Dharma Talk: Brotherhood = Reunification


Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to address the audience of a monthly Peace Forum on March 19th, 2003 held for leaders and representatives of various religious communities in South Korea on the topic of “Spiritual Reflections on War and Peace.” The following introduction was given:

Since the winter of 2002, the North Korean nuclear issue has created conflict between the North and the U.S. Since the terrorist attack that occurred in the U.S. on September 11th, 2001, many countries have tightened up their security policies. During this crisis, the people of North Korea continue to suffer from famine. Threats between the U.S. and the North have not resulted in any progress towards a workable solution. The economic blockade and nuclear tension continue. Neither North Korea nor the U.S. is ready to make any concessions. Koreans are concerned about the possibility of military conflict on the peninsula. Meanwhile, there is also a potential war in Iraq. The Peace Forum of January 28th made a national declaration that went along with the international wave of appeal for peace. People desire a world without war. The Peace Forum with Thich Nhat Hanh will address these complex issues. Based on his personal memories of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh will share his beliefs and practice to lead Korea on the path of peace.

We are invited to enjoy our breathing. Our breath is a bridge that connects our body and our mind. When we go back to our breathing, our mind goes back to our body and we become fully alive, fully present. Breathing in, I feel I am alive. Breathing out, I smile to life.

Dear friends, peace is something that we can cultivate in our daily lives. It is possible to cultivate peace in every moment of our daily lives, while we walk, while we talk, while we sit. I know that peace is made of two elements. The first is understanding and the second is compassion. Cultivating peace means cultivating understanding and cultivating compassion. Every time we go back to ourselves we have the opportunity to do the work of cultivating peace. Every time I breathe in or I make a step I have an opportunity to go back to myself and become fully present in the here and the now.


When you drink water, mindfulness helps you to see that the glass of water that you hold in your hand is real. In that moment of mindful drinking, you have no other thought, you are present just for the act of drinking. Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. What is happening in the present moment is that I am breathing in or I am making a step or I am drinking water. The energy of mindfulness brings the energy of concentration, and with mindfulness and concentration you have the opportunity to understand reality deeply.

My definition of the Kingdom of God is not a place where there is no suffering. I would not like to live in a place where there is no suffering. I know very well that without suffering there is no way for us to cultivate understanding and compassion. It is by getting in deeply touch with suffering, it is by understanding suffering that compassion arises in our hearts.

Understanding is the Basic Work for Peace 

The Buddha advised us not to run away from suffering. Instead we have to confront suffering and look into the heart of suffering. Understanding the nature and cause of suffering is our practice. Suffering is the first Noble Truth; understanding is the second Noble Truth. Without understanding of suffering, the fourth Noble Truth, the path leading to the cessation of suffering, would not be possible.

Suppose we talk about terrorism as suffering. Looking into the nature of terrorism we see fear, we see anger, we see wrong perceptions. If you want to wage a war against terrorism you have to identify the causes of terrorism, namely fear, anger, and wrong perceptions. With fear, anger, and wrong perceptions in you, you become an instrument of terrorism, of war. Your action is motivated by that fear, that anger, and that wrong perception but you think you are acting in the name of truth, the name of justice, and the name of God.

The people who destroyed the twin towers in New York City on September 11th believed they were acting in the name of justice, in the name of God. The people who have gone to drop bombs in Afghanistan, who are going to drop bombs in Baghdad think they are acting in the name of justice, of civilization, of God. But the fact is that we cannot remove fear with fear, we cannot remove anger with anger, and we cannot remove violence with violence.

Imagine you are a citizen of Baghdad and you feel that your country is surrounded by troops and guns ready to attack your country at any moment. Sleeping in Baghdad for just one night with that kind of fear and despair is very damaging to our physical and mental health. Imagine our children who have to live in that situation of fear and despair for several months. In the last few months the people of Iraq have lived in such a situation of anguish, of fear, and of anger. Although the United States of America has not dropped any bombs, the damage can already be seen. It is the U.S. army that is terrorizing the people of Iraq.

If the population of America understood that the people in Iraq are living in anger, in despair, and fear they would not support their government starting a war there. I have many friends who are U.S. citizens who are enlightened, who know that waging a war against Iraq is a wrong thing, but they belong to a minority. They are doing their best to wake up their fellow citizens and they need our help. It is not by shouting against the American government that we can help the cause of peace. It is by doing whatever we can to help the American people to understand what is really going on – that is the basic work for peace.

Reducing Fear 

We know very well that the cause of terrorism is fear and wrong perception. I don’t think that the bombs and the guns can identify the cause of terrorism. I don’t think that the military forces can remove wrong perceptions; in fact they can strengthen wrong perceptions. The only way to remove wrong perceptions is to establish a dialogue. The two instruments that you need to use to restore communication are deep listening and loving speech.


The government and the people of the U.S. can say, “Dear people, we don’t know why you have done such a thing to us. You must have suffered a lot, you must have hated us a lot in order to have done such a thing to us. Have we done something wrong? Please tell us of your suffering, of your anger, of your despair so that we understand and we will be more skillful in the future. If you tell us about your suffering, your difficulties, maybe we shall be able to do something to help. Now it is our deep desire to listen to you, to understand your suffering, your difficulties. We want to understand why you have done this to us.” The government of the United States of America has not used the peaceful methods of deep listening and loving speech. Every time there is a problem, right away they think of using armed forces to solve the problem.

Our political leaders have been trained in political science but not in making peace, inner peace and outer peace. We have to support them to bring a spiritual dimension to our political life. The United States of America may ask this question: Why, when the people of North Korea do not have enough to eat, do they spend money to make nuclear weapons? If we ask this question with all our heart we will find the answer. The answer may be something like this: We are hungry but we have to spend a lot of money and time to make weapons because we are afraid that you will attack us someday. If the Republic of Korea makes it very clear that they are not going to attack North Korea, that declaration will transform fear into brotherhood. I think that the path of peace can be seen clearly if we make some effort to look deeply into the situation. We have to make efforts to help people realize that North and South Korea are brothers, sons of the same mother.

The government and the people of South Korea might like to use an instrument of peace called loving speech. “Dear people in the North, we know that we are brothers and we do not want to see you suffer. As your brother in the South we will make the commitment not to attack the North. It is based on the realization that you are our brother and it would not be correct for a brother to attack a brother. If anyone makes an attempt to attack you, as your brother we will try to protect you.” The people and the government of South Korea can make such a pledge and that will reduce the amount of fear in North Korea. The Government and the people of South Korea can do better; they can convince the United States of America to make the same kind of commitment. I am sure that after the commitment is made, the people of North Korea will not spend more money on armaments but will use that money to better the lives of the people in the North.


A Proposal for Peace and Reunification 

I propose that the Buddhist communities, the Christian communities, and other spiritual communities in South Korea come together and make this proposal to the government and the parliament. You may want to buy a portable telephone and send it to the president of North Korea as a gift. The people of South Korea can request, “Mr. President, please use this phone to talk to our president in the South for ten minutes. We have also sent our president in the South a portable telephone and we have urged him to talk to you for ten minutes every day.” If communication is restored then fear will diminish and the hope for peace will grow. This is an example of skillful means to promote the cause for peace. This is an act of watering the seed of brotherhood that is in everyone, North and South. If we follow this practice of peace then peace will be possible in just a few weeks. This proposal is something that we can do. Religious communities in the South can come together and offer the presidents of North and South Korea one portable telephone and urge their presidents to talk to each other every day about peace, about the hope for reunification.

Dear friends I would like to leave time for some questions and discussion.

Questions and Answers 

Q: I am Sister Kim Sunan and I am a Catholic sister. About ten years ago I learned walking meditation from you when you came to Korea. Since then I have been practicing and I have taught some of my students; Christian, non-Christian, and Buddhist and they really appreciate it.

This evening you said that you don’t want to live in a place where there is no suffering because suffering is one way we can learn compassion. I agree and I try to accept suffering and to find meaning in it. In Christianity we have the mystery of the cross, but I have never thought about not wanting to live where there is no suffering. I agree but at the same time I wonder about those people who are not able to bear their suffering, and are deeply hurt by it. What would you suggest for them?

Thay: This is a very good question. First of all, suffering and happiness go together. Without suffering there is no happiness; without happiness there is no suffering. They inter-are. If you don’t know the suffering of separation it is impossible for you to realize the joy of reunification. If you don’t know what hunger feels like, you don’t know the joy of having something to eat. It is against the background of suffering that we can recognize the existence of happiness.

Happiness is made of nonhappiness elements. Suffering is made of non-suffering elements. It is like a flower – a flower is made only of non-flower elements. Nonflower elements are the sunshine, the clouds, the seed, and so on. A flower is made only of non-flower elements; it does not have a separate self. I always remind my students that Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhist elements. If you return the non-Buddhist elements to their source there is no longer such a thing as Buddhism. That is what we call the non-self of Buddhism.

If there is no garbage there cannot be flowers, because garbage is used to make compost which will bring the flowers to us. If you can look deeply, then when you look into a flower you can see the garbage that has helped to make the flower possible. If you look into a heap of garbage you can see cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes because you know that it is possible to transform garbage into vegetables.

There is garbage in us, namely violence, jealousy, and anger. But if we are good gardeners we will not be afraid of this garbage because we know how to transform the garbage in us into flowers, the flowers of understanding and compassion. The practice of spirituality is not one of running away from suffering. It is the practice of learning how to transform suffering into well-being. A good practitioner knows the exact amount of suffering that she or he needs. If we allow suffering to overwhelm us we will die; that is why we need the exact amount of suffering that will help us to understand and to love. If the amount of suffering is huge in our society, it is because not many of us know how to transform the garbage back into flowers.

My definition of the Kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion. And it is thanks to the amount of understanding and compassion that we have that we can transform suffering into well-being. I think that a healthy spiritual tradition dispenses the teaching and the practice that can help us to transform suffering with the instruments of understanding and compassion.

Restoring Communication, Restoring Harmony

Q: Thay, I would like to make a very honest, heart-felt confession to you. When I listened to your Dharma talk, I felt deep shame, guilt, and humiliation as a Korean religious person. Our president called Mr. Bush and said, Korea supports American policy on Iraq and we will send soldiers in case you start war against Iraq. The U.S. government told us, if Korea does not support the U.S., we will pull our soldiers from the Korean peninsula. I feel a deep shame because people all around the world protest against war in Iraq, but my government supports it. I feel guilty when I think about the Iraqi people and what is happening to them. I also feel humiliation because when the U.S. says they will pull out of Korea, this is a hidden threat.


In South Korea we have fifty years of suffering due to the division of our country. We have had this contract of military support with America because they helped us during the Korean War and we are very afraid of future war and violence. After fifty years of meditation and practice you have attained liberation and enlightenment. But we don’t have long years to practice. Within fifteen to twenty days we have to make a decision in our congress whether we will send our soldiers to Iraq and I don’t know whether we Korean people have enough courage to oppose sending soldiers to Iraq if it results in the American soldiers leaving Korea. Please advise us Korean people who have only fifteen days to make a decision. Teach us what to do.


Thay: Enlightenment is not a matter of time. You cannot talk about enlightenment in terms of months or years because enlightenment can come in an instant. We call that sudden enlightenment. Enlightenment to me is a deep understanding of our true situation. There is division, discrimination, and suffering in our countries. That is true everywhere. Even in the United States of America there are many people who feel they are victims of discrimination and injustice. Separation, hatred, and anger are present within the population of America. This is because there is a lack of understanding and compassion, based on the lack of communication. Even in a tradition like Buddhism there is separation, there is misunderstanding, there is anger. The same is true in the Christian religion. There may be separation, anger, and hatred between members of the same family. That is why restoring communication is the most urgent practice for peace.

If there are feelings of shame, of unhappiness, that means there is not true communication within ourselves. We don’t understand ourselves; there is no harmony between the elements of our body and our mind. Restoring harmony within our body is very important for a good practitioner. Restoring harmony in the realm of our feelings and emotions is a very important practice. Without communication, there is no harmony and no well-being. In this state, you cannot do anything to help your family or society. If we know how to bring peace within ourselves, then we know how to bring peace to our family. Once we have restored harmony and communication within ourselves, we will be able to help society. That is why it is very important that different factions of our community should try to communicate with each other. If there is harmony within the people of the South then communication to people of the North will be much easier. If there is harmony and mutual understanding between people of the North and the South, no country in the world can be a threat. Thank you for the question.

Can There Be Peace Without War? 

Q: You have mentioned that there is no happiness without suffering. When I change these words we might consider that there is no peace without war. Does this mean that we cannot avoid war; we should just accept it as unavoidable karma? Should we just keep silent and breathe in and out mindfully? What would you do when there is war?

Thay: This is an excellent question. War is not just the bombs falling on us. Every time you have a thought that is full of anger and misunderstanding – that is war. War can be manifested through our way of thinking, our way of speaking, and our way of acting. We may be living in war, not knowing that we are fighting with ourselves and the people around us. With the war in yourself and the war that you inflict on other people, there is suffering within you and there is suffering around you. Maybe in your daily life there are a few moments of ceasefire. But most are moments of war.

Suppose there is a couple who quarrels all the time except when they are very tired; these moments of not quarreling are not exactly peace, they are a ceasefire. Then suppose a friend comes to visit and asks, “Why are you living in war twenty-four hours a day? Why don’t you try living in peace?” And the couple says, “We don’t know. Tell us, what is peace? What can we do in order to have peace?” And the friend tells the couple how to practice in order to bring back harmony into their bodies and into their emotions and feelings and they begin to have a taste of peace. Supported by the friend, the couple’s peace grows every day until one day they say, “It is wonderful, we know what peace is now.” But if there had been no experience of living at war, then how could they experience peace?

Thanks to the mud, the lotus flower is able to grow. The feeling of well-being and peace is possible only when you have experienced the feeling of war. As someone who has lived many decades in the midst of war, I know what war is. And elements of suffering in war have helped me to arrive at the state of being in peace today. If I did not know some practice of peace I would have died in the war of suffering.

We know that we are co-responsible for the situation of our society. By the way we live our daily life we contribute to peace or to war. It is mindfulness that can tell me that I am going in the direction of war and it is the energy of mindfulness that can help me to make a turn and to go in the direction of peace. That is why I have translated mindfulness and concentration as the Holy Spirit; it can transform your life.

The Light of Compassion 

Q: Today you told us to imagine we are living in Baghdad and to understand the hearts of the people there. Yesterday I read that Mr. Bush wants to start the war in Iraq, and I couldn’t sleep. I went up into the mountains and I walked all night. I did not have fear; I did not have anger; I did not have misunderstanding. I was frustrated and sad. I have a strong feeling that I want to send a word of consolation and encouragement to the people in Baghdad, but I cannot find any words. I want to hear your consolation and encouragement to us and to the people in Baghdad. I also want to hear what is your action of consolation and encouragement to us and to people in Baghdad?


Thay: It is very important to maintain compassion in your heart and not to allow anger and frustration to take over. On that foundation you will find things to do to help the cause of peace. You can write a love letter to your congressman and to your president, urging them to help with the cause of peace. You can contact a friend and urge him or her to do the same. Allow the light and the compassion in your heart to go out to many people around you. In the Bible it says, “If you have the light, display it in a place where many people can see it.” That light is the light of understanding and compassion. Live your daily life in such a way that understanding and compassion can be shared with as many people around you as possible. Cultivating peace is not a matter of days; it should be cultivated generation after generation. Your children and your grandchildren will be your continuation as practitioners of peace. The question is not how much you can do; the question is whether you are doing your best. If you are doing your best then you are in the Pure Land of the Buddha, in the Kingdom of God. You don’t have to worry anymore.

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Letter from (one of) the Editors

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the path,

in this moment my heart is clear,
not because i have attained much understanding,
not because i am able to love all without discrimination. my heart is clear because i have a path to go.

a path that is rich and full of learning,
with many companions to support me and protect me. i know that i am best protected by our practice,
by our capacity to calm, to embrace suffering and pain to bridge the chasms of separation and fear,
to relax into connection.

dear friends, dear companions,
i am aware of your presence, of your sincerity and care.

i am in touch with a source of peace, a source of energy,
not dependent on the great elements of earth, air, water and fire.
yet not independent.
our energy arises from our aspirations,
our sincere wish to understand, to love, to hold as one.

i touch the earth, i touch my life source with gratitude, with concentration,
with joy.
and i am nourished,
to continue. to grow. to love.
i acknowledge my weaknesses, my mistakes
and i make the vow to lay all my suffering on the earth,
to transform everything i have received from my ancestors,
from my society into a great source of peace and presence.

dear brothers and sisters,
please enjoy this small booklet in your hands.
it is an offering to you.
it is an opportunity to meet your friends on the path of practice,
to smile to each other,
to simply acknowledge each other’s presence,
as real.

peacefully, your sister steadiness

July 8th, 2003

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Singing a Dharma Talk, Writing a Song

Joseph  Emet

On June 8, 2002 during the Hand of the Buddha retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh shared an experience of music: “When the Sangha comes together, the silence, the deep mindful breathing, is music. We enjoy that music very much. There are times when we sit together and we don’t do anything. We don’t work hard at all. We just produce our being, our full presence, and become aware of the Sangha. That is enough to nourish us and heal us. If you know how to allow yourself to be embraced by the Sangha, to become the Sangha, to be penetrated by the music of the Sangha, then transformation and healing can take place. Music sometimes can be silent. It can create harmony. It can calm things down. It can heal.”

Our mindfulness songs are healing songs. They sing of the wholeness of the self, the wholeness of the family and the community, and the wholeness of nature. They point to this wholeness for a brief moment, remind us of yesterday’s insights and vows, and turn the silence that follows into practice.

Each of the songs in the Basket of Plums collection at the time I discovered it or wrote it, expressed for me the essence of my current practice and of my emerging insight. Dharma songs can be Dharma talks in miniature. After a Dharma talk, what stays with me is a feeling of dedication, or a particular Dharma door that it opens. I remember that feeling of openness, and a phrase or two stays in my mind to haunt me. One can expand a gatha into a Dharma talk, or contract a Dharma talk into a gatha. Dharma talks are given by nature also: by rivers, meadows, mountains, flowers, and birds. People are no exception. Sometimes they give Dharma talks just by their presence. This kind of Dharma talk creates the same feelings in me as a verbal one, and offers the same haunting memories. As I walk under the spell of such a feeling, phrases suggest themselves.   These phrases are struggling to express truly the essence of my experience. As I hold on to the feeling of the experience, I compare the words that come to the experience, to see how closely they reflect it. Sometimes the words are true to the experience from the beginning. At other times, I find that my mind is latching on to clichés, or other verbal habits I have, and it is trying to fit the experience into words, instead of the other way around.

I usually decide from the outset whether what I am working on is going to be a song or a poem. If it is to be a song and no melody comes humming along with the words, I make up a simple tune and fit the different verses as they come into that melody. I just hum the simple tune to myself, and sing verses with it. The advantage of this method is that even if I change the melody later, the verses all have the same rhythm, and will all fit the same melody, whatever that turns out to be.

I’m fortunate that soon afterwards, usually while I’m asleep or engaged in some other activity, the right tune will come. The music for the “Gatha for Planting a Tree” was put together in my sleep. We were staying at the Gao Minh temple in China with Thay, and the plan for the next day was to each plant a tree in the courtyard of the temple as a memento of our trip. So Thay gave a talk in the lecture room on this theme, repeating the gatha several times. As I was heading towards my room afterwards, I decided to stop by the main temple. There, a monk with a lovely voice was singing a traditional Chinese gatha over and over, and striking the enormous bell of the temple with each repetition. The bell was about the size of a Montreal city bus! I stayed there for several hours under the spell of his singing and of the sound of that bell, and at some point, noted the melody in my notebook. I went to bed around eleven o’clock.

I woke up abruptly at about three thirty in the morning. In my sleep, I was singing the monk’s Chinese melody with the words of Thay’s gatha, and I had made them fit! The singing got louder and louder until it woke me up. All the necessary adjustments and the scanning were already done, and all I had to do was to write it down.

I think we have to use the whole mind. So much of our life goes on in the so-called unconscious mind, while the conscious mind is the steward and caretaker. The conscious mind has to listen as well as talk to the unconscious mind. I enjoy always having a question of some kind for my unconscious mind to work on. It could be a simple question like: How can I make these words fit this melody? Or it could be a more complicated question like: What does this Dharma talk really mean? If I offer my unconscious mind a song to write, when I come back to it later, I usually see things in a different light, and the song goes through another version. I always marvel that each new version of a song feels final to me until the next day!

Joseph Emet, Peaceful Concentration, lives with his partner Suzanne in suburban Pointe-Claire, in the Montréal area in Canada, and is a founding member of the Mindfulness Meditation Center. He was ordained as a Dharma teacher in January, 2003. He enjoys discovering and sharing new raw food recipes.

Basket of Plums is a collection of songs available through Parallax Press. A new version is available with twelve pages of new songs by Sr. Annabel, T.B., Irene d’Auria, Sr. Trung Nghiem, Joseph Emet and others.

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Opening the Voice with the Practice of Chanting

Brother  Goodness

When I was in grade school and high school I attended chorus classes, but I never paid much attention. It was a wonderful time to goof around, and for my classmates and I it often turned towards playful endeavor that tested our teachers’ sanity. I was not aware of the opportunity I had in that moment. But as much as I tried to avoid and resist it, then and at other times, learning to open my voice in speech, song, and chant has become a great part of my life.

Many seasons flourished and faded away while I lived under the great fear of simply opening my voice and singing. I sensed that when we do this we reveal ourselves; our voice transmits to those around us a direct experience of what is going on inside. What is in us vibrates in the listener, and it can be frightening when we are revealed like that to others, and even to ourselves.

This is a fear of being in touch with the reality of ourselves. And this fear is based on the belief that we are individuals, separate from others. We cannot avoid the perils of such misperceptions. Now we are learning that these beliefs and fears are at the root of much suffering and that they can be addressed directly by our practice of meditation. I have experienced that the practice of cultivating mindfulness of the voice can help us grow through this fear to a deeper understanding from which no bitterness and suffering arises.

I cherish a comical and yet inspiring memory of my father as he listened to German and Italian operas while cooking dinner. He would mimic these vigorous and committed voices as they coursed passionately through passages of misfortune and glory. He was being funny, but he was also singing his heart out, and as a child I could sense the intensity and power in his voice. My father is not an opera singer, but when he loved what he was doing and he was happy, he could put aside his inhibitions and his voice soared out in full vibrato. He didn’t know it, but it marked me, and it challenged me.

As a teen-ager, faced with self-centered awareness amidst my peers, this challenge grew into fear. There were many liberating moments when I was alone, at home or in the car, and turning the volume of the stereo up very loud, I sang along with my favorite bands, fully committed to letting my voice shine out. I thought nobody could hear me, but I was wrong. I could hear myself. Through this listening relationship to my own voice, I secretly began to teach myself to sing.

Many of us hold onto these self-centered fears for our whole life. We are afraid to open our voice; we simply do not know how to do it. We always feel uncomfortable and stifled when we are with others who are singing and especially if we ourselves are asked to sing. I was lucky. I found a safe way that slowly, bit by bit, stabilized my faith in my voice. Until one day I was strong enough to really sing out and enjoy. In that moment I made a leap, uncertain where I would land, but hopeful nevertheless. My voice wasn’t very beautiful but I had to make that first jump. Then I had to do it again and again. I had to thrust myself onto the path. And thus a great fear that had once chosen dark corners for me to hide in now opened many doors. It offered me a chance to be honest and accepting of much in me that previously was hidden and unwanted. Since that time my voice has always been a great teacher and a great joy, as it continues to unfold the marvels of challenge and freedom.

Entering monastic life, I met the practice of chanting, and it was then that my voice really opened. It was then that I began the process of liberating my voice, setting it free from the sorrow and loneliness that colored it deep within my heart. For the voice carries in it all the shadow and glimmer of our consciousness, afflictions as well as wholesome seeds. Without careful awareness and training we transmit many things to others through our voice frustration, anger, longing, and despair among them. On my own path, the liberation and transformation of my voice settled itself on a regular practice of sitting meditation, conscious breathing, and mindful movement. Soon after, it leapt joyfully into the arms of chant. I found that all aspects of spiritual practice and lifestyle will affect the voice. Likewise, all spiritual endeavor with the voice, such as the practice of chanting, will strengthen the other aspects of our practice.

Chanting as Meditation

Chanting is a meditation practice. If it is not a practice then it is not really chanting. For it is not the notes on the page or the text and font that make up the chant, it is the living voice inspired from the depths of consciousness and summoned from the relaxed and stable posture of the body. Chanting is the realization of the teaching sent out to the world in every syllable. It is the resonance of many voices held together by attentive, listening ears. It is the delicate ringing of harmonic layers left hanging in empty space, and it is the silence which fills up an open heart when it seems that tone is no longer heard.

When we chant well we are moved straight into the beauty and wonder of life without any emotional push and pull. We are moved, but not in the direction of longing, comfort, or excitement, as we are by many musical expressions these days. We are moved towards realization in the practice, towards freedom and clarity. When we chant well we remain grounded in our breathing and our practice of mindfulness. Thus the chant releases tension and knots in both body and mind, transforming us, drawing us into the current of awakening. It helps us let go and be flexible, capable of opening our heart to what is there in the marvelous moment. It reminds us of our resources and the strength of our compassion. It offers us inspiration to persevere through challenge and hardship; and it leaves a peaceful smile on our face.


In the Buddhist practice there are three realms of action in which we cultivate awareness: action of the body, action of speech, and action of thought (mind). In truth, there is no action that exists solely in one of these realms. They all have much to do with each other. The practice of chanting is a practice that consciously brings together all three realms of action into one, and does so in a very pleasant way that can be shared among many people simultaneously. Thus chanting has the potential to generate both concentration and joyful togetherness. Spiritual traditions around the world have recognized this for thousands of years, and almost all have some form of chanting as a substantial part of their practice.

The Realm of the Body

There are many ways to approach the practice of chanting in terms of techniques and methods. Yet there are certain elements of the practice that are important to any method. One of these is the breath.

It is essential in meditation practice, and especially in chanting, that the breath be relaxed and easy. If we can succeed in this then the breath, of its own accord, becomes full, deep, flexible, and strong. To relax the breath we need also to relax the abdomen and the abdominal organs. Thus the diaphragm muscle (which is an elastic membrane separating the lungs and the lower internal organs) can move (drop) easily and allow the lungs to expand to full capacity. If the belly and its contents are relaxed, then the diaphragm muscle can move downwards with very little effort more like letting go than making an effort. Then the chest can gently open, from the inside out, to accommodate more air. This allows our chanting, which relies on the firm and steady force of the out-breath, to come from the center of the body. It comes from the natural upward movement of the diaphragm, rather than the forced constriction of the chest. In this way we avoid using a lot of tension and unnecessary energy for a process that is designed to be relaxed and easy. If we breathe only with our chest, expanding it with the in-breath and contracting it with the out-breath, then we make unnecessary effort. Granted, this can help us to add to the total volume of air in our breathing, but it is not the natural mechanism for the lungs.

This is my experience of the natural process of breathing and its effect on chanting. You can help yourself to enter into this experience of the breath by learning to truly follow your breath without manipulation and keeping your abdomen flexible, warm and relaxed. Allow the diaphragm to draw the air down towards the belly and relax completely into the process of breathing.

Healthy breathing is encouraged by eating in moderation, massaging and stretching the torso of the body regularly, and by an upright and relaxed posture. It is very nice to stand while chanting, softening the knees a little to stay grounded and balanced. If you practice while sitting, be sure not to slouch.

We can also cultivate an awareness of the throat, larynx, neck, and ears. Be gentle, soft, and open in these places. Do not strain the neck forward while chanting. Do not force tones out of your throat. Chant the middle way, not too strong, not too soft. Chant in such a way that you can hear your own voice and also the voices of people chanting with you. Keep the neck and head warm and relaxed at all times. These things will help make it possible for the healing vibrations of sound to work in the body and transform the voice. It will also help to prevent tearing and scarring to the vocal chords and damage to the inner ear.

The Realm of Speech

The practice of chanting lies at the crossroads of spoken word and song. A chant is not a poem and is not just recited. A chant is not a song and is not simply sung. It is expressed with wakefulness somewhere between these two as a powerful poetic recitation and as an uplifting song, carefully blended. When we chant well we benefit from both the clarity of shape and texture and the steady, light, and yet grounded feeling imparted to us through tones.

When speaking and reciting in the English language we primarily use consonant sounds. The consonants sculpt and develop the texture of the voice. The consonants give shape to the meaning of words and can be powerful, beautiful, and sometimes emotionally unsettling.

When we sing a song, we are expressing primarily in vowels. You cannot sing a consonant; you can only sing a vowel. Singing out the vowel sounds, we express the meaning of the song directly in the realm of feeling. Thus, the significance of a song comes to us less from the message in its lyrics and the shape of its consonants, and more from the way its melody and harmony make you feel. This is very important, because the vibration of the tone has no filter before it impacts us. It goes straight past reasoning and we must embrace it as it is. Sometimes the intended meaning of a song and the actual feeling it gives us are in conflict with one another. For example, the lyrics express something light and uplifting but the melody and harmony of tones give rise to sadness and nostalgia. And even if the melody and harmony are appropriate, the voice of the singer can be influenced by his or her state of mind and emotions. Thus the song may not bring about the intended or appropriate feeling. The feelings brought about through the expression of the vowel sounds have great potential. They can be healing and transforming or agitating and even painful. We need to be aware of these things so that the healing spirit of the practice can shine through our chanting and singing.

We can develop awareness of these things by cultivating mindfulness in the act of chanting, as well as at other times; practicing the mindfulness trainings, carefully choosing what we listen to, watering wholesome seeds in our consciousness. Slowly we tear away the veils of our conditioning, and we begin to recognize truth and beauty in music and the voice that carries it. Slowly we bring a spiritual quality and resonance into our own voice and music.

The Realm of Thought

Our thoughts play an important part in chant. Of course the message of the chant is influential. Its content gives rise to energy, inspiring a kind of movement. We might describe this movement as the opening of the heart or stilling of the mind, a beginning anew, the settling of afflictions, or the cooling of desire. These phrases describe not emotions but spiritual activity, an entering into the realms of happiness that lie beneath our busy worldly affairs. The presence and practice of our spiritual ancestors are found in these thoughts expressed in chants. The stability to be gleaned from tradition and lineage is contained in these thoughts as well.

But the very thoughts that enter our mind during the moment of chanting are equally important. We should always remember that chanting is a process of meditation. Do not allow the mind to wander aimlessly. Maintain concentration on the breath, the posture of the body, and the content of the words you are chanting. Then your authentic presence and the chant join together into a living vibration that is shared among all present; and indeed, even those not present will benefit.

It is easy to be distracted by imperfections in your own voice or in the voices around you. Try not to be carried away by such judgments. You do not need a trained and controlled voice or “perfect pitch sensitivity” to chant well. Chanting is about being right where we are, and practicing. Chanting is a process, an unfolding into the present moment. This present moment is a place where many powerful things can happen, especially with the support of our spiritual ancestors and our community of practice. Because chants carry with them the understanding and the compassion of the ancestors, if we don’t feel skilled or confident, we can lean on them. The ancestors and our community are there for that.

I have discovered that a talented singer with a beautiful voice can sing horribly, wounding the heart and ears of the listener. I have also listened to people chant, whose voices, according to technical evaluation, were horrible. But because they chanted with full presence and sincere intention, what came out of them was something spiritually inspiring and beautiful. Talents are often the learning of behavior that brings one the love and recognition one needs, and not necessarily an expression of truth or something beautiful, because what hides beneath the talent is a fear, a longing it is suffering. This untended and unwanted suffering has twisted itself into something acceptable in an attempt to gather recognition that fills the emptiness inside, the void of loneliness. I believe that an artist who meditates must understand these things and take on the path of transformation in order to purify their talent, to make it a conscious, well -tended, and fully embraced expression of their life.

Some people, especially those with some talent or training, find it difficult to chant with others whose voices are not technically skilled. There are many ways to remedy this. The best is to do away with our idea of how things should be. Then happiness reveals itself. It is only difficult to chant with those who have unskilled voices because of our expectation, desire, and on a deeper level, because of the fear of what is not harmonious in us. So leave expectations and desires behind, and do not be afraid to rejoice in the reality of what is there. Start simply, with basic chants suited for the whole community. Have the Sangha practice lots of recitation, reading the texts aloud together. As a community, take up some basic training for the voice; there are huge resources available for this. But most important, always endeavor to do these things as ways to strengthen your practice and the practice of your community. This is cultivating wholesome thoughts in the practice of chanting.


Suggestions for Chanting in Community

Here are several suggestions for individuals and Sanghas to aid in the practice of chanting:

Take time to memorize the words and learn the content so that you can concentrate easily during the chant. Be aware of what you are saying so that you enter into a process of realization and are not simply repeating the text.

Take time to memorize the melody and the basics of the rhythm and dynamics of the chant so you do not have to rely on a piece of paper to remind you of what you are doing. Then you can begin the process of unfolding the tapestry of the chant.

Stay in touch with the process of breathing; learn to take deep and relaxed breaths while chanting. The point is to remain truly present and to cultivate stability and insight while chanting, not to get out of breath and make a flawless performance. If you need a breath, take one, it’s okay to miss a couple of words. Maintain awareness of body posture, holding yourself up right in a relaxed way. Every few breaths check to make sure you are not straining the neck, throat, and facial muscles. Soften them, relax them, and smile.

Listen carefully to other chanters around you as you chant.

All who are chanting must learn to chant with one voice.  This is a very deep and wonderfully fruitful practice. Chant lightly, not too loud, so that it is easier to hear those around you. This encourages togetherness.   When we chant well together we can begin to allow the expression of the chant to change subtly according to the experience of the content.  The chant then becomes something totally alive and the collective experience of being together in freedom can arise very easily. In the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, when practicing the chants marked “breath by breath,” be aware that each breath is usually for one phrase and there is space to draw an in-breath between phrases. We do not need to maintain the rhythm continuously through the chant each phrase stands on its own. They are not marches, and they should express the natural rhythm and dynamics of the English language. Only general guidelines are given as to how long each note is held or how much volume it receives. These chants are open to the expression of the chanters in the present moment and require a lot of listening to each other. They are inspired by the Gregorian technique, but they are not truly Gregorian.

When practicing other chants in the chanting book, we can follow the standard music notation more closely, adhering more to the timing and dynamics that are scored. There are no breath marks, but do not rush to take breaths in between notes. There is no need to worry about saying every syllable or word, skip one or two if necessary in order to take a real in-breath and maintain calm and presence.  Remember to listen carefully to those around you as you chant. Rely on the group to carry the chant. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves when we practice as a Sangha.

The musical notation of a chant cannot contain its vitality. The notes and the technique are used as a guide to learn and transmit the basic form of the chant, but we should eventually let them go in order to truly live the chant. Please remember that chanting is not about getting somewhere or attaining something. Come home to the wonderful moment, open your voice, and enjoy!

Brother Chan Phap Hien, True Goodness of the Dharma, ordained as a monk in 1996 and became a Dharma Teacher in 2001.

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Poem: The Song of the Wind


As the wheels leave the miles behind
in a flash of lights in the darkness

As the scene of the quiet night
floats past the windows

I want to be the humming of the engine
and the song of the rushing wind

My body throbs with the vibrations
I can feel the breathing of my fellow travelers.

The wind carries the breath of the world,
singing of love, and love only.

I am the song of the wind,
and nothing else.

Sankar Sitaraman is a member of the Washington Mindfulness community. He is a math professor at Howard University, and is originally from India.

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Poem: The flower

blooming opening with joy
to the caressing light of the sun
My petals extend

delighting in the warmth, the fragrance,
and beauty of being alive

Deep within
a sweet nectar is gurgling
rising slowly

Oh! I want only to offer
and offer
and offer again
all my sweetness
fragrance and beauty

Take me! Take me!
I am yours!
Please enjoy me, drink me
it is my sole desire
my deepest longing

I am full, so fresh
brimming over

Sister Chan Chau Nghiem, True Adornment with Jewels, is a nun in Deer Park Monastery, CA.

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Peace Song Circle

Tricia  Diduch

The entire Sangha had been praying for sunshine for months leading up to this day. Yet, when I woke up and peered out the window, I was greeted by gray skies and a light drizzle. Had it been a few months ago, I surely would have panicked. Instead, I donned my raincoat, decided to adopt a sunny attitude and headed out the door to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to begin setting the stage for the first annual Peace Song Circle organized by Pine Gate Sangha and Friends for Peace. It would be the culmination of three months of effort by the organizing committee. A total of seven local choirs, one dance group and three soloists would soon assemble to share a message of peace through song with their community and the world. With a sense of excitement and just a little nervous anxiety, I could hardly believe the day had arrived.


Early in December, when Ian Prattis, the founder of the Pine Gate Sangha, first proposed the creation of a Peace Song Circle, I was skeptical about the plan. He envisioned several local choirs singing in unison in the name of peace, along with members of the community, other peace organizations, and spiritual groups. The assembly would create a sense of solidarity and strength during a time when we were all feeling increasingly powerless to change the course of world events. It would be a reminder that through our daily practice of mindful living we are doing our part to help create a better world. I fully supported the purpose and need for such an event; I just didn’t see how it would be possible. I suggested it was highly unlikely that we could assemble enough choirs to attend with only three months’ notice. It would require too much rehearsal time and coordination.

A week later, Ian asked for volunteers to help organize the event in Ottawa, on Saturday, March 22. Jean, a woman new to our Sangha, was the first to volunteer. Her contagious enthusiasm set off a chain reaction and a committee of seven organizers was established. I too found myself volunteering to take an active role in this project. I don’t know what possessed me. With a full-time job, how on earth would I find time to contribute?

The organizing committee adopted as our motto, “Stand for Peace, Sing for Peace, Be Peace.” Since Ian was preparing to attend a two-month retreat in India, he was leaving the initial planning entirely in our hands. Now, not only would I be assisting with communications, but I also volunteered to recruit choirs to participate. Having never been involved in such an activity before, I felt overwhelmed.

I was also experiencing a personal crisis in my life after having been laid off from a position I had held for five years. As we were discussing plans for the Peace Song Circle at a committee meeting in late January, I shared my recent news over tea and cookies. Fighting back tears, I offered to devote more time to the project. Soon, I was overcome with emotion. While I hadn’t been happy with my employment situation for some time, I regretted leaving behind talented co-workers with whom I had developed close relationships. I also considered my departure a personal failure, feeling I hadn’t been able to live up to my employer’s expectations of me. As I let the tears fall, the entire group offered their support. As the meeting wrapped up, Jean said to me, “Divine intervention is at work here – just trust in it. You are simply needed elsewhere.”

Through these words, I realized that losing my job was a blessing. During the preceding months, I had often been overcome with work-related anxiety. Being asked to leave brought with it an enormous sense of relief. It eradicated a lot of fears, offering me an inner peace I hadn’t experienced in a long time. And now, I had been given an opportunity to better employ my talents, helping the Sangha to organize the Peace Song Circle. From that point on, I made a conscious choice not to focus on the past, but on the task at hand.  When I actually shifted my energy to organizing the Peace Song Circle, I felt a sense of purpose, which my life had been lacking for a long time.

Organizing tasks began to fall into place. Our first major obstacle was finding a sound crew and system on a non-existent budget. Somehow, one miraculously materialized. Next, we had to recruit the performers. Although I received many, many rejections, we eventually did end up with just the right number of choirs and soloists. When two choirs backed out three weeks before the event, I stayed relaxed, and within two days, two more choirs offered to participate.

And then, there I was, on Parliament Hill, as the final preparations for the Peace Song Circle were underway. The sound system was assembled, and all of the choirs and individual performers had arrived.

As the clock on the Peace Tower struck 10:00 am on March 22, Chris, the master of ceremonies, launched the proceedings. Ian came forth and thanked the two or three hundred gathered for having braved the weather to join us in our stand for peace. He invited everyone to remain strong in the face of the overwhelming feelings of fear, anger, and hatred that tend to arise during such difficult times. Given that war had actually begun just days before, uniting to convey this message of peace seemed more crucial than ever. As I stood at my post near the sound booth, I was grateful to Ian for having had the leadership and vision to initiate the event. The Peace Song Circle had already created an enormous impact on my life; I just hoped it would have an equally powerful effect on everyone gathered to share in it.

As the first choir broke into song with, “All Within Me Peaceful,” the atmosphere began to transform. With each graceful sway of their arms, the accompanying dancers cast a calming spell over everyone. In turn, each performing group shared its unique talents and message with the audience. Whether it was through the middle-eastern flavor of the music of Jeanette de Nazareth, the spirited rhythms of the Ottawa Community Gospel Choir, the aggressive guitar riffs of the local rock group, Nir Blue, or the gentle folk melodies of the Oddities, the call for peace was strong and consistent. Throughout the two hours, children in the crowd danced happily as their parents joined in the singing, lending further strength to our call for peace and attesting to the healing energy that had been generated.

During the final performance, it dawned on me that the light rain was appropriate for the occasion. The sky seemed to be weeping tears of joy on the colorful array of umbrellas assembled, thankful for the peace offering we had just made. I too shed a joyful tear, grateful that, despite my fears and anxieties, everything had run so smoothly and that I had been able to contribute to this special event. I surrendered to the beauty of the moment. And in that moment, I found peace.


A one-hour documentary of the Peace Song Circle is available, please contact: kburton@cyberus.ca.

Trisha Diduch practices with the Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. After four months of unemployment, Tricia is now happily working in Ottawa’s tourism industry.

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In Gratitude

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“In Gratitude” was composed by Irene D’Auria for a gathering to support Ernestine Enomoto when she was moving from Washington D.C. to Hawaii.  It was brought by members of the Washington D.C. Mindfulness Community to Plum Village during the 21-day “Hands of the Buddha Retreat” in June,  2002.

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From Soldier to Buddhist Monk

Brother Phap Uyen shares his path of practice

from Brother Phap Uyen’s writings and an interview by Sister Steadiness

My mom and I met Thay at a retreat in Redlands, California in 1989. I took the five mindfulness trainings and received the name Tam Houng,

Strength of the Heart. Two years later I joined the military. I was seventeen and a half and I didn’t really practice the five mindfulness trainings. Though my friends didn’t understand why I went into the military, it was my way of repaying the American servicemen that came to Vietnam and gave their lives so that I could come to the United States when I was two and have a better chance for education and a better way of living.


Entering Monastic Life

After coming home from the military and getting married I worked long hours every day because it helped me not to think about the problems I was having. Soon after Deer Park Monastery opened, my mom sent me there for two and half months to relax and try to change this habit.

My step dad and I had a hard time communicating when I was growing up. He went to Plum Village for the 2001 winter retreat, and when he returned we started trying to improve our communication. He suggested I go to Plum Village, so I went in the spring of 2002. I had fun during the Francophone retreat and the Vietnamese retreat. I started spending more and more time with the brothers.

I was planning to stay for the summer retreat and then return to the U.S. to start Chinese medicine school. After being trained to kill people in the military, I realized that I would rather use my hands to help heal people than use my hands to hurt people. I went to school for massage therapy and I wanted to study Chinese medicine as well. But when Thay’s Dharma talks started sinking in, I began to realize that if I became a monastic then I could help heal people’s mental problems or problems within themselves.

I wrote my letter requesting to be a monastic about two weeks before my ordination. I called my mom and when she heard that I was getting ordained she was very happy. She and my step dad, my sister, and my grandma came to Plum Village for my ordination, which made me very happy. My mom said, “If you love me then you will always take care of yourself and I hope being a monastic will make you happy.” Every time my mom calls me she asks, “Are you happy?”

Military  Training

It was January of 1992. I had just arrived at the Naval Recruit Training Center. It was 0200 hours. We were all tired, but there was a drill instructor yelling and screaming at us. We were up until 0400 hours filling out papers, being put into companies, and finding out where we would be staying while we were being processed. We arrived at our barracks at 0415 hours and at 0530 hours a drill instructor came in banging on a metal trashcan to wake us up. We were the low-life of the military; we had not yet earned the right to be called sailors.

We had three months of training to learn to go into full combat situations with firing practice and live rounds. We had biological weapons classes and had to go through the gas chamber without our gas masks on. We also studied firefighting. Putting our lives in the hands of one another really united us. It broke our habit of being individuals and taught us to work together to achieve our goals.

After graduation from basic training I went to SEALS Training School. SEALS stands for Sea, Air, and Land. I enjoyed my time in the SEALS Training Program. I was in the best physical shape of my life. But there was something missing. I was getting physically stronger, but I was also becoming a non-human being. I was trained to do one thing: to kill and ask questions later. We were taught many ways to get into enemy lines undetected, blow things up, and neutralize targets and people. So when I was almost through with my training I reported that I wanted to leave.

During my SEALS training we would run, swim, and learn to paddle inflatable boats against the waves.  We did a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, and ran five miles a day in the sand carrying eighty-pound packs. We studied first aid, hand-to-hand combat, a martial art called ninjitsu, firing different guns, blowing things up with explosives, and learning to make our own bombs. We learned how to use special weapons like machine guns, handguns, and knives. We were trained to kill people without them making a sound. We learned different joint locks and pressure points, how to jump out of planes, free fall sky diving, face first rappelling, map reading, how to communicate using military sign language, and how to disarm missiles, rockets, and bombs. We went through a survival program twenty-one day exer cise, where we were supposed to rescue a helicopter unit that had crashed on an island. Our instructors played the enemies. If we were caught we would become prisoners of war.  They would torture us by hitting us with sticks, put bamboo sticks in between our fingers and squeeze them together, give us electric shock treatment, starve us, or lock us in small cages.  They would try to get information from us, like where our command post was, which person was in command of the operation, or our mission briefing information. If our focus was strong then we would state our rank, our military branch, and our social security number, repeating this until we passed out. We were graded on this exercise and our leadership abilities as part of our graduation requirements.

In the last part of our training we went through hell week where we stayed up for the whole week, taking vitamins to help stay awake. To test our leadership abilities, we were put in a combat environment with guns and grenades exploding everywhere. We were trained to always rescue our fallen comrades and bring them home with us.

After making it through hell week, I had two weeks left of training before graduation. But instead I left. I saw that a lot of my friends were becoming meaner and more aggressive. It felt as if we had a switch that we could flip to change from being a nice person to a very dangerous, killing machine. Sometimes I saw that the switch could get stuck and we could not change back into a nice person. I felt like a wild animal because all I was doing was being trained to kill. Usually a SEALS class starts with about 300 to 500 people, but only ten to fifteen people graduate. I would have graduated at the top of my class.

Comparing Monastic Life to Military Life

The military and the monastic life are similar in some ways. In the military we woke up at five in the morning. In monastic life we also wake up at five o’clock to do sitting meditation. It helps us to concentrate and to reflect on ourselves. That is what I spend a lot of my time doing. In the military we didn’t have time for self-reflection because we were always busy.

As monastics we have time to rest. We do walking meditation, which I enjoy. We study our fine manners and our ten novice precepts.1 One of the most important things we do in Upper Hamlet is to build brotherhood. We also have a novice council. We talk with the elder brothers and decide what we want to do as novices. That way we have a say. When I was in the military we didn’t have a say in anything. The officers of the unit would just tell the lower ranks what to do.

Transforming  Unwholesome  Habits and Anger

I picked up some bad habits while I was in the service, like drinking and smoking, which I now have given up. A lot of special services people engage in unwholesome things like drinking, having casual sexual relationships, gambling, and spending money. Instead of living our lives to the fullest, knowing that we might not be around the next day, we did these things to forget and to not feel.

After I left the military my life was not good. I saw that I was losing some of my human qualities. Since I didn’t get along with my father, I didn’t go home. I hung around with some people that weren’t very nice. Some of those people still write to me, but I don’t respond to them like I do to other friends.

Military life is very aggressive. When I was in the military we were taught to react first and ask questions later. For example, if we had a problem with somebody else we wouldn’t talk to that person. Usually we would go to the bottom of the ship at night and fight it out until only one person was left standing. Other people would come down and watch the fight.

Even though I am a monastic now, still sometimes that energy of anger arises in me.  When that happens, I try to come back to my breathing.  I know that I shouldn’t say anything when I am angry. Instead, I do walking meditation or I go back to my room, make some tea, light some candles and incense and just sit there and enjoy the tea, looking out my window. Now I can control my temper much better. That is a big change for me. Another practice that I like is Beginning Anew. Every night before I go to bed I light some incense and candles on the altar in my room and I practice Beginning Anew from our Plum Village chanting book. I begin with the incense offering and go through the whole ceremony. In it, you repent for things that you have done wrong in the past, not just in this lifetime but for countless lifetimes before.  You want to be brand new again.  I also do Touching the Earth, which has helped me release a lot of anger and resentment towards a lot of things that have happened in the past between me and my family.2 It is also a big help to have supportive brothers and sisters, and my mentor who I can always talk to and ask for help.


Practicing with Physical Pain

One difficulty I have struggled with is that my knee, my ankles, and my back are pretty messed up due to the violent nature of my military and martial arts training. When I was younger I never thought about the effects that this training would have on my body. When I was training in martial arts, my instructor would make us break bricks and wooden boards with our bodies.  As you advance in rank you can’t just punch the board or chop the brick with your hands, you have to use different parts of your body. I would always use my legs, since they were the strongest part of my body. That is why my knees are pretty messed up.

In addition, the bones on both sides of my vertebrae are cracked, so often it hurts a lot, especially at night when I sleep. I can get up in the morning to go to sitting meditation, but it hurts. Also I don’t want to disturb my brothers when they are sitting in meditation so I just sit in my room.

As monastics one of the main things we do is sit in meditation. Since I can’t sit very long, I feel isolated from the Sangha in some ways. But Thay Abbot, my mentor, has encouraged me to sit with the whole Sangha. If I can’t sit for the duration, he said to just sit for half the time and then do walking meditation. Or he suggested that when everybody else is sitting, that I do walking meditation instead of staying in my room. That is why I like to go for long walks as my way of doing meditation. I practice to embrace my pain when it is there. I am also aware that my pain is not always here; I can run; I can play volleyball too.

My Relationship with My Mentor

I can talk with my mentor, Brother Nguyen Hai (Thay Abbot), about problems that I am having or about problems with any of the brothers. I ask him for suggestions on how I can help build brotherhood between the Western brothers and the Vietnamese brothers. He is very understanding about the problem with my back.

I am also his attendant. It is a great opportunity for me because it helps me focus on the practice. When I walk with him it is like walking with my teacher and I am mindful of my steps and aware of what I am doing. He told me that I still need to learn to walk in a gentler way, because from the military I developed a strong way of walking.

Facing Another Challenge

During winter retreat one of my close friends came to visit. She’s been a practitioner of Plum Village for a long time. It was a little hard to be with her now that I am a monastic. During the holiday season she asked to give me a hug. I went over and asked my mentor and he said, I guess she can hug you, but it would be best if she didn’t. So I asked him to come and stand next to us while she gave me a hug.

She kept forgetting that I am a monastic now, so while we were walking together she would try to hold onto my robe. I would have to remind her not to do this. The feelings that came up in me were there for a couple of weeks after she left. Talking to my mentor and reflecting on my life I see that I care for her still, but my love for her is not romantic now. As Thay has said, we are human beings so sometimes that energy still arises and we have to know how to take care of it. I have talked to my mentor about it a lot.

Re-establishing  Communication with my Dad

One of the biggest things that happened for me as a monastic is that I wrote a letter to my real dad in Arizona. It was the first letter I have ever written him. It has been really hard for us to communicate because he is a very traditional Vietnamese and he has a hot temper. That is probably where I get my temper. I have been trying to keep in contact with him because I know that my dad and his side of the family are suffering a lot. My dad is the eldest son in the family, which makes me the eldest grandson and I am the one who is supposed to carry on the family line. But now that I am a monastic that is not happening. My only sibling is my sister and my only child is a daughter, so I have no descendants that carry the family name. I know that has hurt my father. I try to explain that I have become a monastic because I don’t want to be a monster of society anymore; I want to help people and their suffering, and first I have to help myself.

It was very hard for me to talk to my dad because he regarded his viewpoint as the best one and he didn’t listen to what I said. In Asian culture when the grown-ups talk the children are expected to just go out and play. In the past when I tried to talk to my dad we would begin arguing after five minutes because we didn’t understand each other. But slowly that has changed. I call my dad every once in a while and ask how he is doing, and I tell him about my happiness. I don’t preach to him because I know a lot of my family members on my father’s side don’t have a strong faith in the church or in the Buddhist religion. Being Vietnamese, since we were small my grandma took us to the temple, so we say that we are Buddhist but a lot of my father’s family doesn’t have energy or faith in the practice. My mom has said that my being a monastic can hopefully change that energy on my dad’s side of the family.

My Relationship with My Daughter

My daughter’s mother and I divorced when my daughter was less than a year old due to our cultural differences. Her mother is Catholic and Hispanic and I am Buddhist and Vietnamese. We didn’t understand each other so it was really hard for us. When my daughter was born I was working and going to school at the same time. I would get home at eleven o’clock at night. As soon as my key touched the lock my daughter would wake up. I would play with her and she would smile. When we divorced my ex-wife moved to another city with my daughter, so I didn’t get to see her very often. Before I became a monastic I sold a car and set aside that money to pay my daughter’s child support. My sister and other relatives offered to help visit and take care of my daughter so I could become a monastic.


My mom is coming to Plum Village this summer and she will try to bring my daughter with her. In some ways I feel that being a monastic is the best way that I can help my daughter. I would rather be fully present for her one month of the year than to be around her twelve months out of the year and not truly be present for her.

Serving in Kuwait / The Suffering of War

I was in Kuwait from June to December of 1992. I now see that we were over there not because of the suffering of the people of Kuwait, but for the oil. I have met a lot of Iraqi people. They are great people, some are very friendly. Yet I also remember meeting some Iraqi villagers that were very hostile towards us American soldiers, and I couldn’t understand why. I thought we were trying to help them end the suffering that their government was causing them. I now know that they might have rather put up with the treatment from their government than have us come and cause more suffering.

In 1985 the United States sold biological weapons to Iraq. Iraq then attacked us in the Gulf War with our own weapons. A violent act towards others will bring a violent act towards you. So when the United States attacked Iraq during the Gulf War it helped September 11th to manifest for the United States. And when Iraq attacked the United States they were also causing suffering for their own people. They launched biological weapons into the air, which infected the Iraqi people and their food as well as their enemies. That is a big price to pay for oil and holding onto a point of view.

The biological weapons used in Kuwait on the United States service people affected some of my friends. The United States won’t admit that some of us contracted this illness, called Desert Storm Syndrome. I have two friends that have severe problems.

One is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Two weeks after returning from Kuwait he lost forty pounds and experiences a burning sensation inside his body. His wife told me that he may have only two years before he continues in a new manifestation. He is only twenty-eight years old.

Another friend is also a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She has burning, red spots on her skin that break open and leak yellow pus. The doctors have given her some experimental medicine, but it is not helping. She is having problems with her boyfriend because she can no longer have a child. She is suffering a lot. She feels very alone now. I told her that she is never alone. She always has her parents, herself, and her close friends to help her and that we will always be by her side.

Insights From the War

When I look back on being a soldier, I see that we do protect the freedom of our country. But we must also protect the freedom of all other people and things. We shouldn’t see ourselves as higher or better than anyone else. All of us have come to be what we are due to a lot of things. The rich are not separate from the poor, the just from the unjust, the first world from the third world countries. We are like this because they are like that; they are like that because we are like this. To protect and support ourselves, we have to protect and support others. We are made of each other. We are each other. We experience the same suffering of violence, fear, anger, hatred, and discrimination. My experience in Kuwait taught me that much.

I believe that if our president and political leaders were the ones leading us into battle, putting their own lives on the line, then they would think more carefully before they go to war. They would have seen first-hand, for example, the suffering and destruction that happened when our missiles went off target and wiped out small towns.

I believe instead of fighting each other we should work together to end poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and homelessness. We should educate the children, care for the sick and old, and work towards peace for the world instead of fighting over oil, which doesn’t really belong to anyone except the cosmos. We cannot take oil with us when we die. We fight so hard for oil because we are greedy and fixed in our own point of view. Instead we need to focus on what is actually worth working for: peace and harmony in the world.

Serving as a Monastic / Helping Others

My martial arts training has helped me come back to myself. I don’t practice the styles that I learned in the military because they can easily make a person become violent. Now I practice tai chi and aikido to become centered. I am beginning to share this practice with the Sangha. I also learned how to cook in the military, and now I cook and bake cakes for the Sangha.


I am very interested in helping teenagers. When I got out of the military, I thought about becoming a teacher. I see that if we help the younger generation to build their wholesome seeds then we don’t need to be afraid. But if we help them to water their negative or harmful seeds then we have a lot to worry about because they are going to be our future leaders.

It brings me great joy, especially during summer retreat, to help Vietnamese teenagers. Even though I am twenty-nine years old I am still young, and at the same time, I have had a lot of life experience. I have been through the military, I have been married twice, I have a seven year-old daughter, and I have lived on my own. Many young people think that their parents are old and don’t understand what they are going through. They think they want to get away from their parents and live on their own, but they don’t understand what it is like to live on their own. Hopefully, by sharing my experience they can understand both the positive and negative sides of leaving home.

I know that I have a lot of transforming to do. A lot of people joke about my name, Dharma Garden. I asked Thay one day when I was his attendant, why Dharma Garden? He said, because you have a lot of seeds in you, both wholesome and unwholesome. As the gardener you have to transform the unwholesome seeds.

My Joy as a Monk

My biggest joy as a monk is being around Thay and my brothers and sisters. Sometimes I am sad about what is going on around me, because occasionally my brothers and sisters don’t act as I expect them to. But I am reminded by my elders in Upper Hamlet that just because we are monastics, we’re not saints, and we all have shortcomings. Sometimes I get discouraged because a brother might talk to me a bit harshly. But, if I truly care about that brother I will find out why he is acting that way. Often it is just because he is tired or has something on his mind.

One of my joys is offering massages to my brothers. Sometimes a brother will ask me why I don’t get tired, giving so many massages. But I don’t feel tired because doing this helps me connect to the brother that I am massaging. When we massage Thay, we follow Thay’s breath, and that is how I massage my brothers. Sometimes when I massage my mentor and I am not following my breath he will stop me and say, “What are you thinking about?” And I become aware that I am not totally focused on what I am doing.

Another joy is drinking tea with my brothers. Every day it is busy in my room because all the brothers stop by and we drink tea, we laugh and play. My room is like grand central station for the brothers before they go to other activities in Upper Hamlet. It is a real joy to have my brothers around.

Brother Chan Phap Uyen, True Dharma Garden, ordained as a monk in 2002 and lives in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village.

Sister Chan Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness), is a nun in Plum Village.


  1. To read the ten novice precepts and the forty-nine chapters of fine manners for novices see Stepping into Freedom by Thich Nhat Hanh.
  2. See article in the Mindfulness Bell 33 about “Touching the Earth” practice and A text of Touching the Earth is also in the Plum Village Chanting Book (Berkeley: Parallax, 1999.)

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A Vietnam Veteran’s Story

Vince Rogalski,  Sr.


I am a Vietnam combat veteran. I grew up in a strict Catholic family, the second of five children.  We were poor, living in a two-bedroom house in a rough neighborhood. My father worked hard all his life; my mom was a full time wife and mother.

As a young Catholic, I was an altar boy, choirboy, and even considered joining the priesthood. But I was not an angel by any means. In our neighborhood, you needed to be tough or at least appear to be tough to get along. I got along. I always disliked school, even though I did pretty well most of the time.

I left college in 1967, and that November I was drafted. Five months later I was in Vietnam. My story is like many who saw heavy combat.  It’s enough to say the experience is one I have never forgotten. I will always be a Vietnam veteran.

I returned in May of 1968 with an Army Commendation Medal, a Bronze Star, and some Purple Hearts. But the pride and honor I felt was short-lived, and I soon realized that the wounds I came home with weren’t the kind that bled.

I was married two weeks after returning. My wife and I spent the remaining six months of my service in Colorado. We wanted a family, and my son was born in 1970, and my daughter two years later.

It was a struggle to make ends meet and the situation became desperate in 1973 when I was diagnosed with serious ulcers. I had three major surgeries and spent twenty-five days in the Intensive Care Unit where I almost died.

After that, I was out of work for a long time. We lost the house we had been buying. With creditors knocking on our door, I went back to work against my doctor’s advice. I sank into a depression but was too proud to seek professional help. I felt that since I had gone through a war, I should be able to handle anything. I felt that the government didn’t care about me so I couldn’t turn there for help.

For a couple of years I did everything I could think of to improve our situation. I took a second job, I worked overtime, I went back to school. But our situation didn’t improve. So I resorted to escaping in drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. In 1976, I got a bunch of pills and a lot of booze and tried to kill myself, but instead I spent sixteen weeks in a locked ward at the Johns Hopkins mental hospital. There I was diagnosed with a war neurosis. I’d been having nightmares at night and in the daytime too. They called them flashbacks.  I called them day mares. I got out of the hospital but I was still messed up. I finally started to see a psychiatrist through a new government outreach program for vets. I’ve been in some type of professional therapy ever since.

For the next twenty-two years, with the help of medication and counseling, I managed to keep my head above water, but just barely. During all these years, I couldn’t get close to people. I thought I didn’t trust them. What I came to realize was that I didn’t trust myself. After my parents died and my children were married, I left my wife. I honestly believe she’s better off without me. I knew that she could never forgive me or forget or let me forget. That was a big part of the problem. I couldn’t forget! The memories, the depression, the loss of my faith and self-esteem, all bore down once again. I was determined not to see the new millennium. This time I was going make sure my suicide attempt was successful. A bottle of liquor, all the pills I had at my disposal, and my quiet apartment was all I needed. But once again I failed. A worried friend came over and found me unconscious. This led to six months of intense treatment in four different mental institutions and six shock therapy treatments.

During this time, my son sent me a copy of a book titled Being Peace. The author was a Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. I am not a reader, but I had a lot of time on my hands at that particular moment so I read it. I felt a change in my perspective. I got another book called Touching Peace. After I finished it, I realized that I was thinking about the things I had read at least a little each day. I had never meditated before, but I tried it. I was still depressed and very unsure, but I seemed to be becoming calmer and more at peace.

The following year, 1999, my son told me about a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at the Omega Institute. We went together. There was a veteran’s group there who welcomed both me and my son, which surprised both of us.

We experienced that though the people in the group were not all vets, they were all connected somehow. Not just connected by the war but connected to one another in a much more special way. Soon my son and I felt connected too. They were warm, loving, and honestly caring. Then we heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak about the way this Sangha practiced together and we began to understand more. We became a member of their family. It felt good to be hugged and in a very short while, I felt as if I’d known these people all my life. But more than that, I cared about them and somehow, I knew they really cared about me. It was hard to leave.

We went home and shared our experiences at the retreat and the next year we returned, bringing my daughter. She experienced the same warm welcome. It was a great thing: my son, my daughter, and I were having this experience together. I have never felt closer to my children. They have always been the center of my life but this practice has brought us together in a way that is hard to explain. We went to the retreat again last year and I’m sure we’ll go again.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a powerful, yet soothing teacher. His teachings haven’t solved my problems, but they have allowed me to slow down enough to see myself and others more clearly. I still feel much pain, guilt, and regret about the past. I also feel there is much to be thankful for. If it were not for my friend finding me unconscious, I would not be here now. I would have missed knowing my children, their spouses, and my three terrific grandchildren.

I’m not sure what a miracle is but for me it’s having hope where once there was none. I am now struggling with the realization that I have been diagnosed with leukemia and more recently Hepatitis C. I don’t expect miracles. I am only trying for hope and peace. Thich Nhat Hanh, the veterans’ Sangha, my daughter, Amy, my son, Vince, and my friend Kathy, have given me hope. I will always be a Vietnam veteran. I can neither forget nor change that. I now feel I have the strength to be other things. I hope it’s not too late to find peace.

Vince Rogalski, Sr. lives outside Baltimore, Maryland, where he is a government audit coordinator at Northrup Grumman. He continues to practice mindfulness with his son and daughter, and their families.

The Veteran’s Scholarship Fund is used exclusively to assist those who wish to join the Veteran’s Sangha at Thay’s retreats who otherwise might not be able to attend. The Veteran’s Sangha is committed to helping vets and family members process their feelings concerning the trauma of war. Contributions would be gratefully appreciated, and should be sent to Green Mountain Dharma Center, c/o Joyce, PO Box 182, Hartland Four Corners, VT 05049

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A Celebration of Peace

Mike  McGuire

Speech given at a peace rally in Veterans’ Park, Medford, Oregon in February, 2003

My name is Mike McGuire, and I am a veteran. Nearly thirty-five years ago I took an oath to my country and myself that I am still committed to uphold. Ironically, in substance it is very similar to the oath taken by George W. Bush as he officially assumed the role of Commander in Chief. In my case, the oath was on the occasion of receiving a commission to become an officer in the United States Navy in 1968. That oath to which we both swore our allegiance was to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from enemies both foreign and domestic. It was clear to me then, as it is clear to me now, that it is this magnificent document, this Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights, that makes America the country I would be proud to serve.

Much has changed in those thirty-five years. Much has changed in the last two years. It troubles me deeply that George W. Bush apparently did not take that oath seriously. Since his appointment as Commander in Chief two years ago, many of our basic Constitutional rights have been gutted.

Against everything that our founding fathers envisaged, it is now legal for an America citizen to be “disappeared,” with no right to legal council, no notification of arrest, no information as to where they are being held, and no safeguards against any misconduct or torture at the hands of their captors. All that is required is that the Executive branch of government or the military label you a “terrorist” and you are gone. No different than those countries whose actions we call inhumane and barbaric.

From an historical perspective, I believe the service given by a warrior to his society has been a heroic and honorable endeavor. It has been traditionally a selfless and necessary activity of maintaining borders and protecting women, children, and the necessities of life from the immediate dangers of invasion. But there is no honor when that warrior is instead ordered to murder large numbers of innocents in order to facilitate the theft of another sovereign nation’s resources in this case oil for the exclusive profit of the wealthiest multi-national corporations. Instead, this action turns into murder-for-hire.

How did we get to the point that the greatest threat to the U.S. Constitution is from within our own borders? How is it that the document which guarantees the human rights of American citizens is being erased before our very eyes? We each need to contemplate this question deeply. But what I want to address now is what we can do about creating a solution.

Reduced to its simplest form, this theft of our freedoms and rights has been accomplished through the calculated use of fear. Who doesn’t carry this fear? My personal fear is less about what Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein has done or will do, and more about the direction my government is heading. But fear is fear. Where it gets projected is less important than how its effects cripple my sense of peace. Often it seems that the common assumption is that peace is the absence of war. But if I’m obsessed with fear, what peace can I experience?

Sometimes it seems all too easy to assume that peace is lacking because of George Bush or members of his administration. But that’s because in that moment I perceive those circumstances as being more real than the simple reality that I am alive and breathing and that in that breath lies the experience of true peace.

If the anti-war movement is to evolve into a true peace celebration, it will be because we as individuals know peace more truly than we know the fear we are being fed. It will be because we know an absolute standard by which to evaluate all else. That is the infinite and beautiful gift of life. I am capable of respecting another’s life only to the extent that I am respecting my own. If I want peace, I am capable of creating peace only to the extent that I know peace.

So I reach out to each of you to look to that which provides for you the greatest feeling of peace and well being in your lives. Take time to listen to that small wise voice within and the silence beyond. It may be most easily heard through your spiritual or religious practice. It might be through activities in your community; it might be spending time in nature only you know what nourishes you.

I believe that when enough people know the value of their own lives, that the values of this country indeed the world will be respect, dignity, compassion, peace, and freedom.

In conclusion I say that fear is the enemy. And that only peace prevails over fear. I invite you to know that peace within you and rise up with peace in your hearts and celebrate life.

Mike McGuire lives in Talent, Oregon and practices with the Community of Mindful Living, Southern Oregon. He is an active member of Peace House, the local chapter of  Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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Engaged Buddhism: Learning Nonviolence in Cambodia

Shelley  Anderson

How do you help people facing grave injustices to develop compassion in action?

This was the challenge facing me and the Buddhist nonviolence trainer Ouyporn Khuankaew, when we were asked to lead advanced nonviolence training for Cambodian activists.

The advanced training was to follow up on a nonviolence training Ouyporn and I had co-facilitated in Phnom Penh in the year 2000. That training had involved a challenging mix of nineteen university students, mostly younger women, and five illiterate older Buddhist nuns. The participants had belonged to two very different social groups that seldom interacted. The advanced training, too, would bring together groups that seldom mixed: university students from the urban center of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and villagers from some of Cambodia’s poorest provinces.


The request to help facilitate the advanced training was exciting for several reasons. Since the first nonviolence training, the university students had been conducting their own trainings. They called themselves the Women Peace Makers group, and first aided girls in factories in the capital who were organizing for better working conditions. They then learned of villagers in rural areas who were struggling non-violently to stop illegal logging or land grabbing, and began to reach out to those communities. The advanced training would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about these struggles, which seldom receive any attention from the international community.

Even more important, both Ouyporn and I were eager to learn more about engaged Buddhism in Cambodia. We are both Buddhist practitioners and especially influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh’s call to bring Buddhist perspectives to contemporary social problems. The desire to relieve suffering and to further develop the practice of Buddhist active nonviolence motivated us.

Bringing the Temple to the Streets

Cambodia has its own history of engaged Buddhism. Cambodia’s Supreme Patriarch, the monk Maha Ghosananda, has also called upon Buddhist practitioners to “bring the temple into the streets.” Similar to Thay’s work to end the devastating war in Vietnam, in 1987 Maha Ghosananda led a group of Buddhists monks and nuns to the United Nations’ sponsored peace talks in Indonesia. There he told all the fighting factions that he would form a fifth army. But this would be an “army of peace” whose ammunition would be “bullets of loving kindness.” “It will be an army absolutely without guns or partisan politics,” he announced, “an army of reconciliation with so much courage that it turns away from violence, an army dedicated wholly to peace and to the end of suffering.”

Since 1992 thousands of nuns, monks and lay people have joined Maha Ghosananda’s annual peace marches throughout Cambodia, called Dhammayietras. The first Dhammayietra played a very important role in de-escalating the atmosphere of violence during Cambodia’s first election. They have helped spread the values of nonviolence and compassion, and spread life-saving information on landmines, AIDS and the need to stop deforestation.

Many of the participants were surprised during our first training in Cambodia when we talked about Cambodia’s long history of active nonviolence, citing the example of Maha Ghosananda. They expected to hear instead about new, Western ideas on conflict resolution. But nonviolence, sometimes translated in Asia as ahimsa or “non-harming”, is evident in every culture and is as old as humanity. One aim of nonviolence training is to promote awareness of the values and resources that make for a culture of peace and nonviolence in the participants’ own culture.

This was especially important in Cambodia, where the scars of war remain unhealed. Between 1975 and 1979, at least one million Cambodians died of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and disease. This was the period of the Khmer Rouge, the armed Cambodia force that outlawed money, schools, private property, and law courts. In this country where ninety-five percent of the population is Buddhist, the practice of religion was outlawed. Monks and nuns were forced to disrobe or be killed. An estimated 60,000 Buddhist monks died from starvation or execution during the Khmer Rouge years.


In the 1990’s Buddhist groups, such as the U.S. based Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Thailand based International Network of Engaged Buddhists, helped to rebuild Buddhism by bringing in teaching materials on the Dharma and by supporting the education of Cambodian monks and nuns. Today, in a Cambodia where both politics and the courts are corrupt, the ordained Sangha is one of the few social institutions ordinary people trust.

Compassion in Action

Buddhism was obviously an important tool that the thirty-nine participants in the advanced training, held in August 2002, could use. We encouraged participants to use the Four Noble Truths in the training session on ways to analyze a conflict. First, identify the conflict, then look at the causes of the conflict. Then realize that solutions to the conflict were possible. This third truth could not be over estimated, because it is the basis of hope. There is mass corruption in Cambodian society. The rich, who may make their money from drugs, prostitution, or the exploitation of Cambodia’s dwindling natural resources, often bribe officials, while the poor can be picked up and thrown into jail at the whim of police. There was brutalization on a mass scale during the Khmer Rouge years. The trauma remains and violence is still common in Cambodia. Maintaining hope in such a situation is no small feat.

The fourth step in conflict analysis based on the Four Noble Truths involves identifying concrete ways to a solution. Tools to help the participants discover ways to find just solutions to social problems were explored. Many skits and practical exercises were held during the six-day training. They were all based on practical problems that the participants faced in their everyday lives. These problems included how to continue a nonviolent struggle after the villagers’ first action had failed; how to encourage people to try nonviolent methods rather than violence; and how to continue a nonviolent struggle even after the leaders have been killed.

The villagers, and the students who supported them, faced possible imprisonment. Corrupt police would be paid to put them in jail, or to beat them up. The deep belief in Buddhism gave some of the participants the courage to continue their struggles in the face of such massive odds. One of the participants was an older man, the leader of a village. In his village people make their living from fishing. But businesses were threatening their livelihood. Illegal trawlers were fishing in the traditional areas, capturing or killing all the fish. After their many complaints to the police were ignored, the villagers confiscated the trawlers, carefully explaining to the trawler crews why they were doing this.

The businessman, who refused to meet with the villagers, filed a court case, claiming they had destroyed his property. He also threatened to kill some of the villagers.  This was no idle threat: in some villages there are many widows whose husbands have been killed after protesting illegal fishing.

During the training, the village leader said, “The Buddha teaches us that everything will change. He teaches us that we all will die. So why should I be afraid of being killed? Since I will die, I would rather die for something important, rather than for something unimportant.” The entire room full of participants clapped and cheered this statement.

In addition to tools such as deep listening and conflict analysis, Ouyporn and I encouraged the participants to cultivate meditation. This tool to help cultivate inner peace would support the activists when dealing with the inevitable strong emotions of anger and fear. Every day we would begin by sitting in silence. Many participants had never meditated before. They were awkward at first, shifting uneasily on the bamboo matting which covered the floor.

After each silent sitting, we invited questions. “Why concentrate on the breath?” “Why do my thoughts constantly go back to my boyfriend, who made me very sad?” “My back hurts, am I doing something wrong?” “Why do you ring a bell; the meditation teacher at my temple never does this?” Were some of the questions.


Ouyporn and I shared our experiences with meditation, and repeated why it is important for activists to be still and reflective. Meditation is a tool as useful as conflict analysis models or any other organizing skill, we said. It can help us develop the inner strength to continue the struggle for peace even when everything and everyone around us says to give up.

This inner strength was especially important for the women in the training. Although women are now sixty percent of the population, because so many men and boys were killed by the Khmer Rouge, women have little power or respect in Cambodian society. “Cambodian women should be gentle, modest and shy,” said one woman. “Choosing a husband is the responsibility of the parents, not the daughter herself. A woman’s role is to know how to cook, take care of the children and serve her husband.” The women students (who form a minority in the country, as only fourteen percent of university students are female) talked about family pressure to give up their studies and social change work, in order to marry. Some participants cried when they also told how some villagers assume the women students must be prostitutes, because how else could a woman be free to travel from the city to the countryside?

At the end of the advanced training some participants said that the meditation was one of the most useful tools they learned. Ouyporn and I learned much from all the participants, especially about perseverance and courage. All of us learned a little more about how the rich insights of Buddhism can be applied to the most destructive problems of the modern world.

Shelley Anderson, True Great Harmony, coordinates the Women Peacemakers Program of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and lives in Holland.

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Poem: Day Lily

For my Mom and her flower garden

In summer, the day lily opens its lavish orange petals for the sun
and withdraws at night, enfolding itself in a sacred and secret stillness.

This is where the myriad songs of the million birds dwell:
nestled in the throat of the lily.

And in the lily’s protective keeping,
a dream of the moon rises over the blue, forested hills
and follows its dream course
through a universe of stars,
warm in their remembrance
yet cold in their distance,

while the starry winds
and the night birds’ tentative twitter
nudge the dreamy head of the lily,
whose sleep is the half-held memory of the sun,
and the song of the birds kept safe
in their nests. The lily encloses the whole of earth,
night and day, as a flower.

In the moonlight hum
of the blue-green valley,
the lambent stream trickles over stones.

Sediment swirls, round rocks
and settles
at the bottom of dark pools.

Along the bank, within the soil
the hairy toes of the lily’s roots stir
as if to remember:
the stars are sparkling
settling into the streambed
of their earthen home,
and coursing through the lily’s veins—
green, languorous leaves
arced shadows in the moonlight.

It is when the lily,
like the dream flight of geese at night,
begins to sense
within the colder strands of its valley,
warmer winds at interims mingled;
then it slowly begins, just so much, to rouse:
while lapses of the beneficent wind
as curved or long,
lingering or swift
as the slopes of green hills and blue oceans
beyond the horizon and beneath the sun:
Come like the underwater sway of currents
through the tree limbs:

The maple breathes as a breath of wind,
climbs through its limbs and the tree one,
and every leaf, heaves
with a faint rising flutter
so soft it holds the thunder of ocean swells
and the night clap of a billion twinkling stars:
a warm wind
upon the ear and petal of the lily:

Clouds come cumulous and white,
as wave-spawn
upon the crests of hills.

Abreast the horizon and darkened forests
there is a silence
as of waking
in the light of stars
gathered as dewdrops
on pinnacles of pines.

The song of birds
rises out of the dim reaches of the forests,
as swift-beating hearts and buffy feathers,
little silent eyes swivel curious among the treetops
and a little bird in its nest, somewhat startled, chirps
as if another sang through him: (a call)
and another
from hillside to valley
nd valley to hillside, again and again
in distinct and expanding song
like a thousand-stringed instrument played upon by the cool,
morning breeze:
the last whisper of night and the distant stars,
who are far closer than we have ever imagined.

The face of the earth turns,
s if to listen.
The hidden corners of the woods
are as familiar as the presence of one’s ear.
And each secretive corner, in the morning light,
is a place made known by a bird’s song,
each leaf, limb, tree
and incline of slope
its singing —

The lily blooms beneath the maples.

What dream we face when we arise,
the sediment in our eyes, can be as tentative
as the day lily, who wakes
a dream
in its opening
though roots hold it as firm as our feet,
which know nothing but of walking.
And though the birds flitting from limb to limb
speak so well of flight,
their twig-like feet
are the roots, branches, reeds, and grasses of their earthen bower:
While the roots of the lily, though holding taut,
Still retain a sleeping dream of flight and
Separation from the land

What is this dream?
In the light of day,
have things become so hidden
or weary
that all lies latent as sediments of sand at the river bottom?

And do we long to remember
and bathe suspended
in the celestial water of our true home,
our quiet beginnings
and silent, subtle returns to what guides us
like the kinship of the lily and the sun,
or the geese with glossy eyes on a forgotten, familiar land?

A north star, a sailor needs when lost at sea.
But we do not,
when each filament and leaf of earth
and each star
can guide us towards our return.
The sun holds us and
we are kin to all beings,
and are blessed, greatly blessed
to know.

Brother Phap Tue, True Dharma Wisdom, is a monk living in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village.

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Breathing Into Life and Death

An Interview with Rochelle Griffin

by Barbara Casey, at Plum Village, June 2002


Barbara: Rochelle, how did you come to live in Holland?

Rochelle: I was born and raised in the United States. During my first year of college my father became the director of the American International School in the Netherlands. So the next summer I went to Holland for vacation. I decided to stay a year, and then I never returned to the U.S. I was a very angry young woman, and I was particularly angry about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I had many friends who had gone to Sweden or to Canada to avoid the draft, and I felt a lot of solidarity with them.

I was also scared, because in the United States they had shot students who were protesting the war at Kent State University. In Europe I had such a sense of solidity from the culture, from the cities and cathedrals that were a thousand years old. I liked Holland because it’s a very small country that has integrated many cultures and many religions, and I really appreciated that there were fifty-two political parties. It’s a socialist government and somehow the people are able to work together. There were a lot of anti-war demonstrations, and I had no fear when participating. I found work and friends in Holland. So I’m American by birth and Dutch by choice!

Barbara: Tell us a little about the work that you are doing now.

Rochelle: The story starts many years ago when I was in training to become a midwife. I was critically injured in a car accident in 1980, the only survivor of a front-on collision. I was in the hospital and rehabilitation for almost two years. There were a number of times that I didn’t think I was going to survive. I have a clear memory of a near-death experience that changed my outlook on what I perceived death and life to be. During this experience I was not attached to my body, and I had a deep experience of being pain free, of being surrounded by a sense of well-being, support, love, and life. I felt that I had a choice to go towards the light or to return to my body. I was able to bring back that deep awakening with me when I returned to consciousness. I had a real sense that I had work still to do on earth.

That experience helped me begin to learn to live with chronic pain. As I started to deal with chronic physical pain I realized I also carried a lot of chronic emotional pain. At this time I met Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who is a well-known Swiss-American psychiatrist and has done a lot of work dealing with the taboos around death and dying. I was her translator during a workshop called “Life, Death and Transition.” I felt very strongly that my new work would be helping people process their suffering. I spent much of the time between 1984 to 1988 in the United States and Europe, doing workshops and training with Elisabeth and her staff. Because of my accident and resulting handicaps, I received disability pay from the government. I did not want that kind of financial support, I wanted to be independent and self-supporting.  But in hindsight it’s been a blessing because it’s given me the freedom to develop the work I’m doing now.

In 1985 I started working primarily with people with HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands. I didn’t decide to work with these people in particular, but it was the group that was calling me and the door that opened. It was such an honor to be with people who had been afflicted with great suffering very young in life, and to witness their process of healing before they died. Their suffering included a great deal of stigmatization and misunderstanding and I have always felt an affinity to those issues.

In the beginning I worked primarily with gay men, but before long there were many people of mixed backgrounds including college students, middle aged women who were infected through their husbands, people using drugs intravenously, prostitutes, people in prisons, and people who had sex with someone who was infected. There were also children who were infected during birth and those who were orphans, because both parents were ill or had died of AIDS. Before there was any medication for treatment (AZT only became available in 1987,) I mostly worked with death and dying issues because people had an average life expectancy of only about thirteen months after diagnosis. Later as more medications became available, we were able to work through much of the pain and suffering at a deeper level through our Homecoming workshops, and to nourish the resulting peacefulness with mindfulness retreats.

In 1989 I set up my own foundation, called Fire Butterfly Foundation for Conscious Living and Dying. “The butterfly is a universal symbol of the soul freed from the confinement of the body. Fire stands for the accelerated transformation process which occurs when we’re confronted with our own impending death. People with a limited life expectancy can meet this challenge and increase the quality of their own lives and of those around them in a powerful and positive manner.” Rochelle Griffin

I feel that I have become a midwife in other phases of life, and am often a midwife for men too! My work has to do with finding out who we really are deep inside. In doing so we can discover that we’re really not as isolated and as alienated as we may have felt through our upbringing, that there is an energy in us that connects us as human beings to each other and to the universe. I wanted the groups to be mixed with young and old, gay and not-gay, men and women, and parents with children. Also caregivers would come to the workshop thinking it was going to be five days of lecture, but all this work is experiential, and that is what really helps to be a better caregiver. You can help others better when you understand that you’re not alone. When you’ve worked through your own feelings of anger, fear, grief, hopelessness, and helplessness, then you can be with others as they experience their own pain and suffering, without interrupting their process and without offering solutions. I don’t think that you can actually accompany people on this path futher than you have dared to go yourself. In trusting this process, we can tune into a different level of knowing what is best for us from inside out. And then we can trust that others will find their own way too, and we can be there for them, keep them safe, and encourage them to find their own answers.

In about 1982, a friend suggested that it might be helpful for me to learn to deal with my chronic physical pain by learning some form of meditation practice. I enrolled in a weekend retreat in a Christian abbey where Zen was practiced, and in that first weekend I discovered that instead of denying pain it was possible to go right into the heart of the pain and to sit in it. The pain transformed, and there came a great space where pain was present but it wasn’t only my pain, there was a sense of collective supportive energy. I also realized that my pain increased by resisting it and trying to deal with it alone. I practiced on this path for about fifteen years before I found Thay.

Barbara: Can you give us an example of some of the processes you offer in your Homecoming workshops?

Rochelle: People come to me when they find out they’re ill, usually. Or there are families, or healthcare givers, for instance, who are dealing with burn out. To prepare for a workshop, which is a very deep experience, we ask for a lot of medical information and we also do an extensive professional intake, so that we know who’s coming and if it’s appropriate for them to attend.

Usually the workshops have about fifteen to twenty-five participants and two to three staff members. It’s a very mixed group. I don’t work exclusively with people with AIDS any more because many of the doctors and healthcare services in Holland are referring people with other diseases and people with war trauma, abandonment or sexual, physical, and emotional abuse issues. Everyone seeking their own answers in dealing with issues related to loss and change are welcome to apply.

People will come thinking, “I’m coming to learn how to die,” or “I’m coming to learn how to live,” but they discover that they’ve been carrying a kind of backpack around almost all their lives they feel a weight on their shoulders that they can’t explain, so bit by bit we take some of the stuff out of that backpack and look at it. We bring the dark parts into the light and in doing so, we discover that we were actually more dead than alive by carrying this weight around! As a facilitator, my primary job is to create a physically and emotionally safe environment for this to happen.

In the beginning of the workshop we set a number of agreements about how we’ll be together, about confidentiality and how it’s okay to share our feelings, to be angry, to cry, to feel fear and express it by screaming, for instance, and it’s also okay to be quiet. We begin expressing feelings gradually, but because it’s a group process it goes very quickly but quite deep.

The first evening we have a candlelight memorial ceremony for the many losses that we have had in our lives. People just say a word or a name as they’re lighting a candle. The next morning we do some teaching around what we consider natural emotions that we are born with and enable us to survive in the world, and we teach how they become distorted in our lives, often causing more suffering. That is our ‘unfinished business.’ For example, there was a man recently who was feeling a great deal of fear and there’s nothing more scary than working with fear. I invited him to come forward and I explained: We work only with that what is present in this moment, so if you feel ready to explore this, sit down here and tell me what you’re feeling in your body, because we always start with the body. I started with a relaxation and guided meditation with awareness of breathing. The body gives us a lot of information, it’s as though the cells have a memory. This man shared that he felt as though there was a brick in his belly, it was really hard and black on the outside and bright red inside and less solid. This gave me some indication that there might be a layer of fear (the hard outer layer). The blackness could represent grief, surrounding a lot of anger represented by the inner, red, more fluid part, telling me that it could be explosive and dangerous if released unexpectedly. He told his story of having been a Spanish immigrant child, living in Germany with his family. He was left alone a lot of the time. His father was unhappy with his work and he’d become an alcoholic. His mother worked as a cleaning lady, and was away much of the time. The mother and children were abused by the father when he was drunk. This kid spent more and more time on the street, got involved in a gang to feel that he belonged somewhere and was caught dealing drugs. He was sent to jail, and in jail he was raped, and in the process he was infected with HIV. He had so much fear about getting into his feelings because he thought, If I really get into my feelings I’ll kill someone, and I don’t want to kill people, I don’t want to continue this vicious cycle, I want to stop it!


I explained: This mattress we are sitting on is the boundary, this is where you can get out all your rage and your grief, step by step. Gradually he opened into his deepest feelings and he got into some very deep rage, and what he found beyond that rage was the little child that he’d been when he was three years old. Discovering this child, he sobbed deeply. At three years old, he had been taken care of by his grandmother in Spain while his parents went to Germany to work. She was his security and his love, but she died, and he had to go to Germany to be with his mom and dad, and as the family became increasingly dysfunctional, he was hurt very much in many ways. But when he was able to get into contact with that little child in himself, he again felt the joy and peace that he’d missed for a long time. He came to understand some of the ways that he had learned to neglect and abuse that child, which empowered him to take charge of his life. He began to understand that his parents had done the best they could under the circumstances. Eventually he was able to forgive his parents and himself.

I have found that this work of dealing with our feelings in a very direct way helps us to connect with our ancestors and connect with our spiritual self. We’re not teaching people to beat on telephone books or pillows continually. Sometimes people might need to do that a couple times just to get a sense that they can be angry without getting to the point that they will kill someone. In this way they learn the difference between healthy anger which enables us to say ‘no’, to be assertive and set limits, and distorted anger when we can hurt ourselves and our loved ones. I’ve worked with quite a few war veterans and people in prisons who have killed people, to help them understand that deeper inside there’s a very wounded child who needs to be healed and cared for. When we can access that child, the healing occurs, and the forgiveness develops. I think forgiveness, including self-forgiveness is a very important issue.

Barbara: Do you use conscious breathing in this process?

Rochelle: I do help people to become aware of their breathing how deep, how free it might be in a particular moment. The breath is a key tool that can be used to access the body and to understand what is going on inside, beyond the thinking. I’m very skilled in observing body language.

In the Homecoming workshop we present this work through a form of Gestalt therapy, which is a mixture of a number of psychotherapy techniques. It’s based in healing wounds so that we can come to a place of peace and joy, so that we can live our life with a sense of aliveness instead of merely surviving. Breathing is a real tool. I often will tune in to someone’s breath to understand more deeply where he or she is emotionally at that moment. Our breathing tells us a lot. I become aware of my breathing to see where it’s stopping or where it’s flowing or if it’s smooth or not smooth, kind of like taking my emotional temperature. I explore the places in my body asking for attention (by being painful, closed, restricted, cold, or empty) during my in-breath and offer space and relaxation with the out-breath. In the workshops we begin and end the day with mindfulness meditation, and do walking and sitting meditation with the participants. In the workshop we also demonstrate how we can effectively become better caregivers. If someone has survived and transformed a certain experience of suffering, others can be nourished when that story is witnessed and understood.

Conscious breathing plays a role in the workshops as it does in the dying process. When people become more ill and closer to death, mindful breathing becomes more and more conscious, because when you have no energy, what else can you do but breathe? Through your breathing, you can connect to your emotions, as a way of releasing, letting go, and relaxing. Also as a way of connecting to what is and to that which we are holding on to and avoiding.

This last winter I was very ill with pneumonia and was having a hard time breathing, and I was so grateful that I know how to connect with my breathing through mindfulness practice. From my window in the intensive care unit in the hospital I could just see a small strip of sky between the buildings. I noticed the full moon outside and in this way I connected with my loved ones, and flowed with the pain, not denying anything, but able to connect with love, with life, and with support. I felt completely safe and at one with the universe.

Often people from one of my workshops will ask me to be with them or guide them in their dying process. One of the greatest fears that we have is the fear of dying alone. I don’t think we actually can die alone, but people often fear that they might. So I offer my service of being with them as they prepare to die.

Barbara: What do you mean when you say that you don’t believe that we can die alone?

Rochelle: I feel that we have a lot of help from both sides people with us in the present as well as from the collective consciousness. Often I hear stories from people who have been close to death, who say that a loved one who has already died is present, that their essence is present somehow during the dying process, and that this eases the fear and even can increase the sense of joy and peace in going towards death.

Often I will ask someone who is dying, “What do I tell people who want to know about dying? What is your message, your truth that you would like me to share?” The answer is always similar to how one friend expressed it: “You don’t need to be dying to start living. You can begin now, today. You can heal old pain and finish what is unfinished. Work through your grief, anger, fear and please do express your love enough! Then you can find peace in your life and in your death.”
– Jaap Jan, age 34, lived until 1995.

Barbara: As mindfulness practitioners, how can we best be with our loved ones who are ill or dying?

Rochelle: Mindfulness practice is so important because it makes us aware of the moment and of being present, and what sabotages us from being truly present. It can be real hard when it’s your own family member, especially when we have unfinished business, expectations, and unfulfilled longing.

We can learn to be instruments of peace. If we are firmly rooted on the earth, with our head touching the sky, connected to our source of spirituality in the universe, we can be an instrument between the universe and earth. Being peace in ourselves, making peace in our family and community, then we can facilitate the peace process with others. Understanding the breathing is a real tool because dying is not much else than a deep and total relaxation!

Barbara:At retreats we do semi-totally relaxation!

Rochelle: As long as we’re alive we don’t do that quite so totally as when we die!

Barbara: Right, right.

Rochelle: When we come into this world, we fill our lungs with breath, and this is the point of birth. At the end of life we breathe out and we die. I often offer breathing exercises and relaxation exercises to people going through the dying process. If you put a little more accent on the out-breath and it becomes a little bit longer, there is a point when there’s no breath, a still point. The in-breath is effort, and the out-breath is the relaxation or letting go.


Often I meet people who are so concerned about life after this life, or life before this life. I feel we have our hands full with our suffering and our joy in this life! I sometimes wonder if we actually are able to experience life before we die. Many people seem just to be coping to survive, without feeling really alive. So what I do is to bring what we experience as painful and that which we deny or run away from, into our consciousness so that it can heal.

I’ll tell you a story about a really good friend of mine who died a few years ago. He had to have lung surgery, and he’d asked me to be present while he went through this. I stayed with him for the weekend afterwards. He was in and out of consciousness, and every time he became conscious he would grab my hand and not want to let go. But as he would relax and kind of slip away, I let go.  I stayed in a very light physical contact with him with my little finger just touching his, but not with the grasping. And I continued to breathe with him. I would support his breathing with my breath by making it a little audible.

As he came around and awakened, he said, “Rochelle, your being here has felt very supportive, but why did you keep letting go of my hand?”

I explained, “I wasn’t sure if it was your time to go, and I wanted you to feel free. I wanted to be present with you, whichever way you needed to go.”

“Oh,” he said, “I understand. I was grasping.” And I said, “Yes, and I wanted you to know that you had the choice, the courage, and the freedom to do what you needed to do for yourself.”

A few months later he was near death, and I went to the hospital, as he was asking for me. This was Saturday morning and the plan had been for him to go home on Monday so he would be able die at home, probably later that same week. But he was becoming very weak and his breathing was labored. I came into the room I looked at him and he looked at me, and I said, “You know, you are going home.” And he nodded. He knew. I added, “But, we cannot take you to your house, do you understand that?” And he nodded again. He had an oxygen mask on. I asked him, “Do you want me to come sit with you, and do you want me to guide you through this?”


He motioned with his hand, inviting me to sit close by on the bed. He took the oxygen mask off himself.

I said, “Allow yourself to be fully aware of your breathing, and follow your in-breath and your out-breath. Just in between the in and out-breath there is a still point where there is only stillness, before the in-breath starts again. Can you feel that? Gradually, allow your out-breath to become a little bit longer, and just relax into that. Is that okay for you?”

He laid his hand very gently down next to mine, not grasping. He looked at me as if to say, “I got it, I don’t have to hold on any more.” In a few breaths he relaxed completely and his breathing stopped.

It is so touching to witness this letting go, fully conscious and without resistance. He was a great teacher. That was a gift.

Barbara: Where do you see the direction of your work continuing?

Rochelle: I see myself as a privileged listener and I go where I am invited. My hope, my vision, is that my story will be an inspiration for other people to develop their own ways of healing into their own life and death. I’ve trained a few people to continue working with the emotions as I learned from Elisabeth. I’ve done this work throughout Europe, and also in Israel and the USA. At present there are fewer people dying from AIDS, so our center in Holland has become more  of  a  mindfulness practice center for anyone interested in exploring their own answers around loss and change.

In addition to this work in Holland, we have opened a center in Spain where I’ve also been working for the last ten years and there is a team trained to offer similar work there. The last couple of years I’ve been invited to Israel several times, and with the situation in the Mideast right now, I think there’s an awful lot of work to do there.  And there’s the AIDS crisis in Africa, Central and South America, and Asia. Some of the newer pain medications have become available in Vietnam for people with cancer; however this medication and nearly all medical care, is denied the people dying of AIDS. I do not have the illusion that I am going to all of those places, but there is much to be done. I’m watching to see what doors open as I continue being a privileged listener and training others to be also.

What I’ve learned very deeply because I’ve been so ill, is we have to take the time to take care of ourselves. We can’t care for anybody else until we take care of ourselves. At present I’m in a new phase of finding my personal balance between doing and not doing.

Barbara: Do you live in chronic pain still?

Rochelle: I have some pain always, in varying degrees, depending on how well I’ve been able to keep myself in balance. I use a combination of some medication, but mostly I use what I call my M.M.&M. therapy (meditation, massage and manual therapy) as well as taking care of my emotional needs and making time for myself to just gaze at the frogs in the pond. Every time someone dies or leaves, I feel the grief very physically. I recognize my grief when my heart feels closed off and often I feel physically cold and uncomfortable. What I’ve found is that I move through the grief process when I’m willing to go deeply into my feelings, including the resistance, by letting myself cry, feel anger, and whatever else I need to do. I am becoming more skillful at embracing these feelings without needing to express them fully; just recognizing them and their original source is often enough. Then my heart can open, be free, and feel supported by the love in the universe again. That’s what I think has helped me to repeatedly regain my balance, along with the support of my Sangha and my partner, throughout the eighteen years that I’ve worked so intensively in this field.

Barbara: As the process of birth has been brought out of the closet, you are helping to bring the process of dying into awareness also. We all need work like yours to help us to face death.

Rochelle: Yes. I’ve offered many trainings for volunteers and for healthcare professionals in the field of palliative care, and the work is always about our own issues. We often think, as professionals, we come into this work because we want to help others, but we have to help ourselves first. Because in dealing with dying people, if you aren’t completely authentic, they know! They are always a few steps ahead of us showing us the way!

Barbara: It’s like being with children.

Rochelle: Absolutely.  You can’t fool them at all.  They know when you’re being real and when you’re not!

Barbara: [laughs] That’s true! Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with the worldwide Sangha.

Rochelle: Thank you for asking.

Rochelle Griffin, True Light of Peace, Chân An Quang, practices with the Sangha Riverland. She lives with her partner, Jantien, and their golden retriever, ‘Gino-the-Joyful’ at the Vuurvlinder Center and Guesthouse for conscious living and dying, in Heerewaarden, a small village in the center of The Netherlands. Rochelle enjoys learning about the wild environmental needs of reptiles by breeding them in the safety of her large garden.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, is the managing editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

Photos by Harry Pelgrim.

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Poem: Time is a River


And Sister, our lives our made of water
entwined like root coil and ground swell
of the stuff that trees drink, wine of the world
swirled upward branched and twigged
in gladness of rising, ground to leaf and cloud.

The drop of rain that falls from leaf to grass
does not pass in secret, belongs to me:
is one of my shed tears for your pain.
And each leaf of each tree’s a prayer
that tells you every day I care, I care.


Judith Toy, Chan An Mon, True Door of Peace:I was asked to write this poem for a Sangha member whose sister has been diagnosed with MS.

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Walking in Nature

Brother Phap Son

The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, and incomprehensible at first,
Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than
words can tell.

– Walt Whitman

The other day, some of the brothers at Maple Forest Monastery went for a hike. It was a beautiful day, there was a sparkling freshness in the air.  The white, puffy clouds contrasted with the blue sky and the bright sun, making the day feel radiantly and intensely alive.

We walked on a trail that takes us through the property of a neighbor. Suddenly the trail became narrower and was flanked by large, old trees. There are not many trees around here that are as old as these. As I looked at the trees, my eyes moved across the old stone wall behind them and I contemplated the fields of waving long grasses, flowers of many kinds, and the forest beyond the fields. I felt that I was very fortunate and very rich.

I wondered how many people have had the opportunity to spend time with these trees and if their awesomeness, their subtle but clear message, is perceived and heard by many. These trees have been alive for many years, they have seen seasons come and go, people come and go, events come and go; yet they are still standing in the same place where they began as small seeds. Their message is their presence. I once had a group of trees say “hello” to me, as I felt their presence near the walking meditation path of the Upper Hamlet at Plum Village. I invite all of us to stop, listen, and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves. Whatever it is you may feel, be open to feel that and receive.

We continued our walk down the forest path, feeling a light joy and happiness, like children running through the forests, free and without concern. A couple of brothers took time to examine the different kinds of wild mushrooms that grow in the forest, with an eye to their edibility! The rest of us enjoyed the sounds, the smells, and the sights before us. The forest is quiet, but the trees make their solid and gentle presence felt, with their straight trunks blending with the thick green foliage. I felt small in comparison to their size, but somehow I also felt connected to them, as if I were part of them. This brought me a sense of peace and tranquility, a feeling of completeness within myself.

As a European, living here in the United States has made me appreciate the beauty and significance of nature. It is rare to find places where nature is relatively unburdened by human activity. I have come to see that places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mt. McKinley and Wonder Lake in Alaska, the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, and Death Valley are truly part of the great heritage of the people of this country. By being in touch with the preciousness of these places, I also feel compelled to understand what people like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams touched in nature that moved them to dedicate themselves to defending and protecting these treasures. These men are also part of the rich heritage of this country.

Thay has spoken often about the need for people to have roots, to be rooted in something good, wholesome, and beautiful, and how our modern way of living creates many hungry ghosts, people who don’t feel deeply connected to anything. Through these roots, these connections, we are able to feel the energy of love and caring. I think cultivating these roots, helping them grow, is more important than ever. Seeing the effects of the events of September eleventh here and on countries throughout the world, Thay’s instructions to develop roots makes more sense than ever. I see it as indispensable to a happy life. Through our practice of stopping, of coming back to ourselves, to mindfulness of our breathing, of our walking, our eating, our speaking, we can ground ourselves and open our eyes to the beauties around us. This results in our feeling nourished and more integrated, more whole.

Some of the brothers here at Maple Forest have offered part of their monthly allowance to environmental groups that help to defend environmental laws, that educate young people about the wilderness, that help to protect and preserve these precious places. There are many caring groups doing good work that can benefit from our support and concern.

There are things we can do to help heal our planet and preserve the natural treasures we have inherited. Part of the practice of Engaged Buddhism is to support groups and individuals who are doing their best to care for the environment.

Brother Chan Phap Son, True Dharma Mountain, is a monk and Dharma Teacher in Maple Forest Monastery in Vermont.

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Walking for Peace Globally

Lyn Fine

Walking Meditation

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will walk for ourselves.
We will walk for everyone.
Always hand in hand.
We will enjoy our walk.
Without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the earth with your feet.
Print on earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe.
When we feel in us enough safety.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Global Peacewalks began in Jerusalem, in New York City, and in Berkeley, California, on Mothers Day in May, 2002. Now there are twenty-five to thirty communities who have participated in these walks.

We gather in a public place on the third Sunday of each month. Instead of carrying banners and chanting slogans, we walk slowly and silently. This helps us step into the source of understanding and compassion within us, and hold everyone with care. We are walking to offer compassion, and to learn that love is possible as a genuine way of life, even in the presence of rage and fear. Violence in any form is a tragedy that stops all of us from sharing a life of harmony and abundance. Coming together to embody peace can restore our hope and vision. True and sustainable peace is a process and can be created by peaceful means.

A Long Tradition

Walking for peace has a long tradition, and includes Maha Ghosananda’s walking in Cambodia, Peace Pilgrim’s walking in the USA, and Gandhi’s walking in India. In Israel the Vipassana mindfulness community has sponsored week-long silent walks which have drawn hundreds of people.

The idea for these Third Sunday Global Peacewalks arose during a conversation with Miki Kashtan, a trainer in Nonviolent Communication, an Israeli living in the United States, and a friend. We were both feeling sad about the polarization that was occurring in so many of the demonstrations that claimed to be working for peace. We wanted to offer a way to connect globally and to generate peaceful energy. Walking meditation seemed a wonderful skillful means.

Beginning on Mother’s Day was quite auspicious, as it helped us reconnect with the peacemaking origin of Mother’s Day. In the 1870s in the USA, Julia Ward Howe called on the women of the world to “leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.” “Let them meet first, as women,” she wrote, “to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”

Start a Peacewalk

The website, www.walkingforpeace.org, offers stories about past Peacewalks, organizing tips, and contact information for the walks in different cities. Any Sangha or individual is welcome to organize a walk.

Lyn Fine, True Goodness, was ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh as a Dharmacarya in 1994. She lives in Berkeley, California, and offers guidance to many Sanghas around the world.

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Ashoka’s  Transformation

Paméla  Overeynder


About twenty-three hundred years ago, there was an emperor in Northern India called Ashoka, who waged many wars in the early years of his reign to expand his empire. Maybe he thought he was protecting his people. We understand that he was a very unhappy man.

One day after a particularly terrible battle, he walked on the battlefield. He was aghast at the carnage he had caused, bodies of men and animals strewn everywhere. At that moment, he looked up and saw a Buddhist monk walking peacefully across the field of dead bodies. Ashoka asked the monk how he came to be happy and peaceful. The monk was able to walk peacefully and with happiness because he was filled with compassion and because he had transformed his own suffering.

Because of the presence of this one radiantly peaceful human being, Ashoka became a student of Buddhism and stopped waging wars. Instead he focused on feeding his people and meeting their basic needs. He transformed himself from a tyrant into a well-respected ruler and changed the course of history. His son and daughter later transmitted Buddhism from India to Shri Lanka and from there the teachings spread to Burma and Thailand and throughout the world. This one monk and this one emperor literally changed the course of history. Because of them, many, many people have transformed their own suffering and helped others to overcome suffering.

We walk for peace in Austin, Texas because we know that we are all interconnected. We know that when one of us suffers we all suffer. There is no ‘other.’We know that when one of us transforms her suffering, everyone is transformed. We are the world and right now there is tremendous suffering in our world.

We are walking to practice peace in ourselves, and we will continue to cultivate that peace until it is reflected at the national and international level. Then, like Ashoka, we will use our resources to feed our so-called enemies and put an end to unnecessary suffering.

Paméla Overeynder, Chan Tue Nhat, True Sun of Understanding is a founding member of the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. Pamela is also a member of the Hill-Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship,


The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is an international organization founded in 1978 to bring a Buddhist perspective to the peace movement, and to bring the peace movement to the Buddhist community. Its members seek to practice engagement in the suffering of the world. touchingpeace@earthlink.net

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A Winter Peacewalk

Judith Toy

It is the third Sunday in December. As usual, wearing white, I am the first person to arrive at an empty Pack Square in the city of Asheville, North Carolina, while Philip parks the car.

I slowly circumambulate the rounded brick walk below the obelisk of Vance Monument, keeping company with actual-size hog and turkey statues commemorating Asheville’s farming origins. In our new age, the critters are bronze. I begin the process of deep quieting soften the belly, regulate the breath. Notice the brisk wind. I should have dressed more warmly.

Two men and two women cluster across the street in front of the noodle shop—talking with lively gestures the younger couple draped in stark white, head to foot. Will they walk with us? The girl is young and ebullient and spreads her white shawl’s wings like a great peace bird floating about the other three.

Having landed a parking space, Philip arrives looking like a hatted ice cream man, with creamy muffler flowing over his shoulder. Here comes the peace bird and her flock across the street toward us.  Are you walking with us?  Yes, yes.

We introduce ourselves and chat a bit, find these four are from Hickory, a city fifty miles east. And here arrives a lithe Buddhist woman, properly hatted and gloved, from  the Anatasatti Magga Sangha! We begin our slow walk with no signs, no banners. Just follow our breath.

From the corner of my eye, I see two more Buddhists, handsome young men from the Shambala Group, catching up, bringing up the rear. We walk as one body. We are Buddha’s monks without bowls in the ancient Indian city of Maggada. Nine of us. Slow. With dignity. Into the crowd.

I notice the eyes of passersby and imagine what they’re thinking. “Oh my God, those people are weird. I can’t look. Oh no, they’re coming this way. Think I’ll duck into this store and let them pass. Aah, drug burnouts. What a beautiful smile on that one,” and so on.

I hope we don’t frighten folks. A curly headed child is throwing a screaming fit on the far corner. A woman with a red hat and red lips, coming our way, questions us with her eyes. Philip offers her one of our handouts. She takes it and smiles. A storekeeper leaves her shop to place her palms together and bow. We bow back. Two mothers, heads down, children firmly in tow, pass by mutely and quickly, facing away from us. They seem to be stomping. This is when I notice that our own footsteps are silent, like Cherokees in the Appalachian forest.

The curly headed child breaks away from her mother and runs, to stop and stand defiantly, curious, before us. I know she feels our calm and wants to drink it. With a look of apology, her mother whisks her away from the strangers.

Sky so blue. Deco buildings, red tile roof in sun. Philip and I keep step. It is good, this marriage, having this other self. We hold hands. This is our path. Sometimes we lead with both left feet. Sometimes his right and my left. We do not jay walk. At the side streets when the lights change, we feel ourselves wanting to fly across to the other side, but still we maintain our slow pace. A hundred perfect pigeons soar up over rooftops right before our eyes. Suddenly, the sky’s translucent.

In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment, only moment. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment, only moment. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, present moment…wind bites, hands icy, gut serene. Noticing that I am empty, I am no longer empty.

Motorcycle with cute rider, rock music, passes. Lots of bundled shoppers. It’s Christmas. This moment is the meaning of everything Van Halen, shoppers and gawkers and walking for peace, spreading our peace, gifting ourselves, gifting the world with our pleasure in peace.

We spy our next door neighbor, Rose, leaving the Roman Catholic basilica.   Does she see us?   Does she not want to recognize us? Oh well. We walk gently on the sidewalks, murmur with our feet to the smothered earth below, kiss the mother. Now we enter the door of the warm dark basilica, its candle  wax and incense and faint Gregorian chants. We pass the huge heating vents, feel glad for this sanctuary from the wind. Still walking slowly, following breath, from left to right, we pass before Mary the Mother of God, the candle alcove, the shrine room, and Jesus Himself breathing in Jesus, breathing out Jesus and back to the bright outdoors, past the sacred shops, past the sacred shoppers, past the honking horns and lights and holiday sale signs and brave-hearted dogs on leashes. It is the same in the street as in the church, this harmony of body and mind.

Judith Toy, Chan An Mon, True Door of Peace, lives with her husband, Philip and practices with Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, NC. She is working on a nonfiction book, Sitting on Fire, the Zen of Forgiveness.

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In Mindful Memory

In Memory of Nora de Graaf True Fruition – 1917-2003
A Lover of Silence and of Life

“Am I going to die?” Nora asked, ten days before her death, more curious than fearful. “Are you ready to die?” one of her many visitors asked. There was silence.

“Yes,” Nora said, with the quiet conviction that characterized her life. Days later, she requested, “Open the window, the butterfly wants to fly away.” The next afternoon, the butterfly left. Nora de Graaf, friend and teacher, “Mother” of the Dutch Sangha, was gone.

Her quest to understand and bring meaning to her life began as a young woman. She studied with many religious teachers and collected an extensive library of teachings. She met Thich Nhat Hanh in the early 1980’s, and felt a lasting and deep heart connection with him. Her own teachings attracted more and more people, and she quietly and firmly laid the foundation for the current Dutch Sangha. In 1992, she received the lamp transmission and became a Dharmacarya.

Nora was a light for many in the Netherlands. She sought to understand her own suffering — including dealing with the progressive nervous disorder, Parkinson’s disease — which helped her to understand others’ suffering.  She helped many people discover the healing power of silence. Nora had a passionate love of life, expressed through music and gardening, and especially through her encounters with everyone she met. Her daughter Nel, her friend Sietske, and many from the Dutch Sangha were present for a simple and moving ceremony during which family and friends remembered Nora, before setting her to rest in a beautiful cemetery under high old trees.

Offered by Dutch Sangha members Sietske Roegholt, Eveline Beumkes, Shelley Anderson, and Francoise Pottier.


In Memory of Alexandra Glankoff

It is with great sadness that the Community of Mindfulness Metro New York shares that Alexandra Glankoff, a cherished member of our Tuesday night Sangha for many years, died on January 19, 2003.  Alexandra was traveling with friends and drowned while swimming off the coast of Verkala in southern India. Her presence in our community is greatly missed. Alexandra was a NewYork City public school teacher and was pursuing a Doctorate in Urban Education at the City University of New York. She also sat with the Educators’ Sangha, sharing how she integrated mindfulness practice into her work. She taught her students to use mindfulness meditation as a concentration practice prior to examinations, and invited the mindfulness bell to bring her students back to the present moment. She loved working with inner city teenagers, and among her contributions were coauthoring a multicultural curriculum, coaching a championship debating team, and directing a video with teenagers entitled, “Consider Us! The Children’s Rights Collective, Working Together For Our Tomorrow.”

Alexandra and I were in the same family and discussion group at Plum Village in 2002. She shared that she had been suffering from seizures caused by a head injury that occurred several years before in a car accident, which had left her in a coma for several days and taken the life of her mother. Because of the seizures, Alexandra took a leave of absence from teaching to heal, to grow, and to reflect on her life.

While at Plum Village, Alexandra came to know and greatly admire Sr. Khe Nghiem, who showed her great kindness and one time walked with her through the woods of Lower Hamlet to a small lake. Alexandra shared that walk with me, and returning, we saw a deer in the distance. Reflecting the golden light of the setting sun, the deer jumped over the thigh high sunflowers, appearing and disappearing as it jumped through the field. The golden grace of that leaping deer was a treasure we shared. Alexandra was just like that deer.

Bernadette Pye, Tuesday night Sangha, with Gloria Schwartz, Educator’s Sangha

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A story retold by Terry Masters


Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat. There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages two years old to fourteen years old.

“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile. “Please come sit with me.” They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“It snowed!” Julia Kate, who is six years old, informs him enthusiastically.

“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins. “It was so little!”

“But it was snow!” she insists. “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”

“She did!” Alex, the nine year old, says. “And it hit me!” “Well, what did you do?”

“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate. “Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children. “Do you have any questions for me today?”

“I do,” Eliana, a seven year old, says softly. “What is your question, Eliana?”

“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues, “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?” Chan Huy looks at the child. There is a long moment of silence.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.

After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers. The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.

“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.

“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.” “Hmmm.”  Chan Huy pauses.  Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”

Eliana thinks for a moment. We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child? What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.

Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’” The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.

“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head. He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips. She begins to sing. The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.

Breathing In
Breathing Out
I am blooming like a flower
I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as a mountain
I am firm as the earth
I am free.

Breathing In
Breathing out
I am water reflecting
What is real, what is true
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me
I am free, I am free I am free.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She has owned a summer educational day camp for twenty-two years and helps coordinate and teach the children’s program in her Sangha.

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 Sanghas in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.

Drawing by Shea Lyndsey Griffin, age 10.

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Making up Songs

Sister Annabel

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Do you ever make up songs? Sometimes when we write the words to a song we don’t have music for it, so we use the music from another song that we already know.

In English we have a very old song called “Greensleeves,” but the words are not inspiring. The first word of that song is, “Alas!” Alas means, “Oh, dear! What a shame! Things aren’t going right!” Greensleeves starts off, “Alas! My love, you do me wrong.” It’s not such a good start for a song! You want to have a more positive beginning.

The song says, everything’s going wrong. We often get a lot of wrong news instead of the right news, so we want to have something going right in our song. The words don’t give us much energy to do what we really want to do, so we can change it a little bit.

The word “sleeve” in the song “Greensleeves” refers to the sleeve of a coat, and it means that the woman the singer loved wore a coat that was the color green. But there are other things that are green. For instance, the planet Earth has a green coat. It’s made up of the forest and the grass, and it’s very beautiful. So why don’t we change the song and talk about the green coat of Mother Earth? This will make us feel happy about Mother Earth. So instead of saying, “Alas! My love, you did me wrong,” we could say something like,

How beautiful the green grass is—
It covers the planet Earth.
How beautiful the green grass is.
I vow to keep it fresh.
Green grass is all my joy,
And green grass is my delight.
Green grass is the spring’s gift.
I vow to take care of the green grass.

In this version of the song you make a deep aspiration like the Buddha did when he sat at the foot of the tree: that you will look after the grass. Because if we don’t have green grass then we don’t have the other species – all the animals that live in the green grass and live by the green grass and eat the green grass– and we need these species.

There are so many songs with beautiful music but the words aren’t quite right yet. So if you find a song that needs more positive words and you put in new words, I think that is very helpful for our world. Then we can sing about things which can help the world become a more beautiful place.

Excerpted from a Dharma talk to children on June 25, 2001. Sister Chan Duc, True Virtue, is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Watering Seeds: An Exercise for Children

Terry  Masters

This is an exercise I have done with the children I teach. Please adapt it to work in your situation. The teacher’s comments are in bold, the children’s responses are in italics.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:
2 clear wide mouth jars or plastic cups
or cut the top off a clear plastic water bottle
2 paper towels
8 lima or pinto beans
1 permanent marker (for everyone to use)

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note: Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions:
Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel. Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel. Fill it about 3/4 full. Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup. Make a lot of space between the beans. Like us, beans like freedom! Please do the same with the other cup.

Note: We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds. One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy. For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you? Does it make you happy when you smile at others? If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing. What makes you truly happy?
Playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises.

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name yourbeans afterways that do not make you happy. For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry? If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.” Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy. What makes you unhappy?
Fights, war, stealing, not sharing.

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

These beans are seeds. If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants. What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants?
Soil, air, light, and water.
You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds. Which bean seeds do you want to grow?
Only the Happiness seeds.
How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow?
Give them what they need: soil, air, water, and light.
How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing?
Do not give them soil, air, water, and/or light.

Help the children water their Happiness Beans. They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups. We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing, and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us.
Note: Be sure to include the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing, and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us.
Note: Be sure to include the “unhappy seeds “ which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our seeds grow, too. Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light, and water, they will grow. Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.


What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air?
Freedom, space, time.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light?
To notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.


What are some ways we can water (and not water) the seeds inside ourselves?
With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves:
Practice:“One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.”
Awareness: “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.”
Don’t concentrate: “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.”
Check my perceptions: “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend. Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?”
Act nice: “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.”
Say a Gatha: “One way to water the seed of appreciation, is to say the Five Contemplations gatha.”
Breathe in and out: “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.”
Don’t watch mean TV or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio: “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.”
Understand: “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.”
Take Three Steps: “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps.

  1. Enjoy things that make me happy. 2. Notice when I am sad.
  2. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

Two sources for grown-ups: Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh, available from Parallax Press.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue.

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Children’s Compassion

Practiced by Linden, a four year old

A story retold by Mai Nguyen

I heard this story from Sr Thoai Nghiem after she returned from leading a retreat in Devon, England.   She said:   I was recently visiting in the home of Helen and Martin Pitt and  their four-year-old son, Linden. Helen told me this story.

“The weather was cold outside, and although we had the heat on in the house, it was still a bit chilly inside. I was in the kitchen, looking for some scissors. I couldn’t find them in the drawer. ‘That’s odd,’ I thought to myself. Then I had the frightening feeling that Linden had the scissors! I called out to my child. He didn’t answer. I called and I walked quickly through the rooms looking for him. I began to be quite concerned.”

I could see that the mother had been very worried about her child. It showed in her face even now, weeks later, as she told me the story.

“As you can see, Sister,” Helen continued, “on the table over there we have a wooden Buddha statue with a cloth covering the Buddha’s shoulders.”

I glanced at the lovely statue.

“Well,” Helen said, “When I stepped into the door of this room, I was stunned at what I saw. Linden had the scissors. He had cut a small jagged patch of his hair from the front of his head. I saw that he was placing his cut hair onto the head of the Buddha statue.”

“Oh hello Mummy,” Linden said when he saw me.  “The Buddha is cold,” he said, “I hope my hair will keep him warm!” Helen laughed when she saw how funny her son looked  with his new self-created hairstyle. Then she hugged him warmly. “I am deeply touched by your loving gesture to the Buddha,”

Helen said to her son, “even the Buddha in a wooden form.”

Mai Nguyen, Chan My, True Beauty, resides in London, England and is a recently ordained Dharma teacher and long-time student of Thich Nhat Hanh.


Practiced by Hu, a six year old

A story told by Thich Nhat Hanh

In A Pebble for your Pocket, Thay tells a story of a little boy who was confused about who and where the Buddha is. Thay says that Hu was six or seven years old when he asked his parents if he could become a monk. He became a student of Thay’s.

“When he first became a monk, Hu believed that the Buddha loved bananas, mangoes, and tangerines because every time people came to the temple, they brought bananas, mangoes, tangerines and other fruit, and placed them in front of the Buddha. In Hu’s little head that could only mean that the Buddha loved fruit very much.

“Hu imagined that the Buddha sat very still all day long, and when the hall was empty, he reached out for a banana. Hu waited and watched, hoping to see the Buddha take one of the bananas piled in front of him. He waited for a long time, but he did not see the Buddha pick up a banana. He was baffled. He could not understand why the Buddha did not eat any of the bananas that people brought to him.

“Hu did not dare ask the head monk, because he was afraid that the monk would think he was silly. Actually, we often feel like that. We do not dare ask questions because we are afraid we might be called silly. The same was true for Hu. And because he didn’t dare ask, he was confused. I think I would have gone to someone and asked. But Hu did not ask anyone.

“As he grew older, one day it occurred to him that the Buddha statue was not the Buddha! What an achievement! This realization made him so happy. But then a new question arose. ‘If the Buddha is not here, then where is he? If the Buddha is not in the temple, where is the Buddha?’ Every day he saw people come to the temple and bow to the statue of the Buddha. But where was the Buddha?

“I met Hu when he was fourteen, and he was still wondering about this. I explained to him that the Buddha is not far away from us. I told him that the Buddha is inside each one of us. Being a Buddha is being aware of what is inside of us and around us at every moment. Buddha is the love and understanding that we each carry in our hearts. This made Hu very happy.

“Anywhere you see love and understanding, there is the Buddha. Anyone can be a Buddha. Do not imagine that the Buddha is a statue or someone who has a fancy halo around his or her head or wears a yellow robe. A Buddha is a person who is aware of what is going on inside and around him or her and has a lot of understanding and compassion. Whether a Buddha is a man or a woman, young or not so young, a Buddha is always very pleasant and fresh.”

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The Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam

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Touching and Helping Programs in Vietnam Sponsorship Form

Name ______________________________
Address ______________________________
City ______________________________
State ______________________________
Zip code Country Telephone ______________________________
E-mail ______________________________

I wish to sponsor (please circle and fill in appropriate lines):

~ for $6 a month or $72 a year
A preschool toddler in a daycare center or a 5-yr-old child in kindergarden
to receive 2 cups of milk and lunch every day at schoo ____boy(s) girl(s)
A young college student boy(s) girl(s) or a destitute elderly or handicapped person male(s) female(s)

~ for $25 a month or $300 a year
A teacher(s) going to remote rural areas to teach children in kindergarten through grade school levels (ages 5-12) ____a teenager(s) to receive vocational training in traditional Vietnamese crafts: woodworking, embroidery, tailoring, carpentry, mechanics and electricity ____boy(s) ____ girl(s)

~ donation amount (specified by you)
Sponsor development programs in rural areas to build schools, build bridges, plant trees, dig wells, and make roads Support victims of monsoon floods and natural catastrophies to receive medical support and food and blankets

Please make your check payable to Unified Buddhist Church, a non-profit organization.

All money will be given to the persons who need help. No charge is deducted for administrative costs. Please send to or for more information contact Touching and Helping Committees
Europe: Plum Village, 13 Martineau 33580 Dieulivol, France
East Coast USA: Green Mountain Dharma Center Box 182 , Hartland-Four-Corners, VT 05049
West Coast USA: Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026

You are helping many people to lessen their hunger, to feel the love of humanity and to improve their lives. This act will continue its way to strengthen hope, understanding and compassion in each of us. Our way of living and relating to the world in the present is the base for social changes. We look forward to receiving support from you.

A lotus for you, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness) and the Touching and Helping Committees

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Sangha Building

by Thich Nhat Hanh

From a Dharma Talk at Joongang Sangha University for monks and nuns in Kimpo, Korea on March 31st, 2003


My dear friends, according to my experience the study of Buddhism and the practice of Buddhism should always go together.  It is not possible to learn the teachings first and then begin to practice because it is by practicing that we understand the teachings, not just by listening and studying. We might think that we have understood the Heart Sutra but then ten years later we realize that we did not. Thanks to our practice, thanks to confrontation with difficulties and suffering we begin to really understand. Suffering plays a very important role in helping us to understand the teachings of the Buddha. Thirty years of war in Vietnam have helped me to understand Buddhism more profoundly.

When I was a young novice learning about the three refuges and the five precepts I thought that I understood them. But now I see that my understanding was very superficial. My understanding of taking refuge in the Buddha has been evolving through the years. After sixty years I continue to see more deeply into the practice of taking refuge. Taking refuge in the Buddha is something you practice all day long. You can take refuge in the Buddha while sitting, while walking, or while cooking for the community. Taking refuge in the Buddha brings me a lot of happiness. Learning the teaching and putting the teaching into practice in such a way that you can be nourished by it brings joy. It is that joy that enables you to continue your life as a monk or as a nun.

Suffering and Happiness of Monastic Life

In your monastic life sometimes you encounter a lot of difficulties, a lot of suffering, and you might be tempted to give up your life as a monk or as a nun. If there is no joy in the practice then you will certainly give up your monastic life. Sometimes the relationship between you and your teachers and the relationship between you and your Dharma brothers or sisters becomes difficult and you are discouraged. You don’t see any joy in the Sangha. You feel that nobody in the Sangha understands you, not only your brothers in the Dharma but also your teacher. People around you seem to practice very hard but they have not transformed, they are still angry, they still have many prejudices. And you lose faith in the practice. Many high monks speak about non-self but they are full of self and they are seeking fame, wealth, and power, and that is why you are discouraged and you want to give up. I realize that when you don’t find happiness in the Sangha and in your life as a monk or a nun you could be tempted by things in the world like fame, like wealth, like sex. But if there is joy and happiness in your daily life as a monk or a nun then these temptations would not be important at all.

Tempted  by  Communism

As a young monk there was a time when I was tempted to become a communist. I saw that in the Buddhist community people talked a lot about serving living beings but they didn’t have any practical methods to help the country, which was under foreign rule and the people, who suffered from poverty and social injustice. As a young monk I wanted Buddhism to respond to the situations that created suffering and to help reduce the social injustice and political suppression. Many elders spoke about serving living beings but they did not give the kind of teaching and practice that could relieve the suffering in society. I saw that the communists were really trying to do something and they were ready to die for the sake of humanity. So temptation at that time for me was not fame, not money, not beautiful women – it was communism. I did not become a communist because I was very lucky. I realized quickly that being a member of the communist party, I would have to obey the orders of the party and may have to kill my countrymen who did not agree with the party, instead of being able to serve them.

As a young man or a young woman you are full of good intentions to serve the people of your country, so you become a member of a political party. You want to serve, not to harm people, but your party may become like a machine and one day you may be given the order to kill, to liquidate other young people who do not belong to your party and you have to betray your first intention to love and to serve. I was saved by the enlightenment that violent revolution was not my path. I did not want to go in the direction of violence. As a young man or a young woman, when you enter monastic life you are determined to serve the people in your society and other living beings. You are a revolutionary. Leaving your family behind, shaving your head, putting on a monk’s robe is an act of revolution. You want to be like Siddhartha, offering your life in order to relieve the suffering of living beings. But if the teaching and the practices that you are given do not satisfy that desire to serve and to help others, then you will be disappointed.

Engaged  Buddhism

After several years being in the Buddhist Institute1  my need was not satisfied, so I left. Also there was division in the community, there was no harmony, and people did not really do what they taught. I did not give up the life of a monk, however, because deep in me there was a strong belief that Buddhism could be renewed and could offer the teaching and the practice that would respond to the actual suffering in the world. I thought of engaged Buddhism, the kind of Buddhism that can be applied in all walks of life, in the realms of education, economics, technology, science, politics, the arts, and so on. I knew that historically Buddhist teachers guided and advised the political leaders. But nowadays business and political leaders do not listen, and it seems we have lost our spiritual leadership. At this time I was only a monk of twenty-four years old, just fully ordained, but I had a deep conviction that spiritual leadership could be restored to Buddhism and that Buddhism could give guidance in all areas of society.

With a number of other young monks we created a community of practice and tried to form a way of practice which we called “Engaged Buddhism.”


Buddhism must be present as a spiritual dimension in all aspects of life. In 1954 when Vietnam was divided into two countries, North and South, the suffering was intense. I was given the chance to realize a reform of the teaching and the practice in the Buddhist Institute in the South of Vietnam, called the An Quang Institute. I called on young monks and young nuns and together we created a system of education and practice that had the capacity to respond to the difficult situation in the country and in the world. At twenty-eight, I had to take care of reorganizing the largest Buddhist Institute in South Vietnam.  I was lucky to have the love and support of the young monks and nuns, and together we tried to renew the teachings and the practice. We also had a number of elders who supported us and believed that we could do it, which was crucial for our success. At that time the French army had just been defeated in the North by the communist army and the French soldiers were leaving the country and American advisors began to arrive. It was the intention of the Americans to replace the French and to retain the South as a stronghold in order to contain communism and not allow it to spread in Southeast Asia. The country was divided and people suffered not only from social injustice and political oppression, but also from doubt and anger. We felt that Buddhism should do something to show people that there is a path leading us out of this difficult situation, and to create peace, brotherhood, and reunification.

It was suffering that helped us to give birth to what today we call “Engaged Buddhism.” Now this expression has become popular in Europe and America and there are Buddhist communities and associations that use it, like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. There are now Buddhist groups that organize soup kitchens for hungry people, centers to help dying people, and so on. Plum Village is now helping hungry children, disabled people, and refugees in Vietnam. Engaged work in society has become part of our daily practice.

Happiness and Harmony in the Sangha

Every one of us wants to help our society, but in order to go far we have to operate not as individuals but as a Sangha. If there is no harmony in the Sangha, if there is no brotherhood in the Sangha, if there is no happiness in the Sangha we do not feel nourished and we will not be successful. That is why the teaching and the practice of Buddhism should be effective in Sangha building. If the practice of Buddhism does not help the Sangha to be more harmonious, does not help brotherhood to grow, does not help to create more happiness in the Sangha then that practice is not effective and we don’t want it. You can practice very hard, staying up all night in the sitting position and not sleeping at all, but if there is no joy, no compassion, no understanding in you and the Sangha is divided and unhappy, then your practice is not correct. We should practice every day in such a way that happiness can grow in our Sangha. If there is no harmony, no happiness in the Sangha, serving living beings is an illusion.


We may like to sit together and ask whether there is happiness and harmony in our Sangha. If there is no harmony and no happiness in the Sangha what are the reasons? What are the causes? What can I do in order to make the Sangha suffer less? What can I do to make the Sangha happy today? Together as a Sangha we practice looking deeply into the first Noble Truth, namely the presence of suffering, the absence of happiness, in order to find out the second Noble Truth, the roots and causes of our unhappiness. To me a Buddhist Institute should be organized as a family, where everyone is a brother or a sister for everyone else. Our daily practice should be centered on building brotherhood and sisterhood. If we are nourished every day by the happiness of brotherhood or sisterhood we would never give up our life as a monk or a nun. Of course, we have to study the sutras, the shastras, and the vinaya.2 But we have to study in such a way that we can find ways of practice that will build a happy Sangha. Sangha building is our daily practice.

Many of us are capable of building big temples, but not many of us can build a happy Sangha. That is why I have been proposing that in Buddhist Institutes Sangha building become an important subject of our study and practice. If there is no real happiness, brotherhood, and harmony in the Sangha and we go out to teach the practice, we are offering fake products. In the Buddhist Institutes, Dharma teachers should not only teach what they know but should teach with their way of life. We should not be overwhelmed with texts. We should have time to look deeply into each member of the Sangha to see the suffering and difficulties of each person and to offer our help. In that way we can go together like a river, in the direction of enlightenment, transformation, and service.

During the twenty years of sharing Dharma in the West we have learned a lot about Sangha building and we have learned a lot about offering the kind of teaching that helps in modern times. I can tell you as an elder brother that the noblest task is to build a happy Sangha. The Sangha is like a beautiful garden. You have to take care of each tree and bush in the garden. You have to understand the nature and the need of each tree and bush. You take a lot of time to help each member of the Sangha grow beautifully and happily. When the garden grows beautifully, you enjoy it a lot; when the Sangha is happy, you are well rewarded with happiness. When people come and visit the Sangha and they see the harmony and happiness, they will have faith in the Dharma. We don’t have to say anything; they just look at the Sangha and they have faith.

One day the King of Sravasti, King Pasenadi, met the Buddha. They were both eighty years old. The King said, Lord Buddha, every time I see your Sangha I have faith in the teachings. The Buddha did not build any temples but he was an excellent Sangha builder. We, his students, monks and nuns and laypeople, should not only spend our life building temples, we should devote our time to building happy Sanghas.


  1. The Buddhist Institute is the place where young monastics are sent to study sutras, ancient languages and other Buddhist Young monastics come from many different temples to study together and are generally awarded a degree at the end of their studies. This form of training is followed in most Mahayana Buddhist countries including China, Vietnam, and Korea.
  2. The sutras are the teachings given by the Buddha, the shastras are commentaries on these teachings and the vinaya is the collection of rules and regulations governing the monastic Together these three collections of Buddhist scripture are referred to as the tripitaka, or the three baskets of Buddhism scripture.

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Book Review

Barbara  Casey

I Have Arrived, I Am Home:
Celebrating Twenty Years of Plum Village Life
By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Global Plum Village Family, Parallax Press, 2003, 256 pages

The editors tell us in the Introduction, “This book is a delicious buffet of stories, teachings, poems, and images that offers a taste of the harmonious life possible through practicing mindfully as a Sangha.” Slowly turning the pages of this keepsake, tea table book, I feel the editors were too modest. Filled with color photos and artwork, this is a rich feast for the eyes and the heart.

Enjoying this book helps to deepen my understanding of the interbeing nature of the historical and the ultimate dimensions. Rooted in space and time, the words and pictures are my vision of the Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Shining through this marriage of the historical and ultimate dimensions comes the action dimension, exemplified by heartfelt stories of love and gratitude from practitioners all over the world. This book is an antidote to loneliness: it offers myriad threads of connection through time and space to lay and monastic brothers and sisters everywhere. For the first time, I see and hear the voices of those who came before me – those who were present in the early days of Plum Village life, those who built the buildings and the pathways at Plum Village that I enjoy now. I hear the visions of my teachers, Thay and Sr. Chan Khong. I listen to Sr. Annabel’s story of hardship and grace as she came to find her teacher and her true home.

And my teacher, Thay, blesses me with the understanding that “I have arrived, I am home,” is the Dharma seal of Plum Village, the heart of the practice. For those of us who have always felt a bit alien and homeless in this world, it is the most precious gift. Being close to this book, having it smile at me from my living room table, helps me understand and appreciate the treasure of practice, the treasure of friendship, I am being offered with each conscious breath.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication.

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If you would to receive a copy of our “award winning” catalog please visit our website at www.parallax.org or call 1 800 863 5290.

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