Dharma Talk: Throwing Away

Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh

June 7 – 8, 2006

Thich Nhat Hanh

During the Breath of the Buddha retreat at Plum Village, Thây focused on the Sutra on Mindful Breathing, which he had just translated from the Chinese. In this excerpt from two Dharma talks,Thây discusses exercises 11 through 14.

Exercise 11: Skillfully he practices breathing in, concentrating his mind. Skillfully he practices breathing out, concentrating his mind.

Exercise 12: Skillfully he practices breathing in, liberating his mind. Skillfully he practices breathing out, liberating his mind.

mb43-dharma2The practice of concentration helps us to understand the nature of affliction, and with that kind of insight, we can burn affliction away. Concentration as energy has the power of transformation. Concentration is something extremely important in the teaching of the Buddha.

To concentrate means to concentrate on something. In the teaching of the Buddha, many kinds of concentration are proposed. According to our need, we can apply one or two of these concentrations to free us, like concentration on impermanence, concentration on non-self, concentration on compassion, concentration on interbeing, and so on. Each concentration, each samadhi, has its own name.

The Buddha spoke about the three doors of liberation, which are considered to be three concentrations: emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness.

Emb43-dharma3mptiness is not a philosophy, a description of reality. Emptiness is a practice. Emptiness does not mean non-being, non-existence. There’s a big difference between non-existence and emptiness. Suppose we look at the glass. It is empty. The glass is empty, but the glass is not non-existent, right? In order to be empty, you have to be there. That is one thing you can learn—emptiness is not non-existence. The second thing is that when we say the glass is empty, you have to ask, “Empty of what?” It’s not empty of air. It is empty of tea, but it is full of air. So the intelligent question to ask is, “Empty of what?” The first answer may be: empty of a separate existence, empty of a separate self.

This is the simplest description in the Buddhist scriptures about emptiness, about interbeing: this is, because that is. As practitioners, we don’t just speak of emptiness as a teaching philosophy. We have to transform emptiness into a complete practice.

Signlessness is the second door of liberation. “Sign” means the appearance or the form. We are used to seeing the form that is the object of our perception. Nimita is the form. Animita is formlessness, or signlessness. The practice is not to be attached to the form, and this needs some training.

Those of us who have lost a loved one, we know grief. But if you are equipped with the concentration of signlessness, formlessness, you can overcome your grief, your sorrow, very quickly. You are capable of seeing things in the light of signlessness: nothing is born, nothing dies. Everything continues in this new form. You also! Your nature is the nature of deathlessness.

Aimlessness is the third door of liberation. Apranihita is the Sanskrit term. Apranihita means you don’t put anything in front of you as object of your pursuit. What you are looking for is already there, not outside of you. You are already what you want to become. You are wonderful just like that. Don’t try to be something else, someone else. You don’t have to go to the future in order to get what you want. Everything you are looking for, it is right here, in the here and the now, including the Kingdom of God, your immortality, your deathlessness. Your enlightenment is right here. And that is truly the third door of liberation: aimlessness.

The Concentration on Loving Kindness

There is a concentration called maitri, karuna—love, compassion. And the contemplation on love, on compassion, can bring you a lot of relief, can bring the nectar of healing to you.

Suppose someone has made you suffer. You think of him or her as very cruel. That person has inflicted on you a lot of suffering, on your family, on your country. And because of that you want that person or that group of persons to suffer a lot for you to get relief. You are thinking in terms of punishment. That hate, that anger, that will to revenge is a kind of fire that continues to burn your body and your mind, and you are in hell. Hell is here in the here and the now.

Just before, we spoke about the Kingdom of God being in the here and the now. But that is true of hell. Hell can be in the here and the now. If we allow the flame of affliction to burn us, there are moments when lying on our bed we cannot sleep because our whole body, our whole being is burned by the fire of hate, of anger, of despair.

The concentration on maitri, on karuna, on compassion, will help you to suffer less.

With your attention focused on the other person, you can see that the other person suffers a lot also. The fact is that when someone suffers a lot and is not capable of handling his or her own suffering, she will spill her suffering all over, and you become a victim of that.

And you may be like that. You are suffering a lot, and if you don’t know how to manage your suffering, you continue to suffer and you will make others around you suffer, including the people you love.

Looking deeply, we see that the other person, as a child, did not have a chance to learn love and compassion from his or her parents. The parents have caused a lot of wounds in him, in her, as a child; and no one has helped him or her to heal the wounds in the child. And then when they went to school, the teacher did not help, and the students around did not help. The seeds of anger, suffering, and hate continued to grow.

Such a person needs help, not punishment. By looking deeply and recognizing the presence of suffering in that person, you might see the truth that that person needs help. And now if we punish him, he will suffer more.

This insight may motivate you to do something to help that person. With that kind of insight, the hate and anger vanish, because that insight brings the nectar of compassion. And the nectar of compassion is wonderful. You stop suffering right away. The fire that has been burning, stops burning. That is the effect of metta meditation, the meditation on compassion.

Compassion for a Suicide Bomber

Nowadays we learn that there are many young people in the Mideast, they are ready to die, to blow themselves up with a bomb in order to kill as many as possible. We call them terrorists, and we believe that in order for the world to be peaceful, you have to kill all these terrorists. So you invest a lot of money and energy into what you call the war against terror. The more you kill, the more terrorists you create, because the killing is an act of punishment. Then the family and the friends of the one who is killed burn with the flame of anger, the will to punish. In killing one so-called terrorist, you create three, four terrorists more. That is what is happening.

There are many young people who suffer so much hate and despair, not only in Iraq, but also in Europe, in America. The number of young people who kill themselves every day is enormous. When you are burned by the flame of despair, of hate, of violence, you suffer so much. And as a young person, you don’t know much about your mind, about the practice. You believe that the only way to stop the suffering, the burning, is to kill yourself.

I guess for many young people, to die is much easier than to live, because they are overwhelmed by the emotions—of hate, of despair. And then you are told that by dying you might help the cause of justice, and you can go to paradise right away after death.

These kinds of perceptions and feelings lead to the act of suicide bombing. If you look deeply, you see that these people need help. And the operation to kill them is not the right answer. We have to help them to see there is a way out of suffering, that only love and compassion and understanding can solve the problem.

One side is using violence. The other side is responding with violence. And the situation goes on without a chance to stop. The way out is shown by the Buddha. Hate cannot respond to hate. Violence cannot respond to violence. There must be another way. The meditation on compassion is essential.

During the war in Vietnam we were able—myself and many friends of ours—to see that the young Americans who came to Vietnam to kill or to be killed were also victims of a wrong policy. With that kind of insight we tried to work for reconciliation rather than supporting one side of the war.

In my experience, the concentration on compassion is a wonderful practice. You may need only fifteen minutes of breathing deeply and looking deeply to recognize that the other person is a victim of his or her own suffering. That person needs you, needs your help, and does not need your punishment. Suddenly the nectar of compassion is born, your heart is blessed with that nectar, and you don’t suffer any more. Instead, you want to do something, to say something, and if you are not capable of loving speech you can write a letter. You can say something kind in order to help that person. But you cannot help that person until you have been able to help yourself. Peace and compassion always begin with yourself.

The Reality of Impermanence

Exercise 13: Contemplating impermanence, I breathe in. Contemplating impermanence, I breathe out.

Impermanence is a key that can unlock the door of reality. It is also a concentration, a practice. Intellectually we know that things are impermanent. We can agree with the truth of impermanence. Our scientists also agree that things are impermanent. But in reality we still behave as though things are permanent.

We have to keep the insight of impermanence alive. When we come in touch with anything, we should be able to see the nature of impermanence in it.

mb43-dharma4We have to distinguish between the notion of impermanence and the insight of impermanence. We may have the notion of impermanence, we may have understood what impermanence is, but we do not have the insight of impermanence. The insight is something alive.

Impermanence is a fact that science has to recognize. When you are able to see the nature of impermanence, you’ll begin to see the nature of non-self. Because non-self is not different from impermanence. Since everything is changing in every second, nothing can remain itself in two consecutive moments. So impermanence means non-self. They are the same thing.

Looking from the angle of time, you say, impermanence. Looking from the angle of space, you say, non-self. They are exactly the same thing.

In the Pali canon, non-desire comes next. In the Chinese canon, throwing away is next.

Throwing Away What?

Exercise 14: Skillfully, he practices breathing in, contemplating letting go. Skillfully, he practices breathing out, contemplating letting go.

Throwing away is a wonderful practice. You might like to ask, “Throwing away what?” What is to be thrown away?

We have learned that wrong perceptions are the ground of all afflictions— fear, anger, discrimination, despair. So it’s easy to know that throwing away here means to throw away wrong perceptions—ideas or notions—that are at the base of our suffering. It is the most important practice in Buddhist meditation. You have an idea, and you entertain that idea for a long time, and you continue to suffer.

Every one of us entertains an idea about happiness. It may be because of that idea of happiness that we’ve never been happy. So it’s very important to throw away that notion of happiness.

A nation is a community of people, and they may entertain together one idea, one ideology. Each political party—the socialist party, for instance—entertains an idea. And we might get caught in that idea. An ideology may be a trap, and your nation may be caught in it for sixty, seventy years, and during that time you create a lot of suffering. Those who do not agree with that ideology, you put them in psychiatric hospitals. The moment you release that idea, happiness begins to be possible.

So throwing away is very important. It takes insight and courage in order to throw away an idea.

The word is “throwing away.” It’s very strong; it’s not just letting go. The Sanskrit, the Pali term, is “throwing away” in a very strong way. The Vietnamese meditation master Tang Hoi, he used the word phong xa for throwing away. Tang Hoi was the first teacher of meditation in Vietnam, who lived in the first half of the third century.

Insights from the Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra advises us to throw away four notions. The first notion is the notion of self. It is by intensive training that you can throw away the notion of self.

If a couple knows how to live in a spirit of non-self, there will be no difficulty, no anger, no discrimination, no despair, because they have realized the truth of non-self. If a father and son, mother and daughter, have the insight of non-self, they look at each other as interbeing.

mb43-dharma5There is the idea that I am this body. This body is mine, belongs to me. This is a notion that does not correspond to reality. When we say the words “I am,” we say it on the ground of the notion “I am,” and still people do not believe very much in that statement. That is why they try to justify it with a kind of argument.

In order to demonstrate that “I am” is a reality, René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” One day I saw a cartoon picturing Descartes touching a horse. He declared, “I think, therefore I am.” And the horse asked back, “You are what?” That is a good question. If you can answer what you are, you may have a better idea that is closer to reality.

In the scripture it is written, “This is, because that is.” This is a statement about interbeing. If you are not there, I cannot be here.

So it is very important to throw away the notion “I am,” the notion of self, because it does not reflect the truth. By looking deeply into the nature of reality, you are capable of throwing away that notion of “I am.”

The second notion that the Diamond Sutra advises us to throw away is the notion “man,” human being. This is not too difficult. When we look into the human being, we see human ancestors, we see animal ancestors, we see vegetable ancestors, we see mineral ancestors. We see that the human is made of non-human elements. We see that we are at the same time a rock, a river, a cloud, a squirrel, a rose. And if we take away all the non-human elements, the human being is no longer there.

This is the deepest teaching on deep ecology. In order to protect the human being, you have to protect elements that are not human, because these elements are our ancestors, and if you destroy them there is no way we can be here. That is why discrimination between man and nature is a wrong view. You have to see you as nature, one with nature.

That is why harmony, respect of life, is possible. So throw away the idea that the human being is the boss, man is the boss, man can do anything to nature. The key is contemplation on impermanence of non-self.

The first to be thrown away is the notion of self, the second is the notion of man. With liberation from that notion, we become less proud, less arrogant as a species. We have to respect and protect other species in order for us to have a chance. That is why we said the Diamond Sutra is the oldest text on deep ecology.

We have the notion of la matiere inerte. But if you look deeply into the notion that matter is something without soul, without life, we see that is not true.

First of all, matter is the object of our perceptions. For a long time we believed that matter exists as a separate entity, and matter is something that does not move. But now as science advances, we see that matter is not static and immobile as we thought. In fact, the atoms, the electrons, move a lot. They are very alive. And looking more deeply, we see a lot of our mind in it, and we are not sure that they are there, in the way we imagined. So the distinction between living beings and non-living beings disappears after meditation. There is no longer any discrimination.

The fourth notion to be thrown away is the notion of lifespan. We believe that there is time, and we are born at one point of time. Our birth begins here, and we shall die at another point of time—death. I’ll only spend seventy, eighty, ninety or one hundred years on this planet. After that, I’ll be gone. This is what we believe. But as we look deeply, we see that this is a notion, a wrong perception. Birth is a notion, and death is also a notion. It’s not reality.

We have spoken of the deathlessness of a cloud. The cloud can never die. It can only become rain or snow. In our mind, to die means from something you become nothing; from someone you become no one. But if you look deeply you don’t see anything like that. A cloud can never die. If we look deeply we see that the nature of the cloud is also the nature of no birth. In our mind, to be born means from nothing we become something. From no one we suddenly become someone.

The cloud does not come from nothing. It has come from the water in the river, in the ocean. It has come from the sunshine, the heat. And you know that the birth of a cloud is a poetic image. It is a new manifestation. Before being a cloud, the cloud has been many other things.

Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. Birth and death are notions that cannot be applied to reality, because nothing can be born from nothing, and nothing can become nothing at all. This meditation practice of looking deeply will bring about insight. It will dissipate our fear and our despair.

Those are the four basic notions that are at the foundation of our fear, our desperation, our suffering. That is why the Diamond Sutra advises us to practice looking deeply, so that we can throw them away. The practice of throwing away your notions, your views, is so important. Emancipation and liberation would not be possible without this practice of throwing away.

If we suffer a lot, it’s because we still entertain a number of ideas. The practice of meditation helps us to get free from these ideas.

Our World Needs Wisdom

So the object of our meditation is not something alien to our daily life. The way proposed by the Buddha is to help yourself and to help the people around you. It is to practice looking more deeply in order to be liberated from these notions that are at the foundation of hate, fear, and violence.

Writing a letter to a suicide bomber is true meditation. Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness and concentration. Our world needs wisdom and insight. As a teacher, as a parent, a journalist, a filmmaker, you are capable of sharing your insight so that you can wake up your nation, your people. And if your nation, your people, are awake, then your government will have to act according to the insight of the people.

Meditation is essential for our survival, our peace, our protection. In fact, it is wrong views that are at the base of our suffering, and throwing away wrong views is the most important, most urgent thing.

To come to a retreat is not to get away from it all. To come to a retreat is an opportunity to look deeper, and to see exactly where we are.

Transcribed by Greg Sever.
Edited by Greg Sever and Janelle Combelic.

The Sutra on Mindful Breathing

This is what I have heard at a time when the Buddha was residing in the Jeta Grove in the town of Sravasti.

On that day, the World-Honored One told the Bhikshus:

“Dear friends, let us enjoy the practice of Mindful Breathing. If a Bhikshu knows how to skillfully practice Mindful Breathing, and does so consistently, he will find his body and mind peaceful; he will acquire positive investigations and reflections; his mind will be calm and pure; and he will have perceptions leading to Wisdom and be able to bring his practice to completion.

“This is how a bhikshu should proceed:

“Whether the bhikshu lives in a village or in a town, in the morning he puts on his sanghati, holds his begging bowl, and goes into town for alms round. While doing so, he knows how to protect his body and his six senses, his mind skillfully focused on whatever is present. After the alms round, he returns to his dwelling, puts his sanghati and begging bowl away, washes his feet, goes into the forest, to an empty room, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty space in the open air, and sits down in an upright position. He holds his mindfulness in front of him, releases all worldly pursuits, and lets go of his anger, torpor, restlessness, regret and doubt, his mind determined to be in accord with wholesome dharmas, leaving far behind the five hindrances that cause afflictions, weaken his wisdom and constitute an obstacle on the path of Nirvana.

1. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, fully aware of his in-breath.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, fully aware of his out-breath.

2. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in a long or a short in-breath, fully aware of his long or short in-breath.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out a long or a short out-breath, fully aware of his long or short out-breath.

3. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, fully aware of his whole body.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, fully aware of his whole body.

4. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, relaxing his whole body.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, relaxing his whole body.

5. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, experiencing joy.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, experiencing joy.

6. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, experiencing happiness.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, experiencing happiness.

7. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, aware of his feelings.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, aware of his feelings.

8. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, calming his feelings.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, calming his feelings.

9. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, aware of his mind.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, aware of his mind.

10. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, gladdening his mind.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, gladdening his mind.

11. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, concentrating his mind.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, concentrating his mind.

12. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, liberating his mind.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, liberating his mind.

13. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, contemplating impermanence.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, contemplating impermanence.

14. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, contemplating letting go.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, contemplating letting go.

15. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, contemplating non-desire.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, contemplating non-desire.

16. “Skillfully, he practices breathing in, contemplating cessation.
Skillfully, he practices breathing out, contemplating cessation.

“Bhikshus! That is how the practice of Mindful Breathing helps make our body and mind peaceful, helps us acquire positive investigations and reflections, makes our mind calm and pure, helps us have perceptions leading to Wisdom, and brings our practice to completion.”

After the Buddha had finished his teaching, the bhikshus, having listened to the Buddha, happily put the teachings into practice.

Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 2, No. 99, Tsa A Han (No. 29) 803.
Chinese translated from Sanskrit by Gunabhadra, A.D. 435-443 ( Liu Song period ).
Translated from Chinese by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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

2007 Trip to Vietnam

with Thich Nhat Hanh


With great joy we inform you that on February 20, 2007, Thây intends to start another trip to Vietnam, to heal the last wounds of the war. According to Vietnamese popular belief, a person who has died in despair, anger, and frustration cannot rest in peace and be liberated. In 2007, it will be 32 years since the Vietnam war ended; but the hearts of many people in south, central, and north Vietnam as well those of Vietnamese living abroad are not yet totally healed.

  1. The two main aims of Thây in this trip are:To show his care and appreciation for the 450 young monastics in the two monasteries in Vietnam who have committed to practicing in the tradition of Plum Village (giving up bank accounts, jobs, houses, cars, motorbikes, cell phones, private e-mail, and living a simple life).
  2. To heal the remaining wounds of the Vietnam war by organizing three Great Chanting Ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hue, and The ceremonies will be led by many High and Holy Monks of each region, to pray for the liberation of those people who died tragically during and after the war. Thây will give a profound teaching every day during the Ceremony period so that understanding and liberation will be realized in the hearts of the relatives of the deceased.


The trip, from February 21 to May 9, will be divided into four segments. Each segment lasts 18 to 21 days, and you are welcome to join us for one, two, three, or all four segments. Our advance team of sisters will arrange for accommodations, vegetarian meals, and in-country transportation for all of us. Translation into English and French will be available for all of Thây’s talks during the trip. See page 45 for a detailed itinerary.

For more information or to register, write to NH-office@plumvillage.org (attn: Sr Tue Nghiem).

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Letter from the Editor

mb43-Editor1Dear Thây, dear Sangha,

This summer in the glorious setting of Rocky Mountain National Park, the monastic sangha presented a five-day retreat entitled Still Mind, Peaceful Heart. Seventy retreatants benefited from the presence of eighteen monks and nuns from all three U.S. monasteries. It was a joyful, profound, healing time. We are blessed to have so many deeply gifted teachers, especially the younger monks and nuns who amaze us with their wisdom and their contagious happiness.

You will notice several changes with this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. The most significant is on the cover, where we are now using the tagline “A Publication of PlumVillage.” This change developed through meetings during the Breath of the Buddha retreat, and culminated with Sister Chan Khong’s heartfelt endorsement of the magazine, explaining that the Mindfulness Bell is supported, financed, and controlled by Plum Village. So when you support the Mindfulness Bell, you support the work of Thây and Plum Village. Over the next year, we hope to share that message with all practitioners.

I’m excited about other changes, where we are making more space for you, our readers. We welcome your letters (see page 3) and your writings for the new “Heart to Heart” section (page 34). As always, we encourage submissions of all types—they are the substance of each issue! And I am very pleased to introduce Judith Toy, who is now editing the “Book and CD Review” section; she is a gift as a collaborator and a new friend.

Another change is a personal one; on the last day of the Breath of the Buddha retreat I received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Afterwards, there was a Sangha Fair; here’s a picture of me (True Lotus Meditation) with my mentor Sister Dao Nghiem, Thây, and Sister Chan Khong at the Mindfulness Bell table (or rather, bench).

At the retreat in Estes Park, I spoke with Brother Phap Khoi about my ongoing attempt to practice mindfulness—and aimlessness—while editing the magazine. He suggested that I consider each issue a beautiful bouquet of flowers offered to the sangha. Here, then, is our humble offering to you, in wonder and gratitude.

May all beings walk in the Kingdom of God.


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A Deep Bow to Barbara Casey

A deep bow of gratitude to Barbara Casey. I’ve so admired the work you’ve done as managing editor for the past five years, giving the Mindfulness Bell a new look, the color of the cover, more photographs and artwork, blending them beautifully with text, and creating visually appealing layout in general. You’ve brought us so much wisdom from Thây and the fourfold Sangha in issue after issue. The issue on the 20th anniversary of Plum Village was a special treat for me as were the recent ones that shared Thây’s return to Vietnam.You have transmitted a jewel of a journal to Janelle to continue the work of our ancestral editors. Thank you so much for your gift to the paths of so many of us around the world.

Richard Brady
Washington, D.C., USA

I loved working with Barbara. The Bell now has more color, more space, and more submissions from our monastic brothers and sisters. It is a lovely testimony to our practice as a sangha and I’m grateful for her good work and good-heartedness that have been a part of the Mindfulness Bell.

Peggy Rowe
Escondido, California, USA

Just recently, I resurrected my copies of the Mindfulness Bell—from the first issue to the most recent. As with our own practices, an incredible transformation has unfolded over the years. A simple one-color journal with a few articles has blossomed into a wide diversity of articles, colorful covers, and beautiful illustrations. It is with much gratitude that I take this time to honor the editorial prowess of Barbara Casey. Her efforts were a beautiful reflection of her Dharma name “True Spiritual Communication.” During the past five years, under her care and nurture, the changes to the Mindfulness Bell have been monumental, and readership has increased.

Barbara, on behalf of the Board of Advisors and the Sangha community, thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many who savor the Dharma and the work of Thây. The seeds that you have watered have created a garden that will continue to blossom in the care of our new editor. We bow to you.

Jerry Braza
Salem, Oregon, USA

Barbara, How do we adequately thank you for all the work you have done for the Mindfulness Bell over the years? You literally transformed the MB into a beautiful manifestation of the Dharma. It is a living and breathing testimony to your hard work and dedication. You had the skills and patience to work with the four-fold Sangha, the contributors, the advertisers, the printer, the mailing house, the designer, and the subscribers and make it come together wonderfully issue after issue.Your love, peace, calm, and persistence turned mere paper into a great instrument for practice, for sangha building, and for supporting the wonderful work of our teacher. It was a pleasure working with you and a joy to be able to offer my support. But, we won’t let you go… you are a valuable resource and we all look forward to working with you in an advisory capacity.

David Percival
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA


Love That Bell

Greetings to you with peace! A kind brother from the Deer Park Monastery sent me a copy of the Autumn 2004 issue, which I absolutely loved! All the articles and poetry were very good, but as an African-American, I found “Our Racism is a Crying Baby (Interview)” and “Being Born a Person of Color” especially good. But I also liked “Roots” by Emily Whittle and “An Open Letter from a Southern White Girl” by Trish Thompson. In truth, the magazine was excellent from cover to cover and Thich Nhat Hanh is a delight to read and learn from. I’ve read a couple of his books and they were very good.

The article “The Culture of Violence in Boys and Men” really hit home with me. I got into drugs and gangs at an early age. Anger really drove me, especially due to being hit by a speeding car at the age of five, which left me with a permanent facial disfigurement on the left side of my face and neck. For years, my anger and inner hurt, I projected onto many people I didn’t even know, not just rival gang members. My acts of violence and aggression have done much harm even to myself. Regret and remorse are a noose around my neck that chokes me almost daily. I’m going to turn 38 this July 8, and I get out of prison in two years. I’ll be a free man at 40. Am I scared? Yes! I’ll have spent over twenty years in correctional facilities and the outside is more like an illusion to me.

These years in prison I’ve endeavored to educate myself. I got my GED, and I read voraciously. Recently, I’ve begun to study Buddhism, and I like what I’m learning. Like Thich Nhat Hanh I write poetry… In fact, poetry has kept me from “throwing in the towel,” though I’ve been very close at times.

I really like what you all are doing at the Mindfulness Bell. I wish you peace and prosperity.

Malachi Ephraim
Arizona State Prison
Florence, Arizona, USA

I got the Summer issue of the Mindfulness Bell this morning and realized I had never written to congratulate you and thank you for the beautiful job you did on the Winter issue. And now I have to do the same for the Summer one too. Both issues are very fine.

Steve Black
Statesboro, Georgia, USA

As a reader of the Mindfulness Bell for a few years, I’d like to thank you for all the nourishment & inspiration coming to me & my practice through each issue. The current Winter issue had me in tears of being moved deeply several times.

Susanne Olbrich
Findhorn, Morayshire, UK



The cover photo in the Summer 2006 issue was miscaptioned; it is indeed, as many astute observers pointed out, the courtyard at Son Ha Temple, at Plum Village in France.

In the article about the Bridge of Peace Award, we incorrectly identified Claude Anshin Thomas as a lay priest. He is a Soto Zen priest.

Several articles in recent issues did not receive proper credit. The following pieces came from Spoken Like a True Buddha, an unpublished compilation of stories about mindfulness practice in everyday life, edited by Carolyn Cleveland Schena and Sharron Mendel:

Winter 2005-2006: “Mindfulness in a Virginia Supermax Prison” by Bill Menza, “Responding with Respect” by Brian N. Baird

Summer 2006: “Mindfulness in a State Psychiatric Hospital” by Bruce Hilsberg, “Inner Therapy” by Ryan Niemiec, and “Joyful Purpose of the Heart” by Annie Mahon

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Breath of the Buddha Retreat

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For three weeks in June, more than 800 practitioners from every corner of the globe gathered at Plum Village for the Breath of the Buddha retreat. In eighteen Dharma talks, Thich Nhat Hanh offered a brilliant and beautiful exposition of the Sutra on Mindful Breathing. Basing his talks on his recent translation of the sutra from Chinese, Thây contrasted this with the Pali version that he had used as the basis for the 21-day retreat in 1998 at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.



Thây greeted us enthusiastically with news about a movie project based on his book Old Path White Clouds, about the life of the Buddha. Later he told us that he has written to the president of Vietnam with plans for a return trip in 2007, plans that have now solidified (see page 46).



Thây gave participants an assignment—to write a letter to a suicide bomber—which occasioned many heartful discussions (see page 12). One day, in discussing this topic, Thây wrote Einstein’s famous statement about non-self on the white board and asked us to copy it down.




Thây spoke at length about sangha building, ending the retreat with a joyous Sangha Fair at Lower Hamlet. Dharma discussions, guided meditations, nourishing periods of noble silence, working meditation—all transmitted deep understanding and amazing wisdom.





The loving hospitality of the monks, nuns, and lay residents of Plum Village nourished us so deeply. And they provided an extraordinary bit of “monastic theater,” transforming an American classic into “The Wizard of Uz,” complete with Dorothy in pigtails and an astonishingly wise Glenda the Good Witch.




We will never be the same.

—Janelle Combelic

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Thây’s Birthday Wish List

From June 14 Dharma Talk


Members of the Sangha in Canada have begun to send me birthday presents and they think that this is a very special birthday. I would like to tell you about the kind of presents I would like to receive this year.

Of course we can buy a present from the market and we put a lot of love into it. But to tell you the truth, my hut in Upper Hamlet is not large enough to store all these kinds of presents. I would like to have a kind of present that I can enjoy every day and you also can enjoy every day—a present that can last for a long time, a present of the heart. I think that the best kind of present you may like to offer is a promise that you are sure you can honor, like: “Dear Thây, I promise that from now on, every time I hold a cup of tea, I will see the cloud in the tea and the cloud within myself.” That kind of present would be wonderful.

Don’t make a big promise, like: “Dear Thây, I promise that from now on every step I make will be in mindfulness.” That may be a little bit too difficult! So, look deeply and make the kind of promise that you believe you can honor. Not too much, just one. And the maximum is two. Like: “Dear Thây, I promise that from now on, every sit down, I realize that I’m sitting down at the foot of a bodhi tree. I w like the Buddha.”

I suggest only one promise, not too many, the kind of promise that will do. Just a little promise that will last all your life. That would be t birthday present for Thây.

Thây’s 80th continuation day is October 11, 2006. Please send all pro Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village, 13 Martineau, 33580 Dieulivol, France


Featured Artist

mb43-ThaysBirthday4Françoise Pottier, True Abode of Peace, was first introduced to Thây and his teachings through her work with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. She was ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing in 1992. Though French, she lives in the Netherlands where she practices with the sangha in Alkmaar and at home with her partner Shelley Anderson, True Great Harmony.


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Letter to a Suicide Bomber

Excerpts from June 8 and 9 Dharma Talks

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

—Albert Einstein

How can we apply these teachings [on compassion]?

You may like to write a letter to a young man who is about to commit suicide in your country, or in Iraq. In France, many young men and women commit suicide every day. In the United Kingdom, in America, also. In every country. As a practitioner, as a dharma teacher, as a poet, you can write that young man a letter, the way Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a letter to a young poet. We can write a letter to the young terrorist, because he entertains ideas that make him suffer and make others suffer.

I learned that the young terrorists, they don’t like to be called terrorists. They prefer the term “suicide bombers.” You can, as a British citizen, as an American citizen, write him a letter—from your own practice, your own liberation. People in your countries still entertain ideas concerning peace, safety, and terrorism. Because we continue to entertain these ideas, we support violence and terror. The practice is to recognize the notions that have led to fear, to terror—to remove all these notions in order for us to be understanding, to be compassionate, and to help other people to be understanding, to be compassionate at the same time.

You may begin like this: “Dear Friend, I know you don’t want to be called a terrorist, although many people are calling you a terrorist. You prefer to be called a suicide bomber. You may think that you are acting in the name of justice, in the name of God, of Allah. You think that you are doing the right thing.

“You believe that there are people who want to destroy your religion, your nation, your way of life. That is why you believe that your act is an act in the good direction. You punish the evil people, the enemies of Allah, of God. And you are certain that as a reward you’ll be welcomed right away to the Kingdom of God, into paradise.

“In my country there are people who believe that way, too. They believe they have to go to your country and find young people like you to kill—to kill for the sake of safety and peace, to kill in service to God.

“We all are caught in our wrong views. In the past I have entertained wrong views like that. But I have practiced, and that is why I’ve been able to get rid of these wrong views. I’m able to understand myself better. I feel that I understand you and the people in my country, including the ones who commit suicide every day.”

Maybe there are a few dozen of us who would like to write a letter from our own insight, from our own liberation. We may combine all these letters into a collective letter that could be read not only by the young people who are going to die and to make people die in the Middle East, but also in our own country. Many young people entertain ideas and notions that are at the foundation of their despair, their anger, their craving. They suffer and they continue to make other people suffer, including their parents and their society.

No matter where we live, in England, in America, in Egypt, in Asia, we all have our wrong perceptions. We have wrong perceptions of ourselves, and we have wrong perceptions of other people, our friends, our enemies. Suffering is the outcome of wrong perceptions. So the letter is first of all an attempt to remove wrong perceptions—not only in the young person who is going to kill himself but in those who are going to read the letter.

The letter is a form of dialogue; the aim is to help each other remove wrong perceptions that have been there a long time. So this is a very deep practice.

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Nurturing Bodhicitta in Vietnam

An Interview with Sister Thoai Nghiem

By Janelle Combelic


I found Sister Thoai Nghiem at Lower Hamlet before the Breath of the Buddha retreat, mindfully hacking away at overgrown bushes behind the Dharma Nectar Hall. We met for this talk after the retreat, on June 25, 2006.

Mindfulness Bell: You’ve spent a lot of time in Vietnam since Thây’s trip early last year. There are two monasteries in Vietnam now that practice in the tradition of Plum Village—Tu Hieu (Thây’s root temple) in Hué and Bat Nha (Prajna Temple) in the south. How did that come about, and what has happened since then?

Sister Thoai Nghiem: During the trip Thây gave ordination to nineteen young people. They had applied to be monastics the year before, when several brothers and sisters and I came there to give teachings. So we sent them to Tu Duc Temple in Cam Ranh, whose abbot had come here to practice. We asked him to babysit them and he gave them guidelines of the practice. When the trip took place Thây gave ordination to them at Hoang Phap Temple [outside of Ho Chi Minh City] during the monastic retreat, with more than one thousand monastics. That was the first batch of Thây’s new students.

Two Dharma teachers, monks of Plum Village, agreed to stay behind in Hué to look after the six novice brothers ordained by Thây and fifty young men aspirants in Tu Hieu root temple. And Sister Bich Nghiem, a Dharma teacher from Plum Village, also kindly accepted to look after the twelve novice nuns and sixty new young women aspirants in Dieu Nghiem nunnery.

After Thây went back to France, the rumor circulated that you can practice engaged Buddhism in Thây’s style in Vietnam if you join Tu Hieu monastery or Dieu Nghiem nunnery. More aspirants kept coming to both temples, and after a couple of months Dieu Nghiem became too small. So we made the decision to move all of them to Prajna because it has more space.

So that’s how it started. When we first came to Prajna, we had seventy or eighty. But soon right after that, hearing of our presence, people started coming—more and more and more—and within a year we got up to two hundred nuns and aspirant nuns.

Mindfulness Bell: How many people were living at Prajna before you came with the nuns from Dieu Nghiem?

Sr Thoai Nghiem: There were no young nuns. Along with the abbot, Thây Duc Nghi, the residents consisted of a couple bhikshus [monks] and some very young novices, and two or three old bhikshunis [nuns]. They lived in the main house, and we moved into the place that was built supposedly for the elderly—the one where we stayed at night when we were there with Thây, a little bit further away.

For the winter retreat, Thây Duc Nghi with the support of our Thây of Plum Village wanted Prajna to have both monks and nuns. In September Thây Phap Kham and Thây Nguyen Hai of Plum Village came and started setting up the monks’ side. At that point we clearly started to have two hamlets, one for nuns, named Rosy Hearth Hamlet, and one for monks, called Fragrant Palm Leaves Forest Hamlet. And they also had more and more monks coming, and started accepting aspirants. We are now one hundred ten monks and aspirant monks and two hundred twenty nuns and aspirant nuns.

Mindfulness Bell: What is happening there now?

Sr Thoai Nghiem: At Prajna before I left for three months here, nobody really wanted me to go. But I said I needed to have a break. It’s not really a break to come back here and have four retreats (laughter). And when I go back to Vietnam I will bring some of the sisters, over fifty, to move back to Dieu Nghiem temple.

There are so many people who love the Dharma and love Thây’s teaching but also there are some who say that Thây’s teaching is good but it applies only to the Westerners. A few of them who have come to Plum Village are impressed but say that they cannot do anything, especially in Hué, because Hué is too proud of their conservative tradition.

Mindfulness Bell: For many of us Westerners who are immersed in the Plum Village practice it’s difficult to understand the contrast with traditional practice in Vietnam. As I gathered from the trip, Buddhism in Vietnam has endured constraints for many decades because of the political regimes in that country and today there are signs of some corruption in monastic practice. What does the tradition look like today, and why is Thây’s teaching so revolutionary?

Sr Thoai Nghiem: My explanation is probably not a complete one. But some basic differences that I have experienced are that all the temples in Vietnam like to chant in Sino-Vietnamese; they have been doing it for hundreds of years and they have difficulty chanting in Vietnamese. They go for the sound more than for the meaning; and we go for the meaning.

And secondly, they go more for ritual. The tendency is to think that the more ritual you have, the more you win the trust of lay people. We focus more on the content and the transformation. One tradition, for example, is to have formal lunch with monks wearing orange formal sanghati robes, sitting on chairs around a table, while devoted lay Buddhists offer them food and prostrate to them in order to obtain merit. This is not the simplified way of formal lunch in Plum Village.


Even at Tu Hieu, Thây’s root temple, there was resistance. Before Thây’s return, we asked the monks in Tu Hieu to practice in Plum Village style: no private money except some monthly pocket money offered by the sangha ($3 per month), no private motorbike, no cell phone, no going to Internet except for sangha work and only with a second body, and so on. Two dozen monks left Tu Hieu because they could not live with these new trainings. But then forty new monks and aspirant monks filled in.

Another tradition is that they don’t let the sangha of bhikshus make decisions; the abbot has the authority to do everything. When I left the Rosy Hearth Hamlet of Prajna, even though I was not the abbess, just one of the oldest ones over there, some didn’t think that the hamlet of nuns could survive! I said, we have fifteen sisters from Plum Village working together, and if I leave, that directing sangha of fifteen sisters from Plum Village will take care of it. And I feel completely confident in leaving. It works! Thây put us into the position, where the decisions are made by the whole council of bhikshus or bhikshunis, not by one person.

Another example, as Thây has often said, here we don’t have individual money, individual cars, individual telephones. In Vietnam right now, most people get used to having their own money. If they go out and do a service [like funerals or rituals for ancestors] and receive money offered by lay Buddhists, that’s their own. In Plum Village when we are offered money we put it into the sangha budget.

In Prajna Temple right now, the abbot has requested that his old monastic students not have mobile phones, and they didn’t follow the rules. And finally the abbot had to ask them to go to another temple.

They love Thây’s Dharma talks, they love everything Thây says. Except they cannot live it. That’s why it’s difficult for them to give up everything and come and join the sangha and follow Thây’s path.

Many young people in Vietnam during the French colonization joined the jungle guerrilla to resist the French, as an ideal of service. Nowadays the young people in Vietnam have seen that being a monk or a nun in Plum Village style, with a very simple life full of joy in the practice, is an ideal of service too, and the number of those who aspire to become monks and nuns is increasing every day. For many months now, we have had to stop accepting new requests to join us because there is not enough space. Hopefully by setting up a nunnery in Hue we can accept more. We want to do it now because we see that it has been successfully done at Prajna and in Tu Hieu. In Tu Hieu the sixty-five new novice monks and the twenty old-style bhikshus have adjusted to the way of living in Plum Village style. It proves to all of Vietnam that Thây’s teaching is applicable; it responds to the needs of the younger generation who have the bodhicitta and would like to lead the monastic life as an engaged step to improve society in a happy way.

Mindfulness Bell: There’s also the gender issue in Vietnam that Thây is revolutionizing—where nuns are always subservient to monks, even if the monk is very junior to the nun. It must be hard for both men and women in Vietnam to learn a new way of being together in monastic life.

Sr Thoai Nghiem: The new aspirants who come in and become nuns under the tradition of Plum Village, they love it. In their life right now, they like that the monks and nuns are equal. The nuns that got trained in the traditional way, yes, they always feel like they are behind.

This makes me think of a story. We wanted to have an alms round for Prajna Temple, just before the Buddha’s Birthday, where we go around and ask for food. We did several of these during the trip with Thây and this was the first time it was done in Bao Loc.


But when we went as a committee to talk with the monk who has authority in the area, he said no. He said he would authorize it and join it on the condition that nuns would not be allowed to walk parallel to the monks. As you remember, our monks walk on one side of the street and nuns on the other side. He said no, he would not accept that. The second thing he asked is that no novices are allowed to go on an alms round, only bhikshus and bhikshunis are allowed. Our Plum Village monks told him that Rahula, an eightyear-old novice in the time of the Buddha, went on alms round for food too. But the traditional monk still refused. The third thing he asked was that we wear the orange sanghati robe. But Thây is a revolutionary, he wants us to go back to the traditional way of Buddhists in Vietnam; since Buddhism arrived in this country, monastics have worn brown, the color of poor farmer cloth, the color of the poor. We save sanghati for more ritual ceremonies.

So that high monk in Bao Loc refused to join us if we do not follow his requests according to the “traditional” way. Then we had to go on with our Plum Village way without him!

And it made a big impression on the people. We were there with 200 monks and nuns, most of them young, and they had never seen that. It was very beautiful. We just did what Thây did, we wore brown and our straw hats and carried our bowls.

Mindfulness Bell: How will Thây’s next trip be different from the previous one?

Sr Thoai Nghiem: Most people say it will be easier to organize than the last one, because we already know Vietnam and this is the second trip. But I don’t think so. Each trip has a different flavor, and Thây is an artist full of creative ideas. We have to trust that he will invent many interesting loving offerings to the nation during the trip, on the spot, and everyone will be happy.

But the second thing is that now we have so many people who know about Thây and I cannot predict the number of people who will come and listen to Thây.

We are busy trying to build some more facilities to host people when they come to Prajna. One thing for sure, every time we have a day of mindfulness, just among us, we already have three or four hundred people. We have a day of mindfulness for lay people once a month and we have up to eight hundred already. People come from all over Vietnam, relatives of those monks and nuns. And that’s without Thây! Just think if Thây’s coming!

I’m not sure if I’m exaggerating but I think it could be up to four thousand people coming or attending retreats. That’s quite a big job for us to do in organizing things over there.

Mindfulness Bell:You’re up to it! I admire you so much, Sister. I’ve heard you tell some stories from the last trip about the challenges you faced working on the accommodations for the lay delegation, challenges with hotel owners and so forth. How do you manage to keep your stability, your mindfulness in the face of so many challenges?

Sr Thoai Nghiem: Walking meditation! Follow my breathing! (laughter) I suppose that’s all. I always have to remember what Thây says—your practice is the most important thing.

Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation, is editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Sangha Building in Hanoi

By Trish Thompson


I am living in Hanoi. Am I dreaming? How has this happened? The answers can, as always, be found in the teachings. This is because that is. Manifestation occurs when conditions are sufficient. The understanding of the answers, however, is found in life, and mine has definitely taken some unexpected turns.

When I arrived in Vietnam in January 2005 for the trip with Thây, I was feeling especially happy and free. I had finally completed a five-year divorce process, the culmination of many years (and perhaps, many lifetimes) of bobbing about in the ocean of suffering. I had lived for decades in a hell realm which left me no alternative but to practice. My teachers, the teachings, and the sangha, as well as my determination and effort, had allowed me to transform the negative energies which had been so all-consuming. Now, how perfect to begin this new phase of my life by traveling and practicing for three months with Thây and the sangha in Vietnam! I had laughingly told friends and family in the U.S. that “I just might not come back.” I was joking, or so I had thought!

Right away, riding into Hanoi from the airport, I felt a strong attraction to the landscape and architecture. The lushness of the rice paddies, and the bent backs and conical hats of those who were working them, stirred something in me. A thought came, “I could live here.”

Over the next weeks, as is usual for me, I fell in love with the sangha and with everything and everyone around me, but something was different. The ocean of suffering had been transformed into a sea of love, and I was swimming in it. The Heart Sutra became real. I was living it. There seemed to be no obstacles for my path, and consequently, the trip unfolded easily. Even though our schedule was very full and the law of impermanence sometimes manifested quickly and unexpectedly, nothing could mar my happiness.

I quickly made wonderful connections with Vietnamese people, first in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). During a Day of Mindfulness at Van Hanh University, the Buddhist institute in HCMC that Thây had co-founded over 40 years ago, I had surprising encounters with two faculty members and the president, who all agreed that they needed to have a foreigner on staff. And they invited me to return to teach mindfulness meditation and English. Our shared enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when they remembered that for them to receive permission to hire a foreigner would not be easy and would take time. While I knew this invitation might be withdrawn, the seed of possibility had been thoroughly watered.

In segment two, I experienced a strong connection to the land during an overnight visit with Thây and the sangha to Bat Nha [Prajna Temple], the practice center in the central highlands. I felt such profound contentment and immediately visualized myself spending time there. When the announcement was made that Bat Nha would become a Plum Village monastic center, a surge of joy ran through my body.

During Têt, which we celebrated in HCMC, my oracle was read by Sister Chan Khong and Brother Phap Tru. My question was, “I am happy here. I am also happy there. In Vietnam, however, I see love everywhere, especially in the eyes of the people. I want to live here. I want to help build a bridge between the East and the West. How can I do that?” The answer from the Patriarchs came down through the centuries, declaring, “If you meditate consistently in your meditation hut, in a balanced way, all your wishes will come true.” I think I floated out of the meditation hall. Carried by feelings of calm confidence, I had my assignment and somehow I knew I could do it. A few days later, Sister Chan Khong announced that lay friends could invest in the construction of meditation huts at Bat Nha, and I immediately committed.

My future seemed clear. I would live in HCMC. However, several times I heard myself say to others, “I wish something would happen in Hanoi.” Something seemed to be pulling me to that northern city, even though nothing very special had happened to me there. But the trip was not over.

Love and Service in Hanoi

At the end of the three-month tour, I had two nights and three whole days to enjoy being in Hanoi before returning to the U.S. An American lay-sister, a roommate on the tour, suggested that while there, I should meet her cousin, for “he is very interesting, loves living and working in Vietnam, and is a good person for you to know.” I agreed, so she introduced us via e-mail. An American lay-sister suggested I meet an American woman, a Quaker who has lived and worked in the country for more than 30 years.

Conditions were truly sufficient. I met the cousin for dinner, and we agreed to meet for a second evening. I met the woman, and we enjoyed time over lunch. They each, in their own way, urged me to stay, and I did. I postponed my departure for some weeks, then returned to the U.S. only to pack a few things for my move to Hanoi. These life-changing decisions were the easiest I have ever made.

The woman became a dear friend. The man became my beloved and my partner. I was home. I am often asked how I found this partner and this relationship that brings me so much joy. I did not find him, for I was not looking. I was becoming. I became the happy, loving person I wanted to meet, and there he was!

Planting a Dharma Garden

For years, when voicing a wish to become a monastic, I was told to create happiness through sangha building. I tried, but my practice was too weak. Sister Susan said, “Nurture yourself. Plant a garden,” and I did. I withdrew from that which brought no happiness. Several years of gardening were required before flowers could bloom, but with right effort and the support of the sangha, all things are possible.

I received the transmission for membership in the Order of Interbeing in 2002. While that is certainly not a prerequisite for sangha building, my own practice deepened, and in 2003 I started the Sea Island Sangha of Beaufort, South Carolina. I found much happiness in my work there.

The Hanoi Community of Mindful Living (HNCML) became a reality in April 2006. We are a very dedicated group, many of whom are new to the practice. Each week seems to bring one or two experienced practitioners. We are a diverse sangha of many cultures, with both foreign and Vietnamese friends. Our core is made of 15 to 18 people who love to practice together. Already, more than 120 names are on our e-mail list.

Our weekly schedule is quite full, with something for everyone. Early morning sitting and walking meditation is three days a week. A compassionate listening group meets every Tuesday. One evening is devoted to sitting, walking, and Dharma discussion. On another, we chant for peace. Occasionally, we enjoy a special practice or day of mindfulness.

I do not question for a moment why I am in Vietnam. I am here because I am happy here. I am here to build sangha. The roots of my spiritual family are in this land. Sanghabuilding here, I have discovered, is no different from sanghabuilding in South Carolina, and, I suspect, anywhere else. Nurturing myself and taking care of my inner garden is my priority. When I do that, my loving energy is boundless.

mb43-Sangha4Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace, recently helped translate and edit an anthology of Vietnamese women’s poetry, to be published by Vietnam’s Women’s Publishing House and the Feminist Press of New York City.

A Recent Evening of Sitting & Chanting at the Hanoi Community of Mindful Living

Linh’s face breaks into a broad smile, as she bows and begins to speak. “I am thirty years old, and I hope I can come to this place forever!” The rest of our group laughs. “I feel so happy here,” she says. “All my colleagues at work tell me I am so much happier, since I began to come to these meetings, and it’s true!” The next to speak is Alan who bows and offers, “I’ve done a lot of work with the mentally ill and the mentally challenged, and I’ve been thinking this week about how I can introduce that population to the practice of chanting. After only a few weeks, I can see that chanting is very healing.” Hang speaks next: “ My whole life has changed since I found this group. I have fallen in love with the teacher, the teachings, and the practice!” Daisuke introduces himself. He has meditated for many years in a Japanese tradition. “I am so surprised at my feelings,” he says as he pats his chest.


On this Thursday evening, we are a group of eighteen. Chanting is a new practice for our members. We are learning to chant the Opening Verse and the Heart Sutra in English, after which we sit while listening to the Vietnamese version on CD.


We follow this with twenty minutes of sitting and chanting Namo ‘Valokiteshvara, a weekly practice. We send our loving kindness energy to ourselves and then to all places and people who are experiencing violence and war.

The last thirty minutes we devote to the singing of Plum Village songs. Tonight, we learn “No Coming, No Going” in English. Tam, a seasoned practitioner, sings it in Vietnamese, earning our silent, enthusiastic applause. She agrees to teach us next week. Someone suggests we sing it in French, and we do. Huong, a newcomer, beams and says, “I love singing! My favorite sentence is ‘I am in you, and you are in me.’”

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Remember Remember Remember

By Sister Dang Nghiem


When I close my eyes, I see hundreds of little eyes looking at me: round, dark, innocent eyes, eyes opened wide. They wrench my heart and force me to seek deeper understanding of my path.

Therese came to visit our Understanding and Love Program in the highlands of South Vietnam. We organized a tea meditation at Prajna Temple on the night of her arrival to celebrate her visit and the visit of one of our elder sisters. The meditation hall was packed with over 250 monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.

Our Venerable Abbot spoke warmly to welcome the visiting sister and Therese. He told the history of our Prajna monastery (“Prajna” means “understanding”). Around 40 years ago, inspired by Thây’s teachings that he had read in Fragrant Palm Leaves, he and seven other young novices had the aspiration to continue Thây’s teachings and practices of engaged Buddhism in the highlands of South Vietnam. They built their first hermitage in what is now known as An Lac Temple (Temple of Peace and Happiness). That temple gave birth to seven other temples including Prajna, the most recent, established in 1998. Except for An Lac, the temples are situated in the remote areas of the highlands where the aboriginal K-ho people live and the poor people from North Vietnam have come to resettle.

Over the years, our Venerable Brother and his monastic disciples lived with and supported the people in these underserved communities. They established a school following the model of the Understanding and Love Program begun by Thây’s social workers in the 1960s.

When our Venerable Brother wanted to expand the school program, he went to Plum Village to ask Thây for support. For the eight years that followed that visit, Thây’s lay students trained through the School forYouth and Social Services have worked with the Venerable to establish 39 kindergarten schools for children in the distant areas of the highlands.

The next morning we all got in a van—our Venerable Brother, Therese, four social workers, the driver, and me, Therese’s translator.

Noble Veterans of the School for Youth and Social Services

The four social workers who accompanied us were young men in their twenties when they joined the School for Youth and Social Services (SYSS), established by Thây. Now they were all in their sixties. In the 1960s they had gone to war zones and worked together with the villagers to build bridges, create makeshift classrooms, and establish health clinics.

“Over three hundred social workers had graduated from the School for Youth and Social Services,” they said. “Thây continued to provide us guidance even after he went to Europe and the United States to call for a stop to the war in Vietnam. However, when the communists took over Vietnam, all of our social works were forbidden. We lost contact with Thây for fifteen years!

“After contact was re-established, we began to do social work again. Now, there are only a few more than 30 active social workers working throughout the three regions of north, central, and south Vietnam.”

I asked the men what fueled their minds of love after all these years. “It’s our love and loyalty to Thây,” one replied, and the three other social workers nodded in agreement. “It’s also the practice of the Dharma that nourishes us. We certainly would not be able to continue this work if we did it for the money.” (They receive every month from Plum Village an equivalent of less than $100 dollars.)

Fresh as the Dew, Solid as a Mountain

The first of the kindergarten schools we visited was not far from our monastery. I hesitate to call these locations schools, because they are just one to three rooms (each room about 3 by 4 meters), one small kitchen, and a toilet (squatting style). Most of the schools stand isolated in a field of tea plants; some are built adjacent to the house of the people who have donated the land.

As we walked to the door of the first school, the children stood and joined their palms into lotus buds to greet us. “We respectfully greet Thây” (to our Venerable Abbot). “We respectfully greet Su Co” (Su Co literally means Miss Teacher, which referred to me, a Buddhist nun). “We respectfully greet our aunts and uncles” (this to the social workers and Therese). The children all looked at us with their big eyes, then quietly returned to their places. There were no tables and no chairs. Thirty to forty children sat on the floor next to each other along the walls of the room. At some schools, the floor had ceramic tiles, but at the more remote locations, the floors were made of bare cement.


Therese and I walked into the room and sat down with the children. Their teacher led them in a song: “Here is the Pure Land. The Pure Land is here. I smile in mindfulness and dwell in the present moment….” Then she started another song: “Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. I am blooming as a flower. I am fresh as the dew. I am solid as a mountain. I am firm as the earth. I am free.” The four- and five-year-olds sang enthusiastically with their hands gesturing for flowers and mountains. The very little ones just lip-sang or sat wide-eyed in silence.

Keeping the Children Safe and Fed

At each location, Therese asked why there was a need for our Understanding and Love Program. The teachers and social workers explained that the local government only provided primary schools; there were no schools for toddlers. In addition, the parents had to pay for school fees and daily meals. Since most of the people in these regions work on tea and coffee plantations, either working for themselves or for the Taiwanese companies that have 50-year contracts for use of the land, they are too poor to send their children to the government school. Many parents had to leave their children at home so that the parents could go to work in these plantations. The children had many accidents at home by themselves. These were the reasons the parents came together and petitioned our Venerable Abbot for a school for their toddlers.

The families promised to take turns offering a room in their house for the school; often the woman in that family also offered to be the teacher for the school. Eventually the parents planned to put together enough money to buy land for a real school for their children, but when the parents cannot raise enough money for a school, the Understanding and Love Program helps them buy the land, purchase the materials for the school building (the parents work together to build it), pay the teacher’s monthly salary, and feed the toddlers two times a day.

The Joy of Giving

In some locations, the parents donate the land for the school. I met a woman who had offered the small piece of land that her family owned for a place to build a school. The Understanding and Love Program has not yet collected enough money to build it, so she was also allowing the school to meet in her house. Her house has only two rooms and it is small and shabby. I was too curious not to ask her, “Your husband and you are so poor. Why did you not sell the land that you have? Why did you donate it to the school?”

She exclaimed, “We would never sell the land!”

“Then why did you donate it?”

“Grandfather Monk (referring to Thich Nhat Hanh) and the monks and nuns do charity work for us. This is my contribution to the charity work,” she said.

My heart sank into a deep silence.

Her two children were helping with the school program. I asked the younger one if it was annoying that so many children were in her house. “Not at all, respected Su Co,” she replied.

“Does it bring you joy then?” I asked.

“Yes, very much so, Su Co,” she answered with a smile. “What do you do to help?”

“When I come back from school, I help my mother wash the children’s hands and feet,” she said.

I turned to her older sister. “Do you help your mother with the children, too?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly. “Are you still in school?”

“No, Su Co. I stopped going to school after fourth grade.” “Do you wish to go to school?”

“Yes,” she replied quietly.

“Does it make you sad that you cannot go to school?”

She simply looked down to the floor; her face turned pale. I stroked her unkempt hair and breathed mindfully. Later, as we walked out of the woman’s house, Therese said to me, “It’s so sad that the mother’s salary as a teacher is not enough to put her own children in school!”

Serving the K-ho People

We visited a school of the aboriginal people of K-ho. The teacher was 24 years old. She had received a scholarship to go to a university in the city, but she chose to stay and teach her own people. She taught a night class to teenagers and adults for a number of years, and thanks to her, illiteracy was eradicated in her area. During the day, she took care of toddlers and taught them how to speak, read, and write in Vietnamese. Each year, she would take the ones who had just turned six to the public primary school, then for a week to ten days, she walked with them to their new school, staying in class with them as they got familiar with the place and became less frightened. Then she returned to her own preschool class. She was the only teacher to thirty toddlers. Another woman helped cook breakfast and lunch for the children.

We went deeper into the forest to visit another location. The local government had received funds to build a primary school in each sub-district but they ended up leaving many of the schools vacant since the parents could not pay for their children to attend the school. Our Venerable Brother borrowed one of these primary schools for our Understanding and Love Program. (“We’ll eventually borrow all of them,” he said with a charismatic smile.) I was surprised to discover that these public schools include just a few relatively big rooms and no toilets or sinks! (The tea plants surrounding these schools must grow well with the natural fertilizers.)

The children at this location were also of the K-ho ethnic group. Their clothes were discolored and many did not even have socks or hats. It was cold and windy, but they all sat on a thin straw mat on a cement floor; there were no toys and no decorations in the room. The children simply sat still and silent.

I placed a small girl on my lap. The teacher said to me, “The father of

that child died last year in a vehicle accident. Her mother is only 22 years old and she has to take care of two children by herself. They are very poor.” The child was 17 months old, but when I pulled her up, she could stand for only a few seconds before she sat back down. Yet her face was beautiful and calm like a full moon, and her eyes opened wide.

Little Zen Masters

Again and again at each location, Therese and I were deeply struck by the children’s demeanor—and by their eyes. They were quiet and still, but their bodies and minds were not flaccid or lethargic. Their eyes were wide open and calm, yet penetrating. I saw them as little Zen masters in meditation, sitting in ease and acceptance.

We went to three more locations that afternoon. When we arrived at the last school we had tea with the two teachers and an elderly woman whose granddaughter attended our school. The tea was particularly strong and fragrant. The women told me that most of the tea plantations in this area belonged to Taiwanese owners who lived in Bao Loc with their families. The local workers were allowed to use only the old tea leaves for drinking (called chè); the young tea leaves were harvested for exports (called trà). I said to them that I must be drinking trà, and the elderly woman smiled in embarassment, saying, “Well, it’s a special occasion that the Venerable and you are here, so I went to the tea garden back there and took a few young leaves.” She smiled.

Spiritual Nourishment

I asked the teachers if they were tired after taking care of the children from 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday. They smiled, a smile of kindness, acceptance, and endurance.


“How do you nourish yourselves?” I asked them.

“We go to Prajna temple and the monks and nuns teach us how to take care of the children and of ourselves,” one teacher told us.

“How does the practice help you?”

“I learn to bring joy to other people. I don’t get so upset anymore. If I didn’t hear the children’s voices for a few days, I would miss them!” she replied.

On our visits to the schools we discovered the importance of spirituality. “Hunger and poverty is one kind of suffering,” said our Venerable Abbot. “Yet, the lack of spirituality is a greater suffering. The people in these areas are very poor, but they live their lives with honesty and joy because they have a spiritual practice. If not, their lives would be much darker,” he said.

The Beauty of Interbeing

Towards the end of our time together, our Venerable Brother slowly looked at each of our faces. Then he turned to speak to the four social worker brothers, “Well, do you have any last thing to say to sister Therese? Tomorrow, on our way to Saigon together, we will be practicing silence and hand gestures!” Everyone laughs wholeheartedly because they know I will not be in the car with them to translate.

On the way to the car, Therese and I reached out to embrace one another. I follow mindfully my in-breaths and out-breaths, as I feel concretely Therese’s presence in my arms. We have shared meaningful and beautiful moments together. I am keenly aware that I may never see her again, yet our lives are forever intertwined.

And the eyes of the children, they will always remind us to reflect deeper into our path and to remember. Remember. Remember.

Sister Dang Nghiem worked in the U.S. as a medical doctor before she became a nun. She lives at Deer Park Monastery.

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On the Way Home (part 2)

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue


Sister Annabel was one of Thây’s first students in the West. At Thây’s request, she is writing a memoir of her practice life; this is the second installment.


Thây and Sister True Emptiness [Sister Chan Khong] were so kind to me in my first years at Plum Village. They treated me like their own family, their niece, their child. Can I ever repay them their kindness? Though they already had many things to take care of, they also took care of me. They understood, for example, that I liked to eat Western food, and they also introduced me to Vietnamese food.

Sister True Emptiness, out of great kindness, offered me many opportunities to eat Western food when I fi came to Plum Village. Now it was some St. Paulin cheese, now a packet of muesli. We discovered a supplier of organic wheat flour some 70 kilometers from Plum Village, where we bought flour to make bread in our neighbor’s oven. Sister True Emptiness told me where I could buy milk from a neighboring farmer and taught me how to make yogurt.

From an early age we accustom ourselves to a certain kind of food. Not only our body but also our mind grows used to that food. Our parents and grandparents teach us to cook the food that they have learned to cook. If you come from Vietnam you like the taste of rice and the vegetables that grow in East Asia. If you come from France you are accustomed to bread at every meal. Thây often tells us that when the master Hsiuen Tsang traveled to India to bring the Buddhist scriptures to China he could no longer expect to eat the Chinese dumpling and had to be content with curry and rice. In a multicultural community we have the right to cook and eat the food of our motherland, when it is available, but we also need to be open to new dishes and even be willing to try new ways of cooking from time to time.

A Bridge in a Divisive World

Sister True Emptiness is truly a person of two cultures. You feel that she is as at home in the French culture as she is in the Vietnamese. Thây also is as gracious in other cultural settings as he is in his own. A true practitioner of mindfulness is an ambassador for the spiritual path in any cultural setting. Thây encouraged me to practice being at home in the culture of the country of my birth and also in the Vietnamese culture. Thây never encourages anyone to abandon their own spiritual or cultural roots but rather to be in touch with these roots in mindfulness. Cultures can complement each other and a true person of two cultures can be a bridge in a divisive world.

Sometimes Thây would offer me tea made with milk and sugar. Occasionally he would also make himself a cup of this British tea but at other times he would drink the Chinese tea to which he had always been accustomed, as I sipped the British kind. When Thây introduced me to Chinese tea, he taught me to fill the glass two-thirds full and when the glass was emptied, to inhale the fragrance that remained in the glass from the tea. That fragrance is the fragrance of the tea flower.


From Community to Sangha

At the end of 1986 Thây and Sister True Emptiness were away in Australia and the refugee camps of Hong Kong and the Philippines. That winter it snowed heavily and since in that part of France there is no equipment to clear the roads we were not able to leave the Lower Hamlet. The wild animals were very hungry and boar came nearby looking for food. We had collected just enough wood in the months before to keep ourselves warm but the pipes froze and we collected snow to melt and use for water. When we practice to follow our breathing in the present moment as our lives are going well, we have something to rely on in the winter of our lives when conditions are not what we should wish for. Life has its wonderful message of impermanence that encourages us to practice and helps us be grateful for everything that is available for us in the present moment.

We were a community of twelve living in the Lower Hamlet—myself, four young men newly arrived from the refugee camps, and in the Persimmon Building, a family from the refugee camp: father, mother, four children, and their uncle. The eldest was twelve and the youngest less than two. They made a living by growing Asian vegetables and selling them in Bordeaux. The father was an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing. At that time we could not yet call ourselves a sangha because we did not share the spiritual path as does a sangha. Thây and Sister True Emptiness loved us all and held us in their embrace of care and affection. They wanted us to practice every day as part of our ordinary daily living but somehow we were not there yet. Thây was very patient with us. Sister True Emptiness had instructed me to be as an elder sister to the four young men. I was to make sure that they studied French and recited the mindfulness trainings every week. This was not too easy for one of the young men who was not confident in his ability to learn French and enjoyed above all playing volleyball just at the time when the French class was happening.

When Thây came back from the tour of Southeast Asia and Australasia, he shared with me that Plum Village would become a practice center and the people who lived there would be united by their practice. I was very happy and reassured when I heard this and wondered how it would happen. When they were not traveling to teach the Dharma, or during the one-month summer opening for families, Thây and Sister True Emptiness lived in the hermitage. They would visit us from time to time. Sometimes the visit was unexpected and sometimes Sister True Emptiness would call us in advance to say that Thây would come and give a teaching. Everyone knew that Thây did not want us to drink wine or eat meat but there was no regulation. When they knew that Thây was coming all traces of wine and meat were hidden away. I never drank alcohol or ate meat myself but I did not need to tell tales to Thây; he seemed to know what was happening whether we told him or not.

Thây and Sister True Emptiness guided our practice; apart from Thây we were all lay practitioners. Thây asked me to think about a constitution for Plum Village to help Plum Village become a practice center. In the Fragrant Palm Leaves community in the south-central highlands of Vietnam, the practitioners under Thây’s guidance had not needed this kind of regulation because they all had a firm basis in the practice of Buddhism. Thây, like the Buddha, was not in a hurry to make regulations, but there came a point when, for the sake of the practice, it was necessary to do so. Basically our constitution held that those who lived in Plum Village followed the schedule of practice and studies, recited the mindfulness trainings, and abstained from meat, alcohol, and cigarettes. The final item of the constitution was that those who did not want to live in accord with the mindfulness trainings would be asked to leave; Plum Village would give them assistance to find a place to live and a way of earning a livelihood.

There were no hard feelings on the part of the four young men who left at this time. They felt that it was the right time to go and they were ready to take the next step in their life in France.

The Deep Practice of Organic Gardening

Under Thây’s guidance, I began to learn the practice of living in harmony. Unlike other members of my community, I had experience in organic gardening. To me it seemed the only sane way to produce vegetables and fruits. To the others it seemed a crazy idea. I was sure that Thây would support this idea but he was firm that there should be a consensus in the community. Only in retrospect do I see the wisdom of this. We all know how much Thây cares about the environment. Long before coming to Plum Village Thây had organized the Dai Dong conference in Sweden one year as an alternative to a governmental conference on the environment organized in South Africa. Many delegates to that official conference had a vested interest in not protecting the environment and that is why Thây and his friends saw the need for an alternative. So it was difficult for me to understand why he did not speak out in support of organic cultivation in Plum Village.


Thây said that all of us must sit together, discuss, and agree on how we were going to cultivate the land. During this discussion I was a minority of one. Thây suggested that I take a small plot of land and cultivate it organically. Others would see the results and then we could increase the size of the organic garden. This is entirely in the spirit of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings—we do not force others to accept our views, even though those views are Buddhist ones, and we allow people to decide; but we use compassionate dialogue to help people make the decision that is most beneficial to the community.


By this time I had been joined by another sister whose name was Thanh Minh. She was a refugee whom Sister True Emptiness had met on the tour of the Southeast Asian refugee camps and sponsored to come to France. Thanh Minh had spent time with a teacher in a temple in Vietnam so she knew about the temple way of life. Her arrival in Plum Village was a very happy moment for me. Together we could live and practice and work in mindfulness. And together we worked in the garden.

The plum trees planted in the Lower Hamlet had been donated by lay practitioners, many of them children. They knew that when the plums were harvested the proceeds from selling them would be sent to Vietnam to support the poorest families. We all felt responsible to our donors and wanted to produce the crop they expected of us. So we began slowly but surely. In the early morning we would examine the seedlings for slugs and gently put them in a tin and transport them to a meadow or the forest. We had plenty of uncultivated land around us where they could survive.

As soon as it was light Thanh Minh and I would go outside to do our slug meditation and weed the different vegetable plots. In a practice center one has time for this kind of activity and it becomes a meditation in itself. The garden is a wonderful place to practice. The greenhouse is like a meditation hall. The aroma of incense is the aroma of coriander leaves and mint and celery. The mind is the greenness of the plants and the discrimination of what is weed and what is vegetable; somehow the mind needs to discriminate between what is a positive and what is a negative thought. When Thây had first asked me if I wanted to stay on in Plum Village, I had asked him what I should do. Thây had said: “Be yourself and, if you like, plant a little mustard green to eat in the winter.”

Our next step in making an organic garden was to find out about organic fertilizers. The sales representative told us about bone meal and dried blood. We asked him where he acquired such materials. He said that the local abattoir [slaughterhouse] sold it to him. We did not feel we could participate in supporting the slaughter of animals. So we relied on planting nitrogen-fixing plants between the rows of plum trees, compost, and cow dung. Plum Village has cultivated organically for many years now.

Tofu as Teacher

One of the young men in the community had made and sold tofu and bean sprouts in the Hong Kong refugee camp and he taught me how to do this. The bean sprouts we made in a large old wine barrel—that region is part of the Bordeaux wine-producing land—nearly full of sawdust. The tofu we made by soaking the beans overnight, then they were ground in an electric grinder. We put the ground beans in a muslin sack and pressed them with water so that we had the milk. The first milk that we pressed out by kneading the sack was thick and creamy. Then we added more water and the milk was less creamy. The first milk was made into tofu and the second when cooked was kept for soy milk. When the creamy milk comes to the boil you add a tablespoon of calcium carbonate and miraculously the liquid gels. Then you press it into shape in a mold for several hours. The lid is held down by heavy stones. It was not always successful. Sometimes the gelling does not happen and there is little you can do with the resulting liquid. I never knew exactly why it was not successful but there must have been causes and conditions.

Mustard greens grew well in Plum Village. If you dropped seeds on uncultivated land they would germinate. If the plants were left to go to flower they would seed themselves. With so much mustard green we could make a pickle. Pickles also need to have the right conditions in order to be successful. Thây taught me how

to make mustard green pickle in the hermitage. To make pickles all you need is mustard green leaves, salt, and water. First you sterilize the ceramic or glass pots you will use to make the pickle in, because the presence of the wrong kind of bacteria will stop the proper pickling process and lead to a bad-smelling, mold-covered result. You do not need to cook the mustard greens, you just pour boiling water over them, having put a tablespoon of salt in the pot first. You press the mixture down with a heavy lid and leave it for three or more days, depending on how cold the weather is. You should not look at the pickle too early, because opening the lid can also cause foreign bacteria to come in.

The first time I made mustard green pickle, it did not work. I was disappointed just as when tofu failed. Somehow I learned from my mistakes. At first I think, “what a waste of material resources and time!” Then I look back and discover at what stage the process could have gone wrong. I compare myself or my actions of body, speech, and mind to the making of tofu or pickle. You could say that a disciple of the Awakened Ones is in the making.

There are actions of body, speech and mind that are not successful. They are not edible for others and they do not nourish myself. Thanks to the practice of recollection, when I think back on that action I feel an unpleasant feeling. That unpleasant feeling gives rise to mental attention. The mental attention, if it is appropriate, will give rise to the two beneficial mental formations of hri (humility) and apatrapya (shame). I feel ashamed because I know I have hurt someone by my words, deeds, or thinking. In humility I come to the other and apologize. That is how I learn and the next time the pickle will be more edible. I do not allow the bacteria of guilt to come into the ceramic pot because that bacteria will never allow the proper souring process to take place. Shame is not guilt. Shame means “I know I have made a mistake. I am sorry. I make the deep aspiration not to do or say it again.” Guilt is a regret that takes away my energy. It is the idea that I cannot stand up after I have fallen and the fault I have committed will always follow me without my being able to do anything about it.

Maybe I do or say it again. Then I know my aspiration was not followed up by enough mindfulness and concentration. So the old habit energies, like old bacteria sticking to the sides of the unsterilized pot, spoiled the pickle again. Again I express my regret and this time it is successful; a new habit energy has formed in the depths of consciousness.

Finally the pickle is pickled, the soy cream gels into delicious tofu.

mb43-OnTheWay6Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center, a four-fold sangha in Vermont.

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Poem: The Oneness of Eternal Water


Hokusai’s wave
Stands still in time,
Each tiny drop perceived,
Its foamy edges clear,
Far off Mt. Fuji
Fixing its location,
That single wave
That certain day.

Hokusai’s wave
Has been around the world
One hundred thousand million times
And touched the shores
Of every land with bordered shores.
From beginningless time
Hokusai’s wave’s been drawn to heaven
And joined the procession
Of clouds that drift and sail
Across deserts, mountains, valleys.

Fallen to earth
On one hundred thousand million journeys
To join the bodies
Of rivers and seas.
Fallen as snow
On frozen steppes in uncountable winters.
Penetrated the skins of tropical trees
In hurricanes that bear human names.

I bow to Hokusai who chanced to catch the wave
As it came together for an instant
Before rejoining the oneness of eternal water.

Jan McMillan lives in Westport, Washington, a small fishing village at the mouth of Grays Harbor.

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Money Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness

by Rachel Tripp


When I was eight years old my mother announced to me that we were doing a very unusual thing on summer vacation. She told me that we were going to Stonehill College for a week. I was very worried that it was going to involve math, but I was even more surprised to find out that it was a meditation retreat. Actually, I wasn’t required to meditate myself. There was a children’s program at which I was going to be dumped every day, under the care of monks and nuns. I had seen pictures of them and they didn’t appear to be having any fun. Boy, was I wrong!

At this and another retreat, I got to know one monk and one nun very well. The monk’s name was Phap Ung and he was thirty years old and had grown up in Vietnam. The nun’s name was Sister Anh Nghiem. She had grown up in Vietnam but was educated in England and spoke with a very funny English accent. They were both the most amazing people. But for one thing, they had no hair. I expected them to be very solemn and serious and was surprised to find them skipping rope with the rest of us, their robe tails flying. No matter how crazy we kids got, their smile was constant and they never yelled or lost their cool.


They told me how happy they were with their simple way of life, each of them owning only three robes, three pairs of shoes, and one very small bowl. They live according to all sorts of rules regarding when they can sleep and what jobs they do. Sister Anh Nghiem told me a story about how hard it was for her to part with her favorite yellow stuffed ducky upon entering the monastery, and Phap Ung told me how much he misses his country. However, each of them said that it was a small price to pay for the breathtaking freedom from the power of “things.” They were completely devoted to their self-chosen spiritual path.

I would have thought that someone with no checkbook, no cell phone, no fax, and no hair, would be the most miserable person in the world, but in fact they are the most joyous people I have ever been able to spend time with. I learned many lessons from them: how to stay peaceful in the present moment, that a lot of money and things aren’t necessary to be happy, that there are many paths to God, and that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a nun by her robes.

mb43-Money3Rachel Tripp, Loving Compassion of the Heart, is 13 and lives in Sandwich,  Massachusetts. She received the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the GMDC Summer Family Retreat at Stonehill College in June 2006.

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Reflections from the Dutch Retreat

May 1-4, 2006


The Food!
We had to eat in silence – I wasn’t expecting that!
It was vegetarian food but sometimes you wouldn’t have guessed it.
The Vietnamese springrolls were especially yummy. Every morning we had muesli or cornflakes which was really yummy.

The Kids program!
We played games and lots of football in the kids program.
Extra information:
My wrist got really hurt during football!!!

The feeling you get!
I felt really calm

—Yoram, age 10

I enjoyed the retreat very much. The children had their own children’s program and that was quite nice. We were also allowed to join the meditations, I did that twice. Once at half past six in the morning. The other was ‘total relaxation’ or something like that. There I fell asleep.

There were also four monks and nuns who assisted the children’s program. Their names are Monkey, Grape, Shiny and Chadder. I had expected that if you would run or talk, they would say: “Hush shut up, don’t run.” But they didn’t do that.

I learned that in Buddhism everyone does everything with mindfulness: eating and walking mindfully and pay attention to your breathing. We also did that. Me and my brother enjoyed it so much that we have said to our parents that we want to go to Plum Village next year.

—Bente, age 11

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Towering Rock at Deer Park Monastery


It is morning. By myself I walk up the steep trail to “the towering rock.” The usually snake infested path is now clear for me to walk  up. I do. Every little while I check where I am walking, just in case. There is none the whole way. I put my foot on the grassy flat plane that ends the steepness. I walk about ½ yard. Then I stop. I turn to the left. I am in the presence of a five foot buddha statue. I am not afraid.

—Lucas Masch, age 8
Richmond, California

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Presentation on the Third Mindfulness Training

Maple Forest Monastery Family Retreat, 2005

By Charles Batchelder


For some of us, the Third Mindfulness Training is difficult to practice. In fact, when I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings five years ago, it was the one Mindfulness Training I considered not receiving. I think it is easy to accumulate the habit energy for sexual misconduct. Sexual energy itself may or may not be neutral, I am not sure. But certainly only a slight shift is required to align it with millennia of craving for becoming and existence. And in our culture we seem to have any number of false perceptions about sexuality. There is the false perception that sex is an entitlement that can be exercised simply because there is freedom to do so. There is a false perception that sex is primarily entertainment and recreation. There is a false perception that it is a casual and relatively harmless activity. And there is a false perception that sex is just a way to party and is insignificant.

Also, for many, sexual encounters are easier to arrange and less intimidating than friendships, especially for people who have a low sense of self-worth and are fearful of rejection. Sexual one-night stands are in many ways ideal relationships in today’s disposable world of “use it once and throw it away.” And of course in the world of computer technology, something approaching real sex at its most disposable is only a mouse click and a webcam away. Add to this that there is a huge amount of media watering the seeds of sexual misconduct, from innuendo and reference in prime-time TV programs to a huge industry of Internet porn that is, once again, only a mouse click away. This is an industry, by the way, that is becoming more and more legitimate in the business world. Finally, for some of us sex was forced on us at way too early an age, which makes it very difficult to even begin to untangle the scrambled thinking and confused understanding around our sexuality.

True Protection

However, as practitioners, we are so fortunate to have the wisdom and protection of the Third Mindfulness Training when it comes to sexual matters. We are told by the Training that there is real suffering caused by sexual misconduct, to ourselves and to others. To many, probably most of us, this is not news. But we need to make an effort to always be mindful of this. How easy it is to forget under certain circumstances! Next, we are advised to replace the old peg of our sexual misconduct with a new peg of learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of ourselves and others. For me, this means learning the arts of friendship, creative self-expression, and community involvement. And, as we enter a relationship, we are advised that the cart must go behind the horse; it is unskillful to start a relationship with sex.

A relationship starts with friendship, love, and a deep, mutual concern for each other’s well-being. Once the relationship matures into a long-term commitment, then intimacy is appropriate. An intimate relationship is way more than a casual friendship with privileges. And we absolutely must realize that not everyone is available for sexual involvement with us. People in committed relationships are off limits. Children are way, way, way off limits. Children should not be given dynamite to play with, should not jump out of airplanes, and they should not have sex, period. And, in my opinion, teenagers are still pretty much children. Many of us, sadly, know first-hand that the consequences of children having sex at any age can be catastrophic.


Finally, I would like to say a bit about what we might do if there is no partner in our life or if our partner is in some way unavailable. Celibacy is a choice: even an easy choice, even a preference for some, and a challenging, but positive choice for others. We have a wonderful model of celibacy here in our monastic community. For a layperson celibacy does not have to be a permanent choice. It can be practiced just for the moment, however long the moment might last. One can take on celibacy as a respite from the hard work of maintaining a sexually responsible relationship, even within the context of an ongoing partnership. Practicing celibacy for a time can re-assign a significant source of energy for spiritual practice, friendships, family, creative selfexpression, and professional work. It can also create a beautiful clearing in your life to begin anew with an ongoing relationship, to establish a new relationship should one manifest, or for a different kind of life to simply show up.

On a personal note, I am somewhat of an expert on sexual confusion and misguided relationships. I am so grateful to have this Mindfulness Training from the Buddha to bring clarity and light to this difficult part of my practice. How glad I am that I chose to receive it five years ago!

Charles Batchelder, Courageous Presence of the Heart, practices with the Woodbury Sangha in Woodbury, Connecticut. He is a music teacher at Washington Primary School and an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.

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For Abby-Rose, With Love

By Laura Lester Fournier

The night before I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings at Stonehill College last August, I sat with friends and together we read the Trainings. I remember taking in every word deeply and contemplating what I was about to commit to. The topic that kept coming up for conversation was found in number five: specifically, “I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant.” For me, there was no question that if I were to commit to that, I would commit to no longer drinking alcohol. My friends, however, found peace in the idea that this is a practice and not a commandment. They did not have to be absolute; they simply needed to approach drinking with more mindfulness—although that in itself seems like a contradiction in terms. Can one ever drink mindfully, given that alcohol is an intoxicant that alters our consciousness?

As we shared our feelings and laughed together, I became crystal clear about my intention. I was no longer going to drink alcohol.

Transforming the Generations

I come from a long line of alcoholics, though I myself am not an alcoholic. I have a strong desire to help transform this disease for my ancestors and for the children who will follow in the generations yet to be born. It occurred to me that although I am not an alcoholic, my beautiful ten-year-old daughter Abby-Rose could be. The moment I realized that my daughter’s very life could be the price I pay if I continued, I felt completely grounded in my intention to no longer drink alcohol. I had a profound opportunity to transform something in me and in my ancestors and potentially in my daughter. It was my chance to shine a light on something that could alter my daughter’s life profoundly. Although I only have a drink once or twice a month, alcohol was still something that I continued to reach for. I could dedicate my decision to my ancestors, my precious child, and all those who suffer with alcoholism.


The following morning as I stood with my friends listening to Thây’s beautiful voice and hearing the Five Mindfulness Trainings, I felt so proud and sure that I was taking a step that only good would come from.

When I got home, I sat down with Abby and shared with her my decision to no longer drink. I shared how much suffering there has been in our family because of alcoholism and my wish for her for a life that is free from that kind of suffering. She listened quietly and when I was done she reached for me and gave me the longest and deepest hug I have ever received from her. I knew that she understood. I knew that she heard me on a level of spirit, connection, and conviction, beyond words.

The next day, I took my bottle of vodka out of the freezer. I walked to the kitchen sink and held it up to the sunlight shining through the window. As I gazed into the bottle, all I saw in it was suffering, and it caused me to weep. I unscrewed the cap and poured the contents down the drain, breathing deeply and remaining truly present to my commitment. I then walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. I held the water up to the light streaming through the window and saw nothing but joy and thanksgiving. I drank the water and blessed it with gratitude.

But there was still the liquor cabinet in the family room. Ultimately, all that was left was a bottle of French wine. I thought that was appropriate, given that Plum Village is in France and it felt like a synchronistic connection with the Sangha and Thây. I knew right away what I wanted to do with the bottle. I wanted to return it to the earth. I walked outside to our summer house, a wonderful sanctuary where we have had many celebrations at our home in New Hampshire. The summer house is surrounded by a grove of trees and is very magical. I thought about all the good times we have had there and also about all the times when liquor was a central ingredient in those celebrations.

I knelt on the ground; the sun was shining through the trees, dappling the ground with little moments of radiance. I dug a hole and placed the bottle in it and covered it back up with dirt. I bowed to the earth and placed my hands on the dirt. I felt all my ancestors around me at that moment. I felt their hands on my back and I felt them smiling, I felt their gratitude and their healing. I felt myself healing, too. I knew that the cycle had come full circle—all for the love of one very special little girl, one promise of the future, one Abby-Rose.

A Champagne Flute Full of Joy

Since giving up drinking, I have had the opportunity to really see when I want a drink. There seem to be two times when I crave it. First, when I want to really let my hair down and have a good time! And the other is when I am completely stressed out and want to escape. During those times I miss the feeling I would get from that first sip of alcohol. Instant relaxation. A few sips later, I would not even remember whatever it was that I was stressed or worried about. It was like a mini-vacation.

I did not realize how much I had come to rely on that bottle to give me peace or just take the edge off. I didn’t drink very often, but I knew alcohol was available if I wanted it. Just the thought that I could go to the freezer and get that bottle and escape was sometimes intoxicating enough for me.

Now that I am not drinking I have found myself wondering if I truly am an alcoholic. There have been days when I wanted a drink, because I was stressed or because I wanted to party. That’s when I have an opportunity to roll up my sleeves and go deep into my practice. I get to return to my breath. I get to go home.

I can choose to celebrate and fill my champagne flute with something nourishing and joyful, rather than something that will only cause me more suffering. I have the opportunity to remind myself of ways that I can avoid becoming so stressed. Rather than escaping into a false peace, I can embrace a true peace. A peace that I joyfully pass on to the next generation.

Laura Lester Fournier, Awakened Direction of the Heart, lives on a small farm with lots of animals in New Hampshire, where she facilitates a children’s sangha.

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Greed, Generosity, & Reality

 By Janice Rubin

mb43-Greed1On a recent Monday evening with my sangha, during the dharma discussion I talked about the book Hooked! In this wonderful book Buddhist scholars and teachers write about greed and the urge to consume. I also spoke about the way our culture’s encouragement of greed and acquisition run counter to Buddhist teachings.

The Second Mindfulness Training teaches us to not take what does not belong to us. Yet when we build bigger cars and homes, acquire more clothing than our closets can hold, or replace items that could have been reused, we are using more than our fair share of the resources of the earth. In Asian countries that are becoming Westernized, the Buddhist life of simplicity has been giving way to a culture of shopping and acquisition. Anxiety appears to be increasing among the people because in an acquisitive culture, adequacy is unattainable—one can never have enough or be good enough.

Letting Go of Attachment

In the Second Mindfulness Training we commit ourselves to practicing generosity by sharing what we have with those in need. The annual “Heavenly Treasures” rummage sale at the church where we meet has served to keep me focused on dana all year round. As I go into drawers or closets, or try to make room for newly acquired books on shelves, I find myself selecting items that I will donate to the sale. Over the years I have been slowly letting go of the unneeded things one accumulates during fifty-five years of marriage. At the same time I have been enabling others to pick up for a song something they might treasure. The church that has been so generous in welcoming us three times each week, and whose pastor, Jack Lohr, founded our Sangha, benefits financially from this giving and in turn, uses the money for good works for those less fortunate.

Another member of my Sangha, Madelain, mentioned that those who refuse to accede to the demands of modern society often find themselves forced to do so. She said she has refused to acquire a cell phone, but may eventually have to do so because the availability of public phones for use in an emergency away from home has diminished. Also, she said, the uncertainty that Social Security benefits will be available when her generation is ready to retire, causes many to invest their money in material goods as a form of insurance.

Steve said he had changed careers because he found the planned obsolescence in the industry in which he worked to be contrary to his beliefs. In the past few years he had experienced much loss, but each loss, whether of material things or relationships, had made him appreciate more what he does have.
Jack, a management consultant, was currently involved in setting up a meeting of large manufacturers from all over the industrialized world. He believes we are at the tail end of the consumer culture. Industrial leaders are now aware of the importance of conserving natural resources and protecting air quality. They are producing goods that are not only better made and longer lasting, but will either be biodegradable or recyclable when they are no longer useful. We are the only animals on earth whose waste is not degradable, he added.

Finding the Middle Way

A longtime Buddhist practitioner, he said one of the problems of an acquisitive lifestyle relates to the fact that acquisition is in the future. What you have can only be enjoyed in the present moment. The greedy person, consumed by thoughts of future acquisition, fails to take pleasure in what is here to be enjoyed now.

I read aloud the first few pages and the last page of an essay by Sumi Loundon, one of the seventeen Buddhist scholars and writers in Hooked! She described, with some humor, her upbringing in a 1970s American Zen Buddhist commune. While grateful for the awareness of consumerism with which she was raised, and which still affects her choices in life, she said she does not intend to raise her children in an atmosphere of such deprivation.

mb43-Greed2We agreed that the Buddha’s teaching on the Middle Waywould be a fi guide for us all on the path between self-abnegating austerity and the rampant consumerism promoted by our society.

Janice Rubin practices, teaches, and writes in Bergen County, New Jersey.

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Heart to Heart

“Heart to Heart” is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell, where we will publish short pieces on a given topic.

Keep your writing personal and concrete, focusing on the fruits of your mindfulness practice. Preference will be given to shorter pieces, under 500 words. All submissions will be edited. Submit via email to mindfulness.bell@yahoo.com.

The topic for the Winter/Spring 2007 issue will be: what you would like to write to a suicide bomber (see Thây’s words about this on page 12). We would prefer to receive submissions by October 15, 2006.

Here is a list of future topics and tentative deadlines, set in advance with the hope that things won’t change too much between now and then… Happy writing!

Issue Topic Deadline
Winter/Spring 2007 Letter to a suicide bomber October 15, 2006
Summer 2007 Second Mindfulness Training February 15, 2007
Autumn 2007 Third Mindfulness Training June 15, 2007
Winter/Spring 2008 Fourth Mindfulness Training October 15, 2007
Summer 2008 Fifth Mindfulness Training February 15, 2008

To launch this section, we present some heartfelt (and even humorous) writings on the First Mindfulness Training.


Committed to compassion and learning ways to protect lives of people, animals, plants and minerals…

Our delightful Tibetan Terrier, Dharma, is under quarantine by the county animal control officials for a severe, unprovoked biting attack on an innocent hiker here in our mountain paradise. It is our custom to daily amble over these magical trails among some of the world’s oldest peaks and valleys. Dharma, a feral Humane Society rescue animal, had been captured as a pup in the wild almost two years ago after rampaging through the highland wilderness during two great hurricanes. She is particularly fearful and unpredictably aggressive with small humans. We have five such small-bodied grandchildren. Visits are always fraught with peril and anxiety and constant vigilance. Four previous bites to adults had not yet resulted in serious harm, nor has this current bite done permanent damage, but we fear the operative phrase is “not yet.” Dharma is ever on guard, is anxiety-ridden during these visits, and in the year-and-a-half we have loved her into the darling companion she is, she is still only to be trusted with my wife, myself, and our amazing dog sitter. All of the experts we have consulted, including Tibetan Terrier Rescue, agree: Dharma should be euthanized.


Earnest practitioners that we fancy ourselves to be ought not to be killing, ought not to let others kill–yet we definitely also ought to cultivate compassion and protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. Unfortunately, especially for Dharma, our world is not only the beautiful, peaceful, controlled environment of our little cottage and dharma hall, it is also the wider world of strangers and children, constant visitors, and uncontrollable circumstances. I have always felt that the precepts, the Mindfulness Trainings, have a certain edge of impossiblity to them. And I have also come to feel that it may be precisely because of this “impossibility” that I practice them.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering.
–Shantideva, Indian Buddhist Teacher, 8th Century, A.D.

Philip Toy
Black Mountain,
North Carolina

Surrounded by her loving family, Dharma was gently euthanized on July 31, 2006.


The colours of my childhood shimmer green and yellow. Dandelions and grasses in a hot July sun. Cold, crisp white sheets warming to the gentleness of the night. Lilac, intoxicatingly sweet, drifting indoors. The colours of my childhood belong to a time long gone, and a person now dead. They belong to my Nanna and the neat council house on a tatty neglected street she inhabited. From her I learned the tenacity of a heart enveloped in kindness and equanimity. Patience and high moral standards held equal sway. Rosaries at dawn, evening contrition, and masses her comfort and strength.

Did I learn to be a better person because of her? Do I teach my children what she taught me? Or do I take the easy, lazy path of modern parenting, beset and submerged by demons? Modern parenting differs so vastly from the austerity of a Yorkshire childhood in the early 70s! Sometimes I long for simpler, less morally perplexing times. How does the Bodhisattva ideal sit comfortably with Barbie and Gameboys? consumerism and killing games?

Ask any parent or caregiver what is the greatest challenge they face, and they’ll answer unhesitantly: “nits” (head lice). Not tests, not bullying, not the rising cost of uniforms. This tiny, almost insignificant insect raises enormously complex, soul-wrenching problems. With the central moral principle of non-harming and compassion as one’s life’s principles, how exactly is one supposed to react when one’s cherished offspring is sent home from school, menagerie riding aloft, and not allowed back without a clean head?

No other insect or animal raises this issue for me. Ants, silverfish and spiders merrily waltz around the house as if they own it. The mouse in the attic over-winters as content as a maiden aunt soaking in the warm Mediterranean. Worms are rescued, spider nests painted around, birds fed, plants grown for butterflies.

Head lice are an itchy curse to any school-age child, and schools take the position that no child can return until they are louse free. What to do? Options are limited, traditional shorn heads not sitting well with six-year-old divas. Kill them quickly and humanely, snapping their little bodies with a deft flick of a fingernail, and a heart filled with contrition and atonement? Silent prayers for the dead and dying in a scented bathroom. Comb them out? Each released to its own destiny, karmic fine teeth refusing to take responsibility for their eventual demise. Or, most drastic of all, pungent chemicals shrivelling and desiccating innards and limbs? Modern chemicals absolved of ancient worries and intransigencies.

I doubt a satisfactory answer to the dilemma exists. My Nanna, template of compassion, never faced the issue with us, bereft as we were of “friends.” Probably she would have tutted and placed human health paramount; chided me for being “soft”; and sent me outside to play, dandelions yellow and grasses green swaying in the breeze. Simpler times, poor preparation for complex modern conundrums.

Kathryn C.
Hallas Wakefield, West Yorkshire, U.K.

After reading the book Seeds from a Birch Tree by Clark Strand, I discovered that writing haiku poetry is a very lovely way to practice mindfulness. I attempted to distill the First Mindfulness Training to only 17 syllables and humbly offer my effort as encouragement to others to try writing haiku. At the very least, you will have a little gatha to remind you of the mindfulness training.

vowing not to kill —
I carry an ant outside
on a newspaper

Beth Howard
Cheyenne, Wyoming


Earlier this year, a group of practitioners came together as the Ripening Sangha under the guidance and support of Dharma Teacher Brother Phap Tri at Deer Park Monastery. The group includes Order of Interbeing members and aspirants, and we are studying and practicing the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Once a month, we visit Deer Park for a Day of Mindfulness, the Fourteen Mindfulness Recitation Ceremony, and a class that focuses on one Mindfulness Training per month. We have also begun enjoying quarterly Weekends of Mindfulness together.

Each month, we write about our study and practice of the Mindfulness Training of the month. We write journal entries and gathas, rewrite the Mindfulness Training from our own experience, and use other methods to deepen our practice.

In April, I wrote a guided meditation to practice with the Twelfth Mindfulness Training (equivalent to the First of the Five) during my morning sitting meditation time. This guided meditation integrates my practice of yogic breathing, in which one inhales the qualities and aspirations one most wants to embody and exhales the qualities one most wants to release or, in Thây’s most recent terminology, “throw away.”

Breathing in, I bring looking deeply in
Breathing out, I release narrow-mindedness and my need for premature closure (my need to make quick decisions and premature judgments)
Breathing in, I bring compassion in
Breathing out, I release judgment (of myself and others)
Breathing in, I bring understanding in
Breathing out, I release disappointment (that things aren’t the way I want them to be or think they should be)
Breathing in, I bring acceptance in
Breathing out, I release attachment to outcome (especially the outcome I want)
Breathing in, I bring peace in
Breathing out, I release blame and violence (toward myself and others)

Karen Hilsberg
Culver City, California

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Beloved Dharma Teacher Karl Schmied Passes Away

On May 7, 2006, Brother Karl Schmied, True Dharma Eye, a senior OI member and Dharma teacher from Germany, passed away. Karl was a very active Sangha builder and also did a lot of work for the Hungry Children’s Program in Vietnam. Some of you may have met him recently when on tour with Thây inVietnam. With Karl and Helga Riedl, he started Intersein Zentrum (Haus Maitreya), a residential practice and retreat center in the tradition of Plum Village. He also founded “Intersein,” the German magazine for the Sangha. On Sunday, May 14th, after returning to Plum Village, Thây spoke quite a bit about Karl in what was a tribute to this OI member. Here is an excerpt from this Dharma talk (listen to the whole talk at www.deerparkmonastery.org).


Last week during the teaching tour in Holland and Belgium, I learned that Karl Schmied, a Dharma teacher of Plum Village, passed away in his home in Fischbachau, in southern Germany. We decided that a number of brother and sister monastics would go from Plum Village and take care of the funeral. In Plum Village we are very grateful to that delegation who went to Germany to take care of the funeral of Karl Schmied.

This is an excerpt from what Sister Bi Nghiem, a member of the delegation, wrote Thây:

“On Wednesday we brought some white flowers and came to Karl’s house around 9 a.m. He was lying in his meditation room in front of the altar surrounded by Buddha statues in the windows. Several big photos of Thây were around him, as well as candles, burning incense, and flowers. We put a photocopy of Thây’s fax, “no coming, no going,” directly beside him.


Usually the dead are dressed in formal wear—a black suit and white shirt. But Karl was dressed in his Order of Interbeing jacket with brown pants and a yellow turtleneck sweater, just like when he used to come to Plum Village. But his clothes were the only thing that were the way he used to be. Not only had Karl lost much weight but he had gone through a great transformation. His face showed a quality I hardly can describe. He showed a great inner freedom that comes from letting go. I felt a deep spiritual quality in him which I had never seen in him before, like a monk, is the only way I can describe it, like a real monk. I have seen dead people before but never anything like this. It was obviously the result of his life-long practice, of his trust in the Dharma, of his service to the poor in Vietnam. While I was sitting there, I felt it help me overcome my own fear of dying.”

Karl Schmied began his studies with Lama Govinda and he became a Dharma teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He was a successful businessman and his first contact with Plum Village was in a retreat that Thây offered in Germany. Our publisher in Germany wanted him to come and see Thây but he refused. “I have seen many monks before and don’t need to see one more.” “But this monk is different, you should come to see him.” So he came to the retreat. That began a new chapter of his life. He began to practice according to the Plum Village teaching, became a Dharma teacher of Plum Village, a very happy Dharma teacher. He also went to Vietnam and taught, gave Dharma talks on mindfulness and how to practice. He helped the poor, the hungry children in Vietnam at a time when Thây and Sister Chan Khong could not go to Vietnam and do these things.

I remember one day after he had completed one retreat in Germany, he said good-bye and went to the south for a meeting for his business. I asked him whether he could release that meeting in order to come to our second retreat. He said, “That meeting is very important in my business.” So we went to the second retreat without him. The next morning at the sitting meditation session I looked down and saw him sitting. He told me afterward that while he was driving south at one point he was able to release that cow and make a u-turn and go back to the second retreat.

He had suffered from cancer for about eight years and this morning when I read Sister Bi Nghiem’s letter I saw that that cancer was a gift for him. Because with that cancer he started to practice more deeply, more wholeheartedly. That’s why he got the freedom that was expressed so clearly in Sister Bi Nghiem’s observation. About a month ago Sister Chan Khong and I went to Germany because we learned he was dying. We spent three days and three nights with him, and he was very happy during that time. We practiced together and he was able to accompany us to the airport when we went back to France.

When you know that you don’t have a lot of time to live, you know that you should use that time to practice deeply for your release, for your freedom. You don’t think of any other things. You don’t think of money, power, fame, or sex anymore. You are free. That is why Thây said that the cancer is a gift. You get freedom.

Sister Bi Nghiem wrote that while she was sitting there looking at his dead body she overcame her fear of dying. Because if you can die like that it is wonderful, you are free. Freedom is the greatest gift and freedom is the fruit of the practice. Without freedom you cannot die happily, you cannot live happily. And the way True Dharma Eyes, Karl’s Dharma name, the way he lived during the last few months before he died gave us a lot of confidence in the Dharma, in the practice. If you have the true practice usually you get the freedom that he got. There’s no doubt about it.

About 30 years ago a practitioner coming from the United Kingdom asked me, “Dear Thây, when do you think we are ready to be a teacher? When do you know you can be a good teacher?” And Thây said, when you are happy; because if you are not happy you cannot be a teacher. When you are happy, you are nourished by happiness and you nourish the people around you with happiness. This is real happiness. Many of us think of happiness in terms of power, fame, money, success, sex, because we have desire in us and happiness is the satisfaction of this desire. Many of us have been running after these objects of desire and we continue to suffer deeply by doing so.

In the teaching of the Buddha there is the expression “joy and happiness.” The practice should bring us joy and happiness. How to be joyful, how to be happy—the kind of joy and happiness that nourishes us and nourishes the world—that is the true question. In Plum Village we remind each other that life is available. With the true practice we can get in touch with the wonders of life in us and around us, so that we can be nourished, so that we can be healed, so that we can help nourish other people around us.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Lower Hamlet,
May 14, 2006

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A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind

Plum Village Delegation Travels to Buddhist Forum in China


In April 2006, four of us, Brother Phap Ân, myself, Sister Giac Nghiem (Soeur Elizabeth) and Sister Tung Nghiem (Sister Pine), had the honor and privilege to travel to China for the First World Buddhist Forum.

When we arrived at Hangzhou, in Jiangsu Province in the east of China, we were taken in charge from A to Z, staying in luxurious hotels (we each had our own room!); everything was very well organized. We were told that our hosts had been working on this project for two years.

Three days were dedicated to this Forum, titled “A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind.” We spent entire days listening to speeches by more than 70 participants; each person would speak for a maximum of eight minutes. The number of participants attending the Forum was estimated at 1,000, with 34 countries represented. Our small delegation represented France.

Nourished by the Joy of Togetherness

The speeches followed one after the other—about the efforts of Buddhism to bring improved well-being on the planet earth, improve the conditions of humanity, and find solutions to the complexities of the modern world and the many problems that it generates in different fields: environment, economy, health, social life, education. All the participants recognized the need for renewing Buddhism in order to respond more adequately to the difficulties of our times. Good intentions, promises, even plans of action were proposed as to how Buddhism could positively influence society.

Half-way into the Forum, doubts and a certain lack of appreciation arose in me, due to what I perceived as a lack of substance in some of the speeches. But finally I gained a more optimistic view, as shown in this excerpt from my journal:

“Nothing essential is being said here, no concrete methods or strong propositions are being brought out. It looks like half of the participants are drowsy or not listening to the talks, some sneaking out of the main hall to go and meet people, creating bonds around the tea tables especially afforded for this purpose. But I have to sympathize – keeping attentive for all these talks via translation is not so easy.

“What is the use of all this? What is the use of this Forum? “Well, on the other hand I do see something positive. I can compare it to our daily activities in Plum Village. The different occasions where we are together are also opportunities simply to ‘find one another again’, and from there to go forth through the sharing of our insights.

“In the same way, the meaning of the Forum is nothing but the joy of meeting one another and sharing brotherhood under various forms and colors, giving us a chance to go forward together in a luminous direction, combining our hopes and insights. A Harmonious World Begins in the Mind, and if the quality of my own mind in this moment is able to offer good conditions for me to experience harmony with my environment, then it is for sure that I will get in touch very closely with the essence and intention of the Forum. Then, let us be nourished by the joy of togetherness.”

When came our turn to offer a speech, Brother Phap Ân introduced each of us and we came up to join him on stage. This was a way for us to give our support to our Brother and express what we were representing during the Forum: the presence of a delegation from Plum Village.


Brother Phap Ân shared about the different retreats that Thây and the Sangha have offered in the last years in various parts of society. He described with much clarity and skillfulness the basic teachings used at Plum Village, concrete practices based on the awareness of breathing that can be easily applied in daily life, among the family, and in a busy professional life. He mentioned the practice of walking meditation; the practice of beginning anew; the practice of stopping, looking deeply, and recognizing our emotions. These are all tools that have borne the fruits of real transformation and healing of the suffering of the individual, of the family, and of society.

Venerables Among the Venerables

One of the funniest things for us in this adventure is probably the fact that we found ourselves together with high monks, venerable ones among the Venerable Ones, receiving much attention and consideration. Often, the atmosphere would be very joyful while traveling from one place to another; our arms loaded with gifts, we were juggling with the luggage, all participants embarked in an adventure that was carrying us towards the unexpected and the marvelous.

Meanwhile, the harmony was weaving inside our little group, and it is with infinite gratitude that I have learned to know and appreciate more my elder Brother and my two Sisters. We were able to work with a spirit of cooperation, always having much patience and respect for one another. We never let the unpleasant emotions, the negative perceptions, or the internal formations take over and control the situation. This allowed us to transform the difficulties and to go forward in beauty, ever offering the best of ourselves.

Far beyond the numerous material gifts that we received, I think this is here for me one of the greatest gifts of the Forum:

“Last hours of this Forum… I have the impression to participate to an historical event; while sitting in the midst of my Brothers and Sisters from all different Buddhist traditions, monastic and lay people, I feel out of time still. We are young practitioners mixing with great Tibetan, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese Masters…We can feel the bonds intensify, and we recognize one another in the light of this deep feeling, both intimate and strange, of knowing one another from a long time ago.

“Even just for the value of the encounter, and the opportunity and the privilege to be together, the Forum is worthwhile. It is not so much for the speeches, that often sound hollow and seem to be chattering, rather for the richness of the interactions, the joy of crossing looks, the beauty of the faces, the palette of colors, patterns and styles varying through the monastic dresses from the different traditions represented here. We feel part of the same big and warm family, which is Buddhism.”

Chân Phap Khi was born in France and currently lives at Plum Village.

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Grand Visit to a Small Country

Thây in the Netherlands

In the spring of this year Thây came with a delegation of 30 monastics from Plum Village for a ten-day visit to the Netherlands. Both the public talk, ‘Peace Is Every Step’, in The Hague and the five-day retreat in Oosterbeek near Arnhem were sold out. Many people made Thây’s visit and the retreat a wonderful and joyful practice. New sanghas are starting, local sanghas, but also a peaceworkers’ sangha. Sleeping sanghas wake up again, and small sanghas grow. It is clear that Thây’s visit to the Netherlands brought new inspiration to the Dutch sangha. Here are fragments of personal reports by participants. For reflections by young retreatants, see “Children’s Voices” on page 29.


Preparations for the Public Talk in The Hague

Along the edge of the stage: 22 meters of transparent glass vessels topped by yellow daffodils. Behind it, the warm red velvet of the curtain. A white banner with a painted tulip hangs from ceiling to floor: roots, bulb, stalk, and 10 meters above the floor, the flower. In between, the brown of the monastics with their bright faces, the sun. This is the image that 2000 people see from the auditorium.

The basic idea popped up in the intimacy of Didi’s small car: ‘The window sill’, a typical Dutch feature, ‘with flowering tulip bulbs on it’. The tulips turn out to be too expensive. The idea changes, we replace the tulip bulbs with daffodils.

We start collecting glass jars and bottles. At recycling containers we stand and ask people to give us their jars and bottles: a good exercise in humility. For many weeks bags and boxes full of dirty glassware wait to be cleaned. We start loving these glass forms, the beauty of their brightness and simplicity.

On April 28, we drive to our friend Pim. Due to a late spring this year in Holland, the yellow trumpets are still there at the end of April. With shoes wet from the dew, we pass through the bulb fields. In The Hague it takes us all afternoon to get water, glass jars, and flowers in the right place. The banner with the beautiful tulip in the middle of the stage hangs brilliantly. At 6 p.m. we’re finished, ready to enjoy the lecture, the singing, and the sight of this stage. And we think about what we have experienced in turn: humility and dirt, cleaning and brightness, transformation and joy.

—Gré Hellingman and Didi Overman

The Lecture, “Peace Is Every Step”

On the evening of the talk it was very busy in The Hague. The town is the residence of the government and that day it celebrated the eve of ‘Queen Day’ (the birthday of the Queen). Our group of students from the agronomy university reflects a broad segment of the audience that feels touched by Thây’s message that “the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present.”


While 2000 people slowly fill the room, a number of nuns and monks are sitting in meditation on the podium. Hundreds of daffodils provide color and joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh calmly walks onto the podium and takes his place on a meditation cushion. We are requested to mindfully watch our breathing, while on the podium there is singing accompanied by the vibrating tones of a bell. I feel the hall gradually becoming calmer. Some people welcome this peacefulness very much indeed: in front of me two men start to fall asleep.

Thây starts to tell about the merits of walking meditation. ‘Walking meditation helps us to get into the now.

Often we are a little ahead or behind. Our thoughts are in the future or the past, while our life is only in the present moment.’ Thây speaks about the importance of deep listening and loving speech in dealing with lonely desperate youth, and even with violent extremists. He also talks about his peace work with Israelis and Palestinians.

After the talk the audience is invited to take a souvenir. On the train back, I see daffodils here and there. Tonight Thich Nhat Hanh has clearly touched and inspired a lot of people.

—Barbara Tieleman

The Retreat in Papendal, Oosterbeek, May 1-5

To me as a newcomer, the five-day retreat was like an intensive course in slow and mindful living. Incredible what Thây, the monastics, and the Dutch organization managed to fit into the program! Every day eating in silence (amidst pictures of Olympic sportsmen), a guided sitting meditation, a dharma talk, walking meditation, and discussion in the families. In addition, ‘beginning anew’, ‘touching the earth,’ and the taking of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (by almost 200 people!).

In his dharma talks, Thây elaborated on issues touched upon in the public talk, such as living in the here and now, and overcoming hostility by deep listening and loving speech. During the week Thây tuned his talks more and more to the current harsh Dutch political atmosphere. He did so in a positive, encouraging and inspiring way.

On May 4, Memorial Day, some younger and older participants told their personal stories of war, peace, conflict, and reconciliation. (The retreat was located in a spot where 61 years ago, bombs had fallen.) That evening we celebrated peace with a candlelight procession and we sang peace songs in the open air. There was a festive atmosphere in Oosterbeek.

—Wilma Aarts

Snapshots of the Retreat

Snatches flutter through my head and heart, songs I hear myself sing when I ride my bike, images on my retina. Some fragments…

In his talk on making peace Thây stands rocking the baby of pain in his arms, saying to it: “I’ll take good care of you. I don’t know yet what is wrong with you, whether you are lonely or angry, but I know that you are in pain. With my full attention, I will be with you, I do not leave you alone.”

Thây sketches the image of a friend, an American peace activist, who is in a coma in a hospital. In his last hours Thây and Sister Chan Khong visit him, massage his feet and remind him of all the good peace work he did. And Sister Chan Khong sings for him the song she sings for us now: ‘No Coming, No Going’.

The island in ourselves, a place of comfort and renewal we can return to, before we step into the outside world. In his talk Thây describes the island in ourselves. And then we sing the new, Dutch version of this song. The young Dutch monk who sings so beautifully leads the singing and we follow.

Children around Thây, helping each other to entwine their little fingers into mudras. It is almost still, a pigeon coos, a giggle. Thây loans his bell to a child. Very mindfully he mimes inviting the bell, the unhearable sound of the invisible bell.

—Else Meerman

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Sangha News


Old Path White Clouds – The Movie!

In May 2006, Thich Nhat Hanh, along with an entourage of monks and nuns from Plum Village, made an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. He was there to sign a contract for the making of a movie about the life of the Buddha based on his best-selling novel Old Path White Clouds. The movie is being financed by Indian telecommunications mogul Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who made the announcement at a press conference with Thich Nhat Hanh.

According to the film trade daily Hollywood Reporter, the English-language movie will cost 120 million dollars to produce, making it one of the most expensive films ever shot in India. “I’ve wanted to do this film for several years now,” said Modi. “I discovered the book two years ago and it changed my life, and I felt it was up to me to share my happiness with the world.”

So that the movie will be an authentic vision of the life of the Buddha, the screen writer has agreed to spend two weeks in Plum Village to learn about the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness. Under Thich Nhat Hanh’s supervision, the script will be written so that the movie can convey to worldwide audiences the true flavor of Buddha’s realization.

Peace Walks Continue in Southern California

Since October 8, 2005, when Thây led over 3000 people in a mindful walk in Los Angeles, Peace Is Every Step Sangha has sponsored nine similar peace walks. They have demonstrated peace by walking mindfully on the streets of Long Beach, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Echo Park, Burbank, Studio City, Encino, and Redondo Beach. Walks are generally planned for the third Saturday of each month. Practitioners in Phoenix, Arizona will be visiting the group in L.A. to learn how to organize and lead peace walks in their city. For more information, please contact Peace Is Every Step, Los Angeles at 818-569-3009, or visit the website at: www.PeaceIsEveryStepLA.org.


Thây Featured in Two Films on Forgiveness

In early April two separate film crews traveled to Plum Village to shoot footage and interview Thich Nhat Hanh for two separate movie projects. One is titled Forgiveness and the other is The Power of Forgiveness. The projects are slated for broadcast on either Discovery or History channels.

Gustave Reininger of the Forgiveness project wrote: “We had an absolutely great filming with Venerable Nhat Hanh. I started with a recording by Thomas Merton from 1966 talking about Thich Nhat Hanh in very uplifting terms. The interview was among the best we have recorded in our travels around the world. We will finish photography in June or July, then editing for several months. If I had to guess a release date it would be spring 2007.”

Martin Doblmeier from the The Power of Forgiveness spoke with Thich Nhat Hanh, who offered the following perspective: “Forgiveness will not be possible until compassion is born in your heart.You have to do something in order for compassion to be born in your heart. In order to be compassionate you have to understand why the other person has done that to you and to your people. You have to see that they are victims of their own confusion, of their own wrong view, their own grieving, their own discrimination, their lack of understanding and compassion.” The film, which will also include stories of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the families of 9/11 victims and others, will be presented in early 2007. For more information visit www.journeyfilms.com.


Zen Noir, Coming to a Theater Near You

A nameless detective, still mourning the loss of his wife, investigates a mysterious death in a Buddhist temple, but his logical, left-brained crime-solving skills are useless in the intuitive, nonlinear world of Zen.

While attempting to question the inhabitants of the temple— Ed, a monk with an attitude and secrets to hide; Jane, a beautiful, mysterious, bald femme fatale; and the Master, an infuriatingly obscure Zen teacher, who does a lot of strange things with oranges–the Detective’s logical mind is thwarted at every turn by his suspects’ Zen thinking…

Detective: Where were you at the time of the murder? Monk: What exactly do you mean by time?

Increasingly confused and unnerved, haunted by his dead wife’s ghost, and with his investigation going nowhere, the Detective finds himself drawn into a deeper, darker, more personal mystery, where he must confront terrifying questions about love and loss, which lead to a startling realization: the mystery he’s there to solve isn’t a murder at all, but the mystery of death itself.

The creator of Zen Noir, Marc Rosenbush, is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and an independent movie maker. His fascinating film—part film noir spoof, part koan—has been touring the film festival circuit and winning award after award. This fall it will be showing in theaters in select cities around the country. For more information go to www.zenmovie.com.


Mindful Musicians’ Network

This is an initiative to create connections between musicians working in all areas and all genres, and practicing mindfulness in the tradition of Plum Village and Thich Nhat Hanh. Through communication online and in person at future musicians’ retreats we aim:

  • to water our seeds of joy, creativity, inspiration, healing, love, and understanding
  • to create a space for sharing our visions and projects, experiences and questions, difficulties and successes
  • to support each other by sharing information and resources, for example, recommended reading and listening, funding bodies,
  • to come together in the context of mindfulness practice to play music in its many varieties and share our work
  • to explore possibilities of collaboration
  • to create an online repository of dharma talks relevant to the practice of music and to freely explore ways in which we can deepen our collective practice

Please check out www.mindfulmusicians.com or e-mail Susanne Olbrich at creativepiano@yahoo.co.uk for more information.

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Book Reviews

mb43-BookReviews1The Energy of Prayer
How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2006
155 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

When Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “You are a cloud,” this sounds very poetic. What he means is that our bodies contain cloud elements,  a fact that science cannot dispute. Taking the same no-nonsense approach to prayer in his new pocket-sized book on the subject, our dhyana master begins with the facts. In the book’s introduction, Larry Dossey, M.D., writes that there are currently 200 controlled experiments “in humans, plants, animals, and even microbes” suggesting that the energy of prayer can affect another individual or object, even at great distances.

But does prayer really work? In the first chapter, Thây offers readers the story of a double healing through prayer—a boy’s skepticism is healed at the same time that a woman’s brain tumor disappears. Reading this book proves what I, too, know, as I once healed completely from fibromyalgia and stomach ulcers through prayer. I have been present in the dharma hall when Thây requests that we “send energy” to someone who is sick or dying. We do not ask for the person to be healed; we simply send our concentrated, loving energy, sometimes long distance. And we know this has its effect, just as the moon has an effect on the earth.

Prayer is not meant to be a wish list; it’s a state of being. The secret is to pray with a mind of no attainment. While our teacher gives us many classic chants and prayers to choose from, as well as an appendix with exercises in meditation, he tells us that prayer can be realized not only in words, but in action. This is important especially for those who think they need “an answer” to prayer. The prayer itself is the answer. Prayer transforms the pray-er.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s greatest pedagogical gifts to the world has been tying East to West, Judeo-Christian to Buddhist practice. We need not drop our Judeo-Christian roots; our mindfulness practice makes us more sincere Christians, more deeply reverent Jews. In two of his watershed books, Living Buddha, Living Christ, and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, the author marries Christian and Buddhist practices. For me one of the most exciting chapters is Thây’s discourse on the Lord’s Prayer, which I’ve been praying for six decades.

Love is reflected in love. With “And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors,” Thây exhorts us to pray in such a way that we “go beyond birth and death.”

What is prayer, then, but a raising of the mind and heart to God? And who is God but our very interbeing, the eternal flame that illumines everything, including the cloud. Our meditation and daily mindfulness practice is prayer. So prayer is a lightening and a lifting up. “We will lift her up [to God],” says the Christian. “We and God are not two separate existences,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh. I know this to be true.

mb43-BookReviews2Mindful Politics

Melvin McLeod, editor
Wisdom Publications, 2006
Paperback, 304 pages

Reviewed by Svein Myreng

In the introduction to Mindful Politics, editor Melvin McLeod writes, “This is a handbook, a guide, a practice book, for people who want to draw on Buddhism’s insights and practices to help … make the world a better place.” A long-time Buddhist practitioner with a background in political science, McLeod has gathered 37 prominent Buddhist teachers, writers, and practitioners for this book.

At the core of mindful politics is the importance of stability and calm and how Buddhist practitioners can make this contribution to politics, especially in connection with anger and conflicts. In his essay, Roshi Bernie Glassman states: “I don’t believe in a utopia of non-conflict. Whatever you do is going to create conflict in some ways and peace in other ways.”

Also central to the book is Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice on understanding and compassion in all walks of life—familiar teachings to Thay’s students, but well worth re-reading. These are teachings of an uncompromisingly radical nature; just look with fresh eyes at a statement like “Compassion is our best protection.”

Other contributors bring perspectives from their own traditions, with Vajrayana and Zen perhaps a bit overrepresented. Buddhism is not monolithic. At times, however, the book’s perspective feels a bit too narrow, tipping the scale with people who are popular authors in U.S. Buddhism right now. For instance, I miss the fearless words of an Aung San Suu Kyi, or the old-time political commentary of Gary Snyder.

Especially interesting to me are the articles on racism and economy. Sulak characterises “free market fundamentalism” as “akin to other kinds of fundamentalism.”

Rather than GNP, Gross National Product, Jigmi Y. Thinley, Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs in Bhutan, suggests we use GNH, Gross National Happiness, as an alternative for measuring real weath. Thinley suggests four vital elements to GNH: “(1) sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, (2) conservation of the environment, (3) preservation and promotion of culture, and (4) promotion of good governance.” I would like to read more on these topics.

I write this review as a Dharma teacher, a father, and someone who wishes to make a positive contribution to the world. Though my wife and I try to live a simple, non-harming life and protect our son and ourselves from the greed-and-speed society, it is difficult. We neither wish nor are able to live in a cultural cocoon. We want to influence society, even in a small way. Mindful Politics is definitely helpful in this respect. It makes me think more deeply about aspects of my life and society.

Three Poetry Books

Reviewed by Susan Hadler

Something wonderful happens when we slow down and take the time to wake up to our bodies, our minds, and the world around us. We see things in the light of interbeing. We are able to touch the true nature of reality. The poets whose work is reviewed here devote themselves to noticing and connecting deeply with life in the present moment. They’ve put into words their experiences of delight and transformation and insight. It is a joy to find so many images that bring together the historical and the ultimate dimensions.

Fruits of the Practice

By Emily Whittle
Self-published, 2004
222 E. 5th Ave., Red Springs NC 28377
Soft-cover, hand-bound, 25 pages

The author of this beautiful earth-brown hand-bound book is a gardener of the heart and mind. Trained as a fine artist, primarily in book arts, Emily has taught all aspects of book making, and she brings her skills to the construction of this book. Her poems offer delicious fruit ripened in the sunshine of awareness. Playful images and fresh connections abound, this one from “A Break in the Weather”: “After seven days of rain, dawn serves up a new day, round as an egg, sunny-side up,” and this, the opening line of “Zafu”: “My church is a round cushion.” Still other poems astonish us with reality, as in the last line of the poem entitled “You Asked About My Anger”: “Even with remorse it takes a long time before the birds come back.”

Most of all, the poems live as stories of life on the path of awareness, bright with surprise and clarity of insight and transformation. Here, from the first poem in the book, titled “Origami”:

Watch this!
A square of paper
on itself
becomes a crane. . .
When my spirit lies
flat and limp,
a lost scrap
under my heart’s table,
I must bend
and stretch,
touching all my corners.
I see the tiger
emerging already!

mb43-BookReviews3Bird of the Present Moment

By Pamela Overeynder
Plain View Press, 2005
Soft cover, 79 pages

A sense of belonging, “each thing to every other,” infuses the poems in Bird of the Present Moment with the beauty and truth of nature; grasses “flowing nowhere in great waves,” and oaks that “go gladly with the wind,” and this from “Hillside Theater”: “The sun takes its final bow and melts down into the rock. Then like a child who doesn’t want to sleep, it peeks upward just before the chill.”

There are poems that declare the narrator’s delight in simple things like swimming “comfortable as a fish” and in brushing her teeth “to the rhythmic sound of crickets.” Other poems, like “Bird Island,” state in elegant simplicity what the poet knows from connecting deeply with herself and the present, in this case terrifying, moment:

What slowly seeps into both of us during
this longest night. . .
is the irreducible and indestructible truth
that the present moment
is all the life we have.

mb43-BookReviews4Gateways: Poems of Nature, Meditation and Renewal
A Self-Guided Book of Discovery

By Sylvia Levinson
Caernarvon Press, 2005
35 pages

Each of the 15 poems in Gateways is like a dharma sharing that opens mind and heart. The poems come from stopping, Levinsontells us in the introduction, and attending to life around and within. A withered fern offers a “meditation of resting.” During walking meditation a young monk “places a finger below a single droplet [and] waits for it to fall.” Sitting in the quiet of early morning, a finger traces “a sifting of pollen that has settled like powered sugar on the blue bowl”; ordinary experiences brought to life with attentiveness and shared as poems.

The poet is our guide to what may lie unnoticed, yet is alive within us right now. She does this by introducing each poem with a short prose description of the discovery that inspired the poem. Before “What Feeds My Soul,” she writes, “Things all around us can give moments of pleasure and peace.” Here, a fragment:

Yesterday, it was the little redheaded bird
that lit on my balcony and poked its beak
among the sweet alyssum.

Last month, the bowed head of a classical
suspended over his instrument,
waiting as the final note disappeared. . .

After each poem, the author poses questions. For this poem, she asks the reader, “What ‘something’ takes you out of the routine and mundane and feeds your soul?” Opposite each written page is a  lined blank page, space for the reader to try writing poems of her own.

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2007 Vietnam Trip

You are invited to join Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastic sangha for a journey to Vietnam.

First Segment
Feb 21 to March 12
(20 days)

Two days in Ho Chi Minh City, which is fairly warm, then 16 days in Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery in the highlands, very cool but not cold like in Hanoi, more like spring in France. Surrounded by tea and coffee groves, Prajna Monastery has two hamlets: Fragrant Palm Leaves Forest Hamlet with 110 monks, and Rosy Hearth Hamlet with 220 nuns.You will be housed in several hotels near the famous and beautiful Dambri waterfalls, 3 kilometers from the monastery, and you can either walk to the monastery or ride on buses. We will spend one day in Dalat and visit one of Thây’s friends, the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu, in his very beautiful monastery. There will be one full six-day retreat for lay people in Prajna, and another day when the monastics are having a monastic retreat. You may also spend a few days at the Phan Thiet Mui Ne beach. There are also 102 preschools in remote mountain areas nearby that you have supported via Plum Village and that you can visit.

Second Segment
March 12 to March 30
(18 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Ho Chi Minh City on March 12; we will arrange your flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, then to Hue on March 22, and return to Ho Chi Minh City March 30.

We will spend five days in Ho Chi Minh City, taking part in a Great Ceremony of Chanting with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war, and receive a profound teaching every evening. We then go to Nha Trang and Cam Ranh, two beautiful cities with wonderful white sand beaches where the water is very limpid and warm. Then we spend eight days in Hue City, at Tu Hieu, Thây’s root temple, where he spent his happy novice time, now housing 100 monks, and in Dieu Nghiem nunnery, 50 nuns who live and practice in the Plum Village style. You will stay in one of several hotels in Hue not far from these two monasteries. We may spend one day in Da Nang. There are also 567 preschools in remote mountain areas of Thua Thien and Quang Tri nearby that you have supported via Plum Village and that you can visit.

Third Segment
March 30 to April 18
(20 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Hue City. You should arrange your flight to arrive in Hanoi March 30, with a connecting flight to Hue the same day; then on April 10 fly back to Hanoi.

This segment begins with 11 days in Hue City with Thây and 150 young monastics at the root temples, followed by a Great Ceremony of Chanting together with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war. This city suffered a lot from massacres during the war. Thây will offer his characteristic deep teaching every evening. Hue also has the peaceful and romantic Perfume River, where we can spend a day riding boats, liberating fishes. Hue is also not very far from a wonderful beach, a beautiful landscape of mountains, lake, and waterfalls. There are also many humanitarian projects you have supported not far from Hue, in Thua Thien and Quang Tri. Then we will fly to Hanoi to spend six more days, including a visit to Ha Long (Dragon) Bay, featuring amazing and wonderful caves with stalactites and stalagmites in a magical setting.

Fourth Segment
April 18 to May 9
(21 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Hanoi on April 18 and return back to your country from Ho Chi Minh City on May 9.

There will be lively public talks featuring exchanges between Thây and Communist party members in Hanoi; Buddhism is very new for these people. There are also wonderful caves with stalactites and stalagmites in other places with magical beauty in Ninh Binh or Ha Tay, and the cave of the Vietnamese Avalokiteshvara on the Fragrant Mountain. We also will have a Great Ceremony of Chanting together with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war. We will spend eight days in Hanoi, with Thây teaching every evening. There will be two days of mindfulness for business leaders on a weekend in Hanoi. We fly back to Ho Chi Minh City April 26, where we will have another two days of mindfulness for business people. The Vietnam trip ends in Ho Chi Minh City on May 9th.

We Need the Support of Your  Practice

Please join Thây on this trip and support Thây with your practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, to show the Vietnamese people that Western practitioners approach Buddhism through the three very practical doors of Mindfulness, Understanding, and Compassion, and not through blind devotion and superstition. We humbly request that during your time in Vietnam with Thây, you refrain from eating meat, fish, or seafood and from drinking alcohol (even beer or wine). This, our only request to those joining Thây’s trip, is the offering that Thây wishes to dedicate to Vietnam. For 32 years there has been no war, but the people are not aware that without keeping the Five Mindfulness Trainings they are engaged in many other little wars—in families, at work, and in society.

Please send your registration to Sister Tue Nghiem at Plum Village: NH-office@plumvillage.org. For more information about the trip check www.plumvillage.org.

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