Dharma Talk: Consciousness and Quantum Physics

By Thich Nhat Hanh

August 26, 2006

On the last day of the Retreat for Scientists in the Field of Consciousness, Thây gave this dharma talk explicating the Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses. This material will be included in a new book by Thich Nhat Hanh slated for publication in March 2007 by Parallax Press, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Today we will go over the Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses.Before that I would like to remind everyone of a few key words.

Modes of Cognition, Objects of Cognition, Moral Natures

The three modes of cognition are direct, inference, and fallacy, which is a wrong form of direct perception or inference.

The three objects of cognition are suchness, the thing in itself, which is accessed by direct cognition; representations, in which you create the object of your perception, for a mental interpretation of reality; and mere images; such as those we see in dreams. Mere images make up the majority of the objects of our mind consciousness.


The three moral natures of cognition are wholesome, which means having the capacity to induce wisdom, compassion, and liberation; unwholesome, leading us in the direction of delusion and unhappiness; and indeterminate, neither wholesome nor unwholesome, but malleable.

The first five consciousnesses — ear, eye, nose, tongue, and body consciousness — have access to suchness. This sensory consciousness can touch the one-instant reality, which has no duration in time, no extension in space. Those are the materials with which mental consciousness translates and creates the world. But this suchness is on the side of the phenomenal, not the noumenal. The eighth consciousness — store consciousness — has access to the realm of phenomenal suchness as well as noumenal suchness.

The five use the direct mode of cognition, which is why they can have access to reality in itself, suchness. The eighth also uses a direct mode of cognition — no induction, no deduction, no inference. That is why in the store there is innate, non-discriminative basic wisdom.

Now we speak of the seventh, which is manas, the self center. Manas represents grasping, loving, appropriating. We call it “the lover” in Vietnamese, the consciousness of love, but this is not true love because there is delusion in it. In the seventh consciousness there are four basic afflictions: self-delusion, self-love, self-view, and self-conceit. The basic illusion inherent in all four afflictions is the illusion about self: this body is mine, is me; this feeling is me; these emotions are me; this consciousness is me and I am independent from everything else. We call manas the lover, and the victim is of course the eighth consciousness.

Manas has a tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain, ignoring the goodness of suffering and moderation, ignoring interbeing and impermanence. That is why the mode of cognition of the seventh is fallacy. The object of its cognition is not suchness, it is an image created by self that carries a little core of reality — a representation.

When I was a novice, my teacher taught me that manas is born from a seed in store consciousness, manifests as a consciousness, and bends down to embrace one part of the store. This area of interference becomes the object of the seventh consciousness. Manas is the lover and it is grasping its loved one, just one part of it. It’s looking at reality with glasses colored by attachment and love. That zone of interference is the very object of manas — a self. The practice is to free the eighth from manas so it becomes the Wisdom of Great Mirror.

Imagining the Eighth Consciousness

Store has a triple meaning. Suppose you have a museum of art. You have a building, which stores all the precious things that are inside. The museum is not only the building, it is also what is in the building. So store has at least two meanings: the house that keeps what is inside, and also the contents. But there is also someone who lives in the building. His title is the museum keeper, and he thinks the museum belongs to him. The museum is an object of love, and the lover is the museum keeper.

Our Chinese friends use the image of a young lady who is pregnant. She is the storer and the baby is the object of storing. So you have the two meanings: storing and being stored. But there is someone who appropriates, and that is the husband of the lady, the father of the baby, and he considers this store as his. That is why store is not free. You can’t move freely because you are owned by someone.

The moral nature of the eighth is indeterminate. It is neither good nor evil, neither wholesome nor unwholesome. In Chinese the word means plasticity; it can be changed. It is neutral, indeterminate, but it is not hidden, veiled. It is not hidden by delusion.

The seventh also has the nature of plasticity. It is also indeterminate because it can be changed. But its nature is veiled.

The five, when they operate alone, without the collaboration of the sixth, also have an indeterminate nature. The true nature of reality is neither wholesome nor unwholesome. It is us who make it wholesome or unwholesome, as with a knife. If you use the knife to cut vegetables and cook for a community, it is wholesome. If you use it to kill, it is unwholesome. In its nature it is indeterminate.

We have not spoken about the sixth, but it has the capacity to reach out to all three modes of cognition. The sixth has access to the realm of suchness, the realm of representation, and the realm of mere image. The seventh does not have access to the realm of mere image. The sixth also can be wholesome, unwholesome, or indeterminate. So the sphere of activity of the sixth is the broadest.

Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses

When I was a novice monk I had to memorize the Chinese text. We can go through this very easily.

Verse on the Final Five Consciousnesses

“The object of the first five consciousnesses is the sphere of nature [suchness], their mode of cognition is direct, and their nature can either be wholesome, unwholesome, or neutral. In the Second Land, only eye consciousness, ear consciousness, and body consciousness operate.” This is the land of pure form, where there are other kinds of nutriments and we don’t need edible food. That is why you don’t use your nose and your tongue. It is much easier, you don’t have to kill each other to get food! We don’t need to talk much about the Second Land.

“The five sense consciousnesses operate with the five Universals, the five Particulars, the eleven Wholesome mental formations, the two Middle Secondary Unwholesome mental formations (lack of inner shame, lack of shame before others), the eight Greater Secondary mental formations, and with craving, hatred, and confusion.” That is because they collaborate with the sixth. We have a list of mental formations to refer to, so we know what mental formations can operate together.

“All five consciousnesses operate on the ground of Pure Matter Organs…” This is the nervous system and the sensory systems. There are gross organs like ears or eyes but the five consciousnesses are based on a more subtle sense organ — the central nervous system, the sensory systems.

The “nine, eight or seven conditions” are absolutely necessary for the five consciousnesses to manifest. For all five the first condition is the seed in consciousness, because all of them spring from a seed in store consciousness. Store consciousness is another base.

The five consciousnesses are based on the seventh consciousness, because the seventh consciousness is the foundation of good and evil. If they are good or evil in their way of perceiving it is because of the seventh, manas. The next condition is mind consciousness; it is like the water and the five sensory consciousnesses are like the waves, where water is the base for the waves. The other conditions are attention, space, and light. While eyes need light to operate, the nose and ear do not need light. There are nine conditions; some of the sense organs need all nine, some only seven or eight.

“They observe the world of dust [the phenomenal world]; two of them from a distance, three from direct contact.” Two of them are ear consciousness and eye consciousness. “Naïve people find it difficult to distinguish between organ and consciousness.” It is not the eyes that see things; the eyes are only one condition.

“It is thanks to Later Acquired Wisdom that the five consciousnesses could contemplate emptiness in its manifested forms.” Even after you become a Buddha, only the basic innate wisdom has access to the noumenal world, while the five touch only the phenomenal world. “Therefore even after enlightenment, the five consciousnesses by themselves are still not capable of reaching out to true emptiness.” True emptiness here is the noumenal, the ontological ground of reality. Only the eighth has access to it, because the eighth has the Wisdom of the Great Mirror — innate wisdom. What we get by our studies, discursive thinking, and meditation, is the Later Acquired Wisdom, which does not have access to the ontological ground. You cannot see God with your eyes.

“When the eighth consciousness is transformed into the Great Mirror Wisdom, the five sense consciousnesses can attain the state of ‘no-leaking’.” No leaking means you don’t fall down anymore. “Thereupon, the three types of manifestation bodies are available to help us end the cycle of suffering in the world.” The first body is a beautiful body that can be recognized by bodhisattvas; when you teach to a bodhisattva, the bodhisattva sees this beautiful body of yours. The second body is like the body of Shakyamuni, a regular human being, which all of us can see. The third kind is any body that can bring about a teaching. It can be a politician, a businessman, a man, a woman, a child, but if it can help people to transform, it is a third body of the Buddha.

Verse on the Sixth Consciousness

“The sixth consciousness can be easily observed when it operates in the three natures, the three modes of cognition, and the three kinds of objects of cognition, and when it still goes around in the three realms.” These are the realms of desire, fine or subtle form, and no form. According to Buddhist wisdom, life is possible in the realm of no form and no matter. Many people who are about to die and come back to life report that they see light; that may be the realm of pure light. This is an invitation for our scientists: besides matter there is life. Life is expressed not only in terms of matter, it can be expressed in other forms — energy, light, and so on.

“This consciousness operates with all the fifty-one mental formations. Whether wholesome or unwholesome, its nature depends on times and occasions.” If you live in a good environment there are many chances for mind consciousness to be wholesome. When the good seeds are watered every day you are able to proceed in a more positive direction.

“Related to the sixth consciousness, the three natures, the three realms, and the three feelings are in permanent transformation and change. The six Primary Unwholesome mental formations, the twenty Secondary Unwholesome mental formations, and the eleven Wholesome mental formations (such as faith, etc.) all are related.” Mind consciousness operates with all mental formations.

“Even when the practitioner enters the Land of Joy with her bodhisattva’s beginner’s mind, the innate attachment to a self still lies dormant in the depths of her consciousness.” In the Land of Joy there is quite a lot of happiness and peace, but manas has not been transformed profoundly. That is why the sixth consciousness is still bound. In the depth of consciousness that innate attachment to a self still exists. “It is only when she reaches the Seventh Land, called the Land of Far Reaching, that this consciousness is free from ‘leaks’.” It does not go down anymore, it can stay there or go up; that is the state of no-leaking. There may be ups but there is no down anymore.

“At this time, the sixth consciousness becomes the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation, illuminating the whole cosmos.” When the seventh is transformed the sixth is also totally transformed.

Verse on the Seventh Consciousness

“Obscured, with an object that carries some substance linking the Lover and the Base, the seventh consciousness always follows and clings to the Base as a self. Its mode of cognition is erroneous. It operates with the five Universals, the eight Greater Secondary mental formations, with mati (one of the five Particulars) and with self-love (craving), self-delusion (ignorance), self-view ([wrong] view), and self-conceit (arrogance).”

With the practice, the seventh consciousness, manas, can be transformed into the wisdom of non-discrimination and equanimity. But now it is veiled, obscured.

“Continuously following and grasping the object of self, this consciousness induces the state of dreaming and confusion in living beings day and night. The four afflictions and the eight Greater Secondary mental formations always manifest and operate with the seventh consciousness. This consciousness is also called the ground of defilement and purity for the other six evolving consciousnesses.” The seventh serves as the foundation of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness for the other six consciousnesses.

We see here the expression “evolving consciousness”; all the seven consciousnesses are described as evolving. The eighth consciousness is described as the ocean. When there is a wind blowing, the seventh consciousness manifests as waves. In the sutra it is said that store consciousness is like the ocean because when the wind of the objects blows, the seven consciousnesses are born dancing. That is the image used by the Buddha: the dancing of the seven consciousnesses.

“When the practitioner reaches the Land of Extreme Joy, the nature of equanimity begins to reveal itself.” Equanimity means no discrimination. You don’t distinguish any more between self and nonself. I am in you and you are in me. “When he arrives at the Eighth Land, the Land of Effortlessness, the illusion of self is gone. At this time, the Tathagatha manifests His body for the sake of others, and all the bodhisattvas of the ten lands benefit from his presence.” With the attainment of no-self, your power to help people becomes immense.


Verse on the Eighth (Store) Consciousness

“With its indeterminate (and non-obscuring) nature, the eighth consciousness operates with the five Universals.” The five Universals are contact, attention, feelings, perception, and volition. Volition is the motor of consciousness, the willingness to respond, to act. These five are universal because they are the basis of all consciousness.

“Realms and Lands depend on karmic power.” Whether you live in the realm of desire, of fine form, or of no form depends on your actions. Lands here means the ten lands of the practitioner. In the beginning with your practice you arrive at the Land of Joy, of happiness, and you continue to the second land, the third land, until you arrive at the tenth land and become a Buddha. You have Buddhahood innate in you.

“People belonging to the lesser Vehicles do not know about the eighth consciousness because of their attachment and wrong views. It is for this reason that they still debate about its presence.” When we speak of the subconscious of Freud and the collective unconscious of Jung, we speak of one part of store consciousness. But store consciousness is much larger.

“How immense is the Unfathomable Triple Store!” We have spoken about the triple store aspect — the storing, what is stored, and the object of grasping. “From the deep ocean of the Store arise the seven waves of the seven evolving consciousnesses, the wind being the object of their cognition! This consciousness receives impregnation, preserves all seeds and also the body, organs and environment.” This is a very important sentence. The word is translated as “impregnation” here but in terms of thought processes it is learning, apprenticing, computing. That is the word vasana, perfuming.

The image they use in the sutra is tea. If you want to have jasmine tea you put jasmine flowers into a tea box for a few nights. The jasmine scent penetrates the tea and you have jasmine tea. For lotus tea, the people in Vietnam used to go to the lotus pond in the early afternoon in a small boat, and insert a small quantity of tea into each lotus flower. At six or seven o’clock the lotus flower closes and during the whole night the tea gets impregnation from the lotus flavor. In the morning they bring hot water and a tea pot to the middle of the lotus pond, they recover the tea from the lotus flower, and they have lotus tea. That is a very poetic way of having tea. People now are too busy to do that; they call it a waste of time. Time is to make money, not to do things like that.

The word vasana means impregnation, learning, processing. Because the consciousness is plastic, it can be conditioned. If we have habit energies and patterns of behavior, that is because of vasana. We develop those during the first six years of our life and we continue to do that.

The eighth preserves all the seeds, and of course memory, images, and all experience, and all the organs also. This body is maintained in life by store consciousness. What the neuroscientists call background consciousness is only something manifested together with the body.

In psychology we only speak of the first type of seeds: they manifest in mind consciousness as mental formations. There are fifty-one mental formations. The body with its five organs is the fruit of our retribution, and it has also come from store. The environment, which is another aspect of manifestation, is another aspect of our retribution. In Buddhism please remember that our retribution is double: we ourselves and our environment. People around you are part of you and part of your retribution. You get what you deserve. If you have a president like that, that’s your karma, you have created him or her. He is born from your store consciousness, somehow, more or less collectively.

“It is the one who comes first and leaves last, being truly a master of the house!” This is speaking about the energy that animates the body. A living body always has store consciousness in it. When the body deteriorates, that manifestation withdraws at the same time, but returns to the seed in order to manifest again and again, like the earth. The earth brings us to life, the earth receives us back, and the earth will bring us out again. So life after life. That is the meaning of continuation, of rebirth. The rebirth of our body is linked to the rebirth of our environment. So this is the base, and that is why we call it basic consciousness.

In Western psychology, the subconscious is only background consciousness and actor consciousness. Background consciousness is part of the store and actor consciousness is part of the mind consciousness. But the store consciousness is much larger — it is immense. We need to think of store in terms of collective store and individual store.

Quantum Coherence in Practice

There is nothing complicated here! I think we have to establish the link between biology and quantum physics. One day we should have a unified vision, from cell we go to molecules but we have to go further, all the way to a quantum mechanical description involving fundamental particles or energies. Quantum properties may be detected in consciousness and in the brain. In our practice, every time we sit together and breathe together we come into phase and we create a coherence among ourselves or a holistic property of the sangha. Every time we become mindful of the bell and the breath, we are no longer separated from each other; we become one, all one organism. When we walk, if everyone is breathing and walking together, we lose our boundaries and we become something much more powerful. We can experience that in our practice.

Quantum coherence has been detected by neuroscientists. They have discovered that biological tissues, when they are excited with the right energy level, begin to emit a tiny glow. We know that there are a multitude of molecules of fat and proteins in the membrane of each cell. They are truly electromagnetic dipoles.

When a cell is at rest, these molecules of fat and proteins have their dipoles arranged in a haphazard way. They are out of phase. But when there is stimulation, they begin to jiggle intensively and oscillate in unison. One molecule behaves like the totality of all molecules. You begin to see the holistic property of a Bose-Einstein condensate.

Einstein predicted with mathematics that when we are able to bring the atoms of a substance down in temperature to near absolute zero, every particle behaves like the totality. Every particle loses its boundary and occupies the whole of time and space in that place. It is possible to use laser beams to bombard these particles to bring them down to a temperature very close to absolute zero. Scientists have been able to do that with certain gases and liquids, including gases of sodium and ribidium, and liquid helium. That is what Einstein called a Bose-Einstein condensate (named for Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein).

Einstein said that we can make the particles sing in unison. The one behaves like the totality and the totality can be seen in the one. We learn that in the case of a laser beam, all the photons in the laser beam behave holistically, they don’t have their own boundaries anymore. They behave just like one photon, similar to a Bose-Einstein condensate.

We don’t need to bring our brain down to a temperature near absolute zero. At body temperature we can observe behavior analogous to quantum properties, quantum coherence. This is very promising.

When the cell is excited with the right energy level, all the electrical dipoles come together and begin to oscillate together, to sing in unison. In Plum Village we try to imitate that model, when we sit and listen to the bell, when we walk, when we chant. We try to lose our boundaries and be just one. We try to create quantum coherence in our practice. This environment is very nourishing and healing.

When all the dipoles of these molecules come together and oscillate together, it sounds like beautiful music. They are in phase. They are suddenly coordinated. The practice of mindfulness and concentration can induce our brain to create such states of being. We can practically hold the brain circuits in a coherent place with our practice of breathing and walking. We can maintain that with samadhi or concentration. Samadhi means to hold at the same level, not off and on, off and on, but always on and at the same level.

Knowing That You Don’t Know

We can practice looking deeply in order to get insight. That kind of peace, harmony, and insight can be downloaded to the store. If we continue we can erase the wrong programs. We can rewire how the brain works. Transformation is possible with the work of mind consciousness because mind consciousness is the gardener. It has the power of the gardener and it can take care of the garden. With the process of relearning and reprocessing, we can create positive beautiful patterns of behavior. Peace, harmony, and insight can transform the store, transform manas, and free mind consciousness. They free store consciousness totally.

Teachers throughout Buddhist history have tried their best to create means to help us understand. This kind of teaching does not aim at describing the truth, but aims at helping you to practice. If you are good practitioners you may be able to improve how truth is described and presented.

There is much in common between the practice of Buddhism and science. In Buddhism people stress that we should not cling to our notions, our truth, especially when our truth is described conceptually, because then we have not arrived at the deeper truth. Of course in Buddhism we have to use concepts and words but we are warned by the Buddha not to be caught in them; we should be ready to release what we know. To say “I don’t know” is very positive.

Confucius said something like this: The moment you say I don’t know, you begin to know. If you don’t know and you say you know, you don’t know anything. So “I do not know” is a very good practice.

Dharma Rain

Well, seven days is not much! But it has been a wonderful opportunity to come together to focus on a very important topic. It has been wonderful to walk, sit, breathe with you, to receive the dharma as rain, to laugh, to look at each other. It is my deepest hope that you can continue at home the practice of breathing and walking mindfully. And if I’m still around in 2008 let us come together for a twenty-one-day retreat with the title “The Brain of the Buddha.”

Please take Plum Village home with you in your heart. We need you to smile and breathe mindfully. If you can do that, space and time will no longer be obstacles.

Transcribed and edited by Janelle Combelic, with help from proofreader Elaine Hild, quantum physicist Ray Simmonds, and Sister Annabel, True Virtue.

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The Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses

by Master Hsüan-Tsang (c.a. 596-664 A.D.) of the Tang Dynasty in China

Translated from Chinese by Thich Nhat Hanh

Verse on the First Five Consciousnesses

The object of the first five consciousnesses is the sphere of nature, their mode of cognition is direct, and their nature can either be wholesome, unwholesome or neutral. In the Second Land, only eye consciousness, ear consciousness and body consciousness operate. The five sense consciousnesses operate with the five Universals, the five Particulars, the eleven Wholesome mental formations, the two Middle Secondary Unwholesome mental formations (lack of inner shame, lack of shame before others), the eight Greater Secondary mental formations, and with craving, hatred, and confusion.

All five consciousnesses operate on the ground of Pure Matter Organs, depending on nine, eight or seven conditions. They observe the world of dust; two of them from a distance, three from direct contact. Naïve people find it difficult to distinguish between organ and consciousness.

It is thanks to Later Acquired Wisdom that the five consciousnesses could contemplate emptiness in its manifested forms. Therefore even after enlightenment, the five consciousnesses by themselves are still not capable of reaching out to true emptiness. When the eighth consciousness is transformed into the Great Mirror Wisdom, the five sense consciousnesses can attain the state of “no-leaking” (an$svar$). Thereupon, the three types of manifestation bodies are available to help us end the cycle of suffering in the world.

Verse on the Sixth Consciousness

The sixth consciousness can be easily observed when it operates in the three natures, the three modes of cognition, and the three kinds of objects of cognition, and when it still goes around in the three realms. This consciousness operates with all the fiftyone mental formations. Whether wholesome or unwholesome, its nature depends on times and occasions.

Related to the sixth consciousness, the three natures, the three realms, and the three feelings are in permanent transformation and change. The six Primary Unwholesome mental formations, the twenty Secondary Unwholesome mental formations, and the eleven Wholesome mental formations (such as faith etc.) all are related. The sixth consciousness constitutes the main dynamic force for speech and action that will determine future retribution in both general and particular terms.

Even when the practitioner enters the Land of Joy with her bodhisattva’s beginner’s mind, the innate attachment to a self still lies dormant in the depths of her consciousness. It is only when she reaches the Seventh Land, called the Land of Far Reaching, that this consciousness is free from “leaks”. At this time, the sixth consciousness becomes the Wisdom of Wonderful Contemplation, illuminating the whole cosmos.

Verse on the Seventh Consciousness

Obscured, with an object that carries some substance linking the Lover and the Base, the seventh consciousness always follows and clings to the Base as a self. Its mode of cognition is erroneous. It operates with the five Universals, the eight Greater Secondary mental formations, with mati (one of the five Particulars) and with self love (craving), self delusion (ignorance), self view ([wrong] view), and self conceit (arrogance).

Continuously following and grasping the object of self, this consciousness induces the state of dreaming and confusion in living beings day and night. The four afflictions and the eight Greater Secondary mental formations always manifest and operate with the seventh consciousness. This consciousness is also called the ground of defilement and purity for the other six evolving consciousnesses.

When the practitioner reaches the Land of Extreme Joy, the nature of equanimity begins to reveal itself. When he arrives at the Eighth Land, the Land of Effortlessness, the illusion of self is gone. At this time, the Tathagatha manifests His body for the sake of others, and all the bodhisattvas of the ten lands benefit from his presence.

Verse on the Eighth (Store) Consciousness

With its indeterminate (and non-obscuring) nature, the eighth consciousness operates with the five Universals. Realms and Lands depend on karmic power. People belonging to the lesser Vehicles do not know about the eighth consciousness because of their attachment and wrong views. It is for this reason that they still debate about its presence.

How immense is the Unfathomable Triple Store! From the deep ocean of the Store arise the seven waves of the seven evolving consciousnesses, the wind being the object of their cognition! This consciousness receives impregnation, preserves all seeds and also the body, organs and environment. It is the one who comes first and leaves last, being truly a master of the house!

Before arriving at the Land of Immovability, the function of the eighth consciousness is abandoned. After reaching the Diamond Path, there is no more retribution. The Great Mirror Wisdom and the Immaculate Consciousness appear at the same time, illuminating the innumerable Buddha fields in the ten directions.

The Fifty-One Mental Formations

Five Universals
Five Particulars
Eleven Wholesome
inner shame
shame before others
absence of craving
absence of hatred
absence of ignorance
diligence, energy
tranquility, ease
non harming
Wholesome (added by Thây)
non fear
absence of anxiety
stability, solidity
loving kindness

Six Primary Unwholesome
craving, covetousness
ignorance, confusion
pride, complex
doubt, suspicion
wrong view
Twenty Secondary Unwholesome
Ten Minor Secondary Unwholesome
resentment, enmity
selfishness, parsimony
deceitfulness, fraud
desire to harm
Two Middle Secondary Unwholesome
lack of inner shame
lack of shame before others
Eight Greater Secondary Unwholesome
lack of faith, unbelief
lack of discernment
Unwholesome (added by Thây)

Four Indeterminate
regret, repentance
initial thought
sustained thought

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

Letter from the Editor

mb46-Editor1Dear Thây, dear Sangha,

One of my fondest memories of the 2004 Vietnam trip is the tea ceremony that closed the first monastic retreat. The setting is Hoang Phap Temple, a large Buddhist retreat center outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). But first I need to tell you about the opening day of the retreat, which was the only other day when we lay people were invited. Over one thousand Vietnamese monks and nuns from all over southern Vietnam attended the retreat. At dinner in a vast mess hall the fi evening, the atmosphere was solemn. We were told that in traditional Buddhism, the monks and nuns rarely interact; nuns do not make eye contact with monks.

Now imagine the scene five days later. In the huge Dharma hall one thousand monastics sit on the floor in rows. On the stage, two dozen monks and nuns, led by Brother Phap Tru, are performing — together — a traditional fan dance. Giggles and laughter fi the hall; the applause, hands fluttering in the air Plum Village style as well as clapping, is wildly enthusiastic.

Later, we learned that during one of the Dharma discussions monks and nuns had spoken together as equals for the first  time. One nun said that if her teacher had known she would be talking with monks, he would not have allowed her to come. According to Sister Annabel, “One of the things Thây has done in the West is to renew the practice of Buddhism; in the monastic retreats both in the South, the North and the Center of Vietnam we saw this renewal being accepted by the monks and nuns in Vietnam.”

This spring Thây is leading another delegation to Vietnam — and you are invited (see page 44). The monks and nuns do a fabulous job of organizing the trip and making it easy, even for those like me who had never dreamed of going to Asia. What an honor to travel with Thây and the monastics as part of an international Buddhist delegation! I hope to go again this year.

Here at the Mindfulness Bell we have some changes to report. We are grateful to Susan Hadler and an anonymous donor for helping to promote our journal by reaching out to sanghas around the world (see page 3). Note our new e-mail addresses: editor@mindfulnessbell.org. For advertising inquiries write to ads@mindfulnessbell.org and for subscriptions write to subs@mindfulnessbell.org (gratitude to Kenley Neufeld for setting us up with “official addresses).

Another change is the necessity to raise the price of each issue by $1.00. Reasons for the increase are many, but the primary one is that the tiny salaries paid to the three people on staff (myself as editor, David Percival for managing subscriptions and ads, and Helena Powell, our graphic design wizard) haven’t increased in ten years. That said, even an increase in the price and a modest increase in sales won’t cover our costs. Feel free to help the journal become self-sufficient by buying some subscriptions or better yet, making a donation.

On a related note, you may have received an appeal from Thây and Sister Chân Không about the new monastic trust. As Sister Chân Không writes, “Our planet is so desperately in need of people who can help others discover that peace is possible in this world, there are concrete ways to make peace a reality in our lives, and we only need to learn and practice these methods to realize happiness for ourselves and everyone around us…. Please help us realize Thây’s deep wish to ensure the continued training of monastics in the tradition of Plum Village.” Write to nh-office@plumvillage.org for more information.

May 2007 be a year in which peace and happiness and prosperity increase in your life and in our world. May all beings awaken from forgetfulness and realize their true home.


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Reader Feedback

What joy to receive in my mailbox today the new Mindfulness Bell! The cover is gorgeous, with a glimpse of the stained-glass window that is shown on the back cover. It makes me very happy to stay in touch with the international sangha in this way.

Marie-Anne Tattevin
Vannes, France
[translated from the French]


After long delay (the mailroom often offers wonderful opportunities to practice understanding and love) I finally received the Summer [2006] issue of the Mindfulness Bell two days ago (24 August). I was overjoyed to see my drawing in it. Thank you very much! I also appreciate so much your work in getting the magazine out. Each issue is a tremendous source of inspiration and joy for me. Most importantly it gives me a sense of connection to other practitioners. Knowing that other people have similar aspirations and difficulties as I do gives me strength; hearing their methods of practice to realize these aspirations and transform the difficulties gives me direction. Strength and direction help me to be peace, and to share that with those around me.

Breathing and smiling,

Jacob Bowley
United States Disciplinary Barracks
Fort Leavenworth, Kansasmb45-Letters1

Words from the Sanghas

The Mindfulness Bell is a place like Plum Village where we meet the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, a place to deepen and to share our practice. In the spirit of enhancing the flow of practice among people in every sangha, we’d like to raise awareness of the Mindfulness Bell and strengthen the connection between the magazine and sanghas. Between October and December 15, 2006, gifts made it possible to offer a one-year subscription to one person in each sangha who agrees to serve as a liaison between the sangha and the Bell. The liaison person would introduce the Mindfulness Bell at sangha gatherings, days of mindfulness, and retreats, and encourage people to subscribe and to submit articles.

As of December 2006, we have connected with sixty-one sanghas in eight countries. While the gift subscription offer ended in December, there may be sanghas that do not yet have a liaison with the Mindfulness Bell; if you’d like to be the liaison person in your sangha, please contact Susan Hadler at WONDC@aol.com.

Here are a few of the e-mail responses to our outreach to the sanghas.


We received your e-mail at Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. I would like to volunteer to raise awareness of the Mindfulness Bell. I have a subscription, and benefit deeply from each issue. I read and reread them.

South Austin, Texas


Thanks for the really generous offer. I’m the facilitator for the Putney School sangha and would be delighted to share the Mindfulness Bell with students, faculty and other community members. Maybe we could even get some of the teens to consider writing a piece for the MB!

Jon Schottland
Putney, Vermont


Although my partner and I are quite familiar with the Mindfulness Bell (subscribed to it many years ago) other members of our sangha are not, and I am sure they will be glad to see it. I did a retreat for activist artists in Ojai with Thây back in 1989, went to Plum Village in 1990, took the precepts in Malibu in 1992, and have been part of three sanghas (one in Venice, California, one in western Massachusetts, and now one on Vashon Island). These teachings have been crucial to my growth and strength through several moves, serious illnesses, motherhood, and my practices as an activist, artist, and educator.

Beverly Naidus
Burton, Washington


We would like to receive the one-year subscription of the Mindfulness Bell. It´s a great opportunity for us to learn more. We send a weekly newsletter to about two hundred people giving Buddhist information and Thich Nhat Hanh’s texts. There’s also a blog where we post Thây’s texts for discussion. We have also a small Sangha where we meditate and study Thây’s texts.

I think this gift will help us to do this job better. Thank you.

Leonardo Dobbin
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


I facilitate mindfulness meditation in Thây’s tradition at Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples and would be more than glad, honored, and ennobled to be liaison for the Bell. I contributed some words to it once, a few years back — since I live a life of voluntary simplicity and can’t really contribute much money.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help spread the good news. Please keep up the good work.

Gary Gach
San Francisco, California


I am a member of Organic Garden Sangha and I would like to be the sangha liaison to the Mindfulness Bell. Today I was the Bell Master for our sangha meeting and reviewed the latest issue of the Mindfullness Bell, which led to some great discussions. This will be a great opportunity for me and I am looking forward to it.

On another note, I have to ask you why the Mindfulness Bell is allowing their message to be sent via Yahoo Groups [via the Order of Interbeing’s OI-Discussion group]. Yahoo isn’t a mindful corporation. They offer the service for free, then sell and use the information that they gather on everyone that joins or doesn’t. Just look at their terms and agreements. One of Yahoo’s biggest clients is the pornography industry.

I have been trying to get the message out that the mindfulness community should have a sanction committee that would approve websites and services offered on the Internet, so the public knows who is really representing the teachings of Thây or looking to cash in on it. The Internet is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The OI’s Yahoo Groups are helping to spread good messages but at what cost.

The Mindfulness Bell should run their own groups and Yahoo and Google would pay them to have access to their members.

Larry Lubow
Lomita, California

Editor’s reply: The Mindfulness Bell does not have a Yahoo Group, nor do we have the means to start one on our own. We occasionally use the OI-Discussion and OI-Announce Yahoo Groups to communicate with sangha members; we’d be happy to use another method but that’s up to the OI members who run the groups. That said, we have been using Yahoo Mail at the Mindfulness Bell and we are in the process of changing that. Thanks for the nudge!

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First Retreat for Scientists

By Gratia Meyer, Ph.D.


The six-day Retreat for Scientists in the Field of Consciousness brought scientists and practitioners to Plum Village from around the world, speaking many languages. About one hundred of the attendees represented various fields of study, from neurophysiology to psychotherapy.

They had one common goal: to learn more about the link between neuroscience and meditation.

Speaking to the seven hundred participants, Thich Nhat Hanh carefully and skillfully broke down the meaning of the Verses on the Characteristics of Eight Consciousnesses by Master Hsüan Tsang.

In this retreat I sat on the cushion as a professional in the field of neuropsychobiological development from conception to death. As I listened to Thây’s dharma talks, his teachings penetrated and integrated with my scientific expertise.

In the past thirty-five years, I have never experienced such clarity and understanding of how neuroscience and mindfulness inter-are. This retreat allowed me to synthesize Thây’s skillful teachings with my research and clinical application. His talk on modes of cognition, objects of cognition, and moral natures of cognition complemented the three developmental domains of reasoning, attachment, and moral development that I have been researching. In my work I am using this research to create an assessment tool to help alleviate and prevent suffering.

On the last day of the retreat, listening to Thây’s final dharma talk, I could not sit still as the seed of understanding germinated and began to blossom. Here is what I heard: We and our physical world are interconnected with an inconceivably vast system of realms. We exist in different dimensions at any given moment. We also interpenetrate and interact in such a way that each action reflects or projects itself onto the realm below or above, with all of the modifications, changes, and distortions that are a direct result of such interaction.

The ancient Chinese philosophers described the eighth consciousiness, store consciousness, as a young lady who is pregnant with a child. Her job is storing, keeping, preserving, and being the totality of seeds. There also is the husband of the vessel, the father of the baby. He feels he owns the vessel, and therefore she loses her freedom. She is being possessed by the seventh consciousness, manas, which is called the lover, procreating and grasping love through mental representations and illusions. The practice of meditation and concentration is to free the eighth consciousness and to reclaim the great wisdom at the of root of all interbeing.

This truly is transformation at the base.

Gratia L. Meyer, Ph.D., Ancient Purpose of the Heart, a clinical psychologist and developmental neuropsychology researcher, is a member of Eyes of Compassion Sangha in Denver, Colorado.

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Where Is the Observer?

By Svein Myreng


When I was a student, almost thirty years ago, I went through a time of despair. Meeting scientifid and existentialist thinking wiped out the religious belief I once had. I found myself in a meaningless universe of dead matter, where consciousness and life seemed to be just a coincidence. This triggered a great fear of death in me, and engendered heavy questions about the meaning of life.

The first crack in my faith in science came when I listened to a lecture by Isaac Bashevis Singer, who had received the Nobel Prize in Literature just a few years earlier (in 1978). With his background in traditional Judaic culture, Singer’s writing is a beautiful door to deeper mysteries in life. He argued eloquently that science cannot give all the answers, and in fact, we humans know very little. Holding up his fountain pen, he said, ”If this pen is the whole of reality, our knowledge is only the little ball on its tip.”

Somewhat later, I came in touch with the writings of D.T. Suzuki. He described Zen as “acquiring a new point of view for looking at things,” beyond the conceptual divisions between inner and outer, self and others. Instead of proposing another set of beliefs, as I felt other religions did, Suzuki pointed the way to an entirely different way of experiencing reality. Most importantly, he suggested that you could seek this new way of experience yourself, beyond words and theories. For me, this was the start of meditative practice, which changed my life forever.

Science vs. Religion

My meeting with Singer and my encounter with Zen enabled me slowly to break out of the straitjacket of scientific thinking as I knew it at the time — almost entirely reductionistic and materialistic. Science has shaped the lives of everybody in the affluent world to a larger extent than we tend to realize — through technologies that have made life much more comfortable, advances in medicine, and so on. In fact, in the 1970s and 1980s in Norway, the belief was strong that science would soon replace religion completely, making the world’s faiths a thing of the past.

Therefore, it’s interesting that new discoveries in science seem to validate meditation and similar practices, which many scientists scoffed at not that long ago. From what I understand, studies have confirmed that there is a clear connection between meditation and higher activity in areas of the brain connected to happiness and well-being, and that meditation can actually change the physiology of the brain — something which goes completely against scientific belief of just a decade or two ago. As science has developed more powerful tools for investigating brain activity, it can find correlates between certain activities in the brain and certain sense activities, emotions, and so on.

Still, there seems to be some scientific arrogance when it comes to valid and invalid ways of finding knowledge. I couldn’t help chuckling a bit when I read the following quote from one scientist commenting on the happiness research: “We have all seen those Buddhists, who seem to be so relaxed and happy. Now, we actually know that they are relaxed and happy.” Apparently, happiness is not a fact before it shows up on a brain scan.

When I look at a little blue flower, though, I see a blue flower and not electrons jumping around in my brain. For the time being, there seems to be no place for my personal experience in brain research. To quote B. Alan Wallace, a scientist and a long-time student of H.H. the Dalai Lama: “Strictly speaking, at present there is no scientific evidence even for the existence of consciousness! All the direct evidence we have consists of nonscientific, first-person accounts of being conscious.”(1)

Looking at the Mind

A denial of the subjective seems to come from the old ideal in science that the observer should be as separate from the object of study as possible, with only the object side of the subject-object relationship falling within the scientific field of knowledge. This has allowed science to understand the “outer” world to a tremendously larger degree than ever before in the history of humankind, but leaves it far behind in understanding the mind.

These sharp subject-object distinctions have, however, been challenged in fields as different as quantum physics and the social sciences, where the role of the observer has turned out to be crucial. In the study of consciousness, which cannot be measured as a “thing in the world,” the subject’s perspective is even more important. This is where the great contemplative traditions enter.

An important part of what a long-term (or not so long-term) meditation practice teaches us is to look at functions of the mind in ever more subtle ways. Thoughts come and go, feelings constantly change; even the subtle impulses that come before we move a hand or foot can be seen clearly when the mind is still. We can notice how a sense perception arises when an impression, for example a sound or a bodily sensation, comes together with a sense organ, for example our ability to hear or to sense with our body.

All thoughts, feelings, impulses, sounds, forms, smells, etc. can be objects of our consciousness, but can the subject become an object? Where is the subject? What does it mean that I experience something? Where is the mind located? In an appendix to The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh quotes Shantideva’s Siksasamuccaya:

“Mind cannot be apprehended, inside, or outside, or in between both. For mind is immaterial, invisible, non-resisting, inconceivable, unsupported, and homeless. Mind has never been seen by any of the Buddhas, nor do they see it, nor will they see it.… ‘where there is an object, there mind arises.’ Is then the mind one thing, and the object another? No, what is the object, just that is the mind. If the object were one thing, and the mind another, then there would be a double state of mind.”(2)

This quote, which has fascinated me for years, does not deal with philosophy. It is about something that is observable. My own meditation practice is not yet strong enough to go as deeply as I would like into its implications. Still, I can offer a few glimpses.

Manas at Work

When we take for granted that there is a me, an observer separate from what is observed, we aren’t looking closely enough. The impression of the distinct observer may be due to other sense impressions located in the body, or to the incessant, semi-conscious thinking that says “I am like this, this is me, this is mine.” (Manas in the vijñanavada model of consciousness.) As an example, if you have a sense impression of a tingling in your foot, do you actually experience it in your foot, or in your head? How does thought make it “my foot tingling”?


The belief that consciousness has its origin in the brain may support the illusion of the independent observer. Thây strongly challenges this view: “We shouldn’t say that consciousness is born from the brain, because the opposite is true: the brain is born from consciousness.”(3)

In my youth, I felt separate from other people, almost as if separated by a glass wall. This was probably a rather extreme feeling, and it was very unpleasant. Only a subtle separation between observer and observed, however, is enough to rob us of the greatest joy in life. Even if the barrier between me and my surroundings is ever so subtle, it’s still a barrier. When the barrier disappears, if only for a short time, the world appears completely different — sacred, beautiful. As layman P’ang in old China said, “Wonderful snowflakes, each one falls in the perfect place.”

  1. B. Alan Wallace, The Taboo of Subjectivity (California: Oxford University Press, 2000), page 3.
  2. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975). The Siksasamuccaya is translated by Edward Conze; I have exchanged “mind” for Conze’s “thought.”
  3. Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Four Layers of Consciousness” in Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Summer

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a senior dharma teacher who lives in Oslo, Norway and practices with the Sangha of Floating Clouds. He thanks his wife and kalyanamitra (spiritual friend), Eevi Beck, for help with this article.

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Letter From Thay


Plum Village
Le Pey 24240 Thenac

Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington D.C., U.S.A.:

Dear Mr. President,

Last night, i saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the U.S.A.) coming back to me in a dream. He was with all his children. He told me, “Let’s go home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, i told him joyfully, “OK; let’s go.”

Waking up from that dream at 5 am this morning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East; and for the first time, i was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and i felt much better after about one hour. Then i went to the kitchen and made some tea. While making tea, i realized that what my brother had said is true: our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home as brothers and sisters.

Mr. President, i think that if you could allow yourself to cry like i did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, their discrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you, i trust the Buddha nature in you. Thank you for reading.

In gratitude and
with brotherhood

Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village

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A Call for a Collective Awakening

Speech to UNESCO in Paris, October 7, 2006

By Thich Nhat Hanh

mb44-ACall1Ten years ago, I was asked by the director of UNESCO, his Excellency Federico Mayor, to write a manual on the practice of peace and nonviolence, and I readily accepted the work. For me, writing this manual was an easy thing to do, because in Plum Village where I live and practice, we do nothing but practice peace and nonviolence — all year round. There are about three hundred monastics and lay people who live together in Plum Village, and what we learn everyday is to be peace and to do peace. Our center is also open to friends from all over the world to come and practice, and about five to ten thousand people come every year to learn to be peace and to practice peace and nonviolence. That is why I was ready to accept the work of writing the manual, which took about one year to finish with the help of the Dharma teachers in Plum Village.

When you come to Plum Village, you learn how to breathe so that peace, happiness, and freedom are possible; how to walk so that you can enjoy every step, and so that every step can be refreshing, healing, and nourishing; how to sit so that peace, understanding, and wisdom become possible. We also learn to eat our breakfast and do our dishes in way that makes freedom, peace, brotherhood, love, understanding, and joy possible; and the practice is continuous.


We have offered the practice of peace to many different kinds of people including children, students, parents, school teachers, police officers, ecologists, psychotherapists, business leaders, and others. The children who come to Plum Village practice very well, and they are capable of being peace and practicing peace. We offer different kinds of retreats to serve different kinds of people in their desire to practice nonviolence and peace.

We once offered a retreat in the United States of America for police officers and for corrections-center administrative personnel. You can picture those police officers now, practicing mindful breathing and mindful walking while patrolling the streets. Those police officers are now capable of using loving speech and deep listening in order to restore communication between themselves and their families. Everyone can practice, including politicians. We have offered a retreat for members of Congress in Washington, D.C. and there are now congressmen and senators who practice walking meditation on Capitol Hill. They know how to do walking meditation from their office to the place where they cast their votes. We have also offered the practice for people who are in prison, and there are now practitioners in prison enjoying breathing, sitting, and walking, and they suffer much less. Also among the people who come to our center to practice are many school teachers, and they are able to bring the practice to their classrooms to help their students suffer less.

Proposal 1: An Institute for Peace

Over the years, we have trained more than f ive hundred Dharma teachers in the practices of Plum Village, and they can offer the practice of peace and nonviolence in a non-sectarian way. If UNESCO wants to set up a school for the practice of peace, we can afford to offer teachers — both monastic and lay — and we don’t need any salary.


The peace manual was completed several years ago and it was published as a book by Riverhead. We have added a number of anecdotes and stories in order to make it pleasant for our readers, but it is essentially a manual for the practice of peace and nonviolence. We know that there is violence within us, and that there are also fear, despair, and anger in us. We should know how to recognize, embrace, and transform the violence and anger within. In Plum Village, we don’t just speak about nonviolence and peace — we try to do it. Once we have been able to transform the violence in us, we can help other people around us to do the same. We can help other people recognize, embrace, and transform the violence and suffering in themselves, and these are very concrete ways to practice.

Over the years, we have sponsored many Palestinian and Israeli groups to come to Plum Village to practice with us. In the beginning, it is always very difficult for the two groups to look at or speak to each other, because everyone has a lot of fear, anger, despair, hate, and misunderstanding. Therefore, their practice during the first week is just breathing and walking mindfully, so they can calm down and recognize the energy of anger, fear, and violence in themselves, and they can get a kind of relief. After about ten days, we introduce them to the practice of deep, compassionate listening. In this practice, you listen with all your heart in order to give the other person a chance to empty his or her heart. There is a lot of suffering within the other person, and maybe no one has ever been able to listen to him or to her. One hour of listening like that can bring a lot of relief to the other person. The group of Israelis sit quietly in order to listen to the Palestinians and vice versa. You have the right to say what is in your heart, but you should use the kind of language that will help the other person or the other group of people to get the message, and this kind of language is called loving speech. You are not supposed to argue, condemn, or blame, but you can tell everything, with the condition that you use loving speech.

Practicing like that and speaking like that can help restore communication. When you listen like that, you have an opportunity to realize that the other group consists also of people who have suffered exactly like you have. Their children, their men and women have suffered tremendously like your own people, your own children. If you see that they have a lot of wrong perceptions about themselves and also about you, you tell yourself that later on, you will have time to help them correct their perceptions by offering them the kind of information that they need in order to do so. If while listening, you realize that you too have wrong perceptions, then you have a chance to correct your own perceptions. It is only when you are able to see the other person as a human being who has suffered as much as you have, that you can begin to look at him with the eyes of compassion. Looking at him or at her like that makes you suffer less, and it makes him or her suffer less at the same time.

After the second week of practice, the two groups are able to share a meal together and hold hands to do walking meditation together. We have witnessed this kind of transformation in our community. Before they leave for the Middle East, they always come up as one group and report to us about the fruits of their practice. They always promise that once they go back home, they will organize activities that will allow other Palestinians and Israelis to join them in the practice so that they too, can suffer less.

Regional Peace Institutes

I propose that as religious and spiritual leaders, you establish an institute for the practice of peace and nonviolence in your own home country — whether you are Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian — because teaching and practicing peace is not confined to any one religion. The practices in our peace manual are nonsectarian. As a monk, a priest, a minister, a rabbi, or a school teacher, we are in touch with the grassroots, and if we know the art of making and practicing peace, we can help our own community. That is why my first proposal today is for UNESCO to set up such an institute for the practice of peace and nonviolence, and for all of you to also think about establishing such an institute where you live. That way, people like parents, school teachers, business leaders and even political leaders can come and learn how to practice peace.

We know that UNESCO has circulated Manifesto 2000, with its six points of practice for the culture of peace and nonviolence.(1) I know also that more than 70 million people have signed Manifesto 2000, including heads of state; but most of us, after having signed the Manifesto, do not have a way to put the six points into practice. That is why I would like to urge all of you, my friends, to organize yourselves in order for the practice to be possible.

In the Buddhist tradition, we recite the five precepts, the ten precepts, or the 250 precepts every fortnight, and we look back on the past two weeks and ask ourselves whether we have practiced them well or not. We also hold discussions to learn how better to practice the commitments we have made. It is very important that we organize ourselves as communities to recite the six points of the Manifesto and try to practice them in our daily life. The institute for the practice of peace and nonviolence would have the role of helping and supporting that kind of practice.

Proposal 2: Middle Eastern Summit

The second proposal that I would like to make today, is that UNESCO sponsor a summit gathering for Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders somewhere in France, perhaps in the Abbaye Royaumont. I know that the violence in the Middle East has the element of religion in it, and Mr. Osama bin Laden actually believes that Christianity and Judaism are trying to destroy Islam as a religion and a way of life. Of course, violence has its roots in fear and hate; but fear, hate, and despair are born from our wrong perceptions. If the groups of Israelis and Palestinians practicing in Plum Village could come together as brothers and sisters, it is because they had a chance to spend several weeks in Plum Village, living together and practicing together. It is my conviction that if these Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders could come and live together for at least twenty-one days — eating together, walking together, breathing together, listening to each other, doing everything together — they will help each other remove a lot of wrong perceptions that are at the foundation of hate, fear, and violence. After that summit, they will issue a call for the cessation of hostility in the Middle East. A Dutch documentary film called My Life Is My Message tells the story of the practice of our Israeli and Palestinian friends and you may like to watch that film.(2) Parallax Press has also issued a book called Peace Begins Here that is about the fruits of the practice of the Palestinian and the Israeli groups.(3)


Proposal 3: Global No-Car Day

The third and last proposal that I would like to make today, is for UNESCO to sponsor monthly No-Car Days. We know that global warming is our common concern. We are polluting the world. We are making our Mother Earth suffer too much. We have to take action, and that is why I would like to propose that UNESCO, our leader in education, science, and culture, mobilize for global No-Car Days for the whole planet.

In Plum Village where we live, as well as in our Deer Park Monastery in the United States of America, we have adopted a No-Car Day once a week. We have decided to reduce our gas consumption and usage of cars by 50 percent, and only one week after we decided to do so, four thousand friends who are affiliated with us pledged to do the same. So I would like to propose that UNESCO embody the practice and that UNESCO, as a community, practice a No-Car Day once a month and call for the practice of No-Car Days across the globe, to increase awareness about the situation of our planet. “Buddha” means an awakened person, Buddhism is about awakening, and we need collective awakening. UNESCO should be the continuation of the Buddha, and you, my friends, should also be the continuation of Lord Buddha.

Since the day we adopted the practice of No-Car Day, we have gotten a lot of joy and happiness because we know that we can already do something. We do not want to be victims of despair, and we are trying our best to help. Our message is first and foremost not a verbal one; our message is our own action. That’s why it is my desire to propose to all of you who are present here to call for the practice of No-Car Day in your respective communities — if not once a week, then once a month — so that we can draw the people’s attention to the dangerous situation of our planet. We are so busy in our daily life that we need the Buddha every week, every day, to remind us to live in a way that a future will be possible for our children and their children. I believe that we are not being very kind to our children because we are leaving behind us a planet that is deeply wounded.

It is time for us to wake up together in order to do something to change the situation. That is not only for the Buddha; that is for our children and for the children of our children.

  1. For the text of Manifesto 2000, go to http://www3.unesco.org/manifesto2000/uk/uk_manifeste.htm
  2. My Life Is My Message, produced by the Buddhist Broadcast Foundation of The Netherlands, buddhistmedia.com.
  3. Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Begins Here: Palestinians and Israelis Listening to Each Other, (Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 2005)

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Walking for Peace in Paris

By Christian Bonnin


On Saturday, October 21, 2006, Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of Plum Village traveled to Paris. Some of them spent the day seeing the sights of the city, guided by members of the Paris Sangha. That evening Thây gave a public talk at the Théatre de la Maison de la Mutualité entitled “Less Anger, Less Violence,” and on Sunday another talk, “How to Transform Our Fears,” both to a full house of several thousand people.On Sunday morning, October 22, Thây and the monastics led a peace walk through the streets of Paris. One participant writes about his experience.


The sky was overcast as a large crowd gathered little by little along the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens. Some people knew each other or had crossed paths at Plum Village; others arrived in groups. Everyone seemed moved and happy to be here — to walk for the first time behind Thây in Paris, to walk in silence in a large pulsating city. Slowly things got organized and people handed out bumper stickers — “La paix en soi, la paix en marche, célebrons la vie!” (Peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!)— which was the agenda for the morning.


Thây gave us a few instructions and then the crowd calmly set in motion. At first I was disappointed that we didn’t receive a permit to walk in the street. Wasn’t peace worth disturbing our Sunday morning driving habits, just a little? But then I understood the advantage of using the space reserved for men and women rather than cars — this allowed us to be in the midst of people trying to make their way among us, and the contact was stronger.

For those of us meditators accustomed to walking in peaceful places, this experience was valuable because it forced us to concentrate on ourselves, to not be influenced by the restless mob, and to share our calm with passing strangers. Yes, I was carrying my inner island and so was each one of us — a sangha walking together! I didn’t know what passersby would take away from this — doubt, surprise, bother, or indifference — but for us it was an unforgettable experience.

We ambled slowly down the sidewalks of the Rue Saint Jacques toward Notre Dame, our destination. Eventually, because of street crossings, the group stretched out so that we looked more like a procession and less like a massive demonstration. But later I would learn that we were several thousand people (perhaps four thousand). As we walked we became aware of the efficient organization involved and the hard work by members of the Order of Interbeing and all those who invested their time for months to make this weekend a reality. I would like to thank them and share my gratitude. This walk showed me that a large sangha can work together, in the same direction — for the peace inside each one of us that leads to peace in the whole world.


When we arrived at Notre Dame I was impressed by the size of the crowd, especially since I was toward the back of the group. The sky was with us as well because by now the weather was gorgeous and we were flooded in sunshine. I wasn’t able to see the end of the walk and it was impossible to distinguish the meditators from the tourists; a lot of people were taking pictures to capture this moment.


I have only one regret — the information spread by the news media was not up to the event. We definitely live in an era full of contradictions; everyone says they want peace but when a teacher like Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the way how many people take the trouble to notice? It’s really a shame. I hope that next time the media will take heart and broadcast the message far and wide.


Looking again at the bumper sticker handed out that day, I can’t help but believe that “peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!” is an indispensable mantra for all those who work for peace in the world. Something for all of us to meditate on for a long time.

mb44-Walking7Christian Bonnin, Harmonie Spirituelle du Coeur (Spiritual Harmony of the Heart), lives in Massy, south of Paris, where he practices with Libre Nuage (Free Cloud) Sangha.

Translated from the French by Janelle Combelic

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On Karma

By Barbara Casey

mb44-OnKarma1For over six years Barbara corresponded with a prison inmate named Claude. He had been convicted of aggravated assault, which means that he did someone serious harm. In a letter to her, Claude asked Barbara for insight about karma, and she asked some dharma teachers to respond as well.

Barbara, there is something that I’ve been wanting to ask you concerning Buddhist teachings and I find this to be a good time to do so. I just hope that you’ll not think my question somewhat ignorant.


According to karma, as I understand it, if a person is unruly during his lifetime he’ll suffer as a result in some future life. It is my understanding that if someone causes a horrible death to another human being, he’ll also experience a similar death sometime in his future. My question is, if this is true, and I’m not sure that it is, if this person who committed the horrible crime is to experience something of the same, how is it to come about? In other words, and I use myself as an example, let us say that I committed the horrible deed and am supposed to experience the same. Is the person who causes me to experience the same type of death held responsible for doing so?

— Claude

Dear Claude,

It really touched me when I read your question about karma. First of all, I have to say that I don’t think there is such a thing as an ignorant question – I think that ignorance only happens when someone has a question but doesn’t ask.

I don’t think that karma works simplistically; that is, if you do something, the same thing comes back to you in the same form. I think it is more a matter of energy and intention and resources. For instance, if your training from childhood is to use violence when conflict arises, then it is logical that what will happen in your life is violence. So what we have to do is to train our minds first of all, and from our thoughts come our speech and our actions. Thây has said that choosing to live peacefully is a radical act. We have to re-train ourselves almost completely, letting go of self-protective mechanisms that are genetically bred in us. It’s a big job! Every time we take a breath or a step in mindfulness, we are changing. Every time we choose to let go instead of react in anger or ill will or revenge, we are changing that pattern. So we don’t just do it for ourselves, we do it for all of humanity.

I remember hearing of a Vietnam veteran who was overtaken by guilt because he killed five children during the war, killed them in a horrible way, because the Viet Cong of that village had killed his buddies. Thây told him: you killed five children, yes, that is very bad. However, you can choose to live the rest of your life in guilt about that, or you can choose to help children for the rest of your life. Now that former soldier has helped thousands of children throughout the world.

I know when I do something I regret, there is a strong determination in me not to do it again, and that energy helps me to move toward the good. A very small example is one time I was at a retreat, and I was so tired of standing in line that instead of waiting to wash my dishes after a meal, I just left them on the table. I felt really bad about it, and from that shame grew determination. I spent the rest of the retreat picking up dirty dishes that other people had left around; they were everywhere!

The definition of karma is action. Karma is not just past action, it is present action, happening right now. You create your future in this moment, and you can even change your past through determined intention for the good right now. It is always possible to heal. Thây has said that you can send a good thought out like an arrow and it catches the bad thought of the past and transforms it.

There is also the story of Angulimala. Briefly, he was a terrible fellow living in the Buddha’s time, killing for sport and wearing a necklace of thumbs to display his killing abilities. One day the Buddha was walking on alms round when Angulimala came up behind him and demanded that he stop. The Buddha kept walking. He demanded again, and the Buddha replied, “Angulimala, I have already stopped, it is you who must stop.” The Buddha went on to explain the Dharma to Angulimala, who gave up his killing and became a monk. I think this story is for all of us who regret things we have done, giving us hope that it is always possible to stop our harmful behavior and to heal and transform.

So that is a little of my experience and understanding. I also asked some dharma teacher friends to respond to your question, and here are their responses.

From Mitchell Ratner

In his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, Thây notes that in the Ekottara Agama the Buddha lists four things that can neither be conceived nor explained, one of which is the notions of karma and consequence. So it certainly wasn’t an ignorant question!

During the Feet of the Buddha retreat [2004], Thây said some wonderful things about karma. We are always producing it through our speech, thought, and deeds. In the present moment we can always transform the karma that comes to us.

My notes from the June 20 question and answer session include the following exchange. Thây’s full answer was wonderful; I will give you a summary in my own words.

Question: How do we deal with regrets at the end of our lives?

We all make mistakes, especially when we are young. With mindfulness we can recognize the unskillful things we have said and done. The ground of the action was our mind. Now in the present moment we can do something to neutralize the bad karma. Developing the willingness to act, to continue, in a beautiful way can be done every day.

Suppose you said something not nice to your mother, and now your mother is dead, but the wound is still there. You must recognize the wound in you. Say, “Sorry mother, I am determined not to do it again.” Your mother inside you will hear that. [Claude, this is something you can do every day, to the person you wounded.]

The past is still there, disguised as the present moment. The moment you are determined not to do it again in the future, the wound is healed. A new life is in front of you.

While past actions did create karma, present actions create karma as well. It is possible to transform the ‘bad karma’ through our present actions. What is important to understand, I believe, is:

  1. what you did,
  2. why you did it,
  3. what were the consequences for others and yourself, and
  4. how to develop an inner determination not to cause that type of harm

From Jerry Braza

In my personal experience working with inmates within the Oregon State Prison system, your question regarding karma is a common one. I have had many inmates reflect deeply on the possible impact of karma in the suffering surrounding incarceration. In my own reflection on this topic, I have gleaned some insights from several Buddhist teachers, including our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has experience with the prison population.

One of the more prominent teachers working with inmates is Bo Lozoff, the creator of both the Prison-Ashram Project and the Human Kindness Foundation. His foundations offer numerous books and resources at no charge to inmates. The beauty of Bo’s writings is that he makes complex principles more “user-friendly” for those in the prison system.

In his book We’re All Doing Time Bo shares: “One of the main rules we need to appreciate is called the Law of Karma. In the Bible, the way it is put is ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. The way it’s said in prison is ‘what comes around goes around’. “Every thought, word, and deed is a seed which we plant in the world. All our lives, we harvest the fruits of those seeds. If we plant desire, greed, fear, anger, and doubt, then that’s what will fill our lives. Plant love, courage, understanding, good humor, and that’s what we get back. This isn’t negotiable; it’s a law of energy, just like gravity.”


Vipassana teacher Jack Kornfield in his book A Path with Heart shares: “The heart is a garden, and along with each action there is an intention that is planted like a seed. We can use a sharp knife to cut someone, and if our intention is to do harm, we will be a murderer. We can perform an almost identical action, but if we are a surgeon, the intention is to heal and save a life. The action is the same, yet depending on its purpose or intention, it can be either a terrible act or a compassionate act.”

The Buddhist teachings regarding karma are encapsulated in Thây’s teachings, and in understanding karma it may be helpful to review the concept of consciousness. According to Buddhist psychology, we all have a mind consciousness and a store consciousness. Our store consciousness includes everything that we have experienced during our life, metaphorically stored in the form of seeds (it also contains the seeds from the lives of our ancestors). Positive and negative seeds are planted through the thoughts and actions of our past. Our mind consciousness contains the present activity of the mind. Our mind and store consciousness are like gardens where we have activated, planted, and watered the seeds of our feelings and experiences.

The practice of mindfulness helps us look deeply to know which seeds to water and how to transform the negative seeds that arise in the mind consciousness. Our practice reminds us that every moment offers us an opportunity to be aware of how our thoughts, feeling, perceptions, and mental formations are constantly affecting our actions and subsequent karma.

We all have accumulated negative seeds in our consciousness. For example, if a person has been emotionally abused in the past, the seeds of anger, sadness, and grief may be buried in their consciousness. When these seeds are activated intentionally (in meditation) or unintentionally in daily interactions, we have the opportunity to transform this suffering through various gathas such as “breathing in I am aware of my anger, breathing out I embrace my anger.” Mindfulness and concentration make it easier to transform the negative seeds so they are not passed on through further actions that can contribute to negative karma.

Thây’s concept of “interbeing” helps us to understand the significance that each one of us has on the lives of others. Aware that we are connected to all beings including animals, plants, and minerals, it seems clear that every action has the potential of affecting the lives of many others. If our thoughts are negative, these seeds are watered and most likely behaviors and actions will follow and karma continues.

Finally, in a public talk in Vietnam last year, I recall Thây offered a beautiful way to personalize and realize the impact of karma in our life. To paraphrase, “Every one of our actions is like putting our signature on everything we do.” This makes every day, every moment, every thought, feeling, perception, and mental formation significant. This is so easily forgotten in the busyness of life. Our practice offers us a powerful means to live our lives in ways that have the potential to break the karmic cycle.

The Path of Transformation

So Claude, these are some insights on karma.

I hope this helps. Claude, over the past six years (has it been that long?) what I have seen in you is a sincere, good, and dedicated individual – dedicated to transforming yourself and to helping others. This is excellent karma! I know that if I let my anger take over, I feel really bad afterwards and sometimes I feel like I have done damage I cannot heal, but then I take faith in the Dharma, and I know that this is a long path we’re on, this path of transformation. We are graced with some small insight, which leads us in the right direction, and that is all we need. We don’t need to judge where we are, we just take the next step in mindfulness, the next breath in freedom, and we’re already there.

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

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Jail Cell, Monk’s Cell

By Judith Toy

Bending to enter the conference room where we held meditation at Countytown Prison in Pennsylvania, Joshua darkened the doorway. He didn’t stand; he loomed. Joshua was a scary-looking six-three or six-four, over three hundred pounds, with a blue anarchist tattoo etched into his shaved scalp. It was a Thursday evening in the second year of our weekly visits to Countytown. A Zen master’s warning flashed in my mind: “Don’t leave a drunk or a bum outside the monastery gate; you might be excluding Lord Buddha.”

We didn’t ask about his jail time. It wasn’t until much later, standing in my living room in North Carolina with Josh, that I learned he was a sex offender. Not long after he began his prison sentence, the doctors had diagnosed him with schizophrenia and placed him on anti-psychotic drugs. Perhaps because of the heavy drug dosages, he was a mouth breather, adding to his sinister aura.

Forgiveness Too Late

For two and a half years, my husband Philip and I took our practice every Thursday evening to Countytown Prison. Thanks to the collected strength of the inmates in the prison sangha, my initial fears of walking into the prison were quelled. This was the very place where Charles Grand, the murderer of three members of my family — my sister-in-law Connie and my two nephews, 16-year-old Allen and 14-year-old Bobby — had been held prior to his trial. Some of these young men had known Charles.


After becoming Thây’s student and after practicing mindfulness for five years, through looking deeply, I came to forgive Charles. Still, I was afraid to face him, and I did not tell him of my forgiveness. He had confessed to the crime and was convicted for three consecutive life sentences without parole. One day it was too late for me to tell him “I forgive you.” Charles took a laundry bag and hung himself to death in his jail cell. I deeply mourned his passing. Now, at Countytown Prison, I had a chance to give to the living what I owed to the dead.

What I’ll never forget from one of those early nights is the flower. A dear friend had brought us a fresh gardenia as an offering for our home altar. On a whim, we took the perfect blossom with its leaves like wax and laid it on the table in the small, pie-shaped conference room where we met with the men. Its fragrance served as both candle and incense; no fire was allowed.

One of the guys was nicknamed Fiji. Fiji had a voice like a cement mixer. He shared with us during dharma discussion that he was a Vietnam vet, that he had committed multiple atrocities in the war. Because of this he had suffered deeply and continuously in the years since, often becoming obsessed with the urge to kill himself or to kill another.

“I wanna put the war behind me and find peace,” Fiji said.

All of us accepted the prison sounds — metal clanging against metal, the public address system, the frequent shouts — as the ground of our meditation. Each moment unfolded into the next. As Philip and I prepared to leave the room, we noticed the men’s intense interest in the gardenia. They passed it around the room, inhaling its sweet scent, touching its creamy petals and leaves. I keep a mental snapshot of Fiji with his nose in the flower: Fiji and the Buddha, Fiji and the Christ.

Grace of Hugging Meditation

Hugging practice became a ritual. Since inmates are ordinarily prohibited the luxury of human touch, I wondered how many of them attended meditation just for the motherly, fatherly hugs that

Philip and I enjoyed with each of them before saying good-bye each week. We practiced hugging meditation to be truly present to each other through three complete shared breaths. Afterwards, we bowed with our palms joined in a lotus bud. It was not we who initiated the hugging, either; it was the men, these streetwise youngsters whose personalities morphed the moment they walked out the door of the conference room and returned to the prison halls — their street. Out would pop the exaggerated swagger of boys who hadn’t been properly fathered, the street jive. Thus I began to look deeply at some of the peer pressures on these men. As I got to know them as real and vulnerable and even innocent, my fears abated.

Still there were days when a prison destination was not high on our list of evening recreations. The recliner and a good book beckoned. Or after a long day my eyes wanted to close. On the outside, I often noted my resistance to the strict routine of the metal detector or being subjected to the hand-held detector, arms outstretched, making me feel like … a criminal! Hmmm.

En route to the prison Philip and I sometimes bickered. Yet without fail, once we settled into seated meditation and walking meditation with the men, our moods lightened. Without fail, by the time we gave and received our good-bye hugs, Philip and I were walking on clouds.

We were supported by a friend from Old Path Sangha. Steven was a devotee of the Indian avatar Sathya Sai Baba and an observant Jew. When we told him that the late father of one of the men in our group, Deepok, had been a disciple of Sai Baba’s, Steven asked to join us on Thursday evenings. We were deeply grateful that he was able to stay on, continuing to practice with the men when Philip and I moved away to North Carolina in 1999.

Genuine friendships developed between the two mindfulness groups — our Old Path Zendo Sangha in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and the sangha at Countytown. We continued the custom of taking a flower and passing it around before saying good-bye. Deepok developed a habit that led to the naming of the prison sangha: as we passed the flower around to the men each week he’d pinch off a petal or a fragment of a petal and file it away in his pocket. He stowed the sweet-smelling bits in his cell as reminders of our times together, as a token of Mother Earth. Later we learned that they were seized as contraband by the guards during a lock-down. They were certainly mistaken for drugs! Deepok told us the lockdown was worth it, and he continued to pinch petals. Such was his longing for what these small fragments symbolized — earth, its flowering, peace, acceptance, new life. We couldn’t find it in our hearts to deny him the petals.

Thus the prison group was named by the men: Serene Lotus Petal Sangha.

The Making of a Hermitage

At the close of the first year at Countytown, four inmates were growing solid in their meditation and mindfulness practice. Big Joshua was one of them. Others would come and go, some out of choice and some because they were reassigned or released. They consciously dedicated their practice to the folks at Old Path

Sangha, and we of the Old Path Zendo Sangha sat twice weekly on behalf of Serene Lotus Petal Sangha.

We did not ask what their crimes were, whether they were guilty or innocent. We just sat. We enjoyed our breathing. We practiced silent walking meditation, in peace. We smiled. We hugged. We beamed out our love.

Over the months that Joshua attended weekly meditation, I watched with deep happiness as he took to the practice like an eagle to air, making of his jail cell a monk’s cell. He asked deep questions, ordered books on Buddhism and read them cover to cover, recited the Four Noble Truths and the Heart Sutra, studied the five skandhas (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations or habit patterns, and consciousness). Josh was an open vessel, filling, filling.

“I ordered books from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Parallax Press, Zen Mountain Monastery, Richard Gere’s Foundation, and from Bo and Sita Lozoff of the Human Kindness Foundation and the Prison Ashram Project,” he told us at the prison. “The meditation practice makes me look forward to every day,” he said, “breathing in and breathing out, working on my form and lack of form. I’ve found a way to discipline myself, a way to counter the chaos.”

“Minds innocent and quiet take [prison] …for a hermitage,” wrote the English poet John Lovelace. Josh’s typical prison day began at 4:30 or 5:00 when he sat in meditation for 45 minutes and practiced walking meditation like a cat, pacing the limited confines of his cell. Then he chanted sutras. At 8:00, he went to work in the commissary warehouse, a coveted minimum-security-status job that Joshua attained only after three years of good behavior. After work and dinner in the prison cafeteria, he routinely sat in meditation again for fifteen to twenty minutes. Then he would read from his growing Buddhist library and go to bed.

But it had not always been a monk’s cell and minimum security for Joshua. “I started out my prison time right away getting into trouble for fighting. There was this new guy on the block. He must’ve figured you start with the biggest man and work your way down, because he picked a fight with me. So I just lifted him up with one hand and split his temple with the other. For that I got 28 days in the hole.”

“What’s the hole?”

“Well, it’s a four-by-nine-foot cell that holds a bed, a desk, a toilet, and a sink. The guards take you out every other day for a shower. You have contact with guards only. The officers were actually pretty cool with me.”

“What would you do if that inmate picked a fight with you today?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” Joshua quietly replied.

An Unexpected Visit

About a year after Philip and I bequeathed the prison sangha to Steven and moved south to North Carolina to found Cloud Cottage Sangha, Joshua phoned us to say he was out of jail. We’d stayed in touch, and now he had an important request.

“I want to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings,” he said.

“We’re hosting a dharma teacher from California, Lyn Fine, in North Carolina this September, Josh,” I said. “If you can get yourself here you can stay with us, and we can arrange a ceremony to have Lyn and the sangha offer you the precepts.”

It took a huge effort on Joshua’s part to make the journey. First he secured permission from his halfway house to go on leave for religious reasons. Then he got the okay from his supervisor to take a leave of absence from his job. Finally, he needed money for bus fare; his grandmother complied with a loan, and we set a date for his arrival.

On the long Greyhound ride, Joshua wrote untitled poems:

Impermanence is the
only constant.
Change is the one true
Suffering, joy, hate,
love, these too
shall pass. Sitting still
I center,
Quiet my mind,
Rest in the joy of
my breath.

Josh’s Greyhound bus arrived on time. Back at Cloud Cottage, which is truly a cottage in size, Lyn slept on the futon in the den and Joshua put his giant body down on our living room couch.

“I have to talk to you,” he said. “I have a question. Can someone who’s a sex offender receive the precepts? I…I’m not sure I can do this because of my crime. And Judith, I don’t even remember what I did! I was blacked out on drugs!”

Ironically, just at that moment into our back door came a sangha member who had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child. Just as she walked in, bearing a gift of soup, I was answering Joshua, “Of course you can receive the Trainings. Your past doesn’t matter.” My mind raced in quick succession to Charles Grand raping my sister-in-law Connie and murdering her, of the Buddha accepting a penitent mass murderer as one of his monks, of Jesus eating with prostitutes.

Fortunately, our friend with the soup at the back door escaped hearing any of this conversation, or it might have made her dinner difficult. Just then, Lyn Fine came out of the other room to join us, and I introduced her to my friend. We served my friend’s carrot soup with a hearty bread. There we were, an unlikely gathering, teachers, perpetrators, victims — no self, no other — gathered for a mindful meal, a true Zen Eucharist. In this way, we practiced interbeing.

One Dharma Journey

Lyn led the retreat that weekend, in a friend’s house set on a vast, tree-dotted lawn in a mountain cove. On a crystal autumn day of marigolds and maple leaves, we held the ceremony for the transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Tearfully, I watched as Joshua brought his massive body down to touch the earth, receiving each of the Three Refuges:

I take refuge in the Buddha,
the one who shows me the way in this life;
I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness;
I take refuge in the Dharma,
the way of understanding and love.

After the ceremony, Lyn gave Joshua his lineage name, Peaceful Light of the Source, linking it to mine and Philip’s, also given by her — Clear Light of the Source and Shining Stream of the Source.

Our linked names mean so much to me, for it was Josh who had transformed my guilt and regret at never having contacted Charles, to say in person, “I forgive you!” It was five years after the murders that I was able to forgive the boy who killed my family — five years of daily meditation and mindfulness practice. But before I’d been able to tell him so, Charles killed himself. Might I have saved his life by telling him of my forgiveness? Perhaps.

I saw on Joshua’s ordination day that Joshua’s journey was my journey. Joshua and I inter-exist. Despite a long and bumpy ride, I, too, was learning to “rest in the joy of the breath.” Like Josh, I was unfolding my heart to the perfect understanding that transforms hatred and degradation into love and forgiveness.

In the chaos of prison life, Josh had longed for peace. There, he had come to discover his inner teacher, his true self. Back home in Souderton, Pennsylvania, after entering the stream of our Buddhist tradition, he founded Dharma Rain Sangha.

“I met one of the Countytown guards on the outside who told me, ‘I knew you didn’t belong in there,’” he said. But maybe he did belong in there. How else for this gentle giant? How else would Joshua’s dharma journey have begun?

Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, practices with Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, North Carolina. This article is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Minding the Fire, Zen Stories of Forgiveness. Other essays from her book can be found in Best Buddhist Writing 2006, published by Shambhala, and in the new Buddhist quarterly, Right View.

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No-Bake Prison Brownies

By Ricky



20-24 cookies (any small chocolate cookie with a vanilla or chocolate icing in the middle, such as Oreo, Chocolate Crème, or Double Fudge)
1 Hershey Bar (plain or with almonds)
Chocolate syrup


  1. Separate the icing from the middle of the cookies and put it in a small bowl. You will need it later.
  2. In a mixing bowl crush the cookies as finely as possible.
  3. In the same mixing bowl break the Hershey Bar into small pieces. Stir the candy bar and cookies together.
  4. Add chocolate syrup (a little bit at a time) to the mixture and stir evenly. To thoroughly blend contents, use a spoon and press the mixture down into the bowl. There should be enough chocolate syrup so that when you roll the mixture into a ball it holds together without being too wet.
  5. With the mixture rolled into a ball, form the brownie into a small cereal bowl.
  6. Set the bowl on a fluorescent light or another warm surface for 2-3 hours. This will heat the brownie and melt the chocolate chunks inside.
  7. Take the cookie icing and add a small amount of warm water (about a teaspoon) and stir thoroughly. You want the consistency of cake frosting. Spread evenly on top of the brownie.
  8. Enjoy!

Brownie Meditation

Let’s enjoy our brownie together.

Pick up the bowl and hold it in your hands. Take a nice long look at your brownie and smile. Take your time, we’re in no hurry.

Notice the color and texture of the icing. Smell it and notice the sweetness.

Now, cut out a small piece, or use a spoon and scoop out a little bite. Again, look at it and notice the colors and texture.

Do you see the chunks of chocolate inside? Let’s think about the chocolate for a minute.

Think about the cocoa beans that were used to make it. Maybe they grew in Brazil or Columbia. Think how the sun shined down on them, and the rain fell to help them grow. The earth nourished them from the roots so the beans would be just right.

Consider the farmer who picked the beans. He or she has a family and a village of people who know him, who know her, and because we have received these cocoa beans, we’re connected to them, too.

Imagine the boat that delivered the beans. Maybe they came by truck. Consider the driver. I wonder what his name was, what her name was.

What about the gas and oil the boat or truck used? Perhaps it came from Iraq or Saudi Arabia. That’s halfway around the planet from where we’re sitting right now.

Let’s think about the processing plant where the chocolate was made, and all the people who work there. Think about the sugar that was added to make the chocolate sweet and the milk from a cow somewhere.

Even the scientists who invented the preservatives to keep our cookies fresh in the package — they’re involved in this whole process, too.

It’s as if the entire cosmos has come together to provide us with this brownie that we’re enjoying. It was all done for our pleasure. We are connected to everything and everyone in this vast universe in which we exist. Let’s thank them all and smile.

Now, let’s take a bite. Just let it sit in our mouth for a few seconds before we begin to chew. Notice how our mouth begins to water as it receives the bite of brownie. Do you taste the chocolate or the icing first? Slowly begin to chew and notice how all the flavors blend together for our enjoyment. We can’t help but be grateful.

Continue to chew slowly until it completely dissolves, and then swallow.

As we take another bite, let’s wish happiness for ourselves. Let’s think about our body as it digests our brownie. Let’s thank our body for all the miracles that take place inside it every second of every day.

When we take our next bite, let’s offer it to all beings everywhere throughout this world and beyond. Let’s wish them all peace and happiness. We can continue to feel the interconnectedness and to hold that loving-kindness in our heart as we go about the rest of our day.

Truly, life is a precious gift. Deep bows to all.

Submitted by Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, from Austin, Texas, where she leads a sangha at the Lockhart Community Justice Center. She writes, “Ricky is famous in the prison for his Prison Brownies. He brought some to our meditation the other day and I offered Thây’s eating meditation. I suggested he share the recipe. So the next week he brought the recipe — and the meditation he wrote.”

“Ricky experimented for years with the ingredients and the procedure for preparing and ‘cooking’ the brownies. The ingredients are hard to come by. Each prison has a concession; prisoners can work to earn a little bit of money at the prison — things like sweeping or cleaning the toilets — or their families can send them a little money. Inmates then must earn the right to visit the concession, which in some prisons is open only from 3 to 4 a.m. Ricky purchases all the ingredients for his brownies at the concession. He ‘cooks’ the brownies on the fluorescent lamp in his cell because that is, of course, his only source of heat. He says he adds love with each ingredient, with each step of the preparation. Then he shares generously.”

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Poem: No Windows

Are there still beautiful birds of various kinds,
Whose song and colorful display delights the mind?
Is the spacious sky still a magnificent blue,
A colossal canvas of awesome art that
Stirs the spiritual within you?
Do the numerous rivers still rush and flow
Throughout mountains and ravines,
Slicing the deserts and softly
Murmuring alongside lush meadows?
Is the moon still a magical lamp,
A comforting light amidst the dark of night,
Setting the mood for stories told at camp?
Are the flowers still infinite,
Decorating the landscapes and perfuming
Homesteads with their lovely scent?
Is the precious grass still green,
A thick and soft carpet so perfect
For picnics and daydreams?
Is the rain still refreshing,
That cool downpour or sprinkle,
Watering and waking the land,
Giving the barren a blessing?
Are the stars, on a moonless night,
So conceited in their constellations,
Spectacular to the sight?
Do cool breezes caress weary souls,
When workers are bone-tired and
Field laborers feel a hundred years old?
Are the snowcapped mountains majestic,
And the ocean waves that crash upon
Sandy beaches ever so fantastic?
Is that wondrous world still out there?
Please tell me that it is,
There are no windows in solitary confinement.

Malachi Ephraim
Arizona State Prison
Florence, Arizona

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Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell — for you to express your thoughts and share your practice on a given topic. In this issue we focus on an assignment that Thây gave to the sangha at the Breath of the Buddha retreat in June (see the Autumn 2006 issue): to write a letter to a potential suicide bomber.


Letters to a Suicide Bomber

Dear Beloved One,

I see your face, so fresh and full of energy, before me. I can see that you love this life, your mother, father, and family, and your culture, religion, and country.

I think that probably every day you have been taught that I am your enemy, and that given the chance, I will destroy everything you hold dear.

And even to me, a white American woman almost sixty years old, it looks this way. How else could you feel about me?

It seems that possibly the only alternative we both have to annihilation is, for one moment, to stop and just look into each other’s eyes. Can you see the great sorrow I carry for all the terrible harm my government has caused your people? Can you possibly forgive me?

I want you to have a long life filled with beauty, joy, and accomplishments. I want to offer you a way out of the one-way path to suicide you are on. The only way I know to do this is to show you my breaking heart.

There is so much pain and suffering in life, and there is also so much beauty, peace, and love. Can you and I choose to begin with one step by seeing each other not as “other” but as fellow human beings, each wanting fulfillment and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones?

I know that you are my beloved because I see the preciousness of my life in your face. Can you see me too?

With love and hope,

Barbara Casey
True Spiritual Communication
Jacksonville, Oregon, U.S.A.


Dear Friend,

I want you to know that your anger and sense of powerlessness at the erosion of your culture and beliefs — I have known these too.

For a long time, I wanted to find a way to fight back at the forces of capitalism and consumerism that were eroding the culture that I love and the society that I hold dear. I envied those who were prepared to die for their beliefs but felt too disempowered to join them.

Then I found a better way than dying for my beliefs. I have learned instead to live for them by living by them. This seems to make a stronger statement than my death could — by showing my love for my society and my culture rather than leaving them forever.

I have learned to live deeply in the present moment, not overwhelmed by the anxieties about the future, or difficulties in the past. By taking good care of the present moment and finding peace in it, I influence my life, my society, and my country for the better.

I know that this path is available for you in the teachings of your faith and I urge you to consider this before you destroy the peace and happiness of those you love and many other precious human lives through your death.

Violence always leads to more violence, until someone has the courage to break this cycle. May you be given the strength and happiness to take this step to end the violence.

Yours sincerely,

Murray Corke


Dear Sirhan,

It has taken me thirty-eight years to become willing to write to you. Learning how to love by practicing with Thich Nhat Hahn has gradually opened my heart. Right now, today, I love you and look deeply to see your suffering.

When I knew you in college, I enjoyed your company. We were always happy to see you when you came to class. You were fun, joking, smiling, polite, and very smart. You enlivened our classes.

We were part of a group of pacifists. We were dismayed by the war in Vietnam. One of us was an Israeli conscientious objector. You and he were especially close because you both suffered over the treatment of the Palestinians. I knew you were a Palestinian refugee.

I did not know about what had happened to you and your family as a result of your displacement.

I didn’t understand, none of us understood, how much you were suffering. Later, we found out that your sister had died of cancer at Los Angeles County Hospital. You thought that her medical treatment had been inadequate because your family was so poor. When she died, you were heartbroken.

You decided to call attention to the condition of Palestinian refugees by killing Bobby Kennedy. When I saw you kill Bobby on television, I was shocked. I was hooked by my critical discriminating thoughts against you. You had chosen violence, murder. I closed my heart.

At this present, wonderful moment, I see you again as my dear sweet friend, Sirhan. The Mindfulness Trainings of my teacher give me openness, nonattachment to views, and freedom of thought
space to breathe and open my I smile to you. We have both been strongly attached to our views. I wish you the freedom, peace and happiness I have found.

In friendship,

Dollie Laura Meyers
True Recollection of Loving Kindness
Marina del Rey, California, U.S.A.


Dear Brother, Dear Sister,

Please believe me when I tell you I want with all my heart to know you, to know your feelings, the reasons that motivate you to offer up your life for a cause you believe in.

My first thought about your motives is that you feel you are doing a noble, heroic act for Allah, for your families, for the wellbeing of all and that you will be rewarded in heaven. Is this true? I also believe that the goodness you are seeking may not be so different from the goodness I am seeking. I wish for a peaceful life for all, where our nations respect one another, and no one is hungry or without shelter, where no one has to live in fear of war-torn violence, and where all have the freedom live their lives and to practice their beliefs without coercion from other nations.

Do you have other motives also? Do you suffer from not having enough food to eat? Or watching small children suffer from hunger, or cold, living in fear, or bearing the loss of their parents who have

been killed by our bombs? Or the many other injustices that happen when countries fight one another?

It is my wish that you can have a good life, be free to live with your faith, without our country’s attacks. The only way I see this can come about is that you and I understand each other better, know one another’s needs, hopes, and dreams. Deep understanding of one another will help us promote peace and develop compassion so you won’t have to sacrifice your life. Sometimes it requires more to live in order to promote peace.

Can you hear my need to know and understand you? To be able to change in the ways I need to change, in order to bring about the things we both want and need? I need you to understand me in a new light.

Above all, we are brothers and sisters. I pray we can live together as a family.

With love and compassion,

Margaret  Kirschner
True Silent Sound
Portland, Oregon, U.S.A


Dear Suicide Bomber,

This may surprise you. I am a suicide bomber, too. The bombs I make explode inside you and cause you to want to make the bombs that explode outside of you. My bombs explode in your heart and in your mind.

When my country supports governments, ideals and people that hurt you, oppress you, and cause you to suffer, I detonate a bomb in your heart.

When my government works to undermine your country’s leaders because we fear your political, religious, or social ideologies, I detonate a bomb in your mind.

When the businessmen of my country take unfair advantage of your country to get goods and labor cheaply, I detonate a bomb in your soul.

In doing these things to you, I have violated values and precepts that I aspire to live by. In doing these things to you I have failed to practice deep listening and mindful speech. I have stolen not only your resources, but also your joy. My actions have killed your spirit and your will to live. But I have been too intoxicated by my lifestyle to hear your cries of pain, anger, and grief.

My bombs make you despair of living. They make you want to kill yourself and take others along with you. Looking deeply I can see that when my bombs explode in you, I die also. When you die, I die.

I know that for you to want to kill yourself and others, you must feel very helpless and angry. I feel helpless too, and I don’t know what to do. So I continue to live my life in such a way that you are hurt by my selfishness and greed.

Inside I am very angry and frustrated by the situation we are in together. Whenever I don’t know what to do, I have learned to breathe deeply and try to understand. So that’s what I’m doing. And as I breathe in and out, I can see you there in your country, also breathing in and out. I can feel your anger and frustration. And in this moment I know what I want to do. I want to soothe and comfort you. I want to remove the cause of your suffering so you don’t have to be in pain. I sincerely and genuinely want you to know peace in your heart and relief in your mind. I want you to be happy, whatever that means to you.

I know that you will find it difficult to forgive me and my country for the damage we have done to you. I know we have hurt you deeply and I want to listen as you tell me how we have hurt you.

I also find it difficult to forgive the damage done to my people. I am so sorry to have made you do such terrible things to get my attention. I was not able to hear. Well you have my attention now. I’m listening now. And isn’t that what you have really wanted all along?

Maybe now that we know that we are both suicide bombers, perhaps we could get to know each other. Then maybe you wouldn’t have to kill yourself for me and I wouldn’t have to kill myself for you. Maybe we could find a way to share our planet and its resources as equals. Maybe instead of bombing each other we could live peacefully together. I’d like to try.

Michael  Melancon
True Recollection of  Light
Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.


Dear Friend,

I heard about you from a friend. She said you lost your husband and your son. Your grief and despair were so great you no longer wanted to live. You wanted to die and you wanted the people who hurt you so deeply and destroyed your family to suffer in the same way that they made you suffer. So you made the only decision you could — that your last action would be as a suicide bomber. And now you are gone — taking others with you. And all the grief, despair, hopelessness, and powerlessness you felt when you made your decision continue to spread out into more and more people’s lives.

Oh, how I wish I knew you — had been there with you when your husband and little boy died. How I wish I had been there to hold you, to comfort you, to help you to hold all your pain that was too much for one person to hold alone. How I wish I was there talking to you, letting you know you are not alone, and that even though this pain and grief are so intense and consuming, life can go on. The pain can be transformed — it will change. And the anger and hatred can be released in a different way. In a way that can put an end to suffering, instead of creating more suffering for others and for ourselves.

I also have known such pain and despair. My family — grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, altogether maybe twenty-five people were killed in a war before I was even born. My father somehow survived, and somehow continued his life. And I was born. How grateful I am to him, that he didn’t kill himself! All my life I missed my roots, my family so much, without even knowing them. And there was deep despair in my heart — without even being able to name it.

How I wish I was there to tell you — let us do this together, let us hold this pain and despair together, and find a way to continue living. Find a way to live that can really heal this suffering which is not just ours, but all humans. Together learn to see what the true source of this suffering is.

I know if I grew up as you did and had the same experiences, I also could do the same as you did. And if you had some of my childhood and experiences you could be alive now. And you could say this to me — Dear Friend, people are not the enemy. It is the hatred, anger, and pain that we do not know how to handle that is the enemy, that tortures us and hurts us the most. You are not alone in this. For generation upon generation we humans have continued to try to heal our pain by inflicting more pain on others. And so it continues until now.

But what if someone in your family had been able to find another way to heal their pain, to find a way of understanding and being with the pain that could transform it to compassion and love? Then you would have a different chance in your life. And what if you were that person in your family? And instead of being a suicide bomber, you and I together explored, learned, practiced, and found another way? Then you would still be alive now, and you would perhaps have more children and teach them how to handle their pain so that compassion and love could be born. Together we could spread this understanding, compassion, and love out into more and more people’s lives. And maybe one day, there would be peace on this earth, peace in our hearts, and we could be truly happy.

Oh, how I wish I was there with you, dear friend.

Anne Speiser
True Jewel of  Understanding
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A

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On the Way Home (part 3)

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue


In this series of essays, Sister Annabel, one of Thây’s most senior students, shares memories and insights from her life at Plum Village—and the path that led her there.

The Lower Hamlet of Plum Village somewhat resembled the farm where I grew up. It had barns, muddy lanes, fruit trees, no heating except for wood stoves, stone walls, and a vast star-filled sky at night. Maybe that is one of the reasons I feel at home there. One day when I first came to the Lower Hamlet we were practicing slow walking in the Red Candle meditation hall. My eyes turned to the stone walls and suddenly I felt those stones were old friends and relatives; I had found the home that I had missed for so long. Then we went outside and I looked up to the hills of the Dordogne and I felt as if I had lived there long ago. Now I had come back.

Lower Hamlet was a place where I could walk on my own or with Be Tam. Be Tam was the third of the four children of the Vietnamese family that lived in Persimmon House. When I arrived in Plum Village Be Tam was five years old. He was entrusted to my care when his mother was busy. During our walks he would hold my hand and lead the way. In the blackberry season, he would take me to all the blackberry bushes near the house. He ate one blackberry from each bush and told me whether it was sweet or sour, good or bad. If it was sweet he would encourage me to eat one from the same bush. Be Tam believed that if one blackberry on a bush was sweet, then all the blackberries would be sweet. We never ate more than one from any bush and then we picked all the ripe ones. Actually the degrees of sweet and sour were very subtle because he ate each blackberry with mindfulness. Every blackberry does indeed taste different when you eat slowly and mindfully. Every blackberry is a miracle of earth and sky.

Be Tam was born in France but at five years old he had not had contact with French society, so he was more of a Vietnamese boy than a French boy. In the kitchen we had a washing machine. It had a transparent glass door so that you could see the water and the soap and the clothes as the machine washed them. Be Tam enjoyed watching this process very much. Whenever he came into the kitchen and someone was washing clothes, he would bring a chair and place it right in front of the washing machine. He would sit still, watching the process from beginning to end. It made me think that in previous life times he had not met a washing machine. I do not know what was happening in his mind as he watched but I remembered that as a child I had looked into a kaleidoscope; the miracle of its changing shapes and colors never grew stale. Maybe the washing machine was a kaleidoscope for Be Tam.


Biscottes for Breakfast

In those days in Plum Village we were not rich. The doors were opened once a year for the summer family retreat, from July 15th to August15th. During this time we hoped to receive enough donations to last us throughout the year.

During the first summer opening we just had biscottes and tea for breakfast. [A biscotte is a commercially packaged bread, toasted to a crisp golden brown. Editor] The reason we had biscottes was because the owner of a biscotte factory was a lay practitioner of Plum Village and he donated them. We were never hungry, though. When I came to Plum Village I learned to eat in mindfulness. Eating in mindfulness I appreciated Vietnamese food. I learned to see how precious food is. For someone who has known real hunger each mouthful is very precious.

During my first weeks at Plum Village, I was sitting next to Thây one day at lunch. At that time I had the habit of not eating every grain of rice on my plate. Thây said to me: “Thây sees that you know how to use the chopsticks well and could pick up every grain of rice on the plate.” Eager to please, I did just that, although I did not know why Thây was telling me this. Then Thây continued: “In Vietnam the mothers always tell their children that if they do not eat every grain of rice in their bowl, in the next life they will be born as ducks and need to go around picking up every grain of rice that they had thrown away in this life.” It is not only because we are aware of what hunger means that we do not want to leave a single grain of rice. We also understand through our practice of mindfulness that cultivating rice is not an easy matter. Much effort and some suffering goes into the making of every grain of rice.

One day Thây picked a large quantity of blackberries and asked me to make jam with them. I did not need much encouragement to make jam. My mother and grandmother had always made jam at home: blackberry, damson, apple, marrow and ginger, raspberry, apricot jam with the kernels—a few floating on the top of each pot—and bitter orange marmalade. I felt very at ease making jam and when the plum trees were mature enough to produce their first fruits, I made plum jam; there were not enough then to dry and make prunes. The wild blackberries and apples were made into jelly and on the walking meditation path there were quince trees. The Lower Hamlet had the most delicious apples, which we stored for the winter months.

A Sacred Place

The simplicity of Thây’s way of life has always been apparent. Although Thây has not always been able to live in a monastery, Thây’s place of abode always has the simplicity of the truly monastic way of living. The hermitage where Thây has been based since the founding of Plum Village now serves as a cloistered environment for the monastic sangha. It is a large house with a large garden. Before Thây lived there it was the home of a school mistress. From the outside the house does not look very special. It withdraws a little from the narrow road, secluded by old trees.

The extraordinary ambiance of the house comes from the practice. Everywhere there is a restful feeling, a freshness. Thây has planted deodara cedar trees, a bamboo grove by the stream, and other shrubs. There is a very fragrant old rose that Thây has named Elizabeth, after the previous owner of the house. The part of the garden furthest from the house is planted with poplar trees; their straight trunks are a place to suspend hammocks. The deodara trees, whose wood is used in India to make statues of the gods, are the object of Thây’s particular care. These trees frequently practice hugging meditation with Thây and his disciples.

The hermitage is not grand or luxurious but it is a place that is loved. Thây has loved this place with every footstep and every breath. Sister True Emptiness [Sister Chân Không] has loved it with her commitment to helping others by sending letters and parcels, or making telephone calls to those in need. When a place is loved like that, it becomes lovely. Just as a person who is loved and understood can blossom, so a place—a garden and a house—can become a sacred place.

Lessons from Ants and Prayer Wheels

At Lower Hamlet, I was enjoying Sister Thanh Minh’s help in the vegetable garden.

There were two other reasons that made me happy for Sister Thanh Minh’s arrival. One was that she was vegetarian and the other was that she was always ready to teach me to speak Vietnamese. She would point out to me the different objects and call them by their Vietnamese names.

When you learn a language, you also learn a culture and a way of life. Thây said that Sister Thanh Minh was very Vietnamese; she had had virtually no contact with the European way of life. Looking at her I was looking at someone who was no different from the people who were living and had lived all their lives in Vietnam.

Sister Thanh Minh came in May and it was still quite chilly at night. When she complained of being cold, I thought that the problem would be easy to solve. I gave her more blankets. She told me that the weight of the blankets stopped her from sleeping. My first reaction was to think that this was a little absurd, because I had grown up in a cold bedroom where the thick woolen blankets were piled on top of us in the winter. To me this was something perfectly natural. When I reconsidered, I saw that in south Vietnam a bed consists of a rush mat, a thin covering on the coldest days, and a mosquito net. Even one woolen blanket could feel unbearably heavy.

Plum Village is a multicultural community; many of us are people of two or more cultures. It is easy to judge what is different as incorrect. And it is wonderful to learn how not to react to what is different as being incorrect. When I was a child and spent summer holidays in France and later when I lived in Greece and then with a community of Tibetan nuns in India, I had opportunity to learn to be open to other ways of life. Learning languages and how to live in different cultural situations was something very enjoyable as long as I did not feel threatened by the difference.

It had been a challenge when I lived in India. The first thing I had to learn was always to keep my feet tucked in under me when I was sitting. Then as a lay woman I could never sit or stand in a place that was higher than a monk or a nun. If a nun wanted to go under our hut, which was on stilts, to fetch something, I would need temporarily to leave the hut. I should never say, even as only a supposition, that something bad might happen, because the very saying of it would make it more likely that that event would occur. I should never wear someone else’s shoes or allow someone else to wear my shoes. Seeing a dead mouse or rat was a bad omen; this never seemed to be so in my own case but as far as the Tibetan nuns were concerned, whenever they saw a dead mouse or rat, something went wrong for them. I should recite the sutras in Tibetan (because the English was not available), and even though I did not understand a word of what I was reciting, it would be very beneficial for my practice. One time when an ant was crawling over the sutra text I was reciting, I was told that this encounter of the ant with the written word of the sutra meant that the ant would be in touch with the Buddhadharma in a future life.

The prayer wheel was something else that I did not understand. The entrance to the monastery across from us on the other side of the valley had a gate like a turnstile that was in effect a prayer wheel. In order to enter the monastery by this gate you had to turn the prayer wheel. As you did this a bell hanging above would sound and the words om mani padme hung would make one turn inside the prayer wheel.

In order for me to incorporate om mani padme hung into my own way of life, rather than recite the syllables, I tried to sing them. I sang them to the music of the hymn “The King of Love, my shepherd is.” One day I was surprised when I stopped singing that the words came back to me as if from the horizon of the landscape around me. I began to appreciate the mantra more after that. It had helped me clear my mind and be in touch with all that was around me.

Only now do I appreciate the sweetness of the prayer wheel and the ant crawling over the sutra and reciting words that in your mind consciousness you do not understand. Now I see that every little event can contribute to the awakening that is taking place in the deepest levels of the individual and collective consciousness. In the Lotus Sutra there is a chapter that tells us that even a child playing in the sand who draws a stupa is laying down a cause for enlightenment. When a pilgrim walks along, turns his prayer wheel, and recollects the words om mani padme hung, the seed of those syllables associated with Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, are being strengthened in the unconscious mind.

My rational mind, fashioned by European culture, was somewhat aware of how the conscious mind works. But it had no inkling of the workings of deeper levels of consciousness.

My Mother’s Hands

One day Thây gave us a writing assignment whose title was “Washing Clothes.” I could not think what to write about if I wrote about washing clothes in the machine. If we had asked Be Tam to share about that no doubt it would have been very interesting. On the other hand there was much I could write about washing clothes in India. It was a day’s outing to the river or stream. You could almost call it a lazy day, when there was no other schedule. We could enjoy the clear water that came from higher up in the Himalaya and the rhododendron bushes that flanked the stream. There were the smooth stones in the water that you could use to rub the clothes on. There were the large rocks where you could stretch the clothes to dry.

When I was a child my mother had to wash clothes for us four young children. It was hard work. At one time my father bought her a washing machine. It was a relief for her but it was not a very sophisticated machine and she still continued to wash many clothes by hand. Today she says that washing clothes by hand, when she does not have many to wash, is the work that she enjoys most. Many people use a washing machine, not because they have an overwhelming amount of laundry, but because they feel that they can be doing something much more worthwhile than washing clothes. To such people it would seem a little crazy to bring a chair up in front of the washing machine to watch the soap-clothes-and-water kaleidoscope.

In the monastery everything that is done in mindfulness is worth doing. When I ask my mother why she likes washing clothes by hand she tells me that in the past she had to wash so many clothes that it made her tired. Now she only has to wash a few clothes by hand and does not need to feel tired. She sees that washing clothes is something wonderful that she can enjoy. I rarely use a washing machine. When I am washing clothes I see my mother’s and grandmother’s hands in mine and I am happy to continue my mother in mindfulness.

mb44-OnTheWay3Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Poem: Wisdom of the Elders

Old growth Douglas Firs,
their roots near a meander
of the Little Blackfoot,
know not that Dharma’s
being taught
in the old lodge
of  woodpeckered walls
a quarter mile away.

Their special transmission
is outside scripture,
with no dependence on words.

Wide trunks fissured and charred
from fires of centuries,
they practice Upright Being
with mute profundity,
keeping the beat
of countless seasons,
a timbered symphony
of earth, water, sun, and sky,
two hundred feet high,
and a chorus
of myriad smaller beings
teaching the Dharma of Just This
to the ten thousand things.

Jonathan Matthews
Peaceful Mountain of the Source


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Deadlines, Hanging Out, and Spiritual Practice

By Charles Suhor

mb44-Deadlines1It wasn’t until late in my career that I saw connections between my spiritual practice, deadlines, and deep listening to colleagues and friends. It wasn’t until retirement that I linked all of those things to what’s commonly called “hanging out.”

In the Workplace

My job was a traffic jam of timetables for meetings, reports, and publications. There was always something overdue and a dozen things that seemed unlikely to be completed on schedule. I was deputy director of the National Council of Teachers of English, a group with 70,000 members and a staff of about eighty. Part of my work was absorbing discontent for the boss and interpreting both sane and silly organizational policies for constituents and staff members who had questions or problems. It wasn’t a rat race, but it surely was a race.

But the work was enjoyable, and it was solidly in the realm of right livelihood. This was a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving teachers and improving classroom instruction. Daily meditation and contemplative reading helped to bring mindfulness to the everyday clutter of work. Thich Nhat Hanh’s words were instructive: “During the moment when someone is consulting, resolving, and dealing with whatever arises, a calm heart and self-control are necessary.”

Even so, in the rush of things I often sensed a lack of easeful presence when working one on one with colleagues. When a co-worker came to my office, I often had a vague feeling that something else was looming on the horizon. I felt a need to address the matter at hand with intelligent dispatch so we could both move on to other tasks, like talking to someone at a party and being tempted to look over their shoulder to see if anyone more important was in the room.

This habit was broken when we got a new CEO. He would stop whatever he was absorbed in when I came to the door, invite me in, and sit for as long as I needed to talk through the matters at hand. More importantly, his relaxed demeanor gave the impression that nothing was more urgent than discussing my concern. Even when rejecting a proposal, he did so with a full sense of presence and no hint of a dismissive attitude.

This helped me question a deeply ingrained idea in our culture, the notion that my train of thought will be irretrievably broken if interrupted.

Ego alert! How important to the rumblings of the universe are my treasured ideas? And how hard is it, really, to get back into the flow of paperwork if I put it aside to talk to a real human being? I was surprised to find that it wasn’t all that difficult. You just do it. The idea of my train of thought was just another habituated mental shackle to avoid acknowledging that I didn’t want to be disturbed. With right effort I could simply stop the train and reboard it after talking to a colleague.

As it turned out, when I set the work before me aside I was happy to be released from it for a while, and I welcomed my colleagues wholeheartedly. I felt better, and the good feeling resonated with them. I moved from a sense of forbearance during these visits to feelings of freedom and loving kindness. And I was reminded of something I already knew. I liked these people, and I hadn’t been fully participating in the pleasure of their company. I could rest in the insight of Taizan Maezumi Roshi: “Deadline after deadline? There is no deadline! Each moment is a beginning as well as an end, not a goal or deadline set up by someone else.”

mb44-Deadlines2In Retirement and at Leisure

Obviously, “hanging out” isn’t a technical term. We all recognize it as something like open-ended conversation with others in a leisurely setting, either with no agenda or a general intention to talk about things of common interest as they occur.

For decades a busy family and professional life left me with little time for the kind of hanging out (except within the family circle) that I did in college and my early working years. Yes, there can be some grand, stolen moments and hours during the work year. You book a no-agenda lunch with a close friend and enjoy the spiritual high of intensive talk. You hang out with colleagues at the hotel after a twelve-hour day of conventioneering and unwind with friendly banter.

My leisure time in retirement opened new opportunities for hanging out. Conversations can go on, loosely knit, with no inclination to glance at the watch or mentally rehearse the next appointment. This isn’t limited to spending time with family and friends. If you’re a hobbyist, it’s hanging out at your favorite store and getting deeply into your common interests with a stranger. Or it’s the simple wonder of meeting someone new in a coffee shop, striking up a conversation, and learning something about a topic you didn’t think would interest you. I came to recognize that the camaraderie in these chance encounters resembled the feeling of welcome in office visits and the after-hours hanging out with colleagues during my work years.

Hanging out is not the same as “frivolous speech and idle chatter” that the Buddha cautioned against. When conversations are vain and superficial, our inner state is at first discomfiting, then painful. But the airy content of hanging out isn’t mere vacuous banter. Hanging out, like all talk in which compassionate engagement is the starting point, is experienced as a kind of background music for metta, the sending of loving intentions. With mindfulness, you become readily aware if the conversation drifts towards gossip, competition, manipulation, or other dissonance that unsettles the noble intention of right speech.

A Householder’s Skillful Means

The Buddha distinguished between the regimens of the monk and those of the householder, whose practice also embraces family life, livelihood, and interaction in the larger society. As Bhikkhu Bodhi says, “Lay persons will have more need for affectionate small talk with friends and family, polite conversation with acquaintances, and talk in connection with their line of work.”

I believe that hanging out is a householder’s skillful means, similar to a balanced work ethic, creative sex, and serious engagement in public discourse. The peace of connecting with each other through verbal interchange at work and at leisure is worthy of lay people’s special attention and cultivation. Granted, as householders we’re less likely to be able to associate daily with devotees and other guides to spiritual development. On the other hand, when we hang out we can look for, or often trip upon, the center of transcendence in a stranger. If that sounds unlikely, pull up a chair, friend, and we’ll talk about it for a while.

Charles Suhor lives in Montgomery, Alabama, “a place well-suited for the practice of engaged Buddhism,” and where he convenes a weekly meditation group at the Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

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Zen Noir: Mindfulness in Moviemaking

By Marc Rosenbush

Zen Noir began about thirteen years ago, when I was sitting in a Japanese Zen temple in Chicago. It was about 4:30 in the morning, and I was facing a row of fellow meditators and watching their heads bob up and down as they tried not to fall asleep and slide off their cushions onto the floor. Just then, a strange thought suddenly occurred to me. “What would happen if one of them just keeled over, dead?”

Of course the literal answer to this was that we’d all rush over to see what happened and then call an ambulance. But at that moment, for whatever reason, I found myself thinking in non-literal terms, thinking about the Buddhist view of death and how it differs from the way we usually think about death in the West. Here we’re taught that death is fundamentally unnatural, something that may happen to other people but is certainly not supposed to happen to us. So we obsess about youth and undergo painful plastic surgery and hide our old people away, all to avoid having to face our own mortality.


There it was, the germ of an idea. I’d write a movie about a Westerner who has to confront the reality of death. And that was when the second idea suddenly popped into my head: why not make him a detective?

At last it all clicked: I’d write a mystery that takes place in a Zen temple, in which the detective must solve a koan that can’t be solved with logic or reason or any of the detective’s traditional Western tools. Instead of a murder, he’d have to solve the mystery of death itself.

Deep stuff. But it would also be funny. I’d adapt some traditional Chinese dialogs between Master and Student, which always felt like comedy routines to me anyway…

Student: Help me. Do something. Help me still my mind.

Master: Okay. Give me your mind.

So I started writing, and at first it went well. The characters were interesting, the jokes were working, and the message was…

Hmm. I stopped writing. For nearly four years. Something was missing. I knew I had a great, funny, intellectual idea for a film, but I kept feeling there was something more I could bring to it.

And that was when three things happened that changed my life forever:

  1. I got divorced.
  2. I lost a lot of money on a large project.
  3. I discovered the books of Thich Nhat Hanh and came to Plum Village for the first time.

The divorce and the financial loss had left me in a deep depression, but Thây’s teachings and the simple but powerful practices I learned in Plum Village changed me in some very profound ways:

  • A conversation with Sister Annabel helped me understand how to fully engage with my own suffering and see that it was something I felt, but that I was not that feeling.
  • Thây’s dharma talk about flowers and garbage helped me to better understand that the cycle of birth and death and transformation are all part of a single endless process that’s to be celebrated, not feared.
  • A story in Sister Chân Không’s book Learning True Love helped show me what living in the present moment is truly all about (this story even ended up in Zen Noir in a modified form, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out which story I’m talking about).
  • An older monk whose name I never learned helped me put my own suffering in perspective and become more aware of suffering in the world.


Back home, as I began to incorporate the practice more deeply in my daily life, I found myself happier, more grounded, easier to be around, and less likely to get upset about the challenges I encountered.

And I began to write Zen Noir again.

The suffering I’d experienced and the transformation I’d undergone brought a much more personal, emotional flavor into the writing, and helped me discover what the film would really be about: impermanence and how Buddhism helps us understand and deal with it.

I won’t bore you with the long, slow process of getting the film made and distributed (independent filmmaking is a koan in and of itself), but suffice it to say the process was a constant test of my own mindfulness practice and required a lot of stopping and breathing as chaos swirled around me. In any case, many years and film festivals and awards later, Zen Noir is finally out in the world, doing what a movie is supposed to do, making people laugh and cry and learn and grow.

I’d like to share one last story to give you an idea of how Thây’s teachings and the lessons I learned at Plum Village are affecting people through the film.

At the Rhode Island International Film Festival, a woman in her seventies came up to me after the screening. She touched my arm and told me that she knew nothing about Buddhism, but that her husband had died just a few months earlier, and somehow watching Zen Noir helped her feel better about it. She then hugged me and thanked me and went on her way.

I’d like to pass that hug and that thanks on to Thây, Sister Chân Không, Sister Annabel, the monk whose name I never learned, and to all my friends and teachers at Plum Village, Maple Forest, Deer Park, and elsewhere. You are as much the authors of Zen Noir as I am and I bow humbly in appreciation.

Zen Noir opened in select U.S. cities in September 2006, and the DVD will be available in early 2007. For screening dates and locations, or to join the mailing list, visit www.zenmovie.com.

Marc Rosenbush, Elucidation of the Source, is an independent filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

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Caring for My Anxious Mind

By Sandra S. Murray


A few years ago, anxiety was beginning to dominate my waking, and sleeping, world. I have a personality that pays great attention to detail, checks everything at least twice, tries to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur, organizes everything for efficiency, works to deadlines. These are great skills for an editor and proofreader, which is how I have earned a living for many years, or for anyone working in a business environment in our Western culture. However, when these methods of approaching the world began to rule my personal life also, when they applied themselves to me rather than me applying them skillfully to the task at hand, I could see I had a problem. Eventually, even I knew I was acting crazy, and not just irritating my friends and husband. But how to stop?

I would wake up at night from a bad dream or just wake up anxious. I would get up, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, read. During the day I would check my workstation three or four times when I left, sometimes re-climbing the stairs from the entry. I was especially concerned about fire—stoves, candles, matches, hot light bulbs. Sometimes during the day a thought would start that something bad was going to happen, and that it would be my fault. These feelings compounded as I tried to hide them from others, fearing people would become impatient with me or mock me. Not only was I afraid, I felt wrong in being afraid. And I feared that no one would understand.

I sought professional help, and my naturopathic physician was most concerned about the sleep deprivation, which was part of my menopause process. We were able to improve the amount and quality of my sleep. The symptoms diminished. But they did not disappear, and on occasion would surface dramatically.

Time to Really Wake Up

One night this past year, I woke from sleep about 3:00 a.m., my heart pounding and racing. I remembered a gatha from Robert Aitken-roshi’s book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps:

When wakeful at two in the morning
I vow with all beings
to light incense and sit upon my cushion—
it’s time that I really wake up.

So this time, instead of turning on a light and reading, I practiced walking meditation for almost a half hour. Walking with my anxiety reminded me of Thây’s advice to care for our strong emotions like a precious baby—and when I was an infant, my mother walked me for hours to get me to sleep! When I felt stable enough, I stood behind my cushion and practiced touching the earth. Standing, I felt the strength of my body as a tree trunk, solid; bowing down, I released my anxiousness to the earth for care. Standing, I breathed in deeply the peace and quiet of the night; bowing down, I rested against the ground in surrender.

When at last I felt some calmness in my body and knew I could sit with my fears, I took to my cushion. Breathing in and out, I could feel my heart and belly still slightly trembling. For the first time, rather than pushing these feelings away and disowning them (“What do you have to be anxious about? Quit acting so fearful!”), I turned my gaze inward in compassion and just said to myself, “It’s very hard to feel so scared. I have lived this way for a long time. I won’t leave you alone feeling so bad.”

After a little while of sitting and being present with the feeling of fear, I looked closely at how the fear actually felt in my body: the faster heart, the tight stomach, the longing to cry in my throat. With focused attention I breathed more deeply and slowly into my belly, and consciously relaxed my stomach and throat. As my body calmed, my mind calmed also. Finally, I could just rest quietly in meditation, at ease with my body and mind. When I returned to bed, I slept well.

This experience demonstrated to me the power of our mindfulness practice, and it showed me once again how Thây’s teachings can help me with these foggy fears that are shapeless and pervading. In other meditation sessions, I looked deeply at how I fed these fears: with stimulants like coffee and TV crime shows; with contributing emotions like suppressed anger and self-induced pressure to be perfect; with my own self-judgment.

The process is not over—is it ever? I still have anxious times, although fewer than before. One big difference is that I know how to help myself when I feel these feelings. I am more open with my sangha about my imperfections, and my sangha’s patience, humor, and acceptance support me. I can even ask, “Am I worrying too much?” and my dharma sister will say, “Yes,” or “No,” and that helps me.

Tips for Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety seems to pervade our society, from vague free-floating fears to a concerned reaction to current events. If you know someone with a lot of anxiety, or if you sometimes feel this way, maybe my experience will help. These are guidelines that I’m working with now:

  • I do not try to work with these fears rationally, because they are not rational in For someone to say, “Well, did you unplug the toaster?” and for me to say, “Yes, I did,” does not make the anxiety go away.
  • Make sure I rest Go to bed at a good hour. If I can’t sleep at night, then I try to take a nap during the day or use deep relaxation to care for myself.
  • I focus on the physical level first, practicing walking meditation, touching the earth, tai chi, chi gong, yoga, or mindful Activity performed with focus and coordinated breathing helps calm my body, and my mind follows.
  • I look into the nutriments that are feeding the I make better choices.
  • I do not malign or reject myself for feeling I accept myself as a sensitive person who detects imbalance in my life through this mental formation as well as others.
  • I water the good seeds by regular practice at home and with

Sandra S. Murray, True Mountain of Light, is a founding member of Flowing Mountains Sangha in Helena, Montana. She is happily writing a novel, short pieces of nonfiction, and poetry.

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Thây Goes to Hollywood to Produce a Collective Awakening

By Karen Hilsberg


At the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006, Dr. B. K. Modi and Thich Nhat Hanh announced the making of a film on the life of the Buddha. Based on Thây’s novel Old Path White Clouds, the film is planned to premiere at Cannes in 2008.

Dr. Bhupendra Kumar Modi, an Indian businessman and chairman of the new MCorpGlobal, has offered $120 million USD to finance the film. Upon signing the contract in Cannes earlier this year, Dr. Modi announced that Thây has donated the rights to his book with the understanding that part of the proceeds of the film (two percent of the net profits) will be used to help “needy children around the world.”

In September 2006 MCorpGlobal organized a luncheon at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to announce the film project to the Hollywood community. Thây and His Holiness the Dalai Lama were invited to bless the project on the fifth anniversary of the events of September 11.

The private event began with a memorial service, in which each person present placed a candle in a fountain containing 2,973 pebbles, one for each victim of the World Trade Center attacks. The monastic sangha then chanted “May the Day Be Well” and the invocation to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

During the luncheon, Thây shared the letter he had written to President Bush and previewed the talk he would be offering at UNESCO on October 7 [see pages 14 and 15]. Thây described Old Path White Clouds as a “manual for the practice of peace” and stated that he supports the new World Peace Through Cinema Initiative, of which this film will be the first offering. “Awakening must be collective in order for the world to be saved,” Thây said.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also shared his hopes about the film. He said that Hollywood has the power to affect the world through cinema and a film about the life of Buddha has the potential to inspire compassion, something sorely lacking but needed in society. He also emphasized the Buddha’s universal message of inter-dependence and inter-connectedness. He added, “From Buddha’s life story, maybe you’ll get inspiration. Our intention is not the propagation of Buddhism but helping the world.”

Dr. Modi said, “We intend for ‘Buddha’ to be a major film event across the globe. Acquiring the rights to world-renowned Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old Path White Clouds is the first step in making this happen in a fashion that remains true to the extraordinary life story of Buddha. We’re con-

fident this will be every bit the exciting epic Hollywood film we envisioned from the start.” Among the guests present were Goldie Hawn, Sharon Stone, Chris McGurk, Carol Mendelsohn, Laurence Fishburne, Victoria Principal, and Robert Downey, Jr.

The press is reporting that “Buddha” is a large-scale commercial movie biography for mainstream audiences worldwide that will be shot in the U.S., Japan, China, and Thailand as well as India. Casting for the film, which will be in English, will begin immediately, with producers currently considering a short list of A-list stars for the lead roles. Principal photography is slated to begin in 2007 for the film to be ready for worldwide release in 2008. The producer Michel Shane has officially signed on to the project, as has Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward.

A few days later, in his talk at Deer Park Monastery, Thây commented, “We want the film to be an instrument helping to produce a kind of collective awakening because the world now is full of violence and despair. A lot of us have become awake and know what is going on — about global warming and the killing of each other every day. But so many people live in forgetfulness. We don’t have a lot of time to save ourselves and our planet. We continue to consume in a very dangerous way. We are so busy with our small problems; we don’t care about our earth and each other. If we continue like this, our earth and our civilization will be destroyed. We have to produce a collective awakening, otherwise hundreds of millions of people will die. Our civilization will be destroyed.”

“Each of us should work for a collective awakening in the kingdom of God — awakening translated into action. Each of us should live life in such a way for a future to be possible for our children and for our children’s children. Do the things that should be done to help with the collective awakening. Do something, and then the miracle will happen.”

The “Buddha” film is meant to be one vehicle for effecting this collective awakening. As Thây remarked in Cannes, “The Buddha has suffered far too much deification over the centuries. This film might help in making him human again. The idea is to make the Buddha relevant to everybody so that the world can become a better place.”

Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, lives and practices mindfulness in Southern California.

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Book Reviews

mb44-BookReviews1The Garden at Night
Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life

By Mary Rose O’Reilley Heinemann
Softcover, 96 pages

Reviewed by Richard Brady

In case she’s not already known to you, it’s my happy task to shine the light on one of Buddhism’s hidden Dharma teachers, Mary Rose O’Reilley. O’Reilley is a poet, a teacher of English and rhetoric, and the author of books that include The Peaceable Classroom, Radical Presence, and the autobiographical The Barn at the End of the World. Her new book, The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life, is in reality a series of four very personal Dharma talks on engaged practice. In this short gem of a book O’Reilley calls on the wisdom of teaching from Thây, the Bible, and a panoply of writers and friends to inform her practice as an English department member in a Midwestern America parochial college. As the title suggests, Garden is a book written in response to suffering, suffering brought on by departmental meltdown, deaths of students, and inhospitable working conditions.

The lessons O’Reilley works with are ones that will be familiar to mindfulness practitioners. Each person constructs his or her reality. Your awareness of your authentic self is easily lost in busyness and your struggle to do it right in the workplace, even just to survive. Receive whatever comes your way as an opportunity for practice. Don’t get caught in characterizing your experiences as “good” or “bad”; they’re just your experiences. Change your relationship to time: live slowly enough to encounter life with mindfulness. This makes freedom possible, your one true freedom, which is to be authentic.

In my experience, these changes are easy to articulate and challenging to accomplish. O’Reilley agrees. She receives a great deal of support from regular times of retreat and from spiritual friends. When the next suffering comes along, hers or that of someone close, to test these lessons, her supports make it possible for her to remain present to the suffering. And it is particularly in the contemplation of suffering that O’Reilley finds the impetus for personal transformation and prophetic witness.

For readers who wonder how to grow in the absence of major suffering, O’Reilley describes practice with some of her personal koans and questions. Searching for guidance on how to carry on in her profession, she ponders the tension between Jesus’ advice to “Be therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and the imperative to be herself. Recognizing her inability to control or even truly understand what her students are learning, O’Reilley asks herself the “painful” question, “What did I just learn?”

Suffering is suffering. So whether or not you’re an educator, you’ll likely resonate with the reality O’Reilley describes. This is the book to share with friends who wonder what mindfulness practice has to do with life. More than that, it’s a wonderful reminder and teacher for us all. Approach this book with an open heart. Its humor, its humility, its poetic truths will water your seeds of compassion and hope.

mb44-BookReviews2Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life
Collected Talks 1960-1969

By Alan Watts
New World Library, 2006
245 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

Our beloved hippie icon, the late Alan Watts, is back. Thanks to his son, Mark Watts, keeper of the family archives (see www.alanwatts.com), a new compilation of his radio and TV broadcasts and recorded public lectures is out in book form: Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life, Collected Talks 1960-1969. With its vintage excess of language and Wattsian wit, this is another exciting collection from the British-American philosopher and theologian who beguiled multitudes of flower children, setting many of us on the Buddhist path with manuals such as The Spirit of Zen, Square Zen Beat Zen, and The Way of Zen.

As a small child, I remember losing sleep one night because I was imagining the “forever-ness” of death. I envisioned eternity as a scary, endless corridor of doors where one door always led to another. One of the great things for me about reading Alan Watts as a young adult was that he knew his young readers still harbored such fears. From the new collection:

The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world. We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “out of nothing comes nothing.” It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions…. It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down of nothing … such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles.

And from another essay, “Our fascination with doom might be neutralized if we would realize that every new doom is just another fluctuation in the huge, marvelous, endless chain of our own selves and our own energy.”

He persistently sees the universe as a deep and harmonious whole. Calling on his complex knowledge of history and quick deductive reasoning, Watts reassures:

But to me nothing—the negative, the empty—is exceedingly powerful… [Y]ou can’t have something without nothing. Imagine nothing but space, going on and on, with nothing in it forever. The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast.

mb44-BookReviews3Where to begin?! I was like a kid in the candy store with his new book. His subject matter covers the gamut from “Divine Alchemy” to “Religion and Sexuality,” frolicking through “Philosophy of Nature,” “Swimming Headless,” and “Zen Bones.” Although these essays show only a handful of the talks Alan Watts gave in the sixties, they embody the whole, highlighting a distinguished career that reflected the counterculture of the sixties and paved the way for the Western flood of interest in Far Eastern traditions that has not abated since.

mb44-BookReviews4Buddha or Bust
In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found Them All

By Perry Garfinkel
Harmony Books, 2006
Hardcover, 320 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

In an inquiring-mind style that Perry Garfinkel calls Zen journalism — “a kind of karmic random access, driven by Google…ramped up by coincidence and luck, inspired by jazz improvisation, necessitated by an incurable case of procrastination” — he circles the globe looking for manifestations of engaged Buddhism. Expanded from a piece for National Geographic, this book describes the author’s nine-nation pilgrimage with visits to major Buddhist shrines and dharma teachers, including Thich Nhat Hanh.

Through the internet, Garfinkel locates Order of Interbeing’s Shantum Seth, who becomes his tour guide in Bodh Gaya, India, where Shakyamuni Buddha found enlightenment. At Bodh Gaya, the sensory bombardment he describes is like a synthesis of Garfinkel’s whole trip: “The deep voices of a hundred Tibetan monks, their chanting amplified by tinny speakers, …wide-eyed American neophytes, …stern Japanese Zen priests, …curious Indian Hindus, …ebullient Sri Lankans.” Surrendering to his senses, Garfinkel does find peace in Bodh Gaya.

Some of the koans he carries with him around the world are: Why the meteoric rise of Buddhism in the west? Why now? How is it that monks can enter politics and Buddhists be at war in Sri Lanka, “a country hemmorrhaging from within.”? What would the Buddha think of the Taco Bell TV ad touting “enchilada nirvana,” the Madison Avenue-ization of the dharma? As compelling as these questions are, the author’s honesty is equally so. He tells of the headiness of being granted a one-on-one interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He compares the austerities of Japanese “marathon monks” to the asceticism rejected by Buddha. He wonders if ritual as practiced in some Buddhist cultures may cancel out its original meaning.

At a Vietnamese-speaking retreat at Plum Village, where he felt “like a fish out of water,” Garfinkel managed to sit with his “mishigas,” fall in love, and have a sudden gestalt of compassion through listening to a Vietnamese victim of war torture. Finally at Plum Village, the author has a revelation when he asks Thây, after a dharma talk on relationships, “Aren’t there more important issues to discuss than relationships?” Thay answers rhetorically, “Such as war, violence, death, economic problems, terrorism?” Misunderstanding, explains Thây, begins in the microcosm, between two people. It creates fear, and fear creates violence in the world at large. “Peace in myself, peace in the world,” is indeed a Plum Village mantra.

Does the author find truth, meaning, happiness? Yes and no. Summing up his fantastic voyage, Garfinkel ironically quotes eighteenth-century Japanese poet Ryokan: “If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.”

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Letter from Sister Chân Không

Thây and all of us in the monastic sangha would like you to join us for the second trip to Vietnam. You are invited to help us heal the last wounds of the Vietnam war and to support Thây in renewing Buddhism with the engaged practice that Thây has been offering us for the last thirty years in the West. At this time,Vietnam is entering its thirty-second year without guns and bombs.

Thây will be offering three Great Ceremonies of Chanting, in Hanoi, HoChiMinh City, and Hué. It is our hope that we can undo the injustice of thirty years of violence by chanting for those who died under bombs, under torture, by murder, by drowning as boat people at sea, or in the re-education camps after the war. The govermment of Vietnam, for fear of angering conservatives, has asked us not to mention the American, Australian, or Korean veterans who died during this war but to focus only on deceased Vietnamese. However, if you have a non-Vietnamese relative who died during that war, you can ask for the high monks and Thây to chant for their liberation, too.

In addition, Thây will also give a daily dharma talk, with translation available in English, French, and German.

Segment 1
February 19 to March 14
You will spend most of your time in south Vietnam with its fertile Mekong delta and its fruit groves, its highlands of majestic waterfalls, and its springtime weather. You will see where the revolutionary monk Thich Nhat Hanh started his career — Dalat, the tribal highlands (as recounted in Thây’s book Fragrant Palm Leaves), and Saigon. Then you may participate in a five-day retreat with 385 newly ordained monastics practicing engaged Buddhism in the style of Plum Village. During the monastic retreat you are invited to take part in all activities including sitting, eating, and walking meditation, as well as dharma discussions with lay dharma teachers. However, the dharma talks will be reserved for monks and nuns, as Thây will deal with delicate issues appropriate for the monastic sangha. During that time if you do not feel inspired to join the monastic retreat, you are free to organize trips to the Mekong delta or to the beautiful beach at Mui Ne. Around Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery, you will have a chance to visit many preschools and meet children that you have supported.

Segment 2
March 14 to April 1
For the first nine days in HoChiMinh City, there will be the Great Chanting Ceremony with southern Vietnamese religious music. In addition to dharma talks by Thây every day, there will be dharma talks for intellectuals and politicians (high Communist Party members) at the National People’s Committee for Vietnam. On March 23 we will fly to Hué, the imperial city. This is where Thây spent his novice years with his beloved dharma teacher Thanh Quy Chon Thiet. There will be many activities including a promenade on a dragon boat to ritually free fish, a visit to preschools supported by us in Thua Thien, a five-day monastic retreat where you can participate in all activities except for the dharma talks to monastics. On the last day of this segment there will be a traditional alms round with more than 1000 monastics, where you can offer food to the monks and nuns.

Segment 3
April 1 to April 19
The Great Chanting Ceremony in Hué will be dedicated to the hundreds of thousands who died here during the war; it will feature traditional chanting of Hué as infl       by imperial music. There will also be distribution of food for the poor and visits to preschools supported by you in Quang Tri. Then the whole sangha will move by bus to DaNang to visit surprisingly beautiful temples in caves and the historic Cham site. We fly to Cam Ranh on April 13 to enjoy the white sand at Cam Ranh Beach, then fly to Hanoi on April 16, where we listen to Thay give two dharma talks to governing  politicians.

Segment 4
April 19 to May 9
You will experience the Great Chanting Ceremony in northern Vietnamese style, and we will distribute food for the poor. We will visit the oldest stone cathedral in Vietnam and the multicolored Bat Trang pottery market; we will tour beautiful Ninh Binh with its rivers, caves, and rocky mountains. We will listen to a talk for intellectuals and politicians and another one for business people. We may possibly visit Na Mountain, where the eleven-year-old boy Nhat Hanh wished to see the hermit on the mountain and the hermit transformed himself into a beautiful well.

Cost includes three meals per day, housing in hotels with two per room, private shower and toilet (better than Plum Village), and transportation by bus. The daily rate will be $45 to $47 USD or 36 to 37.5 Euros per day. You are responsible for your own round-trip transportation to Vietnam as well as internal flights, which cost around $55 to $60 USD. In Segment 3 you will need to buy three internal flights, which come to approximately $160 USD extra.

An additional note: you will not be bothered by beggars like in other poor countries.

Practice Notes
To support Thây in his offering of the practice to Vietnam you are requested to observe the Five Mindfulness Trainings during the trip, especially the Fifth: please refrain from drinking wine or beer and from eating meat, including fish. But don’t worry, the vegetarian food prepared for us is very good.

Additionally we ask you to wear the Buddhist grey robe when traveling with Thay [one will be made for you after you register, Ed.].

Please sign up at www.plumvillage-vn.org or for more information write to tnhvntrip@earthlink.net.

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Help for Victims of Typhoon Xangsene

Plum Village — October 24, 2006

Dear Friend,

The 11th of October 2006 was the 80th birthday of our teacher Thây Thich Nhat Hanh. Each year around this day we, the monastic sangha of Plum Village, call Vietnam to buy fishes and birds to be liberated on Thây’s behalf and we send money to be given to the poor, transferring the merits to Thây for his longevity. But this year, when we called on October 3, the sisters of Plum Village living in Vietnam reported that they need to bring urgent relief to thousands of victims of the typhoon.

Typhoon Xangsane (“elephant” in Lao) slammed into the coast of Vietnam on October 1, carrying away thousands of houses in Thua Thien (Hué City). In our Tu Hieu Root Monastery a big tree crushed the temple’s toilet block. It is reported that in Quang Nam and Da Nang the damages are even heavier. Even in safe areas where the typhoon did not hit, the water rose and flooded houses. In stormy areas the wind pulled up tens of thousands of house roofs.

If you would like to offer gifts for people without shelter and without food on behalf of yourself and on behalf of Thây Thich Nhat Hanh’s 80th birthday, we will distribute them all.

In gratitude,

Sister Chân Không

On December 30, Sister Chân Không sent this update: “After Typhoon Xangsene, there was another one called Durian, stronger and unexpected, that turned around and blew into six provinces along the coast of south Vietnam. Again it damaged thousands of houses, including many in my home province of Ben Tre. Another typhoon threatened on December 8; fortunately it veered out to sea (we prayed a lot!).”

To Donate

If you would like to take a tax deduction for your gift, please send your donation (check or credit card) to: UBC c/o Sr Thanh Nghiem, GMDC, P.O. Box 182, Hartland Four Corners VT 05049.

So that we can follow the project, please inform Sister Chân Không about your donation by writing to NH-Office@plumvillge.org, attn: Sr Chân Không.

If you live outside the U.S.A. or do not need a tax deduction, you can send your donation directly to:
Beneficiary: Miss NGUYEN Thi Minh Huong (Sister Thich Nhu Minh Huyen)
Bank name: Via Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam, Hué Branch
Bank Swift Code: BFTVVNVX016
Account number: SoTai Khoan -016-1-370195918
Postal address of the bank: 46 Hung Vuong road, Hué City, Vietnam
E-mail of the bank: vcbhue@dng.vnn.vn and of the Sister: minhhuyen61@yahoo.com
Mention: FOR TYPHOON VICTIMS in Thua Thien Quang Tri, Quang Nam and DaNang

In Europe please send money to:
FR76 1330 6003 4242 9011 9901 196 AGRIFRPP833
Banque Crédit Agricole, 304 Bd President Wilson, 33076 Bordeaux, France, earmarked for typhoon victims

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