Dharma Talk: Taking Refuge in Your In-Breath

Commentary on the Teaching of Master Linji

By Thich Nhat Hanh

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In the fall and winter of 2003–2004, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) taught from the Records of Master Linji, a Buddhist monk from ninth-century China. Our lineage descends from Master Linji, so we can consider ourselves his spiritual grandchildren. He is well-known for his use of the stick to wake up students who were ripe enough for such liberation. The stick was used to skillfully remove the notions and ideas the person was carrying with him or her, or anything else that was an obstacle to living a simple, free life.  

The teachings are often given in the form of interactions between Master Linji and those who came to learn from him. The moment of human relationship is thus the moment of waking up, of realizing our blindness and also our capacity to live with freedom and joy. In these interactions there is a fierceness, the punch, and also a tenderness, the willingness to engage, to commit oneself to another for the sake of liberation, for the sake of becoming a real human being.  

The original language of Master Linji’s teachings can be confusing, but Thay explains their essence in a way that makes them accessible and meaningful. Thay shows us how to bring them down to earth with the concrete practices of mindful breathing and walking. 

The ideal person, our ancestral teacher Linji tell us, is a free person, who lives a simple, authentic life. This person is free from pretention, free from busyness or business—a businessless person. His teachings were medicine for people of his times and they are medicine for us too. Like good medicine, these teachings kill the disease, yet leave the person whole. 

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Good morning, dear Sangha, today is October the 12th in the year 2003 and we are in the Loving Kindness Temple of the New Hamlet during our autumn retreat.

There is a sutra that was translated into Chinese around the second century. It is called the Sutra of the Forty-Two Chapters. Each chapter is very short and as a novice I had the opportunity to learn the sutra during my first year of studying classical Chinese. In that sutra there is one sentence that says: “My practice is the practice of non-practice.” It reads like this: “My practice is to practice the action of non-action, to practice the practice of no practice and to attain the attainment of no attainment.” When we hear the teachings of our patriarch Linji we hear the same thing. We should be an ordinary person, we should not try to be a saint. If you are seeking for holiness you lose it. Holiness is right there before you but when you begin to seek it you lose it. You begin to run and run and run and you can never catch it. What we learn from the patriarch Linji is not a set of ideas. That is what he hates the most—a set of ideas, especially abstract ideas about the absolute that symbolize the ultimate, the perfection that you are running after. This is what he is always trying to tell us. His teaching is that we should live a simple life properly and become a person without business.

What is your business? You may describe your business as trying to transform yourself, trying to reach enlightenment, trying to save human beings. Throw it away. Don’t consider it to be your business. If you run after that kind of business you cannot be yourself. You are a wonder of life and you are surrounded by wonders of life. A person without enterprise, without any project, without any business—that reflects the practice of non-attainment. There is nothing to obtain.

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Our practice is to take refuge in the present moment because the present moment is always available. The present moment is full of life, full of wonders. We don’t have to run towards the future to get it. You are already a wonder and surrounding you are wonders you can experience, if you know how to stop and to become fully present.

Taking Refuge in Your In-Breath 

How can you come fully into the present moment? One way is to take refuge in your in-breath. Is this possible? Some may say that our in-breath has a very short life span, perhaps only lasting ten seconds. Why should you take refuge in such a temporary thing? I remember when we held a retreat in Moscow for the first time. Some Protestant teachers from Korea were there, and said, “You should not take refuge in the Buddha because he was a mortal. You should take refuge in Jesus because he is immortal.” Taking refuge in our in-breath is very short and ephemeral. When we talk about taking refuge we think we want something that is very solid and long-lasting so that we can have peace and safety for a long time. If we are to choose between something that is short-lived and something that is long-lived for our place of refuge we may choose the long-lived refuge. Yet the question is, who are you to take refuge? As Master Linji said, you are looking for the Buddha—but who are you who is looking for the Buddha? Are you something that lasts very long? Or do you only last for a second?

We have the tendency to think that we are something that lasts longer than our in-breath, but that is not true. We are just like our in-breath. In the Sutra of the Forty-Two Chapters there is a chapter in which the Buddha asked his disciples how long a human life lasts. One person said, one hundred years; one said, fifty years; one said, one day and one night. Then one person said, it lasts for the length of your in-breath. And the Buddha said to that person, Yes, you have seen the reality of the human life—it lasts for only one in-breath. And it may even be shorter than that because as you breathe in you become another person. The you who is there before the in-breath is no longer the same you after the in-breath. You think that you are something that lasts for a long time so you try to take refuge in something that always remains the same and lasts forever. But if you know that the one who takes refuge and that which we take refuge in are one, you can understand why we can speak of taking refuge in one in-breath. This is very concrete. As we breathe in we can be with our in-breath and we become alive. If we know how to take refuge in our in-breath we can take refuge in our out-breath also.

We feel that we don’t have solidity, stability. We are not ourselves. We are pulled away by so many things, so many ideas, so many projects, so much fear, and so many afflictions. We don’t have peace. That is why we need to take refuge. To take refuge is to be yourself again. It is possible. Taking refuge in your in-breath, you suddenly become yourself right away. You are safe, you are solid. You are fully present right here and now. You are aware that you are a wonder of life and you can get in touch with many wonders of life surrounding you. Oh wonderful in-breath—it makes me feel at home. It makes me feel that I have arrived. It helps me not to run. That is why taking refuge in your in-breath is a very wonderful practice. We breathe in and out anyway, so we don’t have to invent the in-breath before taking refuge in it. It is already there. Bring your mind back to the present moment and enjoy. You suddenly become alive. You suddenly become yourself and you cultivate your solidity and your freedom. You are no longer a victim. You have your sovereignty. Mindful breathing is very important, and it is a non-practice because you breathe in and out anyway. You are sitting there enjoying your in-breath. You don’t seem like you are a practitioner, but you are a true practitioner. You are not trying hard, you are just enjoying your in-breath. That is what our ancestral teacher Linji wants us to do. Not to do anything, just be yourself. Sitting there enjoying your in-breath you become everything, you become immortal.

Taking Refuge in Your Steps 

You are always walking, going from your room to the restroom, to the office, to the kitchen. So why don’t you enjoy walking? Why don’t you go home to the present moment and enjoy taking refuge in your steps? Why do you allow yourself to be pulled in many directions? When you are distracted, you are not yourself, you are a victim. But you can change this by taking refuge in your steps right now, right here. It is wonderful to combine your in-breath with one, two, or three steps. In that moment you are truly yourself. You have your sovereignty; you are no longer a victim. You are no longer pulled away by the waves of birth and death. You are no longer drowning in the ocean of afflictions.

Pemb36-dharma4ople like to say, take refuge in the Buddha, take refuge in the Dharma, take refuge in the Sangha. But, I like to say, take refuge in your in-breath, take refuge in your out-breath, take refuge in your steps. The Buddha may be an abstract idea, but your in-breath is a reality, your steps are a reality. You are looking for the Buddha, you are looking for the Dharma. You are not truly taking refuge in them because you have not found them. But you don’t have to look for your in-breath; it is right there in front of your nose. You don’t have to look for your steps; they are right there in your feet. That is why taking refuge in your in-breath, taking refuge in your steps is very concrete. When you are doing that the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha become concrete also. You don’t have to run after the Buddha; the Buddha will run to you. You don’t have to look for the Dharma; the Dharma will come to you. That is what Master Linji tried to say: You do not need to look for the ultimate —the ultimate will come to you.

Although you do not look like a practitioner, you are a true practitioner because you are practicing the practice of non-practice. You practice in such a way that life becomes a reality in every moment of your day. We are looking for a spiritual path because we don’t have peace, solidity, and freedom. That is what a spiritual path is supposed to bring us. But in the market of spirituality you may be fooled by so many people, so many paths, and so many teachers because what they offer you is just ideas—ideas about the Dharma, about God, about the Sangha. There are so many people selling spirituality because there are so many spiritual seekers. Our ancestral teacher Linji was aware of this. He told us not to be fooled by these teachers, even if they are monks and nuns. Do not believe them because they are not really monks and nuns if they have not truly renounced the worldly life, if they are still looking for such things as fame, profit, and power.

Linji’s Teacher 

The teacher of Linji was Master Huang-Bo. When Master Linji was a young monk and had been in the temple for some time he was very eager to learn something directly from his teacher. An elder brother said, “Why don’t you ask the master to teach you something?” Master Linji said, “What should I ask?” His elder brother said, “You can ask: What is the essential idea of Buddhism?” So the young monk Linji went to his teacher and asked: “Dear teacher, what is the main idea of Buddhism?” And his teacher punched him. He asked again: “But teacher, please tell me what is the main idea of Buddhism?” And he got a second punch. But he still persisted and asked a third time: “Dear teacher, it is okay to hit me, but please tell me what is the main idea of Buddhism?” And he got a third punch. He was very disappointed. After some time he left the temple because he thought that his teacher was not very kind to him. After leaving his temple, while on a pilgrimage, he met another teacher called Da-Yu. He asked the young Linji, “Where have you come from?” Linji said, “I come from Master Huang-Bo.” “Why have you left him?” “Because three times I asked him what is the main idea of Buddhism and three times he hit me so I had to leave.” Da-Yu said, “You are a fool. You do not see that he has been extremely compassionate to you. Go home and bow to him.”

mb36-dharma6The young Linji went home and bowed to his teacher. His teacher said, “Where have you come from?” The young Linji said, “I met a teacher named Da-Yu and I told him that I asked you the question three times and you gave me three blows. He looked at me and he said, ‘You are foolish, you don’t see that your teacher is compassionate.’” And Master Huang-Bo asked, “What did you do after he said that?” In fact, when the teacher Da-Yu told him that he had not seen the compassion of his teacher the young Linji woke up and he said, “Oh, I see, there is not much in the teaching of my teacher.” He realized that these three hits were the real teaching of Buddhism and he laughed and laughed. The teacher Da-Yu shouted at him, “You just told me that your teacher was not kind to you and now you say that there is not much in his teaching. What do you want!”

Do you know how the young Linji reacted? He gave Da-Yu a punch. Da-Yu said, “Well, anyway you are his disciple, not mine. I don’t want to have any more to do with you.” And he left. So when the young Linji went back to his teacher Huang-Bo he told the whole story. Master Huang-Bo said, “If that guy comes here I will give him a punch.” And Linji said, “Don’t wait, here it is.” and Linji punched his teacher. Then Master Huang-Bo called his attendant and said, “Take this fool out of here!” That is the story of our patriarch Linji and his teacher. Do you want to try? Do you dare?

Removing the Object 

Linji told us that sometimes you have to remove the object and not the subject. If you come to Thay with your question, with your object then you may get a blow from him. Thay’s style is different, but it is very much in the same spirit. Very often Thay practices removing the object so that the questioner will find him or herself alone without his object. In the teachings of Master Linji there is a passage saying, “In the last twelve years I have not seen anyone coming without an object. Everyone has come to me with an object. As they begin to show it by way of their eyes, I hit their eyes. If they try to show it with their mouth, I hit their mouth. If they want to show it with their hands, I hit their hands.” That is removing the object without removing the subject. If someone comes to you with a question and you spend a lot of time explaining this and that and you are drawn to him, you are not practicing the way of Linji. You have to remove that object of his right away. It may be a very false problem. You have observed Thay doing that with many people. When someone asks a question Thay always tries to remove the question, to give it back to him or to her.

In the market of spirituality you are always looking for something and there are many people who are trying to fool you, presenting you with this or that idea. But Linji is not one of them; he denounced them all. Linji said you should not look outside; you should look inside because God is in you, Buddha is in you, the Dharma is in you. If you have enough faith in that understanding, you have a chance. But if you only look outside you cannot get anywhere. This is the true teaching of Linji. They are selling things because you need them. But if you don’t need them anymore they will not sell them. And that is a chance for them because they spend all their time selling things. If they stop selling they may go home to themselves and get enlightenment, transformation, and healing. If you allow them to continue to sell things like that they will never have a chance. That is why it is very important to stop buying.

You have not come to Plum Village to buy things or ideas, but to have a chance to go home to yourself and to realize that what you have been looking for is already within you. If you want to show your kindness to Thay and the Sangha, take refuge in your in-breath and become fully yourself. Take refuge in your steps and right in that very moment you will have solidity and freedom, you will have the capacity of getting in touch with the wonders of life.

Where do you look for the Kingdom of God? Where do you look for the Pure Land of the Buddha? Where do you look for salvation, for enlightenment? It is in your in-breath and your steps that you can find these things. Don’t do anything, just be an ordinary person. Live your life in an authentic way. Don’t try to use the cosmetics that are provided in the market of spirituality.

Have Faith in Yourself 

In the Records of Master Linji the term that our ancestral teacher used for “teacher” is “a good friend” or a “friend who knows about goodness.” We should look upon our teacher as a friend who knows goodness through his or her own experience. That friend should embody stability, solidity, compassion, and understanding. Because he is your friend and has had his own experience of goodness, he can help you. Help you to do what? He can help you to do the same as he has done—to go home to yourself and to get in touch with the seed of goodness that is in you, the seed of solidity and freedom that is in you, the seed of the Kingdom of God that is within you. Don’t have the notion that you have nothing within yourself and that you have to depend only on your teacher. Your teacher is only a friend who can support you to go home to yourself. That is what our ancestral teacher called faith.

In the Records of Master Linji it says, “The practitioners of our time do not succeed because they do not have faith in themselves. They are always looking outside.” They think that they can get compassion and wisdom from the Buddha, from the Dharma, from the Sangha outside of themselves. They don’t know that they are the Buddha, they are the Dharma, and they are the Sangha. They should allow themselves to become the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. They should allow the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha to become themselves. This is the teaching of Master Linji.

Thay can tell you that there is not much in the teachings of Master Linji. We know that the first expression of enlightenment by our ancestral teacher Linji was, “Oh I see, there is not much in the teaching of my teacher.” If you can tell that to Thay, you are a good student. Thay only teaches breathing in and breathing out.

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Letter from the Editor

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The Invitation ceremony has concluded the three-month winter retreat in Deer Park Monastery. Members of the Fourfold Sangha are sitting on the beach with nowhere to go, nothing to do; enough to make us very happy. During the three months of the retreat, the Fourfold Sangha has practiced the happiness of arriving in the present moment, with nothing else to attain.

This is the cream of the teachings of Patriarch Linji, who lived in the ninth century in China. The Patriarch’s teachings were brought to Vietnam in two waves; one in the thirteenth century and one in the eighteenth century. From Vietnam they have been brought to Europe and North America by Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a descendant of the forty-second generation of the Linji line. The spirit of these teachings lives on in the Dharma Doors of Plum Village. You will be able to read in this issue a transcript of a Dharma talk given by Thay on the essence of the teachings of Patriarch Linji.

The Wednesday morning teachings offered by Thay during the retreat were on the Records of Master Linji. Thay gave additional teachings on Wednesday and Sunday mornings to the Fourfold Sangha. In addition, there was the uninterrupted practice of mindful walking and breathing, when we are sitting, standing, lying, working, and eating. The teachings have always been very practical and the Sangha has been able to put them into practice without delay. Thanks to this, everyone who has participated in the retreat has realized some healing and transformation. In this issue you will be able to read about some of the practical fruits of the practice of the Winter Retreat.

We know that Buddhism is a living reality and not an artifact to be preserved in a museum. The teachings that have come from Asia need to be integrated intothe Western way of life. It is encouraging, therefore, to see how local Sanghas in North America have been adapting traditional Buddhist ceremonies to fit the needs of the practitioners in their Sanghas. Two examples can be read about in this issue: the Father’s Day Ceremony and the ceremony for introducing to the Sangha and naming newborn children.

Sister True Virtue

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Fruits of the Winter Retreat

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From January through March, the entire monastic Sangha gathered at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California, for the annual winter retreat.  Lay practitioners were invited to join them.  Every Friday, 100–150 lay friends arrived and departed, some staying for a week, some for a month or more. This flowing, ever-changing Sangha was held in stability by the practice of the monastics and a core group of lay folks who were able to stay for the whole retreat.

During the three months, Thich Nhat Hanh gave Dharma talks in English and Vietnamese, focusing on the teachings of our ancestor Linji, and on the sutra on The Full Awareness of Breathing.  Other activities included the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year, Tet, which included oracle readings from a centuries-old poem; ten days of the Linji Great Ordination Ceremony; two almsround processions at nearby parks; and a public talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The following offerings come from a few of the practitioners who were able to share in the life of the Sangha, as we walked, sat, and ate in mindfulness. From doing laundry and making soy milk, to walking with Thay to his garden, every aspect of the day was a rich field of practice.  May the peace and transformation of that time together benefit all beings.

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My Gentlemanly Angel Within

by Jay Rabin

I was excited and anxious. Thay was about to give his first Dharma talk at the winter retreat, 2004 at Deer Park. Being a New Yorker and having experienced crowded conditions, I reserved a great seat far in advance.

Reserving a seat consisted of putting a jacket over a pad and cushion. I could not sit in the meditation hall and wait because my legs couldn’t sit that long. I asked the fellow next to me to save my place and looked in from time to time to make sure my seat was still there. Fifteen minutes before the talk I went in to protect my seat and to prepare for the Dharma talk.

I am excited: I have a primo seat for my first retreat with Thay and his opening talk.

Five minutes before the talk begins, it is announced that the talk will be in Vietnamese and if you need translation you must sit in the back near the translation equipment. What! This is not good. I am not happy. The people who have come up for the day have all the good seats. This is not fair; I have paid to be here for the whole retreat. This is not organized; this is not going my way. Don’t they know who I am?

I scramble around. There are no spaces available near the translation equipment and I have no headphones. A small stream of smoke has begun to come out of my ears. A rumor goes around, there are headphones being given out by the back doors. I rush out, get a pair and hurry back inside to find a place to sit. There are no extension cords so everyone is crowded around the small boxes of plugs. Now I have a new problem: there is no place to sit to be plugged into the equipment. The small stream of smoke coming out of my ears is getting bigger. Anxious and upset, I cannot find a place to sit.

Suddenly a voice calls out my name. A fellow I recently met is beckoning me over. He is aware of my predicament and is making room for me in an already crowded area. He is exhibiting the spirit of a Gentlemanly Angel. Then he spots another person in a similar predicament and invites her over, so we all make room. The Gentlemanly Angel spirit seems to be contagious, as I invite another straggler over. We are tight as sardines and quite uncomfortable, but because of our Gentlemanly Angel, we all get to hear Thay’s Dharma talk.  We also get to start acting like a Sangha, looking out for one another instead of focusing only on ourselves.

I got to experience love, compassion, and consideration in action. I got to look at my own actions, selfishness, expectations, and silliness. I think the Gentlemanly Angel potential is in me; it is just a matter of being mindful and living the life I aspire towards, the life of the Mindfulness Trainings.

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Jay Rabin, Continuous Service of the Heart, lives in Solana Beach, California.  He spent the winter retreat with Thay and the Sangha at Deer Park, and received the Five Mindfulness Trainings there.

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Poem: Deer Park Walking Meditation

Hundreds of feet softly kissing the earth.
Mindful full moon dance
by children of celestial light
whose source crests from behind
peaceful Deer Park’s hidden mountain saddle.
Dark night’s cotton-cloud haze
illuminated by one, then two lunar rings.
Most suddenly, poof
–focused concentration exits.
Enter, monkey mind’s desire,
trying to force the sky, moon and rings
to be as one.
Breathing calm, relaxed,
community proceeds up dark, rocky path
–noble teacher and sangha
answering the silent moon’s calling;
listening,
letting go,
liberating separation,
stopping.
Hundreds of eyes gaze
towards moon’s glow
that gently reflects with their forms.
Moon, sangha and my perception,
chilly shadows among valley and sky,
dance joyously in love,
harmoniously inter-being.

David Nelson, Compassionate Guidance of the Heart, lives and practices in Flagstaff, Arizona.

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Confessions of a Shoe Thief

by Lucy Kingsley

mb36-Confessions1Well, so much for mindfulness. I go to the small meditation hall to return a cushion. I leave my shoes outside. I go in and leave the cushion. I come out of the hall and put shoes back on to go down to dinner.

During dinner I sit in the back of the hall with friends. A woman makes an announcement that someone took her shoes from outside the small meditation hall, a pair of size six black clogs. Now she has a pair of white size seven and a half Nikes. She would like her own shoes back.

Realizing I went to the hall in my Nikes and not in my black clogs, I now understand that I am wearing her shoes.  I start to blush. I bow to the people at my table, get up and start a very long, mindful walk past the entire international Sangha to the front of the hall where she is standing.

I bow to her and slip off her shoes. She returns the bow and then embraces me. We both start to laugh. I take several long breaths and begin to walk the long way back to my table. I have a blister on my foot from walking in someone else’s shoes.

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Lucy Kingsley, Loving Balance of the Heart, lives and practices in Eugene, Oregon.

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Chuc Mung Nam Moi

Happy New Year

January 22, 2004 Year of the Monkey

by Hope Lindsay

I came to the Ocean of Peace mediation hall early today, soon to be filled with monastics and lay retreatants for the Asian New Year celebration.   I am drawn to the beauty of this new hall at Deer Park Monastery. I want to fill my spirit through my eyes before the festival begins.

The altar area is filled with living color. There are mums, tulips, bamboo, and several species of orchids. Large vases contain pussy willows and reeds tied with tiny red ribbons. Bright red gladiolas repeat the color of good fortune. On the central altar, candles and incense are burning. Here are towers of fruits: mangos, apples, oranges, pineapple, and papayas. Sky and earth cakes wrapped in banana leaves remind me of the patient monastic and lay hands which made them the day before.

But perhaps the loveliest arrangement is the “tree.” It is Zen symbolism at its finest. Rocks arranged in classic patterns of heaven and earth support the large oak limb which has clusters of yellow blossoms attached to complete the appearance of spring. Red kites with words of peace and wisdom dangle from the tree.

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Now Thay has arrived and the hall has filled. We are awaiting the Chinese dragons (in lion form) to announce the beginning of the five days of fun and reverence. Here they come turning, and rearing! They are led by a paunchy red-faced figure representing the Earth. No one can resist laughing out loud as the lions blink their large eyelids and open their mouths in pretended ferocity, except Thay, who remains in meditation until the procession reaches him. Then he breaks into a sweet, almost twinkling smile.

Thay was presented with a collage of miniature photos shaped in the form of the single pillar pagoda which replicates the stained glass window in the hall and expresses the theme of Tiep Hien, interbeing. The monastics wished Thay a long life, filled with good health and loving kindness. I also wished  him  long  life,  motivated  by attachment. I need this soft-spoken, wise being awhile longer to help me awaken. Long, long life in this form to you, dear teacher.

Thay’s New Year wish for us is for our health.    For the Asians in residence, he requests remembrance of their ancestors, and to carry their memories into enlightenment. For Westerners, he wishes rest and mindfulness. Also, he wishes us mindful consuming, the single most important mission for the Western world. In consumerism lies the cause of poverty and war. Wise consuming is the key to world peace.

I am aware that I came to this ceremony to “fill up my senses.” My eyes were filled with the sight of the  monastics, dressed  in earth brown under their bright ceremonial robes, looking like mantles of sunshine. My ears were blessed with Vietnamese music sung by Sister Chan Khong, Ha Thanh, a visiting opera singer, and Sister Thi Nghiem. I hear this haunting music in my mind, even now. I can also feel the wonderful rhythmic challenge between the large brass bell and taiko drum speaking from opposite sides of the hall.

Blessings to us all in the year of the monkey. Play more, be joyfully spontaneous, and at the same time calm our monkey minds.

Hope Lindsay, True Flow of the Heart, spent the winter retreat at Deer Park.  She is a founding member of the Umpqua Area Sangha in Roseberg, Oregon, and an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.

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Poem: The Oracle

mb36-TheOracle1Celebration of Tet, 2004

Stop.
Drop everything
except your breath
and walk toward the altar
like a bride
advancing toward her beloved.
Sit on your cushion
tall and serene,
concentrating
until your heart’s desire
burns in your chest
like a glowing ember.
Then lay yourself
face down
on the earth,
letting the hard shell
of your mind
crack open,
spilling its arrogance
into the soil.
When you are empty,
stand up.
Breathe three times.
In. Out.
In. Out.
In. Out.
Then leap
into the wishing well.
From the other side
of time,
deep at the bottom
of the well,
a poet will raise his arms,
catching your fall.
His love will lift you
back into time,
holding a ticket to joy.
This ticket
bears a number
that corresponds to a door.
Find this door
and open it.
On the other side
is a path.
Do not hesitate.
There is no mistake.
This is your path.
Straight ahead,
the object of your desire
reaches out
to take your hand.

Emily Whittle, True Wonderful Happiness, lives in Red Springs, North Carolina and practices with the Healing Springs Community of Mindful Living.

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Peace Is Mandatory, Plumbing Is Optional

by Margaret Kirschner

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Visualize Deer Park during winter retreat. Imagine the logistics needed to accommodate 250 monastics and approximately 250 lay retreatants, up to 1,000 or so on Days of Mindfulness when the local community visits. Picture the kitchens that prepare the food, the dishes, pots, pans, and silverware that need to be washed after each meal. Estimate the number of showers, hand washings, toilet flushings, tooth brushing, tea making, and the amount of water needed to keep the gardens alive and flourishing.

During the afternoon free time, a retreatant goes back to her room, ready to take a shower. She turns the faucet. Nothing happens. The water is off. She checks with neighbors. Theirs is off also. Next with the kitchen, and the restrooms near the Meditation Hall. Solidity Hamlet, Clarity Hamlet–all are without water. The pumps had stopped working. Was there panic? Was there grumbling and complaining? Was the water restored shortly thereafter? No, no, and no. The aridness of the desert enclosed the Deer Park retreatants.

Shortly after, the monastics announced a plan. They said the kitchens had reserve tanks that allowed enough water for meal preparations and cleanup. Large trucks would bring barrels of water, which would be placed outside our dormitories, along with buckets so we could bring in water to flush the toilets. We were asked to use the old slogan, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Packets of chlorinated wipes appeared here and there. Mindfulness practice continued as if nothing troublesome had occurred.  The water did not come back on until the next day, at least eighteen hours later. But even when it returned, only one pump was working, so we were asked to continue to conserve as much as possible in the week to come.

What caused peace to pervade the difficulties created by this situation? Was it the calm manner of the monk who made the announcement that solicited the acceptance of the water shortage? Was it the mindfulness practice of the participants? Surely both contributed, but the initial meeting of the monastics who were charged with responsibility must have been a generating source. There had to have been a committee of calm thinking ones, with an awareness that nothing is permanent. There must have been trust in the skills of those who were to do the repairs and an understanding that creative solutions come from serene minds. I’d have loved to have been a mouse in the corner watching the mindfulness that contributed to everything working out so harmoniously.

And so it goes at our retreat, day by day. Each small activity, imbued with mindfulness, builds further mindfulness and takes us through life’s vexations with equanimity and joy. May we show our gratitude by remembering this experience and by sharing this accepting awareness with our families and communities.

Margaret Kirschner, True Silent Sound, lives in Portland, Oregon and practices with the Portland Community of Mindful Living.  She was ordained into the Order of Interbeing during the winter retreat.

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Poem: Cucumbers

The cucumber slice stares back at me,
starburst mandala of seeds and flesh.
I fork it slowly into my mouth,
aware of arm, muscle, movement,
the glint of sunlight on the fruit,
then its coolness in my mouth.
How many cucumbers have I eaten in my life?
I think of cucumber and tomato salads
with red onions and feta cheese,
of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
eaten on creekside summer picnics
with my wife and children and friends,
of countless salads
punctuated by cucumber chunks.
How little respect I’ve shown this humble food.
How rarely I’ve seen what it really is,
this smooth green tube of encased coolness:
my body, my arm lifting the fork,
my heart loving this life, that very love.

Bob Speer, True Silent Voice, lives in Chico, California and practices with the Slowly Ripening Sangha.He was ordained into the Order of Interbeing during the winter retreat.

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Poem: Awakening

This morning at breakfast
I had nine grapes. I know
Because I tasted each one
And enjoyed each one and
For the first time felt
the resistance of each one as
I pulled each from its stem
For the first time saw
Where the grape meets the stem
The little tufts

Through which the grape became the grape
Through which the nutrients, the flavor, the sweetness
Flowed into it and
Now into me
Small, never before seen by me, unnamed, unfamous
Tufts
And then the bread
Dense with grains,
Good-for-you dense and dry in the mouth.
What’s this?
Sweetness!

Cranberries on the underside
Hidden from my view.
My goodness, what a surprise.

I can hardly contain myself with the glory of this moment.
Tears well up. I don’t know why.
Great anticipation to get back to my room to write this down
And still the great challenge not to anticipate. So many
Moments between now and then
Wash my dishes fully present,
Climb the steps,
Bow to the monk passing by,
Walk through the garden, each plant,
Pass the pond where the fish are quiet
Enjoying the cool water before the sun shines.

Tom Heller, Awakened Virtues of the Heart, is moving from Seattle to Cambodia, where he and his wife hope to start a Sangha.

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On Almsround

by Phap Thanh

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We went on almsround today. I walked slowly in meditation. My mind focused on my steps, behind my elder brother. As I walked people offered me food. I opened the lid and held out my alms bowl to them.

As I walked on, in the corner of my eye I saw a little girl, about three years old, in her mother’s arms. I realized that the little girl wanted to offer something to me, so I stopped and looked at her. She had an apple in her hands. She held it tightly. Her mother encouraged her to put the apple into my open bowl. The little girl was hesitant; there seemed to be a resistance in her. Very, very slowly she began to lower the apple into my begging bowl. I stood quietly, observing this wonderful and slow process. She lowered the apple a little further into my bowl, but it seemed that she was not ready to let it go.

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With more encouragement from her mother, she then released her grip on the apple and it rolled into my bowl. I could sense the little girl was ambivalent about letting go of something so wonderful and precious as this apple. I offered her a smile and bowed a thank you.

I felt very grateful for having been the witness of that moment in the little girl’s life. Maybe this was the first time she encountered the painful feeling of giving something away that was precious to her and at the same moment the joyous feeling of giving to benefit someone else. When she finally dropped the apple, it seemed like a new experience for her, like a relief.

I closed the lid of my bowl and walked on with slow steps. I felt very happy to carry this apple in my bowl, because with it I carried the little girl’s compassion. I carried the little girl’s experience of giving away her own food to someone else, someone that she didn’t know.

Later on the whole Sangha sat down to eat together in silence. I held the little girl’s apple in my hands and I still felt grateful for her sacrifice, for the pain she was going through to release it. I felt, with an apple given like this, many people could be fed. From this one apple, thousands of hungry children could eat and satisfy their burning hunger. I felt, with this generous attitude the little girl had shown towards me, so many starving children in the world could be fed. I ate the apple very slowly and tears ran down my cheeks.

Phap Thanh is from Germany and currently lives in Plum Village.

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Poem: Dixon Lake

mb36-Dixon1The trail of silent walkers
winds across the valley
like a lazy snake.

Sage blesses us with her fragrance,
while solemn stone friends witness
our peacefulness.

We arrive step by step
one after another
at the watery oasis.

Ducks race each other across the lake
over and over
going nowhere
like my busy mind.

A pair of regal pelicans glides by
slowly
bringing my attention
deep into the water’s flow.

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Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action, lives in Redding, California and practices with the River Oak Sangha. She was ordained into the Order of Interbeing at the winter retreat.

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Lamp Transmission of Shalom

at the Great Ordination Ceremony
Deer Park, California
February 13, 2004

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Respected Thay, respected Venerables, brothers and sisters and friends, I offer Greeting to this House, greetings to the people and to the ancestors of this House.  Greetings to the land, the mountains, the rivers, and the sea. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa (translation:  Greetings, greetings, greetings to you all).  In New Zealand, this is a traditional and respectful way to begin to speak as a guest of another community.

I have a sense that if I were to turn and look behind me I would see the New Zealand Sangha sitting, supporting me, and see my beloved daughter, who ten years ago insisted that we sell our house and go to Plum Village. She was eight, and she was very wise.

About fifteen years ago somebody put a book of Thay’s in my hand. I read one page, and that page was the beginning of the lamp transmission. I didn’t know anything about Buddhism, but I knew that this man knew what I wanted to know. For me, it is very beautiful to see this physical manifestation of the lamp, but the lamp of the Dharma, the lamp of Thay is in here, in my heart.

With my mother behind me and my daughter in front of me, there is a hardness in our family line. The practice gave me a lot of courage to transform that hardness so my daughter wouldn’t have to suffer so much. In the early days at home I would literally stop when there were difficulties between me and my child, and I would turn to Thay and I would say, “And what am I supposed to do now?” Many of you will probably know what he answered. He said, “Shalom, do the dishes.” Because that was what was in front of me. And I would do the dishes, very mindfully, and the difficulty between us would calm down.

A few years ago I was very sick. I’m not quite sure how this will sound to you, but it was a wonderful experience! It was very difficult and there was pain, and for many days I felt as if someone had pulled the plug out, because there was no energy, and this body suffered a lot. But something wonderful happened. I could experience for myself the softening of that hardness. I felt a lot of compassion and a lot of love for this body. I could feel the energy of the teaching from Thay, of the mother holding the baby.

Some mornings I would wake up and walk from my bed to the kitchen, and I would get halfway through cutting an apple, and there would be no energy left, so I would have to put the knife down and leave the apple half cut, and walk mindfully back to bed.  My body was very ill, but my mind was very clear.  So I lay in my bed and I breathed in, and I breathed out, and I could do that quite easily.  I could look out at the hills and the sky, and I was very happy.

It’s very wonderful to sit together and receive the Dharma lamp, all of us. I’d like to say to my lay friends: Don’t wait for the Dharma lamp that looks like this. It is a great good fortune for us to be able to be here. I wish you all well. I wish you well in body, heart, and mind, and I thank you for supporting me and teaching me.

Shalom lives in a community of mindfulness practitioners called Dharma Gaia Garden. They welcome guests throughout the year, for organized retreats and for informal visits. Some scholarships are available

The Path of Emancipation, a twenty-one day retreat, July 10– 31, will follow Thay’s teachings from the book of the same name. Cost: $400 plus dana for the teachings.

Go to www.freewebs.com/dharmagaiagarden or e-mail mindfulness@xtra.co.nz.  Write to Dharma Gaia Garden, RD1 Coromandel, New Zealand; phone (+ 64  7) 8667995

Shalom’s Insight Gatha

The deep purple delphinium drops her petals one by one. Magnificent!
And my countless faces appear and disappear, bubbles on the ocean’s surface.
Beauty and pain quiver my ripening heart. The earth trembles.
I step gently, this foot anointed by the bodhisattva’s hand.

Thay’s Gatha to Shalom

The seed that has been planted in the Precious Land
now has a chance to be penetrated by the spring rain.
Day and night, let us dwell peacefully in the position of touching the earth
so that everywhere flowers will bloom and reveal our true mind.

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Dharma Talk: Be a Real Human Being

by Larry Ward

mb36-BeAReal1I love the smells here. They’re old, been around a long time. I can feel the ancient presence of the native peoples, in the rocks and in the mountains, in the trees and in the river. It makes me very happy to be here in this space.

Compassion is very concrete practice. Compassion can make a huge difference in how we live our daily lives, how we make our daily decisions. And our practice is to feed ourselves those things that nourish our compassion. That’s what a bodhisattva does. The bodhisattvas feed themselves the spiritual food, the emotional food, the physical food that nourishes and cultivates their mind of love. That’s the second characteristic of a bodhisattva. The wisdom of nondiscrimination is one, and cultivating the mind of love is the other.

At retreats this past summer I heard Thay say something that I’ve never heard him say before.  He said, “Be a real human being.”

So I’ve been meditating on that. When Peggy and I led a retreat in Oklahoma City recently, we were doing walking meditation at the Murrah building site where the bombing happened several years ago. It only took a minute for that devastation to happen. At the east gate, “9:01 a.m.” is carved in stone, and at the west gate, “9:03 a.m.” Between them are 161 empty chairs, for the people who were killed at 9:02. The first row is made of smaller chairs for children, because there was a daycare center there.  And as we walked around that memorial, it became really clear to me that Timothy McVeigh never had a chance to be a real human being. How do I know Timothy McVeigh wasn’t a real human being? Because a real human being does not perpetrate violence. That’s not the act of a real human being. Violence is a dark cloud floating across the blue sky of a real human being. A real human being is not trapped in or addicted to conflict and jealousy. Yes, we all have seeds of conflict and jealousy in us, but our seeds of conflict and jealousy are a dot against the blue sky of a real human being

We all have the capacity to be greedy, to want too much, to give too little—to ourselves as well as others—but that is not the motivation of a real human being. That’s a shadow passing across the ground of a real human being.

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A real human being is like this camp—this camp is our host. The earth is here, supporting us and holding us; the trees are here, the creek  is  running.

Just holding us, whether we’re short or whether we’re tall, whether we’re young or whether we’re old, whether we’re black or whether we’re white, whether we’re straight or whether we’re gay, whether we’re this or whether we’re that. A real human being is a host, welcoming everything. In the morning when the sunlight strikes the sky for the first time, you can look in it and see dust in the sunlight. A real human being is the sunlight, not the dust.

Our practice is to water those seeds in us, to create an environment around us that gives us a chance of being a real human being. What I’m trying to do with this practice is to cultivate my best self, the best Larry possible. And when I do that I manifest the way of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is another name for a real human being. Thay told a story this summer about a wonderful woman from Holland that he met who saved thousands of Jews from the gas chambers in World War II, all by herself.  Bodhisattvas are real people.  Recently I started thinking about a brief encounter I once had with Martin Luther King; he was a real human being. Mother Theresa, whom I met when I lived in Calcutta, was a real human being. She was so real that when she thought something, you just did it.  [Laughter.]  It was astounding!

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Thay is that way. Peggy and I had promised Thay last year that we would join him on a trip to Korea last spring. But as April approached, we were moving from one side of the country to the other and we were extremely busy. So we wrote Thay a beautiful letter saying why we couldn’t come to Korea. We got a note back: “Thay is very sad. Here’s the schedule in case you change your mind.” [Laughter.] That’s all a real human being has to do. Being near a real human being is so rare an opportunity that any time we can, we go because it is a chance to be trained. To be trained in what? It’s a chance to be trained in becoming a real human being.

So we went to Korea, and it was a profound experience of the bodhisattva way. One day in Korea, five thousand people joined us in walking meditation, as we walked into the subway where a man had committed suicide and had killed 200 other people. He left a note, saying he did not want to die by himself. We did walking meditation into that subway where family members were still gathered, with candles, altars, and pictures. It was powerful to go from the daylight down those steps into that dark subway. You could still smell the fire. It was profound practice in offering compassion without saying a word.

The world needs real human beings. In the Lotus Sutra there is a section called “arising up from the earth,” and in it the Buddha is having a conversation with hundreds and thousands of bodhisattvas from all over the galaxy. One of the reasons they’ve gathered is that they’re concerned about planet Earth, and they asked the Buddha, “Do you need reinforcements?”  [Laughter.]  “Do you need help?”

And the Buddha said no, at this very moment bodhisattvas are rising up from the earth. Real human beings capable of living like the blue sky, like the sun and the moon that shine on everything. Shine on confusion, shine on clarity. Shine on sadness, shine on happiness. Shine on birth, shine on death.  Rising up from the earth.  It’s a powerful statement.

If you want to do something with your life, be a real human being. If you want to do something for your children, your grandchildren, be a real human being. If you want to do something for America, be a real human being. In everything you need to be a real human being. And it’s already inside of us; it’s in every cell of our body. However, we have to be trained to develop it, cultivate it, and to apply it. This is one of the Buddha’s fundamental insights—that one has to be trained to live life deeply. Most of us assume you have to be trained to be a doctor or a nurse or a pianist or a schoolteacher or a cabdriver or a cook. The idea that we have to be trained to live profoundly, seems to have never crossed anybody’s mind! You have to be trained to live. It’s one of the Buddha’s fundamental insights, and that training is lifelong.

The Buddha designed his life so that nine months of the year he was in public service, and three months of the year was spent in in-depth training. He designed his day that way also. He had very long days, lots of people coming and going, lots of teaching. But three times a day he withdrew for his own training, his own practice.

I think the dilemma for every one of us in this room, right now, is how do we design a life that allows that to happen for us? Our society is not structured for us to be real human beings; it’s structured for us to be consumers. And you don’t have to be a real human being to be a consumer. Our education system, our economics, our political process, don’t give us the time or create the environment for us to train ourselves in being a real human being. The training every bodhisattva has had for over two thousand years, is training in six things, and it’s the same training the Buddha had when he was a bodhisattva-in-training.

These six things are called the paramitas. They are practices that take us from the shore of fear to the shore of non-fear. From the shore of greed to the shore of non-greed. From the shore of hate to the shore of non-hate.

The first one of these practices is generosity. First, it means learning to give physical things we have without reluctance. Sharing. Basic kindergarten kinds of issues: “I have a cookie, and you don’t have one. What do we do now?” [Laughter.] Generosity. We have to train ourselves. Even though the impulse is deep inside of us, buried in ourselves, to share and to give, we are so quickly trained out of it by our society, by our culture. This is not just our culture, it’s every culture: “Don’t you do that, don’t give them your cookie.” Why? Because they may come back tomorrow for another one. We have tremendous rationales for cutting off and killing our true human being. Generosity: giving without apprehension, giving without fear.

There’s a great story about the Buddha’s generosity. The Buddha and his cousin Ananda were out for a stroll, and a man came up, bowed and said, “Dear sage, my mother has a medical emergency, and in order for her to be healed she needs another eye.”  So the Buddha took his eye out and gave it to the man. The man took the eye from the Buddha, threw it in the dust and stomped on it. And while he was stomping on it, Ananda said, “Hey, wait a minute!” But the Buddha said, “Ananda, the gift has already been given.”

Generosity. The practice of generosity is the practice of giving. For most of us, if people don’t do what we want with our gift we’re upset. That is the practice of non-generosity. When a gift has been given, it’s no longer yours, it’s no longer mine. And of course, there is no greater thing a person can do for their friends than to lay down their life, as Jesus reminds us. And the laying down of your life could be something as dramatic as martyrdom, but it could also be something as undramatic as going to a classroom full of children every day for forty years. It could be as mundane as going through your social work files for the thousandth time and not giving up on yourself and not giving up on humanity. It could be the fifty-fifth conversation with your daughter about the same thing, and you know you’ll do number fifty-six, you won’t withhold that from her.  Generosity.

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We train ourselves so well that eventually our generosity becomes like the Buddha’s.  It’s spontaneous – sure, here’s my eye.  But for most of us now we have to think about the cookie—the eye’s a long way off! And that’s the purpose of the training. The training takes us on a journey from the cookie to the eye. And we don’t get there without training. I know how hard that is for Americans who want things fast. It takes practice. It takes training.  It takes time.

The second paramita is diligence. It’s called Right Effort in the Eightfold Path. How can we be diligent? The first step of diligence is figuring out how to be consistent in your practice. Once a day, twice a day, once or twice a week with the Sangha, My own personal experience is that you cannot practice too much.

Once we have a daily practice rhythm, diligence means looking deeply within ourselves. It’s going into great inquiry. As Master Empty Cloud would say, “Great inquiry into our fundamental face.” That’s the practice. To have the courage to look into our real face. Not our five year-old face, not our ninety year-old face, not our American face, not our female face, our male face. Our fundamental face. Our original face, some have called it. Our Buddha nature, others have called it. The face of nirvana is our fundamental face. The face of a real human being. Great inquiry. Diligence. Looking into who we really are. And when we begin to see who we are, we begin to see who everybody else is.

For a long time I’ve been estranged from my son. I’ve written him letters over the years, but we have never been reconnected at the heart level. This year while practicing, I discovered the last threshold that stopped me from reconnecting with him. I realized that I didn’t know who he was: I didn’t know his fundamental face was the same as mine! I forgot about his Buddha nature. I forgot about his blue sky. And I forgot that because I forgot that about my face. As soon as I had that insight, within three days I got a phone call from a friend who said, “Your son’s looking for you.” And I’m looking for him. When we leave this retreat, Peggy and I return to Boston where we’ll be for a month, and we’re staying about two miles from where he lives, and he and I have plans to hang out.

Inclusiveness is the third paramita. That’s a very popular word in diversity circles. You want to be inclusive. Okay. Inclusivity is the practice of developing the capacity to receive what life gives us. To receive the pain, the suffering and the disappointments and to develop the capacity to take it in and to transform it into compassion.

Some years ago Peggy and I had our house burn down in Boise, Idaho, by an arsonist who had been sent by the Aryan Nation. I was working in California when the fire started. Because the fire occurred at two-thirty in the morning, they expected us to be there sleeping, and they meant to do us real harm. Peggy called me at three o’clock and told me that she and our dog Reggae were safe but the house was a total loss. I said, “Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” The whole time I was rearranging my schedule I was so stunned at the very idea that somebody would do that. I realized I didn’t know how to think like that.  I realized I didn’t know how to feel like that about anyone. I asked myself, how could somebody do that?

So over the next year as we rebuilt the house, I began to look into what kind of person joins that group. And I found out that they come from very poor economic backgrounds.  That most are high school dropouts. See, I’m moving toward inclusivity. That, if you look a little deeper, you’ll discover that nine out of ten of those people have been abused as children, emotionally and sexually. That’s how somebody could do that. Just looking for something to do to somebody, to strike out with the rage, with the anger, with the pain that’s just sitting there, growing.

Inclusivity practice takes time -this is about patience. This is not about having a Pollyanna attitude. For two years, Peggy had post-traumatic stress symptoms from being there when the fire started. But what is most important about this experience is that we were not harmed. What I mean is that we did not find ourselves having to be cruel. We did not find ourselves wishing ill will. We did not find ourselves having the seeds of hatred watered and developed at all. Anger, yes. Disappointment, yes. Shock, yes. But we did not become possessed and cruel. We did not have our focus turned around and reoriented to try to eliminate someone who tried to eliminate us. Protected by compassion.  Protected by inclusiveness.

There’s a wonderful story of the Buddha. Around his time of enlightenment, Mara came and sent armies who fired arrows at the Buddha, and as the arrows got closer they turned into flowers and dropped to the ground. Now, I want to be like that. [Laughter.] And we can! That’s just the practice of inclusivity. I’ve seen it happen with Thay. I’ve seen an arrow coming at him, and by the time the arrow got to him it was a flower. Peggy and I were sitting with Thay and Sister Chân Không and a few others when Thay got the phone call about his sister passing away in Vietnam. And we watched him receive that news, knowing he couldn’t go to be with his family. We watched that news go in and come back out as compassion for the person on the phone who had to give the message. Inclusivity.

Mindfulness trainings, the fourth paramita, are characterized in the Eightfold Path by right speech, right action or conduct, and right livelihood. The first role of the mindfulness trainings is creating stability and safety in and around ourselves. You know, it is very difficult to reach tranquility and profound insight in sitting meditation if you’re constantly looking out the window to see if your neighbor is looking for you with a gun because you stole his chicken! [Laughter] The first function of virtue is to create stability in ourselves, so we can calm down.  So the sand in the glass can settle at the bottom.

Mindfulness trainings are the ground upon which awakening can occur. And they are also evidence of the awakening. They’re both. But it’s a journey. The first step in practicing the mindfulness trainings is to notice your own behavior. Not improving yourself. The first step is noticing yourself with gentleness, with compassion. And the second step is slowly beginning to try to shift the pattern. The third step is healing the pattern. And the fourth step is transforming the pattern. Most of us want to go from step one to step four. Be compassionate with yourself. The key is to continue to practice. Mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating.

There’s also a secret of the Eightfold Path that’s not written down. It’s called right association. During a retreat last summer one of the children asked Thay, how did he get so peaceful? And Thay said, “Well, first I wanted to be peaceful. Second, I had an image of what that might be like.” And he referred to a time when, as a young person he saw his first picture of the Buddha sitting mindfully on the grass. “Third, I surrounded myself with peaceful people. Fourth, I added to that an environment that would support my practice of peace.” Right association.

Many of us want more peace, but our associations are not peaceful. We  have to take  charge,  and create the environment that cares for us, that supports us, that will sustain us in becoming real human beings. We have to learn to set boundaries that protect our practice. We have to learn to protect ourselves from others with gentleness and kindness, with kind caring.

Meditation is the fifth paramita that takes us to the other shore. And the other shore is always right here, right now. The practice of meditation is not an escape from life, it’s an escape into life. The classical description of meditation is the practice of stopping, calming, and achieving tranquility, stillness of mind, imperturbability. And the practice of deep seeing, deep looking into life, vipassanya, insight. This must occur for that to occur, and of course they inter-are, as Thay would say. But most of us want insight without stopping, without calming. For example it’s not that we aren’t smart enough to solve the problem of education in America, it’s that we haven’t meditated on it. We haven’t stopped long enough to settle down, to calm ourselves, and to look deeply into it.

Sometimes at Plum Village Palestinians and Israelis gather together. Because the first part of the peace process is about peace with oneself, they’ll spend several days sitting and walking and eating mindfully, and only later will they start to talk about peace with each other. It’s only a political problem because it’s a spiritual problem.

Einstein said the same level of consciousness that created a problem can’t solve the problem. You can only reinforce the problem with that kind of thinking. It’s astounding what can happen through spiritual practice, when, eye-to-eye across the table, father-to-father, son-to-son, daughter-to-daughter, mother-to-mother, all of a sudden we see each other’s children lying in the street and we get it! We get it in the very cells of our body, the possibility of being a real human being, and we know real human beings are not warmongers, that real human beings are not driven by revenge and prejudice. Revenge and prejudice and war are dark clouds floating across the sky of a real human being.

Meditation: stopping and calming and looking deeply into life. Meditation: sitting and walking and eating and lying down. Meditation is more than stress reduction. The purpose of meditation is to transform the quality of our minds. We say we want peace in the world, but we don’t have minds capable of it. We wish people were more kind, but we don’t train our minds to be more kind. Master Tang Hoi from Vietnam used to say that meditation is the process, the practice, of eliminating those clouds in the blue sky that is our mind.

Right view, right understanding, is paramita number six. The realization of perfect understanding is the bodhisattva’s only career. It’s very important that all these practices are done with wisdom. Generosity without wisdom, without understanding, is pity. Generosity without right understanding means you’ve died for the wrong cause. History’s full of examples of that tragedy.

Right view is detachment from views. It doesn’t mean we don’t have views. It means when we have views we know that that’s what they are, just views. Opinions are easy to come by; most of us have opinions that are created by our culture. We have opinions created by our family, by our ancestors, about ourselves and about each other, and we think they are our own. Right view is insight. Right view, right understanding, is about moving from the shore of speculation into the shore of direct perception. To practice developing insight into life, our whole life long,

The way of the bodhisattva is the way of the real human being. It is the way, as Thay would say, of walking with our Buddha feet, so that with every step we enjoy the miracle of being in the present moment. We touch the Pure Land of the Buddha, the Kingdom of God with every step–that’s where we live. With our Buddha eyes, everywhere we look we see wonder.

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Bodhisattvas in the Subway

by Peggy Rowe Ward

On Thay’s 2003 author tour of South Korea, one of the stops was to the city of Daegu.  Before we arrived, a man had started a fire in a crowded subway that contributed to the death of over 130 people and the wounding of 140 men, women, and children. At the time of our visit, rescue workers were still searching for the remains of additional victims.  Some of the families of the victims had moved into the fire-damaged section of the subways. The downtown streets were closed so we were able to walk and chant in the subways.  Following is an entry in my journal:

“We step off the bus. I sense her immediately— Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, is here. I feel a great sense of relief as we walk rapidly into the crowded downtown street. She is here, in the citizens of Daegu. Thousands of people fill the streets. Monks in light grey vests with balloon type pants, Buddhist sisters in grey and bronze robes, hundreds of Catholic sisters, small women in navy with white headdresses like sun visors.

Avalokiteshvara helps us part the crowd. She is standing on the dragon boat, streamers flying from her long black hair, the wind moving her hair like ribbons. We’re riding a wave on the back of a dragon boat.  In, out, step, step.

“We join the throng, walking step by step, feeling the breeze in our face, the rhythm of the wave and the cadence of our steps. Rescue workers, volunteer food servers, businessmen in dark suits, women in pastel jackets. The grey-robed monks are clicking prayer beads. Large piles of dried white football mums line the streets.

“I hear Hai-Jin ask the brother, ‘Are you sad?’ Her eyes search his face for some kind of answer. He answers her, ‘Yes,’ and with that ‘yes’ he shows her his pain, his sadness spills into the space between us. Somehow this seems to ease her mind in some deep way. Her body softens and I notice her outbreath. I see her stumble and reach for her hand.  Together we ride the wave, step by step, holding hands.

“We are stopped. It feels like we have reached an invisible wall. There is a heaviness, a darkness. Despair. It is mind numbing. It is palpable. A wall of grief. In one breath I feel fear. The child in me cries out and says, ‘Stop, do not go any further.’ And in that next instant I suddenly feel her -Kshitigarbha, the bodhisattva that rescues beings from the greatest suffering, is holding my hand.

“We go as a river. We are a river. Somehow this river moves down below the street. As a Sangha, we enter into hell. There is no light. There is only darkness. Then I see with Kshitigarbha’s eyes. There is a shimmering light everywhere. There is nowhere that light is not present.

“We walk on. We are one body. We move past family shrines. Candles flicker on faces of children, sons, daughters, parents, grandparents. We are here with the altars of teddy bears, baseball caps, beautifully arranged plates of fruit, the favorite foods of loved ones. There are posters of our beloveds over the shrines—young women in prom dresses, small soccer players, proud policemen, babies in christening robes. There are zip-lock bags with human hair and bone shards, all that remains of my daughter, my sister. Family members are draped over their shrines. Some are slumped and sleeping in front of votive candles. Many are crying. Some are wailing. Some seem frozen in time. Rescue workers with navy blue cups, hand out mugs of soup. People pass large white mums into our hands. They want to touch us. The Korean sister tells us they are saying we are angels. I’m uncomfortable at first, and then I give in to being an angel that day. How could I not be a blessing? My hand seems to float on its own toward the person on my left side. I gently rest my palm on the dark hair of my brother, my sister, as we become one heart of deep blessing.

Peggy Rowe Ward, True Original Source, is a Dharma teacher living in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Seasoning the Soup with Peace

An Interview with My Elder Brother

by Phap Lai

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Brother Phap Do and I sat and drank tea together on a number of occasions. Sharing tea is a time-honored way of building brotherhood in Plum Village. As the story of my elder brother’s journey and transformation unfolded I felt inspired to record it.

In this interview Brother Phap Do shares how he transformed his anger through practice, moving stories of reconciliation with his father, and how his mother started a Sangha after meeting a strange monk at their loved ones’ gravesides. Now forty-two years old, Brother Phap Do ordained as a monk in Plum Village in 1996.

Su Anh (elder brother), can you speak about your family background?

I was born and brought up in Hanoi, North Vietnam, with four generations, twenty-six of us all together in one house. When I was ten my father was posted to Saigon so then we no longer lived with all the grandparents. With twenty-six family members living in the same house you have a Sangha. We had to learn how to live with each other and practice patience. I received love from my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother. Sometimes my mother would be too tired and busy to give me attention or would scold me. My grandmother would take care of my mum while my great grandmother took care of me. That’s when I really saw the strength of the family all together—it was a circle of love. I learned about building family from them. There was much tension too, but my main memory is that there was a lot of love in that house.

What made you want to be a monk at fourteen?

My grandmother used to take me to the temple every week. She was the only religious one in the family. One time I stood mesmerized while a monk arranged flowers with such care: he was so peaceful. I wondered how anyone could have peace like that when everyone was going to war. We had just finished the war with America and then started one with Cambodia. I told my parents, “I want to be a monk,” and they responded “No!”  It was simply out of the question.

Why were they so definite, saying no like that?

I was the only son. They were relying on me to continue the family through having children and taking care of the family’s future. Also my father was a military man, a communist high in the government, a man of action. According to him, monks were lazy and shirked their responsibility to build the new Vietnam. They were anti-communist. For his own son to be a monk was unthinkable.

What was your father’s career?

My father’s elder brother joined the resistance army, fighting the French when he was sixteen. It was the branch of the Viet Minh which was to become Communist. He soon persuaded his fourteen-year-old brother to join him. It was 1945 and my father stayed in the army until 1968. The Communist Party put him in charge of a construction company and eventually he became the main government official for construction in Vietnam.

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There seems to be a parallel between his choice to join the resistance army in the mountains and you as a boy of the same age wanting to become a monk. Both offer a life in Sangha and a sense of purpose, even adventure.

Can you say something of your experience as a soldier?

I didn’t choose to go into the army, I was drafted. Before that I’d trained as a chef and was working for a tourist company. In 1985, I underwent six months of army training and they singled me out to be in the special forces and receive more training. I found myself being dropped into Cambodian forests on reconnaissance missions. Many traumatic things happened. One day in a jeep I heard a loud crack and looked around to see that my friend had been shot in the head. I drove off, escaping his fate. After two years in Cambodia one mission went badly wrong and we found ourselves surrounded by Khmer Rouge soldiers. One of our team made a run for it and was shot down immediately. The rest of us waited, defending our position for days until another team was sent in to rescue us. One other soldier survived along with me without serious injury, another I had to carry out after he lost his legs stepping on a land mine. He died later in the hospital. Although my father was proud that I was in the army, after that incident he was scared for my life and arranged through his contacts to have me taken out.  I am grateful to him for that.

Did you have to kill people on the missions?

We were there to gather information so the regular army could go in. But on occasion that happened. It was always dark, silent, and I seldom saw their faces.

How do you feel about them now?

They are still with me.

How did you feel about your two years of army service and being a civilian again?

I felt happy to be alive—I had survived. I also felt very proud and confident. I had risked my life carrying out a noble task. As my friend in our team put it in a song he wrote: we had taken on the burden everybody else refused. We had freed Cambodia from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. That is how we saw it. I don’t view it so simply now—there was also the desire to conquer another land and people.

But as far as being back in civilian life was concerned, I was fearless.  I wouldn’t let anyone speak down to me no matter what position they were in. I never physically hurt anyone but no one ever challenged me. Looking deeply now I can see that the pride and violence in me caused me and others to suffer. But at the time I felt okay and focused on making a success of my life as a civilian.

What happened then?

I got a job as a chef and soon after my boss asked me to go to Frankfurt to be head chef at his Vietnamese restaurant there. I had the usual dream of making lots of money, having a fancy house and car for me and my fiancee. We were very committed to each other and she completely supported me in going abroad. We thought it would be a good start for our security and happiness in the future. And I’d be able to give money to my family. It’s not that they were poor, but to be able to repay your gratitude to your parents is a big thing in Asian culture and money is the usual way.   So off I went.

After some time in Frankfurt some disillusionment with my dream crept in. Although I admired the owner of the restaurant for his success, I could see that it did not bring him happiness. He had family difficulties and suffered a lot. I began to have difficulties too. The restaurant work was stressful and I couldn’t control my anger with the other cooks. We had a big turnover of customers who would often come in drunk, would drink more, be noisy, eat quickly, and leave. I would get back home most nights at around two a.m. and drink beer, smoke, and watch videos to unwind. But I found that, especially with the alcohol and violent images, memories would come up in my mind, particularly in dreams.

I knew something had to change. I began by quitting smoking and drinking and exercising regularly, and I started to feel much better. Still it wasn’t enough. So when my friend Vinh said he was planning to start a quiet vegetarian restaurant in Berlin I told him I wanted to join him.  A few months later I moved to Berlin.

In the vegetarian restaurant, the customers enjoyed their food and they seldom smoked or drank, except for a glass of wine. The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. Vinh went to see Thay speak in Berlin in 1994 and when he came back, he offered me an audiotape of the talk. I was extremely impressed so I started reading Thay’s books. Then some monastics came to Berlin in the spring of 1995 to offer a Vietnamese retreat. We invited them to the restaurant, and talking to Brother Phap An, Brother Phap Dang, and Brother Phap Dung, I could see a real quality of happiness and peace about them that I wanted too.

So I went to the summer retreat at Plum Village. I ordained as a novice monk on February 15th, 1996.

How did it feel, becoming a monk?

It was very clear—I had been reborn. I had had a feeling of being reborn when I went back into civilian life, having survived, against the odds, my time in the forces. But this was different because I had been reborn onto a completely new path, one my ancestors could not really tell me about—a path of peace and happiness and understanding. My ancestors were reborn with me even though they didn’t know it. The fourteen-year-old in me said, “Now I got my wish.”

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How did your family react?

Not happy. I had told them of my intentions beforehand. But when I actually ordained they were in a state of shock and didn’t want to believe it. When I visited Vietnam later, even my grandmother asked me, “Why a monk?” And I told her, “It was you, Grandmother, who took me to the temples. You showed me the good way, now I’m only trying to follow that way.”

My parents felt betrayed and that I had brought shame onto the family. I was their only son and their hope for the future of the family. So, many times they told me I had run away from my responsibility. They had matched me with my fiancee at an early age. She was part of the family. How could they explain to her and her family? And my fiancee was very hurt, which is a wound yet to heal. It gave rise to a complex in her: if I had become a monk there must be something wrong with her; she hadn’t been good enough to keep me. This is totally untrue but I cannot persuade her otherwise.

It was a difficult time for all of us but I knew I was on the right path. I had faith in the Dharma and was convinced that eventually my family would come to understand. But my father was angry and for the following two years avoided speaking to me whenever I telephoned home.

What finally brought about a change in their view?

It wasn’t until my father became ill with a worsening heart condition in 1998 that the door opened.  Before he went into the hospital I insisted he come to the phone and I told him I was going to send him some material to help him.  I sent the book Breathe!, You Are Alive, with Thay’s commentary on the Anapanasati sutra, the sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Then I gave a visiting monk from Vietnam a box of cookies to take to my parents’ home. By the time these arrived my father was already in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack.

My family sat down to share tea with my cookies. At some point—I can only imagine how their faces looked—my mother removed the plastic cover for the second layer of cookies. It was then they saw the carefully wrapped tape cassettes of Thay’s teachings, which accompanied the book I’d given to Dad.

My mother took them to my father in the hospital and he listened to them every day. It really helped him. Back from the hospital, he sent me a letter with a photo which I still keep. It is a picture of him and on the back he wrote: “You see your father is always waiting for you.” In his letter he said, “I know your way now.” Asian fathers don’t say they are sorry or admit they were wrong to their sons directly. I spoke with him on the phone and he said he was feeling good but a week later he had another heart attack and died later in the hospital.

Hadn’t you wanted to go be with your family at this time?

Sr. Chan Khong and Thay offered to pay my airfare, but I only had two years in the practice and didn’t feel stable enough. In 1999, on an invitation from Thay, my mother came to Plum Village for three months. We spent a lot of time together.  She enjoyed the way of life here so much she wanted to become a nun but the family back home wasn’t happy with that idea so she gave up her desire and went back.

Then in 2001 I went with the Sangha to Vietnam and spent two weeks with my family, which was also a healing time. My mother and I went to my father’s grave in a special memorial ground for government officials and officers. I offered incense and chanting for the deceased that we offer in Plum Village. It happened that a neighbor of my mother’s, a family friend, was also there visiting her husband’s grave. Her husband had been a close comrade of my father in the army. After the chanting she came up to us and said, “How lovely. I suppose you made a request to the temple for the venerable monk to come and chant for the peace of your husband?”

“But, this is my son,” my mother exclaimed.

The woman stared at my face, bewildered at first but soon recognized me and began to cry. She shared about her family’s suffering. Her son had gone to Germany at the same time I did. She said, “He has returned with lots of money but he has no peace. Your son has come back with no money but he has brought back peace. That is something so precious for your family, no money can buy that.”

Soon after I left Vietnam, my mother and this friend started a Sangha, offering mindfulness days and raising money for the hungry children in their region.

Can you share how, as a monk, you are transforming your anger?

Anger was the main obstacle for me. It came from my army training and from my father who had also been shaped in the army. Every single thing they tell you in the army waters the seeds of fear,

anger, and violence in you. The way your superiors relate to you is violent and you have to take all of that without reacting, but it goes in and then you dish out the same treatment when you’re in charge. All your training and what you do generates anger and you use the energy of anger, very focused and somehow cool, to do your job. It’s hard to imagine another way, although Thay teaches it is possible for a soldier to act from the base of compassion.

Living in the Sangha, it was easy to see my anger. Learning how to handle it was my practice. Over my six years as a monk I guess my brothers have had to go through a lot with me. Sitting in a meeting one time I became so angry at a brother as he was sharing, I had the idea to put the big bell over his head and turf him out of the hall.  Fortunately I was able to breathe and stay still. The energy in me caused me to feel I was the size of the gorilla in King Kong. If I stood up, my head was sure to touch the roof. I asked to hold Br. Phap Dzung’s hand for support. Soon I excused myself from the meeting and walked to Thay Giac Thanh’s hut. He was quite ill with diabetes and had recently broken a bone, but he was able to accept his illness and discomfort and be happy and peaceful. I would often do walking meditation to his hut and share tea with him when I was angry. I didn’t need to tell my story—just his presence calmed me down.

With  time,  through  the practice  of  mindful  breathing, I have developed a zone of peace in me and have had more and more space for my anger.  I say to myself, There is anger in me, but I am not this anger.    I can recognize it as it is coming up and take care  of  it. When  driving  I used to notice that my foot was pressing harder on the accelerator because my anger had manifested.  But because the  peaceful  mindfulness energy was also there, I was able to ease off very quickly. I would slow the car right down and go back to my breath. Mainly  walking  and  sitting meditation was the base of my practice but I also used other skillful means. I found writing poetry about my situation and feelings helped me. By  finding  eloquent  words and  putting  my  anger  into a larger context which contained positive thoughts and aspirations,  it  detached  me from the emotion. So gradually I know myself better and better and can recognize all the signs of my anger coming up and am able to take care of it right away.  Now I see the peaceful zone prevents the seeds of my anger manifesting, even when I see them being watered.

What do you wish for your future practice?

Just to continue the basic practice, to increase my happiness and peace. That is enough for me. I do see I have a strong seed to be an elder brother. I like to support my younger brothers but not as an authority.

I see also that here we have an opportunity to live together, Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese. It is a challenge to live together, to understand and connect with each other. Sometimes the seeds of prejudice are very strong. For instance, many Vietnamese still resent that Westerners tried to colonize our land and that they looked down on the Vietnamese as inferior. Many Vietnamese had a rough time integrating as immigrants. There can be a desire to show “I’m not less than you, I can do everything you can do and do it better.” But here we are together under the roof of the same teacher and as monastics we have left everything else behind for the love of the same practice. So we should make the effort to get to know each other and love each other. We can live together. It is an important act of peace— stopping the war—that we do this. I feel very at home with the Western people. I don’t care if my English or German is not perfect—even with my limited French I just go ahead and have a conversation. I don’t feel a barrier or a difference but relate to people on a human level.

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Br. Phap Do became a Dharma Teacher in 2002. For me his character echoes those samurai of ancient Japan who gave up their swords to become monks and channeled their one-pointed determination and zeal into the ways and practices of a monk.  Every morning at five a.m., Br. Phap Do is at the bell tower of Upper Hamlet in Plum Village, calling us with the deep bronze sounds and his strong chanting voice to sitting meditation.

Br. Phap Lai is a novice from England, currently living in Deer Park.

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Parenting, Children, and Mindfulness

A Wonderfully Rich Practice

by Bud Reiter-Lavery

Few of the local Sangha members have young children. I have two neighbors with children under the age of three who used to do formal sitting meditation alone or in groups, but haven’t done so since the birth of their children.  Similarly, I didn’t go on a retreat for six years—the time from the birth of my first child until my second child was age three. Perhaps the formal structures of practice that we have created, such as weekly two-hour meditation meetings, five day retreats, etc., just don’t work well for parents with young children.

My two girls are now ages five and eight, and I am discovering that I have more energy to engage them and others in mindfulness practice. I am also a lot less concerned about whether I lead a group or go on retreats. It is clearer to me now that my whole life is my practice, which means that for me, parenting is a salient part of my mindfulness practice, every day. My wife and kids are great Dharma teachers, both in how they can pull out the compassionate parts of me and when they unintentionally show me all the seeds I still need to transform. Frankly, when my girls are tired and prone to crying, I often find myself at the edge of my practice—and sometimes a bit beyond it.

I considered starting a monthly mindfulness morning for folks like me with kids, but I have made it much simpler and with fewer expectations. Once a month my girls and I have a mindfulness morning while my wife, Lisa, goes to church. This gives Lisa a chance to be more focused at church, and it gives the girls and me a wonderful chance to gently and simply practice. They love reading stories about the Buddha’s life. We also do a juice and cookie ceremony, color in a coloring book of scenes of the Buddha’s life, sing, and sometimes do outdoor walking meditation. We go with the flow and do whatever seems refreshing and enjoyable. I have invited the neighbors with children to join us, but I don’t really care if they come or not. The time is for the girls and me to enjoy being, to enjoy our mindfulness. It is a very relaxing time for me. I think it would drain me if I carried expectations about providing this as a service to the community.

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Being married and having children mean that I have several other people’s needs to consider. We inter-are. So we’ve worked out a schedule that includes time for me to go to retreats and weekly Sangha meetings, making sure that I still have lots of time to be with my family. Last fall was the first time I took them on a retreat with Thay, so we are integrating family mindfulness in formal ways, but mostly in very informal ways. While I still periodically sing Dharma songs to them each night when I put them to bed, most of my practice involves just being present with them.

One of my favorite quotes about mindful parenting is from Dharma Family Treasures.  It goes as follows:

Master: I have no tolerance for those who use their children as an excuse for not practicing.

Hermit: I have no tolerance for those who use their practice as an excuse for not parenting.

Beggar: When we fully immerse ourselves in parenting as our practice, we answer the question, Of what use is it merely to enjoy this fleeting world?

O sincere trainees, create no Dharma orphans. Quickly is dew gone from the grass.  Quicker still are children grown.

Bud Reiter-Lavery, True Wonderful Awakening, lives with his daughters Katie, age eight, and Theresea, age five, and wife Lisa. He practices with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Durham, North Carolina.

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Welcoming New Flowers to Our Sangha

by Ben Matlock, True Equanimity of the Sangha

Editor’s Note: The Boston Old Path Sangha created a ceremony to welcome children to this life and to the Sangha. You might consider offering this ceremony to the children in your Sangha, especially to newborns. You can change and add to this format with your own creativity. For instance, it is lovely to chant the child’s name to her or him as part of a welcoming ceremony.

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A three-tiered altar was created; on the top level was a statue of Avalokiteshvara, candles and flowers. On the second level was an empty vase; on the lowest level a bowl of consecrated water with a willow branch. Everyone sat in a circle, with the parents and the children being celebrated nearest the altar. In front of each family was a bud vase with a special flower and a branch, and gifts offered by the Sangha. Across from the altar was a basket filled with one kind of flower.

Before the ceremony began, it was explained that the children were to be the focal point of the event, and were invited to remain through the entire ceremony, even if the traditional periods of silence were interrupted.

Opening the Ceremony Three Bells
Sitting Meditation, five minutes
Incense Offering
(Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, page 315)
Introductory Words
“Children are the flowers of the Sangha. Today the community has gathered to recognize two new flowers. We begin by expressing gratitude to our ancestors so that we can recognize that these dear children are the continuation of our spiritual and blood relations. Please open your hearts to these children and to the teaching they can provide us. They will also need our guidance and support along the paths they follow as they live their lives.”

Naming the Children

“Dear parents, please state clearly the name of the child you present this day.” (Each name followed by a bell). Each child is sprinkled with water.

“May your name lead you and us to realize the beauty of your suchness and may it be a continual bell calling you to an understanding of your true nature.

“The water on this branch is the clear fresh balm of compassion. May these children be treated with compassion in their lives and thus learn to have compassion for themselves and others.

“Parents, please tell how the child you present today has come to be known by his or her name.” (Parents tell us why they chose the names they did.)

(two bells)

The Five Awarenesses

“Dear parents, you have become the special guardians of these precious children. If you choose, you can be supported greatly by the Three Gems. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha will provide you spiritual support. The Five Awarenesses provide the context of your understanding of your special role. Know that this community will continue to support you in this practice. Consider reciting these awarenesses on the full moon each month. Hearing the sound of the bell, please say the five awarenesses in the presence of this community that wishes to support you.”

We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. (bell)

We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us. (bell)

We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy peace, freedom, and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children. (bell)

We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.

(bell)

We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow. (two bells)

Welcoming the Children into the Sangha

(Said by all) “Dear Children, we welcome you into our family and promise to allow you to flourish in our midst. We honor you for the gift you are. May you always experience the true refuge of compassion when you are with us. To help manifest the energy of compassion, we now invoke the name of Avalokiteshvara twenty-one times. While we chant, please enjoy assembling a community of flowers in the empty vase as a symbol of our own community’s flowering. One at a time, take a flower from the basket and place it in the vase.”

Each Sangha member bowed first to the altar and then to each of the children. At the end, the parents added the children’s flowers to the vase.

(Sing Recitation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara’s Name from PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page 343, second variation.)

Hugging Meditation

“Participants are invited to turn to each other and practice hugging meditation as a form of Beginning Anew to close the ceremony and demonstrate that we are welcoming these new flowers with open hearts and harmony between each other.”

The ceremony unfolded in a lovely mix of formality and informality. At one point one of the children helped invite the bell. He did this several times, each time listening to the results of his actions. The other baby found the written program quite tasty and chomped down with great enthusiasm. Laughter came with great ease when something tickled our funny bones. A festive potluck lunch marked the end of the day’s events.

mb36-Welcoming2Note:  The water was consecrated by a few of us before the ceremony using the form in the Blessing Ceremony found in the PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page152.

The Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book is available through Parallax Press, iamhome.org.

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Teens, Yoga, and Nature

An Interview with Holiday Johnson

by Terry Masters

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Holiday, tell us about your yoga classes for teenagers.

I know that some people are hesitant to work with teens; they regard them with suspicion, or fear. But my experience with teens has been wonderful. I’m encouraged by their enthusiasm, creativity, and their delight in life. I really love them!

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What kind of work do you do with teens?

Thirteen years ago I started a non-profit program for teens which we named Standing on Your Own Two Feet. The purpose of the program is to use yoga to develop skills in teenagers that produce a sense of well-being. In my experience, yoga helps youngsters become strong, centered, and healthy.

Teens can come to any class at our yoga studio seven days a week. But I offer two yoga classes that are designed specifically for youngsters eleven to seventeen years old. Because teens often don’t have much money, the classes are half price, and I offer free classes for two months each year. During those months teenagers can attend classes every day if they want at no charge.

You also sponsor a teen retreat, don’t you? What is that like?

It is so inspiring! This past August, nine girls, ages thirteen to seventeen years old, and two adults gathered at a retreat center in an organic apple orchard in the mountains near Parkdale, Oregon for three days and two nights.

Each girl brought her own vegetarian recipe to prepare for the group. We had some delicious and creative organic vegetarian meals! In appreciation for the wonderful food and the work that went into preparing it, we began each meal with the Five Contemplations.

We practiced meditation every day. We offered formal yoga classes, and informal ones, too: the girls invented their own tree pose in the river! Sometimes the girls were quiet, enjoying the time to reflect and relax. Of course, there were also times when the girls were chatty and giggly.

We hiked. We swam. We sat in awe of nature: one girl found frog eggs for us to admire; another commented on how beautiful it was to be swimming in an apple orchard. One day Judy Bluehorse, a Native American, guided us through the woods, pointing out the various medicinal uses of the plants and trees we saw.

What is especially encouraging for me in working with teens is how they share their ideas with each other so freely. How supportive and kind they are, how sweetly they encourage each other. For example, some of the girls were afraid to swim in the muddy-bottomed lake. After some encouragement from their peers, the timid ones were in there having fun too. That kind of sweetness, that kind of compassion and generosity, gives me hope for the future.

If folks want to find out more about your work with teenagers, how can they get in touch with you?

Our website is www.holidaysyogacenter.com. I’d be happy to share whatever I can with people who are interested in working with teens. And I’d love to know more about what others are doing.

Holiday Johnson, Kind Forgiveness of the Heart, practices with the True Name Sangha in Portland, Oregon.

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Poem: Feelings

My heart is blushing red
I have cried for you once, I will not
cry for you twice
How I miss you
My heart is heart broken
Somewhere deep in your heart I
I know you love me so much
I am waiting
I can feel your heart wanting me.

mb36-Feelingsakira Traub is seven years old and lives in Hove, England.  She loves animals, yoga, and miso soup.  Her mother tells us that she is dealing with painful feelings following her parents’ divorce through words and music. She is a prolific reader, loves to write poetry, and has begun playing the violin.

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Buddha Nature

An Exercise for Children

by Terry Masters

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NOTE What the facilitator might say is in boldface. The answers in parentheses are the answers our children gave us.

We know that a Buddha lives inside of each of us. Not the man who lived a long time ago, of course! But the nature of that man who lived thousands of years ago.  The Buddha’s nature lives inside each of us.

What do you think the Buddha’s nature is like? (Happy, generous, compassionate, kind, loving, open, free, patient, etc.)

Think of someone you love very much. Do you sometimes see the Buddha’s nature in that person? What does that person do, how does that person show you that the Buddha’s nature is inside of her or him?

It is usually easy to see the Buddha’s nature in someone we love. But the Buddha’s nature is in everyone, even people we do not think we like at all. Think of someone you do not like very much. Have you ever seen the Buddha’s nature peek out of that person even a little bit?

What did it look like? (The person smiled; the person once said a nice thing to a friend of mine; the person likes my cat.)

Why is it important for us to remember to look for the Buddha’s nature in ourselves and in everyone we meet? (So that we can love ourselves and others; so we can be happy and make others happy; so we can all have peace.)

Let’s learn a song about how we feel when we notice our friend’s Buddha Nature.

Sing:

Dear friend,
Dear friend,
Let me tell you how I feel
You have given me such treasure
I love you so

What do you think the “treasure” is that we sing about in this song? Could it be our friend’s Buddha Nature?

How do we feel about our friends when they show us—when they give us—their Buddha nature? (We love her; we feel happy; we feel grateful.)

Let’s sing the song again.

After the children have learned the words, it is fun to sing the song as a round in two or three (or more!) parts.

This song is a good way to say “thank you” to your friend or someone in your family. When might you want to sing this song? (When my brother doesn’t hit me; when my mom gives me a surprise in my lunch box; when Daddy reads me a story; when my grandmother makes up a song for me; when my friend lets me play with his roller blades)

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Cultivating Our Blue Sky Nature

Skillful Means for Emotional Healing

by John Bell

In the mid-1990s, John Bell began leading workshops on handling stress for the young people and staff in the YouthBuild programs throughout the United States. At the workshop, John introduced them to meditation and to methods of emotional healing.

John has been exploring ways of combining meditation and methods of emotional healing for many years. In one pivotal insight, he noticed that feelings often come up when sitting in meditation and that if we pay specific attention to them, either then or immediately after sitting, they will naturally release themselves and became conscious doors for liberation.

Several years ago John began offering an annual Day of Mindfulness focusing on mindfulness and emotional healing for folks from the greater Boston area Sanghas.

Each year, more people attend.   In the fall of 2003, in Berkeley, California, Dharma teacher Lyn Fine and John teamed up to offer a weekend retreat on the topic. Another one is being offered this June, in Connecticut.

This article offers an invitation to use emotions as an object of meditation. It highlights some of the methods John uses to uncover, hold, and transform difficult feelings.

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Feelings

There are some things we know about feelings.  They are impermanent, always changing. They often connect us most directly with ourselves. Typically feelings are problematic, a source of confusion and suffering. Feelings are usually riddled with our judgments—I should feel this way, or, I shouldn’t feel that way; this feeling is bad, that one good. In the midst of the confusion we try our best to handle them. Often we wind up suppressing or repressing the feeling that is present, or perhaps acting out the feeling inappropriately. This leads to more inner turmoil and distress. Hurtful experiences, plus our judgments about the feelings that accompany those experiences, soon lead us to feel that there is something wrong, or that “I’m not okay.” This negative self-judgment obscures our ultimate nature.

Five Practices for Handling Feelings

In a Dharma talk reprinted in the Fall 2000 Mindfulness Bell, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches five main practices for handling feelings, each of which is intimately connected to the others. As a brief review, the five are:

  • “Blue sky”: Ground ourselves in the ultimate The blue sky is a metaphor for the nature of things, ultimate reality, our home. It is always there behind the local, historical dimension that we get conditioned to think is reality. The blue sky is the is-ness, the ok-ness. To describe it, we use words like “spacious, free, happy, connected, oneness, well-being, no separation, no separate self ”. Each of us has experienced our blue sky nature many, many times. Perhaps in music, love-making, nature, a moment of being “awake.” In C.S. Lewis’s happy phrasing, “surprised by joy!”
  • “Noting:” Learn to observe feelings coming and going. After establishing ourselves solidly in the breath, we allow the different feelings to arise and fall away like waves on the We can use helpful phrases like “feeling sad” (or, “angry, jealous, fearful”, and so on), or “this feeling too” to whatever comes. Relating back to the “blue sky” practice, we can be aware of different feelings like clouds moving across the blue sky.
  • “Change the peg”: Move attention off suffering, onto something positive or interesting, or at least In older methods of carpentry, pieces of wood were attached with a peg. Sometimes a rotten peg would have to be replaced by pounding a new one into the same hole. Originally taught by the Buddha, Thay uses this metaphor to point to the many tools at our disposal for “watering the positive seeds.” When a negative feeling seems to dominate our awareness, we can deliberately choose to get our attention off our troubles by reading a poem, listening to music, taking a walk, reciting a sutra, caring for another person. This list is unlimited.
  • “Taking the hand of suffering”: Embracing what Accepting, befriending feelings. Thay urges us not to treat our sadness or unhappiness as an enemy. “Dear anger, I recognize you. Come, stay with me. I know you are suffering. I know how to care for you.” The practice is to just be with the feeling, not get overwhelmed or swept away, and not run away. This is a variation of “noting.” “So this is what sadness feels like. Hmm.  Very interesting.”  Kind and gentle.
  • “Look deeply”: Examine the roots of With persistent feelings that seem to have a deep hold on us and won’t go away, we can practice exploring the roots of distressed feelings. In my experience, the roots are either in repeated experiences of hurt beginning early in our lives, or in a severe incident of trauma or hurt at any vulnerable moment along the way. What is helpful is to have a friend listen warmly and attentively while we explore the past. Typically tears and fears and laughter and anger will accompany the release of deep and long-lasting hurts. The emotional release will allow understanding to arise. “Oh, that’s why I have always felt like that!” Insight.

Each of these five practices is deep. Each can be greatly elaborated and extended over time. Each can be practiced individually or in community. We can take feelings as an object of meditation. Our Sanghas can help us practice emotional healing. We can learn to deliberately deepen safety to explore feelings. We can create space to allow for feelings. We can be internally attentive to our judgments about feelings. Over time, we can develop comfort and skill with any and all of the five practices mentioned above. Here, let us focus on two practices, the first and the last, “Blue Sky” and “Looking Deeply.”

Blue Sky Practice

In the Spring of 2001 at a retreat called “Mindfulness and Emotional Healing” for the Boston area Sanghas, Order of Interbeing member Joanne Sunshower and I introduced a “Blue Sky Practice.” We started by inviting everyone to sing Irving Berlin’s happy and familiar song, “Blue Skies”:

Blue skies, smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies do I see
Blue birds singing a song
Nothing but blue birds from now on

We talked about our blue sky nature and how feelings and other mind states are like weather passing through the blue sky. If we identify with the weather we can easily forget that the blue sky is always there and holds all weather, and that weather is temporary. Finding ways of touching where we live, our ultimate nature, our blue skies, is a deep and useful practice.

To explore this we asked people to break into pairs, with each taking an uninterrupted ten minute turn to tell the listener about times we experienced blue sky. We asked them to think of this as a two-person Dharma discussion, listening without interruption.

After breathing in silence, the speaker might remember a time he or she felt whole, connected, completely loved, one with everything, in touch with unlimited compassion, or other aspects of the ultimate dimension. Or she might look around and touch the blue sky in the present.

We asked the listener to assume the attitude of Buddha. How would Buddha look at the speaker? How would Buddha listen? What attitude would Buddha have toward the speaker? These questions can be helpful when we remember that what Buddha would be seeing is the Buddha nature of the speaker.

In sharing about the experience afterwards, practitioners reported delight in being able to bring memories of blue sky times into present awareness, or to simply look, listen, and feel the blue skyness of

the moment. For some, tears flowed surprisingly quickly when they turned their attention toward the ultimate reality. Basking in the warm attention of the listener seemed to help the process. This practice has elicited similar responses each time I have introduced it over the past several years.

Practice of Looking Deeply at Suffering

Grounding oneself in the ultimate dimension can form a solid base for exploring our pain in the relative dimension. The Blue Sky practice can form an anchor. Repeatedly, my experience has been that when I can listen deeply to another person for a long enough time, the person often spontaneously moves toward looking deeply at the roots of their pain. Why do we do this so reliably? My own practice over the years convinces me that it is a natural process.

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Our inherent Buddha nature gets obscured by hurt, oppression, misinformation, lack of information, family conditioning, inherited cultural beliefs, and a million other forms of harm. Such accumulated hurts shape our patterns of perception, ideas of self, and other mental formations. Mindfulness meditation, practiced with diligence and persistence, can eventually penetrate these veils and once again put a person in touch with the freedom and equanimity of the blue sky. Paying attention to feelings, looking at suffering, is not hard to do in a mindfulness context. It is a necessary and inevitable process along the path of liberation. Recasting the Four Noble Truths to focus on emotional hindrances might sound something like this:

There is suffering. Here we are speaking of emotional distress and physical hurt. Buddha named suffering as the first truth to help us acknowledge and accept suffering rather than deny or avoid it. All Western therapeutic schools likewise state that healing begins when a person faces the pain. “It hurts.”

There is a cause of suffering. Buddha taught that the cause is ignorance of reality, is thinking there is independent existence, is not understanding the impermanent nature of things and trying to hold on to what must change. Wrapped around these big issues for any individual are the scars of untold layers of hurtful experiences—things that happened to the person because he or she is born into a whole world full of suffering and falseness. Things like being unloved, scorned, rejected, not valued, humiliated, abused, disrespected, mis-educated, oppressed, ignored, not welcomed, lied to, mistreated, made to feel powerless, misled, physically hurt, pampered into numbness, not accepted, insulted, demeaned, or made to be afraid.

There is a way out of suffering.  For Buddha, understanding the nature of reality meant liberation from suffering. Along the emotional healing path, increased freedom from suffering comes as a person heals past trauma, reevaluates the past, sheds old patterns of thought and behavior, and gradually identifies with a healthier sense of self. As many people have noted, one has to have a strong, integrated ego in order to transcend the ego and move to the deeper insights that Buddha taught. Buddhist psychology speaks of purification as a step towards liberation.

The practice of the path is the means for ending suffering. Buddha put forth a comprehensive Eightfold Path—a set of moral guidelines, concentration practices, conceptual directions, and practices for daily living that, if followed diligently, can lead to insight and the transformation of suffering. What might be some elements of the path to end emotional suffering? Here are ones that I have found useful and consistent with Buddhist teachings.

  • Cultivate a noble view of human beings. Know that every human being, by nature, is Buddha I use this description: By nature, human beings are
    • inherently valuable
    • deeply caring
    • enormously intelligent
    • immensely powerful
    • infinitely creative
    • naturally cooperative
    • innately joyful

Whenever I’ve asked a group of people to repeat these words out loud, the tone rises immediately. Why? Because the words reach for the noblest of human characteristics, and most of us intuitively know that we are these things, if we could only be free of what holds us back. I could say that by nature, human beings are impermanent, aimless, and empty, but these words don’t instantly resonate with most people in the West like the first set of words!

  • Listen deeply. What are the elements of deep listening? We practice these in our Sanghas.
    • Hold the person in high regard; visualize their Buddha nature.
    • Treat the person with complete respect.
    • Be present and
    • Assume the person knows best how to lead his or her life.
    • Communicate acceptance and lack of judgment.
    • Give your undivided attention, focused concentration, and mindful
    • Encourage awareness and recognition of feelings; recognize that release is a key component of healing.

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

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  • Hold some understanding of the impact of distress. Hurts lead a person to develop self-defense patterns of thought, feelings, and behaviors. Buddhist psychology calls them “kleshas”—powerful reactions that drive our  behavior.  Initially  developed as survival mechanisms to deal with the hurt, these patterns take on a life of their own and persist long after the hurtful experiences have passed. In other words, the negative seeds have received too much water! They tend to control our vital energies and obscure our inherent nature. The most persistent of these patterns are chronic—that is, they operate almost all the time and a person tends to identify with them. Think of someone who is chronically angry, or chronically depressed, or always ready to criticize any good idea, or can be counted on to be the center of attention, or is painfully shy.
  • Practice separating a person from his or her patterns. Always view that person as wholesome and worthwhile, deserving nothing less than complete Always view their patterns as a map of the ways they were mistreated or hurt; not an inherent part of their being, but an add-on. Nurturing compassion is another form of this practice. For example, Thay suggests we practice visualizing our father or our mother as a six-year-old child. Even if we have suffered greatly from our parents, seeing them as younger can open our hearts— we might see them as innocent and pure-hearted, or we might see them already hurt at an early age, and set up to pass that hurt on to us.
  • Welcome feelings. One level of healing happens as a person releases the emotional distresses that are the glue of the patterns. Crying, laughing, shivering, feeling hot with anger are outward signs of the release of distress feelings. This release is natural to all human beings, as can be observed most readily in small children: when hurt they cry. In my experience, most people can learn how to accept and express their pent up feelings appropriately rather than suppress them or act them out. Dealing with feelings with mindfulness is a learned practice. We can learn to feel them without getting overwhelmed by them or identifying ourselves with them.
  • Practice appreciation and validation. “Violence never ceases by violence, but only by love,” said the Buddha. Our hurts have caused us to direct huge amounts of internal violence towards ourselves in the form of self-criticisms, low expectations, lack of self-worth, and so on. Such internal negative chatter cannot withstand a steady dose of self-appreciation. Repeatedly telling yourself things like “I forgive myself,” or “You are fine just the way you are,” or “I’ll never give up on you,” done with mindfulness and persistence, can bring healing tears of release and joy. Loving kindness, or metta meditation points us to our inherent well-being: may I be filled with love and compassion; may my body be peaceful and at ease; may I be safe from fear and harm; may I be happy; may I be healthy.  Directed towards oneself, metta is a form of self-appreciation that serves to counter the sometimes constant drone of negative self-talk. Directed towards others, it becomes an effective practice of appreciating others that also has a deep healing effect on oneself.
  • Hold a direction towards our inherent nature. Here is where we circle back to the Blue Sky Regular practice of noticing the presence of the good, the beautiful, the true builds our strength and can put us increasingly in touch with the reality of our inherent nature. In a Dharma talk (November 25, 1999, Plum Village), Thay said: “To allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the negative feeling when we touch what is wrong, is not a good thing to do. Therefore we should…recognize the positive elements for our nourishment and healing.”

Skillful Means

Of course, all of these practices, concepts, and methods are simply skillful means, as are all Buddhist teachings—potentially helpful aids along the path of liberation. As layers of suffering are released, practices change or are sloughed off. Eventually, or at least for longer and longer moments, we won’t have to practice metta, we will be living metta. We won’t have to practice listening deeply, we will be present. We won’t have to practice welcoming feelings, we will accept whatever comes. And so on. But along the way, such practices are powerful compasses to help steer us through the prevailing fog of falsehood. So, in addition to sitting in silence, we may also have to let ourselves do a lot of crying and laughing, and feeling scared and angry. We can become very skillful at providing the safety, clarity, boundaries, encouragement, and practices for our Sangha sisters and brothers to do mindfulness-based emotional healing.  All it takes is practice.

mb36-Cultivating4John Bell, True Wonderful Wisdom, practices with the Mountain Bell Sangha in Belmont, Massachusetts. He is the founding director of the YouthBuild Academy for Transformation, which provides the tools, insights, and training that promote youth transformation.  He has thirty-eight years of experience in the youth field as teacher, counselor, community organizer, and parent of two.

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The Sound of the Bell

by Susan Hadler

It’s Sunday afternoon in mid-August and still hot when I arrive at Carolyn’s for the bell training. Eric is standing at the end of the upstairs hallway, smiling and bowing, showing the way to Carolyn’s door. The first thing I see is the big bell sitting on its red and gold cushion in the middle of the room. It seems to belong here, surrounded by Buddhas sitting, Buddhas standing, pictures of Thay and the Dalai Lama, angels and saints and green growing plants. Carolyn offers us cool water and grapes fresh from her neighbor’s arbor.

We sit on cushions circling the bell. Mary arrives and Carolyn begins, “The bell master holds and protects the space for everyone.” Yes, that is how I’ve felt with the Sunday Night Sangha. Held. Safely and quietly. No need to worry about appearances or intrusions. Space to calm down and open up to myself, to bring my body, emotions, and thoughts together in one place, one time, a little island in a calm sea surrounded by little islands. A gift beyond measure.

I remember Thay sitting so peacefully in front of the meditation hall in Plum Village, monks and nuns behind him, laypeople in front. Thay sat in silence and I sat in silence letting anxiety about what would happen next disappear like steam rising from a cup of tea. Thay didn’t seem to worry about time or schedule. He was completely present. His presence helped me be with myself in that peaceful moment.

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Carolyn tells us she invites the bell with her heart. Her heart. Not her thoughts about when to invite the bell or how it should sound. Her heart knows. Carolyn trusts her heart. Then she teaches us the gatha that is recited, most often silently, by the bell inviter before inviting the bell,

Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness
and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

I love this gatha. It’s an invitation to unload all the stuff I usually carry around with me—self-consciousness, defensive pride, phony cheer, preoccupations and plans, leftover conversations. The gatha is a door opening to a place of freedom.

“Now we can practice inviting the bell.” Carolyn hands the inviter to Eric, who smiles and recites the gatha. The bell’s pure deep voice reverberates inside the room, inside me. Eric practices inviting the bell a few more times and hands the inviter to Mary. Mary recites the gatha slowly and softly wakes the bell. She waits a bit and then the rich and lovely sound surrounds us. Mary practices inviting the bell from the side, and the bell rings out clear and strong.

She passes the inviter to me. Holding it, I remember seeing a nun in the Lower Hamlet standing in the grass in front of the big bell. It was raining. She held the inviter in her hand and stood for what seemed to me a long time. She stood in reverent silence before she invited the bell. I admired her patience, her ability to be with herself alone with the bell. She wasn’t in a hurry to get out of the rain. It didn’t seem like a task for her, something to accomplish or finish, but rather an act with meaning, as if the existence of the bell, the inviter, and herself deserved her whole attention. I saw this in the nun’s silent stance and the slow steady swing of her arm.

Tears fill my eyes as I hold the inviter and look at the bell. The bell seems holy, a symbol of the peace and freedom I found in Plum Village. I hear myself say out loud, “I’m not ready to invite the bell.” I can’t invite the bell. I’m not calm or patient enough.

Carolyn suggests I take a few breaths. Carolyn, Eric, and Mary gently encourage me and then accept me as I am, off balance, selfconscious, a little embarrassed and grateful for their acceptance. Eric and Mary practice inviting the bell some more and then Mary hands me the inviter.

I take it, lay it down to bow, recite the gatha, pick up the inviter, raise my arm and swing. No sound. Silence. I’ve completely missed the bell. We laugh. I try again, from my heart, and this time I hear the sound of the bell flowing out like waves washing dry land. I relax and smile. I feel so happy.

Eric gives me a ride to the Sangha. The Dharma talk of Thay’s we listen to and our Dharma discussion following both focus on the emptiness of emptiness and on impermanence. Joseph suggests we sing.

No coming, no going. No after, no before.
I hold you close to me.
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me.

mb36-TheSound2Joseph’s voice, like the bell, reaches a place deep inside that is still and clear. In the silence after singing I notice a little burst of energy tingling up from my stomach to my nose. I bow in and speak, telling the Sangha about the bell training, about not being ready to invite the bell. “I  see now  that I  separated myself from the nun and put her above me. I felt low and unworthy and was unable to invite the bell, even when I tried. The second time I took the inviter I remembered Carolyn’s words and let my heart do the work. In that instant the nun was with me and I was with her. We were inviting the bell together and the bell sang out!” Inviting the bell is inviting everyone to be present, even myself, even the nuns in Plum Village.

Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, lives in Washington, D.C. where she practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community.

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Cherished Transformations

by Cheryl Beth Diamond

mb36-Cherished1I first visited Deer Park Monastery when it was more of an idea than a reality: clumps of buildings shot through with bullet holes, shell casings and old motors in raggedy meadows. Yet there was also the energy of the several hundred retreat attendees following Thay in a mindful walk up the hill to express gratitude for a possibility and to listen to his wise words in the oak grove below. There the gnarled majestic old trees served as reminders of the ancestors back to the days of Shakyamuni who gathered in the same way centuries ago—and there we were!

Now, four years later at the fall Order of Interbeing retreat, I stayed in a welcoming hut. I watched the sun come up and the stars emerge —a blessing come true. I witnessed the skeleton of the new Dharma hall, a graceful ship’s hull built to carry present and future generations to distant shores.

The hummingbirds, kinglets, deer, and squirrels play gleefully among the lovingly planted and cared for trees and flowers; the peaceful ponds and walking paths invite misty morning strolls and evening contemplation.   The tearoom is home to warmth, conversation and

quiet moments, the kitchen miraculously turns out symphonies of tastes, textures, and colors.

For me, during our weekend together, there was a wonderful opportunity to spend relaxed time with monastic brothers and sisters, to soak up their joy and graceful mindfulness. It was an opportunity to understand better the road to the monastic life: the twists and turns, the hopes and doubts, the consummation. There was also the opportunity to visit with newly aspiring practitioners searching for their own path in the O.I. and eager to hear about its many opportunities for learning, relationship, and service.

Through transformation of land and Sangha the future of the Dharma is assured, fostered by the oaks, the squirrels, human determination and relationship and song.

Cheryl Beth Diamond, True Opening to Insight, lives in Tucson, Arizona and practices with the Singing Bird Sangha.

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Mentoring

Reflections from an OI Retreat at Deer Park

by Caleb Cushing, Jerry Braza, and Chau Yoder

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“Because of his or her experience, he or she is a refuge for younger sisters and brothers for whom the practice is still something new.”

Throughout the weekend, we focused on how mentoring builds and sustains the quality of practice for individuals and Sanghas, both in our home Sanghas and throughout the fourfold Sangha worldwide.

During the weekend, our small groups reflected on how to support each other and our Sanghas through the mentoring process. Reflections from the group discussions included the following insights:

  • Mentoring is like gardening or parenting: practicing by example is “What you teach, teaches some; what you do, teaches more; and what you are teaches most.”
  • Sangha is a place for individuals to stretch, grow, share truth, and build solidity within Our family Sangha is our primary practice group.
  • There are many styles of conflict resolution and Sanghas must accept the differences of their Sangha members, such as age and cultural viewpoints.

Joyfully together, forty-two Order of Interbeing members and aspirants gathered for a weekend retreat at Deer Park Monastery, guided and supported by thirty-three monastics. Together we practiced and shared insights using a small group process. Brother Phap Tri offered us an invitation “to get to know ourselves, across our cultures, Vietnamese, Western, monastic, and lay.” Collectively, we reflected on the art of Sangha building through the mentoring process.

In Joyfully Together, the Art of Building a Harmonious Community, Thay defines “mentor” as someone who has practiced for some time.

What we can do to enhance our connections through mentoring:

  • Develop ways for lay Sanghas to connect with monastics, such as inviting them to lead regional gatherings and local At monasteries, they could offer classes in mindful manners, Vietnamese language, cooking, and singing.
  • Lead groups of aspirants in OI
  • Encourage Second Body practice which creates support and strengthens friendships, and Shining the Light ceremonies which help facilitate insight and deepen
  • Create regional groups and communication tools like a regional directory of Sanghas, OI members, and Dharmacharyas, newsletters, and regional
  • Organize a regional OI Retreat each year at Deer Park Monastery and a national OI retreat each year or
  • Visit many Sanghas! Develop friendships through spending time

Order of Interbeing member Caleb Cushing and Dharma teacher Chau Yoder live in Northern California. Dharma teacher Jerry Braza lives in Oregon.

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Thank You

Reflections on the Order of Interbeing Retreat at Deer Park

by Nancy Nina

I felt a little tremulous and unsure as I arrived at the retreat, for I had only recently been ordained into the Order of Interbeing. This was my first overnight in a monastery. I was the new kid on the block and intended to mostly observe and remain grounded in my mindful breathing, from a somewhat distant and invisible vantage. I wanted to “learn the ropes” and “do it right.”

I walked the beautiful grounds, drawn to and sustained in my practice of mindfulness by the footsteps of those who had walked these paths before. The mountains and the great stones, the water and the flowers, the goldfish and frogs, the monks and the nuns, the laymen and women, all filled me with joy and gratitude. I circumambulated the new Dharma hall and felt at home. I had arrived.

By the time we met for our first gathering, I felt comfortable. I was happy to sit and watch, careful to catch the clues and cues, so I might fit in, without causing too many ripples.

It didn’t take long to see there were to be no observers at this retreat. It was a participatory weekend.  I learned I was to facilitate a small family group of five, representing the fourfold Sangha; one monk, one nun, one layman, and one other laywoman. We spent the first evening bonding, following Brother Phap Tri’s encouragement to get to know each other. I cannot find words to express my surprise and joy, discovering such open hearts and warm welcomes from everyone.

As the retreat progressed, each person told a story of how someone had touched them and inspired their practice. Tears and smiles, laughter and profound silence held us, as we each used loving speech to tell our story, while all the other cells of the body breathed mindfully and listened with understanding and compassion.

My heart broke open hearing the challenges and joys of my lay sisters and brothers in the Vietnamese community. Through them I caught a glimpse of the precious culture of Vietnam, home of our beloved lineage. I wept in compassion and joy as I heard of the gifts and challenges of the monastic life. I have been changed by these stories. The sisters and brothers at Deer Park and the family of the Order of Interbeing have come alive to me. It became clear to me too, that any feelings of unworthiness or having to prove myself, were relics of the past, leftovers from unskillful states of mind established in other situations. Instead, at Deer Park, I felt welcomed and accepted by my brothers and sisters.

Thank you for the treasure of Deer Park.

Nancy Nina, True Attainment of Light, is a founder of the Cedar Sangha in Eugene, Oregon. She works in an herb shop and cares for a senior with multiple sclerosis.

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New Sangha in Thailand!

by David Percival

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Members of the Sangha of Mindfulness at the Suan Pai Vegetarian Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. Clockwise, from the left: Warunee Dejsakulrit, Pongsathorn Tantiritthisak, David Percival, Sandra Brantley, Kittiya Pholkerd, and Piangporn Lapeloima.

There is an oasis of mindfulness amidst the congestion and noise of Bangkok.  It is the new community of friends who, with the assistance of Sister Linh Nghiem, formed a Sangha in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. This group of sincere, committed practitioners is dedicated to making Thay’s teachings available—a noble effort in this country where Buddhist practice traditionally follows the Theravada school of practice.

My partner and I were fortunate to meet with some of the members in early January 2004 for a delicious lunch, followed by discussion and sharing. We could feel the collective energy of mindfulness at our small table; we experienced joy, openness, and acceptance. We were at home.

The Sangha of Mindfulness welcomes everyone from Thailand or visitors from elsewhere. They also anticipate forming another Sangha soon in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Please contact for additional information and directions:

Ms. Kittiya Pholkerd
p_oay@hotmail.com Cell: 01-929-9396
Home: 02-977-0426

Mr. Pongsathorn Tantiritthisak
pongsathorn_t@clickta.com Home: 06-668-5866

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Our Father’s Day Ceremony

mb36-Our1By M. Anissa Housley

When the Sangha learned I’d be organizing the evening on Father’s Day, several members asked if they could participate. One woman volunteered to create the altar for the ceremony I wanted to offer.

I had one minor problem—to my knowledge, no such ceremony existed! I double-checked the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book. I asked other OI members, who told me they didn’t know of a Father’s Day Ceremony. Finally one sister set me on the right path. “Take a look at the New Year’s Ceremony,” she said. “I bet it could easily be adapted for the occasion.” Reading it, I realized she was correct. In fact, the text for our Father’s Day Ceremony is almost identical to the New Year’s Ceremony, with a few small changes to make it occasion-appropriate.

On Father’s Day, several of my brothers and sisters reminded me to focus on my breath, because I was nervous about leading a ceremony to begin with, much less one I’d helped to give form! The altar was beautiful, with a special cloth made out of neckties. Sangha members placed pictures of their fathers on the altar with the Buddha and bouquets of flowers, and some even brought their father’s high school rings and favorite items. The evening went smoothly, thanks to the skillful practice and ease of the Sangha. Please feel free to use this ceremony in your Sangha next Father’s Day!

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Father’s Day Ceremony

Formal Incense Offering  (5 min)
Sitting Meditation  (12 min)
Walking Meditation  (12 min) S
Sitting Meditation  (12 min)
Bell Master: “Please remain seated for the Address to our Fathers.”
Address to our Fathers (10 min)

A member mindfully lights seven sticks of incense and offers a stick to seven different people to hold during the Address. The member then returns to his cushion. (three bells)

Reader 1: “We, your descendants who are practicing in Plum Blossom Sangha on the occasion of Father’s Day, come with sincere respect before your altar. We go back to our source and ask you, our father, to be our witness.”

Reader 2: “Trees have their roots and water has its source. We know that you, our father, are our roots and we are your continuation. We’re determined to receive your cultural and spiritual heritage, to conserve and to develop what’s good, beautiful, and true in it. We’re also determined to realize the aspirations which you have handed on to us, transforming your suffering and opening up for future generations the way to a peaceful, unburdensome, and meaningful life. We’re determined to help build a society in which people are not always busy, where little is consumed, and there’s plenty of time to live with nature, look after nature, bring happiness to, care for, and smile to each other.”

Reader 3: “Today is the day we honor you, Father. We promise to let go of all our anger, sadness, and resentment, and to forgive, love, and accept each other. We know that only by doing this do we really express our feelings of gratitude and loyalty towards you.”

Reader 4: “Please be witness to our sincerity as we offer incense, flowers and tea. All these things are offered with our loyalty and heartfelt sincerity. Please be our protector and the protector of our children and grandchildren so that we have enough health, faith, and joy to be able to continue your work.” (bell)

The person who passed out the incense stands and collects the seven sticks from the Sangha and offers them to the Buddha.

Bowing Deeply in Gratitude  (10 min)

Bell Master: “At the sound of the next bell, please stand as we prepare to bow deeply in gratitude.”  (bell)

Reader 1: “In gratitude to our fathers and mothers who have brought us to life, we bow deeply before the Three Jewels in the Ten Directions.” (bell)

Reader 2: “In gratitude to our teachers, who show us the way to understand and love, we bow deeply before the Three Jewels in the Ten Directions.” (bell)

Reader 3: “In gratitude to our friends, who give us guidance and support on the path, we bow deeply before the Three Jewels in the Ten Directions.” (bell)

Reader 4: “In gratitude to all beings in the animal, vegetal, and mineral worlds, we bow deeply before the Three Jewels in the Ten Directions.” (two bells)

To begin Dharma discussion, invite the Sangha to arrange their cushions in a circle and share stories about their fathers.

Anissa Housley, True Wonderful Action, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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Book Reviews

mb36-BookReviews1Beginning Mindfulness
Learning the Way of Awareness

By Andrew Weiss
Published by New World Library

Reviewed by Richard Brady

“How do I practice with this?” Often, when I am confronted with a serious issue in my life, I will go to an experienced practitioner and ask this question. The advice I have received has often led me to embrace a variety of informal, daily mindfulness practices.

Andrew Weiss’s Beginning Mindfulness, based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, is a wonderful vehicle for just this kind of learning. A long-time member of the Order of Interbeing, Andrew developed this material as a textbook for his ten-week Mindfulness Meditation course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.  Readers will find suggestions for practice such as downloading the Washington Mindfulness Community’s mindful clock computer program as well as classic practices like using gathas throughout the day.  Each lesson ends with a “homeplay” assignment, directing the reader to experiment with both formal and informal practices in a variety of ways.

At retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh,  I often meet folks who are looking for ways to form Sanghas of practice when they return home.  I suggest offering a study/practice group using this book, which is suitable for both novices and experienced practitioners.  Beginning Mindfulness can play a significant role in making mindfulness practice more widely accessible.

mb36-BookReviews2Mindfulness Yoga
The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind

By Frank Jude Boccio
Published by Wisdom Publications

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

This book is a must-have for all mindfulness practitioners who also practice or teach yoga.  In his introduction, Frank Boccio says, “I owe a special debt of gratitude to Thay Nhat Hanh for introducing me to the teachings of the Buddha on anapanasati and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. They were just the medicine I needed at a desperate time in my life, and they have gone on to transform my life, my practice, and my teaching.”

In Mindfulness Yoga, Boccio takes us through the four sections of the Anapanasati Sutra (the Full Awareness of Breathing) and outlines a course of asanas to practice according to each teaching. Rich with personal stories, and interspersed with guided meditations, this text offers a way to deeply connect with our bodies and our feelings through the practice of yoga.

The design of the book is a pleasure. The photos of the poses are clear.  Each page stays open so you can practice the pose while referring to the illustration.  Both content and design are richly inviting.

As a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, I have learned that the two sutras on the Full Awareness of Breathing and the Four Establishments of Mindfulness are at the heart of my practice.  Every year I try to spend some weeks focusing on each one, and each time I learn a bit more about myself. This book makes me want to join with Sangha friends and return to these teachings in a new way, using my body as explorer. Anyone want to join me?

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Green Mountain Dharma Center Needs Our Help

Dear Dharma Friends,

Green Mountain Dharma Center would like to winterize Lotus Bud Meditation Hall, our beautiful old red hay barn, so we can use it next winter and for many years to come. A volunteer master carpenter and two monks trained in carpentry and masonry are ready to begin the work.

Through extensive research we have chosen to install an efficient wood-burning furnace and either radiant floor or baseboard heating. Unlike using oil for heat, this system doesn’t produce toxic fumes. It is also the least expensive heating method to run in our part of the country.

We need labor and funding for this project. Dear Friends, can you help?

  • We need skilled and unskilled labor to help us on Saturday mornings this summer and during our working periods each weekday except Thursday, our Day of Mindfulness.
  • We need help funding this project. Our initial outlay, for the furnace and the heat storage tank, is $8,300. We will also need other building materials, additional windows for passive solar energy, and a wheelchair ramp. The total cost of the project comes to over $30,000.

Thank you for any contribution that you are able to make at this time. The most important support is your spiritual practice of mindfulness. Thank you for your commitment to that practice for peace in the world.

Sr. True Virtue, Abbess
Green Mountain Dharma Center

Enclosed is my donation to help winterize the Lotus Bud Meditation Hall.

Name                                                                                

Telephone                         E-mail                          

Address           

Check enclosed  ❏          Credit card  ❏  Visa  ❏    Mastercard  ❏ American Express  ❏

Make checks payable to: Green Mountain Dharma Center and mail to:
Box 182 Ayers Lane, Hartland-Four-Corners, VT 05049.

If you can help with construction, please call: (802) 436-1103, or e-mail: mfmaster@vermontel.net

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