breathe out, know that you are breathing out.” I encourage the client to follow the physical sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Sometimes I continue with deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment – but very slowly throughout the massage. Sometimes I follow my instinct and simply remind the client to return to awareness of the breath – “Observe your breath rising and falling like waves on the ocean,” or “Notice how your body is feeling now. Do you feel tension or holding in any part of your body?” or “Imagine as you breathe in that your whole body is breathing in – breathing through every pore of your skin.” Or “Return to the present moment. This is a wonderful moment.”

I often invite the person to send his breath to a tight spot and allow the breath to melt the tension. Frequently people acknowledge that they were holding their breath. I remind the person there is nothing for her to do, nothing to fix, nothing to do but relax into the present moment and feel the wonderful joy of simply breathing in and out. Usually, when I call attention to the breath, I can feel the client physically let go of more of the tension. This is palpable and real. In the last few minutes of the massage, I invite the client, whom I now feel bonded to in friendship, to offer gratitude to her body and to offer the medicine of a smile to her body. People often chuckle out loud at the thought of smiling to their body.

Many of us do not fully inhabit our bodies. People often tell me they are not aware that they are holding tension in the body. To be intimate with one’s own body is to be aware of tension when it exists, to hold the tension lovingly, to seek its causes, to realize that the conditions for relaxation also exist and the seeds of relaxation can be nourished with our awareness. “Breathing in, I’m aware that my body is tense. Breathing out, I smile to the tension. Breathing in, I realize my shoulders are hugging my ears. Breathing out, I enjoy my out breath.” Mindful massage encourages us to come home to the body as it is in the here and now. We befriend the body, befriend the tension and the pain and then, as if by miracle, the tension and pain lessen.

This summer at the Amherst retreat I had a profound experience with the healing power of mindfulness of the body. On the morning of the ordination ceremony for the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, I woke up with an upset stomach. Because of my deep desire to be present in support of sisters and brothers receiving the Trainings, I decided to go. As I slowly walked to the meditation hall, I held my upset stomach in my hands and recited the gatha “Calm/Ease” while breathing very consciously. When I arrived my stomach was much calmer and I was able to be fully present for the ceremony. A delicious fruit of the practice often comes when my mindfulness is strong and the client is open enough. In those moments a deep intimacy arises between us. Zen teacher, Issan Dorsey used the phrase “abiding in ultimate closeness.” To me ultimate closeness means no self and no other. It means no separation. It means deep intimacy. One of the many benefits of mindful massage is that these apparent physical boundaries melt away and, at least briefly, there is only one body, part of the vast Buddha body. In this state of oneness compassion flows naturally.

At times I don’t feel connected to my client. I may not feel at home in my body. I may be too tired or distracted, demanding too much of myself. Her body may feel impenetrable and I realize she may have less awareness of and compassion for her own body. She may treat her body badly with poor diet, alcohol, lack of exercise, etc. When I come back to treating my body with compassion, I have the chance to transmit some of what I feel to her and she will begin to have more awareness and appreciation for herself. I am aware that I’m planting and watering seeds of awareness in my client and myself at the same time. I realize this person is not separate from me, that he is part of my Sangha, that his happiness and well-being is my happiness and well-being.

In the beginning I spoke of the tangible and intangible benefits of mindful massage. The tangible benefits are deeper relaxation with increased physiological benefits, a greater feeling of connectedness between self and other, and more peace and joy. Friendship is a tangible benefit. Even if I never see this person again, we are friends. The first client I shared mindful massage with told me later that it had made her realize how important it is to treat her body with loving-kindness. The intangible benefits are harder to talk about. Sometimes I have the feeling my client has touched her true nature even though she may not have words to describe it. One beautiful young woman left the clinic and came back a few minutes later to deeply thank me and to express that she had not realized how profound massage could be. I believe she touched her true nature. I don’t know what the long-term effects of mindful massage are because I work in a spa and don’t usually see clients more than once. This may be a disadvantage but it is also how life is. We touch the lives of others. We all plant or water seeds and we may never see the effects. I do know from my own experience that every time the seed of awareness of my body is watered, it grows stronger. Many different people have watered those seeds and I’m grateful to them all.

I began this article a few days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Today I saw something written in large white letters on the rear windshield of the car in front of me. lt said, “Choose compassion and forgiveness. Reject violence and vengeance.” This is how Thay teaches us to respond to violence. As I write these words I see that they apply equally to the physical body. If we offer the physical body compassion and forgiveness, we will have no need for violence and vengeance on the individual or the collective level. As Thay says, “Peace is every step.” The First Establishment of Mindfulness supports us in cultivating peaceful steps by teaching us to live with awareness and appreciation of the physical body. I have never felt more committed to helping others make peace with their bodies because I know when we come home to our bodies, replacing judgment with acceptance, violence with compassion, the world will be a safer and more peaceful place.

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Pamela Overeynder, True Sun of Understanding, practices with Plum Blossom Sangha of Austin and the Texas Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

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Poem: Jumping in Stillness

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It is after, our first snow storm
clears. Standing at the kitchen
window, watching, looking as

the blue breaks. I am seeing
my daughter’s jumping,jumping
with a friend. Sun bouncing on the

trampoline as the canvas shoves them too,
pushing back. Jumping because they
can, in a whitestorm or the blue. Me, seeing

because I can not, not. Can not move
from this place, so rooted am I to this
spot of being eight again. As they sit on the

roof of the playhouse sharing stories, hairs
bent, coupling to whisper secrets so close,
every ear holds the murmurs. When they bite,

we can all taste, our apple’s tang pulling
us with every mouthful. Savor it inside
our heads. Touch the laughter rolling off

that roof. And I stand still, placing this space,
and this moment in our lives. Light
shimmering abounds our jumping, our seeing,

the movement toward the window and away.
Remember the reddening leaves, remember
the snow brings freeze. But for now, we

blaze. Coloring trees. Oranges match
her wind pants, treetops echo yellow
soccer socks. Birds, sing a recitation
of this palette, of this jumping in the stillness.

by Julia Burns, a mother, teacher, and child psychiatrist. She practices with her family in North Carolina.

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Practicing as a Dharma Teacher

Some Suggestions for Order of Interbeing Members

By Sister Annabel 

Many, many people want to learn about the practice of mindfulness which Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and writes about. They want to practice it and bring it into their lives. Therefore they want authentic Dharma teachers who can be their good friends guiding them on the path and showing them ways to practice. How are we to find and train these teachers? What qualifications should they have? When someone asked Thay what qualifications someone should have to be a Dharma teacher, he replied that a Dharma teacher should be a happy person.

In the monastic tradition, it is only five years after receiving the full ordination that someone can be regarded as a Dharma teacher. Of course if we are really to succeed in transmitting the Dharma doors we have to have that kind of happiness which is based in solidity and freedom. Our solidity comes from total immersion in the practice, twenty-four hours a day. The practice is not something which can be switched on and off. It is not possible to succeed if we only practice when a formal retreat is organized for outsiders and on the days when there is no retreat we fall into forgetfulness, running after things which cannot bring us real happiness and allowing our body and mind to consume toxins. We have to practice very day, three hundred and sixty days per annum. It is suggested that when we have received the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings of the Order of Interbeing, we practice sixty days of mindfulness every year, but teaching the Dharma is something we do by practicing mindfulness everyday. We teach by the way we walk, we eat and we conduct ourself from moment to moment.

A monastery can be organized in such a way as to make practicing twenty-four hours a day possible. There are always brothers and sisters close by us to remind us when we forget. There is the daily schedule, the fine manners and the clock, the bell, the telephone. After five years of training like this we can have the solidity to teach the Dharma. Once we receive the transmission we obviously must continue the training day in and day out for as long as we live. Once we cease to train we cease to teach because we teach with our body and our person more than we teach with our words. It looks strange if our daily life is not in accord with our words. Our friends and our students only expect two things of us: our solidity and our freedom. Those are the only things that we want to transmit and the only things which are worth transmitting.

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For a lay Dharma teacher in the Order of Interbeing it is the same; the training is lifelong and takes place twenty-four hours a day. It is best if a lay Dharma teacher can live year-round in a lay or monastic practice center which is organized as a real mindfulness community or Sangha body where people do not live separate lives as private individuals. Failing this, we have our root center to return to for as many months of the year as we are able. When we are ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing, there is the root center from which we are ordained. It is like our family home and we are always refreshed and happy when we can return there. You may consider Plum Village to be your root practice center or Deer Park Monastery or Green Mountain Dharma Center. We always need that root to return to and inspire us with renewal in our practice. When we become a Dharma teacher or we establish a local Sangha, our local Sangha also becomes a root for the people who are introduced to the practice there. It would be a pity if we could not return to our root practice center of ordination in order to keep the link between our local Sangha and our root practice center alive. Lay Dharma teachers are encouraged to come back to Plum Village, Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park whenever they can and scholarships will be available for such periods of practice and retreat. Those who have been nominated as Dharma teachers in training also have the same access to their root practice center.

For lay centers of practice there is already the Interzein Center in Germany and the Clear View Practice Center in Santa Barbara, U.S.A. A lay village as part of Plum Village in France is also under serious consideration. These centers are also roots for many people and their founders also have their roots to return to.

Please refer to the guest master or guest mistress of your root  center for details of how it is possible to stay there for extended periods of time.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is the abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Cranberry Juice

Mindfulness for College Students

By Ben Howard

For their first assignment in “The Art of Meditation,” my course in mindfulness practice, I asked the students to read the opening chapter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s, The Miracle of Mindfulness. I also urged them, whenever drinking, to use both hands, giving the act of drinking their full attention. When I asked the students, a week later, how their practice was coming along, a slender, restless student named Meredith reported a minor awakening. What she discovered, through mindful drinking, was that she really hated cranberry juice. “And I’ve been drinking it,” she added, “all my life.”

Meredith’s discovery of vasana, or habit-energies and their power, was one of many positive outcomes of “The Art of Meditation,” which I offered last fall as an honors course at Alfred University. Although the college atmosphere, with its noise and drugs and alcohol, may seem inimical to meditation, the course filled quickly, attracting the maximum enrollment-fifteen students. We met in a spacious, high-ceilinged room in our new Performing Arts Center, whose tall windows look out on green fields and wooded hills. The room offered ample space for doing Mindful Movements – a sequence of ten contemplative exercises developed by Thich Nhat Hanh – and for walking meditation. Students wore loose clothing and brought cushions and pillows of various shapes and sizes.

As our primary text, we read the Anapanasati Sutra (Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing), which also provided the structure of the course. As readers of The Mindfulness Bell know, the heart of the Anapanasati Sutra is a sequence of sixteen breathing exercises, grouped in tetrads. The tetrads deal respectively with mindfulness of the body, the feelings, the mind, and objects of mind. It might please (or amuse) the Buddha to know that the sixteen exercises of the Anapanasati sutra fit comfortably into the fifteen weeks of an American college semester. During the first half of the semester, we focused on mindfulness of the body and the feelings, giving special attention to the cultivation of compassion; during the second, we practiced mindfulness of thoughts, and we explored the realities of impermanence and interdependence. Broadly speaking, the first half of the course promoted samatha or “stopping”; the second encouraged vipassana, or “looking.” In practice, of course, the two aspects of meditation, like the sixteen exercises of the Anapanasati Sutra, partake of each other.

No two sessions of the class were the same, but all followed a common pattern. We would begin with a fifteen minute guided meditation, using one of the exercises from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Blooming of a Lotus. That would be followed by a discussion of the students’ recent experiences in the practice -their frustrations, challenges and discoveries. I would then give a talk on whichever aspect of practice we were learning, using the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness ( discussed in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing) as a secondary source. We would then practice Mindful Movements, followed by a second sitting, in which the students were instructed to follow the breath and to give attention to one other thing: to parts of the body, or to the recognition of feelings, or to the rise, duration, and dissolution of mental formations. We would then do slow walking meditation – one step for the in-breath, one for the outbreath. Class would end with readings and a period of silent meditation.

Within this established structure there was room to experiment and to follow the natural evolution of the practice. On one cool October evening, we practiced walking meditation outdoors, climbing a long, uphill road and coming down again. A soft rain sprayed our faces. One student went barefoot. On another evening, we spent twenty minutes eating luscious, Clementine tangerines, having listened to the Buddha’s discourse on eating tangerines. At our last class, we drank Tazo lemon-ginger tea, using both hands and giving full attention to its fragrance, its spicy taste, its travels through our bodies.

And what impact did this three-month experience have on the students who took part? If I may judge from their reports the effects ranged from salutary to radical, from pleasant to profound. “In attempting to be mindful of my actions,” wrote one student, “I was quite surprised to discover that I had never brushed my teeth, shampooed my hair, or tied my shoes. Until this point in my life, I had lived a dream of performing these actions.” Another said that meditation had given her a “subtle clarity in almost every aspect of her life.” Others reported improvements in their studies, their performance, and their relationships, and they noted how their happiness had influenced people around them. In one striking instance a theater student told of going to New York City to audition for a play:

“It was a cold, windy day and the tension could be felt in the air. Everyone there knew that everyone else was competition for the part they wanted. After a while of getting nervous waiting to go in, I decided to meditate right there on the street with hundreds of people surrounding me. I sat down with the two friends that went with me and we begin to meditate. I instructed them using methods learned in class. Eventually, about fifteen people joined in the meditation with me leading them all. I feel this changed my life. I was able to take something that I learned, something that changed my life, and be able to share it with other people. Not only did I change my attitude in life, but I changed my outlook on life.”

To foster such changes was my chief motive in offering ‘The Art of Meditation.” Although not every institution may be liberal enough to allow such a course to be offered, I would urge anyone who can do so to give it a try. In thirty years of college teaching, I have not had a more rewarding experience.

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Ben Howard received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 1995. An English professor at Alfred University in New York, he teaches mindfulness classes offered to honors students and coordinates a sitting group for students and the community.

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Gathas for Eating Meditation

The Five Contemplations

This food is a gift of the entire universe –
the earth, the sky and much hard work.

May we eat in mindfulness so as to be
worthy to receive this food.

May we transform our unskillful states of
mind and eat with moderation.

May we take only those foods that
nourish us and prevent illness.

May we accept this food to realize the
path of understanding and love.

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Looking at your plate after eating

My plate is empty.
My hunger is satisfied.
May my life benefit all beings.

gathas for eating meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh in Stepping into Freedom (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997)

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Smiling Is a Powerful Tool

By Steve Black

I work in a small community college and several years ago I decided to smile and say hello to everyone I met in the hallways at the beginning of the term. I wanted to welcome our new students and to see how long it would take for them to relax and return my smile. Typically, after a month most students began to make eye contact with me, and smile.

Recently, I discovered that smiling has greater power than I realized. Last winter a student walked into a tutoring lab on campus with a package that he said contained a bomb. Fortunately, an off-duty police officer was taking classes in the same building. He quickly subdued the student, removing a pistol (empty) from him. Someone pulled a fire alarm. Eventually the entire campus was evacuated and a bomb unit was brought in.

I was in my office across campus at the time, but when I heard the news I rushed to the scene. I had heard about this student before and some of my friends, both students and faculty members, had felt threatened by him. When I saw the student in the back of the police car, looking unrepentant, my first reaction was intense anger. How could this person cause so much trouble for people I cared about, put their lives in jeopardy, make them live in fear? A wave of anger overcame me. I wanted to grab him out of the police car and punish him right then and there. I wanted to teach him a lesson.

Classes resumed that night. By then my anger had subsided, but not my sense of frustration at the situation. I decided to walk into the building where the bomb scare had occurred to make sure that everything was all right. I came to see that the real reason I needed to go inside was to overcome my fear.

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I had prided myself on being clear-headed during the incident, but as I stepped into the building that evening, a feeling of irrational terror came over me. I had to tell myself to return to my breathing and observe what was arising. I knew, intellectually, that the building had been inspected, that the bomb turned out to be a fake, that the gun was empty, that the student was in jail. But there was no way I could talk myself out of my fears. I could only watch them arise and trust them to vanish.

When students began arriving for class, I was stunned by the expressions on their faces. They looked as scared as I was, maybe even more frightened. I noticed as I walked in the hallway that night that the sense of trust I had felt after the first month of classes was gone. No one said hello, no one would even look at me. They were filled with fear and anger,just as I had been. This anger surfaced at a meeting held a few days later, when police officers answered questions from students. The students were ripe for vengeance. They were not concerned that this student was not known to have committed any crimes on campus or in the community prior to the bomb scare – they thought he should have been under police surveillance.

Witnessing this anger and suspicion, I found myself unwittingly drawn out of my own fears and became concerned about the well-being of the students. I saw immediately that, while I could not give them any kind of professional psychological assistance, I could practice smiling. It was clear that what I and my students needed now was smiles. Smiling for the benefit of others was no longer an abstract idea for me. Instead I came to see it as a powerful tool – the only one I had available – to reassure the people I met that there was no need to dwell on their irrational suspicions of strangers on campus.

The smile worked for some of the students I met. In the days that followed, as I continued to smile, I noticed that some of them began to acknowledge my presence, to return my smile. The change in their posture was instantaneous. Over time things on campus began to change, fears and. anger gradually subsided. I hope that by smiling I was able to help in some small way with this change.

I am grateful that Thay has shown us that we have this tool, the smile, available twenty-four hours a day. Before, I understood smiling as simply a way to change my own attitude and to practice mindfulness by bringing the light of awareness to the expression on my face. It was only in the wake of this situation that I realized that smiling can deeply benefit others as well. I practice smiling on campus all year now, not just at the beginning of the semester. Smiling works to relieve the pressures generated by both extreme situations and everyday hassles. I have come to see that smiling is a means to spread the seeds of peace and happiness, not only in myself, but in others as well.

Steve Black, Compassionate Continuation of the Heart, practices with his Sangha in West Tennessee, where he teaches English.

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Ask the Dharmacarya: How do you practice in your Workplace?

Chan Huy – Montreal, Canada

I am back to work after a two-year sabbatical. I am an engineer, a construction project manager for a federal department in Canada. I work with a team of consultants, architects, engineers, contractors and in-house resources specialists. This team changes with each new cycle of the work project.

I went back to work primarily because I needed the income, but I feel very happy at work, much more than I was before the sabbatical. When I was at work before, I would think of the good time I could be having doing something else, and that is what made me unhappy. Thay’s teaching on the Here and Now is a key to my happiness at work. Yes, I am very happy when on retreat with the monks and nuns, or meeting with Sanghas or doing social work. But I can also be happy wherever I am when I am not caught in the idea that I could be somewhere else, doing some other more “glamorous” world-saving work.

Each morning I practice waking up slowly with the smiling gatha, mindfully walking to the bathroom, mindfully brushing my teeth, and I enjoy a ten-minute morning meditation. I give myself a lot of time to drive to the office and I often use Thay’s gift to us Quebecers. Our license plates say “je me sou viens” (I remember) and Thay suggested that we breathe and smile whenever we read a license plate.

In the office, I practice with the electronic bell of mindfulness that rings every fifteen minutes on my computer. I have Thay’s calligraphy and other images of practice on my wall and a small Maitreya Buddha statue on the top of my computer screen that smiles at me. I practice walking meditation going to another office or to the washroom. I take fifteen minute breaks twice a day in a nearby garden with a waterfall and usually have my lunch alone in silence. Silence at work is very nourishing.

The work-place can be a wonderful lab for transformation. Thay said that monks and nuns in a monastery are like stones that collide against each other and shape themselves round. It is the interaction between them that helps to perfect them. We can also take that practice into our work-place where there can be frequent collisions between seeds of many kinds manifesting: fear, courage, jealousy, anger, anxiety, and so on. I practice greeting, embracing, and looking deeply.

I recently discovered that right livelihood is doing the best you can with what is in front of you right here and now. I remember Thay’s answer to a retreatant who was unhappy because he was working in the atomic warfare industry. Thay encouraged him to bling his mindfulness to this work: “You can do much better there than someone without mindfulness,” he said. With mindfulness, we can discover new meanings in our work and we can bring a difference to our field of work and to the world.

Eileen Kiera – Washington State

I’m a housewife and I spend a lot of my time doing the sorts of things a housewife does: cleaning house, cooking dinner, cooking breakfast, making lunches, shopping, petting the dog, feeding the cats. In fact, the vast majority of my time is spent like that. And sometimes when I’m chopping vegetables or making a meal, I’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to cook food for the people I love.

I think when we’re doing working meditation, the way of practice is: chopping the vegetables with our full presence and in that way, we are feeding everyone. Or cleaning the cushions with our full presence and in that way, we are taking care of everyone. When we do the dishes, we wash the dishes with nothing in between us and the di shes, complete relationship with the dishes, one with the dishes. In doing that, the dishes are cleaned for everyone. The act of coming back to the present moment is an act of love. That’s all we need to do. Come back, be awake. It is in that way we enter the path of love. And why do we do this? As John Dryden said, “Love is love’s reward.”

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Chan Huy, True Radiance, received the Lamp Transmission in 1994. Coming from a family with four generations of Thay’s students, he lives and guides Sang has in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.

Eileen Kiera, True Lamp, has been the guiding Dharmacarya of many Sanghas in the Pacific Northwest for the past ten years. She lives at the rural retreat center Mountain Lamp Community in northern Washington with her husband and daughter. This talk was excerpted by Barbara Casey from a talk given March 21,20001 at a retreat in Camp Indianola, Washington.

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Offering a New Year’s Day of Mindfulness

By Brandy Sacks

Every year, at the end of December, Spirit Point Sangha offers a Day of Mindfulness. It is a very special day and different from all the others. We begin with a walking meditation in the garden. Our path passes by the sculptures, the rosemary and lavender, around the labyrinth, and past the Peace Pole.

We discuss what we were mindful and appreciative of on our walk. For me this meditation is an opportunity to slow down. No matter how many times I walk in the garden I am always amazed at what I see. I notice the plants that I am sure were not there a week ago l I also hear bird song. When I go about my daily life in the city I never hear birds. I am sure they are singing, but I am not listening.

The Day of Mindfulness is a time of Sabbath, or a Sabbath time. A time to smell the flowers, walk, breathe, and enjoy eating with friends. It is a sacred practice – sacred in all traditions. Thay has given us the gatha, “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.” The Day of Mindfulness helps me to get in touch with the here and the now. I am also in touch with myself and the Sangha.

The Sangha feels like family to me. It is my spiritual, nurturing fancily. Simply by being in the presence of the Sangha I am strengthened. If I waver, the Sangha is there to support me. It is not something spoken, it is just there – like breathing.

Following walking we have a period of sitting meditation, by the fire. After practicing eating meditation (in silence) we gather outside on the lawn. We all circle up and join hands around a small tree. I begin by reading the story about the Elm Dance. Joanna Macy taught me this dance of intention and peace. During the first half of the dance we step around moving to the music. We pause in the center, with our linked hands raised and sway like elm trees. During the second half of the dance we call out names of people, places and situations in the world that we want to include in our healing.

We return to the fire in the living room to practice a meditation offering peace and happiness for ourselves and others. I tell the Sangha, “Before we learn to practice loving-kindness meditation on behalf of others, we will learn to do it for ourselves.” The first step is to open our hears so that we have something good to give. So begin by bringing back the memory of a holy moment, a time that your heart was open to nature, to a child, to a pet, to beauty. Now imagine that your are sitting, facing yourself. Look into your eyes and see the beauty of who you are, and the pain that keeps you out of touch with that beauty. Since your can only experience love and joy by giving it away, this meditation is a form of wise selfishness. It will make you happy.

Next, bring a loved one to mind and imagine any pain, confusion, illness or unhappiness they might be experiencing. Continue to do this for a few minutes until you feel a sense of completion and also see the happiness they are capable of experiencing. After this we chant “Offering incense and praising the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara,” which can be found in the Plum Village Chanting Book available from Parallax Press. We spend some time contemplating and writing about our purpose in life and our dreams and goals for the year. We each take a sheet of paper, write at the top, “my purpose in life,” and then create areas to write in our dreams and goals for body, mind, spirituality, service, family, work, vacations, play, etc. We spend some time filling these out and in Sangha meetings throughout the New Year we will talk about what we have envisioned. After reciting the five Mindfulness Trainings the Sangha closes with a sitting meditation. Our Day of Mindfulness is a wonderful way to finish the year and prepare to begin anew!

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Point Sangha in Escondido, California. Brandy is responsible for updating the website for the Community of Mindful Living, including the worldwide Sangha directory.

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Severely Malnourished Children in Lam Dong

Reports by Dung Phuoc Nghiem in Vietnam
Translated by Sister Kinh Nghiem

In the area of Lam Dong, in the highlands of Central Vietnam, there are 780 children and in Binh Thuan there are 470 children whose parents are from North and Central Vietnam. This years crops have not been successful for those parents who are farmers. Last year we spent 1,500 Vietnamese dong per child in the day care centers to have lunch and we asked the parents to give 1000 dong. But there are many families who cannot give any money. In the morning the parents bring their children to school and they bring a bowl of rice and two sweet potatoes for lunch. We have noticed that the children do not have enough protein in their diet. Therefore, from October, 2001 we decided to give them twice as much soymilk, i.e. one litre of soymilk is divided amongst every five children per week. The soymilk is made by a student at Phap Hoa Pagoda. She brings the soymilk to every day care center in the area. The stories of how soymilk is brought to the schools would bring tears to your eyes.

Victims of Flood Forgotten

Looking at the Mekong Delta, in South Vietnam, one sees that the houses and fields are drowning in an immense ocean. There are families that are farther down South and for many days they have only eaten raw noodles. The houses are flooded and there is no wood. During the flood in the year 2000, the poor families here had to wait 120 days for the water to recede and to receive assistance from allover especially from families and friends in the United States and in Europe. When they were finally able to have a roof over their heads another flood came.

The water is chest-high in many places. Due to the lack of assistance many parents have had to leave their children in their flooded homes while going out to seek some work. The parents build platforms under the roof for the children to stay on while they are away. But many very sad accidents have happened. As of late November 217 toddler-aged children have drowned. At this time the families who are affected by the floods will have to wait thirty days for the water to withdraw and we are not sure where they can find food during this time. Therefore, a few packages of instant noodles, a bottle of soy sauce, a kilo of rice during this time of need is very precious.

To make a tax deductible donation please send to Green Mountain Dharma Center, care o/the Love and Understanding Program, P.O.  Box 182 Hartland-Four-Comers, VT05049 USA. $5 per month can support one child at a day care center, $25 per month can support one  school teacher in remote areas, $50 can provide a family with a new roof or a small boat in flooded areas. Checks can be made to the Unified  Buddhist Church. All the money that is given goes directly to Vietnam to help those in need. No charge is deducted for transportation, paper work and so on.


Whenever I do anything, I see the eyes of my parents and grandparents in me. My love is the wonderful love of the network of ancestors, parents, relatives and friends born in me. The work I have done is the work of everyone. It is not just my work. As you read these lines and know that, in a remote area of Vietnam children who are severely malnurished are receiving funds, you can see that act of love as the collective work of thousands of hands and hearts.
Sister Chan Khong
(Sister True Emptiness)

Every moment of love and every act of giving can bring about a great deal of happiness, if we know how to love and to give in this spirit. If we can give without waiting for anything in return, without expecting any special treatment, then we have a great deal of happiness and freedom
Thich Nhat Hanh

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Poem: Untitled Poem 2

mb30-PoemByMargaret

Hearing,
simultaneously,
the crackle of firewood
and the flowing of the millwater
I beome aware of,
simultaneously,
the transience of life
and its continuity.

Feeling,
in the depths of my being,
the vibrations of the bell,
I become aware that
the vibration of
my smallest division of atoms
is dancing to the music
of the universe.

Sensing,
in a room of quiet strangers,
a shared existence,
I become aware of
the companionship of silence.

by Margaret from Scotland

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Poem: Untitled Poem 3

mb30-PoemByRichard

Spacious mind
trees speaking through In y skin
embracing unnamed joy

Loving myself in quiet moments
doing becomes being
compassion becomes action

My tears turn to ink
writing with passion
this river story

By Richard Blakely

Richard is incarcerated in Oregon. He writes, “Dear friends, may many blessings shower upon you and this coming year be deep and insightful. Thank you so much for the gift of The Mindfulness Bell this year”

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Poem: Untitled Poem 4

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This morning
I awoke
Feeling that I had lost my smile
Not knowing where to look
Not remembering where I had left it.

I sat
On the sofa
Breathing in and breathing out
And gradually I found my smile.

First I heard it carried on a mighty, icy wind .
Then I saw it stretched in the shadows
Of skeleton trees across the snowy yard.
Then I fe lt it on my face
Where I had left it the night before.

by Mike Ellis, Calm Relaxalion of The Heart.
He lives and practices in Windsor; Cnnecticut.

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