Solidarity with the Monks of Burma


On October 5, nearly 2000 Buddhists and psychologists gathered for a conference on Eastern and Western psychology sponsored by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Out of solidarity with the monks, nuns and people of Burma, Thich Nhat Hanh instructed his entourage of sixty monks and nuns to wear their ceremonial sanghati robes and chant the name of Avalokita, the bodhisattva of compassion.

Renowned vipassana teacher, author, and psychologist Dr. Jack Kornfield described the grave situation in Burma and read to the assembly the statement that had been drafted by Dr. Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other conference leaders (see sidebar).
Then, in keeping with the Buddhist tradition of council, all those in accord were asked to give their assent by standing silently. Everyone in the room arose without hesitation, including Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver who were in the first rows. Thay later commented that “The conference hall was absolutely quiet, generating a powerful collective energy.”

Thay Speaks to the World

In his October 9 interview with Time Magazine in New York City, Thay lauded the courage of the Burmese monks in standing up to their government, showing the people the way to human rights and democracy. “Perhaps the most striking gesture made by his Burmese brethren before they were attacked,” wrote David Van Biema, “was the symbolic act of turning their begging bowls upside down. In a Western culture where alms-giving happens in the confines of a church or synagogue, this may have seemed odd. But Nhat Hanh pointed out that it was a powerful statement of denial to the regime leaders. ‘In Buddhist culture,’ he explained, ‘offering food to the monk symbolizes the action of goodness, and if you have no opportunity to support the practice of spirituality then you are somehow left in the realm of darkness.’ Their supreme act of condemnation: giving the regime no chance to do good. The importance of monks in Burma was also suggested, in a grisly way, by reports that hundreds of Burmese soldiers had been arrested for refusing to shoot at them.”

The monks and nuns “prove to be worthy spiritual leaders of the country,” Thay elaborated in the letter he wrote from Blue Cliff Monastery. “The world is supporting Burma, just as the world supported the struggle for human rights and freedom of the Buddhist and Vietnamese people in the 1960s under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. It was not one Buddhist practitioner who stood up but all Buddhist practitioners stood up together at the same time. Now it is the same thing in Burma. It is not one monk that has stood up, but all the monks have stood up. This is true spiritual leadership.”

When asked about the U.S. and Iraq, Thay said, “All over the world we are also waiting for the spiritual leaders in the United States to stand up to provide that spiritual leadership, in order to end quickly the suffering and loss of lives in Iraq. Spiritual leaders should stand up simultaneously with a clear voice to help wake the people up and show them the way. When the people have a clear vision, and the people have made up their minds, then the government has no choice but to follow. The war in Vietnam ended because of the awakening of the American people at the time.”

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

Statement in Support of the Monks, Nuns, and People of Burma

As a conference of almost 2000 mental health professionals, we write this statement out of concern and solidarity with the monks, nuns, and people of Burma. In this time of great suffering, repression and imprisonment, we strongly support the Burmese people in a non-violent transition to democracy.

To do so, we urge the United Nations to create a robust multinational fact-finding mission to go into Burma, listen to the monks and nuns and all those involved, and tell the world what has happened and what is needed for democratic resolution.

We also urge the International Olympic Committee organizers of the Beijing Olympics to require that China, Burma’s main trading partner, do the utmost to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Burma at this time.

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Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh Talks About Tibet

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh When the Plum Village delegation led by Thich Nhat Hanh landed in Rome for fourteen days of public talks, retreats, and other events, the demonstration by 600 Tibetan monks on the occasion of the forty-ninth year of the movement to oppose the yoke of Chinese rule was in its eighth day. The capital of Tibet, Lhasa, had been cut off from all outside contact by Chinese tanks, armored cars, and military personnel. The repression by the Chinese forces was bloody; the corpses of hundreds of victims, most of whom were Tibetan youths and Buddhists, lay in the streets.

mb48-dharma2During his stay in Rome Thich Nhat Hanh was interviewed on Italian television about the situation in Tibet. Thay made two principal proposals:

  1. The European parliament should call an extraordinary meeting on the situation in Tibet and send a multinational delegation to Lhasa and other parts of Tibet that have witnessed suffering due to the occupation. The delegation should listen deeply to the suffering of both sides and make a report to the countries of Europe and North America.
  2. The European and North American countries should intervene to make it possible for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet and give teachings on the Buddhadharma and organize retreats — just as Thich Nhat Hanh was able to go back to Vietnam to teach the Dharma. If Thich Nhat Hanh was allowed to return to Vietnam to teach, then China should allow H.H. the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet to teach. The people of Tibet and the Chinese people need to be in touch with the wonderful presence of H.H. Even if H.H. were only to teach the Dharma and encourage the preservation of Tibetan culture — and say nothing about politics — it would bring enormous happiness to the people of his homeland. If pressure from Western countries enabled Thich Nhat Hanh to go back to Vietnam, then similar pressure could enable the Dalai Lama to go back to Tibet.

During the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh also suggested that the government of Vietnam should allow the organizers of the International Wesak Celebration — due to take place in Hanoi in May 2008 — to invite H.H. the Dalai Lama to attend. This would bring a great deal of happiness to Vietnamese Buddhists and would also show that Vietnam takes a very different stand toward Tibet than does China. Thich Nhat Hanh also told Tibetan Buddhists not to give up hope because Vietnam was under Chinese rule for nearly 1000 years, but was finally able to reclaim her independence. During a press conference on 27 March in Naples, Thich Nhat Hanh repeated what he had said earlier on Italian television; namely that he was ready to go to Tibet with H.H. the Dalai Lama to support H.H. and teach the Dharma to Tibetan Buddhists with H.H. if he was granted a visa to do so.

Originally published in Phu Sa Magazine

Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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Dharma Talk: The Way to Well-Being

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue

At the retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, Sister Annabel offered this Dharma talk on August 24, 2007. In her soft British-accented voice, Sister Annabel gave a brilliant elucidation of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Dear Sangha, today please allow me to say a little bit about the Four Noble Truths. First of all, I shall write the Four Noble Truths on the board. There’s a way of expressing this, where to each Noble Truth we add a word:

  1. Ill-being.
  2. The way to ill-being.
  3. The end of the way to ill-being.
  4. The way to end the way to ill-being.

Sister Annabel, True VirtueThat is the Indian way, in which we use the negative mode. In the Western way we use the word “well-being,” which is more positive. Many scholars have talked a lot about the Four Noble Truths, and they have certain ideas concerning the Four Noble Truths. Really, they are a practice, and we don’t need to be a scholar to understand it. We just need to be a practitioner. We don’t even have to be a Buddhist. We just practice.

This is a very basic teaching of the Buddha, because the Buddha saw how beneficial it is for us. We are very lucky that 2,600 years later we have an opportunity to take hold of that practice, just as it was used in ancient India, and to use it in our own time.

So in order to do the practice, I would suggest that we use one of the practices Thay talked about yesterday: vipashyana, looking deeply. We don’t always need to be sitting on a meditation cushion in the meditation hall in order to practice looking deeply. We can be seated at our writing desk with a pen and a piece of paper, or we can be on the bus or on the train. As long as we establish ourselves in shamatha, stopping, calming, then we can always practice vipashyana.

mb48-dharma22For your own practice, I would suggest that you take a piece of paper and fold it into three so that it has three columns. Although there are Four Noble Truths, we may not need to have a column for the third one because as Thay has been teaching us, there is no way to peace; peace is the way. There is no way to healing; healing is the way. So in the same voice we could say, there is no way to well-being; well-being is the way. The Fourth Noble Truth is the way to well-being, so the Third Noble Truth and the Fourth Noble Truth are just one exercise.

The First Noble Truth: Ill-Being

The First Noble Truth is quite essential. Without that, the other Noble Truths can’t be there. The Four Noble Truths interare; you practice one, and the other three are already there. In the Heart of the Prajnaparamita we say, “No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path.” And that is as much to say that ill-being doesn’t have a separate self. As we practice for ourselves, we will begin to understand this. This isn’t theory. The Dharma is available for us to see directly when we put it into practice in our daily life.

Your first column is for the First Noble Truth. Some people get stuck in the first column, but if we practice we won’t be stuck there. We won’t say, “Oh, dear, everything is ill-being!” That is the scholar’s approach, but our approach is our real experience. So in this first column, write down everything that in your personal life you feel to be ill-being. It could be psychological, physical, or physiological. So you write down, maybe, “despair” — that is the overwhelming emotion that you feel sometimes. Or you write down “depression.” And you might write down physical pain that you have.

We need to look deeply because sometimes we don’t even recognize that we have ill-being. There is something that is wanting to be transformed, maybe from our ancestors, that lies deep in our consciousness. It’s calling out to be transformed, but we haven’t heard its call. There might be anger there, or depression, but we haven’t fully recognized it. It is like someone who’s drunk too much who says, “I’m not drunk.” Somebody who’s angry can say, “Oh, I’m not angry, there’s nothing to be angry about.” But looking deeply we recognize that. So we write it down.

Having written down all that, we look at it in the face. In my personal experience, this is a tremendous relief. We may be able to do this on our own or we may ask someone to help us. We may go to the doctor or the psychotherapist, and they may tell us what our ill-being is, if we haven’t seen it. But principally, it’s something that we have to see for ourselves. So even though we’re in the First Noble Truth, we already, by facing it as the truth, begin to see it as it is.

This is something the Buddha teaches us very clearly. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, in the last section on the mindfulness of the objects of mind, there is a phrase that the practitioner is aware of ill-being “just as it is.” We don’t magnify it, we don’t diminish it or pretend it’s not there. We just look at it as it is and when we do that, we accept it. That is the first step to healing.

That is what we do with our strong emotions. If there is an emotion in us that comes up frequently, that blocks our way, we acknowledge it just as it is. Loneliness: just as it is. Write it down.

The Way to Ill-Being

Now as you’ve been practicing looking deeply, you’re already on your second column. In your unconscious mind the second column has already begun to reveal itself. The second column is “the way that led to the first column.” That is what Thay was talking about yesterday: the Buddha told us that without food nothing can survive (1). No emotion, no physical thing, no psychological state can survive without its food.

The Buddha said that if you can see the source of the food that is feeding your emotion, and you can stop ingesting that particular food, whether it’s edible food or the food of sense impression, then you’re already liberated, you’re already transformed.

The “way” is the causes. What are the causes of this ill-being? What has led to this ill-being? For each point of ill-being that you wrote in the first column, in the second column you can write down the things that are causing it.

Maybe it’s what you consume through your mouth. Maybe it’s your misunderstanding of what the practice is; you haven’t understood that the practice is for joy and for healing. Maybe it’s because of what you want, your desires — you want to be famous, you want to be praised, you want to have a position, or you’re afraid of losing those things. Maybe there are difficulties that began in your childhood, and you haven’t yet managed to embrace your five-year-old child fully. These are all ways to the suffering for you to look into. And, of course, as Thay said yesterday, maybe it’s the television programs, the newspapers, the telephone conversations. You can write them down.

There are two other kinds of food. Yesterday Thay talked about edible food and the food of sense impressions. When we come to the third exercise, we can mention those other two kinds of food.

The Way to End the Way to Ill-Being

The third exercise is the way to well-being, or the way to end the way to ill-being. We’re not going to just cut the ill-being off, to banish it, but we are going to find out what its causes are. And we are going to remove the causes, because we don’t want to treat the symptoms, we want to treat the roots of our ill-being. So that is why sometimes we say, “the way to end the way to ill-being” — the way to well-being. The Buddha taught the way to well-being as the Noble Eightfold Path.

When you do the third part of the exercise you can use these teachings of the Buddha to help you. You adapt each of these eight aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path to your own sickness, your own ill-being.

Right View

Right View is the way you have of looking at reality, of looking at the world. And the Buddha taught the truth of impermanence, the truth of no-self, and the truth of nirvana. If we have right view, there must be the acknowledgment of impermanence, no-self, and nirvana. If there isn’t that, then there will be ill-being. So this may be part of the cure for some of your ill-being.

When we are at peace with the impermanence of our health, of our life, then we can do our best to profit from the days and the months that are left to us, in a way that is beneficial both for ourselves and our descendants. The same is true with the teaching on no-self, on not being a separate self. My happiness is your happiness. Of course, in my family relationships, when I see that, it will bring much more well-being to myself and to my family.

mb48-dharma23Nirvana just means not being caught in any views, being free of views. When we are caught in a view, when we must be right and we’re ready to fight and die for our view, we suffer a great deal. When we despair about the future of our planet, we can become very dogmatic and caught in our views, and this puts us at odds with other people. The only way that we can save our planet is through brotherhood and sisterhood, which means letting go of our views. But it doesn’t mean we don’t care. Seeing that the planet is impermanent doesn’t mean, we don’t care anymore, we don’t do anything. It means we do everything we can, but we do it very peacefully. When we are not caught in our views, it doesn’t mean we don’t see the danger and we don’t do everything we can to prevent that danger from happening.

Right Thinking

The second aspect is Right Thinking. To be mindful of our thinking — to know what we are thinking and where our thinking is taking us — is also important. The way we judge and blame other people leads to our ill-being as well as theirs. If we can have a compassionate, non-judgmental, non-blaming thought, that is a way to our well-being.

All kinds of thinking we have — our complexes, guilt, comparing ourselves with others — is linked to our idea of having a separate self. Our constant thinking is a mechanism to keep our idea of a separate self alive.

The third kind of food the Buddha taught is linked with thinking. It is the food of intention. The food of what I intend to do, what I decide to do, what I want to do, is sometimes called volition. This kind of food can give us a great deal of energy. To explain this kind of food, the Buddha told a story. Suppose there is a young man who’s strong and in good health and he lives in a town. Outside that town there is a large pit that is filled with redhot coals. There are no flames, they’re smokeless because it’s so hot. Every time the young man goes out of the town near that pit, he feels that it’s not safe, because if he were to fall into that pit of coals he would suffer a great deal; he could even die. So he decides to leave this town and go live in another place where there isn’t a pit of coals outside. That is the Chinese version.

The Pali version is a little bit different. There’s also a young man, he’s living in a town, there’s also the pit of coals. But he doesn’t make the decision to go and live somewhere else. There are two strong men in the town. They take hold of him and they pull him towards the pit, and he didn’t want to go there at all, but somehow he couldn’t stop them. They were much stronger than he was. He knew that if he fell into that pit he would not survive, and he would suffer a lot. Still, the two strong men dragged him in that direction. This is another rather dramatic and drastic way the Buddha had of describing our intention food. A lot of energy can pull us in a direction we don’t want to go. These intentions are not necessarily wholly in our conscious mind. We may have things deep down in us driving us in a certain direction without even knowing it. For instance, ambition, the desire for fame, the desire for money, the desire for sex. All those things can be very strong sources of food.

In our meditation, when we are making our lists, we need to look deeply. What is my deepest desire? What are the things that are pulling me along in my life? Do I want to be praised? Do I want to have a position? Do I want to be useful? These things are motivating my way of being.

When we discover what is motivating us, we may be able to stop that source of food and go in a different direction — to have time for our family, to have time to be in nature, to have time to be with our sangha, to build our sangha. Because that is where we feel most happy, to be one with our sangha. To be part of the sangha body without having an idea of a separate self. Some people might get burned out with leading a sangha sometimes, so we have to be careful of that also; when we are in sangha, we just be part of that sangha, part of the river, part of the flow.

Right Speech

The guidelines for Right Speech are given in the Fourth Mindfulness Training: learning how to listen deeply, to speak lovingly. Ask yourself, is this the key to my well-being, in my relations with my family? When I am angry, do I know how to practice the Peace Treaty, to calm myself before I say anything? (2) And also, do I know the skillful way to express my anger so that I don’t repress it? Because repressing anger is also very dangerous.

So if under the First Noble Truth you wrote down one of your sufferings as anger, then when you come to the Third Noble Truth you may like to look at Right Speech as one of the ways out of your anger, and not watering these seeds in yourself and in others. When you are angry, you may not spill out your anger over someone else, but you can look after it by your mindful breathing, your mindful walking. You can take a walk and accept it just as it is. You can embrace it. And then, somehow talk about it. Talk about it maybe first of all in writing. Write down for your loved one what happened. Read over the letter to make sure that it’s easy enough for the loved one to accept, that you’ve talked mostly about yourself, how you feel, without blaming, without judging. Put yourself in the skin of the other person as you read the letter. If you are quite sure she could accept it, send it to her. If you are not sure ask a friend who knows you both to read it and give his opinion.

If you can, come directly to your loved one and say, “This morning I was really upset. I practiced quite a bit, walking and breathing, and I know that I can’t transform this upset on my own. I wish I could, but I need your help. So please help me. Let’s find a time when we can sit down together and you can tell me all about what was happening for you when you said that, or when you did that. That will help me a lot, not to make the same kind of mistake again.”

So this is the practice of Right Speech in order to help us out of our suffering.

Right Action

After that we have Right Action. There are three actions, as we know: the action of our body, the action of our speech, and the action of our mind. Right Thinking and Right View already cover the action of our mind. Right Speech covers the action of our speech. Therefore Right Action covers the action of our body. Right bodily action is very well described in the First, Second, Third and Fifth Mindfulness Trainings.

We may like to look at Right Action in terms of our consumption. What kind of edible food do we consume? Do we consume at the right time? Do we eat at the right time? Do we eat in the right way, that is, in a peaceful atmosphere, not in a rush? What do we eat? If we eat the flesh of a chicken that was raised in a cage, we can imagine the suffering of that chicken. We know that the body and the mind are not two separate things. All the frustration and despair the chicken must have suffered being raised in a cage have gone into the flesh of the chicken, and then we eat it. If we drink the milk of a cow that has come from a factory farm, all the suffering, despair, rage of that cow have gone into the milk. This is also something that we ingest.

So we look at what we eat, how we eat, when we eat. That can already help us on the way to well-being of our body and our mind. A meal is to nourish us, not only physically. We give ourselves a chance to get spiritual nourishment as we eat.

Then the other points of Right Bodily Action are covered by the First Mindfulness Training: not harming, protecting life. The Second Mindfulness Training covers not taking what is not ours, what we don’t need. Not over-consuming, not harming the environment, which are a kind of stealing. The Third Mindfulness Training is right conduct in sexual relations. This also leads to our happiness and the happiness of our family.

Right Livelihood

Does my profession bring me happiness? Does it bring me a lot of stress? Maybe one of the things that you wrote down on the First Noble Truth was stress. So now we look at Right Livelihood and we ask ourselves, how much stress does our work give us? What is our workplace like? Is it a place where we can feel relaxed? Do we bring a flower or a green plant to put in our workplace to make it somewhere where we can relax and we can breathe? How can we make our workplace a non-stressful place? How can we do the kind of work that nourishes our compassion, so that when we come to work we can look at our co-workers with the eyes of love and we can care about them? When we say in the morning, “How are you?”, some people don’t expect an answer to that, they just carry on walking. “How are you?” and the other person says, “How are you?” Even when I went to the doctor one time he said, “How are you?” and he expected me to say, “Fine.” But the reason I went to him was because I wasn’t fine.

When we go to work, what we can do is ask, “How are you?” and we really mean it. I want to hear how you are. “Did you sleep well last night?” and so on, because I care about you. Then our workplace begins to have more compassion in it.

Right Effort

Then we have the practice of Right Effort. This is also connected with another kind of food. In order to be able to talk about the fourth kind of food — the food of consciousness — I need to draw that circle on the board.

mb48-dharma24Store consciousness stores all the seeds, every possible seed of every possible emotion in latent form. They may never manifest in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean to say they’re not available.

If the causes and conditions were right, they would manifest in mind consciousness. Every individual, as we call our self, has access to the collective consciousness, which is also called store, unconscious mind, background consciousness.

There are four parts to Right Effort, and they all have to do with the seeds that are in the store consciousness.

  1. The seeds in store consciousness that I need for well-being and have not yet manifested. I shall make the effort, I shall practice to help them manifest.
  2. The seeds in store consciousness that are for my wellbeing and the well-being of others that have already manifested and are already manifesting. I will make the effort to keep them manifesting.
  3. The seeds in my store consciousness that are not beneficial for my well-being and that haven’t manifested yet. I will not water them and help them to manifest.
  4. The seeds of my store consciousness that are not beneficial for my well-being, that have already manifested. I will help them to transform and go back to the dormant position in the store consciousness.

There’s no idea of destroying seeds, but helping seeds to manifest or helping seeds to be dormant. What this means is strengthening seeds or allowing them to weaken.

One of the teachings of Buddhism is that the longer a seed remains in the mind consciousness — that is, manifesting in our mental formations — the stronger it becomes. And if it’s repeatedly manifesting, it will become stronger. This is very clear. If you want to learn how to sing a song, the first time you sing the song the seed of that song is very weak in your mind consciousness. You quickly forget the song. But when you’ve sung, “Breathing in, breathing out, I am blooming as a flower,” seven or eight times on different occasions, then it will be very strong. Whenever you need that song you just have to call on it and it will come up without you having to think about it.

But the same is true with our anger. If we rehearse our anger often, it will become much stronger and it will come up more easily. So the idea is not to rehearse our anger, which is harmful for ourselves and harmful for others. It doesn’t mean repressing our anger. It must be expressed, but it must be expressed in the right way, that is beneficial.

So this is the food of consciousness, the last kind of food. The Buddha gave another very drastic example.

One Hundred Stab Wounds

There is a criminal, and he’s committed a very serious crime. The king sends his soldiers out to arrest the criminal. They find him, they arrest him, and they bring him back to the king. “Your majesty, what should we do with this man?”

The king gave orders. “He should be stabbed one hundred times.”

So the next morning he was stabbed one hundred times. At noon the king asked, “What happened this morning to that criminal?”

They said, “Well, we did stab him one hundred times, but he didn’t die.”

The king said, “Then he should be stabbed another hundred times.”

So they stabbed him another hundred times. And then the king asked them, and again they said he didn’t die. The third time he said, “Stab him a hundred times.” So they stabbed him another hundred times.

The Buddha asked his monks, “Monks, do you think that man suffered?”

The monks said, “Lord Buddha, to be stabbed a hundred times, that kind of suffering is unbearable, unthinkable. But to be stabbed three hundred times successively, that is beyond belief.”

So the Buddha said, “That is the food of consciousness.”

To give an example of what is meant: The human species is a very young species, the youngest species on this planet. For the human species to be here, there must have been all the other species that went before. In our genetic makeup (according to Buddhism our genetic makeup is not just our physiology, it’s also our psychology; I don’t know if scientists agree with that, but to me it’s clear because the body and the mind are not two different things) all the animal species, the plant species, the mineral species, they’re part of us, they’re part of our genetic inheritance.

Consciousness was there – in different living beings – before the human species arose. Physically in our brain you can see that the brain stem and other parts of our brain, apart from the neocortex, also belong to the animal species. If you remember the time before you were a human being, you were a little fish swimming in the sea, and one day a big fish came up behind you with its mouth open and caught the little fish, ate it. The little fish was very afraid, and that is like a stab wound in consciousness. When you developed into a kind of land species, you were chased by the big animals. So that was another stab wound, maybe the same place as the first stab wound. It is much more painful when you’re stabbed twice in the same place.

mb48-dharma25Now you’re a human being, and those wounds, those stabbings, they’re still there. If you’re not careful with the food of consciousness, you can be stabbed in the same place again. It may not be fear of the big fish, it may be fear of terrorists; so many things we can be afraid of. Maybe when you wrote down the First Noble Truth exercise, one of the things you wrote down was fear. So now you have a chance to look at your Right Effort, the food of consciousness. How do you allow that fear in your consciousness to get stabbed again? What do you do? How can you practice Right Effort to avoid the stab wound, to avoid watering the seed of fear?

In the same way, the anger may have been there for a very long time. Now when it comes up into your mind consciousness, you know that you can take care of it with Right Effort. With the practice of mindfulness every day, you can learn how to breathe and how to take care of the seed of anger when it manifests, the seed of despair when it manifests.

Very often, not doing anything when we are overwhelmed by a strong emotion, that is the Right Effort. The Right Effort isn’t necessarily to feel you have to do something, you have to solve the problem, but just to be able to sit there, do nothing, and embrace the emotion. Above all, we need to have time for it. We don’t have time to look after our emotions. So either we repress them and send them back a little bit stronger into our consciousness until they explode, or we want to resolve them quickly, so we vent them or we rehearse them. So Right Effort means to give yourself plenty of time to look after your emotion.

When I have a strong emotion I say to it, “Dear one, you have the right to be there because you are caused and conditioned, and once the cause and condition are there, there’s no way I can stop you from being there. So you have the right to be there. And I know you’re impermanent, you won’t always be there, but I don’t know quite how long you’re going to be around. Never mind. If you want to be around three days, it’s okay. If you want to be around three hours, it’s okay. As long as you want to be around, I’m here looking after you.”

“I’m here” doesn’t really mean me, it means that other seeds in my consciousness like compassion, care, mindfulness are going to be there.

Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration

Right Mindfulness means living deeply the present moment, being aware of what is happening. That can heal so many things. Right Concentration is an extension of Right Mindfulness. It means giving our whole attention to an appropriate object of our perception in order to discover more of its reality.

Thay has said each step can heal, each breath can heal. Right Mindfulness is to be aware of the wonderful things in life. You may ask yourself, why didn’t the Buddha have Right Happiness as one of the Noble Eightfold Path? It’s really there, although it’s not expressed. Because in Right Mindfulness there is Right Happiness. When we are aware of everything that is nourishing and wonderful in life, it brings us a very deep happiness.

Finally, how can Right Concentration and Right Mindfulness help us? You might like to write down how you’re going to realize the practice of these things in your daily life when you go home. What place are you going to always walk with concentration and mindfulness, to become your walking meditation path on a daily basis? What time are you going to use for sitting meditation, to be able to concentrate? What time are you going to put aside for being with your family, for using loving speech with your family, for expressing your appreciation of your children and your spouse?

All these intentions can be written down in the third exercise. As we said, when you begin to practice the third exercise, wellbeing is already there. Because there is no way to well-being. Well-being is the way.

Sister Annabel Laity, True Virtue, was abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont; she is now in Europe helping Thich Nhat Hanh start the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

[1] For an in-depth teaching on the four kinds of nutriments, see Chapter Seven of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh (Broadway, 1999).

[2] Several versions of the Peace Treaty, including a Peace Treaty for oneself and for couples, can be found in various books by Thich Nhat Hanh including Creating True Peace (Free Press, 2004) and Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities, compiled by Jack Lawlor (Parallax Press, 2002).

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Letter from the Editor

mb48-First1Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

It is impossible for me to read this issue without thinking of our recently deceased son, Jesse Toy. Everything I see and do is through the lens of his sudden passing on February 4. We are thankful for the hundreds of cards and letters from you, our Sangha — from Germany, Norway, the U.K., and across the U.S. As Jesse’s father Philip and I walk the changing landscape of our grief and joy, there is one image we will not soon forget: Jesse’s pink baby blanket spread on the floor in the meditation hall, covered with colorful origami paper cranes, bright flowers of peace and hope.

This is the cream of our practice: the blanket — a symbol of birth and the ground of mindfulness; the color — pink for the new life of Jesse’s continuation; and the joyful cranes — emblems of our transformation body. The origami peace crane project was launched by our friend Teijo Munnich, a Soto Zen Dharma teacher. In the two months since Jesse left his physical body, we have fully celebrated his life. We were joined by former Sangha from Old Path Zendo in Pennsylvania at our Quaker service. We hosted an elegant Ceremony for the Deceased in Thay’s tradition at Cloud Cottage in North Carolina. Next week our Sangha will plant a weeping willow in honor of Jesse. Yet the cranes have touched us most. The care and cherishing in every fold of each colorful bird speak of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. The birds on the blanket look like they’re having a party!

This issue of the Mindfulness Bell is like that blanket — a Dharma party. These pages are the blanket: the expression of the practice of our beloved teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, of our blood and spiritual ancestors, and the skill and love of our editor, Janelle Combelic. Each story, poem, letter, and prayer is like one hopeful paper crane. Each crane is distinct, yet each is the same as the others. Tears fell on the origami paper as we folded together. And from our suffering fly the wings of peace.

Paper crane-making for those who are sick, dying, or have died springs directly from the suffering of World War II after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and the little girl Sadako who touched hearts around the world with her suffering. So, too, in the stories of this issue the wars and tribulations of life are present. Every story, poem, and image tells us transformation is possible — that through our precepts, concentration, and insight, we can gently invite ourselves back to the present moment, this wonderful moment. In February, our son passed away. This spring the forsythia shines brighter than any spring before.

Sister Annabel Laity wrote us a letter to help prevent us from drowning in our grief after Jesse’s passing. She invited us to touch and learn to liberate the anguish of our ancestors who lost their sons in wars and other sudden, tragic ways. She wrote, “I have confidence you can transform this grief into a beautiful flower, and that your son lives on in the fruits of transformation that you realize.”

From out of our season of sorrow and wonder, Philip and I offer you crocus buds of gratitude, dear Thay, dear Sister, dear Sangha.

Judith Toy, True Door of Peace
Associate Editor

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Thank You, Thay

Dear Thay,

I just finished a weekend retreat with Dharma Teacher Larry Ward. The insight and mindfulness I learned was very helpful to my practice and essential for my growth.

You may not remember, but in 1995 I was incarcerated at Folsom State Prison. While there your organization sent me a free subscription to the Mindfulness Bell. We started a meditation group and you donated many books and audio tapes. When I was paroled in 1997 our group had grown to over 300 men meeting weekly to sit in mindfulness meditation. I hear now it has grown to at least eight prisons with over 3000 men meditating daily. The books and meditation help you provided are still part of the meditation library at Folsom State Prison.

I have remained with my practice and what I learned from your books and teaching has helped me be successful with my freedom. For that I must say thank you.

I also took the Three Jewels and Five Mindfulness Trainings this morning at our retreat with Larry Ward.

I am now beginning to use my talent to teach more prisoners about meditation through a journal/newsletter. You can read about it on my website at

I hope to someday meet you in person and bow in reverence for what you passed on to me through your teaching — for which I am ever grateful.

Mark Maxey
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Editor’s reply (from Sr. Annabel at Plum Village): Dear friend, thank you for being free where you are. Thay is very happy when he reads your letter.


Printing on Recycled Paper

At the New Year retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery, the little Buddhas took the vow of the Two Promises. They vow to develop understanding and compassion to people, animals, plants and minerals.

The evening before that I made my resolution for the New Year: “to feel the pain of the earth and to act, just a small step, a promise I can keep.” This letter is the fruit of that resolution and the will to help the little Buddhas with their vow.

When we read the “oldest text on deep ecology,” as our teacher calls the Diamond Sutra, we learn that we have to respect and protect other beings in order for us to have a chance. We read this on a paper that is a tree, the air we breathe and the whole universe.

My aspiration for the year 2008 is to read the Diamond Sutra and the Mindfulness Bell on post-consumer recycled paper, that we may have a chance to develop our understanding and compassion for all beings.

Gil-Ad Arama
Montreal, Quebec

Editor’s reply: We had been thinking about this for a while but Gil-Ad’s letter prompted action! Printing on 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled paper would cost too much and increase the weight of the magazine. We have switched to 30% PCW for the inside pages and 100% PCW for the cover, which slightly increased our printing costs. Contributions to the Mindfulness Bell to help offset those increased costs are most welcome.


EIAB Update

The European Institute for Applied Buddhism has received so much support from readers of the Mindfulness Bell. We are very heartened and grateful for this support. We have almost found a home for our first establishment. It is in Germany, very close to Cologne and Bonn.

We need one more official go-ahead from the government of Germany before we can buy the property. The town councillors of four different political parties have voted unanimously to accept our buying the property and we are hopeful that in six weeks or so we shall be able to make the purchase. At that time we shall be asking for any material support you can give to make the purchase.

It would be wonderful if you could come to Germany and practice in the Institute itself, but if you cannot make the journey do not worry. The courses offered at the Institute will also be offered at Blue Cliff, Deer Park, and Plum Village.

In the garden of five hectares we shall establish a garden of medicinal herbs.

There will be more news in the next edition of the Mindfulness Bell.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue
New Hamlet, Plum Village, France


Winter/Spring 2008 Issue

Here’s a little story of how our Sangha enjoyed the latest MB.

In January our Sangha wanted to do a Beginning Anew ceremony and our host for the night, Rhonda, wanted to introduce it with a few words. Well Rhonda was the first to get her Mindfulness Bell — weeks before the rest of us did — so she was able to read some passages from Janelle’s article and the one by Brother Phap An and Sister Dang Nghiem. It was lovely. We all said it was a miracle that Rhonda got the magazine so early — that Thay and the folks at the MB were taking care of us, protecting us, making us so happy.

Terry Cortes-Vega
Austin, Texas

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A War Is Never Over

By Trish Thompson



The road from Hue to Dong Ha snakes through villages and countryside, bounded on each side by ankle-deep floodwaters. On this day in October 2007, the rainy season in Central Vietnam is, thankfully, coming to an end. The annual flooding has been particularly heavy this year, with more than forty people having lost their lives.

As I stare out the car window, we make slow but steady progress, passing cement-block homes, most of which are painted only on the front. Occasional crudely constructed kiosks display Coca-Cola products, sweets, and cigarettes, inches from the highway.

Three Americans with a Vietnamese driver, we have been invited to visit the Quang Tri Province offices of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, an American non-governmental organization (NGO). We want to hear a first-hand report on Project Renew, which works with those who continue to suffer the effects of a war that has, for many, never really ended.

I have lived in Hanoi for more than three years, very much at home and at ease with the people and the rhythm of life. I understand I am not separate from what I see. After all I, too, am a child of a war. Mine was between mother and father. Their war left me with many wounds. I am grateful for those early years of conflict, for they determined my purpose in this Life. With the help of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, I continue to work to transform the violence of the past — inside me and around me.

The Ravages of War

During the Vietnam War (here called the American War) Quang Tri was one of several provinces that included, or were near, the official line separating the Communist North and the American-backed South. The Ben Hai River served as the official boundary for divided Vietnam since 1954. By the mid-sixties, troops of both the North and the South, including American Marines, were based on either side of the conflict-free Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that included the river.

This concentration of troops and supplies attracted some of the heaviest fighting of the war. These provinces were the target of more bombs than were dropped during all of World War II, in both the European and Pacific war zones. In addition, the deadly chemical Dioxin (Agent Orange) was heavily sprayed over much of the area to expose anything that moved on the ground, thereby aiding the work of the bombers overhead.

From the appearance of the land, which was once lush jungle, the defoliation effort was successful — thirty-three years later, the Earth continues to recover from the abuse of those years of war.

Unexploded Live Ordinance (UXO)

My friends have grown quiet. They, too, are concentrated on the scenes that in some cases literally float by. Though this is their first trip to this area, no commentary is needed; the landscape says it all. For me, in spite of my efforts to remain in the present moment, memories of my initial trip to this area rise to the surface.


It was during Thay’s 2005 trip to his homeland. An OI brother, Jeff Nielsen, has arranged for some of us to slip away as the international Sangha enjoys a Lazy Day in Hue. Jeff is a veteran who has made many trips to Quang Tri, the first while in uniform. With us is a Vietnamese university student. She tells us that many people will not visit the countryside of the province. They are disturbed by the presence of the wandering souls of those who died here. I am silent, as are my brothers and sisters.

In Dong Ha, Jeff takes us to the Center for Peace Trees, a tree-planting project, supported by American veterans. We are told of their attempts to educate local youth in how to recognize and avoid contact with the various forms of unexploded, live ordinance (UXO) which lie hidden in the soil of Quang Tri. I am shocked by this information, which is new to me. The numbers are staggering: 32,000 Vietnamese citizens have been injured by UXO since the shooting stopped. Most have been maimed forever. Some have died. The majority are children.

We practice walking meditation among the dried leaves in front of the center. I recognize the feelings. They take me to another time and place — 1971, and I am in Dachau on a snowy day. We are four, with one caretaker, and the thousands of souls whose moans seem to float through the silent air. I am keenly aware of the suffering, then, there, here, now. Where does it begin? Where does it end?

Reasons for Hope

As the driver avoids the potholes, memory takes me once again to that day in 2005, on the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, a modern quiet highway stretching to the border with Laos. We stop to talk with a group of eleven men who are finishing their day’s work. Four days each week, they search with metal detectors for UXO. Some are easily located, exposed by recent rains. Others must be dug from the ground. Once dismantled, these bombs of various sizes and shapes are hauled away, to be detonated each Friday. The group foreman, a German man who previously worked to locate land mines in Bosnia, has been doing this work in Vietnam for four years. He says the previous week was a “light” one, yielding only 263 bombs. Even though many such teams do this work, “it will take more than 100 years to clear Vietnam of UXO.” How to respond to that announcement? We thank the men for their courage and commitment, and continue our journey through a countryside of new-growth trees and hills that once witnessed and survived the terrible suffering of man’s war against man.

We enter the streets of Dong Ha and make our way to the project office. We spend a pleasant two hours, listening to staff, asking questions, and viewing a DVD that tells the story of Project Renew. While their search-and-destroy program for clearing the land of UXO is a major thrust, they also offer direct assistance to those who continue to suffer the effects of the war. Their prosthesis program has helped thousands who have lost limbs through contact with explosives, and their mushroom-farming program is providing jobs. I am so impressed by the professionalism of the staff and their enthusiasm for their work.

Later in the day, we begin our return trip to Hue. As I reflect on all we have seen and heard, I feel happy. True, we have seen that a war, once begun, seems to never end. But equally true, we have seen that one day love and compassion also appear.

mb48-AWar4Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace, lives in Hanoi where she practices with the Hanoi Community for Mindful Living.

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Poem: Question


Marine, why are you in my country?
You tell me you are here to save me.
I don’t believe you.
Marine, you are not listening to me.
I don’t hate you and your eyes tell me you don’t hate me.
Marine, why are you in my country?
Open your eyes. What keeps my words
from reaching your heart?
Why did you kill me?
Why did I kill you?
I died before you knew me.
You died before you understood.
Come to me – open your heart.
I will hold you and you will know me
and understand.

— Paul Davis

Paul Davis, Authentic Connection of  the Heart, read this poem last year at the retreat in Stonehill. He explains: “In 1965, as a nineteen-year-old Marine, I went to Vietnam knowing little about life and nothing about the Vietnamese people and culture. My belief system, developed as a child in rural America in the 1950s, sheltered me from seeing the reality of that war. However, at a deeper level my experiences in Vietnam were being stored. Later, as my desire to look deeply grew and as my heart opened, I was able to re-examine my experience. Several years ago while on retreat with Thay and the Sangha, I wrote this poem. It was inspired by a question a young Vietnamese girl asked me in 1966 and I wrote it in her voice.”

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Spanning a Bridge

For Love to Deepen

By Sister Dang Nghiem



During Thich Nhat Hanh’s trip to Vietnam in early 2007, several Great Requiem Ceremonies were held, to help heal the wounds of war. Here, Sister Dang Nghiem continues her recollections of those powerful events and the deep transformation she experienced. (See part one of her article in the Autumn 2007 issue).

Each day when a ceremony began, the monastic Sangha would do walking meditation from outside the ancestral hall to the front courtyard, then to the main hall of Temple Vinh Nghiem (Adornment with Eternity). Sixty young monks from Prajna Temple walked in front, holding up ceremonial instruments, followed by the Chanting Master of Ceremony (Venerable Le Trang), Thay, the assisting chanting monks, the musicians, the high venerables, and over two hundred monks and nuns from Plum Village, Prajna, and Tu Hieu.

Thousands of people watched the procession in complete silence and respect. Most ceremonies took place in the main hall, and lay people could only observe them by looking in or by watching two big screens in the courtyard. Still, everyone participated wholeheartedly and offered up their concentrated energies to the souls of the departed. Some people had wondered why Thay, a Zen master, would have these ceremonies performed in the Vajrayana (Tantric) tradition. Suddenly, I appreciated the wonderful meaning of ‘‘skillful means.’’ With certainty, thousands of beginners like me would not be able to meditate and concentrate their minds continuously for three days, but they could more easily follow these Tantric ceremonies and benefit from them.

I Stand Still

My thorax feels like a heavy cement block. The in-breaths and out-breaths are superficial and laborious. I intentionally make my abdomen rise and fall, but oxygen seems not to have enough space to enter the lower parts of the lungs. Strange, I had assisted in surgical procedures that were eight to ten hours long when I did have back pain and abdominal pain, but I never experienced chest pain like this. I relax my shoulders and arms, and I continue to follow my breathing.



The powerful chanting of the monks stirs my deep consciousness: I see thousands of skeleton figures standing on the water and heading towards the shore without moving. The immense ocean is without waves. Everything about those skeletons and about the space around them is gray and foggy. Suddenly, I realize that I saw these images fifteen years ago, when I was still a medical student at UCSF. There were afternoons when I wandered aimlessly along the beach. I stood watching those gray skeleton figures, not knowing how they were related to me and to the pervasive sadness always haunting me. I had written about them in a poem, titled “Dreams”:

…These days my limbs guide me near the waters.
The sky is gray.
Still, the waves are grayer.
I see stick figures through the mist.
Forever claimed by the sea,
They walk without moving.
Something whispers:
‘‘Walk straight. Walk straight.’’
My heart pulsates, but I am drawn to silence.

I also see people falling down in an open field; I see little children screaming wide-mouthed and lying exhausted on their mothers’ corpses; I see a naked woman curling up in a bush; I see layers of people stacked on each other. I see.

I continue to follow my breathing. I did not know that these images and the innumerable possible deaths were stored in my consciousness. Everything I had ever seen, heard, and perceived; everything my parents, ancestors and society had ever seen, heard, and perceived — they all have been imprinted in my mind. Tears stream down. Sweat oozes in big droplets, even from places I had not known could perspire. My whole body seems to be excreting, and purifying.

For My Mother in Me

I stand still. So that the young girl in my mother can be absolved from injustice. That young girl had left her arid homeland Quang Ngai to go to Saigon for work. She became a maid, and she saved every penny to send home to her mother. Each night, the owner came to her little corner at the back of the house. She curled up under her bamboo bed, but he would not let her be. He used a broom to poke her and get her out. The young girl wandered on the street; her education was minimal, she had no skills, and circumstances pushed her as they had pushed countless young girls in war time. She worked for American soldiers, and she gave birth to my brother and me — Amerasian children who did not know their fathers’ faces. Then she became mistress to a rich old man, in order to take care of her children and relatives.

There were times when my mother would yell at me and beat me up as if I were her enemy. Afterwards, while I was sleeping, she would rub green oil on my bruises and cry. Her dream was to go to America, and all she thought about was leaving. One day in May 1980, my mother went to the market for work as usual, but she never came back. She disappeared at the age of thirty-six. I was only twelve. I remember squatting on the toilet seat, thinking: “Good, from now on she will not abuse me anymore!”

For My Father in My Brother

I stand still. So that the father inside my brother can be absolved from injustice. My brother was born with blond hair and fair skin. He was so beautiful that I used to wrap the embroidered tablecloth around his face and body. He looked like a princess and I carried him on my hip everywhere. Yet children in the neighborhood yelled at him, ‘‘Amerasian with twelve butt holes!’’ They spit on him; they made him the American prisoner in their war games. Sending him to the United States was like severing her own intestines, but my grandmother was well aware that if my brother had remained in Vietnam, he would be teased and shamed and exploited his whole life.

When he got to the United States, children in school yelled at him, ‘‘V.C. go home!’’ because he did not speak any English. Like a wounded animal, my brother lashed out in fury and beat up those kids with all his might. The psychologist diagnosed him as having ‘‘uncontrolled extreme anger.’’ The United States government paid money to put my brother in a rehabilitation center for rich kids who had problems with drug addiction, gang, and other violence. My brother is thirty-five years old now, and he is built like a football player. In his house, there are over sixty guns of different sizes; stacks of bullets lie all over the room. He is a licensed gun dealer. In his house, there are over a hundred videos about the Vietnam War and other violent crimes. My brother cannot sleep without the television on all night. His eyes are gentle and bright, and he smiles often. Yet, my brother’s mind has a dark side, which continues to damage and torment him.


For My Uncles

I stand still. So that my uncles can be absolved from injustice. My eldest uncle (Uncle Number Two) ran away from home to the North to become a Communist. Every so often, soldiers of the [South] Vietnam Republic would call my grandmother to their post, beating her and harassing her about my uncle. After the fall of Vietnam Republic in 1975, my uncle returned to look for his mother and siblings. He brought with him a white pillowcase with red words ‘‘Returning to Motherland”; he had embroidered it while he was serving on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My uncle enthusiastically took my grandmother to the North to meet his wife and three children. However, he died within six months. Years of suffering from malnutrition, bouts of malaria, tons of bombs and chemical warfare had damaged his heart, lungs, liver, and intestines. My grandmother had to return to the South alone, too stunned to cry.

My youngest uncle (Uncle Number Six) ran away from home to go to Saigon when he was thirteen years old. Not being able to find my mother, he lived on the streets, polishing shoes, stealing things, involved in reckless sexual activities, and later he joined the Vietnam Republic Army. After the fall of [South] Vietnam, my mother sent him to a distant farmland, so that he could avoid the communist rehabilitation camp. He got involved in drinking and womanizing again. The neighbors were angry, and they turned him in to the police. My uncle escaped from prison, swimming over twenty-five kilometers along the river to reach my grandmother’s house. My uncle died before he turned fifty-five. Cigarettes, liquor, and women had drained all of his life energy.

For All the Dead

And I stand still. So that the Vows to the Dead and the compassionate energy of the Three Jewels can absolve injustice for all my people – the people with names but bodies unfound, and the people with bodies but names untraceable. Dying in injustice, and living in repression. Whether or not living people like me are aware, the injustice endured by the dead continues to be choked and repressed in our consciousness. Sometimes we can only breathe at the neck or chest level; our bodies are tense and restless. Sometimes we feel stressed and agitated. We do not understand at times why we think, speak, and behave so negatively and cynically. The undercurrents from countless generations, although invisible, still ravage our lives. Recognizing these forces and calling them by their true names is to span a bridge into the deep consciousness, so that the dead in the living can live with lightness, and so that the living in the dead can truly live.

Tears stream down, but I do not suffer. I give thanks to Thay. He was able to untie the knots in himself, so that today he can establish Requiem Ceremonies to Pray Equally for All People and to Untie the Knots of Injustice in them – creating the favorable conditions for his disciples and his people to uproot and remove these deep internal formations.

mb48-Spanning6Sister Dang Nghiem currently lives at Deer Park Monastery; before she became a nun she was a medical doctor.

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A Conscientious Objector is Asked,“First Time in Vietnam?”

By Brian McNaught


The question is asked frequently of middle-aged American male visitors, “Is this your first time in Vietnam?” It generally means, “Did you fight in the war?”

My spouse and I were asked the same question by the U.S. Senator who sat next to us at breakfast in the Hanoi hotel in which we were all staying. The depth of our answers depends upon the questioner.

With Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who was visiting Southeast Asia with his Vietnamese wife, and who offered that he had fought in DaNang, our next destination, we simply said, yes. I explained that I was in Hong Kong to do a series of presentations to Wall Street executives on gay workplace issues, and that we came to see Vietnam and Cambodia because we had heard they were beautiful countries. That was the truth, but the answer was incomplete.

We didn’t want to agitate his painful memories, evidenced by the ever-so-subtle wince I witnessed when we mentioned DaNang. Knowing how emotionally torn and scarred Vietnam vets can be, I generally say very little in their presence about my early and consistent perspective on that war.

To our Vietnamese questioners, however, I quickly and gladly explained that yes, this was our first visit, and that we both had actively and vigorously opposed the war. I, in fact, was a conscientious objector, a status that was achieved after a hard-fought battle with my draft board and with my family, that was inspired by my spiritual beliefs, and that I have never regretted. The Vietnamese, regardless of age or gender, always smiled and enthusiastically said thank you.

A Difficult Position

It was remarkable and surprising how good their response made me feel. It was nearly forty years ago that I passionately marched, wrote, and voted against the war. I had imagined that my feelings about the personal and national conflict would have been forgotten or irretrievably buried.

My unflinching public opposition to the war in 1970 was conceived and nurtured by, among other factors, my attraction to the Sermon on the Mount, the lives of Gandhi and Francis of Assisi, the books Mr. Blue and Hiroshima, the protest folk songs of the 1960s, the courage of the Berrigan brothers, and the selfsacrifice of Thich Quang Duc, the sixty-six-year-old Buddhist monk who self-immolated on the streets of Saigon. My idealism at the time felt very strong, pure, and just. Yet, my position was painfully called into question by my love for a cousin who was a helicopter pilot in the war, by friendship with fraternity brothers who were in ROTC, by romantic patriotism, by admiration for the sacrifices made by those who fought against the atrocities of the Nazis. I also harbored doubts about my answer to the draft board that I couldn’t respond to their hypothetical question: would I use force to stop someone from raping my mother?

Spending several days in DaNang, reflecting on what Americans call the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese call the American War, can be a deeply challenging, but nevertheless healing process both for those Americans my age who fought in it and for those of us who fought against it. But they are feelings that we have rarely talked about to each other. I’m just assuming that Senator Webb would have been pained by my early resistance to the war, just as I’m assuming that he lacked any awareness of how deeply affected people like me were by those times.

Losing Peace

When I walked in the surf outside our luxury hotel, among teenagers playing soccer, I tried to imagine what it might have been like for my peer group in 1970 when I did my alternative service at a Catholic newspaper in Michigan. Many of them served and died where I was now vacationing.

My father walked in the surf with me during my silent reflections. Though he has been dead for a dozen years, I felt his presence powerfully. Dad was so completely embarrassed and ashamed by my refusal to fight in the war that at age fifty-seven he threatened to either commit suicide or re-enlist in the Navy. His very angry glare at me at that moment remains one of my most enduring memories of him.

Though I didn’t lose my life, a limb, or my sanity as a result of the war, as so many others my age did, I lost the respect of my father and of many of his generation. I also lost the peace in my own life that I sought to secure for others by my actions. Once I left the comfortable environs of my socially conscious, Catholic college campus and entered the multi-generational work world, I was immediately immersed in an emotionally-fractured culture populated by friends who had lost friends or sons in the war. Debating the war’s merits with them or with others never seemed like a mindful thing to do. I lived in fear of exacerbating the pain of others in my youthful need to justify my position. I thus lived alone with the most soul-searing and divisive public position I had ever dared to take.

As I made my way down the beach at DaNang, imagining battleships and machine-gun fire, I wondered if my father’s perspective on the war and on my decision had changed with time. We never talked about it. It seemed no one wanted to talk about it. The past was best left in the past.

Even though reminders of the war abound in this country, from the concrete bunkers that dot the landscape to the 400,000 children disabled by Agent Orange, Vietnam is healing and thriving. The war that did so much damage to their families and to mine is not on the minds of those who are thirty years old and younger. These “baby boomers” talk enthusiastically about their futures, wave and smile happily in response to friendly gestures from Americans, and refer excitedly to what they recently read on AOL about US-Vietnamese economic cooperation. The past is indeed past for them, even if they are curious about that of their middle-aged male visitors.

From Vietnam to Iraq

Here at home in the States, young ones are thinking about the Iraq war, which our government calls “nation building” and the Iraqis call the “American occupation.” There is no draft today, so young people in the U.S. are not forced by law to make life-altering moral decisions about the war in Iraq or any other military venture. They don’t have to fight to prove to a doubting draft board that they are truly conscientious objectors. This is a good thing in many ways, as it frees them to pursue countless other means of making a contribution to society. On the other hand, being forced to take a personal moral position on war is not bad for the soul.

If today I was forced to make a decision about fighting in Iraq, my position would be guided by the Tao Te Ching, the teachings of the Buddha, the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron, and by my personal experience of creating my own suffering and my own happiness. I would still choose to be a conscientious objector but at age sixty, I’m far less romantic and idealistic than I was at age twenty, far more able to see the shades of gray. I can see how situations can dictate personal ethics. I would, for instance, now state clearly to the draft board that I would protect my mother or any person from being raped or assaulted, by any

means possible, even if it meant losing my conscientious objector status. On the other hand, I’m far more conscious and careful today about protecting the life of spiders, flies, ants, and worms than I was in my late teens and early twenties.

Though I don’t have children of my own, I do have a young nephew who has decided to enlist in the Marines as soon as he graduates from high school next year. David’s decision does not embarrass or anger me. He will never have to recall a searing glare from me. But I do feel that he is far too young to make a mature decision about participating in a war and I’m at a loss on how to help him understand the lifelong emotional ramifications of that action.

I don’t know how David feels about the prospect of going to Iraq, or what prompted his decision to become a Marine. We’re not that close. I do know that he’s really good at paint ball competition and that he imagines he will be very good with a gun. He’s the product of a single-parent household and he needs discipline, a college education, and a secure financial future, like so many of his peers who enlist not to fight in Iraq but to survive in the United States.

For whatever reason one decides to fight or not fight in a war, regardless of whether or not there is a draft, the effects of the choices we make in our youth will impact us profoundly for the rest of our lives. Forty years from now, when my nephew David visits the Middle East as a middle-aged tourist, he will undoubtedly be asked, “Is this your first time in Iraq?” It’s my hope that his answer, and those of his generation, brings forth in him and in his questioner feelings of peace.

Brian McNaught is a best-selling author and a corporate diversity consultant on gay and transgender issues in the workplace. He and his spouse, Ray Struble,divide their time between Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.


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The Light at the Tip of the Candle

mb48-TheLight1I was deeply touched recently by a book called At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace. The author, Claude Anshin Thomas, describes in detail the suffering he has experienced as a Vietnam veteran [see below].

The description of his suffering made me look more deeply into the experiences of a soldier. I tried to imagine how it would feel to be trained as a killer at the age of eighteen. How it would feel to kill another human being. How it would feel to watch my friends die in front of me, or to watch children die as a result of the military action in which I was involved. How it would feel to live in fear of violent death on a day-to-day basis.

Looking deeply at these things helped me to understand the suffering on a different level. I realized, for example, that I could not even begin to think of how I would reconcile the thoughts and emotions around killing another human being, let alone many human beings. I know that labeling the people I killed as “enemy” would not bring me comfort in the long run. I know the energy of those actions would continue with me in some form as long as I lived.


Anshin Thomas also offers his opinion that the United States, as a people, never really took responsibility for the Vietnam War. Most people viewed the war as distant and unconnected to their day-to-day lives. They did not recognize that it was their lifestyles that supported the institutions of war. And, for the most part, they did not offer support for the veterans of the war, or for the victims of the war in Vietnam.

All of this got me to thinking about the war in Iraq, and my connection to that war. I realize that I have not really taken responsibility for my connection to that war. I follow the news about Iraq, and frown at it. I think from time to time about the tragedy of the war, and how I disagree with the U.S. government’s position on the war.

The Light at the Tip of the Candle

By Claude Anshin Thomas

mb48-TheLight2Claude Anshin Thomas came home from the war in Vietnam in 1967. In the years following his military service, his life spiraled downward into post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness, but his life turned around when he discovered Buddhism. Zen, he found, offered him a path toward healing, a practical way to cope with his suffering rather than run from it. The following took place in 1990, when Thomas attended a meditation retreat for Vietnam veterans led by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I drove to the retreat on my motorcycle. At that time I was riding a black Harley Davidson. I was dressed in a typical fashion for me: black leather jacket, black boots, black helmet, gold mirror glasses, and a red bandanna tied around my neck. My style of dress was not exactly warm and welcoming. The way I presented myself was intended to keep people away, because I was scared, really scared.

I arrived at the retreat early so I could check the place out. Before I could think about anything, I walked the perimeter of the whole place: Where are the boundaries? Where are the dangerous places where I’m vulnerable to attack? Coming here thrust me into the unknown, and for me the unknown meant war. And to be with so many people I didn’t know was terrifying to me, and the feeling of terror also meant war.

After my recon I went down to the registration desk and asked where the camping area was, because I didn’t want to camp where anyone else was camping. I was much too frightened to be near so many strangers. This time each day, sunset, was filled with fear — fear of ambush, fear of attack, fear of war exploding at any moment. Rationally I knew that these things wouldn’t happen, but these fears, like the reality of war, are not rational.

I put my tent in the woods, away from everybody else, and I sat there asking myself, “What am I doing here? Why am I at a Buddhist retreat with a Vietnamese monk? I have to be out of my mind, absolutely crazy.”

The first night of the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh talked to us. The moment he walked into the room and I looked into his face, I began to cry. I realized for the first time that I didn’t know the Vietnamese in any other way than as my enemy, and this man wasn’t my enemy. It wasn’t a conscious thought; it was an awareness happening from somewhere deep inside me.

As I sat there looking at this Vietnamese man, memories of the war started flooding over me. Things that I hadn’t remembered before, events I had totally forgotten. One of the memories that came back that evening helped me to understand why I had not been able to tolerate the crying of my baby son years earlier.

At some point, maybe six months into my service in Vietnam, we landed outside a village and shut down the engines of our helicopters. Often when we set down near a village the children would rush up and flock around the helicopter, begging for food, trying to sell us bananas or pineapples or Coca-Cola, or attempting to prostitute their mothers or sisters. On this particular day there was a large group of children, maybe 25. They were mostly gathered around the helicopter.

As the number of children grew, the situation became less and less safe because often the Vietcong would use children as weapons against us. So someone chased them off by firing a burst from an M60 machine gun over their heads. As they ran away, a baby was left lying on the ground, crying, maybe two feet from the helicopter in the middle of the group. I started to approach the baby along with three or four other soldiers. That is what my nonwar conditioning told me to do. But in this instance, for some reason, something felt wrong to me. And just as the thought began to rise in my head to yell at the others to stop, just before that thought could be passed by synapse to speech, one of them reached out and picked up the baby, and it blew up. Perhaps the baby had been a booby-trap, a bomb. Perhaps there had been a grenade attack or a mortar attack at just this moment. Whatever the cause, there was an explosion that killed three soldiers and knocked me down, covering me with blood and body parts.

This incident had been so overwhelming that my conscious mind could not hold it. And so this memory had remained inaccessible to me until that evening in 1990 .…

At the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh said to us, “You veterans are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot and bright. You understand deeply the nature of suffering.” He told us that the only way to heal, to transform suffering, is to stand face-to-face with suffering, to realize the intimate details of suffering and how our life in the present is affected by it. He encouraged us to talk about our experiences and told us that we deserved to be listened to, deserved to be understood. He said we represented a powerful force for healing in the world.

He also told us that the nonveterans were more responsible for the war than the veterans.* That because of the interconnectedness of all things, there is no escape from responsibility. That those who think they aren’t responsible are the most responsible. The very lifestyle of the nonveterans supports the institutions of war. The nonveterans, he said, needed to sit down with the veterans and listen, really listen to our experience. They needed to embrace whatever feelings arose in them when engaging with us — not to hide from their experience in our presence, not to try to control it, but just to be present with us.

I spent six days at the retreat. Being with the Vietnamese people gave me the opportunity to step into the emotional chaos that was my experience of Vietnam. And I came to realize that this experience was — and continues to be — a very useful and powerful gift. Without specific awareness of the intimate nature of our suffering, whatever that suffering may be, healing and transformation simply are not possible and we will continue to re-create that suffering and infect others with it.

Toward the end of the retreat I went to Sister Chan Khong to apologize, to try to make amends in some way for all the destruction, the killing I’d taken part in. I didn’t know how to apologize directly; perhaps I didn’t have the courage. All I could manage to say was: “I want to go to Vietnam.” During the retreat they had said, if we who had fought wanted to go to Vietnam to help rebuild the country, they would help arrange it. And so I asked to go to Vietnam; it was all I could say through my tears.

* When Thay gives teachings he does not normally say that nonveterans are more responsible than veterans for the war, but nonveterans are just as responsible as veterans. — Sister Annabel

mb48-TheLight4From At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace, by Claude Anshin Thomas, © 2004, 2006 by Claude A. Thomas. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA.

Claude Anshin Thomas is a monk in the Soto Zen tradition and the founder of the Zaltho Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes peace and nonviolence.

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My Responsibility for the War in Iraq

By Bruce Campbell

What Sacrifices?

But I haven’t really done anything about it. My lifestyle has not changed one bit since the war started. I have not had to make any sacrifices as a result of the war. I have not attempted in any way to help those who have been impacted by the war. And I haven’t gotten involved in the political process to help shape the U.S. government’s position on the war. So, I’ve decided that it is time for me to do a few things with respect to the war in Iraq.

First, I am determined to keep in touch with the suffering of the U.S. service men and women in Iraq and with the suffering of the Iraqis and others impacted by the war. This does not mean that I can’t enjoy my idyllic life in Boulder, or that I should be remorseful or angry. But it does mean that I need to cultivate a sense of connectedness to what is happening. And I will try and find a way to have some direct interaction with those who are suffering.

Second, I am determined to find a way to help those who are impacted by the war. I will need to explore this in coming months, but it will at least include donating time and/or money to charities that are involved in assisting veterans and Iraqis.

Finally, I am determined to get more involved in the political process in the U.S. I am still feeling my way around this one, as I don’t want to create more aggression through political action. I do not believe in denouncing others for their views. I am not interested in action that encourages anger or division, but I would like the voices of non-violence and compassion to be heard.

Taking Action

I am still in the process of exploring how I can best turn my expressed intentions into action. As a first step, I shared my concerns by e-mail with family, friends, and members of the wider Sangha. It was difficult to open up in this way to so many people, especially to people outside the safety of our local Sangha meetings.

But the results have been heartening. I have initiated dialogs with people that I might not have otherwise considered as sources of information and support with respect to these issues. Many people shared their own experiences and heartfelt thoughts on Iraq and war in general. Perhaps most importantly, the public expression of my aspirations strengthened my resolve to take action.

I also received some practical feedback about people and organizations that I could contact to help me turn my expressed intentions into action. Here are just a few:

  • The List Project ( aims to resettle Iraqis that have become targets of violence due to their support of the U.S. effort in Iraq.
  • The American Friends Service Committee ( is sponsoring a “Wage Peace Campaign,” which offers direct assistance to Iraqis (including resettlement of refugees) and resources to support political action for peace.
  • The Coming Home Project ( offers mindfulness-based retreats and counseling for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.
  • The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is developing a directory of sanghas for veterans; it also has resources available to help educate sanghas about working with veterans (

Through his contact with Thay and time spent at Plum Village, Anshin Thomas experienced how a mindfulness practice and a supportive community could help to transform the suffering from his violent past. And although I cannot pretend to understand the depths of Anshin Thomas’ suffering, I have touched in my own life the transformative power of Thay’s teachings and the Sangha’s love.

So, over the past couple of months, I have focused my efforts on making the practice and community we share accessible to veterans returning from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In our greater Sangha, I have talked to Vietnam veterans and a veteran of the Gulf War who are willing to share their practice with our most recent veterans. In Colorado, we are organizing a group of Sangha members that want to help facilitate programs for veterans. We have the Mindfulness Trainings to guide us, and decades of collective experience in peace work through engaged Buddhism.

I am a part of the Iraq war, and the Iraq war is a part of me. I am, therefore, responsible for healing the suffering it has caused— in myself, in those around me, and in those far away. I am deeply grateful that so many resources are available to help me heal and transform that suffering and to prevent more wars from happening.

Bruce Campbell, Freedom of the Heart, lives in Boulder, Colorado where he practices with Mountain Stream Sangha. He is an attorney and a core member of the Colorado Community of Mindful Living. He can be reached at

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Getting Better, not Bitter

The Dharma in Tanzania

By Karen Brody



Thay’s teachings have been words deeply etched in my heart for years, but this summer was the first time I encountered their true meaning. My husband’s work for an international non-profit took us to Arusha, Tanzania. What luck, we thought, that we had found a location in Africa that was suitable to live in with children. We had lived in Nairobi, Kenya and had complete clarity that Nairobi’s routine aggressive violence was not an atmosphere in which to raise our children. Johannesburg, similar in its extreme violence, where people not only lived behind gates (routine in Africa) but talked about how many levels of security they had before intruders could get to them, also felt like an unacceptable life to me. But Arusha — a small yet rapidly growing town an hour from Mount Kilimanjaro, protected by Mount Meru, and the gateway town to the Serengeti, where five years ago security companies didn’t even exist — it seemed perfect.

Here’s what happened ten days after arriving in Arusha with our sixand eight-year-old boys.

My husband returned home just past midnight after dropping off a friend at her hotel after she had dinner with us that night. The night guard opened the gate; my husband drove in, got out of his car, and went to the gate to lock it from the inside with a padlock. He heard a man say, “Open,” so he opened the gate. Three gunmen were holding the guard, guns to his head. Two guns immediately went to my husband’s head and the gunmen led him and the guard to our house, ordering my husband to open the door. I was downstairs when the door opened and at first I noticed just my husband walking in, very pale. Then I saw the gun. A second later I saw the first gunman. I gasped in a whisper, “Oh my God!” as one of the gunmen ran over to me and pointed his gun at my head. In that instant the words of the Dharma popped into my mind:

Life is impermanent.

These words bathed me. I felt clear and strangely calm as the gunmen sat us down on the couch, took our wedding rings off and tied my husband up on the floor with wire. I repeated to myself:


The tallest gunman led me upstairs. As we approached my children’s bedroom he put his gun to my nose and told me if I did anything stupid he was going to shoot me and my children. I breathed deeply thinking:

Breathing in,
Breathing out,
I am free.

As I repeated to myself “Breathing, Free” my thoughts became illogical in a Western sense. Logic would have told me to hate this gunman; instead I felt deep compassion. Thay’s teachings flooded my body and mind.

“Where Are the Dollars?”

In my bedroom the gunman shouted at me, “Where are the dollars?!” We actually only had fifteen dollars in the house that night. I emptied my wallet. He was getting angrier. “Where are your jewels?” he demanded. I gave him the few things I carried with me. No diamonds, nothing expensive. “Where’s your husband’s gun? Get the gun!” The gun? It had never dawned on us to get a gun. Even my husband, not a practicing Buddhist, felt that violence is never solved with more violence. There was no gun.

Unhappy with what I had produced the gunman put his gun to my head and told me I must find him some money and jewels. So I ransacked the room, and as I threw our belongings on our bed another mindfulness moment occurred.

Breathing in,
I see the goodness inside of you,
Breathing out,
I smile at your goodness.

It was obvious to me at that moment that the gunman wasn’t looking for money or jewels; what he was really looking for was love. So I watered the flower in him. As I dropped my clothes on the bed I imagined each piece of clothing filling the robber with love. Fifteen minutes later he brought me downstairs and tied me up on the floor next to my husband and the guard.

Tied up on the floor, my hands and feet tightly wired together, I thought: I should be scared. But then I heard Thay’s voice whisper to me: Call them by their true name. So this is what I did. I recited:

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs
at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Lying on the floor, face down, I repeated to myself, “Wake up, Compassion” as the gunmen put all of our computers and electronic equipment in bags to steal.

The Open Door of Compassion

Our Kenyan friend, Rose, was staying with us. Rose is a poor African woman who had been our maid in Nairobi years ago. She came down to help us settle in and meet our boys. I consider her a member of our family, which is why she was living in our home, not typical in Africa. The tall gunman spotted her room and asked me, “Who’s in here?” “Our friend,” I replied. He walked in. Rose later told me she wasn’t sleeping, and because our floors were concrete and the gunmen spoke to us in a whisper she did not know anything was happening inside the house, but of course she was shocked to be taken out of bed in the middle of the night. They tied her up also in the living room, searched the house again for money and jewels and then untied her, took her into her bedroom … and raped her.

Breathing in,
Breathing out.

I didn’t know at the time she was being raped, but that’s what the tall gunman did. He raped her. And then, twenty minutes later, after talking for a while about taking me with them in one of our vehicles that they stole to get away, the gunmen tied heavy cloth over our mouths so we would not scream and put all four of us in Rose’s room, tied up, in the dark.

Untying wire is not easy, but I got free first. Then the guard, then my husband, and finally after I shouted out “Rose, are you okay?!” she slowly sat up. “Thank goodness they did not hurt the kids,” were the first words from her mouth. It was only later that she told me she had been raped.

I expected logic to rise up in me; I expected to feel mad. How could they have done this to Rose? Yet, again, instead the Dharma surfaced and I found myself not angry at the gunmen. The news that she was raped just made me want to water the seeds of love in the gunmen even more. My intellectual self thought, this is crazy, how could I not be mad? It felt like a betrayal of Rose to not be mad at them. Surely, Rose was mad.

Two nights after the incident, with my family and Rose settled into the safety of a hotel room in Arusha, Rose slipped a note under my door that I discovered at bedtime. She wrote of moving on from the experience. And at the end she wrote, “Let’s get better, not bitter. ” At that moment it was clear to me that she was watering the same seeds I was. The Dharma lived in her as well.

We left Tanzania one month later having lost over $30,000 from the move to Arusha, and we returned to the United States without a home, job, cars, or a school for our children to attend.

Thank you, Thay, for your teachings. Love and compassion is the only way forward. Of this I am clear.

Karen Brody is a member of the Budding Flower Sangha in New Paltz, New York.


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Watering Fearlessness

A Mantra (or Two)

By David C. Gritz



Sometimes life presents us with very intense training opportunities for our practice. Probably you are familiar with those “opportunities” for learning. We didn’t ask for the experience and we wouldn’t choose it, if we were given a choice. But regardless of how we wish reality would be, it isn’t like that. It’s like this and here we are, in the middle of it!

A while back, I was headed to a family retreat at Deer Park. I needed the quiet time and was looking forward to being immersed in four-fold sangha, as well as speaking with my monastic brothers and sisters. As I was driving to Deer Park with my two children, we were listening to Green Day’s song “Novocain.” I began crying, because the song’s request for Novocain to take away the pain of life’s trials hit home so strongly. I so wanted relief from the pain of constantly trying to face the difficulties!

For months prior to that moment, life had been offering a series of very intense training opportunities. I felt as if I was being punched in the stomach, not just once in a while, but several times a day or several times a week. There were too many things to detail here, but I’ll give some examples.

I work as an ophthalmologist, specializing in a group of very serious eye diseases that can result in blindness. Despite offering patients the latest and best eye care possible, some people still lose vision. Studies have shown that people fear losing vision even more

than they fear death or any other loss. So in my medical office, in addition to many people with very severe diseases, there are people with lots of fear and anxiety and frustration.

Over the course of a month, there were three patients who lost vision in their only good eye.

One was a woman in her sixties who had lost the other eye to glaucoma. She always inspired me by her zest for life despite her limited vision. Shortly after we first met, I did a cornea transplant in her one good eye and her vision improved from blindness to 20/20 (although she only had tunnel vision due to glaucoma). It was a much better result than we had expected. But the transplant was rejected in less than a year, and after a series of eye problems she lost all vision in her only eye.

Another nineteen-year-old patient came to me with a very severe eye disease that caused blindness in one eye and constant, severe pain. When we first met, she was always doubled over in pain. With very strong medication, she improved and no longer had pain. Her family was so happy with the wonderful transformation, as she returned to be the bubbly, joking person she had been before the constant pain. She still had 20/20 vision in the other eye. Within days of the visit when we were all happy with how well she was doing, another disease attack occurred and she lost vision in her good eye. With additional strong medicine, the vision returned. This cycle repeated a number of times and each time the vision came back. But then an especially severe attack occurred and the vision was permanently lost.

The third patient who lost vision in his only eye was a single father with a young developmentally disabled son. A very good doctor had made a bad decision to do surgery in the patient’s only eye. A rare complication occurred and the patient was sent to me. After months of intensive treatment including two surgeries, we realized there was no hope of improved vision.

During that same month when these three patients lost vision, I found out I was entangled in a lawsuit. Another patient with severe eye disease had been referred to me for treatment. Despite intensive treatment, she lost some peripheral vision in one eye. She brought a lawsuit because of the outcome. I was surprised because I perceived that she and I had a very good relationship. It was difficult to think that even when I had done everything that was possible and could see nothing to change (upon reviewing the medical chart in detail) I would get sued.

In the following month, another lawsuit emerged from the third patient I mentioned above. In addition to these patient-related issues there was a variety of other difficulties at work with coworkers and supervisors, challenges at home, and family difficulties.

My formal and informal mindfulness practice was of great help in dealing with these challenges and enabling me to still see the joys of the present moment. However, after more than six months of this ongoing assault, my energy was very low and my resilience in the face of adversity was waning. With each new blow I would think, “How can I deal with this? I need to face it and deal with it, because this is my practice. I have no other choice. But how?”

Water the Seeds of Non-Fear

At Deer Park, I asked Sister Dang Nghiem for her advice about these situations and my waning energy. “How can I help to rejuvenate myself and maintain my energy, so I don’t feel so drained?” I asked. She suggested that I deepen my practice through watering the seeds of non-fear.

I was uncertain how to go about this. I didn’t perceive the presence of fear in this situation and didn’t know how to water the seeds of non-fear. I spoke to my teacher, Lyn Fine, after I returned home. Lyn explained that fearlessness can help us face difficult situations and maintain our energy when faced with adversity. Lyn had several ideas for cultivating fearlessness. One of these suggestions was to find a mantra that would help to face each moment with fearlessness.

“And This Too!”

Lyn told me about Maha Ghosananda, the Cambodian patriarch, who was asked, “What is the essence of practice?”

In response to the question, he replied: “Here.


“And this too!”

He said “And this too!” with a joyful, fresh voice that conveyed equanimity — whether the phrase was in reference to the blue sky, the lush green of the rice paddies, or the killing fields.

I started using “And this too!” as a mantra to go with my breathing, throughout my days at work and home.

I also explored finding another mantra. There is a song in Portuguese that I love, called “The Blower’s Daughter.” One line in the chorus is “É isso aí” (pronounced eh EES-oh ee), which means, “And so it is.” I loved the melodious sound and rhythm of “É isso aí,” in addition to the meaning, and I began using this mantra also. When a difficult situation arose, I would use it as a chance to take a breath and say silently (or sometimes aloud), “É isso aí!” When a wonderful moment arose, it would be another chance to take a breath and say, “And this too!”

A typical response prior to starting the practice of “É isso aí!” could have left me feeling downcast as I mumbled inside, “Oh, boy. Woe is me. And THIS, TOO!” Instead, a fresh “And this too!” or “É isso aí!” helped me to see glimpses of humor and irony. When another potential “punch in the stomach” occurred, the mantra helped to quiet my mind and keep it from running on, telling me stories about how this blow was going to lead to other problems in the future.

Over time, situations changed and my experience gradually transformed. With the mantra practice, feelings of equanimity for the situations grew stronger. This particular practice helped me to more deeply experience the reality of impermanence and touch the precious jewel of the present moment, finding a unique and difficult-to-describe joy, even in the difficult moments. Through this practice, I continue to look for better understanding of my suffering and to experience transformation.

“É Isso Aí,” sung by Seu Jorge and Ana Carolina on the CD and DVD, Ao Vivo: Live. The original song was written in English and is called “The Blower’s Daughter,” music and lyrics by Damien Rice.


David C. Gritz, Truly Embracing Compassion, previously lived in Berkeley, California and attended Morning Light Sangha. He has relocated to Kansas City with his family, where he enjoys the sangha fellowship of the Heartland Community of Mindfulness.

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Letting Go


By Roberta Schnorr



I am bathed in sweat.

The temperature has gone up ten degrees since breakfast. I have put on more clothes: a long sleeved “Haz-Mat” suit, huge rubber overshoe boots, and three pairs of gloves (nitrile medical gloves, covered by dishwashing gloves, covered by leather work gloves). A respirator conceals my nose and mouth; goggles cover my eyeglasses. Each breath smells and tastes like old rubber tires. The stale moisture from my lungs accumulates. My glasses fog. Time to move.

To manage these giant boots I learn to pick up each foot a little higher. I take smaller steps; I am conscious of each step. The crotch of my jumpsuit goes to my knees. The legs are long, the body loose and baggy. Sitting, kneeling — and especially getting back up — requires mental planning. Climbing a stepladder in floppy boots and a baggy suit is a new exercise. Once, I almost fall, trying to descend too quickly. I catch myself, regroup, and take it one step at a time. I make certain both feet are on the floor before I pivot or walk away.

My tools are a hammer and a short pry bar. I find that I am able to wrap my thickly gloved fingers around these, and possibly, use them. Time to work.

I am in New Orleans in July. It has been nearly two years since Katrina washed away those old, tired levees. It is not Cajun food or jazz that beckons, but a wish to help drain the stagnant pool left by disaster and neglect. Here I stand, inside my Haz-Mat suit, boots, goggles and triple gloves. I am like the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz.

I Am Melting!

But somehow, I am okay. It seems my fears about my ability to tolerate the heat were unfounded. I am not nauseous. I have no headache, no migraine aura. I am really okay.

I am working with a team of eight people — adults and teenage youth. We are “gutting” a house. Our instructions are simple: all paneling, sheetrock, tile, molding, doors, insulation, carpet, and linoleum must go. We must find and pull every interior nail. All that will remain are two-by-four studs and subfloor.

Three of us begin in a small bedroom. We learn how to negotiate this job and coordinate our movements in the confined space. We work without talking, silenced by bulky respirators.

Everywhere I turn, I notice the water stains on the walls — about twenty-four inches above the floor. This marks the peak — where the floodwaters crested and stood after filling this home. As I pull Sheetrock from interior closet walls I find a barrette and a Barbie doll shoe. I think of my daughters and the bedroom they shared when they were small. This barren space was once a little girl’s room. I picture her, playing with her dolls, trying to sit still while her mother does her hair; sleeping snugly in her “big girl” bed.

It is hot. We take a break every hour. When one of us stops to rest, we tell all the others. We lay down our tools, remove our respirators and gloves, and gather in the backyard. We pull cold water bottles from the cooler and pass them around. We settle under a little shade — on coolers and storage boxes. As we sit and drink the best water we have ever tasted, we notice each other, and more. Sometimes there is a gentle breeze. We are grateful.

Among our little group are friends, and also, new acquaintances. Here we sit, bound by shared effort on this modest, water-stained house. As we huddle in the meager shade, I am struck by what I experience with my new teammates. There is no need to fill the space with chatter. We talk. We listen. We are still. Words or silence — it feels just right.

Working Meditation

I notice, even on my first day, that I find a rhythm and unfamiliar satisfaction as I plug along. The old walls give up Sheetrock easily — except for the six to eight inches near the floor. Real wood baseboard — four inches high — is snugly fastened around each room’s perimeter. I try prying the baseboard from the studs. It does not budge. I kneel down for a closer look. At the bottom of the baseboard is quarter round. A closer look reveals more— carpet strip — a flat strip of wood that fastened the edges of wall-to-wall carpet.

After some experimentation, I figure out how to get under one end of the carpet strip. I use the straight end of my pry bar and hammer, removing the strip three or four inches at a time. I return to my starting place and position my pry bar (the curved end this time) on top of the quarter round, near the baseboard. I hammer down on the curve of the bar and the quarter round gives. Working in tenor twelve-inch sections seems best. Finally, I approach the solid wood baseboard. I move steadily from one two-by-four stud to the next, inserting the curved end of my pry bar, hammering (down) then prying (up), hammering and prying. At some unpredictable point the length of baseboard gives. Long sections come loose.

I realize how different this feels from my usual mind states. I am focused, fully present — not daydreaming or racing to reach some imaginary goal. Occasionally, my mind wanders. I think about an unfinished project that awaits me at home. Each time, I catch my thoughts, let go, come back. I will give it my full attention when I get home. I realize that, perhaps for the first time in my life, I am fully engaged with the task at hand. It seems I am able to be just here, hammering, prying and sliding along. I am not fighting the repetitive work and slow progress — I am pulled into a friendly, rhythmic pace. I work with, not against this old house, coaxing her along, as she slowly surrenders her handsome wood trim.

One day, as we pull Sheetrock from the ceiling, we discover what seems like miles of corner bead, a strong metal trim that forms and sustains the corner joints. Working overhead on a shaky stepladder, it presents a new challenge. I change my method, pulling down all of the Sheetrock first. Blown-in insulation spills out, covering my head and shoulders. I press forward, exposing the

relentless corner bead. I try force. I try pulling. Finally, I concede to its strength and seek its pattern. The corner bead is nailed every three inches. I can free only three inches at a time. I accept this truth and focus on one nail, then another nail.

Something shifts in this moment. The struggle is over. I use my claw hammer — insert at the point of the nail and push away. One by one, the nails come free, often with a single push. As with the baseboard, I find my rhythm, and I am right there, nail after nail, foot after foot of corner bead — like me — just letting go.

An Unexpected Retreat

In New Orleans, in the house of a woman I will never meet, I discovered long, silent hours to be with myself, working mindfully, staying present. I was surprised that in this place, my mind did little wandering, but tuned in, moment by moment, to the present. Here, I did not think about tasks or outcomes, discovering satisfaction as I became one with the process — accessing an unfamiliar rhythm as I pulled sheetrock and molding, freed corner bead, shoveled debris, or pushed a wheelbarrow.

Time with people I hardly knew was pleasant, tranquil. We came together every hour, for cool water and rest. At midday, we traded items from simple box lunches. We talked. We listened. We sat in silence with our weary breath.

In this time far from home, doing unfamiliar work, I was, for many moments, present — to myself, to others. Present — to my experience — right here, right now — in someone’s stripped house in New Orleans.

Romb48-Letting2berta Schnorr lives in Central Square, New York with her husband Dick and teenage daughters Grete and Molly. She is an education professor at SUNY Oswego.  In July, 2007, Roberta and Grete traveled to New Orleans with members of a Lutheran church to assist families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

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Poem: The First Precept


In Lhasa, sitting in a dim café, soft cave of quiet,
I hold a chipped white porcelain mug and sip jasmine tea,
its flavor like warm spring flowers on my tongue.

I watch the woman bend low to slowly sweep
the old wooden floor with her worn nub of a broom.
She moves like a mallard floating on an evening lake:
this is life; there is no thought of finishing this motion.

Her dark face is weathered by wind and sun, both harsh at this altitude.
With lined brow she looks gnome-like, a mysterious little witch
dressed all in deep blue: blouse, apron, skirt to her ankles
same outfit every day this past week.

A small spider moves almost crab-like across the floor
in fast starts it scuttles, stops suddenly,
then hurries along again, edging ever closer.

She sees the spider and lays down the broom.
Like a dreaming dance or sleepy stretch
she bows even lower and scoops
the eight legged creature into her hand.

With themb48-TheFirst2 same slow pace she heads to the open door
one foot in front of the other, a silent march of patience.
She stoops again, places the spider on the ground
outside, a new home of rock and weeds.

Reentering the room, she looks like a little girl now
her step lighter and quicker
bright smile stretches across her mouth
twinkles in her eyes like a secret joke:
sunlight shines silver
on a spider web after the rain.

— Julie Hungiville LeMay

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The Leaves of One Tree

By Le Thu Thuy


When we arrived, the hallway in the Claymont Court building was filled with light. It was a cold, windy, winter night and the retreatants came in wearing heavy winter jackets. We hugged each other with deep breaths and beaming smiles. At dinner time, the sound of a gentle bell rang, subduing all noise and motion. The whole room became a completely quiet place. We had our first meal in silence.

Before long, [Dharma teacher] Anh Huong appeared and sat in front of my husband and me. She gave us a gentle, motherly smile, and expressed her appreciation to my husband for driving me here. Anh Huong suggested that, as soon as we finished dinner, he should head home to be with our three teenagers, and assured him that I would be safe during my stay.

Being Nurtured in Body and Soul

As Anh Huong promised, I was safe and well taken care of. I was pampered with fresh country air, well fed with organic vegetarian food, and accompanied by gentle friendship. I noticed that the head cook often joined us in the sitting and indoor walking meditation. This time, she also joined us for the Touching the Earth meditation and sat next to me. At the end, Anh Huong carefully guided us through Hugging Meditation. We hugged each other in three long breaths of respect, appreciation, and love. The cook hugged the person on her right, then me, and by that time her eyes and mine were filled with tears. She carried the aromas of the foods that she had prepared. This fragrance touched my heart and carried my memory back to the cozy days in Vietnam, when I was awakened by the smell of the wonderful foods that my mother cooked for the Vietnamese New Year festival. In silence, I thanked the cook for all her tasteful and nourishing food. She was not just a cook, but a dear sister making meals for us. Some of her desserts were incredibly delicious. She baked the best brownies that I have ever tasted; I swallowed them slowly and savored each small bite.

On this three-day weekend retreat, I could do what I could not find the opportunity to do in my busy life — my mind and heart were with the food and drink in each meal. I loved to hold a cup of tea with both hands and let its heat warm my cold hands. I slowly drank one sip at a time. I felt the tea being absorbed gently by the tiny cells of my whole body. As the night came, and in the silence of the warm companionship of my two roommates, I quickly fell asleep. It was more like a vacation than a religious retreat as I actually had the time and space to rest.

A Daughter in a Confucian Home

Within the Sangha’s cradle, I allowed myself to be fragile. The little wounded girl inside of me had a chance to breathe, to sob, and to ask for compassion and acceptance. In her Dharma talks Anh Huong showed us how to practice no-self by looking at our hands. Using mindful and compassionate breathing, we looked deeply at our ancestors’ traits that exist in each vessel of our hands. Joining her invitation, I found my own suffering intertwined with my ancestors’ torments. By deeply contemplating the past, I recognized my mother, the only daughter of a well-established family that was deeply influenced by the teachings of Confucius.

My mother grew up with her voice being ignored and her presence considered irrelevant. In that culture, a daughter was worth nothing because her father believed that she would soon belong to another family when she married; he would invest very little in her education. My mother had a fifth-grade education — her younger brothers went to college abroad and later became a doctor, a professor, and a law enforcement officer.

I was more fortunate. My parents worked very hard to give me the best education in Saigon. Witnessing the lack of education and mistreatment that his only sister endured, my father offered me the same opportunities, attention, affection, and love that my brothers received.

Because we did not carry my mother’s family name, my siblings and I were often treated as outsiders by her father. Sadly, no one was aware of the seeds of unworthiness that played a big part in my mother’s identity and were quietly being passed on to her children. I often felt insecure and left out, while my siblings set ambitious goals to establish their own identities and reputation, perhaps as a way to mask their feelings of being rejected. We may achieve wealth and certain positions in our society, but we are often lost in coping with our frustration and resentment toward the maternal family.

I learned that the collective karma is much more powerful than I realized. As I consider my own past and my present way of living, I realize that I fill my days with activities to expand my intellect, to make acquaintances, to earn a comfortable living, and to help others, without realizing that the deep seeds in my consciousness are controlling my thoughts, my speech, and my actions. My knowledge of Buddhism and Christianity, including the satisfaction of doing good deeds, was not effective in reducing the potentially destructive effects of negative emotions. But in calmness and mindfulness, the Buddha’s wisdom and the Sangha’s compassion helped to shed light on this dark corner of mine.

My Grandfather’s Secret Love

I remembered spending many summer nights at my grandfather’s home. He had shown his care and love for me in private. He boiled hot water for me to bathe, told me stories of his childhood with his younger sister, his love for the first wife who died young while giving birth to their first son, read books, and instilled in me a love for literature and history. I no longer blame him for not being able to display that soft, gentle part of himself in public. I now understand that many men of his generation, living in such a culture, would not have known how to behave any differently. My resentment was melting away as my heart filled with his love for me and mine for him.

Walking on this path of understanding and love makes my soul soft and cleansed. Mistakes and regrets are a part of the past, while hope and happiness are right here under my steps.

Healing the Past

We live six hundred miles away from where my grandfather was buried twenty years ago. I never went to visit his grave. Modern transportation offered many opportunities to do so, but for many years, I have down-played the importance of such a visit and often found good excuses for not doing so.

Since I got back from this retreat, the newly found understanding and love for my grandfather made me, for the first time, want to visit his resting place. My husband drove my mom and me to Canada to visit his family and my uncle, who liked the idea that all of us would visit my grandfather. My uncle drove his wife, my first cousin, my mother, my husband, and me to the cemetery. He and my husband had a bonding talk in the front seat while my mom and I caught up on the stories of our lives with my aunt and my cousin in the back. We had a lovely time during the ride. It was a cold, windy day at the graveyard, but I dressed properly for the weather and felt warmed by the family love and reconnection. I stood in front of my grandfather’s grave and lit the incense. With mindful breaths, I first expressed my gratitude and respect for all the ancestors and then offered my wholesome feelings to my grandfather.

As we left the cemetery, a new chapter in the account of my maternal family tree was being written. It would record the fact that my grandfather has always been in me and will always be in my descendants. The DNA will always support this and nobody can deny or alter this fact. Gender, last name, and success will not signify how we relate to each other; real blood, true love, and a deep understanding will. Each individual has their own place in the universe. My experience proves that by deeply understanding the past and mindfully living in the present moment, it is possible to transform past mistakes and change the course of the present and future.

To Live as One

We’re all the leaves of one tree,
We’re all the leaves of one tree,
The time has come for all to live as one
We’re all the leaves of one tree

Lately, each time I sing that song with the Sangha, I see that my grandfather is joyfully singing it with me and we let each word sink deeply into each vessel of our body. Nothing could take us apart! I am a leaf of one tree just like my grandfather is and we are “falling gracefully without regrets” into the cradle of the Three Jewels.

Le Tmb48-TheLeaves2hu Thuy, Opening of the Awakening Heart, has been practicing for many years with the Boat of Compassion Sangha and the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax, Virginia (MPCF) Sangha.

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On Love and Being Gay

By Laurie Arron


“I believe that we all have the need to love and to be loved, and life without love is not pleasant, it is suffering.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Friday, July 13, 2007, Lower Hamlet

These are the words Thay spoke to me during the first Question and Answer session of the summer retreat at Plum Village. I had asked about finding love and had clearly stated I was gay. Thay’s answer was all about true love, and it demonstrated to me that he believes true love is possible regardless of sexual orientation.

Although I’ve accepted being gay, there’s still a voice in my head saying there’s something wrong with me. I’m forty-five now, I’ve been single for over four years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find true love — or be able to let go of my grasping for it.

Years of Silent Suffering

Sometimes the memories of being a gay teen cause tears to well up inside me. I know that I have a long way to go in healing my suffering.

I first realized I was gay when I was thirteen years old. It was a terrible and frightening realization. At school, a “fag” was the worst thing you could call someone. It’s what we called the kids we didn’t like, the ones who didn’t fit in. I’d used it many times. How could I possibly be one of them?

But the fact was that I had a strong physical attraction to some of the boys in my class and none whatsoever towards the girls. My grim realization was indisputable.

I could not deny my sexual orientation, but I could keep it an absolute secret. I thought being gay was unnatural and I desperately wished I could be “cured.” I was convinced if anyone knew they would hate me, except my parents who would simply be devastated. I thought it would be better to be blind or in a wheelchair. At least then people wouldn’t hate me.

I hid my sexual orientation from everyone until I was twenty-seven years old. Being “in the closet” was very difficult, and I turned to smoking marijuana to ease the pain and escape my reality. I did fine in school and work, but whenever I thought about having to live life without love I was consumed with despair. It wasn’t until a close friend of mine (who wasn’t gay) killed himself that I realized life was too short to waste. I decided to take a leap of faith and stop hiding who and what I really was.

I went to a “coming out” support group and there I finally started to accept my sexual orientation. At the group they did things like turn on their head the questions gay people often get asked. They pointed to the absurdity of asking questions like “when did you first realize you were heterosexual?”, “what do you think your parents may have done to contribute to your heterosexuality?” and “what made you choose to be heterosexual?”

I’ve come a long way since then. I got involved in working for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people when I was thirty-one and eventually became Director of Advocacy for Canada’s national LGBT equality advocacy group. In 2005, Canada’s federal government debated and passed a law extending civil marriage to include same-gender couples. I did many media interviews and was about as publicly “out” as you can be.

But even being so comfortable with being gay, in public places I still had to ask myself whether it was safe enough to hold my partner’s hand or give him a kiss when I greeted him at the airport after not seeing him for several weeks. These are simple acts that most people take for granted, but for gay and lesbian people they are not so simple. And that’s in Canada, one of the most accepting and progressive countries in the world. In many countries, being gay is still criminal, sometimes even punishable by death.

I look back and sometimes it feels like my youth was stolen from me. While my friends learned to date and to be in relationships when they were teenagers, I started from scratch at age twenty-seven. The whole possibility of young love was already gone.

I find it particularly hard not to regret those lost years and wish I’d had more courage and come out earlier. My equality advocacy has been driven by my desire to make the world a better place for LGBT youth, so they don’t have to go through what I did.

The most difficult thing about the suffering I experienced was not being able to tell anyone. I suffered alone and in silence, with absolutely no support. I think about how wonderful it is to have a Sangha for support. Looking back on my years in the closet I realize that it was the exact opposite. The fact of not being able to tell anyone magnified my suffering a thousand times.

The Question of Marriage

A big source of suffering for LGBT people is the exclusion from marriage. It’s often said that love and marriage go together, but for same-gender couples this is usually not permitted. Only the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa have equal marriage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts permits same-gender couples to marry but our marriages are not recognized by the federal government. Israel also recognizes our marriages, but they must be performed in another country.

Marriage is about many things, including love, commitment, intimacy, companionship, emotional support, financial support, children, and fidelity.

Some people argue that marriage is essentially about procreation, but many opposite-gender couples don’t have children and many same-gender couples do. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, studies show that children of same-gender couples do just as well as other children and are no more likely to be gay or lesbian themselves.

Simply put, marriage is the central and most prominent way in which society recognizes romantic love and commitment. Since being gay is defined by who you love, the exclusion or inclusion in marriage sends a powerful signal about our place in society.

Exclusion says our love is inferior to the love between a man and a woman. This message does us great harm, both in affirming anti-gay attitudes and also in telling LGBT people that there’s something wrong with us. Inclusion in marriage sends the message that we are not flawed because of our sexual orientation. It says that we are equally worthy of respect and consideration.

This is especially important for LGBT youth. This poignant letter to the editor was written when equal marriage legislation was before Canada’s Parliament:

“I wonder if those fighting so hard against same-sex marriage ever consider how much it means to gays. They don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager — when the pressure to conform is so great — and you experience the horror of realizing that you are gay. They can’t understand what it’s like to listen to your friends talk about how they hate queers and how they wish they were dead. You consider suicide, because you never want anyone to find out the truth about yourself; your shame is too great to bear.

“And these people can’t understand the hope that filled my soul when I first found out that Canada was considering allowing same-sex marriage. This legislation goes so far beyond marriage. It is a symbol. It represents the hopes and dreams of gays for a better world. Now that I’m 18, I can finally admit to myself that I am gay and no longer feel the shame that almost drew me to suicide. At least now I have hope.”

The Desire for True Love

My deepest aspiration is to understand my suffering and to transform it. At Plum Village Thay Phap An told me that most of us spend much of our time struggling with one particular issue, one that is based on a misperception of reality. This misperception acts like a prism, distorting how we see the world and causing us to suffer. Covering up this misperception is a block of pain that has been built up over the years.

My block of pain seems to revolve around my desire to find true love and my belief that I won’t, perhaps because there is something wrong with me, or perhaps because I am simply fated to be alone.

I have had many insights about the source of my suffering, usually when I cry during sitting meditation. This has happened many times when I recall a feeling from the past, such as the sadness and despair when my partner left me, or the fear that I will never find another. And then another thought will manifest, perhaps from a different time in my life, and I know that there is a connection between the two.

Slowly, slowly, I am chipping away at the block of pain that exists deep inside me. I still have a long way to go to get through the block of pain, and to see and penetrate the misperception that lies beneath it. I don’t know if I will ever get there, but I know I am on the path, and I have faith in that path. The more diligent my practice, the happier I am.

For example, sometimes I despair. But I identify it as despair, or perhaps a mix of despair, sadness and grasping, or whatever feelings I can identify. I observe my in-breath and out-breath. I remind myself that this is just a feeling, and that feelings come and go.

For much of my life I learned to suppress my feelings and to cut myself off from my body. But that did not end my suffering. If anything, it made the suffering worse and prevented me from taking positive action. My practice is helping me to re-connect with my body and to become whole again.

Feelings are not only in my mind, but also in my body. I find the feeling in my body and I describe it to myself. Perhaps the feeling is a tension between my shoulder blades, or tension from my neck extending outwards to each arm. I observe that this is how despair is manifesting in my body. When I release the tension in my body, the feeling also dissipates. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes I don’t have time to wait because I’m too busy at work and I just live with the tension until later.

Underneath despair I find joy. I have experienced this hidden joy many times. Sometimes I can even find joy without having to go through despair. If I just look around my body, I can almost always find somewhere that’s experiencing joy.

Smiling Through Tears

I have also observed that I need my Sangha to support my practice. It is so easy to practice at Plum Village, but so difficult to practice in the world, with the pressure of work, friends and the dominant western culture. My Sangha helps motivate me to be diligent.

My practice helps me transform my suffering into happiness. It gives me faith that there is a way out of suffering. It reminds me that my suffering is impermanent. With this awareness, I can smile through my tears.

mb48-OnLove2Laurie Arron, Faithful Embrace of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing. He divides his time between Toronto and Ottawa and is a member of the Mindfulness Practice Centre of the University of Toronto and the Pine Gate Sangha.

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Blue Sky Practice

By Susan Hadle

Almost every place is taken tonight in the meditation hall. “Probably a lot of people have come to find an island of comfort and safety after the tragedy at Virginia Tech,” I tell myself as I settle into my cushion. I notice the seed of sorrow that has darkened my mind since returning from caring for my brother who took his last breath just weeks ago. This seed seems to have a little magnet inside that attracts sadness.


Richard is the bell inviter and he welcomes us to the second half of the evening. He tells us he has a practice he wants to offer that he learned from John Bell of the Mountain Bell Sangha in Massachusetts. It’s called Blue Sky Practice. He explains. “First we’ll sing the song ‘Blue Skies’ and then we’ll take a few minutes to think about a ‘blue sky’ experience. A few people will tell what qualities blue sky moments have for them. After that we’ll meditate on our own blue sky experiences. Next we’ll find one other person whom we don’t know very well and take turns sharing our blue sky times and then we’ll return to the circle and share.”

“We Left the Camps Singing”

Surprised and curious, I wait while Richard hands out little squares of paper with the words to “Blue Skies” printed in blue ink. And then Freddie leads us as we sing:

Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but blue birds all day long.

Never saw the sun shinin’ so bright
Never saw things goin’ so right
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you’re in love, my how they fly.

Blue days all of them gone
Nothin’ but blue skies from now on.
Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see.

We stumble along together the first time and then we sing with our hearts. Sangha energy flows and begins to open this crowded heart. I remember something I learned during the retreat at Deer Park. Thay wants us to be happy. The Buddha wants us to be happy. And, most amazing, happiness can exist even in the midst of sadness. Daffodils bloom on cold, wet spring days. On a transport to Auschwitz, Ettie Hillesum threw a postcard out the train window that read, “We left the camps singing.” Not fake happiness that we wear to please others, but the happiness that comes from remembering that right now we are alive, the happiness that comes from being aware of what is real in this moment.

Earth Beneath and Sky Above

We’re given a few minutes to think about a blue sky experience. I am walking on a mountain ridge close to the sky. So free. People share and I think of other blue sky times. And then we meditate for about ten minutes. “Blue sky. Remember blue sky,” I tell myself as I notice the seed of sorrow sprouting again. This seed has grown thick recently with sad thoughts: “It shouldn’t have happened. I don’t want it to be like this. They were too young. It could have been prevented. If only.” And then, “Oh yes. This is Sangha and we’re meditating on our blue sky moments.” I am walking along the red dirt path, trees beside me, earth beneath and sky above. All is well. This picture fades and I am back with my brother. I feel sad. I open my eyes and remember that I am with the Sangha where we are together concentrating on blue skies. Space opens up inside me and I relax. I feel light and content to be sitting here with the Sangha.

We find a partner and share. He goes first and I listen like Buddha, as Richard has suggested we listen, wide open to listening, just listening without thoughts or feelings. I feel refreshed enjoying his blue sky experiences and then telling him mine.

We join the circle and share moments of clarity and joy and freedom. It’s right here as we talk, ‘blue skies smilin’ at me.’ I bow in, “Blue sky mind is contagious. I feel happy.”

Now it’s today and I wake up early to meditate. The heaviness of the past month is gone. I hear the birds and see the golden sky behind the trees. I invite the little bell and the little bell is the blue sky filling me with spaciousness.

mb48-Blue3Susan Hadler, True Lotus Recollection, practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC. In the past two years Susan has been able to be with her mother, her brother and her step-father as each took their last breath.

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Heart to Heart

In each issue of the Mindfulness Bell readers take on a different topic, writing in short essays about their personal experience and their practice.


We have covered the Five Mindfulness Trainings; now we ask for your thoughts on the role that art plays in your practice and your life. Keep it concrete, personal, and short — under 500 words. Send your submission to by July 15, 2008 (or so). The next topic, due October 15, 2008, will be the role of music in your practice and your life.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.


Two years after I discovered Thay and his teachings, I decided to stop drinking alcohol. There were many reasons. I had just spent six months in India without drinking any alcohol and I was inspired to continue this practice. I had also witnessed the terrible effects of alcohol addiction on someone very dear to me. And I was deeply inspired by Thay’s teaching — it is better to be mindful of what is going on inside of ourselves rather than losing ourselves in a glass of wine.

At first, when socializing with friends, I had a lot of explaining to do. Apparently, not drinking is more unusual than being a vegetarian. The most difficult part was, by far, how to explain my decision to my friends without making them feel that I was, in some way, judging them. After they recognized my preferences, even if they didn’t completely understand, many of them made a special effort to serve lovely soft drinks or juices, instead of a bottle of wine.

Meanwhile, alcohol completely faded away from my system and my thoughts. I bypassed the alcoholic beverages in the supermarket and enjoyed a variety of soft drinks. I never really drank much, but by quitting completely I became more aware of how I had used alcohol; it was the way that I coped with stress in my life. After work, just one glass of wine would induce a warm, relaxed feeling that allowed me to let go of everything. “So, what’s wrong with that?” I used to say to myself, especially if one glass of wine would do the trick. However, the wine smoothly masked a problem without contributing anything to a solution. Why did I let myself get so stressed out by things that were happening at work?

Going completely “tee-total” also helped me recognize the role that alcohol is playing in our society. I discovered how socially unacceptable it is to not drink. There is a stigma attached to it and an assumption made that the only people who completely quit drinking alcoholic beverages are alcoholics!

After six years of not drinking alcohol, I gradually became less strict with my practice. On occasion, when I socialized with friends or colleagues, I would have a glass of wine or beer. I enjoyed the taste and the sense of gezelligheid (cozy togetherness), something that is very important to us in The Netherlands. But this also meant that alcohol started creeping back into my life. In the supermarket, I began once again to look at the wine. Or when cycling home from work, I felt a craving for a glass of instant relaxation. I resisted but realized that for many years there had been nothing for me to resist — because when I was not drinking alcohol the cravings were gone. I guess that is one of the considerable benefits of quitting completely — you just don’t have to think about it. Ever!

So, I have chosen to quit again, but this time with a deeper understanding of the reasons why. Reasons that will give me the confidence to believe that I will avoid the fate of the famous smoker who said “giving up is easy, I’ve done it lots of times.”

Evelyn van de Veen
Shining Strength of the Heart
Amsterdam, The Netherlands


I have suffered a lot from what I have ingested in the past. Growing up, my family was very unhappy, and we weren’t able to be close and supportive. As a result, all of us developed addictions to eating and TV, among other unhealthy habits. Joining the sangha and hearing this training, I knew I had to change the fundamental way I was relating to myself. I no longer wanted to neglect my body and be terrorized by my disturbing thoughts and feelings. I had taken refuge in eating, intellectual snobbery, unwholesome creative expression and a judgmental attitude; now I wanted to let go of these. But how could I make such a massive change?

This training brings me in touch with the many elements I am made of. Cultivating awareness, I can choose what elements to allow in me to become the future me. I accept that I am vulnerable, affected by everything in my environment, and also that I am powerful, able to direct my future by knowing what environments will allow me to grow healthy and which not. When I identify suffering, I can examine what I have been consuming — eating, paying attention to, thinking about, saying, or participating in. By doing this I have the confidence that I have taken a good step toward well-being.

Now when I eat, I think, do I want to eat this food because my body wants the nourishment, or because I feel agitated and want to ignore the agitation? If it is that my body wants to be nourished by the food, I am being compassionate and loving to myself by eating it. If it is that I feel agitated, I need to give myself compassion, to take care of myself by returning to my breath and calming my agitation.

When I buy things, bringing awareness I can ask, do these bring the joy I’m after? I invite my motivations to reveal themselves, and also my needs. And then I ask, what does bring me joy and peace? This way I can know my real self, and pay attention to all the wonderful things around me that do bring me joy, solidity, clarity. I need to be compassionate and use these opportunities to nourish myself now so I will be strong in the future.

This training leads me to the refuge of the sangha, to the wholesome environment that it provides. In the sangha I consume stability, sanity, love. I participate joyfully in the stream of life horizontally in my peers by allowing my heart to open. Being present I nourish them and am nourished by them, and my life has meaning. From this training I recognize that my practice is food for myself and everyone I meet. I practice this training for my family in order to love them better, for my ancestors whose environments filled them with disparagement and craving, and so lost them the opportunity to develop the capacity to love and be loved.

Scott Morris
Realizing Vision of the Heart
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


In my studies I learned that insight was one of the doors to liberation and that non-self, impermanence, and non-suffering were the keys to insight. These were interesting ideas, but I couldn’t really find out how to practice them. It turned out that my practice with alcohol gave me my first glimpse into non-self.

When I first practiced the Fifth Mindfulness Training, it was often a forced affair, almost a physical effort to refrain from drinking. Sometimes this technique didn’t work and I ended up drinking anyway. In these cases I often tried to bring mindfulness to my drinking, taking notice of how it made me feel. I brought awareness to the reasons I wanted to drink and I discovered the desire to connect more deeply with others, to escape from negative emotions, and to feel more confident. Sometimes taking notice of these desires caused my beer to remain unfinished.

Over time, I saw how my life was improving due to reduced alcohol consumption. Still I occasionally felt like I was missing out on the fun. Other times it was the opposite, a feeling of guilt for drinking and going against my vow. And other times I got on my high horse and told my friends how bad they were for drinking.

Mindfulness made it easier and easier not to drink. I started to feel more free. Then something changed — I noticed how my drinking would encourage my friends to drink. It’s easier to drink when others are doing it. I saw that by buying a beer, I was paying for alcohol advertisements. I was partly responsible for the alcohol problem we have in our society. My point of view had shifted — it wasn’t just about me anymore. When I saw this for the first time, and understood it in my heart, then in that moment all desire to drink was removed. There was no guilty feeling, no sense of missing out, no wanting to escape. Replacing the desire was a feeling of love and care for my friends. I realized I could connect with them in a way that was true without needing alcohol. I could be with them without judging them for their drinking. I felt so free. I felt that for the first time in my life, my intentions were finally in line with my aspirations.

The insight of non-self and the mind of love are there with their clear voice: it’s not just about me.

Paul Baranowski
Solid Awakening of the Heart
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Poem: Paint a Portrait of Me

mb48-Paint1First paint a book, pages filled
with endless hope
Describing rides down an
endless slope
In thick, long strokes
Paint the words of a song
floating, flying
In a way to stop all crying
Then center a sunset giving
new light
And the clouds of color in their
Draw the trees, softly calling
Draw the leaves, gently falling.
Paint me singing
With nature’s voice ringing
In the book, through the pages
Song singing through the ages
Once you’ve completed your
you can sign your name and
get some eats.

— Brooke Mitchell, age 11
Carlsbad, California

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The Helping Hand

By Brother Phap Dung


Brother Phap Dung (pronounced FAP YUNG) gave the children’s Dharma talk before Sister Annabel spoke during the Colorado retreat, 24 August 2007.

I enjoy my life very much as a monk. I live with my brothers and sisters at Deer Park Monastery in California. We live together as a family. The nuns live in a place called Clarity Hamlet, in the oak grove, and the monks live in a place called Solidity Hamlet. It’s all rocky up there, and the sisters live by the stream where the oak trees are. We come together each day to do sitting meditation in the big meditation hall, and we watch the sun come up.

Have you ever seen the light change in the morning? It’s very beautiful. This is what we experience every morning. Because when we come out of our room going to the meditation hall, there are stars. We sit in there and we watch. We wake up with the sun. Afterwards we come out and do exercises while we watch the sun. It’s very nourishing to wake up like that, very quiet. I get to sit with all my brothers and sisters and it’s very nourishing.

Every year we have retreats like in Plum Village where families come with their kids, many little ones like you, and sometimes I take care of them. We also have a teen retreat just for teenagers. At the beginning when we first had the teen camp the parents said they would go somewhere else, stay away from the program, but they would find a way to sneak in. So the teens wrote us a letter and said please don’t allow any parents, any adults, they keep coming and trying to tell us what to do [laughs]. So we wrote them back and said, okay, we respect you. This year we had a hundred teens and we practiced yoga in the morning before sitting; the teens love yoga! Some of them are new to it so they do these moves and they fall — it’s a lot of fun. That’s how we start the day.

It’s wonderful to see so many young people learn to practice to sit still, to be okay not to run around and play computer all day. There we don’t have any computers and television for them, and some of them, like the new kids that come, they’re very afraid that they will not survive five days without television!

This last retreat we had with the teenagers, guess what we took away from them? We took their cell phones, can you believe that? We took their iPods, all their gadgets and video games. I remember the first meeting we had. They were like, “No, you can’t do this! No, but I need them! I need to talk to my mom.” You could see they were really afraid to be away from their cell phones. “But my friends! I have to check my messages!” You could see in their bodies, when they’re sitting around in the dining hall talking to us, they have physical reactions as if they’re addicted. So we thought that was quite interesting. [laughter from audience]

But after maybe three days, they made new friends and they were able to not even think about their cell phones and things. You’re very lucky right now — you don’t have cell phones, right? Once you get cell phones, you spend most of your time doing that, and you’re not really in front of your friends. The teens found out they’re in front of their friends and they play with sticks, with pine cones and stuff, and they really enjoy it.

And they go hiking. We take them hiking deep into the mountain where the coyotes live. Ohh! [laughter] And we go low and look in the bushes and we try to find the tracks of the coyotes, — you never see the coyotes — they disappear because they have these secret passages under the bush. So we take the children up the mountain, we go look for these paths.

Sometimes in the family retreat, we take the children all the way up into the mountain with their families, and we have sitting meditation up there. Then we enjoy breakfast or dinner. We watch the sun rise up in the mountain or the sun set out over the ocean. It’s an area where there are a lot of flat rocks. There are no railings re, so the monks and nuns, before we have the family retreat, do a little prayer,: “Please land ancestors, help us to — ,” cause you can imagine a hundred children going up there, and rocks are like cliffs, but there are no railings. But the children ays enjoy sitting and eating in silence up in the mountain. It’s y wonderful. They don’t need television, video games, and text messaging with their friends. They enjoy nature with us.

A Family of Fingers

I want to share with you today about our hands. I remember I was growing up, my mom taught me that a family, it’s like our hands [holds hand up and wiggles fingers]. Can you imagine u have five fingers and you always ignore this finger, and you everything with these fingers? [holds one finger down and ves the other four]

There’s a saying in Vietnamese, but I don’t really know it ughs] because I wasn’t really good with Vietnamese when I was owing up. I grew up in America. Anyways, I remember my mom ays reminding me that a family’s like a hand, and you always knowledge each other and see each other in the family. It could your father, your mother, your brother, your sister — you always things together, and you help each other, right? Your family is like the fingers on your hand, so if you have brothers and sisters, you help each other out.

Once in a while, this finger will be not so happy with this finger, right? Does that ever happen to you in your family? Sometimes it’s like this. You’re too close to each other, it’s like, “Get away from me! Get away from me!” [laughter] “I want to go in the closet! Mom!” Right? But look — how far can you go? [he wiggles his fingers; laughter] You still have to be in the family, right? So, remember that. Okay?

Once in a while we need space, and that’s very important. You kinda get very mad at your brother or sister, right? When I was young and I got mad at my mom or at my dad, I used to run in the closet. I’d go, rrrh! and I tried to pretend to my parents that I ran away. [laughter] You know, I’d run in the closet and I’d sneak in there and put all the blankets on, and I tried to stay there a long time, so that they’d think I ran away. And nobody looks for me! [laughs] So I stay there for a long time, and I come out, and nobody thinks I ran away!

So you cannot really run away far, because your mother and your father, sometimes they get angry at you, but they always love you, because you’re still part of one hand, you’re still part of the family.

But once in a while, we need space, and that’s okay. So we ask you to go home with your mom and dad, and tell them that we need a place for us to go when we feel angry, when we feel sad. “You know, Mom, Dad? I think we need a space. Our teacher called it the breathing space, a breathing room, or we can call it a flower room.” Go home and ask your mom and dad to set up a space in our home. It could be a corner or even a little area of the house where you have a cushion, a little flower, and if you feel angry, you go there. If you feel sad, you go there.

You see this finger here? When it feels a little sad or needing some space, you go to mommy and daddy, or you go to your brother, “I am going to the flower room.” Okay? “Please, everyone, you know, I need time to breathe.” So we go in there and we can sit on the cushion. Everyone try it, okay? Everyone sit in that space. Sit beautifully. No one can bother you in that space. Everyone in the family has to agree to that, even the young ones. The parents, you have to respect the young ones. So you sit there and you follow your breath. Everyone try it.

Pretend we’re sitting in that room. Sit beautifully. We can use our hands to help us. You put your left hand on your belly, and then you put your right hand on the belly on top of your other hand. We close our eyes. And we breathe in. Right now, I’m taking care of myself. I need space, I need to be still. So we sit there, and we close our eyes for a few minutes like that. And we become more calm.

Can everyone remember that? When I was young, your age, I didn’t have anybody to teach me that. All I knew was how to run into the closet and hide under the blanket. But now, you have a way, you don’t need to run. You can be with your feelings. So next time when your brother and sister, you rub against each other too much and you need some break time, instead of going to tell your mom, “Yah!” and yell, you go to that space. And you take care of yourself.

And now, please, for all the mommies and daddies, if you can help establish a space where our children can find some place for them to practice. We hear many stories from families that the kids remind their parents to breathe. Your mom, sometimes, and your dad, they take care of you and they get tired. You ever see your mom get tired? Because she gives everything to you. Yeah, she gets grumpy. Your mom is like a flower, like this [points to flower] and you need to take care of her. And your dad, too, you know. Because sometimes they take care of you too much and they get tired.

So I’m going to teach you with the hands again, with both of your hands. You go like this, it’s like a budding flower [holds hands together in lotus bud, then opens palms with wrists together, creating a blooming flower]. “Mom, here’s a flower for you.” You don’t have to go to the store to buy a flower. When you see your mom or your dad feeling grumpy — it’s not nice to feel grumpy, but you have to help your mom, because she takes care of you the whole day and sometimes at night, too — she’s like a flower and you have to take care of her. “Hi, Mommy, here’s a flower for you.” She’ll know that you’re there for her and then I think she will freshen up. Sometimes when she is grumpy, please try to help her — staying out of the way, giving her space, just like you when you need space.

So remember the hand — family [holds hand up]. You can’t run away from your family. Once in a while you rub against them, but you go to the space, breathing, and remember to give space to your mom and dad. Remember your hands can help you.

Brother Phap Dung is abbot of Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

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Bell of Mindfulness

An Exercise for Children

By Terry Cortes-Vega

Here is an activity to engage in with the children of your Sangha. What you might say is in boldface. Actions for you to take are in italic — remember to take your time! The answers to questions in parentheses are the answers our children gave us.

Materials Needed

  • Bowl bell and its cushion
  • Bell inviter


Hear the Buddha Calling

Did you know the Buddha calls us? Today we will listen to see if we can hear the Buddha calling us. Listen, I think he is calling us now!

Bow to the bell and if it is a small bell, mindfully pick it up. Bow to the inviter and pick it up. Smile to the bell and the inviter and breathe in and out.

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness. We send our hearts along with the sound of the bell.

Awaken the bell by placing the inviter on the rim of the bell and holding it there. After breathing in and out, invite the bell to sound and allow it to sing.

Breathe in. I listen. I listen. Breathe out. That wonderful sound brings me back to my True Self.

Set the inviter down. Return the bell down on its cushion. Bow to them.

Did you hear the Buddha call to us? When we hear a bell, we are hearing the Buddha calling us! That is why we stop whatever we are doing and show respect to the Buddha in the bell. We stop our moving. We stop our thinking. We stop our talking and we listen to the beautiful sound of the Buddha. It is not the Buddha from a long time ago who is calling us; it is the Buddha inside ourselves; it is our Buddha nature. We smile when we hear the call. We breathe in and we say to the Buddha inside ourselves—to our Buddha nature, “I listen. I listen.” Then we breathe out and say to our Buddha nature, “That wonderful sound brings me back to my true, kind, loving self.”

Would you like to learn to invite the bell?

Guide a child through the procedure described above (in italics).

Guide other children as they learn to invite the bell, following the same procedure above. All of the children might say the “I listen” gatha together each time the bell is sounded.

Sometimes the Buddha is a bell. Sometimes the Buddha is a bird singing. Sometimes the Buddha is a baby crying or a telephone.

Can you think of other sounds that the Buddha inside you might use to call you back to your Buddha nature? (my dad calling me, an alarm clock, thunder, wind in the trees, a rooster crowing, the sound of a river, an airplane flying over my house, a horn honking, my cat meowing)

Can you think of ways other than sounds that the Buddha inside you might use to call to you? Things you might see or smell or touch that will remind you to come back to your Buddha nature? (sunset, finding a lost toy, butterfly, storm, dinner cooking, my cat crawling up in my lap, iris, my dog wagging his tail, my favorite stuffed animal) Why do you think the Buddha inside you—your Buddha nature—wants to get your attention? (to remind me to be happy; to remind me to love the person I’m with; to remind me to be kind)

mb48-TheBell2jpgWherever you are, it is wonderful to listen for the Buddha. Or to look for the Buddha. Or to see if you can smell or feel the Buddha calling you. When we get back together again, we will share with each other the different ways the Buddha has called us!

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Sangha News


Thay Rewrites the Five Contemplations

In view of the statistics showing that more greenhouse gases are produced by factory farming than any other single factor, Thay has changed the wording of the fourth of the Five Contemplations that we use as part of a mindful meal.

The Contemplations now read as follows:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue
October 2007


New Dharma Teachers Ordained at Plum Village

On January 9, 2008, Plum Village held a Grand Ordination Ceremony called Earth-Refreshing. The following lay Dharmacharyas received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • Charles Al Lingo, True Seal of Virtue, U.S.A.
  • Cheryll Ann Maples, True Precious Mindfulness Trainings, U.S.A.
  • Eevi Elizabeth Beck, Practice of True Compassion, Norway
  • Ger Levert, True Ocean of Peace, The Netherlands
  • Seijja Mauro, True Jewel of Compassion, Finland


Cheri Maples’ Gatha

Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace.
Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.

Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice.
Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.

Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety & protection to all beings.
Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.

Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor & compassion as my weapon.
Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.


Q & A about Blue Cliff

During a recent visit to Blue Cliff Monastery, we had the opportunity to ask Brother Phap Vu some questions about the new practice center.


Tell us what you know of the history of this place.

This was told to me by Corky Jeronimo, the former owner. The Jeronimo family lived in New York City, but during the 1940s there was a wave of anti-Cuban, anti-Latino sentiment and Corky’s parents decided to move out of the city. At that time the Catskills was a very popular place for city folk to escape to, especially on the weekend.

This was an existing farm — basically a house and a barn. The original house, in which Corky grew up, is still intact; we call it the Farmhouse. It shows up on late nineteenth-century maps, so it has to be at least a hundred years old. The original barn was eventually converted into the main building.

As the family settled in, relatives and friends would come up to visit. Eventually the parents decided to start a get-away resort. As time went on the various buildings were built, one at a time, then swimming pools and tennis courts.

Why did the Jeronimos decide to sell?

Most decisions there were several factors, including economics, but mostly they wanted to retire and unload a cow.

What did you do after you bought it?

We had to pour more money into it for some basic renovations such as the kitchen, laundry room, and Harmony Meditation Hall, which was an indoor swimming pool. In the main building we took out the bar and lounge for the main dining room. We renovated Jade Candle Meditation Hall to make it larger and added on a bathroom–shower block. We also did a little work on the Farmhouse, adding a bathroom and bedroom downstairs. We took an old barn down and built a storage building.

All of the rooms in all the buildings had large double or queen size beds as well as television. We had to get rid of the beds and the televisions. We started to get the word out in the local community that there were old beds and TVs to be had; not too many responded but eventually we got rid of them. In place we put bunk beds.

We also established trails in the forest with benches and bridges and a stone staircase for people to enjoy. We planted bushes and trees. We turned the outdoor swimming pool into a garden. Much of this needed to be done but we also did it in preparation for the big retreat with Thay [in October 2007].

Not only did we do all this but there were the basic maintenance issues — such as bathroom doors that didn’t close or didn’t lock. I trimmed about fifteen doors and changed close to twenty door knobs. I also repaired several toilets that needed parts; I had to rebuild two completely. Some roof work had to be done, some still need repairs. Some of the decking on the buildings was rotting and some of the beams and railings had to be replaced; they still need some more work. Two of the main water lines broke, one just before the October retreat.

What plans do you have for future work?

What future work — we’re broke!

In the monks’ residence we are currently converting the garage into a kitchen and adding on a dining hall. Mostly we will be looking to do some repair and renovation on the existing buildings; they certainly need it. Each building has its own issues that need to be addressed — you know, like sanghas. But with a little loving care… !


Overall the buildings really need to be better insulated. The Jeronimos didn’t operate during the winter months so the buildings lose a lot of heat, which is very expensive in terms of fuel. We are beginning to look into green technologies and strategies to bring the cost down and help Mother Nature a bit. I do see that eventually we could turn to alternative energy sources, but one step at a time.

What is Thay’s vision for Blue Cliff Monastery?

Thay sees New York City as an acupuncture point for America and therefore wishes that the monastic sangha in BCM develop a strong practice in order to make that acupuncture point effective. This is why some of the older brothers and sisters have been brought in to support the practice. I think it is essential.



mb48-SanghaNews7For this current year we are mostly concerned with building brotherhood and sisterhood here at BCM. This is a new territory for the monastics; in Plum Village the brothers’ hamlet and sisters’ hamlet are kilometers away. Even at Deer Park the hamlets are clearly separated, but this is not the case here. So we are learning how to be a more integrated community. It is really going to take a change in perspective. Think about it, we come from a tradition where for centuries monks and nuns are separated. Now we are here together. Formally, Thay has established two hamlets here: one for the brothers and one for the sisters. In actuality it comes down to two residences: one residence for the brothers and one residence for the sisters. This is due not to an idea of what a monastery is or isn’t or what it should be or what it shouldn’t be but to sheer practicality of the property.

mb48-SanghaNews8Geography plays an important role in forming societies and cultures. Here the question of what I am attached to is very relevant. More specifically, what perspectives, understandings, reactions, and decisions come out of that attachment? The teachings of the Madhyamaka school need to come forward — getting beyond categories and distinctions, little boxes that we sort the world of experience into and fool ourselves into thinking this is truth, this is happiness.


—Janelle Combelic,
True Lotus Meditation

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Book Reviews

mb48-BookReviews1World As Lover, World As Self
Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal

By Joanna Macy
Revised edition
Parallax Press, 2007
Paperback, 202 pages

Reviewed by Emily Whittle

Every once in a while a book falls into my lap that I want to purchase by the case and give away at busy street corners or drop from airplanes like packages of medicine. World As Lover, World As Self by Joanna Macy is one of those books.

This is how Macy describes her book: “Carl Jung said that at the core of each life’s journey is one question we are born to pursue. The one question threading through my life here on this beautiful Earth is about how to be fully present to my world — present enough to rejoice and be useful — while we as a species are progressively destroying it. This book is my attempt to answer this preoccupation, as well as insight into the relief and guidance I have found in the teachings of the Buddha.”

Joanna Macy looks unblinking at the feeling of despair over the rapid extinction of species and the unprecedented plundering of our planet’s lands and waters. Giving voice to the pain of being alive in a special time when human beings have lost the certainty of the continuity of our species is an act of courage and of compassion. Her words brought me to tears, but they were tears of relief — the relief of honesty and clear naming.

Once named and honored, she proceeds to outline a path to heal our grief by first mining the past for wisdom that can help us, finding inspiration in the Buddha’s teaching of interdependent co-arising. This teaching “first shows us how profoundly we’re entangled in the web of life, thus relieving us of our human arrogance and loneliness. Second, it frees us from having to have it all figured out ahead of time, for the solutions arise as we walk the path and meet each other on the road. And lastly, it reveals our distinctiveness as humans: our capacity to choose.”

Ahhh! Already, I feel lighter.

Moving on to the present, she shares practical exercises to cultivate our gratitude, a sure antidote to despair. The Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer gives me goose bumps and draws more tears. Reading it at sangha, I hear scattered sniffling and know a nerve has been touched.

She addresses the problems of apathy, burnout, and overwhelm that plague social activists, offering additional practical strategies for collective strengthening and awakening. Her suggestions provide a scaffold that can be creatively adapted to groups of many persuasions and focus.

In the final section, Macy addresses the future, challenging us to alter our sense of time through a powerful guided meditation, telescoping our life as Gaia into twenty-four hours. Seen in this context, our human history begins at one second to midnight. Then, rendering that final second into another twenty-four-hour day, the Buddha and Jesus arrive at six seconds to midnight; our industrial age bursting on the scene only in the last microseconds. But what swift changes those microseconds bring!

If the threat of our annihilation is the catalyst to our birthing as compassionate guardians of the Earth’s future, then even toxic nuclear waste can be viewed as a great gift. We can wake up. Books like this can be a valuable guide on the path of transformation.

mb48-BookReviews2Buddha Mind, Buddha Body
Walking Toward Enlightenment

by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, Berkeley, 2007
Softcover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

I am reading this book in the second month after the sudden passing of our thirty-six-year-old son, Jesse. I chose it because the back cover reads: “In… this follow-up to his classic book, Understanding Our Mind, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how we can instill the habit of happiness in our consciousness.” I want my happiness back. I am reading it because, just as in the days when I first fell into the arms of Zen, I am desperate.

Back then, my sister-in-law and her two sons, my teenage nephews, had been murdered. Now our son is dead of a heroin overdose. The rhythm of Thay’s syntax in this book calms me. And his incredible clarity, as always, brightens my mind.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s great gifts to the world is a group method of outdoor walking meditation which he adapted from Shakyamuni Buddha’s first alms rounds. In Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, which would serve well as a primer for new students, Thay weaves in and out of walking meditation. “You can take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment, and you will arrive in the here and now. You don’t need to make any effort at all.” A good place to begin.

To this practice, he adds the basics of Buddhist psychology and the way to happiness through the Six Paramitas, which he supplements with a lucid explanation of the importance of Finding Wise Friends and the Four Elements of Love, the ground of our Bodhisattva path. Walking Meditation, Touching the Earth, and Total Relaxation are exercises offered by Thay so we can make manifest the words of this wisdom book, which includes the Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses in both Chinese and English in Appendix I, and a Sanskrit key in Appendix II.

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, is comprehensive. Thay tells how our minds work and how our feet work, and he shows us how we can use both body and mind to walk into the realm of happiness and reclaim our sovereignty, our free will. He shows us once again that happiness and freedom are not an individual matter. We will be liberated only when we can inter-be with all forms of life.

Yet this is only speculation until I can put into practice what our teacher so clearly articulates here through poems, stories, sutras, and scientific studies. So I put down the book and head for the mountain wilderness to walk with my late sister-in-law and my two nephews and our son, Jesse. “Jesse,” I say, “walk with me.” I call to Dougie, Danny, Louise. “Please walk with me.” I follow my breathing. With my boot soles, I kiss the red earth where Cherokee once roamed.

They are with me, too. And the mica strewn on every path in southern Appalachia — like glitter on the clay-red soil and decomposing leaves — shines as tiny mirrors, the net of Indra reflecting all Buddhas everywhere, each a window to the cosmos.

I am thinking of my Sangha friend Susan when on the path I spy a heart-shaped rock. Susan collects these! I pick it up and hold it in my palm. Its temperature is cold, but I know that, like my heart, if I continue to hold it, its original warmth will return. Suddenly I notice I feel happy, even in my sorrow.

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How Can We Help the Children in Vietnam?


In many regions of Vietnam the social infrastructure is non-existent. In mountainous areas parents are forced to work long hours in order to scrape a living from the stony soil. Young parents who work on tea and coffee plantations in the central and northern highlands are not able to care for their children as they are working. Moreover the elderly relatives who could help are often living very far away. At a very young age children are left alone for the whole day. There is a serious risk that they may drown in ponds or puddles, be bitten by snakes, fall and hurt themselves, and so on.


Any help we can contribute for the care and education of young children in poor areas of Vietnam is very precious. Our help for the schools includes facing the issue of malnutrition, from which sixty percent of young Vietnamese suffer. In our schools children are given a midday meal and a glass of soy milk. Education provides families with hope that they can improve the lot of their children in the future and find relief from grinding poverty.

  • $15 a month will provide a child with a nourishing meal once a day and an education in nursery school or primary or high
  • $30 a month pays the salary of a school teacher who will teach twentyfive children in a remote

We are in great need of your help to continue this work. Please send your donation to one of the addresses below. We depend on you to continue this beautiful and noble service.

Make a check to “UBC Deer Park”
and mail to:
Deer Park Monastery
2499 Melru Lane
Escondido CA 92026 USA
Or transfer funds directly to account of
Deer Park Monastery,
Wells Fargo Bank,
145 Escondido Blvd.,
Escondido CA 92025
routing transit number 121-04-28-82.

Make a check to “EBU Village des Pruniers” and mail to:
Loving Kindness Temple
13 Martineau
33580 Dieulivol
Attn: Sister Chan Khong

Europe and Asia
Transfer funds to UBS Bank,
Aeschenvorstadt 1, CH
Basel, Switzerland;
account of Sister CAO N.P.F. Chan Khong for the Unified Buddhist Church;
attn: Mr. Guy Forster;
0233-405 317 60 D in USD,
405 31701 N in Swiss Francs, and
405 317 61 F in Euros;
Swift Code: UBS WCH ZH 40A

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