Dharma Talk: The Three Spiritual Powers

By Thich Nhat Hanh

This is an excerpt of a talk at the Sandy Beach Hotel in Da Nang on April 10, 2007. Thay spoke in Vietnamese to an audience of intellectuals and answered some fascinating questions from the audience. 

Thich Nhat HanhMost of us think that happiness is made of fame, power, money. Every one of us wants to have more power. We want to have more fame and money, because fame and money give us more power. We keep believing that when we have more money, fame, and power we’ll be happy. I have met a lot of people with great power, with a lot of money and fame, but their suffering is deep. They are so lonely.

William Ford, the Chairman of Ford Motor Company in America, is the fourth generation of the billionaire Ford family. He came to practice with us in our practice center in Vermont. I offered him the gift of a bell, and I taught him how to invite the bell each day. He told me stories of millionaires and billionaires in America who have a lot of fear, sadness, and despair.

mb46-dharma2Who has more power than the President of the United States? But if we look into the person of President Bush we see he’s not a happy person. Even President Bush doesn’t have enough power to take care of all the problems that confront him. He’s so powerful — he has a great army, a great amount of money — but he cannot solve the problems in Iraq. He can’t spit it out and he can’t swallow it. You’re very lucky that you’re not the President of the United States! If you were the President of the United States you would not sleep all night long. How can you sleep when you know that in Iraq your young people die every day and every night. The number of American young people who have died there has gone up to more than three thousand. In Iraq — in that country that you want to liberate — nearly a million have died. The situation in Iraq is desperate.

The writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that the people with the most power feel that they never have enough power, and this is true. We believe that if we have power, we will be able to do what we want and buy what we want. We can buy a position, buy our enemies, buy anything. If we have power in our hands, we can do anything we want. We have to re-examine that belief, because in reality, I have met people who have great power and money and fame, and who suffer extremely.

The Power of the Spiritual Dimension 

In Buddhism we also talk about power. But power in Buddhism is very different; it is a kind of energy that can bring us a lot of happiness and bring a lot of happiness to others.

In Eastern philosophy and literature, we talk about the spiritual path. Each one of us has to have a spiritual direction in our lives. Whether we are business people, politicians, educators, or scholars, we should have a spiritual dimension in our daily lives. If we do not have that spiritual dimension, we cannot take care of tension and despair, or the contradictions in our mind. We can never establish good communication with our co-workers, our family, our community. Each one of us must have the power of the true spiritual path.

In Buddhism, we talk about the three powers that we can generate through our practice: cutting off afflictions, insight, and the capacity to forgive and to love.

The first one is the power to cut off our afflictions — to sever our passions, hatred, and despair. If we cannot cut off passion and hatred, we cannot ever have happiness. We can learn concrete practices to do this. Once we sever the ties of passion and hatred that bind us, we become light and free and spacious. If we have passion and hatred we suffer — both men and women, you have experience with this. We cannot eat, we cannot sleep; that is hell. So the first power is the capacity to cut off afflictions.

The second power is the power of insight — in Buddhism it is called prajna. It is not knowledge that we have accumulated from reading books or learning in school. Knowledge can be beneficial, but it can also become an obstacle. In Buddhism we say that the only career of a practitioner is insight. The insight of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas — what we call enlightenment — has the capacity to cut off afflictions and to generate the noble sentiments of compassion, loving kindness, altruistic joy, and equanimity. That’s our only career, to give rise to insight. Once we have insight we can unravel our afflictions and help others to take care of their difficulties very quickly, just like a medical doctor. You only need to listen to the symptoms and you’ll be able to make a diagnosis and give the appropriate treatment.

mb46-dharma3The third power in Buddhism is the capacity to forgive. When we have the capacity to accept and to love, we do not have reproach or enmity. That love manifests in the way we look, in the way we speak. When we look with the eye of compassion and loving kindness, when we speak loving words, we are the ones who benefit first of all. In the Lotus  Sutra, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara looks at all beings with compassion. Looking at all beings with the eye of compassion is a wonderful way of behaving like the bodhisattva — without reproach, without hatred. And the person that we are looking at in this way feels forgiven and loved. We can help others to be liberated from ignorance and from the traps they are caught in.

Wealth as a Spiritual Tool 

When we have these three powers — the power to cut off afflictions, the power of insight, and the power to accept, love, and forgive — then fame, money, and power become wonderful tools. It is then that the more money we have the better, the more power the better, because they become means to help people, to enhance life. Buddhism does not accuse or judge people who want to become rich or successful in politics or business, but while you’re pursuing these things you should have a spiritual dimension. We must behave on a foundation of love, insight, and wisdom.

In the time of the Buddha, Anathapindika was an example of this kind of businessman. If you are a business person or a politician and you have love and compassion, then you become a bodhisattva. You have the capacity to cut off your passions and your hatred; you have insight to help resolve problems at your work; you have the capacity to accept and forgive people’s mistakes. You have a lot of power — spiritual power.

As Buddhist teachers we should not abuse our power. It is not because you are the abbot of a temple or the eldest in a temple that you have power. It is because you have the capacity to cut off afflictions, to forgive, and to love. It’s not because you are the abbess or the teacher that people listen to you, it’s because of your love and compassion.

In the political or business arena, the power of the owner or the leader has to be based on the power to cut off afflictions, the power of insight, and the power to love and forgive. Then you use your position skillfully and the things you do will not cause dissension. If you do not generate these three virtuous powers, power and money will corrupt everything, including the life of the owner or the leader. That is why spiritual direction is very important.

The Greatest Success 

The Buddha taught that we do not have to hurry towards the future to have happiness; we can be happy right now and right here. The greatest success is to live with love right in the present moment. We have the time to take care of ourselves. If we have pain, tension, irritation, and agitation, we suffer and naturally we cause others to suffer, including our loved ones. That is why we have to have time for ourselves. Then we’ll have time for our family and our community.

Come back to the present moment, do not allow the future to occupy all your energy and time. That is a very important principle from Buddhism. To come back is not easy, because we have the habit energy of running towards the future. Stopping that momentum, coming back to each step, to each breath — that is the basic practice. By living each moment of daily life, living in a way that is deep and free, we can be in touch with the wonders of life.

In a practice center, the basic practice is to use the breath and the steps to bring us back to the present moment. For example, when you listen to a bell you stop all your thinking and speaking and you come back to your breath. You breathe and you bring the mind back to the body, you are truly present in the present moment. In our daily life there are a lot of times our body is here but our mind is wandering in the past and the future. Our minds are not truly present in the body and we’re not present for ourselves. How can we be present for our loved ones, for our wives and husbands? These practices are very practical and clear, and they’re not difficult if we have the chance to begin.

I would like to leave the rest of the time so that you can pose questions related to the topic that we discussed today. Thank you for listening.

Question: Bringing Buddhism to the West 

Man from audience: First, I’m very surprised when your disciples still keep their religion. For example, if they are priests or pastors or ministers, do they keep their religion? Second, I know that besides being a monk, you are also a scholar. I have read a few of your writings, and I see that you have done work to spread and explain Vietnamese Buddhism to the world, just like Master Van Hanh (1). How have you contributed to the development of Vietnamese Buddhism as a scholar?

Thay: Back when Christian missionaries came to Vietnam, they often tried to convert the Vietnamese people and force them to give up their tradition to embrace the new religion. This caused a lot of suffering.

mb46-dharma4When we had boat people dwelling in refugee camps in Thailand or in other countries, there were also missionaries. They wanted to help those boat people and also tried to lure them to follow their religions. It’s a great pity to force somebody to lose their roots. That is why when we bring Buddhism to Westerners, we tell them, “Do not give up your religion; you can study Buddhist practices to help you take care of your difficulties of body and mind and to learn great love and compassion. You do not have to lose your root religion, because we don’t think that’s the best way.”

In the West, there is a great number of young people who leave their Christian religion because that tradition does not provide the practices that people need today. A lot of people give up their religion and many of them come to practice with us. I have told them, “Once you practice with us, you can go back to help renew your own tradition and religion.” If a country does not have a spiritual foundation, that nation will not endure. So the Westerners see that Buddhism is very inclusive, accepting all and embracing all without denying other traditions.

In Buddhism, we call that spirit of inclusiveness equanimity or non-discrimination. It means that we embrace all. If we say that you have to leave your religion so that you can take refuge in the Three Jewels — that’s not very Buddhist. Buddhism is very open. That is why we have been able to help the pastors and ministers. In their hearts they still love their religion, but they practice wholeheartedly because in Buddhism we have very concrete practices to help them take care of their tension and stress, and help them to help people. If we hold that only our religion has the right view, and other religions do not have absolute truth, this will cause war. Buddhism does not do that.

When we organize retreats or have public talks in the West, many thousands of people come to listen to me, but they’re not Buddhists. Most of them come from a Christian or Jewish background. Sometimes I give a teaching in a church and more people come than at Christmas time, because they see that Buddhism is very noble, very open. It is inclusive and non-discriminative. Moreover, now scientists find inspiration in Buddhism because they see interdependence and emptiness; these teachings attract a lot of scientists to Buddhism.

The second question addresses the issue of learning. In truth, each time we have a new retreat designed for a specific group of people, for example a retreat for police officers or Congress people or business people or environmentalists or war veterans, I have to do research. I have to study beforehand to understand their difficulties and suffering so I can offer appropriate practices. That’s why during all my years in the West I have learned a lot. If you do not understand the teachings and practices of the Jewish or Christian traditions, you cannot help those people. If you do not see the suffering of business people, you can never teach them to practice so they can take care of their tension and stress.

You do not need to become a scholar. As a monastic, we do not aim to become scholars, but we have to know enough in these areas to speak their language, to bring people into the practice. When you say that I’m a scholar and I spread Vietnamese Buddhism, that is not quite correct. When I taught at Sorbonne University [in Paris] about history or Vietnamese history or Vietnamese Buddhism, I had to do research. Just for that occasion I read books on the history of Vietnamese Buddhism. I had to use the pen name Nguyen Lang because I was not allowed to publish under my name Thich Nhat Hanh. The government said that I called for peace and that I was a friend with the Communists, so they didn’t allow my books to be published. My aim was not to become a scholar or a historian, but the truth is I had to teach in the university. And I just wrote it down, so that younger generations could benefit.

The meditation that I share in the West has its roots in Vietnam of the third century. We had a very famous Zen master, Master Tang Hoi, whose father was a soldier from India and whose mother was a young Vietnamese woman. When his parents passed away, the child Tang Hoi went to a temple in northern Vietnam to become a monastic. He translated commentaries on the sutras in that temple in Vietnam, then went to China where he became the first Zen master teaching meditation in China — three hundred years before Bodhidharma. I wrote a book about Zen Master Tang Hoi, and I said that Vietnamese Buddhists should worship this Zen master as our first Zen master of Vietnam. An artist drew his picture for me so we could have it on the altars at our different centers.

In Vietnam we have the Mahayana tradition and the Hinayana tradition. I was lucky that when I was trained in the Mahayana tradition I also had time to research the stream of original Buddhism. I discovered that Zen Master Tang Hoi had used the original Buddhist sutras with a very open view of the Mahayana tradition. That is why when we organize retreats in Europe or North America, many people come from different traditions and they feel very comfortable. Our practice combines both Mahayana and Hinayana traditions and the basic sutras we use in meditation are present in all different schools — in the Pali, Chinese, Sanskrit, Korean, and Tibetan Canons of Buddhist scriptures. I have translated and written commentaries on sutras about meditation like Learning  the Better Way to Live Alone and The Mindfulness of Breathing. Even though I didn’t talk about them tonight, the spirit of my talk was based on the insight of these sutras.

Our true aim is not to spread Vietnamese culture in the world, but I want to help people to relieve their suffering by sharing with them the methods of practice. That’s why they know about meditation and practices that have Vietnamese roots. I say this so that you see clearly that when I go to the West it’s not to spread Vietnamese culture to other countries. I just want to help people.

When I went to the West to call for peace, I only asked to go for three months. The chief of the police station asked me, “What do you plan to do there? Whatever you do is okay, just don’t call for peace, okay?” And I did not reply. Because my aim was to call for peace, for the world to end the war, I just stayed quiet. Then I went to the United States and called for peace — how can we end the Vietnam war? So they didn’t allow me to come back to Vietnam. That’s why we cannot say that I left Vietnam to spread Vietnamese culture in the West. I only wanted to go for three months. Who would have suspected that I would stay forty years! The truth is that during the time I was in exile in the West, as a monk I had to do something to help people. If I couldn’t help my own people, then I could help Westerners. It seems like I had this aim to spread Vietnamese culture, but it happened naturally.

Question: Renewing Buddhism in Da Nang 

Man from audience: On this trip you came to Da Nang. How do you think we can help develop our city, including the Buddhist practice in Da Nang? And do you plan to have a monastery in Da Nang, where we have monastics and lay people, and where scholars in Da Nang can participate?

Thay: Da Nang is already very beautiful. It’s developing very quickly, very well. But we know that economic and technological development comes in tandem with social evils, such as gangs, suicide, and prostitution. If we know that, we should work to prevent it. The scholars and humanitarians, the monks and nuns, you have to sit down together and make a very concrete plan to prevent these social evils. That is something I can share.

The second issue has to do with our Buddhist path. Even though Buddhism has been in our country for many years, we have to renew it. If we do not, it does not have enough strength and it cannot carry out its mission. Our learning is still too theoretical, and mostly we still practice by worshipping or praying. That’s very important, but Buddhism is not just a devotional religion. If we can break through the shell of religious ritual, we can touch the deep source of insight. With that insight we can contribute a path for our nation that will bring true civilization, true culture. It will bring harmony, prosperity, auspiciousness. In the time of the kingdoms of the Ly and Tran dynasties (2) they also praticed with koans; they did not just worship and make offerings. Those were very auspicious eras, with love and understanding between the king and the people.

If Buddhism played such a role in the past, helping the country to be powerful and to dispel invaders, it can contribute to the country in the same way now and in the future. To that end we have to renew Buddhism in the way we study, teach, and practice. It is very necessary to establish monasteries, training new Dharma teachers and lay people to help young people with their problems in their families.

We think that Plum Village can contribute in this area. If the great venerables, the high venerables here in your Buddhist Institute want to stop these young people from getting corrupted, you need to establish monasteries. You can train five hundred or a thousand monks and nuns so that they can help people in society. They can help people in their districts and bring balance to those areas. They can help re-establish communication in the family so that young people do not go out to look for some sort of relief and then fall into the traps of prostitution, suicide, and drug addiction. That is the mission of Buddhism in this modern age. We can send Dharma teachers to you to help you train a generation of new monks and nuns. I think that our country is waiting for this rising up — to “uncloak the old robe” — and to renew Buddhism.

Question: Thinking About the Future

Man from audience: Respected Zen Master, from the beginning of this talk I listened to your teaching about meditation. My understanding — I don’t know if it’s correct or not — is that meditation is only for people who have suffering or misfortune, or people who have a lot of extra time. People who work, study, or have normal activities, they need to think about the past so that they can do certain things that are good for the present, but in meditation you talk about liberating yourself from the past. And they need to look to the future — only you know your dreams, how to be successful in your career— but in meditation you cut off thinking about the future. So the people who need to think about life, about society, about themselves for the future, should they practice meditation?

[Translator: Thay is smiling.] 

Thay: We can learn a lot from the past. We have to reexamine the past and learn from it. But that does not mean that we are imprisoned by the past. Those two things have nothing to do with each other.

While we are looking into the past, we can still establish our body and mind stably in the present moment. It is because we establish our body and mind stably in the present moment that we have the capacity to learn from the past. Otherwise we just dream about the past, or we are haunted by the past. The future is the same way. If we sit there and worry about the future, we only spoil the future. We have the right to design projects, to plan for the future. But this does not mean that you are frightened and worried about the future. These two things are completely different.

mb46-dharma5The future is made up of only one substance, and that is the present. If you know how to take care of the present with all your heart, you are doing everything you can for the future. Thinking and dreaming about the future does not take a long time — you don’t need twenty-four hours to dream about it! You only need one or two minutes, and that’s fine.

What is meditation? Meditation is not something you can imagine. Meditation first of all means you have to be present in the present moment. Earlier I brought up an image that the body is here but the mind is wandering elsewhere. In that moment you’re not present. You’re not present for yourself. You’re not present for your husband, your wife, your children, your brothers or sisters, your nation, or your people. That is the opposite of meditation.

In the present moment there are needs; for example, you have certain pains and difficulties. Your loved one has certain pains and difficulties. If you cannot be present in the present moment, how can you help yourself and the other person? That is why meditation, first of all, is to be present in the present moment. Being present in the present moment means you are not imprisoned by the past and your soul is not sucked up by the future. Meditation is not thinking, not something abstract.

Sitting meditation, first of all, is to be present, to sit still. Once we have that stillness, we’ll be able to see the truth. We can have projects and take actions that are appropriate to the truth in order to take care of a situation. That is why dwelling peacefully, happily in the present moment, is so important. You come back to the present moment to be nourished, to be healed, and also to manage the problems and issues in the present. If we can take care of the issues in the present, then we’ll have a future.

Dreaming about the future and planning about the future are two different things; one is a scientific way, the other one is running away. For example, perhaps there is sadness in the present and we want to run away. Dreaming about the future is a kind of calming medicine, like barbiturates, that can help you temporarily forget about the present.

We have to practice. Taking steps in freedom, with ease, is something that you have to practice. Once you have joy and happiness in the present moment, you know that these moments of happiness are the foundation of the future.

Please remember this for me: If you don’t have happiness in the present moment, there is no way to have happiness in the future.

To the friends practicing Pure Land tradition I say that the Pure Land is a land of peace, of happiness. There are those among us who think that the Pure Land is in the west and in the future. The west is not about Europe or North America — the western direction! Those who practice Pure Land, especially beginners, believe that the Pure Land is in the future. They think that only when we die we go there, and then we go in a western direction, the direction of extreme happiness.

People who have practiced Pure Land for a long time go more deeply. The Pure Land is not in the west or in the east, but right in our mind. When we practice meditation, and we practice properly, we practice in the Pure Land. Each breath, each step, each smile, each look can bring us happiness in the present moment.

The Buddha, wherever he went, never left the Pure Land. If now we can live in the Pure Land with each step, each breath, each smile, everything can give rise to the Pure Land; with certainty the Pure Land is something in our hand. But if we suffer day and night, and we think when we die we’ll go to the Pure Land, that something is not so sure.

That’s why I want to remind you once again: If you have no capacity to live happily right in the present moment, in no way can you have happiness in the future.

Interpreted by Sister Dang Nghiem; transcribed by Greg Sever; edited by Janelle Combelic with help from Barbara Casey and Sister Annabel, True Virtue.

1 This is the master who helped the first Ly king in the eleventh century when Vietnam had just gained independence from the Chinese.

2 The Ly and Tran eras spanned the eleventh to the early fifteenth centuries in Vietnam.

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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 Thay, dear Sangha,

We sit on the dew-covered grass, watching the light of dawn reveal the towering mountains all around us. Thay sits like a rock, like a tree, like a Buddha, in front of several hundred sleepy retreatants. It is six a.m. on the first day of the retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado.

After a while Thay invites the little bell and we rise to walk as one to the meditation hall. In the half-light our mass of peaceful mindful people lumbers up the hill. That’s when I see for an instant through the present moment into a potential future. I see not a few hundred people but thousands, millions, walking in silence. I see people descending into the streets of towns and cities all over the world, walking together, and with our breathing bodies, with our hearts joined in love, saying no — no to war, to injustice, to poverty and exploitation — no to the powers that be.

I remember Princess Diana’s funeral, when over a million people lined the streets of London standing for hours in silence, united in their grief and their love. Even more amazing, all major U.S. television channels broadcast her funeral live, one of them broadcasting the silence as well as the images. Around the world as many as 2.5 billion people watched at the same time. So imagine, imagine what power we have — to say yes to life, to love, to paradise here on earth.

In his Dharma talks at the retreat Thay reminded us that we are all cells in one body, part of a single organism. I have heard Thay say that the next Buddha to be born will be a collective. This is what I see awakening all over the planet: the Cosmic Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Buddha to be. It is happening now. (Read magazines like Yes!, Ode, and Utne Reader for positive developments worldwide.)

Thay’s own happiness is his best teaching — after all he has seen and suffered and accomplished in this life, he radiates peace and joy. When he says that there is no birth and no death, that our only continuation is our actions, he is the living proof.

Thay’s joy — and that of the ninety monastics traveling with him on the U.S. tour — touched the nearly one thousand lay people at the retreat. We sang, laughed, sat, cried, walked, ate, talked mindfully together for six glorious days in the majestic Rocky Mountains.

And we shared the Mindfulness Bell — a joint creation of monks, nuns, and lay people. After one of the Dharma talks, four of us, including Sister Chan Khong, made a presentation about the Mindfulness Bell to the sangha. I was thrilled at the response from the retreatants. We sold every single magazine we had and collected many subscriptions and donations. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all!

As Sister Chan Khong said, when you support the Mindfulness Bell you are doing more than just purchasing a magazine, which hopefully inspires you. You are helping Thay to spread the Dharma and build sangha around the world. Consider renewing your subscription for two or three or even fi years. And don’t forget that subscriptions make wonderful holiday gifts!

May our sangha flow like a river, each step in power and beauty. May the turning of the seasons and the year bring peace into all aspects of your life. Breathe on!


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Prison Dharma

I would like to introduce myself. I am Darwin Brown. Through my years of incarceration I have received the Mindfulness Bell. But that’s not all! I have also received from Parallax Press books by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay’s teachings have helped me to live in the present moment.

I know that directly I am not a student of Thich Nhat Hanh’s, but through his teachings and his books I feel and think that I am a student of his.

Thank you, Thay, for your teachings and showing me the present and wonderful moment. You have guided me home to my true home. Thank you, Parallax Press, for publishing Thay’s teachings for inmates to receive, and thank you to those who donate to the program for inmates.

Thank you, Mindfulness Bell, for all of the articles you publish of Thay’s and others. Every article I read from the Mindfulness Bell reminds me to be in the present and wonderful moment. It is truly the bell that rings, to remind us the present moment is right here.

Darwin Brown
Pugsley Correctional Facility
Kingsley, Michigan, USA


Mindfulness Bell #45, Summer 2007

Thank you for the latest issue of the Mindfulness Bell. I enjoyed sharing some of the experiences from Thay’s Vietnam trip, together with photos. I also enjoyed reading the wise words of the monastics in “Dharma Rain in the Rocky Mountains.”

Your prison stories are always very touching, and I give photocopies of them to friends who do Dharma work in a big prison in our country. They pass them on to the prisoners there for inspiration.

There was a very nice article by Sister Annabel about learning to do walking meditation. Thanks for the news of Blue Cliff Monastery. A suggestion would be to include the retreat programme of Thay’s monasteries, so we know what is happening, for those of us who are out of circuit and don’t get to hear what’s going on unless you continually check websites.

Leela Verity
True Stream of Light
South Africa


Editor’s reply: Thanks, Leela! We took your suggestion to heart and in this issue we include retreat schedules from the monasteries in France and the U.S.

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Sitting in the Spring Breeze

The Sangha in Vietnam, February–May 2007


In a letter from Hue, Brother Phap Lai wrote, “Tomorrow the Sangha flies and will land in Hanoi for the final leg of this 2007 ‘Sitting in the Spring Breeze’ Vietnam trip.”

These sketches from monastic and lay participants give us a glimpse into the power and beauty of the Sangha’s historic journey to Vietnam with Thich Nhat Hanh.

Brother Phap Lai continues, “So far the ancestors, patriarchs and Vietnam’s present-day Sangha have been taking wonderful care of us, opening the door for the Dharma, for Thay and the Sangha to touch the hearts of so many people. The trip continues harmoniously although there is plenty of diplomatic work going on behind the scenes to help it be so. Thay is tired at times but you seldom know it as he shines, offering his best each and every day. At ease connecting with the old and new generations of Vietnam, whether it be monastics or devoted congregations of women, intellectuals, politicians or business people, Thay disarms folks with his warmth and humor.”


When I fi st stepped out of the airport of Ho Chi Minh City, I thought I would never survive crossing the amazing flood of motorbikes. How could I imagine the great lesson I would learn by first being forced to jump into this phenomenon, and then by looking deeply into it. This experience is all about the collective and individual management of constant change, of confidence and the vital importance of connection and absolute awareness of the present moment — “Go with the flow!”

—Dagmar Quentin


Ceremonies to Heal and Transform

In Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City] the first of the three “Great Requiem Ceremonies to Pray Equally for All to Untie the Knots of Great Injustice” was conducted at Vinh Nghiem Temple. The second of these took place in Dieu De Temple in the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hue, which, as a battleground between the North and South, suffered terribly with many thousands of civilians killed. Thousands of lay people came to both Vinh Nghiem and Dieu De Temples over the course of the three-day ceremonies. Many Sanghas in the West as well as those in Vietnam who were unable to come conducted their own ceremonies in their own centers and homes.

The three days included daily Dharma talks by Thay in which he particularly encouraged us to generate wholesome, forgiving, and loving thoughts, and to purify the three karmas or actions of body, speech, and mind. Thay shared about the practice of beginning anew, even for those who have committed the worst of bodily actions. If we know how to begin anew and purify the mind of wrong thinking, then like a phoenix rising from the ashes we can free ourselves from the complex of guilt and despair to become a true bodhisattva. Thay also read several times “Prayers and Vows to Be Expressed During the Great Requiem Ceremony,” which set the spiritual intention and offered a common aspiration for all [see page 16].

In Saigon, ceremonies were led by Master Le Trang, Abbot of Vien Giac Temple, whose concentration and wholehearted intention as well as his expertise in chanting and mudras enriched the event tremendously. Each day it seemed he donned a different and more elaborately embroidered sanghati. For the opening ceremony Thay was persuaded to wear the dress reserved for the highest master. After that Thay was happy to return to wearing his own simple sanghati.

As well as the dress many of the ritual instruments and other ornamentations are rarely if ever used, instead being preserved as precious antiques, relics of the tradition. Traditionally dressed musicians playing the old instruments — percussion, a single stringed box guitar, and a reeded woodwind horn — accompanied the chanting master and the processions in general. Monks also sounded conch horns at various stages of the procession. The musicians were able to continuously follow, build, and crescendo with each nuance of the chanted texts for the whole three days. Their contribution was magnificent. The second evening ended with a grand procession of monastic and lay people to set thousands of candles in origami lotus flowers floating down the river along with our prayers and vows for those who were killed in the Vietnam war. In Hue a similar event had our whole sangha board a flotilla of large tourist boats and after some time traveling upstream we congregated to set the lighted candles on the Perfume River while chanting. The image of hundreds of floating candles emitting their soft light could not fail to touch our hearts and the onlookers from the bridge.

In Saigon, the entire floor area underneath the Buddha Hall was converted into a maze of altars draped with golden yellow fabrics. Incredible artistry went into decorating many altars, each with their own bodhisattva, some fierce looking, some gentle. Part of this was an inner sanctum that served as the main area for the long chanting sessions. During these sessions only monastics could enter in order to generate and maintain the high level of concentration necessary. Lay people followed these on a big screen outside but at various points the chanting master would lead a procession outside to the temple gates and back. Outside the inner sanctum altars held food offerings and lists of hundreds of loved ones with the date they were killed in the war. After the very final chanting of the three-day ceremony at 2:00 a.m. all the decorations, altars, papier-mâché statues made especially for the Grand Requiem Ceremony and the lists of countrymen and women who died were burned together as an offering.

With the support of the monastic and lay community of Saigon and the cooperation of government officials, the ceremony that took place in Saigon was a major success. Mass ceremonies of this scale and intention are a unique occurrence in Vietnam. It is not surprising they are controversial — they bring up past suffering and require acknowledgment that great injustices were suffered on both sides. It has not always been possible to attain the official acceptance of a ceremony that acknowledges that people suffered unspeakable injustices on both sides and that asks that we pray equally for all without any discrimination across the old divides of geography and ideology, man and woman, civilian and the army. Imagine previously warring nations coming together in this spirit and one begins to understand the significance of these ceremonies, the potential healing but also the obstacles in the mind that prevent them from taking place.

—Brother Phap Lai


A Miracle at Bat Nha

In the magical mountainous region described by Thay in Fragrant Palm Leaves near the town of Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, about six hours north of Saigon, is Bat Nha Temple. Sadly, much of the ancient rainforest once inhabited by tigers has been cleared for coffee and tea plantations. Many in this region form the ethnic minorities of Vietnam. A long tradition of trust has developed between these indigenous people — some of whom ordained at Bat Nha — and our community, thanks to long-time funding for social projects from Plum Village. Arriving in Bat Nha, we were hosted by some three hundred young monks and nuns, nearly all under twenty-five, who were ordained as novice monastics under Thay since the last Vietnam trip in 2005. At that time the Abbot Duc Nghi, a devoted follower of Thay, offered the temple to Thay and the Sangha. Since then, with funding from the Western Sangha via Plum Village and lots of dedicated work from the Sangha and local people, many new buildings have sprung up including a very large Dharma hall, the Garuda Wings Hall, and two residences for the hundreds of newly ordained.

The first major event held in Bat Nha on this trip was a four-day residential retreat for lay people. Prior to the retreat the limit of those registered had been set at 2000 but by the evening before we had more than 4000 names registered. After hearing that a full bus of people from Saigon (six hours away) had been turned back by the monastery guards because they weren’t registered, Thay made it clear he did not want to turn away anyone who had come for the Dharma. But numbers were growing and where to house everyone? As planned the big new hall was used as one dormitory but many more had to fit in than was first intended. For instance, the football field with the help of acres of tarp was transformed into a dormitory for 1000. From the first day the cooks say they prepared for 7000 but there were as many as 10,000 people on the Sunday of Mindfulness. Considering the huge number of people attending everything went extraordinarily well. The registration team kept their cool, practicing mindfulness and compassion, and all who came found a place to sleep and go to the toilet! The cooking teams of Bat Nha’s brothers and sisters along with local supporting lay friends performed daily miracles preparing three good meals a day for everyone. Forty lines for food provided a good flow and everyone was able to eat together in families at one sitting.

—Brother Phap Lai


Phuong Boi Ordination

Our time together on this trip has given the monastics of Plum Village and the centers in the United States and our young brothers and sisters in Vietnam a chance to meet. In Bat Nha we enjoyed drinking tea, making music, working together, two rather serious games of soccer and the odd dramatic downpours from broody evening skies.

The last week in Bat Nha included a five-day Grand Ordination Ceremony given the name “Phuong Boi” (Fragrant Palm Leaves). It included transmission of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings to 100 monks and nuns and forty lay practitioners, all Vietnamese with the exception of our German brother Kai presently living in Hanoi. There was also a ceremony to transmit the ten novice precepts; it is always an exciting and heart-warming day when a new family of novice monastics are brought into the Sangha. We now have the sweet young Sandalwood family of eighty-nine young novices in our fold. An age range of 15 to 25 limits the numbers although there were some exceptions.

Fifty-three bhikshus [monks] and fi y-four bhikshunis [nuns] were ordained by a special envoy of Venerable Monks who came especially to form the official presiding Ordination Committee. The Lamp was transmitted by Thay to twelve new Dharma Teachers.

—Brother Phap Lai



Receiving the Lamp Transmission

Several of you asked me before I left about my gatha. It really started to come together when we visited a beautiful waterfall near Bat Nha. I sat there watching the 200-meter-tall streams of water falling and felt so peaceful and calm. Then I saw this old, kind face in the rock, smiling mischievously to me! I had to laugh back. My father [OI member Al Lingo] was one attendant for the Lamp Transmission, Sr. Dao Nghiem, a younger sister from the Persimmon family, was the other. I shared a little in Vietnamese at the beginning and cried quite a bit. I spoke mostly about my gratitude to Thay and the Sangha, and about my monastic path as a journey of self-acceptance. I sang “Amazing Grace” at the end.

This is my gatha:

A face in the wet rock smiles to me
Wise, loving eyes twinkle with laughter
Everything I need is already here
I am totally at ease
Before I was born, my work was already accomplished
At every stage of manifestation we are complete
There is no final product. No progress needs to be made.
You don’t have to change!
Just be yourself, love yourself
It is the only way to make progress.
Let go, fall without fear
Like the waterfall, dancing its endless dance of freedom.

—Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem


Bowing to the Mystery

Following Thay and the monastics our Western delegation moves into the An Quang Temple in Saigon. We are greeted by Vietnamese men and women in the same grey temple robe we are wearing on this trip. Again a woman bows to me, her hands folded in front of her heart. I stop and return the bow. As we both straighten up and look at each other, she has tears in her eyes — and me too. How old is she, seventy, eighty years maybe? What may she have experienced during the war? Who does she see in me? What do I represent? I allow myself not to know, as I so often do on this trip. I practice simply trusting that Thay’s wish to bring healing and transformation to Vietnam will be fulfilled and that wondrously I can make a tiny contribution to it.

—Heike Mayer


Treasure of Healing

I was so moved by the chanting and Grand Requiem Ceremonies in Saigon. Many of us had powerful experiences of connection and healing and reconciliation. I touched my own ancestors in a new way during the last night of eight hours of straight chanting. I felt their presence and their happiness, even those I never knew. I also felt connected to the many land ancestors throughout the history of the U.S.—all the injustices and tragedies they suffered, from the decimation of native peoples, slavery, to the many wars. I invited them to come into the space we created for healing, for peace. I was surprised that I could sit still for so long, peaceful, concentrated, and present. The monks who led the chanting and all the thousands of people practicing with us outside the hall at Vinh Nghiem temple created a powerful atmosphere of transformation. Afterwards, instead of feeling tired I was energized by this rare and precious event.

Sister Chan Khong told us many monasteries brought out statues and artifacts for the ceremonies that had not been publicly displayed in years — national treasures held in secret for preservation. Many sanghas joined to host this event, unprecedented in Vietnam on such a large scale. I feel so grateful to Thay for holding his vision. In the West, we have so many unhealed, misunderstood, unacknowledged wounds. If only we had taken time to be with the suffering of the Vietnam war, to recognize and heal it, the war in Iraq would never have happened.

–Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem


Kitchen Mindfulness

I was on a cooking team at Tu Hieu for working meditation. In the kitchen as we made breakfast starting at 3:30 a.m., the energy was peaceful and calm, everyone still sleepy and soft. Everywhere in Vietnam we cooked with wood. One of my favorite jobs was to sit in front of the stove fanning the fire. I did whatever task I was given, finding each enjoyable. Many lay people came to help—even lay men cooking along with women! Once when we were making lunch, we ran out of things to do at 9:00 a.m. so we all sat in the dining hall and taught each other songs until the food arrived. Just being together, the smiles, the care, we weren’t really there to work, yet everything happened as it needed to and the meals were always on time.

—Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem


A Chorus of Grass Birds

Today, after sitting meditation we practiced walking meditation through the peaceful temple grounds of Thay’s root temple in Tu Hieu. We gathered to sit silently in a circle on the same grass where he played as a child monk. I was four feet from Thay — just breathing, smiling, joyous — a treasure I will never forget. Then he delighted us all — picked a wide blade of grass, put it in

his palm, and suddenly impishly blew, making grass sound like a bird — gleeful as a boy! This started a chorus of monks and nuns chirping with their own grass leaves, a veritable bird chorus! A light private moment, a glimpse into the playfulness of a forever young 82-year-old poet.

—Harriet Wrye


An Offering of Shoes

During the last powerful evening of chanting in Hue, I was really present for myself, for my inner child, and for the many who died in the war, seeing them healed, happy, restored. When the monks blessed the rice and threw it into the crowd, people began to push and shove us, trying to get some of the rice. They believe if they make soup from rice blessed in such an important ceremony, any sick person who eats it will heal. So I got up from quiet sitting to become a bodyguard for the chanting monks! Holding back the rowdy crowds, I’ve never seen my sisters so tough.

My shoes stolen, I walked barefoot in the mud among fallen food offerings to burn paper tablets on the ancestral altar, ending our ceremony. Many of our shoes were taken that evening. One barefoot brother casually said, “It was an offering”!

—Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem


“Each of My Steps Is a Prayer”

Upon touching down in California after the Vietnam pilgrimage I felt like I had been put through the wash, then spun partly dry. As a dietitian it’s easy for me to say there was a lot to consume as we went from Ho Chi Minh City to the north in a short time. I see that it took all the ingredients of Vietnam’s wars, including over six million deaths, to have conditions necessary for a compassionate teacher to conduct extraordinary ceremonies of reconciliation and healing. Concurrently, many of us pilgrims were advancing our own personal transformations by leaving our cozy, familiar world to join in one or more of the journey’s segments. My personal experience in several Great Requiem Ceremonies untied my own knots of great injustice. This seemed to be so for others I talked with along the way. We were fortunate to be Thay’s supporting cast during his epic reconciliation and healing production, students and teacher practicing in the spring breeze of Vietnam.

Everyone’s effort, using a solid-as-a-mountain practice, helped transform the government’s distrust of Thay’s sincere intention to help the situation in his homeland. It was amazing to be at dozens of talks, at retreats and ceremonies with tens of thousands of Vietnamese. For most, it was their first glimpse of Thay, the mysterious, most venerable who transforms the suffering of the West and East. To observe Thay’s presence and focus while big crowds bowed, chanted and touched the earth before him was unforgettable and humbling. Westerners who posted words and images during the 2005 trip inspired me to share pictures and a blog. The teacher in me wanted to help sangha friends and family stay tapped in as events unfolded. As a final offering to the Sangha, I produced a 42-minute video, “Each of My Steps Is a Prayer” — words Thay used to describe his practice — presenting sounds and images of transformation and beauty in Vietnam. I am donating the video to the Sangha as a way to raise funds for Vietnam’s monastics.

The video is currently in English and works on NTSC DVD players; a version formatted for European PAL players is also available. Please send two checks or money orders, one for a tax-deductible $13.00 donation made out to “UBC Deer Park” and the other $3.00 for shipping made out to “David Nelson,” to: David Nelson VN07, 4360 Jasmine Avenue, Culver City, California 90232. Make sure to include your shipping address. Or contact David at rezdog_latte@hotmail.com for information.

—David Nelson

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Prayers & Vows

To Be Expressed During the Great Requiem Ceremonies to Untie the Knots of Great Injustice

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear ones who have passed from this life,

You are our fathers and mothers, our aunts and uncles, our husbands and wives, our sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters, who have died during the war. When our country was on fire with all the fighting, you left us tragically, suddenly, forced to abandon your precious body. We have lost you, dear ones. We know that you fought courageously for our nation without regret for your precious body and we are proud of you. But you lost your body under very tragic circumstances, and the injustice could never be expressed.You died deep in a distant jungle or were lost at sea or in a dark prison cell. You may have died because of bullets or bombs, or from starvation or sheer exhaustion. You may have been raped and then killed with no way to resist. How many of you have died in despair, in injustice, the remains of your body lost somewhere in the ocean or the jungle where we who love you could not get hold of them. To fight for our independence and freedom, our country has had to bear great tragedy and injustice, and it is you who have shouldered the burden of the whole nation in your death.

We ymb46-Prayers1our relatives, your fellow countrymen and countrywomen, we come here — some of us are before our own altars at home — and among us there are  those  who still continue to suffer from injustice. Fortunately the nightmare has ended, the country is now at peace, and we have the chance to rebuild the country, to heal the remaining wounds. Thanks to the merits and good deeds of our ancestors, we have a chance to come together and offer prayers together to the Three Gems.

With the support of the powerful Dharma, we request you to come back all together to reunite with each other, embracing each other, loving each other like sisters and brothers in one family. We will not distinguish between North or South, women or men, adults or children, by race, religion, party, or ideology. We are all fellow countrywomen and countrymen, but because of past bad fortune, we have been pushed to fight each other in our drive for independence, for freedom. Thanks to the merits of our ancestors we can now come back together, recognizing each other as siblings of a single family, to promise each other that we will not forget this painful lesson of the past now engraved on our hearts:

We vow that from now on we will not let the country be separated again, not even one more time. From now on, when there are internal difficulties, we will not request the help of any foreign power to intervene with weapons and troops in our country. From now on, we will not start a war for any ideology. From now on, we will not use foreign weapons to kill each other. From now on, we will use our best efforts to build a society with real democracy, to resolve all kinds of disagreements by peaceful democratic methods. We will not resort to violence against fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

Respected Blood Ancestors, Respected Spiritual Ancestors, please bear witness to our profound sincerity. We respectfully make these deep vows before you. And we know that once we have sincerely expressed ourselves in this way, all the knots of injustice can be untied, and the deep wounds in each of us will start to be healed.

Today this Great Chanting Ceremony to untie all injustices equally without any discrimination starts here; but at the same time, countless Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese throughout the world are setting altars in front of their houses, too, to pray for you all. We touch the earth deeply to request the grace of the Three Jewels to carry to the other shore of liberation all of you dear deceased ones, so that, dear ones, you can be carried by the strength of the Dharma to understand, to transform, to transcend, and to know you are free.

We your descendants, we promise to continue your aspiration. We vow to carry you in our hearts, to build brotherhood and sisterhood, to practice mutual love of fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We will remember that pumpkin vines and squash vines can share a single frame, that chickens from a same mother will never fight each other. This insight from our Ancestors will shine out its light for us now and forever.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh read this statement several times during the Great Ceremonies held in Saigon, Hue, and Hanoi in early 2007.

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Poems: Haiku from Vietnam Trip

By Patricia Garci


Hotel Room
Lizard on the wall
You hide behind the curtain
But your feet still show

Hot Water
Thinking of calling
Room service, there is a knock
On the hotel door

Grandfather spirits
Walked arm in arm yesterday
On the temple grounds

In another place
Someone is loading a gun
We sit here in peace

No Car Day
Please use the car less
Walking to work I saw a
Flock of green parrots

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Spanning a Bridge

By Sister Dang Nghiem


Still With Faith

While Thay and the delegation were in Hue, there were fewer visitors and retreatants than in 2005. Yet we continued our activities as planned. Thay gave Dharma talks with utmost compassion and inclusiveness.

Sometimes while I was translating his words into English, I felt dizzy and nauseous. I looked at Thay: he sat stably and his eyes were penetrating. I thought, ‘‘I love you so much, Thay. You are incredibly courageous!’’ Then I was able to concentrate again.

The monastic Sangha sat together two days before the Great Requiem Ceremony began in Hue. Brother Phap An shared with the Sangha the many difficulties he and the pioneering team encountered as they prepared for the ceremonies. Unlike our experience in Saigon, support from the Buddhist Church and the government in Hue was unreliable. He emphasized that the support in Hanoi was even more fragile. Our Sangha had to be responsible for everything from A to Z. He wanted his younger brothers and sisters to be aware of the situation, so that we would contribute wholeheartedly our practice and our service.

I was deeply grateful to Brother Phap An, our pioneering team, and all brothers and sisters from Prajna and Tu Hieu. Everybody worked tirelessly day and night, transcending their own physical and mental limitations. The success of each Requiem Ceremony in south, central, and north Vietnam could not be claimed by any one individual or any one organization. Innumerable hands, minds, and hearts joined together to make history. The people’s heart wanted it; the collective consciousness had ripened; the whole universe directed towards it. Thus, even though there were opposing forces, there was nothing that could resist it.

The Great Ceremony Begins

Before Temple Dieu De, Wonderful Truth, a river fl ws peacefully. Many children and elderly people begged at the gate. The temple is small, so we arranged all the altars for the souls of the dead, Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha, and Kshitigarbha’s lion throne to be placed outdoors to indoors, from the gate to the front of the Buddha Hall. The Great Requiem Ceremony began with the Invitation of Masters. About five elderly most venerables offered witness. Although they needed help to walk, they exuded the powerful spiritual strength of many generations.

Tears streamed down my cheeks the first time I saw my teacher in the ceremonial sanghati that he wore in Vinh Nghiem. Now Thay appeared again in that stately robe — heavy and large, veiling his body — looking like the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Not fond of cumbersome ceremonies or fancy dress, Thay usually wears his brown robe and brown Tiep Hien jacket. Later in Thailand, at the praying ceremony for King Rama IX’s long life, monastics from over fifty countries wore their ceremonious sanghatis, all except Thay who was dressed in brown.

After the Invitation of the Masters ceremony, a number of the monastics and Order of Interbeing members followed Thay, the Chanting Master, and his co-chanters to invite the spirits to come back to Dieu De Temple, to receive food offerings and Dharma offerings for the next three days. At Mt. Ban, a bamboo pole was put up with a long stretch of white cloth, which symbolized the bridge for those who had died on land to walk on and follow us back to the temple. At a river, another stretch of white cloth was dipped in the water, so that those who had died in the water could climb onto dry land and follow us back to the temple.

The heat was almost unbearable. Local young people smoked and chatted nearby. I said to them softly, “The monks and nuns are praying for the people who died in the Vietnam War. Certainly this includes many of your relatives. You could contribute your part and pray for them.’’ One by one, they extinguished their cigarettes and stood quietly for the rest of the ceremony.

The Transformation of Cheri Maples

In the late afternoon, I walked along the river with a younger sister. A well-dressed gentleman on his scooter stopped us. ‘‘What is the name of the police officer who talked at Hue Festival Centre last night?’’

I answered enthusiastically, ‘‘Her name is Cheri.’’ He took out a notebook and asked me to spell her name. It crossed my mind that he might be up to something negative, so I did not spell her last name. Once he got her name, he sped away. My sister told me, ‘‘He’s probably an undercover cop. He wants to find out whether she is truly a police officer in the United States.’’

Cheri Maples shared about ten minutes at the Hue Festival Centre, but in fact, she had written a six-page report to Thay recording all she had done for her police department, the prisons, and the young people’s court in Wisconsin and other states. At home and work, she applied Buddhist teachings and practices. With the experiences and insights gained from her own practice, she used her political influence to bring about positive, creative changes.

When I first met Cheri in Plum Village and again at a Wisconsin retreat she looked tough. In Vietnam she looked light and humble. Her gaze and her words reflected deep respect and love for Thay, as well as for Vietnam — her spiritual roots.

What Westerners Represent

The presence of Cheri Maples and of hundreds of Western lay and monastic practitioners of the Plum Village International Sangha spanned a bridge into the heart of Vietnamese people, transforming many long-term, ingrained perceptions. Perhaps to Vietnamese people, Westerners represent an invading force; they also represent a prosperous civilization. Perhaps Vietnamese people very much wish to participate in the globalization movement, but in the depth of their consciousness, they may still have hatred and suspicion towards Westerners. Looking at Western monks, nuns, and lay friends standing and touching the earth so solemnly during the many ceremonies, which went on from four to eight hours, many Vietnamese people were deeply moved.

One French sister was always present, even though she was over sixty. She shared, ‘‘I feel ashamed. My ancestors caused a lot of suffering to the land and the people of Vietnam. I want to kneel with my big sisters and brothers and apologize for my ancestors.’’

The Second Day

We enjoyed rain and drizzle the whole next day, the air cool and pleasant. This was the night of a ceremony to open the gates of hell to the souls of the dead, and to transmit the Three Refuges and Five Mindfulness Trainings. Sister Truc Nghiem wrote:

‘‘It was raining, but not heavily. It drizzled enough to soak the streets, people’s clothes and my own heart. The sky cried for Hue, for those still deep in poverty. Elderly mothers and grandmothers in their old stiff shirts, arms and legs dry and thin as sticks, curled up in front of the temple or trembled as they begged. I was still shaken by the images recounted by Sister Nhu Minh, of hundreds buried alive…then the bombing…then the floods.

“The Chanting Master of the ceremony, representing Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, recited mantras to open the gates of hell. He recited Plum Village’s version of The Heart of Perfect Understanding in Hue’s musical style, his voice sweet and sincere, a voice of empathy and a wish for all victims in the dark realms to take refuge in the Three Jewels, to come and listen to the Dharma and receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings. He dropped a big roll of white cloth, symbol of a bridge from hell to earth. The cloth began to unroll. No one said anything. Suddenly, the grandmothers, mothers, uncles, aunties, young and old, men and women, all rushed in to carry the cloth on their heads. Thousands of people lifted the cloth bridge. Those unable to hold the cloth reached to grasp the edges or even the shirt of someone holding the bridge. Head to head, shoulder to shoulder, it seemed everyone in the world of the living wanted to be part of the bridge for those in the world of the dead. The bridge had no boundaries, nor did the worlds of the living and the dead. Suddenly, I understood the meaning of ‘The memorial white cloth for Hue.’ Regardless of all losses and suffering endured by Hue people, there is always some harmony between life and death. I know it is love that opens the gate between these worlds. We bear the suffering together.”

Helping to Cross Over

The most important part of the Great Requiem Ceremony happened on the last night. Called the Chan Te ceremony, Helping to Cross Over, this ritual helps dead souls begin anew, to transform their past wrong actions and suffering, to aspire to complete liberation. The Chanting Master ascended the lion throne of Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, and the co-chanters sat on both sides before the lion throne, with monastics behind the co-chanters. Thousands of lay people situated themselves all around us. Those who were far away stood on chairs. The temple ground was packed.


In that huge and solemn atmosphere, I felt the coziness of a big family. One chant affected me deeply: “Not knowing that you have lost your own body.Your mind is unclear, confused, uncertain where it is going….’’ How many of us are living like sleep walkers? How many hungry ghosts wander through our civilized society?

The Chanting Master named the ten kinds of hungry ghosts. After each, the co-chanters recited mantras to untie their internal knots. They became hungry ghosts because they died in battles, or while running away from invaders, or while giving birth in which both mother and child lost their lives, or while serving as concubines and dancers in royal palaces, or while being sold for their bodies, or while taking their own lives in despair. Their suffering and injustices had continued to dwell in the deep consciousness of their loved ones and of the society.

A Stampede for Sacred Rice

The Chanting Master threw a handful of rice into the audience. People leaned forward to catch it. Everyone wanted to receive some of this rice empowered by the Three Jewels. They would save it and use it for treating ailments. The Chanting Master poured each fifty-kilogram sack of rice on a table, blessing it with mantras and mudras. Assisting monks scooped the rice into small bowls to distribute to the people. The more the rice was distributed, the more people crowded in to receive it. A few monastic sisters next to me had just left, so there was empty space around me. The lay people closed in right up to my neck, but because I sat solidly, they did not dare to pass me. Finally, I felt their energy becoming too strong, so I unfolded my legs and stood up. In a split second, everyone behind me poured forward. The people-waves were about to rush up and overturn everything. All the monastic brothers and sisters immediately stood up, stretched their arms, and held each other’s hands to create a wall of yellow sanghatis, surrounding and protecting the Chanting Master and the co-chanters.

Some monastics stood on the other side of the circle holding the ceremonial poles with one hand and holding onto to each other with the other hand. Strong human waves continued to push forward. Hundreds and thousands of hands were begging for rice. Many were raising up plastic bags or paper funnels, their eyes so sincere. There were also eyes filled with deep thirst and hunger — those who shoved everyone crudely and violently, including monastics. As they distributed rice, the monastics were stopping the human waves with their own bodies. As I gave out each handful of rice, I breathed in and placed my folded hand in that person’s palm; then I breathed out and released the rice. I could feel the thirst and hunger within them were instantly satisfied. Our moment of contact was sacred.

Clearing the Stream

Once again, the Sangha packed up to go to Da Nang, Nha Trang, before we went to Hanoi. During the time in Da Nang, I went to visit my birthplace Quang Ngai — after being away for thirty-three years. I had gone back to Vietnam three times before I ordained, but I never had the desire to return to Quang Ngai. This time, I came home, and I believe that the Great Requiem Ceremonies in the south and central Vietnam had cleared the ancestral stream in me.

I walked slowly on the road that led to my old elementary school. The bamboo bridge was gone, the land now flat above a sewage tunnel. I was born during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and just after my birth, my homeland was severely bombed. Houses were destroyed and my whole family had to run away when I was less than one week old. Two men carried my mother on a hammock; my auntie ran with me in her arms. My grandmother explained that they separated my mother and me so if a bomb hit, both of us would not die.

They carried us a long way, but no one in the next village wanted to house my mother and me. They believed that a recently birthing woman carried negative energy and bad luck to the host. In the end, a cousin of my mother took us in.

A Tearful Reunion

When that same uncle heard I had come back to visit, he rode his bicycle to see me. Now in his seventies, wearing a black hat and a black outfit, his features are handsome, elegant. I could not help staring at him as hot tears streamed down my face.

‘‘Lo and behold,” he said, “she looks just like that little girl Number Five!’’ meaning my mother, who was the fifth child in her family.

‘‘Why did you take us in, Uncle, when everyone was afraid of bad luck, of becoming poor for the rest of their lives?’’

‘‘I thought to myself, she is my niece. If I don’t help her, who will? After you came to stay with us, my wife was sick for many years, and it is true that we were always poor. But I never believed it was because of you and your mother. Being poor is a part of my destiny, that’s all. What is most important is that I offer love and kindness to others from the beginning to the end.’’

He continued, ‘‘I made a little bamboo hut for your mother and you behind my house. There was a bamboo grove in the garden, so I dug a deep hole in its shade, covering it with a log so your mother could relieve herself in private. I still remember the neighbor looking over from his house, shaking his head, as he said, ‘Young brother number six, you involve yourself in futile work!’ I just disregarded remarks like that.’’

My uncle is still living in that simple house with his wife. I asked permission to visit the back yard. My mother’s hut was now just a barren spot, but the bamboo grove had recently been cut; the bamboos were still lying on the ground!

Parting Gifts

Before I left, I ransacked my brown sack: Ensure [liquid nutrition] in a plastic bag, forty-some chewable Vitamin C tablets, half a bottle of green oil, and a stack of Band-aids. I asked my uncle to accept them for me.

I gave my auntie all the money I had, so that she could help him make a complete set of dentures.

‘‘When you eat, and you can chew vegetables easily, think of me,’’ I told him.

Festival of a Thousand Stars

After our return to Deer Park, Brother Phap Luu shared that one happiness for him is that in the morning when he wakes up, he can sit still; he does not have to take his alms bowl on the bus to go somewhere.

Sister Hanh Nghiem said, ‘‘Everyone thinks I am normal. I eat. I sleep. I use the bathroom. Everything looks normal, but there is something different inside. We experienced something very intense [in Vietnam]. How can you explain that to people?’’

I nodded my head. It has been almost two weeks since I returned to Deer Park. Still I continue to limit my contact with people. Even though I left Vietnam, my mind has not yet arrived completely in Deer Park. I am still in the process of digesting and absorbing the journey.

I have been taking a lot of time to write. I am grateful to the Buddha and to Thay for allowing me to be a monastic — to always have the opportunity to come back to what is happening in the depth of my consciousness.

Spanning a bridge from the cave of hell

All the way to heaven for a festival of a thousand stars.

mb46-Spanning3Sister Dang Nghiem, a nun residing at Deer Park Monastery, worked as a physician before embracing the monastic life. She translated many of Thay’s talks for the English-speaking monastics and lay friends during the Vietnam tour.

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Sowing Sangha Seeds

By Judith Toy


A Sangha Sprout

My husband Philip Toy and I first began inviting folks to sit with us in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in 1999, in a room in our cottage that could barely hold four cushions. Today, eight years later, our sangha’s twenty-by-thirty-foot Dharma hall has been finished for several years, Cloud Cottage Sangha has an e-mail list of 250 and an aspirant class of eight. We sponsor an annual mindfulness healing fair and we offer monthly days of mindfulness and retreats with visiting teachers.

Sister sanghas have sprouted: A Mountain Mindfulness Sangha in Asheville and Joyful Mountain Sangha in Waynesville. We attend each other’s Dharma events and support each other behind the scenes in many ways.

Ours is an active practice center. We meet four times a week: Tuesday and Thursday mornings for meditation and chanting with the monks and nuns of Plum Village on CD; Wednesday evenings for our regular wonderful sangha gathering; and Sunday mornings for a Zen service. From this solid base, we take our practice to a women’s prison and serve an Appalachian daycare center for the disadvantaged.

As we cultivate our sangha garden, we’ve discovered an amazing organic fertilizer that promotes growth like no other — a deep and abiding gratitude for the Buddha, for Thay’s teachings, for our friends and families and sisters and brothers in the Dharma, and for the diversity of blooms we enjoy.

The Cloud Cottage Council

Tea is part of our practice. On Sunday mornings, our service is followed by a mindful tea with treats, served at a large round table at one end of the Dharma hall. As more people joined our sangha, we started the Cloud Cottage council. The council meets annually and includes everybody. Interim decisions are made by a more casual council that gathers at the tea table on Sunday mornings. We decided to move the tea table downstairs and convert the unfinished downstairs to a tearoom and classroom. There, talented sangha members plan to teach courses to support the sangha and our engaged practices. To that end, we held a sangha work practice day, to silently climb ladders and insulate the big room. For the new bathroom, a sangha member has donated the toilet, sink, and some lighting fixtures.


A difficult aspect of sangha practice for me is changeability — the number of people who come and go. We keep a welcome book, now in several editions, and frankly, I can’t even remember the names and faces of most folks who come by, because there are so many.

More difficult for Philip and me has been dealing with our emotions when people who have been active with the sangha drift away. Sometimes I question myself. Did I do something to offend this person? Did I not give her my full presence? Philip says he practices with the people who are absent, and they manifest and remain in that way for him. In time, I, too, have learned to hold each person in my heart, to let them go and wish them well. I see how our sangha has been enriched by each presence in turn.

Sangha life is impermanent, a beautiful garden of animals, plants, and minerals who breathe and weave together. Coming and going, no coming, no going, we bloom where we are!

Raising Goodwill and Funds

Because the Dharma hall was unheated, we would sweat in summer and shiver in winter. With many healers in our midst, it seemed natural to raise funds for a heating system by sponsoring a mindfulness healing fair. However, we are Buddhists in the Bible belt. One night a bullet was shot through the window of the Black Mountain Wellness Center where Cloud Cottage met for over a year. So we felt that in addition to raising funds, this project would be a way to demystify our practice in the community-at-large. We would gather a group of healers to demonstrate alternative healing methods and introduce the healing aspects of mindfulness practice to children and adults.

Along came a veteran events planner looking for a way to serve the sangha. We rubbed our palms together and said, “Maggie, have a seat!” What a splendid job of organizing she did, pulling in talented healers and workers, tracking hundreds of details. Philip and I once owned a public relations firm, so we were called on for the simple art of writing press releases. Local news editors enthusiastically promoted our event. A member of our sangha who owns a marketing firm designed the fliers and posters. We paid for only one small display ad. Most of our promotion was free through the press.

Never before had we felt such closeness, not only to one another in the sangha, but to the wider community. Planning these events bonded and transformed us all. The night before the fair, twenty of us met and shared a meal to set up the rooms. We made the event free to the public, placing donation bowls around the rooms and encouraging folks to donate. Nothing was for sale.

Our first event was amazingly successful — drawing 400 people to an atmosphere of quiet music, flowers, hushed voices, healing and mindfulness — all during a snow and ice storm! We raised $1000 after expenses and spread much goodwill. The following year we doubled the size of the fair, with 600 attendees. We doubled our funds, too, sharing the proceeds with a local daycare center that serves needy families. And our new heat pump was installed in the fall of 2006!

A Dharma Comedy

Still, we needed to finish the tea room. Playwright and actor Barbara Bates Smith from Joyful Mountain Sangha volunteered to perform her one-woman play as a fundraiser. Confessions of a Deacon’s Wife is a funny and compelling original monologue in which Barbara questions her Episcopal priest, her husband, and her therapist, quoting Thich Nhat Hanh and Joseph Campbell. At the same time I happened to be working on writing a “Dharma comedy” that I called Mountain Karma. Barbara encouraged me to produce my piece along with hers.

Mountain Karma is a troublesome play to produce, since each character is portrayed by three people who move and speak simultaneously — speaking of “sangha body”! Our rehearsals were hilarious. Most of us are amateurs. Just then, along came another sangha member, a dancer and choreographer who ultimately, miraculously, pulled us all together.

One of the beauties of cultivating these events is that the right person arrives at just the right time to do whatever job is needed. Maggie came as fundraiser. Tebbe came as marketer. Barbara came as playwright. Lara came as director. Anna came to donate the rent for the venue. Our play was standing room only! We ran out of chairs.

New Blooms in Our Garden

Our schedule has blossomed like a June garden.

Our days of mindfulness, at first sporadic, are now precious and regular — including topics such as “Mindfulness in Motion,” with a five-mile hike to honor our Cherokee land ancestors; and “Flowing Into the New Year,” a day of mindfulness and yoga, as well as “Beginning Anew,” held New Year’s Day at a Trappist Monastery. We take turns leading, and have spread our days of mindfulness and weekend retreats into several new locations this year, including the homes of aspirants.

Even though we’re located in the deep South, Asheville is a cosmopolitan town, a Buddhist magnet, with twenty-four sanghas. Our parade-sized puppets created with children are used to celebrate our mahasangha event of Wesak each May, commemorating Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana. Founded fourteen years ago by Robert Wootten, in recent years Asheville’s Wesak event is another way we have found to bring our practice into the mainstream.

Last summer we found we had too few cushions. Those we did own — donated years ago by Rinzai Zen monk Genro Lee Milton, Sensei, to our original Old Path Sangha in Pennsylvania

— were faded and in need of new covers. We needed a cushion drive! All we had to do was ask — in our monthly e-newsletter, cloud water. Cushion money began trickling in. Carolina Morning Designs generously offered to donate one cushion for each one we purchased! Today, with gratitude, we’re expecting the arrival of ten new sets of square cushions, ten sets of round cushions, and seven pairs of cushion covers!

Some of us could live together, we thought. A few months ago, we put out a short message to our e-mail list: “Is anyone interested in starting a mindfulness cohousing community?” Word of mouth traveled fast, and we began a list. There are about twenty of us from various sanghas already on the list, and soon we will enjoy our fourth monthly meeting. As Thay has suggested, community is the paradigm for the new millennium. Our vision is a central Dharma hall and central dining room and kitchen, with a cluster of simple dwellings scattered about. We’re thinking green housing, renewable energy, organic gardens, service to the larger community, visiting monks and nuns. We can, and should, experiment with the joys and pitfalls of building sangha and even living together harmoniously.

A Sangha Harvest

A senior OI member recently told me she doesn’t call herself a mentor. Instead, she says she’s a gardener. I like that image. In Sangha building we till the soil, sow the seeds, water, and wait. We joyfully abide in one place. We learn patience. We weed out our own unskillful thoughts and actions. Fertilize with gratitude. Allow the garden to mature on its own — not always at the pace of our neighbor’s. Bask in the beauty of the flowers of dana — no distinction between giving and receiving. Make room for surprises — like volunteers!  Grow our own.

Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, is a writer and co-founder with her husband Philip Toy of Old Path Sangha in Pennsylvania, Fragrant Lotus Petal Sangha in Bucks County Prison in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is associate editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Taking Refuge

By Tony Lorenzen


I had been serving as the ministerial intern at a wealthy, suburban Unitarian Universalist Christian church near Boston for almost two years when I experienced the Outdoor Church, a ministry to homeless men and women in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My visit to the Outdoor Church happened shortly after I attended a precepts ceremony at my sangha, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Zen Community. At the precepts ceremony, I was drawn to the concept of taking refuge.


The three gems of Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha — the enlightened one, the teaching, and the community. When a Buddhist commits to the path, he or she vows to take refuge in these three gems.

I take refuge in Buddha.

I take refuge in Dharma.

I take refuge in Sangha.

Refuge is a fascinating word. A connotation that jumps to mind is refugee — someone fleeing something that is dangerous and seeking safety or sanctuary somewhere else. I have only been a member of one Buddhist sangha, but it truly does seem like a refuge, a sanctuary for members of the community. I have been a member of many Christian churches. Some were places of refuge and sanctuary for the community and some were not.

This past year I took my students in the “Coming of Age” class at the Unitarian Universalist church to attend the Outdoor Church. We trekked on a cold, windy, early spring Sunday from a Boston suburb to the Porter Square subway station. Above ground at the entrance to the T stop, we met Reverend Jean Chapman and the homeless men and women who make up the congregation for a simple communion service and coffee and donuts. We brought supplies for them: sandwiches, socks, and toiletries.

As is so often the case when attempting to serve others, I found that I was being ministered to as much as I was ministering.

I found myself at Porter Square in the midst of a place of deep refuge, of profound sanctuary. The Outdoor Church is a church not made by hands, not bound by walls. It is a church that truly is, and could only be seen as, the people of God because there is no building. Standing among the homeless of Cambridge and listening to them reflect on the morning’s Gospel reading and what it meant to their lives, I could hear in my heart:

I take refuge in Buddha.

I take refuge in Dharma.

I take refuge in Sangha.

What I saw as I saw this community gathered to speak its truth and share its story was the concept of the Buddhist three refuges in an outdoor Eucharist, a true celebration of thanksgiving.

I take refuge in Christ.

I take refuge in Gospel.

I take refuge in Church.

And they did. This church not made by hands; unbound by walls was their refuge, their safety. It was their sanctuary as much as any place with an altar and pews, foyer and front door. It was a community as deeply bonded as any that has a fellowship hall for their coffee hour.

And then the man came to me offering me “the gifts of God for the people of God.” I took communion from him, this bhikkhu, this monk from the street. His hands held a plate of communion hosts. My hands were a begging bowl. Who was fed and who was hungry? Who was feeding whom? Who was offering whom refuge? And from what?

I accepted the communion he offered and took refuge.

Tony Lorenzen lives in Leominster, Massachusetts and he is a member of  the Worcester Zen Community. He was ordained as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association in June, 2007.

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Transforming Suffering into Peace & Joy

By Sheila Canal


When Laurel and I realized we would need to leave Deer Park early and miss the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings recitation ceremony, our first reaction was disappointment. We had gotten to know one another over the course of the five-day Order of Interbeing Retreat [January 2007], and we promised each other we would do the recitation ceremony in the shuttle bus on the way to the airport.

The morning arrived and we left the sangha as they were prostrating — touching the earth. Our shuttle was waiting for us at the foot of the hill outside Clarity Village. We immediately noticed how quickly our driver spoke. He was helpful, though, and friendly and mentioned how cold it was and that climate change was even affecting San Diego. Communicating and mobilizing about catastrophic climate changes are of great concern to Laurel so there was immediate agreement and solidarity there.

Our driver asked about our teacher and noted how many people come to Deer Park when Thay is there. With that as a lead, Laurel explained we were members of a group of householders who took vows to follow the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and we were missing a ceremony by going to catch our planes. She expressed our desire to recite the ceremony. Our driver was quite willing, saying he felt the spiritual energy in the van already!

Thus we performed the Sanghakarman procedure; there was harmony in our community and our ceremony proceeded. As we left the potholes of the long dirt driveway and met the less bumpy asphalt, we bowed through the rest of the prostrations, sang the Heart of the Prajnaparamita and the Sutra Opening Verse. Then we took turns reading each of the fourteen trainings.

Usually I become ill when reading in a car. The essence of the practice, the familiarity of the words, being open and present after five wonderful days on retreat, and taking turns reading miraculously kept the usual nausea and dizziness away. We shared the merit at the stoplight before the airport, bowing to the San Diego harbor, its palm trees, cruise ships, blue water, and sky.

Questions came then from the driver. How long have you been involved? How long does it take to practice these?

Upon hearing the phrase “transforming suffering into peace and joy” our driver shared that his only child was diagnosed closely after birth with cerebral palsy, was hypotonic and quite disabled. As Laurel held my arm she shared that her only child too had been born with severe disabilities and that being a mother to her child is what brought her to our practice.

Laurel understood completely and perfectly the suffering of our driver and his wife and child. In true bodhisattva fashion, she embraced his experience and offered her friendship. Successfully raising her daughter to the age of nineteen took a lot of effort, advocacy, and faith, which Laurel was ready to share with these parents of a four-year-old.

As we parked at the airport, the gratitude was overflowing, ours to him for being open and in harmony with our ceremony and his for our sharing the practice and our understanding and compassion towards his suffering. We all appreciated the moment that brought us together.

We are hopeful that the phone numbers exchanged will lead to deep friendship and support and indeed help in the process of transforming suffering into peace and joy.

Sheila Canal, True Spiritual Understanding, lives in Ashland, Oregon where she has been a member of the Ashland Mindfulness Sangha since 1996.

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Ten Years of Sangha Life

By Joseph Emet

This year, the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in Montreal, Canada is celebrating its tenth anniversary. We have, of course, come a long way since the beginning. But when I think back, three Dharma conversations stand out in my mind.

The Lesson of the Barking Dog

The first of those started with Bob, who was new to the group, talking about his weekends: “I get so irritated. My next-door neighbour ties his dog outside and goes off. The dog barks all day long. Here I am, trying to relax and enjoy my backyard in the sun, and all I hear is that dog barking.” After some silence, Maria asked him: “What bothers you most, the dog or your irritation?”


That was a big moment for me; after seven years, I still remember it. I like to think that if we had been living in twelfth-century China, that exchange might have been immortalized in an anecdote! Its meaning was underscored for me a few weeks later. My partner used to own a health food store downtown. One night in the wee hours, the phone rang. I picked it up. It was the police asking for Suzanne. I woke her up, saying, “What have you been doing, the police want to talk to you!”

The store had been broken into, the plate glass in front had a hole in it, and the cash register was lying open on the floor. The police wanted her to come over right away. “I’ll be there in the morning,” said Suzanne. I was astonished: “Aren’t you going?” I asked her. “What more are they going to do, steal some muffins off the shelves? Let them go right ahead.” With that, she turned over, and was back in profound sleep in about a minute, while I lay awake mulling over the situation.

Real Refuge

The second was a sharing by Gail who has been with the group since the early years. She was talking about her son who had dropped out of college, and seemed to be squandering his life away. One night around 3:00 a.m., she was awakened by the sound effects of computer games once too many times. She bounded out of bed and was about to go give him a piece of her mind, when she remembered the practice. She sat down, got in touch with her breath, and calmed herself. She realized that talking to him right now when she was so angry would only make things worse, and she postponed “the talk” until the next day.

What makes me still remember this sharing after three years is what came after. She said, “I felt at that moment that I was taking refuge in the teachings and in the practice. This refuge was real, more real than taking refuge in a ceremony.” I can no longer think of taking refuge without thinking of her story.

Driving Practice

The third sharing happened just a few weeks ago when we were talking about driving. Sue (unrelated) shared her trick to avoid becoming impatient or angry with other drivers when they do things that get on her nerves: “I imagine that in each of those cars is sitting my daughter. I think Lauren is sitting in each of those cars, and when I do that the annoyance, impatience, and anger drop away. Sometimes when I see drivers driving too fast, cutting people off, I think my daughter is in a very big hurry, she is not being responsible — please keep her safe — and I send her a message to slow down.”

This is the real story of our ten years — ten years of smiles, friendships, and meaningful conversations.

Joseph Emet, Dwelling in Peaceful Concentration, is a Dharma Teacher living in Montreal, Canada. His latest CD, Clear Peaceful Moon (a collection of songs inspired by the poetry of Thich Nhat Hanh) has just been published by Parallax Press.

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On the Way Home (part 5)

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue


Life on the Farm in England

I grew up in a part of England near the West Coast that enjoyed the effects of the Gulf Stream. Although temperatures did fall below freezing sometimes and even snow fell, it was not cold like New England is. My mother gave birth to me in a house that had no electricity. The kitchen had a coal stove that mother tried to keep alight twenty-four hours a day. The living room had a log fire that in winter was lit in the late afternoon. No other room had heating, although the kitchen stove provided hot water for all our needs.

Conservation of heat was something we learned from an early age. As soon as outside temperatures began to fall in the late afternoon all doors and windows were closed. As soon as night fell all curtains were closed. Father was strict about this and supervised it. Even now he continues to be responsible for conserving heat in the small house where he lives with my mother. In this way the precious heat of the sunshine that has accumulated within the four walls of the house is not lost.

Our water came from a spring at least half a mile from the house. It was pumped by an engine driven by a windmill. From an early age we learned not to waste water.

My father had a small motorcar but we did not use it so much. Our house was on a hill above the sea. We walked to the village or took the ferry boat across the estuary to the nearest town. We produced very little refuse. There was the compost pile, an occasional bonfire, and for metal that the scrap iron man did not take, there was an old quarry. In all the Plum Village hamlets there is always to be found a brother or sister who gives much thoughtful and caring energy to the work of recycling.

When I was a child recycling was not a concept that occurred to my family because we had so little to throw away. When I lived in India the same was true. If somehow you came across a plastic bag you would use it until it was falling apart. All plastic and metal containers were reused. If you went to the market and the produce you bought had to be wrapped in paper it would be paper that had already been used.

Since I was born not long after the Second World War, my teachers and parents, as well as the parents of my school friends, were very strict about not wasting food. Children were not allowed to serve their own food. The appropriate amount was put on my plate by an adult or a senior school prefect. The more lenient among these elders would ask for my input about the quantity I received.

I could say small if I wanted a small helping. Whether I had had a say in what was on my plate or not, it all had to be eaten and I could not stand up and leave the table until my plate was empty.

Nearly all of what we ate was produced locally: either in our own garden or by local farmers. We had an apple orchard that had been planted by my great-grandfather. It had many rare and wonderful kinds of apples, varieties that it was never possible to buy. Every tree was a different variety. The earliest fruits ripened in July and the latest in October. Preserving summer fruits and vegetables for use in the winter was a common practice. Tangerines were a once-a-year treat at Christmas time.

The longevity and good health of my parents can be largely attributed to this simple way of life that involved spending a significant amount of time outdoors. My father was a farmer; my mother looked after the vegetable garden, the hens, and the orphaned lambs (sheep often die in childbirth), made butter, and worked in the fields at harvest or planting time.

Paper Napkins, Organic Food

When I was a child paper serviettes were a treat for birthday parties; otherwise cloth napkins were always used. When I first came to Plum Village we used paper napkins for tea meditation. In order to save forests we carefully cut each napkin into four parts and each person had a quarter of a napkin. Then we thought that even a quarter of a napkin was an unnecessary waste so we provided each person with a cloth napkin to bring to tea meditation, to launder and use while in Plum Village. Many people lost their napkins or forgot to bring them to the ceremony, so we changed to leaves. Those preparing the tea ceremony collect, wash, and dry the leaves carefully, and then place a biscuit upon each leaf.


The monastery cellarer does not provide paper napkins for everyone to take at meal times. When we are on tour with Thay, some brothers and sisters will take one paper napkin and divide it in four or use it successively for several days.

Eating organically is something that as a sangha we can do, but if we are to keep within our budget allowance it would mean a significant simplification of our present diet and the ability to eat a more limited variety of foodstuffs. We would need to make our own bread, tofu and soya milk from organic ingredients. It would mean accepting only one protein, one carbohydrate, and whatever other vegetables and fruits might be available at every meal.

My main reason for eating organically is not so much that I do not want to ingest inorganic food, as I want to support farmers who are doing their best to protect the planet. It would mean restricting ourselves in the main to foods that are in season, which is one thing in California, but another thing in New York.

Simple Living

In Plum Village we always dry our clothes on the line outside or in the laundry room inside. When we first came to Vermont we were visited by a delegation of anti-nuclear protesters from Texas. They told us that the nuclear waste from the nuclear-powered electricity stations in Vermont was buried in the Texan desert. They left behind a number of clothes pegs as a reminder to us that we should not use the clothes dryer, the largest consumer of electricity.

Simple living was the first way of life I learned. To me it is very natural. I realize that to many people, especially those who have spent a large part of their lives in the United States, simple living is not so natural. For every household to have electricity and running water seems reasonable for our time. Can we be very sparing in their use in order to reverse the trends that are destroying our environment?

In the Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone, the Buddha asks the monks: “How can we live without being carried away by the present moment?” The reply is deep. We are not carried away in the present moment when we are not caught in the idea that this body and consciousness are mine. We live in ignorance of the fact that we are interconnected with the future generations and with the other species of this planet and so unintentionally we destroy our environment. If we are not mindful when we turn on the light we may turn on a light that does not need to be turned on or fail to turn it off. The same is true of turning on the air-conditioning or the heating.

Once we are aware of the long-term effects of simple actions, such as turning on and off a switch, we are much more careful. Even if we only recite the gatha as we turn on the light it already brings enough awareness into the action to help us remember to turn it off later or just to turn on the number of lights that are needed.

mb46-OnTheWay3Thay’s personal life is an example of simple living. When I used to translate from Thay’s manuscripts, I noticed that Thay wrote in the margins. I learnt to do the same. I keep letters and other sheets of paper that have not been covered in writing for scrap. In the United States the amount of scrap paper I collect is enormous. Finally it takes up too much space and I have to put it into the recycling bin.

I do not regret technological advance when it reduces real suffering, but I regret an unnecessarily wasteful way of life. I ask myself why I cannot live as simply as I did fifty or more years ago, when I was quite happy and comfortable enough.

A Necessity for the Future

The fourfold sangha can help to lead the way in ecological living rather than being pulled along by the collective consciousness. We have the practices of mindful breathing, walking, and the little gathas that help us be aware of our everyday actions. We also have the wonderful teachings of the Vajracchedika Sutra that help us to look deeply into the fact that the human species is not separate from all other species whether we call them animate or inanimate.

Deer Park has a project to introduce solar energy that has begun to be realized. It was suggested by Thay many years ago. Already in Blue Cliff Monastery we have had the offer of an environmental architect to give us his services to make it possible to use alternative energy sources in the future. Brother Patience with great patience every day takes care of the trash that can be recycled. One of the sisters is planning the area for drying clothes.

It is wonderful to know that simple living is not a thing of the past but a necessity for the future. In the past, as now in many parts of the world, we lived simply because the material resources were not available for us to live any differently. Now we have the material resources and it is our conscious choice to use them wisely. We do not have to turn the electricity off one day a week but we can make the conscious choice to do so for the sake of our environment now and for the generations that are to come. From being Homo Sapiens (the clever human) we become Homo Conscius (the aware human).

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is abbess of Blue Cliff Monastery in New York State. Sister Annabel was one of Thay’s first students in the West; the Mindfulness Bell is serializing her story.

Smb46-OnTheWay4uggestions for Ecological Living

  1. Global warming is a fact that makes us feel very sad but we do not fall into despair because we know that there is something we can do as a sangha or an individual to reduce it. Examples include a no-electricity day, a no-car day, and a no-water-from-the-faucet day once a week. When we practice in this way, not only can we reduce global warming, but we also feel closer to those who live in underdeveloped and developing countries. Until I find the skillful means to encourage the sangha to which I belong to live in a more environmentally friendly way, I have to practice a mind of non-blaming, non-condemning, and non-criticizing. I have to be aware of these mental formations as and when they arise and embrace them so that I do not suffer and make others suffer.
  2. It is not safe to protect the material environment without protecting the spiritual environment. Environmentalists are in real danger of falling into this trap.
  3. I can look deeply to see the individual and collective karma that have put me into an environment that is not protecting the planet to the degree that I should wish.
  4. I can be satisfied with being an example of ecological living, using the occasions I can to help others protect the environment more.
  5. I do not allow myself to be a victim. This means I do not passively accept what is happening, saying ‘so much the worse for all of us’ and waiting for someone else to come along and rescue me. Instead I am always ready to contribute my understanding.
  6. Sangha harmony, brotherhood, and sisterhood are essential for the future of our planet. It is not true that protection of the material environment comes first and brotherhood second. The two should go along together, hand in hand. To halt the environmental destruction we need a collective awareness that is only possible because of brotherhood. I continue to take refuge in the sangha, being an element that can hold the environmental awareness along with others, although it may only be a minority. Once I cease to take refuge in the sangha there is almost nothing I can do to save the environment, be it material or spiritual.
  7. I am aware that there are wasteful ways of living that do not look wasteful on the surface. For example, even though I eat every grain of rice on my plate I eat unmindfully without nourishing the spiritual dimension of my life. In this way I waste the food because it does not contribute anything to my spiritual path. I must always be humble about my own shortcomings.
  8. The practices of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha are essential for diminishing the destruction of the environment. It is only by being aware of my daily actions and habit energies that I can truly protect my environment. Once I go on automatic pilot1 I am a victim of the collective consciousness and its ignorance.—Sister Annabel, True Virtue

1 This word is used by Thay to say that we use the habit energies stored in the store consciousness to perform repetitive daily actions such as driving, brushing our teeth, turning on the tap, walking, etc.; we are not aware with the mind consciousness of what we are doing.

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Wishing You a Peaceful Heart

An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan

By Beth Howard


Yesterday [May 29, 2007], I read in your online diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”

Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.

I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.

My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb.

Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.

This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.

When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family, and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial

plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year to year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.

Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slide show of pictures from Iraq on his laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.

Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”

We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.

So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eightyear-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.

Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell (Winter 2005-2006.) I wrote an article titled “Peace is Every Step” on the L.A. Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was “I Have Arrived, I am Home” on walking with Thay in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.

In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.

Beth Howard, Peaceful Source of the Heart, practices with the Bird & Bell Meditation Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne and with the Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is a writer, yoga teacher, weaver and singer, living with her husband of thirty years, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Poem: Rising Steam

mb46-Rising1Steam rises from the water
On a cold winter day.
The past is past,
But always in the present.
This moment contains:
My grandfather mining for coal,
My father in the War,
My son’s life,
My son’s death,
The birth of Jesus.
And yet I am just breathing
And sitting here.
This moment contains the future
From now on
Determining its way.
And yet I am just breathing
And walking here.
As I breathe
The steam,
Once the snow,
Once the ocean,
Rises, now on its way
On a cold winter day.

—Stan Voreyer

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Shoes in the Dharma Hall

By Carolyn White

Before I was a year old, I contracted polio. Now I am fifty-nine and wear two different-sized shoes, which are clunky, lace up, and have small heels. These shoes are my Dharma sisters. Without them I cannot walk.

Entering a Dharma hall requires skill. Amid the shoes left outside, I clear a space to balance while I change into indoor shoes, which are also clunky and must be laced up. Then I bow to the Buddha and, walking mindfully so as not to clomp on the wooden floor, I find a cushion. I slip my shoes into a Kuan Yin bag and I meditate.

The Practice of Receiving

Last summer I went to Plum Village for the Breath of the Buddha retreat. I let the monastics know of my need to wear shoes in the Dharma hall so no one would be offended. And I brought hiking poles because the slow pace of outdoor walking meditation can be tricky. I was very happy.

I’m not sure what my fellow retreatants saw, but bodhicitta was aroused in many. People offered me rides to the Dharma hall. Others wanted to help me walk. Baffled, I called my husband in the States: what do you do when people offer you too much help? He said: sometimes you have to be generous and accept it.

So I did. I put the poles away and let myself be helped. As frail older women and handsome young men took my arm, I watched my protesting: I’m perfectly fit, I’m a hiker, I know how to take care of myself; besides I am the one who helps, the one who cares for others. Unable to say what was too much or too little help, I kept silent and accepted what was given.

A young bodhisattva magically appeared at rough spots in the path, took my hand, and kept me stable. One day he walked me to the Dharma hall and seeing my shoelace untied, he kneeled.

No, stop! I wanted to protest, I can tie my own shoes! But I let him. Like Christ washing the feet of the leper, he tied my shoe. Never have I experienced such reverence. To be cared for by others — to yield to kindness — is not easy. But I am learning. I would like to thank my shoe-tying bodhisattva and all the other dear retreatants for three weeks of perfect care.

The Front of the Dharma Bus

Earlier this year I went to Deer Park for the end of the winter retreat. As usual, I told the monastics of my need to wear shoes in the Dharma hall. Because it was difficult to carry the indoor shoes upand downhill (and sometimes I forget), I left them in my Kuan Yin bag at the Dharma hall entry.

On my third day a sweet Vietnamese nun pointed at my shoes and asked me to sit in the back of the Dharma hall. She smiled and explained: This is our culture.

Not until I was sitting at a happiness meeting did her words sink in. I started to cry and left the Dharma hall.

I sat outside on a bench. This is my culture, too, I protested, thinking of Rosa Parks. I wanted to tell a monastic my suffering or to clomp loudly in the Dharma hall and sit in the front row.


Instead I watched my mind. I watched it clamor, wanting to right injustice. I watched it a long time, until my heart cracked open for African-Americans and Native Americans and my own Jewish ancestors who were denied full access to our beautiful world.

For days I said nothing to others but made up walking gathas:

May all living beings walk freely on the earth.
May all walk gracefully.
May all practitioners —
frail or strong, tall or short, big or small —
sit in the front of the Dharma bus.

Deer Park is my home, as is Plum Village. They are where I belong — in a fourfold community of practitioners who are always learning, growing, and changing. I have not yet thanked the sister for helping me explore inclusiveness. Someday I will.

Carolyn White, Wise Speech of the Heart, practices in Michigan with the Lansing Area Mindfulness Community. She wrote this essay at the suggestion of some sisters at Deer Park in the hope that it will stimulate discussion on inclusiveness.

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Poem: God of the Silences



As the young vine, after the frost
Reaches up its whitened arms to the sun
So my soul reaches out to you
God of the silences

As the frozen ground
Stretches itself out for the sun’s warmth
So my soul offers itself to you
God of the silences

As the small bird flies with delight
From thawing branch to thawing branch
So my soul sings at your approach
God of the silences

As the trees raise their branches to the bluing sky
In adoration of the returning sun
So my soul rises singing from my fragile body
To you God of the silences

Out of the frozen winter of unknowing
Into the paths of fellowship I go
Thanks be to you
God of the great and small silences

See the little flowers, the little yellow and white flowers
That have come out after the frost
See the little birds
That fly for joy in the air

As life begins again
After the frozen embrace of midwinter
My soul laughs and sings in your warmth
God of the silences

—Kate Evans York, United Kingdom

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The Hare in the Moon

A Traditional Buddhist Tale

Retold by Teri West


Once, in a far-away land, in a time long ago, in a deep forest, lived four friends. They were a jackal — which is a kind of wild dog — an otter, a monkey, and a hare.

The four friends lived very happily together, and what they liked to do best of all was to visit a wise old man who lived in the forest. He spent most of his time sitting peacefully under a tree. He was their friend and teacher, and told them wonderful stories.

One evening, when the moon was full, and the four friends were sitting peacefully under his tree with their friend the wise man, he told them that he had an important lesson for them. He told them that, whenever the moon was full, the friends were to be sure to find someone to help; someone for whom they might do a favour, or perform some service.

The four friends were very excited by this, and for the next few weeks, until the moon was to grow full again, they were each hoping that they would, as their teacher had told them, find someone in need of their help.

The time of the full moon soon came around again. It was a still evening, and the moon began to rise above the tops of the trees, as round as a penny, and silver bright, when into the forest came an old, old woman. She was poorly dressed, and walked slowly. She was thin, and looked as if she had not eaten for a while, and finding a tree to lean against, she sat down to rest.

Soon, the jackal came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Jackal, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The jackal was pleased; here was someone who needed help, and he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The jackal ran off to a place in the forest where he knew that a lion had killed a deer and left some of the meat hidden for when he might be hungry again. The jackal tore off a piece of tender deer meat, ran back to the old woman, and dropped it at her feet.

“Dear Brother Jackal,” she said, “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the meat of the deer.”

The jackal was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a piece of tender deer meat to take back to his children, and so off he went.


As the moon rose higher in the sky, the otter came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who surely looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Otter, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day— do you think you could find me something to eat?” The otter was pleased; he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The otter ran to the river, and soon caught a beautiful rainbowcoloured salmon fish, which he carried back to the old woman in his jaws, and dropped it at her feet. “Dear Brother Otter,” she said “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the flesh of fish.”

The otter was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a fine salmon fish to take back to his children, and so off he went.


As the moon rose higher and higher in the black night, and the stars began to twinkle merrily, along came the monkey. When the monkey saw the old woman, he thought this was indeed someone who needed his help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Monkey, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The monkey was pleased; he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The monkey scampered away to a mango tree, where he knew the mangos would be perfectly ripe, and climbing right to the top, he picked the largest, juiciest mango, and carrying it carefully back to where the old woman was sitting, he dropped it at her feet. “Dear Brother Monkey,” she said, “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the fruit of the mango tree.”

The monkey was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a fine mango to take back to his children, and so off he went.

The moon had climbed right to the very top of the sky, when the hare came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Hare, I am tired, and hungry, I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The hare thought and thought, but hares eat leaves, and grasses, and spring flowers, and he knew that human people did not eat such things. Then he thought some more, and said to the old woman, “Grandmother, if you will build a fire, I can give you something to eat!”

So, between them, the old woman and the hare gathered sticks and lit a fire. When the fire was burning brightly, the hare jumped — right into heart of the flames! He was offering himself as a meal for the poor, hungry old woman.

But instead of burning the hare, the flames were cool, and they lifted him up gently and laid him on the grass beside the fire.

When the hare looked back to where the old woman had been, she was not there anymore. In her place was a great being, with shining light all around him, and dressed in glowing saffroncoloured robes. Looking down kindly upon the astonished hare, he said, “For your compassion, and your bravery, in offering yourself as a meal to one who was in need, dear hare, you shall be remembered forever!”

Then, the great being reached out, broke off the tip of a mountain, and on the face of the full moon he drew a picture of a hare.

So, next time you see the moon full and round as a penny and silver-bright, look carefully, and perhaps you will see the hare drawn there with the tip of a mountain, by a great being, long, long ago.

Teri West, True Door of Virtue, is a professional storyteller, singer, musician, and clown who lives on a cliff-top in North Devon, England. She practices with the Westcountry Sangha.

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Touching the Earth for Young People

By Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem


Touching the earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hanh to help us connect with the many different aspects of who we are: our blood and spiritual families; the country we live in; and all beings — animals, plants, and minerals. This is a version for young people. For the original text see Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh.

At the sound of the bell, we breathe in and joining our palms, touch them to our forehead and then our heart. This is to unify our mind and body. Breathing out, we open our palms and bend down, either kneeling and touching our forehead to the floor (the child’s pose in yoga), or laying our whole body flat on our belly. We turn our palms upward, in a gesture of openness, receptiveness, and surrender. We relax completely and allow the text to enter deeply our body and mind while lying on the ground.

Touching the Earth I See That I Am a Child of the Earth

(bell, children touch the earth)

The earth is like my mom and dad. From the earth I receive delicious foods to eat — like wheat to make bread, rice, apples, and carrots, and even chocolate from cocoa beans. The earth gives us material to make our clothes, like cotton and wool from the sheep, and wood and stone to make our homes. The earth takes such good care of me. I feel happy to live on the earth.

I feel my body lying on the earth. I feel my arms and my legs and my face touching the ground. I feel that the earth is solid and can support me. I see the earth covered with many plants and trees and beautiful flowers, making the air clean and pure. As I breathe in I can feel the fresh, cool air fill my body. I feel calm and relaxed.

I feel happy and safe on the earth.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the Earth I Feel Connected to My Mom and Dad

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am the child of my mom and dad — even though I may not live with both my mom and dad now. I see my mom and I smile to her. I see my dad and I smile to him. I want my mom and dad to be happy. I want them to be safe and free from all worries.

Sometimes, mom or dad gets angry at me, and I feel hurt. Sometimes mom or dad is so busy she or he does not seem to have time for me, and I feel sad. But other times mom and dad take care of me and we can laugh and play together, and we have fun. Mom and dad have taught me so many things, like how to read, or sing, or do math, or make cookies. I feel thankful to them. I know that my mom and dad were children too, a long time ago, and they felt sad and hurt sometimes, just like me. I know they have had many difficulties in their lives, and I don’t feel mad at them.

I think of my mom and my dad, and I feel their love and support, and I feel happy. I know my mom and dad need my freshness and my smiles to make them happy too.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the Earth, I Am Happy to Be Me

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am a young girl or boy living on the planet Earth. Sometimes I feel small like a tiny bug or a spider happily crawling in the grass. Sometimes I feel big, like a huge, old tree. My branches reach up to touch the clouds, and my roots go way down deep in the earth drinking from the water under the ground.

Sometimes I am happy like the sunshine, and I make everyone smile. Sometimes I am sad and lonely like a gray cloudy day, and I just want to hide in a tree and cry. But when I cry my tears are like cool rain on a hot afternoon, and afterwards I feel fresh and new. I know whenever I feel sad, or scared, or mad I can go to the earth and she will always be there for me. The rocks and creatures, the plant and flowers, the sun and the dark starry sky are all there for me. I breathe in the cool, fresh earth. I breathe out all my fears, my sadness, my anger. I accept myself. I accept myself when I am happy and joyful, and I also accept myself when I have difficulties, when I am angry or sad. I smile to myself, and I see that I am a wonderful flower living on the earth. I am a part of the earth, and the earth is a part of me.

(bell, stand up)

Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem, received the Lamp Transmission to become a Dharma teacher from Thay in Vietnam this spring. She lives at Deer Park Monastery.

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Heart to Heart

In this section we invite you to share your story on a given topic. This issue features the Third Mindfulness Training (of the Five). For the Spring/Winter 2008 issue please send us your writings on the Fourth; keep it concrete and personal — under 500 words. Send your submissions to editor@mindfulnessbell.org by October 15, 2007 (or so). The next topic, due February 15, 2008, will be the Fifth Mindfulness Training.


The Third Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.


Seeds of Transformation

In this training, we are asked to take care of our sexual energy for the benefit of ourselves and others. We are asked to resist the river of consumption in our society that promotes the misuse of sexual energy and power through pornography, advertisements, and the media.

So many of us are living with the legacy of abuse — shame, self-hatred, isolation, and addictions — because in our family sexual energies were misused. When I look deeply, I can see that in Western society we are trained in our families and by society to connect with people by viewing ourselves and others as objects. We are groomed to attract and “possess” others by altering our bodies.

In my practice, with the support of my spiritual ancestors, Buddha and Jesus, the support of the Dharma and our Sangha, I have been slowly removing the layers of masks that I wore to protect myself from further victimization. I am learning to come home to my true nature on a daily basis. I am learning to understand and love myself. The practices of stopping, calming my body, and resting are helping me to heal chronic physical and emotional unease. Recently I had a spiritual experience of “telescoping” in to the baby Buddha residing in me as a child, and then as I telescoped back out, I was able to see the layers of conditioning that had contributed to who I am now. This experience helped me to know, on a cellular level, that my legacy is not my true nature.

In our society, we have very little training to prepare for long-term commitments — to know deeply that we are much more than our bodies. The Third Mindfulness Training contains the teaching on our interbeing nature — that my well-being assures your well-being. If I take the time to protect my sexual energies, and to understand and love myself, I will be more able to understand, protect, and love you. It asks us to be aware that loving partnerships need the support of the community, and that committed relationships are building blocks for healthy community. If I look deeply, I see that all relationships can water seeds of sexual energy— including relationships between friends, co-workers, and even between parents and children. For me, to support others in their relationships means that I try not to take sides and that I try to look and listen deeply when a friend is complaining about her partner, or a priest is accused of being a predator. I understand that when heat arises, my deep looking and listening can help a lot to cool the flames in myself and others, so that I may know more clearly what to do, and what not to do.

At one time, I used to feel shy to read this Training aloud, perhaps because of my background. Now, having practiced for several years with the Mindfulness Trainings, I can see how they are all interconnected, and how much each one contains the seeds of transformation, health, and freedom for ourselves and society. May we grow stronger in our practice of the Mindfulness Trainings so that we, and our communities, may experience these fruits.

Meryl Bovard
True Heavenly Peace
Larchmont, New York, USA


Does It Make Me Happy?

Young people these days are saturated with sex. From perfume ads to TV shows, the idea of sex as happiness is always there. Going into university I believed that it was the most important thing in life and unconsciously I believed that it was happiness.

A member of the Toronto Sangha shared a story that he had heard in Plum Village that I found helped me a lot: There is a beautiful ripe apple. We all want it but can’t quite seem to find it. We have an idea of what it looks like so we draw a picture of it, cut it out, and eat it. It tastes very bad. It causes us to suffer, but we keep doing it. We draw it a bit differently each time, and each time it tastes just as bad as it did before. The apple is a symbol of the true happiness that can be experienced in the present moment.

Many males in my generation find it perfectly normal to view pornography. It is so easily accessible. I know many males who approach sex as a sport and spend so much of their energy thinking about it. They are not happy. Sex is my paper apple and pornography is a photocopy of that apple.

I remember being confused as to why Thay didn’t write a book about sex. I thought, “It’s so big and confusing. What is healthy? Is it good, is it bad? What should I do, what shouldn’t I do?” I wanted a big book that would give me all the answers, but all I could find was the Third Mindfulness Training and a section of the questions and answers in The Path of Emancipation. Then suddenly it hit me. I wanted Thay to write a big book about sex because I thought sex was the key to happiness, that we were all just doing it wrong and we needed someone to tell us how to do it correctly so that it would make us happy. Then I realized that Thay answered all of my questions in the Third Mindfulness Training.

At first I interpreted this training as saying, “Sex is bad! I am a terrible person if I enjoy it.” Then I began to realize that it simply says to be mindful of how you are spending your sexual energy and what your motivations are. I asked myself: “Do I think this is happiness?” “If I do, does it make me happy?” Eventually I discovered my answer was yes to the first and no to the second.

As I practice more and have more contact with the Third Mindfulness Training, my understanding becomes greater and I learn ways to channel my sexual energy into things that do make me happy. It doesn’t always work, and there are many times when I am still caught by the paper apple, but I always have to remind myself that that’s okay. The self-loathing and guilt I would feel when it didn’t work was not productive and only prevented me from practicing. I know that the more time I spend in the present moment, the easier it is for me to recognize what is real happiness and what is only an idea.

I now understand that sex can be enjoyable like eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich is enjoyable, but it is not the most important thing in life and it is not happiness.

Adam More
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Sangha News

Blue Cliff Monastery: The First Steps

Our new monastery does have cliffs in the mountains nearby but they are not blue, they are white. We like to practice sitting meditation there as we watch the sun rise or set. These mountains are very old, the oldest in the U.S. They are covered in dwarf trees so that being on the mountain is like being in a natural bonsai park.


When we first arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery, which is a former hotel, on April 30, 2007, a strong gust of wind blew down the hotel sign. Some people said that they saw a rainbow cloud. At that time Thay was in Vietnam and said that Blue Cliff Monastery will be a warm and welcoming place.


After we arrived it took us a month to clean up enough to be able to offer an open house for our neighbours and members of local sanghas nearby. The next day we celebrated the Buddha’s birthday and 80 people bathed the baby Buddha. Our non-Buddhist neighbours also bathed the Buddha with great respect.


At the end of June we offered a retreat for OI members. There were eighty-five participants. Some of them said that it was the best retreat they had ever attended. When people were asked what aspect they enjoyed the most, some said that it was the mindful working. Every day we had forty-five minutes to work together in the kitchen or in the garden. It was a time when we felt together as a four-fold sangha.

The family retreat that followed was less well attended. However the children and teens outnumbered the adults by almost two to one, which was auspicious for the future. The teen program was particularly successful; they took charge of all pot washing and cleaning up after meals. At first the monks and nuns said that they wanted to divide the teens into three teams: one for each meal. However the teens wanted to help each other and have everyone work together at every meal. The result was that the teens were able to live as a family and support new teenagers as they arrived.


We are lucky to have the full support of our Town Manager (mayor). This has been a great help to us in our seeking permission to build a new meditation hall and a hut for Thay. Many local people say that they like the change of a hotel into a monastery. They feel that it supports their spiritual path, even though they belong to the Jewish or Christian tradition. They are happy that we are planting more trees to add to the large ancient pines that are like Dharma protectors for the monastery. They are happy to see the outdoor swimming pool area become a vegetable garden and the indoor pool area become a dining room.

Themb46-SanghaNews5 brothers and sisters of Blue Cliff are grateful to our sisters and brothers who have come to Blue Cliff from Plum Village since we arrived here to lend support. We are also grateful to brothers and sisters from Deer Park who came to help us for the two initial weeks here and the move. We are grateful to all our friends who have made financial contributions, material offerings, lent a helping hand, or responded to our wish list. Please know that we still need financial support to pay back loans, cover mortgage payments, build, and renovate.

We are now preparing for the arrival of Thay and the Plum Village delegation in August.

When we return after Thay’s tour there will be a retreat in Blue Cliff with Thay, October 12-16. After that it will be almost time to begin the winter retreat. We hope very much to see you, dear reader, this winter, whether it is with your family during the holiday retreat (December 2mb46-SanghaNews67-30, 2007) or for a longer stay during the winter retreat from mid-November until mid-February. The winter retreat of three months is the one extended period that monks and nuns spend together in the monastery to deepen their practice and studies. We wish that our lay friends can support us at that time and also join us for as long a time as possible in order to deepen their own practice. Thay gives teachings on a defined topic throughout the three months and these teachings are received two or three times a week by Internet.

Our friends who live nearby are welcome to join us for Days of Mindfulness 9:30 to 4:30 every Thursday and Sunday, for Thanksgiving (November 22, 2007), Christmas Eve (December 24, 2007), and New Year’s Eve (December 31, 2007).

Blue Cliff Monasterry
3 Hotel Road
Pine Bush NY 12566
(845)  733-5653/4959
fax: (845) 733-4300

— Sister Annabel, True Virtue


Thay  to  Speak  at  UCLA  Conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: Cultivating Well-Being in the Present Moment

Thich Nhat Hanh will be the keynote speaker at this conference co-sponsored by The Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Insight LA, and the University of California Los Angeles. The conference, which will be held October 5-7, 2007, is designed for psychotherapists and other health care professionals, researchers, educators, and others interested in the behavioral sciences who are seeking to be more effective in their personal and professional lives.

According to the organizers, “One important new wave of psychotherapeutic practice is nourished by wisdom from the great philosophical traditions of the East, building upon and extending the clinical experience of previous eras—psychoanalytic, cognitive/behavioral, and humanistic/existential psychology…. A key element in this new frame of reference is mindfulness, the practice of being fully present within moment-to-moment experience with acceptance. Mindfulness enhances awareness of the sensory, somatic, intuitive, and emotional elements of experience in the present moment, thus enriching psychotherapy for both therapist and patient. For the therapist, cultivation of mindfulness facilitates the free-flow of clinical creativity and engages the wisdom of the heart. It fosters the ability to listen deeply with ‘beginner’s mind’ which enables the clinician to relate to clinical models in a new way. In turn, the client’s experience of mindfulness within the therapeutic encounter opens up the possibility of moving beyond the limiting frame of self and other.”

Other presenters include Tara Brach, Ph.D., Trudy Goodman, Ed.M., Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., Harriet Kimble Wrye, Ph.D., Sara Lazar, Ph.D., and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. For information go to uclaextension.edu/mindfulness or call (310) 825-9971 or (818) 784-7006.


Join the Car-Free Day Movement

In October 2006, during a speech to UNESCO, Thich Nhat Hanh called for a global no-car day. The proposal was taken up immediately by all the monasteries. Now, a team of dedicated volunteers is working to spread the word through the Car Free Days campaign.

Deer Park Monastery announces that there is a new website: www.carfreedays.org. It describes ways to reduce personal carbon emissions and lower the impact on global warming. Users will f ind “fun, healthy activities that can bring more joy to your life while helping the planet.”

Organizers have declared September 22 to be “World Car Free Day” and have been soliciting pledges on the website. People are encouraged to promise to try four or more car free days per month or as often as they can. “For every mile you don’t drive, you save one pound of greenhouse gas from entering our atmosphere,” they say.

To help spread the word, a number of posters are available to be downloaded from the website. Willing artists are needed to design additional posters as well as t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, screen-savers, and so. In addition, to help promote the Car Free Days to a wider audience, volunteers are needed to translate the website and posters into as many languages as possible. To help with any of these projects, contact: deerparkmonastery@ gmail.com.

Bloggers are invited to contribute to the Car Free Days community by posting ideas, experiences, questions, and solutions on the blog: www.carfreedays.org/community.php

“We won’t solve this problem unless each person contributes,” says the Car Free Day team. “Please join us by doing your part to reduce global warming. The entire planet and future generations are counting on you.” You can start by visiting: www.carfreedays.org.




Building Community Through Art

Earlier this year artist Brett Cook developed the epic “Building Community, Making History” collaborative art project that resulted in a series of portraits, two of which are on display in the “Portraiture Now: Framing Memory” exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum/National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through January 6, 2008.


Brett Cook, a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh’s, worked with students and staff of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, leading them through a number of contemplative, educational, and creative practices. Seven workshops emphasizing portraiture allowed participants to explore their role in making history and resulted in the creation of four collaborative art works. The workshop exercises modeled the action of building community.

“By creating spaces for participants to express their individual selves in an inclusive and peaceful way,” says Cook, “there is the creation of a loving community that highlights the individual’s role in our collective history.” For slide shows, video clips, and student reflections, visit www.brett-cook.com.

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Book Reviews

mb46-BookReviews1For a Future to Be Possible
Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2007
Softcover, 148 Pages

Reviewed by Hope Lindsay

All Buddhists express the precepts in some form. They are the core of our beliefs. In the tradition of our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, the precepts for lay practice are the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the focus of this new edition of For a Future to Be Possible. Almost analagous to commandments of many faiths, here the precepts are infused with compassion and loving kindness for all beings — people, animals, plants, and minerals. Each training begins with the introit, “Aware of the suffering caused by….” Each is followed by an all-encompassing phrase exhorting us not to kill, steal, lie, use intoxicants or sexual energy in an exploitive way.

We help others on this path, also. These five trainings are the very center of interrelatedness. Thus they’re indispensable if our troubled planet is to continue.

In her introduction, Joan Halifax asks, “What must be done to retrieve our natural virtue?” I think we all long for a state of natural goodness, the lack of which is at the root of so much fundamentalist turmoil today. When I balked at going to Sunday School a beloved aunt told me that religion is necessary for people to become moral and honest. What else would make human beings behave? We had to have the fear of God instilled in us, or else. But the gentle practice of mindfulness brings its own reward — happiness.

If, as Thay asks, we “live in a way that protects us and those around us,” what he calls the fruit of our own observation will inspire us to choose the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a way of life. Thay also writes that we will be able to express our generosity when we are assured by the trainings that we can “help people feel safe” — ourselves and others — “less afraid of life, people, and death.” The trainings give us the gift of non-fear. They are not presented as The Truth. Instead they are a joyful gateway to the Dharma.

Caitriona Reed writes in a sidebar, “There is a wonderful aspect to the mindfulness trainings: they are impossible to keep. We express our willingness to begin again time after time.” Sister Chan Khong also reminds us that we cannot attain the sun, we can only go toward the light. We are not asked to be obsessive, rather to know that practicing the trainings becomes habit, replacing less healthy habit energy. One of the primary purposes for meeting in sangha is to reinforce and support each other in this aspiration.

Jack Kornfield’s afterword lists exercises we can use to begin or renew the practices. Until we reach enlightenment, we mortals are, by nature, forgetful. We need reminders to be mindful! I must confess the trainings opened the door to Thay’s tradition for me. in the original 1993 edition of For a Future to be Possible, there were commentaries by several authors that helped me understand Buddhism without dogma or doctrine. This edition is trimmed, almost like a missal — to carry with us everywhere. In gratitude to Thay for giving this gift once again, I feel like I am traveling with an old friend.

mb46-BookReviews2Sweet Zen
Dharma Talks from Cheri Huber

Edited by Sara Jenkins
Present Perfect Books, 2000
Softcover, 200 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Smiling, I stood in Borders Bookstore perusing the long row of Thay’s offerings on the book shelf. Then a book of Dharma talks edited by Sara Jenkins caught my eye. As I skimmed the one-to-two-page Dharma talks offered by Cheri Huber, I asked myself whether I need another book on the practice of mindfulness. And I heard a resounding “Yes!”

The talks in Sweet Zen were presented as answers to her students’ questions by Dharma teacher Cheri Huber, who practices in the Soto Zen tradition in a monastery in Northern California. Sara Jenkins and Cheri Huber met at a month-long retreat in the mid-1980’s. There, Huber gave Jenkins, an editor by trade, the transcripts of all her Dharma talks, instructing her to “do whatever you want with these.” The result is five books of talks lovingly crafted by Jenkins. Sweet Zen is the fifth of these books.

One of Huber’s great contributions has been helping her students see how conditioned mind gets in the way of our happiness, freedom, and joy. On “saying no to suffering,” Huber says, “If we watch closely, we see that suffering begins when we leave this moment and allow our minds to project into the past or the future. We can watch ourselves start the slide into suffering as we begin to imagine dire happenings and sink into doubt and fear and hopelessness. Then we can bring ourselves back and just say no. Each time we are tricked again by egocentricity, we can see the result is suffering.

“In the refusal to indulge in what leads to suffering, there is nothing hard or harsh. On the contrary, it is the kindest, most compassionate approach to life.”

Each chapter can be read as an inspirational daily meditation or as a brief reading to be shared in sitting groups during deep listening sessions. These stories have relevance to new practitioners and to those, like me, who have been practicing for many years.

As a Westerner and a woman, Huber speaks about the many ways we get stuck in habitual thinking. How do we work our way out? She uses the language of popular culture to direct us toward the freedom that comes with breaking out of chronic running commentaries in our minds. I especially like her retelling of the Buddha’s story of the knotted scarf. On the path of practice, we untie many of our knots and continue to encounter more. The more experience we gain,  the harder the knots tighten, but the better we are at untying them. “The experience you gain each time you untie a knot gives you the encouragement you need to take on the next one. After a while, you approach the whole process with confidence and lightness and, increasingly, gratitude.”

The title Sweet Zen refers to the inherent beauty and joy of our practice, and how, in our daily lives, our practice can help us show extreme kindness to ourselves and others.

mb46-BookReviews3The Best Buddhist Writing 2006

Edited by Melvin McLeod and the Editors of the Shambhala Sun
Shambhala, 2006
Softcover, 317 pages

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

“I have heard some people predict,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, “that the twenty-first century will be a century of spirituality. Personally, I think it must be a century of spirituality if we are to survive at all.” Thus begins the closing essay in Best Buddhist Writing 2006. Excerpted from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism, this essay reads like a fresh-picked strawberry served at the end of an exquisite meal — each bite more satisfying than the last.

There are many gems in this compilation, not the least of which is a piece reprinted from the Mindfulness Bell by our own Judith Toy, now associate editor. In “Murder as a Call to Love,” Judith recounts the tragic loss of her sister-in-law and two teenage nephews, and her long path to healing. “I did not plan to forgive the boy who murdered my family. But after five years of stopping, enjoying my breathing, and relaxing every day, I was able to look deeply and understand Eric.”

The thirty-three pieces range from the deeply personal, like Judith’s, to the scholarly, like “Studying Mind from the Inside” by the Dalai Lama: “The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.”

The joy of reading a book like this is that you can pick and choose. But what treasures to choose from! Here’s from “Hair-Braiding Meditation,” a humorous prose poem by Polly Trout: “May my daughter, who wants a billion tiny braids this morning, be filled with loving kindness. May she be well. May she be peaceful and at ease going to school with a billion tiny little braids.”

In “Searching for the Heart of Compassion,” Marc Ian Barasch writes: “I’ve become suspicious of the unblemished life. Maybe the heart  must be broken, like a child’s prize honeycomb, for the real sweetness to come out. Although something inside us yearns to walk on air,  never touching the ground, compassion brings us down to earth.It has been likened to the lotus, whose exquisite, fragrant blossom grows out of the muck and mire.”

Other authors represented in the anthology include Sharon Salzberg, Christina Feldman, Norman Fischer, Frank Olendziki, the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Pema Chödrön.

In one of my favorite essays, “Coming to Our Senses,” Jon Kabat-Zinn echoes Thay’s concerns: “When cultivated and refined, mindfulness can function effectively on every level, from the individual to the corporate, the societal, the political, and the global. But it does require that we be motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves, but for the  world.”

I was inspired to go out and buy Kabat-Zinn’s book as well as Thay’s. And that’s the point of a compilation like Best Buddhist Writing. You get a taste of something extraordinary, and it makes you want to indulge more deeply in the fine cuisine of Buddhist thought.

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Help Deer Park Monastery Go Solar

Every one of us can do something to protect and care for our planet. We have to live in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren. Our own life has to be our message.   — Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends:

At the direction of our Teacher, Deer Park Monastery is engaging the problem of global warming in a number of ways. Our environmental initiatives include conversion of our vehicles to vegetable-based fuels; reduction of our use of cars through our “car-free” Tuesdays each week; careful selection of organic and local products when possible; recycling of all possible materials we use in the Monastery; and, importantly, the development of a clean, non-polluting solar energy system at Deer Park. The monastic and lay communities have worked diligently during the past year to make this project a reality, and we are now able to proceed with construction of the system. We wish to invite you to join in this effort by contributing as you are able to our Solar Energy Fund Drive. We expect to have this project funded and in operation during the year 2007, but we need your help.

Our goal is to preserve the environment and to reduce our contributions to global warming by producing 100% of our electricity with clean solar power. Our planned 66-kilowatt photovoltaic system will produce all the electricity needed by the Monastery and will contribute significantly to the local energy system by producing the most clean power during peak power needs — the time when power plants emit the most pollution.

The entire project will cost approximately $530,000, and the State of California’s rebate program will provide $182,000. This subsidy is available now, and we need to ensure that we are among the selected participants in California. Our Sangha has a unique opportunity to be more mindful about our use of energy and to make a positive difference in global warming.

Deer Park’s Southern California location is ideal for solar power. Because our location and project design are so effective, we are likely to receive the highest rebate level offered by the State. That being said, we still need about $350,000 to complete this project. By helping Deer Park, you will also offset some of your own contributions to global climate change.

If you would like to help Deer Park Monastery Go Solar!, you can give a tax-deductible donation online at www.deerparkmonastery.org, or you can mail a donation to (please include your address for a receipt of tax-deductibility): Deer Park Monastery, Attn. Go Solar!, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026, USA.

Thank you from the fourfold Sangha at Deer Park Monastery.

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