Dharma Talk: History of Engaged Buddhism

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Hanoi, Vietnam – May 6 -7, 2008 

At the beginning of the seven-day English-language retreat in Hanoi, Thich Nhat Hanh gave a rare glimpse into his early career. This excerpt from two Dharma talks reveals Thay as a teacher, social activist, and prolific writer – and revolutionary advocate of Engaged Buddhism, also called Applied Buddhism. 

In 1949 I was one of the founders of the An Quang Buddhist Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, and I taught the first class of novices. The temple was very simple, built of bamboo and thatch. The name of the temple was actually Ung Quang. A Dharma teacher came from Danang, the Venerable Tri Huu, and we both built Ung Quang temple. The war was going on between the French and the Vietnamese resistance movement. 

Five years later, in 1954, the Geneva Accord was signed and the country was divided into two parts: the North was communist, and the South was anti-communist. Over one million people migrated from the North to the South, among them many Catholics. There was a lot of confusion in the country. 

At the Ung Quang temple from time to time we received French soldiers who came to visit us. After Dien Bien Phu the war with the French ended, and it was agreed that the country should be divided and the French would withdraw from the country. I remember talking to the French soldiers. Many of them came to Vietnam and died in Vietnam. 

A Fresh Look at Buddhism 

In 1954 there was great confusion in the minds of people in Vietnam, especially the young people – monks, nuns, lay practitioners. The North was inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology. In the South, president Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, was trying to run the country with another kind of ideology called “personalism.” It seemed that the ideological war had begun. 

Buddhism is a very ancient tradition in Vietnam, and most of the people have a Buddhist seed in them. Mr. Vu Ngoc Cac, manager of a daily newspaper, asked me to write a series of articles about Buddhism. He wanted me to offer insight as to the spiritual direction we should take in order to deal with the great confusion in the country. So I wrote a series of ten articles with the title, “A Fresh Look at Buddhism.” 

It is in this series of ten articles that I proposed the idea of Engaged Buddhism — Buddhism in the realm of education, economics, politics, and so on. So Engaged Buddhism dates from 1954. 

At that time I did not use a typewriter, I just wrote in the oldfashioned way. And they came and they took the article, and the article was always printed on the front page with a big red title. The newspaper sold very, very well because people were very thirsty. They wanted spiritual direction because confusion was so huge. 

Rose Tea and Fresh Corn 

That series of articles was published as a book later on. Not long after, I visited Hue. Duc Tam, who had been in the same class as me at the Buddhist Institute, was the editor of another Buddhist magazine. His temple was on a small island in the Perfume River, Huong Giang, where they grow a very tasty kind of corn. He invited me to stay a few weeks in his temple. Every morning he offered me tea with a kind of rose — it’s a very tiny flower, but it smells nice when you put it in the tea. Every day we did walking meditation through the neighborhood, and we bought some fresh corn. He nourished me with rose tea and fresh corn, and he wanted me to write another series of articles on Engaged Buddhism! [laughs] 

In fact, I wrote another series of ten articles with the title “Buddhism Today,” which was also on the theme of Engaged Buddhism. This series was translated into French by Le Vinh Hao, a scholar who lives in Paris. The title he took for the book is Aujourd’hui le Boudhisme. 

In 1964 when I visited America to give a series of lectures, I met Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, and I gave him a copy of Aujourd’hui le Boudhisme; he wrote a review. 

Buddhism That Enters Into Life 

In 1963-64, I was lecturing on Buddhism at Columbia University. The struggle led by the Buddhists for human rights ended the regime of President Diem. Maybe you have heard about the Venerable Thich Quang Duc, who immolated himself with fire, and who drew the attention of the whole world to the violation of human rights in Vietnam. That was a completely nonviolent movement for human rights. When the Diem regime fell, I was asked by my colleagues to come home and help. 

So I went home. I founded Van Hanh University, and I published a book called Engaged Buddhism, a collection of many articles I had written before. 

I think this is the first time you have this information. [laughs] 

This is the beginning of 1964. I had written these articles before that, but I put them together and published under the title Engaged Buddhism, or Dao society. Di vao cuoc doi. Cuoc doi here is “life” or “society.” Di vao means “to enter.” So these were the words that were used for Engaged Buddhism in Vietnam: di vao cuoc doi, “entering into life, social life.” 

Six months later I produced another book, Dao Phat hien dai hoa, “Buddhism updated,” “Buddhism renewed.” This is the Chinese — Buddhism made actual, the actualization of Buddhism. So all these terms, all these documents, have to do with what we call “Engaged Buddhism.” And after that I wrote many other books – Buddhism of Tomorrow. [laughs] 

But at that time already, my name was banned by the government of the South, the anti-communist government, because of my activities for peace, calling for reconciliation between North and South. I became persona non grata. I could not go home anymore, and I was in exile. 

So my book, Buddhism of Tomorrow, could not be published in Vietnam under my name. I used a montagnard’s name — Bsu Danlu. You may wonder where that name came from. In 1956 we founded a practice center in the highland of Vietnam called Fragrant Palm Leaves Monastery, Phuong Boi. We bought the land from two montagnards, K’Briu and K’Broi. The name of the village where the Fragrant Palm Leaves Monastery was situated is Bsu Danlu. 

Wisdom in the Here and Now 

I continued to publish my books in Vietnam with many other names. I wrote a history of Vietnamese Buddhism in three thick volumes and I signed the name Nguyen Lang. So although I was away from the country thirty-nine years, I continued to write books and some of them were published in Vietnam under different names. 

As we have said, the first meaning of Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that is present in every moment of our daily life. While you brush your teeth, Buddhism should be there. While you drive your car, Buddhism should be there. While you are walking in the supermarket, Buddhism should be there — so that you know what to buy and what not to buy! 

Also, Engaged Buddhism is the kind of wisdom that responds to anything that happens in the here and the now — global warming, climate change, the destruction of the ecosystem, the lack of communication, war, conflict, suicide, divorce. As a mindfulness practitioner, we have to be aware of what is going on in our body, our feelings, our emotions, and our environment. That is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that responds to what is happening in the here and the now. 

A Fresh Take on the Four Noble Truths 

We can speak about Engaged Buddhism in terms of the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is dukkha, ill-being. Traditionally Buddhist teachers have spoken of the First Noble Truth in this way: old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, separation from those you love is suffering. Leaving all those you love; wishing for something but never obtaining it. But these are old ways of describing the First Noble Truth. Now as we practice mindfulness we have to identify the kind of ill-being that is actually present. First of all we know there is a kind of tension in the body, a lot of stress. We can say that suffering today involves tension, stress, anxiety, fear, violence, broken families, suicide, war, conflict, terrorism, destruction of the ecosystem, global warming, etc. 

We should be fully present in the here and the now and recognize the true face of ill-being. 

The natural tendency is to run away from suffering, from ill-being. We don’t want to confront it so we try to escape. But the Buddha advises us not to do so. In fact he encourages us to look deeply into the nature of the suffering in order to learn. His teaching is that if you do not understand the suffering you cannot see the path of transformation, the path leading to the cessation of suffering. 

All of us know that the First Noble Truth is ill-being and the Fourth Noble Truth is the path leading to the cessation of ill-being. Without understanding the First you never have the opportunity to see the path leading to the cessation of ill-being. 

You should learn to come home to the present moment in order to recognize ill-being as it is; and as we practice looking deeply into the First Noble Truth, ill-being, we will discover the Second Noble Truth, the roots or the making of ill-being. 

Each of us has to discover for himself or herself the cause of ill-being. Suppose we speak about our hectic life — we have so much to do, so much to achieve. As a politician, a businessman, even an artist, we want to do more and more and more. We crave success. We do not have the capacity to live deeply each moment of our daily life. We don’t give our body a chance to relax and to heal. 

If we know how to live like a Buddha, dwelling in the present moment, allowing the refreshing and healing elements to penetrate, then we will not become victims of stress, tension, and many kinds of disease. 

You can say that one of the roots of ill-being is our incapacity to live our life deeply in each moment. 

When we have a lot of tension and irritation in us we cannot listen to the other person. We cannot use loving speech. We cannot remove wrong perceptions. Therefore wrong perceptions give rise to fear, hate, violence, and so on. We have to identify the causes of our ill-being. This is very important work. 

Suppose we speak of suicide, of broken families. We know that when communication becomes difficult between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, people are no longer happy. Many young people fall into despair and want to commit to suicide. They don’t know how to handle despair or their emotions, and they think that the only way to stop suffering is to kill oneself. In France every year about 12,000 young people commit suicide, just because they can’t handle their emotions like despair. And their parents don’t know how to do it. They don’t teach their children how to deal with their feelings, and even school teachers don’t how to help their students to recognize and hold their emotions tenderly. 

When people cannot communicate they don’t understand each other or see the other’s suffering and there is no love, no happiness. War and terrorism are also born from wrong perceptions. Terrorists think that the other side is trying to destroy them as a religion, as a way of life, as a nation. If we believe that the other person is trying to kill us then we will seek ways to kill the other person first in order not to be killed. 

Fear, misunderstanding, and wrong perceptions are the foundation of all these violent acts. The war in Iraq, which is called anti-terrorist, has not helped to reduce the number of terrorists. In fact the number of terrorists is increasing all the time because of the war. In order to remove terrorism you have to remove wrong perceptions. We know very well that airplanes, guns, and bombs cannot remove wrong perceptions. Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct wrong perceptions. But our leaders are not trained in that discipline and they rely on the armed forces to remove terrorism. 

So looking deeply we can see the making of ill-being, the roots of ill-being, by recognizing ill-being as the truth and looking deeply into its nature. 

The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of ill-being, which means the presence of well-being — just as the absence of darkness means the presence of light. When ignorance is no longer present, there is wisdom. When you remove darkness, there is light. So the cessation of ill-being means the presence of well-being, which is the opposite of the First Noble Truth. 

The teaching of the Buddha confirms the truth that well-being is possible. Because there is ill-being, well-being is possible. If ill-being is described first in terms of tension, stress, heaviness, then well-being is described as lightness, peace, relaxation – la détente. With your body, breath, feet, and mindfulness you can reduce tension and bring about relaxation, lightness, peace. 

We can speak of the Fourth Noble Truth in very concrete terms. The methods of practice enable us to reduce tension, stress, unhappiness, as seen in the Fourth Noble Truth, the path. Today’s Dharma teachers may want to call it the path of well-being. The cessation of ill-being means the beginning of well-being — it’s so simple! 

From Many Gods to No God 

I would like to go back a little bit to the history of Engaged Buddhism. 

In the nineteen-fifties I began to write because people needed to have spiritual direction to help them overcome their confusion. One day I wrote about the relationship between religious belief and the ways we organize our society. I described the history of the evolution of society. 

First, our society was organized in groups of people called tribes. Over time, several tribes would come together and finally we set up kingdoms, with a king. Then the time came when we had enough of kings and we wanted to create democracies or republics. 

Our religious beliefs had been changing along the way. First of all, we had something parallel to the establishment of tribes — polytheism, the belief that there are many gods and each god has a power. You are free to choose one god to worship, and that god will protect you against the other gods and the other tribes. 

When we form kingdoms, then our way of belief changes also — monotheism. There’s only one God, the most powerful God, and we should worship only one God and not many gods. 

When we come to democracies, there’s no king anymore. Everyone is equal to everyone else, and we rely on each other to live. That is why monotheism is changing to the belief in interdependence — interbeing — where there is no longer God. We are fully responsible for our life, for our world, for our planet. I wrote things like that during the time I was trying to build up Engaged Buddhism. 

Birth of the Order of Interbeing 

In 1964, we established the Order of Interbeing. The birth of the Order of Interbeing is very meaningful. We need only to study the Fourteen Precepts or Mindfulness Trainings in order to understand why and how the Order of Interbeing was established. 

At that time the war was going on very fiercely. It was a conflict between ideologies. The North and South each had their own ideology; one side was Marxism-Leninism, the other, personalism and capitalism. Not only did we fight with ideologies imported from the outside, but we also fought with weapons imported from the outside — guns and bombs from Russia, China, and America. As Buddhists who practice peace and reconciliation, brotherhood and sisterhood, we did not want to accept such a war. You cannot accept a war where brothers are killing brothers with ideologies and weapons imported from the outside. 

The Order of Interbeing was born as a spiritual resistance movement. It’s based completely on the teachings of the Buddha. The First Mindfulness Training — non-attachment to views, freedom from all ideologies — was a direct answer to the war. Everyone was ready to die and to kill for their beliefs. 

The First Mindfulness Training: “Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones…” 

This is the lion’s roar!

“Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.” 

The teaching of the Buddha from the Nipata Sutra concerning views is very clear. We should not be attached to any view; we have to transcend all views.

Right View, first of all, means the absence of all views. Attachment to views is the source of suffering. Suppose you climb on a ladder, and on the fourth step you think you are already at the highest level. Then you are stuck! You have to release the fourth step in order to be able to get up to the fifth step. To be scientific, scientists have to release what they have found in order to come to a higher truth. This is the teaching of the Buddha: When you consider something to be the truth and you are attached to it, you must release it in order to go higher. 

The basic spirit of Buddhism is non-attachment to views. Wisdom is not views. Insight is not views. We should be ready to release our ideas for true insight to be possible. Suppose you have notions about impermanence, non-self, interbeing, the Four Noble Truths. That may be dangerous, because these are only views. You are very proud that you know something about the Four Noble Truths, about interbeing, about interdependent origination, about mindfulness, concentration, and insight. But that teaching is only a means for you to get insight. If you are attached to these teachings, you are lost. The teaching about impermanence, nonself, interbeing, is to help you to get the insight of impermanence, non-self, and interbeing. 

The Buddha said, “My teaching is like the finger pointing to the moon. You should be skillful. You look in the direction of my finger, and you can see the moon. If you take my finger to be the moon, you will never see the moon.” So even the Buddhadharma is not the truth, it’s only an instrument for you to get the truth. This is very basic in Buddhism.

War is the outcome of attachment to views, of fanaticism. If we look deeply into the nature of the war in Iraq, we can see that it is also a religious war. People are using religious belief to back up the war. Mr. Bush was supported by many [right-wing Christian] evangelists. The resistance fighters and the terrorists in Iraq are backed up by their Muslim belief. So this is somehow a religious war. Peace cannot exist if we maintain our fanaticism concerning our views. 

Lotus in a Sea of Fire 

In 1965 I wrote a small book on the war in Vietnam, Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, published by Hill and Wong in America. The war in Vietnam was raging, it was an ocean of fire. We were killing each other; we allowed American bombers to come and destroy our forests, our people. We allowed weapons from China and Russia to come. But Buddhism was trying to do something. Those of us who did not accept the war wanted to do something to resist the war. 

Buddhists did not have radio or television stations. There was no way for them to express themselves. 

Whoever is listening, be my witness:
I do not accept this war,
let me say this one more time before I die.  

These are lines in my poems.

Our enemies are not men. 

Our enemies are hate, fanaticism, violence. Our enemies are not men. If we kill men, with whom shall we live?

The peace movement in Vietnam badly needed international support, but you could not hear us over there. So sometimes we had to burn ourselves alive to tell you that we didn’t want this war. Please help stop this war, this killing of brothers by brothers! Buddhism was like a lotus flower trying to survive in an ocean of fire.

I translated the book into Vietnamese, and an American friend in the peace movement helped bring that book to Vietnam. The book was printed underground and many young people tried to circulate that book as an act of resistance.

Sister Chan Khong, who was a professor of biology in Hue University, brought a copy to Hue for a friend. She was arrested and put into prison because she owned one copy of that book. Later on she was transferred to a prison in Saigon.

The School of Youth for Social Service

Young friends came to me and asked me to publish my poems about peace. They called it anti-war poetry. I said okay, if you want to do it, please do. They collected about fifty or sixty poems of mine on this topic and submitted them to the government of South Vietnam. Fifty-five of the poems were censored. Only a few were left. But our friends were not discouraged and they printed the poems underground. The book of poetry sold very, very quickly. Even some secret police liked it, because they also suffered from the war. They would go to the bookstore and say, “You shouldn’t display them like this! You should hide them behind the counter!” [laughs]

Radio stations in Saigon, Hanoi, and Beijing began to attack the poems because they called for peace. No one wanted peace. They wanted to fight to the end.

In 1964 we also established the School of Youth for Social Service. We trained thousands of young people, including monks and nuns, to go to the countryside and help the peasants rebuild their villages. We helped them in four aspects: education, health, economics, and organization. Our social workers went to a village and played with the children and taught them how to read and write and sing. When the people in the village liked us, we suggested building a school for the children. One family gave a few bamboo trees. Another family brought coconut leaves to make a roof. Then we began to have a school. Our workers did not receive a salary. After setting up a school in the village, we set up a dispensary where we could dispense rudimentary medicines to help the people. We brought into the village students of medicine or a doctor and tried to help one or two days. We also organized cooperatives and tried to teach people the kind of handicrafts they could do in order to increase the income of the family.

We have to begin with ourselves, from the grassroots. The School of Youth for Social Service was founded on the spirit that we don’t need to wait for the government.

A New Youth Organization in Europe 

We trained many young people, including young monks and nuns. Finally we had more than ten thousand workers working from Quang Tri to the south. During the war we helped sponsor more than ten thousand orphans. That is part of Engaged Buddhism — the young people.

This year we intend to set up an organization of young Buddhists in Europe: Young Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society. So many young people have come to us, to our retreats in Europe, America, and Asia. Now we want to organize them. They will use the Five Mindfulness Trainings as their practice, and they will engage themselves into society — to help produce a healthier society, one with more compassion.

If my friends here are inspired by the idea, then please, when you go home, invite the young people to set up a group of Young Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society.

Last month we went to Italy, and we had one day of practice with the young people in the city of Napoli [Naples]. The five hundred young men and women who came to practice with us loved it! They are ready to engage in the practice of peace, helping to produce a healthier, more compassionate society.

Our young monks and nuns will also be involved in that organization.

Foundation of an Institute of Applied Buddhism 

We have also set up a European Institute of Applied Buddhism. I hope that during this retreat, Sister Annabel, Chan Duc, will offer a presentation on the Institute of Applied Buddhism. We shall have campuses in America and Asia also. Everyone who has successfully completed the three-month retreat in Plum Village or Deer Park will be given a certificate of completion issued by the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

The Institute of Applied Buddhism will offer many interesting courses. You might like to help organize a course in your area; we will send Dharma teachers. One example is the twenty-one-day course for young men and women who are preparing to set up a family. There they learn how to make their conjugal life into a success.

There will be courses for those who have been diagnosed with AIDS or cancer, so that they can learn how to live with their sickness. If you know how to accept and live with your sickness, then you can live twenty, thirty more years.

There will be courses for businesspeople, for school teachers, and so on.

This kind of certificate will help you to become an official Dharma teacher. One day you might be inspired to become a Dharma teacher, to go out and help people, to be a continuation of the Buddha.

Nowadays we are using the term “Applied Buddhism,” which is just another way of referring to Engaged Buddhism.

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

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

Letter from the Editor

mb49-Editor1Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

“Each of us has to discover for himself or herself the cause of ill-being,” says Thay in his Dharma talk at the retreat in Hanoi. I am sitting on my couch furiously scribbling as I transcribe Thay’s words from the DVD. (Our invaluable volunteer Greg Sever transcribed most of the two talks that are excerpted in this issue, but then I decided I wanted to include Thay’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths.) The sun is shining outside my home in Colorado, the grass needs mowing, I’m way behind my ideal schedule for getting the Mindfulness Bell articles to Sister Annabel for review.

With a compassionate calm smile, Thay continues, “Suppose we speak about our hectic life — we have so much to do, so much to achieve. As a politician, a businessman, even an artist, we want to do more and more and more.” I just have to laugh. What irony! Like many people I know, I’m juggling so many different responsibilities, tasks, and fun projects that I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

Thay goes on: “We crave success. We do not have the capacity to live deeply each moment of our daily life. We don’t give our body a chance to relax and to heal.” Finally I get it. I pause the DVD, put down my pad and pencil, and take a few breaths. I realize I need a break so I go outside and water a few plants, pull a few weeds, pet the dog.

A month later I take a real break and attend the Healing Self, Healing Earth retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park — five days of peace, healing, insight, and new friendships.

In addition to enlightening Dharma talks and mindful hikes in the Rocky Mountains, one of the blessings for me when I go on retreat is the opportunity to speak with readers of the Mindfulness Bell. It’s heartening to hear that people enjoy the magazine, read it on the plane, keep it by their bedside, savor old issues. In this issue we also print letters from prison inmates who benefit from the Mindfulness Bell. Thank you all for sharing your kind thoughts with me, and do continue to share your writings, art, and photos. In particular, I would love to hear from practitioners on the subject of mindfulness in the workplace.

Another way that our journal touches people is when articles get reprinted; this year we’ve had Dharma talks and essays picked up by Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly; Intersein, the German Sangha magazine; The Lotus Bud newsletter in Sydney, Australia; the new Sangha newsletter in Thailand; and Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge. And we earned a complimentary review in Utne Reader’s online newsletter.

In addition, we’ll have another piece in Shambhala’s prestigious anthology, Best Buddhist Writing 2008. Here’s what editor Melvin McLeod wrote to me: “It’s perhaps a surprising choice: young Cameron Barnett’s description of his retreat at Plum Village, and how it helped him after he returned to school… This piece will be included with authors who include the Dalai Lama, Natalie Goldberg, Sylvia Boorstein, and of course Thich Nhat Hanh himself. I felt that it told such a sincere story of how the practice can be applied that it deserved to be in such august company… I’d also like to say how much I admire and enjoy the Mindfulness Bell. Of course I have the greatest respect for Thay and all his historic work, and the Mindfulness Bell is a reflection of this great teacher.”

To me, the Mindfulness Bell is also a reflection of our four-fold Sangha — an ever-inspiring kaleidoscope of wisdom, compassion, and beauty in the world.

Blessings to you all,


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Prison Dharma

About 50 copies of each issue of the Mindfulness Bell go out to people who are incarcerated. Their heartwarming letters remind us why we do this work.

Another year has passed and once again the Mindfulness Bell has offered to extend my subscription for the new year. I am truly grateful for the offer.

Yes, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to receive the Dharma via the Mindfulness Bell for an additional year.

We have a very small Sangha here at Gulf C.I. and we are able to gather once each week on the recreation yard. Each issue of the Mindfulness Bell we receive is passed around and becomes the topic of many discussions and fuel for our practice.

I send many thanks and our best wishes to everyone who in any way helps to bring the Dharma to others, and especially to those who share via the Mindfulness Bell.

Humbly yours,
Patrick L. S.
Gulf  Correctional Institution
Wewahitchka, Florida


Hands in the lotus posture and bow to all at the Mindfulness Bell staff.

I am in receipt of the complimentary card gift subscription that you send me. It’s difficult to find the right words to express all that I feel by your generosity. The only thing that I do know is that I am very very grateful for your kindness and by giving me the privilege of receiving the beautiful insights that the magazine brings. You all are doing a wonderful thing by your donation of the Mindfulness Bell to us incarcerated seeking the truth of the teaching of the Buddha.

You will never know how much you all have helped me. Thanks!

Yours in the Dharma,
Fabio V.
Union Correctional Institution
Raiford, Florida


I very much enjoyed the articles in the Mindfulness Bell. I loved reading about Thay’s home in Vietnam and the practice people are doing both there and around the world and it strengthens my mindfulness practice. I have very much enjoyed and loved the poetry in the middle of the Bell. Also I would like to thank you for giving a complimentary gift subscription and was wondering if you could send me another year’s worth. It is very much read and I loved every issue.

Good karma,
Guy W.
Skyview Prison Unit
Rusk, Texas


I pray this letter finds all of you happy and well!

I am writing to express how truly thankful I am to receive the Mindfulness Bell. I do not know who my benefactor is — I certainly am in no position to afford your publication — but be assured that it gets quite a lot of use here! There are 330 men in this building and I share and talk with quite a few men here the different articles and poetry. Please let my benefactors know that they are in my thoughts and prayers!

I pray for all of you and to your continued success! Be happy and at peace!

Edward T.
Chuckwalla Valley State Prison
Blythe, California


Viet Nam or Vietnam?

Occasionally we get feedback that we should be more respectful of Vietnamese culture and write words, especially place names, the way the Vietnamese do. (Unfortunately, we don’t have the capability to print all the accents.) With so many contributions in this issue pertaining to the Sangha’s Vietnamese trip, I sought advice. Who better to ask than Sister Annabel, who is expert in Sanskrit and has translated Thay’s books from Vietnamese into English? Sister Annabel responds: When we write Ha Noi or Viet Nam without the appropriate accents it already ceases to be Vietnamese. Unless you are going to write using accents, I suggest that you write Hanoi, Vietnam, Saigon.

Sister Annabel, Chan Duc

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Vesak — and More — in Vietnam


In May 2008 Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha made a third voyage to Vietnam, this time for a historic occasion: the United Nations Day of Vesak. This was the first time this biannual gathering of the world’s Buddhists was held in Vietnam. As the official U.N. report stated, “Thich Nhat Hanh and his delegation contributed an important spiritual energy to the UNDV events with three retreats offered in Vietnam in the weeks leading up to the UNDV conference. They held two retreats for young people, attended by over 3500 people with a thousand who took refuge in the Three Jewels and Five Mindfulness Trainings… A retreat for Westerners had over 400 participants from forty-one nations. A busy city hotel was transformed into a peaceful monastery … demonstrating the transformative and healing nature of the Dharma.”

Inspired by Thay and his Engaged Buddhism, the three-day conference that followed the celebrations focused on “Buddhist Contributions to Building a Just, Democratic and Civilized Society.” It featured presentations by dozens of teachers and practitioners, including many disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, who gave the principal keynote address.

In addition to Thay’s Dharma talk from the Hanoi retreat, we offer a couple of essays about the events, along with an interview of Thay Phap Kham, one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s senior monks from Plum Village who now lives primarily in Vietnam. The next issue of the Mindfulness Bell will feature more articles about the UNDV, including some of the presentations from the conference.

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Report of the United Nations Day of Vesak 2008

National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam May 13-17, 2008


Vietnam hosted the Fifth United Nations Day of Vesak Celebrations 2008 (UNDV 2008) entitled “Buddhist Contributions to Building a Just, Democratic and Civilized Society,” with great joy. Over six hundred Buddhist delegations consisting of about five thousand Buddhist monastics and laypeople from seventy-four countries came to find, in the spirit of compassion and wisdom, the solutions to pressing world issues.

Dressed in many-colored Buddhist temple robes — brown, gray, orange, red, and yellow — the delegates who assembled to open the three-day celebration represented many traditions and lineages. They offered a moment of silent prayer for victims of recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China, followed by an opening address by Prof. Le Manh That, Vice President of Vietnam Buddhist University and Chairman of the International Organizing Committee for UNDV 2008. His Holiness Thich Pho Tue, Supreme Patriarch of Vietnam Buddhist Sangha offered a congratulatory message, followed by a welcoming address by Mr. Nguyen Minh Triet, President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Keynote speaker Ven. Mathieu Ricard stressed the importance of first transforming ourselves if we want a wiser and more compassionate society. He said that cultivating our mind is the best service we can do for society. Keynote speaker Most Ven. Prof. Dharmakosajarn shared that the goals of the UN are similar to the goals of Buddhism in the search to attain peace and security in the world and establish conditions of respect for international law and human rights.

The important keynote speaker was Zen master, Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. He urged delegates to commit themselves to not only support building a just, democratic, and civilized society in theory, but also in practice. “We have to change ourselves before we can make the change happen in our society. Being peace is the foundation of making peace. Without transformation and healing we are not calm and compassionate enough to use loving speech and deep listening, and our efforts will not help change our society.”

Cultural Activities

Cultural highlights of the UNDV celebrations included a Buddhist art and photo exhibition, as well as special processions of lights and decorated floats. On May 14 a spectacular candle-lit procession started the evening performance, which included a Vietnamese fan dance, traditional drumming, and musical offerings. On the evening of May 15 a rich and moving theatrical performance on the life of Buddha was portrayed in Vietnamese opera style. Cultural activities were organized not only in Hanoi but also in fifty-five cities and provinces.

The final evening, after the closing ceremony, there was a candlelight vigil praying for World Peace with thousands of people. Sanghas throughout the nation of Vietnam and around the world were asked to join in a simultaneous prayer vigil.

Panel Workshops

The heart of the conference was seven workshops, each of them with three panels, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. Buddhists from around the world  shared their practices, teachings, experiences and research on the topics related to the conference theme, followed by question-and-answer periods.

War, Conflict and Healing: A Buddhist Perspective

The international gathering investigated the causes of war, conflict and disharmony among different cultures, nations and religions, and tried through the light of Buddhist doctrines to find solutions. With twenty-two presenters, many coming themselves from recently war-torn areas like Israel and Palestine and Northern Ireland, they concluded that for society to be healthy the individual must be healthy. To do this, we should practice non-attachment to views. When we go into regions of conflict we see that suffering is experienced on all sides. But we have difficulty acknowledging that the suffering of “the other” is the same as our own. Buddha’s teachings help us recognize this. We need to look deeply into the roots of our own suffering and develop the capacity to also see the suffering of others. If we look deeply, hope is possible.

Social Justice

In the Social Justice Panel, presenters shared that the way to peace and justice lies in peaceful personal and collective action. We heard examples of the practice of mindfulness applied to the training of police officers and lawyers, as well as in mediating and resolving community disputes, and the negotiations between an international corporation and indigenous tribes.

In assuring social justice, we must acknowledge our interconnectedness. Buddhist ethics, grounded in this understanding of interconnectedness, play an important role in the development of a just society. On a personal level, the application of mindful, deep listening and peaceful, loving speech in a context of social action can support and promote the transformation of the society.


Engaged Buddhism & Development

This panel emphasized that development must not only be defined as economic growth and material prosperity but also as the growth of happiness and peace in society. Many societies that are so-called ‘developed’ have high rates of crime, depression, suicide, family breakdown, and deep unhappiness, brought about precisely by the materialism and drive to consume that is the mark of our current definition of ‘developed’ societies. Specific examples of efforts to engage in development work integrating the Dharma included a plea for support for the efforts of Sanghabuilding in Africa.


Care for Environment: Buddhist Response to Climate  Change

The panel recommended that the Buddhist world prepare itself for climate change and promote more education about the issue. It also asked both lay people and monastics to set an example and that Earth Day be recognized and honored in the world.

Family Problems and the Buddhist Response

Many local Vietnamese delegates attended this panel. Everyone was very moved and inspired by the concrete, practical sharing of how to resolve conflicts, the importance of deep listening and loving speech, and the role of mindful breathing in creating deep transformation in ourselves, families, and society. The central message was the important role of the Five Precepts or Mindfulness Trainings in healing family problems and preventing them in the first place. The sharings were personal while remaining very relevant, and at times the audience was moved to tears. There was a real cross-cultural dialogue and experience of deepening understanding across many different barriers of language, culture, and generations.

Symposium on Buddhist Education: Continuity and Progress

The thirteen presenters at this workshop spoke of the important role that Buddhist teaching and practice can play at all levels of learning, from grade school to university, serving as a stabilizing and transformative force of wisdom for the individual and collective consciousness. The continued growth and maintenance of these centers of teaching is critical to the well-being of people within these societies as well as in relationships with other nations. There is a growing interest in Western countries to integrate Buddhist teachings into the very foundation of education in schools, from primary level to university programs.

Buddhism in the Digital Age: Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative

The panel presentations discussed many ways that Buddhist texts, art, culture, artifacts and temples can be detected, preserved, and shared using various digital technologies. The panel subjects were divided into three general categories: digitalization and preservation of historical sites; preservation of texts through digital media; and the location and mapping (via technology such as Google Earth) of Buddhist sites.


We would like to thank all Venerables and delegates from ninety different countries for your participation at this Fifth UNDV conference.

You are invited to attend upcoming international Buddhist events including the 2nd World Buddhist Forum in August 2008, the Fifth World Buddhist Summit in Japan in November 2008, General Conference of the International Association of Buddhist Universities, Bangkok, Thailand, 2008, the activities of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) and Inner Trip Reiyukai International (ITRI), and especially we hope you will come join us for the Sixth World Buddhist Summit in Vietnam in 2010.

This report, edited here for length, was a collaborative effort of Dr. Manpreet Singh, Sr. Thong Niem, Sr. Chau Nghiem, Sr. Nhu Nghiem, Ven. Thich Nhat Tu, Avi Magidoff, Karen Hilsberg, Loan Phan, Sita Ramamurthy, Sally Tinker, Carmen Kuchera, Kate Ettinger, David Haskin and other lay practitioners who reported on the different workshops at the Vesak conference. Also see http://vesakday2008.com.

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Practice in Vietnam: An Inside Look

Interview with Thay Phap Kham

By Barbara Casey in Hanoi, Vietnam


During the retreat in Hanoi, former Mindfulness Bell editor Barbara Casey sat down with Thay Phap Kham (monks who have received full ordination are addressed as “Thay”) for an extended chat. This energetic and committed monk has been instrumental in establishing Thich Nhat Hanh’s Sangha in Vietnam and Hong Kong. He’s also a longtime friend and supporter of the Mindfulness Bell.

Please tell us your story about being born in Vietnam, about leaving, and then what it was like coming back for the first time.

I was born in a small village in the country, in the middle of a war zone. In the daytime it was controlled by the South Vietnam government, but at night it was under the control of the guerrillas, and at times they would take people away and terrorize them. When I was five or six years old, I saw the consequences of war. My neighbors were killed. I saw people being mutilated and burned like charcoal. I saw soldiers on both sides getting killed. Some of the guerrillas who were killed were acquaintances of my family in the village. As a small child, witnessing those kinds of things made me suffer. And a deep understanding grew in me, that there should be a better way, that something like this shouldn’t happen.

I remember vividly the image of a black GI who came to my village in a convoy. I wasn’t afraid of him; he gave me some candy. But a soldier from the South Vietnamese army told me to go home because there was some fighting about to happen. So, even at that young age I had some kind of human connection with those soldiers.

When I was eleven, my hometown was taken over by the North Vietnamese army, so I moved to central Vietnam, and then to Saigon, with my family. I lived with the communists for three years [after reunification in 1975], and then I left by boat in 1978. From a refugee camp in the Philippines I emigrated to the U.S. in 1979.

Those three years under the communists taught me a lot. I became a responsible young man. And then I left Vietnam with my mother and my five brothers and sisters. After emigrating, I attended the university and graduated, and then worked as an engineer for about thirteen years.

Where was this?

Near Washington D.C. When I was twenty-five I discovered Buddhism through reading Thay’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. It explained Buddhism to me as a way of practice, not as worship or religion. In 1987 I went to Plum Village because I wanted to come back to my cultural roots. I thought Plum Village was a place where many Vietnamese people came and participated in cultural activities, and spoke Vietnamese, and wore traditional clothes, and felt nostalgia for their homeland.

But as Plum Village developed into more of a Buddhist meditation center, I grew with that. Ten years later, in 1997, I came to practice as an aspirant. In 1998 I became a monk, so I have been a monk for about ten years. People who knew me at that time were very surprised to see me as a monk, because they saw that I was already very happy. For ten years I had been a community activist working with Vietnamese youth, teaching them about Vietnamese culture, language, and traditions. I taught Vietnamese language to the children almost every weekend. It was a way for me to serve.

But being a monk I can serve more people all over the world. So I told those people that being a monk makes me happier!

I see that the direction of my life was determined when I was very young. I was sent to a boarding school, and this had a big impact on my life. Almost every month I was allowed to go home from the school in Hue to Quang Tri where my family lived. My father would come pick me up. One day the bridge on the road was broken, because of the floods and the fighting, and my parents were on the other side and I on this side. It’s something I consider very heroic for me, an eight-year-old boy! So I crossed that broken bridge alone, and when I saw my parents, they hugged me and gave me popcorn; I felt a lot of joy!

After that trip, every night before going to bed at the boarding school I dressed up in nice clothes, and I prayed. I would pray, “Dear God, dear Buddha, and dear Jesus Christ, let me be with my family.” I did not know who had the supreme power, so I prayed to them all. But I didn’t want to be selfish, so I said, “Let all the people have a chance to be with their families also, and let the war end.”

I did that for one year. But of course it didn’t happen. The war still went on, so I stopped praying.

So you live in Vietnam again.

Yeah. Returning to Vietnam gave me a lot of experiences. I was born in Quang Tri, the place that suffered from the heaviest fighting. Just in front of my house, there was this place called Old Citadel, where the armies from the North and the South fought many fierce battles. During the two months of a last battle there in 1972, tens of thousands of people were killed or wounded. When I returned to Vietnam, I visited that place three times and contemplated — they say that every square foot of it is covered with blood. But now it has become a beautiful park. I see that people have good intentions, and it was a relief to see that local people made peace with it.


I’m happy to be back in Vietnam, but also disappointed with the morality and the values of the society now. Before we went to war and during the war, people were taking care of each other. But now, even though we have peace, it seems like people don’t take care of each other.

Vietnam has grown and developed, but if you look deeply there are many poor people, and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger. This has happened in many developed countries, but it should not have happened that way in Vietnam. Also, people have lost their family values. We can see more buildings, more high rises, but if you look carefully, we see that life is difficult for people here. It’s congested and polluted. The people and the country have a long way to go to become a more developed, a more ordered society.

So I’m happy to be back, but I also see a challenge. I think that’s why Thay has made three trips back — to help, to give a hand in this process.

I have met quite a few young people at our retreats and I see their hope and also their disappointment. Having nothing to look forward to, it seems like there are no opportunities for them. In Vietnam I see that Buddhism can offer some hope, some way out.

What is Thay’s Sangha like in the different parts of Vietnam?

Since the trip in 2005, we have set up the practice in Prajna Monastery (in the highlands) and in Tu Hieu, Thay’s root temple [in central Vietnam], and we now have about four hundred monks, nuns, and aspirants who practice in our tradition. The average age is about twenty-two, very young, so they are creating a base of Buddhism for the next fifty years. Prajna is located in a remote area, but whatever we do at Prajna, people all over the country pay attention to it. Prajna is the place that people can think about and know that there is a group of people practicing for them. It gives them hope.

We have plans to expand our practice in the north. The people in the north have just returned to Buddhism after years of absence, and their practice consists mostly of faith and religious rituals. But they seem like they’re very open to our way of practice. It’s up to us to integrate their worship of Buddha with our practice. If we are skillful, we can make a big difference in the north.

There are already many temples in the north, and Plum Village doesn’t need to own a center in order to teach. We would like to be treated as a partner and be invited to teach in the temples that already exist. That makes people more secure and they’re more willing to help that way. We have to integrate with them and offer the practice so that we can spread the teaching. There are eighty-four million people, so five hundred Plum Village monastics cannot do the work alone. We need to have interbeing with other traditions, working together as a team.

We cannot be caught within the form of Plum Village traditions, of Thay’s teachings. It is the content of the practice — love and understanding — that counts.

Our presence in Hong Kong is also a support for Vietnam. The practice there is attracting quite a few people. Like everywhere else, people throughout Asia have suffered with the fast pace of modern life. If the help is there, they come. So we have a very positive outlook.

However, we need to really be careful not to over expand. We need our practice to be strong, to emphasize quality over quantity. Looking back, I think we have made quite big leaps.

What’s your relationship with the government at this point?

I think the Vietnamese government is more open, but being a communist country, they are afraid of some movement becoming too popular. They don’t want anybody to have so much influence. But they are fairly open to Thay’s teachings; for example, now most of Thay’s books have been published in Vietnam. But to spread more into the mainstream to professionals, to people who don’t come to temple regularly, we may have difficulty. We have not been able to go to schools or businesses to share the practice. We need to make the teachings available in other places besides the temple. So we have to think of ways to propagate the Dharma. For instance, people can go online to download a Dharma talk or read articles written for mainstream magazines.

As long as they don’t see us as a threat, the government will allow, maybe even encourage us to spread the teachings. We have to follow the rules, but I don’t think that we are forced to spread the propaganda of communism.

However, there are still political sensitivities. The government asked Thay and the Sangha to refrain from talking about Tibet and Burma, because these are sensitive issues. But we are in the business of practice, so as long as we can do so in a skillful way, we will continue to express our love and understanding to other peoples throughout the world.

Do you think the government sees a benefit to society in Thay’s teaching?

I think so. We have more difficulties with some segments in the Buddhist church in Vietnam than with the government, primarily due to jealousy. I think that by teaching people about moral values, we’ll help build the country. We have to do a lot more and see that this process must continue beyond our lifetimes. But at least Thay has come home and started the process. We have to find skillful ways to continue.

How can people in North America, Europe, Australia, and South America support the efforts of the Sangha in Vietnam?

The practice of other people from different parts of the world helps. On this trip, people have come from forty countries and the peaceful energy generated has impressed people already. Vietnamese people see this and say, These people are from the developed world, and they come from far away to learn the practice with this Vietnamese monk, and we are here in Vietnam, and he’s a Vietnamese man, why don’t we learn from him?

The staff in the hotel have already commented on how quiet, well behaved, and nice to be with we are. And that’s the best Dharma talk that we can give them. People who serve us in the dining hall or at the reception desk, or people doing the room service, notice the difference in a practitioner. I think being where we are, being good practitioners, is the best way to help the practice in Vietnam.

In the next twenty years Asia will be the center of attention, with the big growth in India and China and other countries. So it is good that we are beginning to take root here at this time. But we do not give less attention in the West, because that is where innovations and ideas and support will come from. Financially, Prajna is supported by the Western practitioners; Plum Village is responsible for one-hundred percent of operations and training. By going to retreats, contributing to this and that, practitioners all over the world are supporting our efforts here. That’s interbeing.

Being stronger in the West helps our practice to be strong in Vietnam. And by being stronger in Vietnam it helps us be strong in the West. From the beginning we have sent monks and nuns to Plum Village, from Prajna. And several of us from Plum Village have lived here in Vietnam.

Tell us about the online interview Thay did recently.

Thay gave an interview with an online newspaper, Vietnam Net [http://vietnamnet.vn and http://english.vietnamnet.vn]. It is one of the most visited websites in Vietnam. Quite a few people read it.

The interview lasted for almost two hours, and the interviewer asked quite a few questions — about how the teachings can help people live more moral lives, how the Buddhist values of happiness, stillness, and slowness contradict the ambition to be successful. How we can overcome jealousies among the monastics in the Buddhist church. How Buddhism can advise what a smaller Buddhist country should say to a bigger Buddhist country who always has the intention of invading [China]. He asked quite a few questions about how to apply Buddhism in real life; for example, how can his company practice as a Sangha? And Thay responded to all those questions, giving a Dharma talk to the whole nation.

Do you have any idea how many people might listen to that interview?

They say that it got one million hits. Perhaps several hundred thousand people really listened to it.

So censorship doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue?

Now it’s not an issue, because they already know Thay, so they’re quite comfortable!

Well, good! That’s a lot of penetration.

Yeah. And they transcribed the whole interview, and put the video on the Web so Vietnamese people all over the world can listen to it.

I am optimistic. There are still some hurdles — I’m still not able to get a long-term visa to stay in Vietnam. Every six months I have to renew, at the government’s mercy. But I have been here almost three years, with some break in between. The path is wide open. I am happy being a monk, so it’s the path for me.

Transcribed by Greg Sever.

Bmb49-Practice3arbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, lives in Ashland, Oregon with her husband, Robert, and practices with the Peaceful Refuge Sangha.

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Rejoicing with the Sangha in Hanoi

By Sister Hanh Nghiem



The seven-day retreat on Engaged Buddhism in Hanoi was truly wonderful. I was touched by the rooted feeling of being a community.

Before the orientation, the Order of Interbeing, monks, and nuns were on stage ready to invoke the name of Avalokiteshvarya. Looking out at the audience, I saw a sea of bluish grey robes — I was totally surrounded by spiritual grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters. I could even feel the presence of my ancestors coming up to support this event. I could only do mindful breathing during the chanting because my attention was on gratitude to my entire line of spiritual and blood ancestors. My lips could not open to sing the chant but the chant resonated in my heart.

Getting enough favorable conditions for the retreat to take place was not an easy task. But with the practice of mindfulness and keeping to our breathing, our patience and faith worked their magic and the fruit of much hard work ripened to perfect sweetness and maturity. We managed to turn the Golden Lotus Hotel into the Golden Lotus Monastery. For seven days, three hundred and fifty people from all over the world stayed in closed quarters. We were able to utilize every inch of space in the Golden Lotus Monastery to practice walking meditation, gather for Dharma discussion, do chi qong, and even find space to be with ourselves. Since we had nowhere to go and nothing to do, it was so easy to dwell joyfully together in our Golden Lotus Monastery!

For the first time, we got to hear Thay share his story about Engaged Buddhism. We listened to the history and rise of this tradition. During the guided meditation in the morning, we were able to come back to ourselves in a very gentle yet powerful way to heal our hearts and to recognize our path to transform our suffering. Tears were shed, leaving our hearts light and giving us a true sense of liberty. The Dharma talks offered inspiration to reach out and help people in the here and now without the need to worry that we will lose our practice. We learned to see that by being mindful, it is only natural to help those in distress. When we help them, we also help ourselves.

The Brothers and Sisters caring for the Dining Meditation Hall did a superb job making the meal time into a period of practice for deep looking and transformation. They invited the bell to welcome us all to come eat together as a family. The manager of the hotel worried when he saw how simple our meals were; he was afraid that we were suffering! Quite the contrary was true — everyone enjoyed the meals. They could feel the goodness and love and care put into preparing the dishes and serving the food.

The ceremony for transmitting the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing was like the Grand Ordination Ceremony during the winter retreat. Both lay and monastic practitioners received the Trainings. Although we didn’t see a statue of the Buddha or any Patriarch, I am sure they were smiling and proud of us.

Surprisingly, there were a number of young people (nineteen to thirty-five years old) attending the retreat. We had a marvelous time together. We felt so safe with each other that we could share things we would never imagine sharing with other people. We could recognize our practice was vital to our future. We even had T-shirts made as a bell of mindfulness to practice wholeheartedly and diligently to aid in reducing the suffering in the world. The T-shirts said “Let the Buddha Breathe.” We just need to welcome the Buddha into our life and trust that this awakened being knows what to do and we take the joy ride with the Buddha.

When the seven days came to an end, the retreat was not over. We continued dwelling in our energy of peace and healing and nourishing it. We did walking meditation around Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi, seeing the morning life of the Vietnamese. People were jogging, doing aerobics, playing badminton, doing other kinds of exercises, and going to work. We also did sitting meditation in front of the memorial statue of King Ly Thai To. He offered the longest period of peace in Vietnamese history — two hundred years. The following day we had a Day of Mindfulness. We broke out into affinity groups according to the panels that would be discussed at the Vesak Conference the next day

At the opening day of the Vesak Conference we processed into the convention center on a red carpet and we mindfully ascended the long wide staircase between the Dharma Protectors into the hall. We were the largest group at the conference. It was nice to be at the conference as a practitioner and not as a business person with an agenda.

My happiness from the conference came when I met up with the young people’s group at the end of the evening to reflect on the day, to hear other people’s take on the event. I could see that my Sangha was boundless as long as I took the time and saw the joy in being together with those around me. The other part of the conference that touched me were the blown-up pictures of the Requiem Ceremonies from last year. I saw that love was timeless and nothing can stop love from entering the hearts of people.

Our time together in Hanoi made its impression in history and in our hearts. It was a very special twenty-one-day retreat condensed into two weeks of retreat, days of mindfulness, conference, and holiday celebrations. Quite the gift!

Sister Hanh Nghiem, True Action, now lives at New Hamlet in Plum Village.

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The Long Walk from War to Peace

By Larry Calloway


Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam in May for several retreats followed by a United Nations conference was a triumph for his “engaged Buddhism.” Not only was his global influence evident at the conference, but he and four hundred retreat participants (most of us Westerners) were warmly received on a dramatic slow walk in the center of Hanoi.

Triumph perhaps is too military a term for the vindication of an eighty-two-year-old monk who teaches “peace is every step,” but his young life was defined by war, as was his ancient nation. Not until 2005 was he free to return after thirty-nine years — exiled first by the anti-communists, then by the communists.

Sponsoring this year’s UN Vesak Conference was a significant move for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which has been criticized for religious repression but is encouraging tourism and the recovery of ancient cultural traditions. The conference at Hanoi’s proud new National Convention Center included formal workshops on a variety of issues addressed by Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic representatives. But because the world continues to suffer from “the scourge of war,” and perhaps because the conference was for the first time in Vietnam, the issues of war, conflict, and healing were foremost.

In his opening address, Phra Dharmakosajarn, one of the most prominent monks in Thailand, made the connection between world peace and Buddhism saying, “No doubt meditation and moral principles contribute to peace, since war begins in the minds of men.” Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it in his keynote address, “The roots of war and conflict are in us!”

Thay proposed “the idea of engagement,” he told us, in his first published article in 1954. It was “a time of great confusion” in Vietnam. (The French colonialists, defeated at Dien Bien Phu, were exiting and the Americans, covert sponsors of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, were entering.) As war formed in the minds of McNamara, Rusk, Bundy, the joint chiefs, the Kremlin, Mao, and others, the Vietnam Buddhists countered, in so many words: Leave Vietnam alone!

Perhaps because this was Vietnam, Thay’s Dharma talks in the eight-day retreat dwelt on the American war, as it is known there. The people of the small nation were

caught between foreign ideologies. “Everyone was willing to die for ideologies,” he said, but Buddhism teaches freedom from ideology. The fighting was with ideas and weapons from the outside. “How can you fight such a war? Brother against brother?”

In the early sixties Thay went often to the United States, where he would eventually study at Princeton, lecture at Cornell and teach at Columbia. He was a powerful multilingual anti-war speaker. But sometimes there was a problem. At a huge anti-war rally in 1966 a young man suddenly yelled, “Why are you here? You should be in Vietnam fighting the American imperialists!” In other words, Thay said, the man wanted him to fight, to kill Americans. He answered, “Well, I thought the root of the war was here — in Washington — and that’s why I have come.”

No Ordinary Protester

In Hanoi I met Paul Davis, who had a similar thought at an anti-war march in New York in the sixties. People started yelling, “Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh, you’re the one who’s gonna win.” That was never the point.

Paul was no ordinary protester. He had joined the United States Marines two weeks after his high school graduation in rural Ohio and landed at Da Nang in 1965, when the U.S. under President Johnson began direct combat operations. Davis was wounded in 1966, and while recovering in the U.S. appeared as a Marine on a panel at a college. Someone asked him if the Vietnamese wanted us there. He spun out a long response, and his interlocutor said, “You have not answered the question.” In a Zen-like, koan-like moment, Paul’s whole mental being suddenly dissolved. He held back tears. Somehow his life had changed forever.

More than ten years ago, after his son died in a car crash, Paul began attending Thich Nhat Hanh retreats. He now counsels Iraq war veterans and their families. In 2003, Paul obtained his Marine casualty report and followed the coordinates to the point where he was wounded. He recognized the distant horizon that he saw as he waited for evacuation. This was on Marble Mountain, near Da Nang, named for a pure white quarry. In the village below, dozens of shops now sell sculptures to tourists.

The War Remembered

The first morning in Hanoi I went walking around the lake (not the one John McCain dropped into) near the big government-built Kim Lien hotel that Plum Village had booked. I took photos of people walking, fishing, or just sitting by the pretty lake. There were young lovers. I was generally ignored except that some children were delighted to see their digital pictures and some old men stared at me coldly.

Later I told my discussion group that I felt the Vietnamese had forgotten the war, had moved on. Two Americans disagreed. But an expatriate Vietnamese man said the Vietnamese had not forgotten but they were used to war. The Americans were just another invader in a long history of warfare to which the nation is inured. This is a sentiment often heard in Vietnam.

One day I went to the National Fine Arts Museum and saw the artistic record of the war. There were a dozen impressions of Viet Cong guerrillas set in villages with women and often children looking on. The pictures carried a mood of grim determination and suffering. Americans were depicted as large and authoritative, including a captive pilot who was being beaten.

Hanoi also has a war museum that displays wreckage of American planes shot down, although it is not promoted for tourists. Near Saigon, however, a park called the Cu Chi Tunnels is on the tourist circuit. Here you can crawl forty feet in a dark, claustrophobic representation of the hundred miles of tunnels from which the Viet Cong attacked and vanished, unaffected by constant B52 bombardment and undiscovered by ground patrols. There are displays with mannequins representing the ingenious tricks of camouflage and cruel demonstrations of pitfalls and traps made from sharpened bamboo.

Once, our bus went through a crowded slum near the center of Hanoi and a Vietnamese woman who worked as a tour guide said, “I hate this neighborhood. It was destroyed in the Christmas bombing. There is a monument here to the dead.” The NixonKissinger bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong from December 18 to 30, 1972 was described by the Washington Post as “the most savage and senseless act of war ever visited … by one sovereign people over another.” Senate Leader Mike Mansfield called it “a stone age tactic.” Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator at the Paris peace talks, called it “barbarous and inhumane.” It was the last desperate U.S. air offensive in a war that had already been lost. Sixteen of the one hundred B-52s were shot down. The Paris Peace Accords would be signed January 27, 1973.

Morning at the Lake

Early one morning during the retreat, we boarded buses and took a walk along the shore of the central lake, Hoan Kiem, in downtown Hanoi. People were already out doing their morning jogging and aerobics. We left the buses and gathered at the tall statue of Ly Thai To, who moved the capital to Hanoi. There were the four hundred of us in gray robes, plus thirty or so monks and nuns in brown robes with conical reed hats. We walked along the old section of Hanoi and past the historic water puppet theater and turned around near the rock pile monument with the Chinese character for heaven and passed the red bow bridge that goes to an island shrine.

Funny thing, I thought. No police. No wise guys making nervous comments. No angry motorcycle drivers urging our slow-walking meditative line to clear an intersection. Just people watching, curious. Then, about half way through the demonstration, I noticed some of them were lining up along our way. And they were standing respectfully with their palms together at their hearts.

Back at the foot of Ly Thai To sat Thich Nhat Hanh, diminutive and smiling. Many of us sat around him, as if waiting for a lesson. Without comment, he took in the air and the morning sun and the trees and the birds and the lake, which was at our backs. He suggested that we all turn around, that the view was much better that way. He smiled. He was home.

Larry Calloway lives in the high mountains near Crestone, Colorado. A retired journalist, he recently received a Master’s degree in Eastern classics from St. John’s College of Santa Fe.

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The Eight Practices of Respect —Gurudharmas

For a bhikshu to practice with regard to a bhikshuni

By Thich Nhat Hanh


  1. A bhikshu should join his palms in greeting when he sees a bhikshuni join her palms to him, even though that bhikshuni has only been ordained as bhikshuni for a short time. A bhikshuni, no matter how long she has been ordained, represents the whole bhikshuni Sangha, which has been a partner of the bhikshu Sangha from the time it began to exist and will continue to be so in the future.
  2. A bhikshu does not think or say that the karmic retribution of a nun is less favourable than that of a monk and for that reason a bhikshuni’s studies, practice, realizations and  service to the  Buddhadharma cannot equal that of the bhikshu. A bhikshu is aware that the reason why the Pratimoksha for bhikshunis has more precepts than that for bhikshus is not because bhikshunis have a less favourable karmic retribution: it is because the nuns themselves established more precepts for self-protection and the protection of monks and laymen.
  3. When a bhikshu sees a bhikshuni he should be aware of whether she is of the same age as his mother, elder sister, younger sister, or daughter might be. He should feel respect for and want to protect and assist in the practice any bhikshuni who is older than him as he would feel respect for and want to protect his mother and elder sister. If the bhikshuni is younger than him he should feel care and concern for her and want to protect and assist her in the practice as he would feel concern for his younger sister or daughter.
  4. A bhikshu never maligns a bhikshuni, even in a roundabout way. He never hits a bhikshuni even with a flower. It is courteous of a bhikshu of the twenty-first century to offer a cup of tea to a bhikshuni. A bhikshu knows that just as the bodhisattva Samantabhadra is found in the person of the true bhikshu, so the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is found in the person of the true bhikshuni. This knowledge fosters mutual respect.
  5. When organizing the three-month Rains’ Retreat, bhikshus should make sure that it is in a place where there is a bhikshuni Sangha, so that the bhikshus have an opportunity to be near to, offer teaching to, and receive the support of the bhikshuni Sangha, because the bhikshuni Sangha always has and will be a partner of the bhikshu Sangha.
  6. When the bhikshus hear about a bhikshuni who is learned in the Dharma, is skilled in sharing the Dharma, and practices well the precepts and all other aspects of the path, they can contact the bhikshuni Sangha and invite that bhikshuni to come and give teachings and share her understanding and experience of the practice with them.
  7. When bhikshunis volunteer to come to the bhikshu monastery in order to help cook and lay out a celebratory meal at a memorial service or other important ceremony, the bhikshus should find ways to help out and work alongside the bhikshunis, especially in lifting heavy items.
  8. When bhikshus hear that a bhikshuni is in ill-health or has had an accident they should express feelings of sympathy and they can delegate bhikshus to visit her, ask after her health and find other ways to offer support.

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The New Gurudharmas for Monks



By Sister Annabel, Chan Duc


Before the Sangha traveled to Vietnam, Thay wrote a code of conduct for monks with regards to nuns, to update the ancient code of conduct for nuns with regards to monks. Sister Annabel graciously wrote this commentary for the Mindfulness Bell.

The Sangha of the Buddha is known as the Fourfold Sangha. It comprises bhikshus (fully-ordained monks), bhikshunis (fullyordained nuns), laymen, and laywomen. The bhikshuni component of the Sangha was added last of all.

Tradition has it that it was not an easy matter for women to be accepted as monastic members of the Sangha. If the tradition, which says that the Buddha hesitated in receiving women as monastic disciples, is true, it is not something difficult to understand.

Surely the Buddha must have been taken by surprise when his dear aunt and a large number of Sakyan ladies arrived in Vaishali with swollen and bleeding feet after walking hundreds of miles barefoot to prove that women too could lead the life of wandering monks? No doubt he was also moved. His aunt Mahagotami had previously asked permission to ordain as a nun when the Buddha was in Kapilavastu and had been told that the time was not yet right for women to ordain.

It was not that the Buddha saw women as of inferior intellectual or spiritual properties that he hesitated to allow them to follow the monastic vocation. The reservations of the Buddha had to do with the cultural and social situation in which the Sangha of his time found itself.

Concerns of the Buddha

First of all the Buddha wanted his disciples to have the best conditions to realise the practice. His monk disciples spent the night at the foot of trees and begged for alms in the towns and villages. This could have been very dangerous for women to do. According to the Indian custom of that time women were always to stay in a house where they were under the protection of their father, husband, elder brother, or son. The only women who did not have that protection were courtesans and loose women. The Buddha feared that his nun disciples would be branded as such and in fact this often happened. It also happened that on a couple of occasions when nuns unusually stepped out of the monastery alone they were sexually assaulted.

The second question the Buddha must have asked himself was how the monks he had already ordained would accept nuns as fellow members of the same spiritual family. Were the monks sufficiently free of their cultural and social prejudice to offer protection to nuns and support them in their practice?

The third question for the Buddha concerned the relationship of the nun Sangha to the monk Sangha. The Buddha taught that the recognition of seniority was essential for harmony in the Sangha (Culavagga VI, 6). Westerners should remember that seniority is not hierarchy. Seniority is a matter of protocol and mutual respect but the ways juniors have of showing respect to seniors differ from the ways seniors have of showing respect to juniors. The Buddha made it clear that the nuns were juniors. The nuns after all had had no education. They joined the Sangha after the monks had already been practicing for many years. The monks had already memorized the precepts and discourses of the Buddha. Many had become teachers in their own right. It was only natural that the nuns should show respect to the monks as their seniors.

The Original Gurudharmas

These facts are the basis for the eight original gurudharmas (practices of respect) to be practiced by nuns. They were as follows:

  1. A bhikshuni should always greet a bhikshu with respect even though she is senior in years of ordination to the bhikshu.
  2. Bhikshunis should practice the annual three-month Rains’ Retreat in a place where there is a bhikshu Sangha for them to take refuge in and learn from.
  3. Twice a month the nuns should send a nun (with a second body) to invite the monk Sangha to let them know on what day they should recite the precepts1 and to send them a monk to give them teachings and exhortations concerning their practice.
  4. At the end of the Rains’ Retreat the nuns have to request shining light from the monks as well as from the other nuns. (This meant that if the monks had seen, heard, and suspected anything untoward in the nuns’ practice they could let the nuns know and give suggestions for the nuns’ practice.)
  5. If a bhikshuni breaks a Sanghavasesa precept, she has to confess the offense to and be purified of the offense by the bhikshu as well as the bhikshuni Sangha.
  6. A nun can only receive the full ordination from monks as well as nuns.
  7. A nun cannot malign or criticize a monk.
  8. A nun cannot admonish a monk for improper conduct.2

These eight practices of respect have sometimes led people to think that Buddhism discriminates against women. Although there is no small number of individual monks, nuns, and laypeople who believe that to be a woman is a disadvantage for progress on the spiritual path, this is certainly not what the Buddha taught. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, some monks took the opportunity to promulgate their culturally ingrained prejudices. The Buddha said clearly that the fruits of the practice that can be realised by women are no less than those realised by men. In accepting women as nuns the Buddha has opened up a way for hundreds of thousands of women to realise the fruits of the monastic path.

What is needed now is to continue the career of the Buddha by making it clear to Buddhists and non-Buddhists that the bhikshuni Sangha is an equal partner of the bhikshu Sangha in the Buddhist community. The eight gurudharmas for monks that Thay has given us have already been practiced in many Buddhist communities for years. We only need to acknowledge that this is our practice and will continue to be so, so that people no longer have doubts about the status of Buddhist nuns.

Interpreting the New Practices

The first gurudharma for bhikshus is equivalent to that for bhikshunis. Thay has added the fact that each bhikshuni is a representative of the whole bhikshuni Sangha. In bowing to her one is bowing to the whole bhikshuni Sangha. The concept of partnership is also mentioned. It means a spirit of cooperation between monks and nuns in continuing the career of the Buddha.

The second gurudharma for bhikshus is to clarify that it is not a handicap to be a woman. This is an illusion to which women as well as men are subject. Women themselves sometimes also believe that they have been born women because they have not laid down sufficient wholesome roots in past lives.

The third gurudharma for bhikshus is a re-wording of a teaching given by the Buddha (SN IV,3,127). It means that our practice community needs to be a family. Here Thay makes it clear how we can support the members of our spiritual family. Just as the monk practices to see the nun as his mother and so on, so the nun practices to see the monk as her father, brother, or son depending on his age.

The fourth gurudharma for monks is equivalent to the seventh gurudharma for nuns. Thay has added the practice of looking at oneself and at the nun as a bodhisattva. This helps us to recognize the enlightened nature in each other and support wholeheartedly each other’s practice.

The fifth is equivalent to the second gurudharma for nuns. There are mutual advantages for both the bhikshu and bhikshuni Sangha when they practice in proximity to each other.

The sixth is perhaps the most revolutionary. Many monks still hesitate to listen to a nun teaching, let alone invite her to teach them.

The seventh is a continuation of what the Buddha wanted. In the pratimoksha3 there are already precepts forbidding nuns to act as servants to monks. Here we see that in physical work as well as in spiritual practice, the monks are to give the nuns a hand.

The eighth new gurudharma reiterates the need for mutual care and concern if the Sangha is to function as a family.

Sister Annabel, Chan Duc, was abbess of  Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. She is currently assisting Thay to establish the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

1 The precepts had to be recited at the full and new moon. There were no calendars and the educated monks knew how to calculate when the full and new moon days fell.

2 We should know that lay women who were strong in their practice did sometimes admonish monks with the concurrence of the Buddha who also made some precepts for monks at the suggestion of the lady Visakha. This gurudharma is to keep harmony between monks and nuns.

3 The pratimoksha is the disciplinary code of fully-ordained monks and nuns.

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A Day in the Life of a Catholic Zen Monk in Plum Village

December 8, 2007 — Feast of the Immaculate Conception

By Brother Phap De


This morning, I awaken and smile, saying “Twenty-four brand new hours are before me! I vow to live each moment fully, mindfully, and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

Then, I light a candle and a stick of incense before a picture of Mom, Dad, and my brothers and sisters, saying, “In gratitude, I offer this incense to you and all my ancestors. May it be fragrant as flowers, reflecting my loving reverence and gratitude. May we all be companions of the saints, especially Mary, our Mother of Compassion, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception.”


Thanks to Thay and to the Vietnamese practice of ancestor worship, this Catholic now feels connected to his ancestors and is nourished by reverential gratitude to his parents and other ancestors

— a practice that the misguided Catholic bishops and priests tried to stop in Vietnam. When I light a candle and make the incense offering in front of their picture, I know that they are not actually in the picture. Rather, I know that they are actually in me. I know that the real altar of my ancestors is my body/mind on which I honor them by the way I live, particularly as expressed in the Fifth Mindfulness Training, mindful consumption. This living connection to my ancestors is helping me let go of my attachment to my ego, my notion of being a separate self and somebody special.

Only Zen Monks Stop

At 4:45 a.m., I quietly brew a cup of tea, without waking up my roommate. Drinking my tea, I gratefully remember that it was Mom who first taught me the devotion to Mary. As a boy, I prayed to Mary for many different things—even for assistance in winning basketball games.

After this, our ordinary day begins with sitting meditation (Holy Hour) at 5:30 a.m.

At 7:00 a.m., the centuries-old church bells sound the Angelus, calling us to stop and remember that Mary said “Let it be” to the Angel, and became the mother of Jesus. In the old days, everyone stopped at the sound of the bells and recited three Ave Marias. Nowadays, only the Zen monks stop. I love the sound and recite an Ave. Hearing the Angelus bells is like hearing the voice of Christ, calling me back to my true self and inviting me to be like Mary: with the energy of the Holy Spirit, to give birth to Christ in my own life, in my own soul and body. I know that if I don’t, then what she did will have been wasted as far as my life is concerned.

As the Angelus bells continue, I remember the Gospel story of how the newly pregnant Mary “set out and walked with haste” (she had not yet learned slow walking meditation) to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth, who greeted her with: “Blessed are you among women.” (Luke 1:39 and 42) The sound of the Angelus bells wakes me up to the realization that like Mary, my brothers and sisters embody Christ-consciousness here and now. Thus, like Elizabeth, I say to my sisters and brothers: “Blessed are you.” How lucky we are!


Then, breakfast at 7:30. We sit, in a circle, on cushions on the floor — twenty monks and six laypersons, breaking bread together. I am surrounded by my companions. I remember that the word “companion” comes from com (together) and pan (bread), that is, breaking bread together. I remember Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. This morning I see the abbot’s mother sitting and eating with us — like Mary did with Jesus and his companions. I look gratefully at the two cooks, a New Zealander and a Vietnamese, who prepared the food, even though they understand very little of each other’s language. This is the Holy Thursday brotherhood meal and Pentecost (enlightenment) in the here and now.

Walking with Mother Mary

We study from 9:15 a.m. until we gather for walking meditation at 11:00. I usually invite Dad and Mom to walk with me. How can they not, for they are in me. Dad is learning how to walk more slowly, keeping his attention on the flowers and surroundings, not on the destination or job waiting ahead.

Today, I also invite Mother Mary to walk with me. After all, she is my spiritual ancestor and I am blessed with her spiritual DNA — the Christ-consciousness in me. Today, holding my hand, Mother Mary no longer walks “with haste.”

The divine feminine energy of Mary is very much with me in this Zen Buddhist monastery. (Buddhists know Mother Mary as Avalokita or Quan The Am or Kwan Yin.) Many of us can experience Mary’s spiritual DNA through our practice of touching the earth, when we lie on Mother Earth and reflect on the presence of her healing energy in each of us and in the body of our community. We chant Namo Bo Tat Quan The Am and send her healing energy to people around the world. This chant often brings tears of joy and gratitude to the listeners. To me, it feels like it generates the same energy that’s found in Lourdes and Fatima, energy that once seemed lost to me.

Now, it is 4:00 p.m. and time to do my working meditation: clean the meditation hall before the community arrives for the evening sitting meditation and chanting. When I was a priest forty years ago, lay persons cleaned the church after I celebrated Mass. Now, it’s my turn. I am learning humility — like Mary. They used to call me Father Adrian, now I am called Phap De, Young Brother. Five years ago, Thay told me that to become a monk I would have to give up my stock portfolio, property, bank accounts, and cars, and he said, “You will learn humility.” It has been surprisingly easy. Phap De is living joyfully and peacefully.

Her Wondrous Light

6:00 p.m. — Tonight, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was delighted when my Vietnamese brother led us in a chant of praise to the Great Saint of Compassion, Mary. Here are the lyrics:

From the depths of understanding, the flower of great eloquence blooms:
The bodhisattva stands majestically upon the waves of birth and death,
free from all afflictions.
Her great compassion eliminates all sickness, even that once thought of as incurable.
Her wondrous light sweeps away all obstacles and dangers.
Her willow branch, once waved, reveals countless heavens,
Her lotus flower blossoms a multitude of practice centers.
We bow to her. We see her true presence in the here and now.
We offer her the incense of our heart. May the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening embrace us all with great compassion.
Praise to thee, Mary, Our Mother of Compassion.

9:00 p.m. — I am aware that I have come a long way and have let go of some old theological notions about Original Sin and the Fall/Redemption paradigm. “We have entered a broken and torn and sinful world — that’s for sure,” writes theologian Matthew Fox. “But we do not enter as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures. We burst into the world as original blessings.” Now I can see the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Mary was conceived without original sin) as an effort to help us wake up to the magnificence of Mary.

The Buddha’s gift of the communal practice of the mindfulness trainings helps this Catholic to live up to the example of Mary and the teachings of Jesus. We may be ordinary persons, but, like Mary, we are all Immaculate Conceptions. The joyful Angelus Bells repeatedly invite us to wake up to this Good News!

Brother Phap De (Brother Adrian) lives in Son Ha at Plum Village. Once upon a time, he worked as a Roman Catholic parish priest and teacher.

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Be Still

The Mindful Christian

By Diane Strausser


We all know the importance of words. Relationships are built with them. Our important teachers use words that help us structure our lives and we carry those words in our minds as we go about the business of living.

Despite the fact that I had been flirting with Buddhist practice for over twenty years, I had not devoted myself with any consistency. My practice finally began on a spring morning several years ago. I sat in a room of three hundred strangers who had gathered from all parts of the country to experience a day of mindfulness. A diminutive woman gazed out at us from the elevated stage with a very gentle smile on her face. She took her sweet time looking at us and eventually uttered the words, “Welcome, my dear friends.”

The world changed for me with those four simple words. I thought about the possibilities that existed as I considered the strangers in this room to be “dear friends.” What if I went home and thought about my neighbors as “dear friends”? And the grocery store clerk. And people I ran into in my small town. The casual people in my life. Extended family. What if I included the people who had disappointed me to also be “dear friends”? I thought about all of this in the flash of an instant after Anh-Huong Nguyen uttered those words. It was her first Dharma teaching to me. I’m not sure there will ever be a more powerful teaching in my life. I fell in love that morning with the practice of Applied Buddhism.

Teaching Not-Buddhism in a Catholic Church

I took that frame of reference with me when I gave my yearly Lenten presentation to a rural Ohio Catholic church. I am invited each year to speak about creating sacred relationships. My role as a relationship coach and therapist takes me to venues both secular and religious. As I considered what topics I might cover, I struggled with the potential difficulty in sharing the joy of my Buddhist practice with a conservative, Catholic population. My practice is my life and keeping it in the closet is not possible.

Once again, I heard the words of Anh-Huong. In teaching us about community building she reminded us about the importance of compassion. “If people are uncomfortable with a statue of the Buddha, take the statue away.” So, I took the statue away.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) became the basis of my presentation to my seriously Catholic friends. I reframed my practice and used their Christian language to teach them how to create peace in their lives so that they could offer it to the world — just as we practice in Applied Buddhism. My focus that night would be as it always is: stopping, calming, and resting which lead to healing and transformation, the principles of the Buddha’s teachings.

That evening I sat in the sanctuary on a step just below the altar. Behind me was a wall of stained glass softly illuminated by the setting sun. Christ hung on a huge cross above me. The parish priest sat with his congregation in the pews facing me, and I began with the words, “Welcome, my dear friends.”

I picked up my singing bell, held it high on my fingertips and let it ring three times. I simply closed my eyes, breathed in and out three times and consciously set the tone for my presentation. My friends looked at me. Confusion filled their faces and I just smiled.

The first thing I taught that night was breath awareness.

Shhhhh,” I told them. I rang the bell.
Hear the bell of God calling…

Now, pay attention to your breath, and as you breathe, think of these words…

Breathing in, I am aware of God calling.
Breathing out, I give love.

We talked about the importance of being still enough to hear the voice of God.

Can you hear God’s voice as you wash the dishes?

How about when you’re driving, or waiting in line?

Can you hear God’s voice when somebody disappoints you and you struggle with a response?

The Gift of a Smile

We moved on to giving the gift of a smile.

One of the best ways to relax is to smile. When we smile, it is impossible to be upset. When we smile, our throat relaxes, our cheeks rise and our eyes lift. The muscles of our face send messages to the nerves at the base of our skull. Those nerves send relaxation messages to our brain. Our brain is happy because the signal is sent that communicates,“all-is-well” to the“fight-or-flight” centers. Oxytocin is released in our brain because we are wearing a smile. Oxytocin is the chemical released when a parent cuddles an infant or when lovers hold each other. Oxytocin is the medicine that God gave us to help create compassion and love.

Your smile is a miracle. Your smile has no negative side effects. Your smile is absolutely free. Your smile is a sacred gift to yourself and to others because that one little gesture helps you to make space for the presence of God.

Hear the bell of God calling.
Breathing in, I smile to God.
Breathing out, I smile to my sisters and brothers.

We sat there, looking at each other and smiling. The priest leaned back in the pew with his huge hands resting on top of a friar-like belly, glancing at his people, smiling at them and taking delight in our togetherness. He welcomed my words in front of his pulpit and his smile invited me to keep talking.

Sacred Touch

The practice of sacred hugging was my next topic.

Sharing a physical connection is a sacred act visible in all of God’s creatures. Watch puppies, or lions, or giraffes. Watch the touching that goes on in nature. We human beings are often unconscious about how we touch each other. Being awake, being conscious allows us the pleasure of sacred touch.

Consider offering a very special hug, a sacred hug to the people you love. A sacred hug is not the typical quick leaning into each other and offering a few limp pats on the back. A sacred hug is an act of love given with great tenderness and great generosity.

Follow this recipe for sacred hugging:

Stand facing the other person, making eye contact.
Put your hands together over your heart.
Bow to the divine presence of the Holy Spirit in them.
Give them the gift of your smile.
Take three breaths in and out.
Open your arms and embrace the other.
Take three breaths in and out while holding.
Put your hands together over your heart.
Bow to the divine presence of the Holy Spirit in them.
Say a silent prayer of gratitude for them in your life.

Think about offering a sacred hug to the important people in your life. Then, think about hugging more people. Smile.

The wonderful people of that congregation emptied the pews and spent time giving each other sacred hugs. The farmer hugged his wife and then the blond little girl across from him. The new father cuddled his infant and hugged his mother-in-law with one arm wrapped around her. The priest went from person to person holding them close to his huge body, breathing in and out. The women hugged each other. The men hugged each other. Smiling.

I watched the scene as I held my bell in my lap feeling the joy of this moment. I was deeply moved at the willingness of these quiet, self-contained folks to breathe, smile, and hug. Once again, I understood that no matter what we are or who we are, when the goal is peace we are all the Buddha, or Christ, or Krishna, or Yahweh.

Love Never Fails

No teaching is complete until we talk about loving-kindness. So I read one of the most powerful biblical scriptures:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

We were created by God to be an example of His love and we are challenged to be visible symbols of that divine love. Transformation is a vehicle that carries us to the Kingdom of God.

Our loving nature allows us to look deeply at our beloved and those around us. The peace in our heart gives us the ability to let go of our misperceptions. We look at others and know that there is deep suffering in them. We are able to be with them without blame, shame, or judgment. As we look deeply and begin to understand the nature of pain in those around us, we are able to be there with them in their place of suffering. We offer them our true presence with love and with kindness.

Loving-kindness is a gentle spirit that whispers healing into the lives of others. Loving-kindness transforms who we are in this very moment.

Hear the bell of God calling.

Breathing in, I feel loving-kindness.
Breathing out, I give love.

As the evening came to an end, a few people hurried off to another meeting. Others came to me with their smile and a desire to hug me. The priest congratulated me and said, “You always teach us such new ways of looking at relationship.” I smiled to myself knowing that what I taught is more than two thousand years old.

My husband and I drove back to the city that night, winding through the quiet country landscape. I was reminded of some of the words in a Christian hymn.

Let there be peace on Earth.
And let it begin with me…
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brothers

In perfect harmony.
Let this be the moment now.

That night was a “burning bush” experience for me — a miracle. I shared the most amazing evening with a group of people in a small church in rural Ohio. Despite our differences, there were far more similarities and we were perfectly at ease with each other. I had the privilege of sharing the beauty of my practice. They were open and absorbed my words as they learned how to deepen their Christianity. They were in me and I was in them. Although the world didn’t notice us, I believe that we made things just a bit better for all of us with our smiles, hugs, and mutual breath.

Never once did I utter the “B” word. It just wasn’t the point.

Diane Strausser, Peaceful River of the Heart, practices with Bliss Run Sangha in Columbus, Ohio. She is a therapist, author, and a frequent speaker for both local and national conferences on people and relationships (www.successfulrelationships.com).

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Singing in the Inspiration Choir

mb49-Singing1By Mary Zinkin

Singing in a gospel choir has been a dream of mine for years. And now that I have found my way to be in the Inspiration Choir in an African-American Southern Baptist Church I know why.

Being the only white woman in this old Portland church is opening me to deeper understanding of issues around race. I am amazed at how accepted I feel — certainly “other” and yet appreciated for my spirit, my voice, my heart. And probably most people in the choir don’t even know my name.

I never picked beans as a kid to earn money for my family. I don’t have a clue about the hair products or hair processes they refer to. Jesus is not my savior. Jokes produce laughter, and while I laugh too I’m not at all sure what is funny. When the colors are decided for what we are to wear on the Sunday we sing, I secretly hope I indeed have something to wear; then they add, “Oh, let’s wear gold, everyone has that!” (I have no gold.) And though I’ve had a life filled with suffering, I haven’t any way to truly know what they’ve experienced being African-American in the U.S.A.

All that slips away when we rehearse and when we sing for the congregation. I feel connected and a part of their lives and experiences. Every word the preacher speaks pierces my heart with meaning.

I feel my Jewish roots; I hear the Buddha’s teachings; and I sing praises and glory to Jesus. I watch healing moments of people being witnessed and held as they cry. And I am healed. And I cry.

I feel at home as the suffering in life is named — aloud, with intensity, with emotion. I feel divinely connected to the knowing that healing and transformation are not only possible but a true reality in my life. And my heart opens wider to embrace the truth of life as it is in the present moment.

I am honored by the generosity in allowing me a space amongst them. I am inspired to share the fruits of my hard work. Humility is strengthened in me in “giving all praise and glory to God.” And I am reminded that causes and conditions have manifested for me to be here as an instrument for alleviating suffering.

Mary Zinkin, True Precious Commitment, lives in Portland, Oregon; she studies and practices with several sanghas.

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Hear the Angels Sing

By Janelle Combelic

mb49-Hear1 [W]hen the seed of mindfulness in you is touched, suddenly you become alive, body and spirit together. You are born again. Jesus is born again. The Buddha is born again.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers

The stone in the ancient church radiates a profound chill, which the tall propane heaters can barely dispel. Sculpted heads — angels, grimacing demons, and fantastical creatures — glare down from the stark white stone columns, as they have for a thousand years. Though the church is in a tiny French village — on the crest of a hill surrounded by the pastoral landscape of the Dordogne — I am singing a Christmas carol in English along with other Protestant expatriates. My heart is full to bursting with love for the Christ child.

I was invited to the Anglican Service of the Nine Carols by my neighbor Paddy. A British widow, she lives across the street from the house I have rented near Plum Village. I spent the previous summer at New Hamlet and now I have moved back, bringing my dog Serafina with me. In this rental house on a farm near Lower Hamlet, I can have Serafina with me and still attend the winter retreat at the monastery.

The Anglican service could have been cast by the BBC — about one hundred people, mostly British, most over sixty, staid and proper. Their tweeds and dark woolens steam in the tiny church, giving off an acrid and comforting animal scent. The minister, who arrived late, looks the part with his gray hair, white cassock, and smiling blue eyes. But when he starts to speak I can hardly keep from laughing — he has a slight speech impediment and he sounds just like the priest in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Princess Bride. That said, he does a fine job and it is a lovely service.


Paddy, standing all of five feet two in her pumps, sporting a crisp white blouse and gray tailored skirt, is an indomitable force of bustle and cheer known to all. The small choir, with Paddy as its physical and virtual heart, leads us in singing many of my favorite Christmas carols, like “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
the world has suffered long;
beneath the angel-strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and man, at war with man, hears not
the love-song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
and hear the angels sing.

For lo, the days are hastening on,
by prophet-bards foretold,
when, with the ever-circling years,
comes round the age of gold;
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world give back the song
which now the angels sing.

Tears roll down my cheeks as I sing and I send gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh, paradoxically, who brought me back to the faith of my childhood.

A Long Roundabout Journey

My father was profoundly anti-religious and especially antiCatholic. My mother took on his views but she had been raised Presbyterian and managed to take us to church in New Jersey a few times. Then we moved to France when I was eight years old and my religious education stopped. Somehow, in spite of that, I carried from my childhood a deep and passionate love for the friend I found in Jesus Christ. Then, as a teenager and young adult I turned against it, exploring all kinds of spiritual traditions from the East; after all, this was the nineteen-seventies and that’s what many of us were doing — taking drugs, learning to meditate, listening to Indian music, studying astrology, dancing Sufi dances.


It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I finally came back to the Christian church of my forebears. Many years ago, before I became his student, I remember Thich Nhat Hanh advising Westerners to stick to their own religious tradition. Buddhism, he wrote, can teach us how to live and how to be happy, but it need not replace our religious practices — sentiments echoed by the Dalai Lama. During a life crisis when I needed a faith community, I finally turned to Christianity. And two years before I moved to Plum Village, I officially joined a Protestant church, a very liberal congregation in the United Church of Christ.

At Plum Village I enjoy the chanting in Vietnamese, the simple rituals, the bowing and prostrations. But these practices do not touch the child’s heart in me, they do not bring tears to my eyes. So while I study Buddhism and do my best to put the teachings into practice, I call myself a Christian. How ironic and delightful that it took a Buddhist teacher to help me find my own faith!

Christmas at Plum Village

Ten days after the Anglican Service of the Nine Carols in the frigid little church, I attend my first Christmas retreat at Plum Village.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Thay gives a Dharma talk that opens my heart to the birth of Christ more powerfully than any sermon in a church. In his gentle warm voice, using simple language easy for us Westerners to understand, Thay explains that Buddha and Jesus Christ are both incarnations of the divine, come to teach us the way out of suffering. We look for the Buddha, we look for Jesus Christ, in history and in the world, but where they really are is right inside us. Jesus Christ is being born in my heart on this Christmas night!

On an earlier Christmas eve, Thay gave a similar talk that was published in his book Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. “Christmas is often described as a festival for children. I tend to agree with that because who among us is not a child or has not been a child? The child in us is always alive; maybe we have not had enough time to take care of the child within us. To me, it is possible for us to help the child within us to be reborn again and again, because the spirit of the child is the Holy Spirit, it is the spirit of the Buddha. There is no discrimination. A child is always able to live in the present moment. A child can also be free of worries and fear about the future. Therefore, it is very important for us to practice in such a way that the child in us can be reborn.

“Let the child be born to us.”

Monastic Vaudeville

After the Dharma talk at Upper Hamlet, Thay returns to his hermitage and the Sangha — all two or three hundred of us — gathers for a festive dinner in the meditation hall. A chilly rain has drizzled all day so we hurry in the twilight and mud, carrying our plates from the dining hall. A true Plum Village feast: egg rolls, fake pork roast made from wheat gluten, olive loaf, vegetable soup, rice noodles, and a lavish spread of delicious Vietnamese dishes I have no name for. Dessert consists of half a dozen sorts of cookies, most of them made with hazelnuts gleaned from a neighbor’s orchard, and apple crumble, also made with gleaned fruit. All made lovingly from scratch.

Fires in the two wood-burning stoves crackle and hiss merrily. The pungent scent of smoke mixes with the smell of damp wool and the luscious fragrance of the food. We linger in small groups, monastic and lay friends, chatting. The sun went down hours ago over the fertile hills of the Dordogne, where all around us in towns and villages and isolated farms, families gather for Christmas Eve.

Finally the time comes for the event we’ve all been waiting for: the Christmas Eve entertainment. (A warning to readers: raucousness, sexual innuendos, cross-dressing monks, and slapstick humor follows. If you don’t care for ribaldry at Plum Village, read no further.)

People new to Plum Village are often surprised to find that every retreat ends with an evening of performances. Monks, nuns and laypeople, especially children, sing songs, perform dances, recite poetry, play musical instruments, or put on skits. On special occasions one is treated to a performance by the Plum Village Players, like tonight.

We sit in a semicircle before a large open space against the long wall. A nun sounds the bell and automatically, reverently, we fall silent.

Then we burst out laughing as onto the makeshift stage walks a bearded Jesus, played by a tall young Western monk wearing a headdress over his bald pate and a shawl over his brown robe. Soon he is joined by his father Joseph, appropriately coiffed in a white towel and also sporting a false beard.

“Jesus, my boy,” says Joseph, draping his arm around the brooding youngster, “it’s time you joined the family business. You’re eighteen, a good worker, and together we can do great things.”

“But father,” replies the teenager, “I don’t think I’m meant to be a businessman. I… I feel I have another calling.”

“Nonsense! Your mother and I have plans for you. You will carry on the family business. I’ve got it all lined out.” Joseph waves his hand in a grand gesture and a big sign appears, carried by two petite Vietnamese nuns: “Joseph & Jesus Corporation.”

We roar with laughter. The play continues as the Devil appears, his face painted in a horrific red mask, his fist wrapped around a cardboard pitchfork. In a series of mini-skits, the Devil tempts Jesus with power, fortune, fame, and we in the audience laugh appreciatively. After all, we recognize this theme; it is one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s core teachings, that happiness cannot be achieved through power, fortune, fame… or sex.

When a tall beefy Vietnamese monk walks out wearing a huge black wig, a blue veil, and a voluptuous bust, the hall explodes in cheers and hoots and gales of laughter.

“Jesus,” s/he coos, “you’re such a handsome young man. Come with me, I can show you pleasures like you’ve never dreamed of.” She bats her eyes, flutters her veil, adjusts her bust, to more laughter and even whistles from the audience.

“Mary Magdalen,” Jesus stammers. “You’re so… so beautiful!” Even he can’t keep himself from laughing.

Naturally our young Jesus comes to his senses. “No!” he says, turning away from her. “I know that you can’t make me happy, any more than power, wealth, or success in the eyes of the world.” Mary Magdalen struts over to the Devil and together they leave the stage, defeated. (Most of us in the audience know, thanks to books like The DaVinci Code, that the much-maligned Mary Magdalen was not a prostitute but perhaps Jesus’ favorite disciple or maybe even his wife. But no matter.)

Joseph reappears from the shadows and Jesus approaches him. “Daddy, I love you very much but I need to follow my own path.”

“That’s okay, son. Your mother and I understand. We know you’ll do the right thing and we support you in being who you were born to be.”

“I love you, Dad!” Father and son embrace and walk off the stage, their arms around each other.

To ecstatic applause the players take a bow, but a resonating bell sounded by the Bell Mistress brings us all back to quiet and mindfulness of our own breath.

I Take Refuge in Jesus Christ

The celebration continues with performances by lay friends and monastics: songs, poems, even a dance by a group of beautiful young nuns. The Plum Village Singers perform the finale: a haunting rendition of “I Went Down to the River to Pray,” the baptism song from the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Tired, happy, blessed by joy and beauty, we walk out into the frigid night. The rain has stopped, perfuming the air with damp earth and wet fallen leaves. I breathe in deeply. In the distance, ringing from hilltop to hilltop and calling the faithful to Midnight Mass, chime the bells of the village churches.

I remember the Dharma talk earlier in the day, when Thay turned to Sister Chan Khong and asked her to sing a variation on a familiar Plum Village chant: instead of “I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life,” she sang, “I take refuge in Jesus Christ, the one who shows me the way in this life.” Her crystalline girlish voice rang through the hall like the sound of angels.

The Christ child smiles, born again in my heart.

mb49-Hear4Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation, is the editor of the Mindfulness Bell. She is writing a memoir about her dog, Serafina, and the year they spent together in France on a farm and at Plum Village. They now live in Colorado.

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Joyful Art of the Heart

By Brother Phap Ho


A Dharma sister of mine wrote a wonderful song about joy: “Your joy is my joy, my joy is your joy!” What makes you happy and joyful? For me art is one way of filling my heart with joy. So I will tell you a little bit about how art and joy interact in my life.

Joy comes to me when I become more aware of the colors and shapes around me: in nature, people, animals, plants — miracles of life. This awareness is significantly increased after I have spent time drawing, painting, or writing calligraphy. But already by sitting down, taking out the materials, I focus and sink into the moment. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…

A time to enjoy playing with colors and shapes; enjoying the breath and the flowing movement of the arm; expressing experiences and looking deeply into life — all these aspects are drops of joy. The good news is that we do not have to be a good artist, creating something important. If we feel inspired to play with pen, brush, and paper we just do it.

Sometimes when I look at something I have written or painted, a thought comes along: this is good. But as soon as I look up to see a bird, a leaf, a cloud, I feel humbled, I remember the awesome beauty that is everywhere.

Art as Meditation

At times I establish contact with a painful feeling, a perception, a difficulty inside. As I start drawing, I begin to recognize, embrace, and look deeply at the difficulty. Aha! Art becomes a meditation, a way to heal and transform. As colors and shapes manifest on the paper, I can feel that things are moving, circulating inside me. I feel alive.

Other times I establish contact with a wholesome, healing quality. For example this morning I used markers, a calligraphy brush, and watercolors to create some posters for our children’s program (our annual Family Retreat here at Deer Park Monastery starts tomorrow). Solid as a mountain, alive as the pond (our pond is one of the children’s favorite spots here at Deer Park), cool as nature — these qualities come alive, because at the same time as brush and colors helped shapes to manifest I brought my mindfulness to those qualities. The words on the paper are not only shapes and colors but expressions of each quality and those qualities in me were also strengthened.

Using the teachings of the Buddha, writing the words or putting shapes and colors to them, is a way I look deeply in order to understand better. Establishing a relationship with the five powers, non-self, and so on.

All these ways of playing with colors and shapes bring joy, ease and freedom to my body and mind. My heart receives good nourishment, continues to open. Joyful Art of the Heart! From this space of joy, freshness, and ease, I see the world and the people around me in a different light — less judgment, more freedom.

May all hearts be filled with joy!

Brother Phap Ho, Protector of the Dharma, was ordained in the Walnut family in February 2003. He has lived at Deer Park Monastery since February 2006.

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Dharma Rain

Practice as Inspiration for Artists

By Denys Candy


Stonehill College, Massachusetts, August 2000

It is some ungodly hour of the morning, the room is already warm — it can’t be time to get up already? In the nether world between sleep and waking, I intone, “Twenty-four brand new hours!”

“Are you awake?” asks my Sangha brother Tony, who’s sharing the room.

“I think so.”

“I wasn’t sure if you were awake or just talking,” he says.

I roll to the edge of the bed and peer out the window into the half-light. Figures walk slowly by the trees and buildings, random streams of people converging — a sight I will recall later in the day as two lines come to me:

The scorched earth is waiting,
There’s a stirring in the trees.

Eventually, I manage to stumble into the procession toward the meditation hall. I slip off my shoes and stepping inside, I smile to the sound of the huge round air-conditioning tubes cranking up.

I’ve come to see Thay again — to be in his presence — to try to wake up a little. Once in a while during his Dharma talk I think I get it — I sort of feel what he is saying, like a smile in my body — impermanence — how beautiful — a fleeting moment — I’m really in it — I’m feeling it! Oops — it’s That’s okay. Thay says don’t worry about all of that. He says something like, “Soak it all in like Dharma Rain.”

Next day, a full verse emerges along with a melody, and after another day there’s a chorus:

People slowly walking, aware of any breeze,
They’re hearing a monk’s message — it’s simple and it’s plain,
Today’s the day we walk in the Dharma Rain.
Happy day today and every day
We dance in the Dharma Rain!
Celebrate the here and now — it’s simple and it’s plain,
Today’s the day we walk in the Dharma Rain.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 2004

Another early morning finds me walking slowly from the meditation hall to breakfast. It’s my birthday. I sense my mother’s presence and the stirrings of lyrics for another song:

I see the love-light in your eyes,
Your smile is mist upon the pine,
I miss you every single day,
As I continue on my way.

My friends of Laughing Rivers Sangha organize two retreats a year and Dharma teacher Chan Huy (True Radiance) flies in from Canada to support us. Today, connecting is not a theory. My senses can taste my relatives, feel their blood in mine. My body tunes in to a walk with my cousin Ailbe by the California coast — talking of our parents.

The ocean rain’s touch is fleeting,
Wild lilies bloom, kissed by the spray,
Your love is wind upon the bay,
It blows on my continuation day.

At breakfast, people are smiling at me and we are sharing little bows all over the place. Sometimes I think all that smiling and bowing is a bit much, but today it’s fine. I am dropping nicely down, increasingly aware of my feet on the ground and the aromas at the table.

As part of his Dharma talk, Chan Huy tells stories of his family. His kitchen and his wife and daughters come alive to us, while outside the window deer are nuzzling the ground for tasty morsels beyond the pines.

The scent of my parents is on the air. What is love without attachment? I wonder.

Another verse plays in my mind, and here comes the sun!

They shine, they shine,
They shine on our continuation day.

Estes Park, Colorado, August 2005

On my first retreat here two years ago, Thay reminded us we were on a “Dharma platform eight thousand feet high.” The Rockies held me entranced and the mountain-solid vistas inspired a rock beat, but I hadn’t brought my guitar. Luckily, the monastics lent me theirs:

I have arrived somehow, I am alive somehow,
I am solid, I am free in the here and now,
Back to my breath I did roam,
I have arrived, I am home.

This time my guitar is with me and the mornings have my dear friend Brother Phap Lai and me in a lullaby state of mind. Fiona, my beloved, a writer, takes in the sun nearby, keeping an eye on us to make sure we don’t succumb to too many clichés in our songwriting. I met Phap Lai in Deer Park Monastery the year before at a retreat for artists. Our shared experience of growing up in the same cultural orbit, me in Ireland and he in England, drew us together, along with our love of music. “What’s a nice Yorkshire lad like you doing in a place like this?” I wanted to know, as soon as I heard his voice.

Now we corral time to work on a song — a melody I’ve been messing with for several months has gotten hold of me. At the evening gathering, Phap Lai and I play together:

Ring that bell, soft sweet sound, ringing clarity.


Claymont Court, West Virginia, October  2006

Fiona and I have come to feel part of the “extended family” that gathers from neighboring states to retreat in the rolling hills with Thay’s niece Anh Huong and her family.

Sometimes I am calm at retreats, other times on the edge of bliss. This time, however, I am emotionally wrought. The practice and the landscape — nearby Antietem and Charlestown evoking the unspeakably bloody battles of the American Civil War — combine to bring forth wisps of submerged sadness. I reach for my guitar and sit alone at the side of the building in the sun. Strumming, I think of the day’s passage — meditation facing a window at dawn, sitting on rocks and feeling paths taken and foregone, managing to stay present, ultimately grateful for all of it:

Dawn is grey upon the new day,
A West Virginia field reveals itself
As the sun comes up,
Morning light, sun is on the rocks,
Paused in time is a place for stopping,
A place for resting.

Glory, glory Halleluiah.

What I notice about Buddhist practice as refined by Thay is the careful attention paid to establishing the right environment. What is the most important thing to attend to if we want to live mindfully? “It’s the environment, stupid!” Thay joked at one retreat. Silence, mindful breathing, walking, eating — stopping, calming, resting — together lay the ground for an altered, more satisfying, and more real way of moving in the world. They also lay the ground for artistic practice. Vision and inspiration are as important to the artist as are the skills of a given craft. It is crucial to attend to how we feed our creative environment. “What are you feeding?” Thay asks. “Nothing can exist without food.”

At retreats, the artist in me loves to dive deep. It’s like swimming in the Irish Sea when I was a boy — I duck my head under, frolic, and float. Perhaps I should not be surprised at those times when, surrounded by noble silence, a string bean might reveal its true nature, available all along but finally witnessed, and I am moved by a seemingly distant melody that now arises — asking to be sung.

Denys Candy, True Mountain of Loving Kindness, practices with Laughing Rivers Sangha in Pittsburgh, PA. You can hear his songs on the CD “Dharma Rain,” featuring his band and other Laughing Rivers Sangha members; available from Denys DMCandy@aol.com or Sangha member Patricia Redshaw redshaw@zoominternet.com.

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Sending the Buddha to Prison

mb49-Sending1By Carole Baker

Illustration by Robert E. Walls

Five years ago one of my teachers, Anh-Huong Nguyen, said to me, “Your daily practice seems to be going well, but the Order of Interbeing is the Bodhisattva Path. If you wish to walk this path, you must spread the Dharma.” I wanted to follow this direction and it was not so easy, as I am apparently the only Buddhist living in this rural county in south central Pennsylvania.


Three months earlier, I had been contacted by Wakeel,* a Virginia inmate who was interested in starting a Sangha at Red Onion State Prison. This contact grew into a lively correspondence exploring Buddhist philosophy. He was especially interested in the practice of being with unknowing. We decided to “spread the Dharma” by forming a paper Sangha for inmates across the country and that Sangha quickly grew to fifteen inmates in prisons in eight states. We called it Spirit Sangha because the only requirement for membership was to sit “together in spirit” every Tuesday at 7:00 pm, Eastern Time. When I sit with the Sangha, I go into the smallest room in my house. It’s six feet by nine, the same as a prison cell. I am always aware that I am free to go in and out of that room or any room in my house.

I answer letters and send an informal newsletter three or four times a year. Spirit Sangha gives inmates a connection to the outside world and a sense of belonging. As with most forms of teaching, I have learned so much from the prisoners who reach out to me for information and advice, and my practice has become more solid with the responsibility. I share with them the road bumps in my own practice and they respond with compassion and good advice based on their experiences. I couldn’t ask for a more useful way of sharing the Dharma. Sharing goes both ways.

Hell on Earth

Last year for a short time I was privileged to work directly with prisoners in two Pennsylvania prisons, Huntingdon State Correctional Institution (SCI), three mountains west of me, and Houtzdale SCI, a two-and-a-half-hour drive west of Huntingdon. They have access to only one, two-hour meditation service per month. By contrast, Catholic mass is offered daily. Buddhist services are provided at only four Pennsylvania prisons. Books and magazines are available; otherwise the prisoners are on their own in developing their personal practices. Houtzdale is a fairly modern facility with air-conditioning, but Huntingdon is something else.

Huntingdon SCI, a maximum-security prison built as a juvenile boys reformatory in 1898, is a hellhole. It is the oldest prison in continuous use in the state. Local newspaper stories regularly raise the possibility of closing Huntingdon SCI. Instead, current plans are to continue its use and build yet another facility in Huntingdon. That will make three prisons contributing to Huntingdon County’s employment rates, which routinely are among the highest in the state. The cells I saw are tiny, with no windows and iron grates as doors. The only natural light comes from tall, narrow, iron-covered windows that are at least thirty feet from the cell block, which runs down the center of the huge, three-story hall. All the walkways and staircases are cast-iron grates. The three-story climb to the chapel is dizzy-making. Constant noise bounces off the hard surfaces and echoes through the buildings, twenty-four hours a day.

mb49-Sending3It is remarkable that anyone could produce art in such an environment, let alone sacred art, such as the luminous and beautiful, gentle Buddha that is the subject of this article.

While at Huntingdon SCI, I connected with a few of the fifteen to twenty inmates who attend the monthly Buddhist meditation services. There is not much time to get acquainted, as Catholic mass immediately follows Buddhist services and the inmates hungrily rush to gather up reading material that will inform their personal practices for the next month. A woman coming into this atmosphere is something of a rarity, so my heart was touched by how polite, respectful, and even protective the men seemed to be with me.

One inmate, Carlos, asked me about tai chi, which I used to teach. When I replied that tai chi is a form of meditation, moving meditation, Carlos exclaimed, “See? I tried to tell them!” Carlos had been put in “the hole” for practicing tai chi in the exercise yard. The shared experience of tai chi practice formed a bond between this inmate and me. It is wonderful how one common experience can be a bonding agent for interbeing. Carlos and I also share concerns for our children. He suffers deeply that he cannot give his children daily support and guidance like other fathers. He offered me sound advice for dealing with my children.

Prison is such a dehumanizing environment that when men find something, like meditation, that supports their true nature, they may become steeped in it. Meeting Kevin, I was impressed with how dedicated and focused he was with regard to the Dharma. He was completely serious and earnest about his studies and his practice. His practice fills the long days. I took Kevin, and all the other men as well, with me in my heart when I left that prison.

Birth of the Cell Buddha

In July, I completed the first cohort of Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program conducted by the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care (zencare.org). It was a remarkably enriching experience, and quite demanding academically. One requirement was an individual, special project that manifested the student’s reflection on learning to care for others with close attention and compassion. One student made a collage, another wrote a poem. One student developed a workshop designed to train executives in leading with compassion, another wrote a manual for chaplains on ceremonies for dying patients and their friends and families at the death event.

For my special project, I chose to “spread the Dharma” by reproducing and distributing the artwork of a prisoner at Huntingdon SCI. Kevin expressed the initial idea. One morning, Kevin said to me, “Carole, the Christians get to have a picture of Jesus or Mary on their cell walls. I wish I could have a picture of the Buddha for my wall; but I really need a Buddha that I can take down and use as an altar when I meditate.” Kevin’s request stayed with me for months. Then, without very much planning, research or deep contemplation, I found a way to fulfill his need and produce a meaningful project for my chaplaincy training.


I had pored over ten years of Buddhism magazines and several commercial import websites, looking for the perfect Buddha statue to use as a “Cell Buddha.” Then Carlos did something that touched my heart. He sent me a wonderful present for Mother’s Day, an original painting of the Buddha, drawn and painted by a fellow inmate on a square of cloth, similar to a Tibetan thangka. It is special when a prisoner finds a way, with the meager resources available, to practice generosity and compassion. I cherish the beautiful, handmade greeting cards I get from inmates. They open my heart. After shedding bittersweet tears of gratitude and sadness, I keep them near my home altar.

“Snail” Mail doesn’t fully describe the pace of communicating with people in prison. What you and I can do with one e-mail exchange often takes months in communicating with prisoners. I wrote to Carlos, Carlos talked with Robert Walls, the artist who created the painting, and sent me his name and I.D. number. I wrote to Robert Walls asking permission to reproduce and distribute his artwork. I felt it was important to request permission, as prison inmates have very few empowering experiences. I complimented Robert on his artwork and told him about Kevin’s request. I told him of my desire to have the Cell Buddha sent to the Spirit Sangha and perhaps to many inmates across the country and perhaps internationally. I said, “Robert, through your art, you have the capacity to bring peace of mind and joy into the cells of thousands of prisoners.” Robert replied with the following:

Yes you have my permission. I like drawing for other people. If it brings joy to others, then I’m doing my job and it brought tears to your eyes. I am glad you like it and you put a smile on my face. Your letter inside the card you sent made me smile for the first time in 18 ½ years.

It is my fervent intention to give Robert many more smiles in the future. He may not be a Buddhist, but he has earned a special, bodhisattva membership in the Spirit Sangha.

I spent several hours reducing and copying Robert’s artwork and cutting and folding the heavy photographic paper so an inmate can stand it up to use as an altar. I made two trips to the nearest copy center in Chambersburg. The Cell Buddhas and a short newsletter giving its background went to fifteen prisoners who are members of the Spirit Sangha. I had to reduce it to fit into a #10 business envelope in order to comply with mail restrictions in Virginia. Four-inch tabs fold back from the Buddha’s knees and interlock to make a stable, triangular base.

Several inmates have written thank-you letters and commented on the little Cell Buddha, including Kevin, of course. Herb, a fellow artist at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, wrote, “This Cell Buddha is a brilliant idea!” Kris, a student of Kadampa Tibetan Buddhism in Maryland, said, “Thank you so much for the Buddha. He is sitting at the end of my bed right now.” And Carlos, whose friendship and generosity initiated the project, wrote, “You took me by surprise when you told me I was helping to bring happiness to thousands of prisoners. It blew my mind to read that. It made me feel really good about myself.”

I encourage you to go to www.prisonDharmanetwork.org and sign up to be a pen-pal to a prisoner. They have a list of prisoners waiting for someone to regard them as human beings, waiting for interbeing, waiting for your letters. The need is so great, and the rewards are unsurpassed. There are other organizations as well that conduct prison mission work. It doesn’t take too much time; it’s safe (just rent a Post Office box); and you will never regret opening your heart in this way.

My promise to Robert is that I will offer his artwork to several Buddhist organizations that conduct prison projects in hopes that his Cell Buddha can be distributed to prisoners throughout the world. Thank you, Robert; thank you, Carlos; thank you, Thay; thank you, Buddha.

Carole Baker, Healing Joy of the Heart, lives in Shade Gap, Pennsylvania.

*Last names of inmates were deleted because prison officials might object to certain types of communication between inmates. However, the author wants Robert Walls’ name to be printed in full, so he can get credit for his artwork.

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Music & Mindfulness Network

Thay writes in No Death, No Fear: “The bodhisatthva of wonderful sound,

Gadgadashvara, can use music, writing and sound to awaken people… Among us are many writers, poets and composers who are using the wonderful ocean of sound to serve the way of understanding and love by making the Dharma doors, which the Buddha taught, more accessible … Your artistic creations are not just to help people forget their pain momentarily but to water the seeds of awakened understanding and compassion in others.”

The Music & Mindfulness Network is an initiative to create connections amongst mindfulness practitioners in whose lives music plays a big part: musicians of all genres & styles, music therapists, teachers and others who work with music professionally or engage in music privately. Through communication online and hopefully in person at future music retreats we aim:

  • to water our seeds of joy, creativity, inspiration, understanding, healing, and love
  • to create a space for sharing our visions and projects, experiences and questions, diffi culties and successes
  • to support each other by sharing information and resources, e.g., recommended reading and listening, funding bodies, practical knowledge,
  • to come together in the context of mindfulness practice to play music in its many varieties and share our work
  • to explore possibilities of collaboration
  • to find ways to nourish and deepen our collective practice
  • to make a positive contribution to society through music

At this year’s Summer Retreat in Plum Village eleven people from Argentina, Italy, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Ecuador and the U.S. held a first informal gathering: guitar, cello, clarinet, tablas, and flute players, pianists and singers who want to keep in contact. The next step will be to create an interactive website for the purpose of communication & sharing.

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Miracle within a Miracle

By Susanne Olbrich

Music was present in my life from early childhood on, and I loved every expression of it. I was termed “musical,” and the wide-ranging classical training I received from elementary class to university degree both gave me a solid foundation for what now is my profession, and it left bad bruises and paralysing self-judgment. In years of breathing, smiling and looking deeply, Thay and Sangha friends helped me to untie those knots, reclaiming joy and creativity in my music practice. Now, by sharing it with others through playing and teaching the piano, performing, composing and improvising music, I can see many lovely seeds being watered within and around me.

Deep listening is key and a source of delight, too: Listening inside as music arises to be discovered and shaped into a new composition. Listening to the subtle interplay of body, movement, and sound while playing. Fine-tuned listening to my fellow musicians so we can anticipate each other’s breath, playing truly together. Listening to my students, each one of them having their own approach to music and individual learning style.

In my own pieces, mindfulness practice has found different manifestations. “Just Clouds” is a jazzy waltz inspired by watching thoughts and emotions coming and going. Thay’s poem “Contemplation” I suddenly heard set to music while reading it. “Night is Falling” is a mantra-like love song to the Earth, “Beyond Gone” my cradling of grief after a friend’s suicide. Each piece feels like a mini Dharma sharing, reflecting deep moments of life.

Two years ago I was invited to share my experiences as part of the “Festival of Arts and Spirituality” in Edinburgh, which gave birth to the workshop “Sounding the Source: Deep Listening and Intuitive Music as Spiritual Practice.” In a church with beautiful acoustics a very mixed crowd joined me in sounding their voices and experiencing walking meditation and deep listening exercises as taught by the wonderful composer/musician Pauline Oliveros. Just as mindfulness produces miracles, sounding and playing music together in mindfulness is a miracle within a miracle!

Offering “Sounding the Source” workshops now has become part of my regular teaching. I find it very rewarding to help people

(re)discover the joy of music, as well as support musicians in bringing a spiritual and creative dimension to their music.

I would love to be in contact with other practitioners in whose lives music plays an important part. If you would like to water the seed of a Music & Mindfulness Network, please contact me!

mb49-Miracle1Susanne Olbrich, True Ever-Present Stability, practices with the Northern Lights Sangha in Findhorn, Scotland (www.myspace.com/susanneolbrich, creativepiano@yahoo.co.uk).

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Ko Un — or What?



mb49-KoUn2Ko Un is Korea’s foremost living poet. After immense suffering during the Korean War, he became a Buddhist monk. His first poems were published in 1958, then a few years later he returned to the secular world and became a leading activist. In 2008, he received the Griffin Trust Lifetime Recognition for Excellence in Poetry. Parallax Press recently reissued a book of Ko Un’s “Zen poems” and drawings entitled What? (formerly Beyond Self).

mb49-KoUn3Thich Nhat Hanh writes in the Introduction about a meeting with Ko Un in 1995: “The more I learned about his life, the closer I felt to him…. When he was imprisoned by the military dictatorship for his efforts for peace, his deep Buddhist practice sustained him. Living mindfully in each moment, he knew what to do and what not to do to help himself and others as well.”

In this section we present three poems from What? along with some of Ko Un’s original drawings. In addition, we offer two brand new poems, as well as essays that two of Ko Un’s translators have graciously written for the Mindfulness Bell.

“As you read Ko Un’s poems,” writes Thay in the Introduction to What?, “allow the poet in you to hear his voice…. Enter deeply into the present moment, reflect on each word, and meet the poet Ko Un face to face.”


A Stone Between Two Fields

Aha, real Buddha’s out of doors.
The future world
should be opening like this:
no distinction between inside and out.

And all the long long day
cuckoos chant prayers.







The Path

Take this path. It leads to Nirvana.

Excuse me.
I’ll follow my own path.
Over rocky crags or under water.

That’s the old master’s path, the corpse’s path.


Leaving Home

If leaving home is what a monk’s job involves,
then coming home
is what a buddha’s job is.

But surely you can only really come home
if you’ve really left home, can’t you?

Ko Un, What? 108 Zen Poems (Parallax Press, 2008). With a Foreword by Allen Ginsberg and Introduction by Thich Nhat Hanh. Translated by Young-Moo Kim and Brother Anthony of Taizé. Used with permission of the publisher.


mb49-KoUn5In a Street

Have you ever
been another person?
Have you ever been another person? Today
I have nothing but questions.
If you say you’ve never been someone else
since the day you were born, how will
a breath of the wind of this world
ever dare touch your hair?


mb49-KoUn6The Bell

As I sped down the highway along the East Sea
suddenly the sound of a bell reached my ears.
Between the waves endlessly booming,
at the crack of dawn the sound of a church bell
reached my ears.

Kwon Chong-saeng’s bell in a valley near Andong.

Oh, waking dream!
Not dream,
not reality,
oh, waking dream!

That distant bell rings in my ear …
your poverty is paradise
oh, bell rung by Kwon Chong-saeng.


Translators’ note: Kwon Chong-saeng was a Korean children’s writer who’d spent his life in great poverty in the region of Andong. For a time his only paid job was to ring the bell of a small village church.

Poems by Ko Un SSN forthcoming in Songs for Tomorrow (Green Integer), copyright 2008 by Ko Un, Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-moo Kim, and Gary Gach. Used with permission of the translators.


Translating Ko Un’s Poetry as Spiritual Practice

1. By Brother Anthony of Taizé

The monastic community of Taizé, of which I am a member, has always been concerned to bring together in the love of Christ those who are separated, divided by differences of tradition and of discourse. To promote peace in reconciliation and trust is the aim of our lives.

Every human person is, we sometimes remind ourselves, sacred above all by their wounded innocence. The poet, whether Ko Un or any other, writes words that at times (at least) express both sacredness and wound. The translator’s task is to find ways of rewriting those words in another language, in such a way that the inwardness of the original text lives on across the great divisions of tongues and minds, histories and hearts.

My concern to be a servant of communion (say ‘sharing’ and ‘communication’) across boundaries of time, place and systems of thought or belief has brought me to translate Korean poetry. Ko Un is immensely prolific, writes in a vast variety of styles. As John Dryden once wrote of Chaucer, ‘Here is God’s plenty.’ The people whose lives are recorded and memorialized in the nearly thirty volumes of his Ten Thousand Lives are immensely precious by their wounded innocence.

By translating Ko Un, I am brought into a deeper communion with the people of Korea among whom I live and pray, and so with the human family as a whole. To allow the poet’s voice to speak through my translations, I am obliged to still my own inner voices until I reach the silence out of which the original poem arose. To allow another’s poem to shine out, the translator must become a sheet of transparent glass. This poem is not my poem. I am dispossessed in order that another may speak.

Born in Truro, in Great Britain, Brother Anthony is one of the foremost living translators of contemporary Korean poetry, with over twenty-six titles to his credit. He is currently Emeritus Professor, Department of English Language and Literature at Sogang University, Seoul, where he has taught since 1980.

2.       By Gary Gach

Translation can be a Dharma door. Translating, like all mindful writing and editing, asks for devotion to words as lotuses, buddhas to be, radiant texts waiting patiently to purify new realms.

Translating Ko Un answered a calling (and Dharma is also responsibility, an ability to respond). Ko Un’s work had been woefully under-recognized when I signed on board, in part due to a ban on his work until the 1980s that included even translation. So I saw an opportunity where I might make a difference. As you can see for yourself, his is a voice well worth hearing, speaking for the sake of all creation.

Ko Un’s poetry is Dharma fruit, and its translation invites Dharma teachings into my life. Having taken his poems through as many as a dozen different drafts, I’ve come to know many better than my own poems. They coexist with my life, a vital part of my personal commonplace book of passages from sacred literature, koans, gathas, epigrams, personal mantras, folksongs, colloquial exclamations, and so on.

Working with Brother Anthony and Professor Young Moo, a minimal Sangha of three, is a collaborative art. Collaborative arts–such as linked verse or singing together, dancing or cooking–are yet another way of stepping aside from the grasping sense of small self, of “me and mine,” and touching deeper. Engaging in the larger world, the world of liberation, the selfless.

In Ko Un’s poems, I’ve been grateful to learn more of the uniquely elemental, dynamic, invigorating, cosmic human wisdom and compassion that is Korean culture. I’ve been reminded of what writing teachers all say: only by being particular to one’s own experience can one be truly universal. Translating asks that someone else’s particularity become universal.

May Ko Un’s words bring nourishment to your own journey.May all beings be well.

Gary Gach, Joyful Spirit of the Source, is editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (Parallax Press; American Book Award) and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism (Alpha Books). He teaches Buddhism at Stanford Continuing Studies,and leads mindfulness meditation at the Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples in San Francisco.

The third translator, Young-moo Kim (1944–2001), was Professor at Seoul National University, and is well known in Korea as a literary critic and poet. He published three volumes of  poetry and together with Brother Anthony, he translated  and published poems by many of  the most respected and appreciated Korean poets of the 20th century, including Ko Un.

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Sangha News

Dharma Teachers Travel to South Africa and Botswana

From March 16 to April 2, 2008 three Plum Village Dharma teachers traveled to southern Africa: Sr. Chau Nghiem (Jewel) and her father Al Lingo, and Sr. Thuan Nghiem.


The group first spent ten days in Cape Town, South Africa, where they visited and shared at University of Western Cape theology seminar and gave a public talk. Next they visited the Nyanga Township and Etafeni Day Care Centre Trust, a multi-purpose centre for children affected by AIDS and their caregivers. Then they led an Easter Holiday weekend retreat, “Touching Stillness, Embracing Ourselves, Our Ancestors and Our Community” for thirty-eight adults and children.

Next they visited with the Group of Hope at Brandvlei Maximum Security Correctional Facility. “This was one of our most profound and memorable experiences in South Africa,” wrote Sister Chau Nghiem in her report to Thay and the Sangha. “The men there are under maximum security because of crimes like murder or armed robbery. The Group of Hope began with the intention to raise awareness about HIV in prison, to help reduce the discrimination towards prisoners with HIV. They wanted to do something for prisoners dying of AIDS and so they began a garden to grow vegetables for them and would visit them in the prison hospital and send cards home for them. This care and desire to educate others about the realities of HIV led them to widen their horizons. Soon, they began to sponsor twenty HIV-positive orphans, who come to the prison to visit with them once a month, bringing them lots of love and joy.”

During seven days in Gaborone, Botswana, the Dharma teachers gave a public talk and then visited a high school and the University of Botswana where they shared with faculty, staff and students. Then they led another weekend retreat and visited the Infectious Disease Care Clinic (for treatment of AIDS), and the Baylor Center (for children infected with HIV from birth) at the Princess Marina Hospital, Gaborone.

“Buddhism is quite a new religion to most people,” wrote Sister Chau Nghiem. “When we visited the IDCC, one of the nurses said she had never seen a real Buddhist before, only on television. We shared a guided meditation with all the nurses at IDCC to help them to be in touch with their bodies and emotions. They are overworked and experience a lot of stress. We offered them one of Thay’s calligraphies to post in their resting room, ‘Breathe, you are alive.’

“The next morning we had a tour of the whole Princess Marina hospital, the main public hospital in Gaborone. We dropped in to do a five minute guided meditation (and a much appreciated shoulder massage) for the head nurse, a matron who is so passionate about her work. She said: ‘I’d like to learn how to meditate but do not convert me to Buddhism, I love my God! I don’t understand why you have shaved your head and become nuns, but from time to time please send me a spiritual message from France so I can continue my stressful work here.’ We also visited the Baylor Center, which cares for HIV-positive children. Like IDCC, it is on the grounds of Princess Marina Hospital. An American pediatrician gave us a tour of this beautiful center and explained to us the challenges facing the society, as a whole generation of children with HIV were maturing into adolescents and experiencing the normal rebelliousness of that age and refusing to take their medication as instructed. She said that all sectors of society — education, family, social work, medical care — must cooperate to address this new challenge. We met many wonderful people and were very nourished by their aspirations.”


For recreation and renewal, they visited a local game reserve, to walk with elephants and to pet cheetahs. Sister Chau Nghiem wrote, “we had a very rewarding walk with elephants in the local Mokolodi game reserve. We walked with four teenage elephants who were orphaned as babies. Each of them weighs about three to four tons, and when they reach full maturity they will weigh five or six tons. They are so massive but so gentle to walk with. We walked alongside them and our feet made so much noise on the path, but the elephants walked completely silently. They taught us about walking meditation. Now I like to say, ‘Walk like an elephant.’ ”

In both regions the tour ended with a Sangha-building session to form a Sangha in Thay’s tradition. Racial inequality and the AIDS epidemic drew much of the group’s focus. Sister Chau Nghiem suggests that individuals and Sanghas can help with the wonderful work being done to address the AIDS epidemic in Africa by starting with these websites:


The Constant Innovation of the Dharma

At times my practice is plain and mundane. It goes through a normal routine of ebb and flow. This is when I know my practice needs an injection of something new. From the latest book by Thay to a retreat at Deer Park Monastery. Somewhere in between these two options a little known option is available to everyone worldwide — DPCAST.ORG, a Dharma portal available on the Web that brings the Dharma to you, the twenty-first-century practitioner. The latest Dharma gift from DPCAST.ORG features the practice of beginning anew from Sister Dang Nghiem and Brother Phap An. I advise you to visit DPCAST.ORG and listen in.

The acronym stands for Deer Park Podcast.You can download media from DPCAST.ORG or iTunes straight to your iPod, taking it on the go or listening to it through your desktop speakers. Alone or with a group of local practitioners; this is just the beginning of the constant innovation that has marked the rise of Buddhism across the world.

This Dharma-casting straight into your home and iPods was born after a group of Dharma friends were listening to Venerable Phuoc Tinh of Deer Park Monastery. The number of people in the audience of the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall was considerably above average, yet I sighed at the fact that more people could not benefit from the wonderful teaching that day. Light bulbs also went off in Dharma friends Laura Hunter, Ron Forster, and Mike Guerena. A serious discussion followed and we formed an informal committee of sorts that has come to bear fruit with the support of the monastic community of Deer Park.

There are many barriers to learning the practice. Today, distance and location is not as great a barrier as it was in the time of the Buddha. Mike Guerena recalled his first visit to Deer Park Monastery as “stepping on egg shells,” due to his uneasiness from not knowing what to expect, not to mention the thirty-minute drive from his home in Fallbrook.

Thanks to innovation, the Dharma is available to you in the here and now; just as life is. Our practice is based on solidity and the most solid type of practice requires the involvement of Dharma friends. The most solid way to find Dharma friends is still at the monastery, face to face, shoulder to shoulder.

But failing that, come visit DPCAST.ORG! And give us feedback to contribute to the constant innovation of the Dharma.

— Nguyen Thanh Hoang (dpcast@gmail.com)



Announcing a New Blog: Mindful Kids

Resources for sharing mindfulness with children and a place to share ideas (http://mindfulkids.wordpress.com/)

This is a four-fold Sangha resource and we need your help and participation. Plum Village monastics are currently posting the principal practices we share with children in the Plum Village tradition: practicing with the bell, pebble meditation, the Two Promises, Deep Relaxation for Children, Touching the Earth for Children, eating meditation, embracing strong emotions, walking meditation, etc. We will also include guidance on how to set up a children’s program or children’s activities for a retreat, day of mindfulness, or a children’s Sangha. We will post ideas for cooperative games and nature activities, as well as practitioners’ experience of sharing mindfulness with children as parents, teachers, children’s program staff, etc. (This is where we need YOU!)

Please register on wordpress.com and share with us your experience, your stories, your joy, your difficulties — share how and what you are learning from children. Share with us what activities work and what don’t work so well yet. We also encourage children to share their experiences with the practice. Feel free to send us art, songs and photos that we can post on the blog.

— Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem



Wake Up!

Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society (http://wkup.org)

Inspired by Thay’s recent teachings, young monks and nuns of Plum Village, along with lay friends, have started an international organization called Wake Up:Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society. According to the group’s mission statement, “Wake Up is a community of young Dharma practitioners who want to help their society, which is overloaded with intolerance, discrimination, craving, anger and despair.

“Their practice is the Five Mindfulness Trainings, ethical guidelines offered by the Buddha; the most concrete practice of true love and compassion, clearly showing the way towards a life in harmony with each other and with the Earth. If you are a young practitioner you are urged to join the Wake Up movement in your country. We may feel anger and frustration when we see the environmental degradation caused by our society and we feel despair because we don’t seem to be strong enough individually to change our way of life. Wake Up offers us a way to pool our energy and act in synchrony. Let us get together and form a Wake Up group in our own town. Our collective practice will surely bring transformation and healing to individuals and society. Let us get in touch with young practitioners from Plum Village, both monastic and lay, to get more support and information….


“Buddhism needs to be recognized as a source of wisdom, a long tradition of the practice of understanding and love and not just of devotion. The spirit of the Dharma is very close to the spirit of Science; both help us cultivate an open and non-discriminating mind. You can join the Wake Up Movement as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an agnostic or an atheist. The practice of maitri, of loving kindness, the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, is at the foundation of the Dharma.”

— Thanks to Sister Viet Nghiem

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Book Reivews

mb49-BookReviews1Mindful Movements
Ten Exercises for well-Being

Thich Nhat Hanh and Wietske Vriezen
Parallax Press, 2008
Hardcover, ringbound, 61 pages
With DVD featuring Brother Michael, Thich Nhat Hanh, and monks and nuns of the Plum Village community, produced by Sounds True — 36 minutes

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

What a joy, this colorful new offering by Parallax! With its ringbound format, it lies open easily on a table or on the floor, so we can read what to do and see how to move. Thich Nhat Hanh developed these ten low-impact exercises as a comprehensive way to stretch between seated meditation sessions at his monastery. Like a simple, gentle yoga, they focus on the breath. Wietske Vriezen is a Dutch illustrator who has practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh; his full-color childlike illustrations appear on every page. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold goes to support nonprofit projects in Vietnam.

I’ve often enjoyed Thay’s ten mindful movements: outdoors while waiting for breakfast with the monks and nuns at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California; outside our “hermitage” with a Sangha of strangers in the sacred pre-dawn of the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado; alone in our cottage in Black Mountain, North Carolina; in the zendo at a retreat at Southern Dharma Retreat Center in Hot Springs, North Carolina; and with my Dharma “family” in the bamboo grove in Plum Village’s Upper Hamlet. I bought this book for my ten-year-old granddaughter who plans a year-long peace project at her Montessori school in Charleston, South Carolina, to teach her classmates seated and walking meditation and mindful movements.

What an inspiration — to teach mindfulness to children and adults through movement! Thich Nhat Hanh tells readers, “The exercises are easy to do at home, by yourself, or with others… Do each movement four times before moving on to the next one. Have fun!”

The book begins with an introduction by Thich Nhat Hanh that explains mindfulness practice and its results, the “seven miracles of mindfulness.” A short, illustrated biography of Thich Nhat Hanh is

followed by a more detailed story, showing how Thay relates ancient wisdom to everyday life. The book closes with an illustrated poem by Thay, “The Virtuous Man.”

A sunshine-striped cat pads in and out of the pages of Mindful Movements, as does the occasional frog or bird or flower. People of various sizes with varying hues of skin and hair and clothing keep these simple drawings diverse and happy.

The bonus DVD tucked in the back of the book engages us in the ten movements with the monks and nuns of the Plum Village community. Brother Michael leads the movements in the first session on the DVD and Thich Nhat Hanh leads the second. The music is soothing and the movement therapeutic. Surely we all know someone who would benefit from receiving this book and practicing the ten mindful movements.

mb49-BookReviews2Hello at Last
Embracing the Koan of and Meditation

By Sara Jenkins
Windhorse Publications, Ltd.
England, 2007
Softcover, 123 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Hello at Last is a literary memoir that focuses on the author’s friendships with several Dharma companions as they travel the path of practice together. What results is a book of insights into the nature of spiritual friendship that offers specific techniques such as Insight Dialogue, for engaged mindfulness with friends. Indeed, it is among friends that our right mindfulness and right speech are often challenged, and it is among friends and Sangha that we can learn some of our most profound spiritual lessons. Jenkins shows true courage by revealing herself — doubts and defeats, joys and triumphs— to tell the lessons she has learned.

“Deepen your relationships,” the author’s Zen teacher told her. A Zen student for over twenty years, Jenkins has edited numerous books of Dharma talks by Cheri Huber, who generally recommends that her students not socialize with one another — that they practice in silence. In reply to this koan from her teacher, the author asks herself, “How does one deepen one’s relationships and build Sangha in a Zen tradition that emphasizes silent practice?” The answers bring us lessons that can easily apply to practitioners of various traditions.

In the story about Jenkins and her friend Faith, Jenkins struggles with accepting spiritual guidance from an elder sister in the Dharma rather than from her root teacher. Yet she slowly acknowledges the capable teacher within herself who can offer guidance to her elder sister in a time of need. “Suddenly the dark hole of suffering that Faith and I had fallen into dropped away, and within us opened the understanding that, no, we were not and never would be who other people wanted us to be. And striving to be different from the way we are only creates suffering. Who we are is not only inevitable, not only tolerable, but just fine. Perhaps, in fact, for the simple reason that it’s

what is. It may sound exaggerated, romanticized, to say that we found ourselves then in a glorious field of open air and vast sky and infinite ease — we were, in fact, still talking on the phone — but that was my experience. It was as if we were embraced in the all-encompassing silence in which our friendship had begun, expanding outward in every direction.”

Throughout the book, which also chronicles the author’s journey to India, Jenkins plays with apparent contradictions. In this vein she notes, “Solitude is the ground against which companionship blooms most beautifully.” Finally, she recognizes how important it is in true friendship to leave other people to themselves.

“By that I mean letting go of the notion that other people’s happiness depends on us, or ours on them, and taking full responsibility for our own happiness and knowing that others can do the same.”

mb49-BookReviews3Love’s Garden
A Guide to Mindful Relationships

By Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward
Parallax Press, 2008
Softcover, 177 pages

Reviewed by Philip Toy

In the heat of a household disagreement that’s not really about the conjured topic, my soul-mate wife proposes: “Do you want to listen to each other?” Here we stop to make ground rules: twenty to thirty minutes, one speaks while the other listens, no mixed-messaging body language and facial expressions, no groans or eye motions of assent or disapproval. Neutrality. Non-judgment. One of us pours only the water of self-revelation, the other simply receives. This

practice continues weekly for a long time and life happens, or more to the point, explodes.

What comes is the unfortunate return of a long-arrested life-threatening illness, coupled with the sudden death of my thirty-six-year-old son. I am rocketed to a realm of exquisite pain where all things became blindingly clear. The kettledrums of karma are deafening. I am forced to re-evaluate everything: my self-esteem, my thirty-year relationship with my wife, my lack of forgiveness, my Sangha leadership, my vocation. With much loving help from others, I am slowly returning. My son’s not here, but he continues in me. I am here, alive. My wife, too. And we are soothed by the many listening ears of the Sangha. Here is a garden of all things — seeds, weeds, insects, and disease! A garden of relationships in need of the tending methods so clearly addressed in this little book of sunshine by Larry Ward and Peggy Rowe Ward.

The Wards have indeed grown a garden: a colorful, eclectic, variegated anthology of quotes, epigrams, poems, and short essays to support basic teachings: the Four Immeasurables; the Nine Lovingkindness Prayers; Taking Refuge; Coming Home; Reflecting on the Hells; Befriending the World; Watering Positive Seeds. These are the compost and the tools they offer to help us cultivate the ground of mindful relationships.

As carefully organized as a textbook, Love’s Garden unfolds in three parts subdivided into chapters, twelve in all, with “practices,” exercises to guide readers in demonstrating what they have learned from the anecdotal material at the head of each chapter.

The Wards frequently remind us of the seeds of good practice, for example: self-care is a prerequisite to caring for others; forgiving oneself is the fertilizer for the fruit of forgiving others.

“Lovingkindness … practice is designed to uncover … light and love that dwells in each of us. This radiance is just covered up with ignorance, fear, anger and the red dust of life.

“We begin by befriending ourself, … talk kindly and sweetly … offer ourselves a blessing instead of a curse or a complaint….”

Wrapped as it is in glowing accolades from many sources, and launched by a nine-page foreword from Thich Nhat Hanh, this book lives up to its praise as a fine compilation of teachings. I pick it up, take a breath, jump in and shake off that “red dust of life.” If I am to heal, I must first be a friend to myself.

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Join Thay in India

mb49-Join1October 20-29, 2008

Over 2500 years ago in India, the Buddha found the path to liberate himself and help others to liberate themselves through their own practice. His teachings spread from North India to many other parts of the subcontinent. But by the thirteenth century, Buddhism in India had become virtually extinct. Suppressed by violent dictators, the followers of the Buddha emigrated to Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan but in the name of wisdom and compassion they refused to meet violence with violence. In 1956, Dr Ambedkar liberated many Dalits, formerly known as untouchables (the lowest caste in Hinduism), by converting them to Buddhism so that they could be equal to other citizens. Half a million untouchables were converted to Buddhism on one day, but unfortunately Dr. Ambedkar died very soon after this and had no time to train the newly converted Buddhists so that they could grasp the essential teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, today in the birthplace of Buddhism, Hindus and Muslims are numerous, but only a tiny fraction of the population is Buddhist, and many of them have not been able to receive the authentic teachings of the Buddha.

Thay Nhat Hanh’s trip to India is the fruit of many years of preparation by our friends Shantum, Gitu, and a number of concerned social activists, leaders, educators, businesspeople, and intellectuals in India. They wish to bring Thay’s wisdom, gentleness and depth, as well as the Buddha’s message of awakening, back to India. At his advanced age, this could be his last trip to India. We want to address the actual situation of India, sharing the message of transformation and healing with the rich and powerful as well as with the lowest of the low. There will be a half Day of Mindfulness for approximately 400,000 Dalit people in Nagpur. Thay will have the occasion to share with 700 school teachers in Dehra Dun in a 3-day retreat, with 800 medical professionals from all over India, with corporate leaders, as well as Parliamentarians in New Delhi. A large emphasis will be placed on sharing the practice with teenagers, and monastics will take time almost every morning of our trip to visit and make presentations at some thirty elite and government high schools.

The last ten days of the trip, from 20 to 29 October, will be a treat for all of us to be with Thay in a profound, traveling retreat, allowing us to encounter the same atmosphere the Buddha experienced before and after his enlightenment, with buffalo boys and many young children who had offered food to the monk Siddhartha, to experience Deer Park, where the Buddha gave his first teachings, and to connect with the energy of peacefulness and stability on Vulture Peak where the Buddha spent a great deal of time and gave many wonderful Dharma talks. Walking in the Buddha’s footsteps and touching this sacred atmosphere may stimulate our own awakening! Thay will also give Dharma talks throughout the ten-day pilgrimage and transmit the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

Shantum, Gitu, and the Ahimsa Trust cannot pay all the traveling expenses for Thay and the delegation of thirty monastics who will join him on the trip. This is why we have organized contribution/donation for the trip. Additionally, to maintain security and fairness, we cannot allow friends not officially registered for the trip to join us in any portion of the pilgrimage.

Register to join Thay for the last 10 days in India and offer a financial contribution to help Thay and thirty monastics bring the Dharma back to India. Go to www.plumvillage.org or contact Bina Aranha at bina@buddhapath.com.

—Sister Chan Khong

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