Dharma Talk: The Long Arm of the Fourfold Sangha

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Dharma talk at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism
June 11, 2010

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

During the war, Thich Nhat Hanh was moved to find an appropriate and beneficial way to bring the teachings and practices of the Buddha directly to the real suffering of the people. In 1966, the Tiep Hien Order, or Order of Interbeing, was founded when Thay ordained three women and three men (including Sister Chan Khong, at that time a layperson) as the Order’s first members. Thay invited these first ordinees to become the foundation of his vision of a fourfold Sangha of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen committed to studying and practicing the Bodhisattva path by living the Fourteen Precepts or Mindfulness Trainings. Today there are over 1,000 Order members worldwide and thousands more who have been inspired by the Tiep Hien Order and its Mindfulness Trainings.

Jeanne Anselmo,
True Precious Hand

Dear Sangha, today is the eleventh of June 2010. We are in the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in the Great Compassion Temple. The Institute is also called the No Worry Institute. Today we are going to hear a teaching about the Order of Interbeing.

When we wear the brown jacket, the brown robe of a monk or a nun, we have to manifest that spirit, the virtue of humility. We do not say that we are worth more than someone else, better than someone else, that we have more authority or power than someone else. We have a spiritual strength. That spiritual strength is very silent; it makes no sound. It is the silence of the brown color. When lay people put on the brown jacket, they should put it on in the spirit of humility; the spirit of the power of silence.

The Meanings of Tiep

 In English we say the Order of Interbeing, but the words are Tiep Hien in Vietnamese. The word Tiep has many meanings. The first meaning is to accept, to receive. What do we receive, and from whom do we receive it? We receive from our spiritual ancestors the beautiful and good things, understanding, insight, and virtue. We receive the wonderful Dharma, the seed of insight. The first thing an Order member needs to do is to receive what the ancestors have transmitted.

Sometimes our ancestors transmit, but we do not have the capacity to receive the transmission. For example, we can learn from the way Thay invites the bell. Thay invites the bell in such a way that the sound flies up into the sky. But sometimes even after two or three years some of us still cannot invite the bell properly. It’s still very sharp and astringent, or muted and obstructed.

If you practice watching Thay or an elder brother or sister, you will know how to invite the bell. When you are close to Thay and your elder brothers and sisters, you can learn a great deal from them. You can receive very quickly from them.

The way that Thay stands and walks is also a transmission. You just need to observe, and you can receive from the Buddha, from the ancestors, from those who have gone before. And sometimes we receive from those who are younger than us. What we receive is our heritage. This heritage is not land; it’s not money; it’s not jewelry. It is the heritage of the true Dharma. We have to ask ourselves: How much have I received? The ancestors really want to transmit, to give to us. But because we don’t have the capacity to receive, we let down the person who gives. We are not kind to the person who gives when we don’t receive the gift. So learning is a matter of receiving. We have to be there to receive, to learn. When we have received we can continue the ancestral line. Therefore the first meaning of Tiep is to receive.

Once we have received, we use it. We nourish it. Then we can be part of the continuation of the Buddha, of the ancestral teachers, of Thay. A child who is loyal to his parents or grandparents can receive direction from them. A student who has loyalty to his teacher is one who continues his teacher. We have to receive the aspiration and the practice of the Buddha, of the ancestral teachers, and our own teacher of this lifetime.

The third meaning of Tiep is to be in touch with. What do we have to be in touch with? We have to be in touch with the present moment, the wonderful life that is present in us and around us. The birds sing. The wind soughs in the leaves of the pine. If we’re not in touch, our life is wasted. When we are in touch we are nourished, we are transformed. We grow, we mature. Being in touch also means being in touch with the suffering in our own body and our own person, the suffering in our environment, in our family, and in our society. Then we will know what we need to do and what we should not do in order to transform this suffering.

On the one hand, we need to be in touch with what is wonderful, because that will nourish us. And on the other hand, we have to be in touch with our suffering so that we can understand, love, and transform.

The first meaning is receive. The second is continue. The third is to be in touch with, to be in contact. That is what is meant by the word Tiep.

The Meaning of Hien

Hien is the second word. It means the thing that is present. What is present? Life, paradise, our own person. Tiep Hien is to be in touch with what is happening now, here, what we can perceive now, in the present moment.

What are you seeing now? The Sangha, the pine trees, the drops of rain. Be in touch with them. And also we have to be in touch with the suffering in our lives. We cannot stay in our ivory tower with our dreams and our intellectual thoughts. We have to be in touch with the truth, the wonder of the truth. This is the Dharma door of Plum Village, living peacefully, happily in the present moment.

The word Hien also means to realize, to put into practice, to make something a reality, make something concrete. This allows us to have real freedom. We do not want to live a life of bondage, a life of slavery. We want to be free. Only when we are free can we be really happy. Therefore we want to break the nets or the prisons which keep us from being free. These prisons are our passion, our infatuation, our hatred, our jealousy. Just like the deer who gets out of the trap and is able to run freely, the monk or nun who practices is like a deer who is not caught in a trap, who is able to avoid all the traps and jump or run in any direction.

There is a very short sutra, just two sentences, that describes monastics as like the deer who overcome all the traps and are free to go where they like. As a monk or a nun, as a layperson, we are all disciples of the Buddha. We do not want to live a life of bondage. We want to be free. So we need to practice. Our daily practice liberates us. We are not caught in fame. We are not caught in profit. We are not looking for a position in society, for some authority or power. What we are looking for is liberation and freedom. That is realization. So Hien means to realize, to manifest.

Another meaning for the word Hien is to make appropriate. To update, to make suitable for our society here and now. So it is also important for us to be aware and responsible for offering the Dharma in a skillful way, appropriate for our society and our time.

Engaged Buddhism

With all these meanings of the two words, Tiep Hien, how can we possibly translate it into English as one or two words? We learn all the meanings from the Vietnamese (which have their root in Chinese), and then in English we just say Order of Interbeing. From this deeper understanding we know the direction of practice of the Order of Interbeing. We know that it means Engaged Buddhism, Buddhism that enters the world.

Engaged Buddhism means going into life. The monastery is not cut off from life. A monastery has to be seen as a nursery garden where we can put our seedlings. When those seedlings have grown strong enough, we have to bring them out and plant them in society. Buddhism is there because of life. Life is not there because of Buddhism. If there was no life, no world, there wouldn’t be Buddhism.

We have Buddhism because the world needs Buddhism. Therefore our practice center can be seen as a nursery garden in which there are the right causes and conditions for us to raise to maturity the small seedlings. Once they have been made strong enough, they are brought out and planted in the world, in society. So our training and our practice in the monastery are preparation to go into the world.

In Vietnam people started to talk about bringing Buddhism into the world as early as 1930. When Thay was growing up he was influenced by this kind of Buddhism. He knew that in the past Buddhism had played a very important part in bringing peace and making the country strong. He learned that Buddhism prospered in the Le Dynasty and the Tran Dynasty, and that the kings practiced Buddhism. Buddhism was the spiritual life, the spiritual force, the Dharma body of a whole people. The first Tran king, Tran Thai Tong, had a deep aspiration to practice by the time he was twenty. He was able to overcome great suffering with the practice of beginning anew. He wrote books about Buddhism which are still available today. His book called “The Six Times of Beginning Anew” proves that, although he was a king ruling the country, he was able to practice every day, offering incense, touching the earth, practicing sitting meditation six times, each time for twenty minutes. I don’t know if President Obama can do the same. As a ruler or a politician we should not say, “Oh, I’m too busy. I don’t have time for sitting meditation, for walking meditation.” If a king can do it, we cannot make the excuse that we have too much work, that we don’t have time to practice.

 

Applied Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism has been in our tradition for hundreds of years. We are not a new movement; we are only a continuation. When we understand what is meant by Tiep Hien, our process is very easy. And Engaged Buddhism leads to the next step, which is called applied Buddhism.

The word applied is used in a secular context. We use it like it is used in “applied science” or “applied mathematics.” For example, when we talk about the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—we have to show people how they can apply the teaching of the Three Jewels. How can we practice taking refuge in the Three Jewels? Just reciting “I take refuge in the Buddha, Buddham, Saranam, Gacchami” is not taking refuge. That is just announcing that you are taking refuge. In order to take refuge, you have to produce the energy of concentration, mindfulness, and insight. Then you are protected by the energy of the Three Jewels. When we practice “I come back to the island of myself, to take refuge in myself,” we have to practice breathing in such a way that we produce the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. When we practice like that, we produce the energy of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and then we really are protected by the Three Jewels. As members of the Order of Interbeing, our practice must be solid, so that whenever we have difficulties, we know what to do to get back our equanimity, our balance, our freedom, our solidity. One of the methods is taking refuge in the Three Jewels.

At universities in the West, you can now get degrees and doctorates in Buddhism. This kind of Buddhist study is not applied Buddhism. You can be fluent in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan, and in all the different teachings of the two canons, but if you get into difficulties and don’t know what to do, your Buddhism doesn’t help you.

We need a Buddhism that will help us when we need it. When we teach the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Five Faculties, and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, all these teachings have to be applied in our daily life. They should not be theory. We can teach the Lotus Sutra very well, but we have to ask ourselves: how can we apply the Lotus Sutra to resolve our difficulties, our despair, our suffering? That is what we mean by applied Buddhism. If you are a Dharma teacher, as a monk or a nun or a lay person, your life has to be an example of the teachings. You only teach what you yourself practice.

When we lead a Dharma discussion, when we give a Dharma talk, it is not to show off our knowledge about Buddhism. We just teach those things which we are really practicing. If we teach walking meditation, we have to practice it successfully, at least to some extent. If not, then we should not yet teach it. There are people who don’t need to give Dharma talks, but are very good Dharma teachers, because when they walk, stand, sit, and lie down, they are in touch with the Sangha. They’re always in harmony, peaceful, joyful, open. That is a living Dharma talk. These people are precious jewels in the Sangha. These people are not just monks and nuns. There are also lay people practicing very well, very silently, and the monks and nuns respect them very much.

Because our destiny is to bring applied Buddhism to every situation, we really need Dharma teachers. Therefore, the Order of Interbeing is an arm that stretches out very far into the world. The number of Order of Interbeing monks and nuns is not enough. We need Order of Interbeing laypeople also. The lay Order members are the long hand of the fourfold Sangha that stretches out to society. We need thousands of lay Order members to bring the teachings into the world.

With our brown jacket which represents our humility, which represents the power of our silence, we have to build a Sangha where there is no competing for authority or for power. Where there is brotherhood and sisterhood. Where we look at each other with loving kindness.

This is something we can do. If we are in harmony with each other, if we have brotherhood and sisterhood, we can do it. The fragrance of our Sangha will go far, and Thay will be perfumed by that fragrance. That is our work.

I hope that in the future we will be able to organize long retreats for Order members so they can strengthen their practice, strengthen their aspiration, strengthen their happiness, and fulfill the obligation which the Buddha has transmitted to them. We have to receive it and we have to realize it. That is what is meant by Tiep Hien, to make it a reality.

If our Sangha in the West is not yet a place where people can love each other, then we are not yet successful. Who takes responsibility to make the Sangha a beautiful Sangha with brotherhood and sisterhood, worthy to be given the name of Sangha? That is us, only us, as members of the Order of Interbeing. In our local Sangha, we can do that. We should not say, “Because that person is like that I can’t do it.” We have to say, “Because of me; my practice is not very good. Because I don’t have enough humility, because I don’t have enough of the strength, the power of silence, that is why we can’t do it.” Our destiny is to continue to receive, to be in touch to the best of our ability, and to realize the transmission of the Buddha.

Each member of the Order needs to have a fire in her heart which pushes us forward and makes us happy. Whether we are sweeping the floor for the Sangha, cooking for the Sangha, watering the garden for the Sangha, cleaning the toilet for the Sangha, we’re happy because we have the energy, we have the aim. The aim is not fame, profit, or position. The aim is the great love, wanting to be a worthy continuation of the Buddha, of our teacher and our ancestral teachers.

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Right Livelihood

By Thich Nhat Hanh

The Eleventh of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political, and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not supporting companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

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Right Livelihood is an element of the Noble Eightfold Path. It urges us to practice a profession that harms neither humans nor nature, physically or morally. Practicing mindfulness at work helps us discover whether our livelihood is right or not. We live in a society where jobs are hard to find and it is difficult to practice Right Livelihood. Still, if it happens that our work entails harming life, we should try our best to find another job. We should not drown in forgetfulness. Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or it can erode them. Our work has much to do with our practice of the Way.

Many modern industries, including food manufacturing, are harmful to humans and nature. Most current farming practices are far from Right Livelihood. The chemical poisons used by modern farmers harm the environment. Practicing Right Livelihood has become a difficult task for farmers. If they do not use chemical pesticides, it may be hard to compete commercially. Not many farmers have the courage to practice organic farming. Right Livelihood has ceased to be a purely personal matter. It is our collective karma.

Suppose I am a school teacher and I believe that nurturing love and understanding in children is a beautiful occupation, an example of Right Livelihood. I would object if someone asked me to stop teaching and become, for example, a butcher. However, if I meditate on the interrelatedness of all things, I will see that the butcher is not solely responsible for killing animals. He kills them for all of us who buy pieces of raw meat, cleanly wrapped and displayed at our local supermarket. The act of killing is a collective one. In forgetfulness, we may separate ourselves from the butcher, thinking his livelihood is wrong, while ours is right. However, if we didn’t eat meat, the butcher wouldn’t kill or would kill less. This is why Right Livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects all of us, and vice versa. The butcher’s children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood of killing.

Millions of people make a living off the arms industry, manufacturing “conventional” and nuclear weapons. These so-called conventional weapons are sold to Third World countries, most of them underdeveloped. People in these countries need food, not guns, tanks, or bombs. The United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom are the primary suppliers of these weapons. Manufacturing and selling weapons is certainly not Right Livelihood, but the responsibility for this situation does not lie solely with the workers in the arms industry. All of us—politicians, economists, and consumers—share the responsibility for the death and destruction caused by these weapons. We do not see clearly enough, we do not speak out, and we do not organize enough national debates on this huge problem. If we could discuss these issues globally, solutions could be found. New jobs must be created so that we do not have to live on the profits of weapons manufacturing.

If we are able to work in a profession that helps us realize our ideal of compassion, we should be very grateful. Every day, we should help create proper jobs for ourselves and others by living correctly—simply and sanely. To awaken ourselves and others and to help ourselves and others are the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. Individual karma cannot be separated from collective karma. If you have the opportunity, please use your energy to improve both. This is the realization of the first of the Four Great Vows:

Countless beings I vow to save.
Ceaseless afflictions I vow to end.
Limitless Dharma doors I vow to open.
I vow to realize the highest path of awakening.

Reprinted from Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism (Third Edition), Parallax Press, 1998.

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Letter from the Editor

mb55-EditorDear Thay, dear Sangha,

Many people in my community have been impacted by the economic downturn. Layoffs, cutbacks, and furlough days have given us the challenge and gift of less work and less income. Some

people are seeing their losses as opportunities—to live a simpler life, to meditate more, to volunteer, and to create new forms of livelihood. On a larger scale, some people are joining together to build livable economies, rooted in generosity and interdependence. I like to think these people are like scattered cells inside a cocoon. They have already become cells of the butterfly-to-be, and are ready for the cells around them to join the metamorphosis.

This issue of the Mindfulness Bell offers many possibilities for transforming our livelihood and economy. “Right Livelihood,” Thay’s commentary on the Eleventh Mindfulness Training, encourages us to keep compassion alive in our work, and reminds us that “the livelihood of each person affects all of us.” In an interview, scholar Riane Eisler shares her vision of an economy based on compassion and creativity rather than domination. “A Gift Economy” and “Migrating into Happiness” show us how a commitment to our core values can radically shift our work and economy. A social worker, family counselor, and school board member tell us how mindfulness supports their daily work.

We also look deeply at Sangha practice. Thay’s Dharma talk shines a light on the heart of service for Order of Interbeing members, and guides us to develop “a Buddhism that will help us when we need it.” Articles about People of Color Days of Mindfulness, a Sangha’s gratitude for a teacher, and another Sangha’s visit to a monastery illustrate the power and beauty of many individuals practicing together, countless drops of water flowing together as a river.

These articles inspired me to ask myself: How do my mindfulness practice, Sangha activities, and livelihood support each other? Are they helping or harming other beings? Am I working in order to feed my cravings, or to support my well-being so I can be a source of peace and understanding? What can I offer my community at this time, while we’re living at a crossroads of economic uncertainty and spiritual awakening? I am sitting with these questions, inviting you to consider them too, and trusting that beautiful new insights will be born.

May this Mindfulness Bell inspire us to look anew at our work and our spiritual practice, and may it guide us home to our heart of awakening.

With love and gratitude,

Editor-NBsig

Benevolent Respect of the Heart

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Letters

Dear Editor:

The last Mindfulness Bell was a rich and diverse offering on mindfulness in education. I’m still enjoying it! In 2008, I started a blog: www.mindfulkids.wordpress.com. This might be a helpful resource to add to the list of mindfulness in education resources as it features many of the practices developed by the Plum Village community for children (also with some practices translated into French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish). Parallax Press will release a book on practicing mindfulness with children this coming spring, based on the Plum Village children’s program manual.

We recently returned from Florence, Italy, where we helped lead a mindfulness camp for children and parents in the woods. We built a hut in the forest, created a nature mandala, and practiced outdoors. Based on the Waldkindergarten, or Forest Kindergarten, model, our main teachers over the five days were the path we walked through the meadow and the beautiful Imprugneta forest that warmly welcomed us.

Thank you for this wonderful resource and enjoy the pictures!

Sister Jewel

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Dear Sangha Friends:

This letter is in response to the articles on Sangha building (Summer 2009), from a grateful recipient of the caring energies of the Laughing Rivers Sangha. Two years ago, I was driving to my second home in the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania for our Sangha picnic. I was hurrying a little, and as Thay reminds us, I should have been driving more mindfully. I let my car coast back while turning around, and as I headed forward again, the accelerator stuck. The car became airborne and headed into the woods, knocking down some trees before coming to a halt. I ended up breaking my back. I survived, but spent some weeks in the hospital and my back still hurts, two years later. We did, however, manage to have one last heavenly picnic before I moved to a senior living community. Since then, the Sangha has been marvelous, driving out to have weekly mindfulness meetings with me, from which I always come away rejuvenated.

At Christmas time, Sangha members helped me prepare my Christmas letter. I received many responses fi with messages of concern and kindness which touched me deeply and made me cry. There has been so much sympathy and many heart-warming verses. I never cease to be amazed. Dear Sangha, all of your tender loving care has done so much for this 82-year-old woman.

A lotus for each of you, with palms joined in my heart,

Joanne Stephenson
True Realization of Home

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Dear Friends:

Please renew my subscription to the Mindfulness Bell. I greatly enjoy reading every issue. Your magazine provides inspiration and guidance for our prison Sangha. We read and discuss the Dharma topics covered in each issue. Thay’s teachings are truly inspiring, as well as all the other contributors. I was saddened to read of Thay’s stay in a Boston hospital and I hope that his current health is good. Keep sending the Dharma my way and know that you are moving mountains here on the inside.

Thank you,

Thomas A. Scott Central City, KY

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Migrating into Happiness

By Robin Lee Schiff and Joost van Rens

Robin: Yesterday evening we were lying on the smooth sunwarmed road that winds its way down the mountain at Deer Park Monastery, watching the moon rise over the crest of the ridge, enjoying the coolness of the evening after a hot sunny day. As we listened to the coyotes calling to each other, we both felt a deep sense of happiness, marveling at the way our life has been unfolding. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.

Joost: We have been visiting Plum Village since 1997 and Deer Park Monastery since 2002. Over the years it has become clear that we are happiest when we are spending time at the monastery with the monks and nuns, being part of the fourfold Sangha. We began to notice after each retreat that our priorities shifted effortlessly into deeper harmony with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and that making conscious decisions and choices to create positive change became much easier. In 2004, toward the end of the nine-week winter retreat at Deer Park, Robin looked deeply in meditation and resolved to change our lifestyle in such a way that we would spend at least three months each year at Deer Park. She called it a ten-year plan, and said, “I don’t know how it will happen; I only know that within ten years we will be doing this.” I readily agreed. In the end it took us only three years to accomplish this goal.

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At Home in the Netherlands

Joost: I worked for almost twenty years as a medical doctor in a non-profit center in a poor neighborhood in The Hague, where I saw thirty to forty patients a day, most of them immigrants. I was also politically active in the health-care field because most of the health problems of my patients were poverty-related. I used all the tools I had learned in Plum Village and Deer Park Monastery to deal with the high levels of stress at my work: mindful walking in my office, conscious breathing during and between consultations, loving speech and deep listening with patients and colleagues. I hung pictures of Thay on the wall as mindfulness bells, and I tried to treat each patient as if he or she were my mother, father, sister, or brother. But I was also in the habit of drinking one to two Belgian beers after work to be able to relax because I would come home tense and exhausted. During the 2004 winter retreat I engaged in several weeks of deep self-inquiry, well supported by Sangha friends, as to why I liked to drink. At the end of the retreat, Robin and I undertook the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I decided afterward to give up alcohol completely. Within a year after I stopped drinking, it became very clear to me how high and unsustainable the stress levels were at work. This realization catalyzed me to change my life.

mb55-Migrating3Robin: I teach tai chi as a form of mindfulness meditation. In our studio at home in The Hague, employees of UN agencies participated in classes, as did lots of other people who read the brochures I left in public libraries, bookshops, and natural food stores. Joost and I hosted weekly Sangha mindfulness mornings as well.

I have had a daily practice of sitting meditation since I was sixteen years old, but Thay’s book Old Path White Clouds inspired me greatly and led me to change to a Plum Village style of practice, particularly after our first visit to Plum Village in 1997. The advice given to me then by Sister Gina was to spend less time sitting and to try to take meditation off the cushion and into every aspect of my daily life. This has been enormously healing and transformative for me, closing the disturbing gap that had widened over the years between my “spiritual” life on the cushion and the rest of my experiences. Each time we came back from Deer Park we noticed that we were less attached to our worldly possessions. It was becoming clear that our true happiness was not dependent upon these things. In 2005, our son Seth graduated university and landed a contract teaching English in Japan. Knowing that Seth could now earn his own living catapulted me into a phase change, which I describe as the end of the nesting instinct. I saw myself as a bird flying out of the nest and into the immense blue sky.

Joost and Robin: After a year of research, planning, number crunching, and deep looking, we were ready to commence the process of selling our house and other possessions, quitting our jobs, and leaving the Netherlands. Our plan was to live six or seven months per year in Australia or New Zealand, where Joost could work as a roving medical doctor. (This is possible because there is a great shortage of doctors in rural areas in both countries.) We would have no fixed base but would move from location to location, wherever doctors were needed.

Joost: Both of us come from families that play it safe in making life choices. We noticed fears arising, triggered by the unconventional choices we were making. We both had to recognize, embrace, and find ways to transform these fears, step by step, as we developed and implemented our plans.

In August 2006, Robin began fixing up our house to put it up for sale the following spring. We started giving away our furniture, library, music CDs, clothing, beds, kitchenware, bicycles—everything—to our families and to friends who were planning to start a Buddhist retreat in England. It took a year to mindfully divest ourselves of all the possessions we had previously cherished. We each left the Netherlands with forty kilograms of possessions. Leaving my family behind, especially my 85-year-old father, was especially poignant because my mother had died just three months before. I taught my father to use Skype, and we now speak on the phone or Skype every two days. We keep in close contact—via Skype—with our son, who is now twenty-six years old and studying law. The other emotional hurdle was fi   a new home for our twenty-two-year-old black cat, Zumbro. As of this writing, Zumbro is still alive and thriving with a couple of our friends in Amsterdam.

At Home Wherever We Are

Robin: Each work assignment in Australia and New Zealand comes with a temporary house and the use of a car. We never know what kind of house it will be until we arrive. People ask us if it is difficult to have no home of our own, but the practices of mindful walking and breathing have helped us to be at home wherever we are. We have stayed in many remote rural locations all over Western Australia and New Zealand, and usually by the time we have unpacked our bags we feel at home. The amount of time we remain in each location averages about five weeks.

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Joost: While I was working in the Netherlands, it felt as though my work never stopped. Now I know that each year I will spend at least three months at Deer Park Monastery. Even though working in rural areas can be very challenging, I have much more joyful energy for my work. We also have considerably more free time to appreciate the beauty of nature and to feel gratitude for our relationship.

Robin: Every day during our first year in Australia, I would imagine, before I started eating breakfast, that one of the trees I could see from the table was Brother Phap Ho, one was Brother Phap Dung, and one was Sister Faith or Sister Tue Nghiem, or whichever monastic arose in my thoughts. Now, two years later, the trees themselves seem to have so much presence, I no longer need to attach images of monastic friends to them to feel as though Sangha is all around me!

Joost: The frequent changes in our work and living environments help us to stay fresh and to practice “beginner’s mind;” they also encourage us to reduce our possessions even more, since we have to carry everything wherever we go. I have worked as a GP in many different types of practices, this year mostly in impoverished Maori towns. Robin works as our part-time manager to organize work assignments, contracts, tickets, housing, insurance, visas, etc. She also swims daily and teaches tai chi and meditation.

Robin: People often ask me, “Isn’t it difficult for you when Joost goes off to work and you are in a new place?” My natural attitude is that in each new place, some special opportunity will arise for me to learn something new, and/or to teach somebody who really wants to learn what I can offer. I only have to be present and aware to see the opportunity, to enjoy it, to give and receive. Of course, our new lifestyle has brought up new and different challenges. Visa immigration rules and medical board regulations change without warning, so we have to adjust our plans often. Fear comes up for us in these situations; but as we gain more experience by solving each predicament, we gain more confidence in being able to find workable solutions.

Joost: We are usually able to keep in contact with friends and family. Sometimes one of us experiences feelings of loss and loneliness when we are in a very remote place without internet or a good telephone connection. We sit with these feelings, let them come up, and hold them gently as if they were crying babies. Because we are a Sangha of two people, we are able to support each other well.

Life has become a journey. Deer Park has become our home base. Since we changed our life in 2007 and are now coming to Deer Park every year for three months, our practice has deepened and our happiness and understanding have been nourished. Each year we make new friends in the constantly changing Sangha at Deer Park, and our capacity to live happily in the present moment grows.

Robin: Friends ask us, “How long do you think you will keep doing this? When will you settle down somewhere, and where?” I tell them, “We’ll wait and see! Life is full of so many surprises; I figure we’ll just know these things when the time comes.”

Joost and Robin: This year when we came back to Deer Park, it felt as if we had been away for a couple of weeks instead of nine months. We just stepped back into the river of the Sangha.

mb55-Migrating6Robin Lee Schiff, Full Awakening of the Heart, was born in 1955 in Brooklyn, NY. Joost van Rens, Compassionate Action of the Heart, was born in 1958 in the Netherlands. They practice three months of the year with the Deer Park The rest of the year, they travel and practice together as the No Coming No Going Sangha.

July Moon

We lie in silence on the warm road
As the full moon slips above
The great hidden mountain
Its light penetrating and spreading
Like the Dharma in the Western world
And dear brothers and sisters
Our communication is perfect
–David Percival, True Wonderful Roots

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Toward a Compassionate Economics

An Interview with Riane Eisler

By John Malkin

mb55-Toward1Compassion is a deeply valued aspect of Buddhist practice. Caring for others is a natural expression of interbeing. How would our lives be different if compassion were a foundation of politics and economics? Riane Eisler explores the possibilities of a compassion-based economics in her latest book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2007). She writes, “Strange as it may sound, we can’t just focus on economics to change economic systems. We have to go deeper and further.” Eisler is pointing to a reacquaintance with compassion, a movement away from domination-based societies toward a partnership model.

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Eisler makes the point that “…the exclusion of caring and care-giving from mainstream economic theory and practice has had, and continues to have, terrible effects on people’s quality of life, on our natural life-support systems, and on our economic productivity, innovativeness, and adaptability to new circumstances.” Riane Eisler’s 1987 book The Chalice and the Blade draws on anthropological findings to reveal that human beings have lived in partnership societies where compassion has been highly valued. In The Real Wealth of Nations she addresses the question, “What kinds of social confi    support our enormous human capacities for caring, for problem-solving, for consciousness, for empathy and creativity—rather than for destructiveness, insensitivity, and violence?”

Thay has so often taught that all these seeds—from empathy to anger—are present in us and can be cultivated or diminished. Indeed, the Second Mindfulness Training focuses on the practice of not supporting exploitation, social injustice, or oppression in any of its forms. “I do think of my work as spiritual because I think of spirituality as putting love into action,” Eisler recently told me. “In that sense,” she said, “it does connect to the Buddhist philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh.”

John Malkin: Tell me about the relationship of economics to common beliefs about human nature.

Riane Eisler: There is a popular notion that human nature is selfish. In domination systems, one of the biggest myths is that there is something wrong with us. Whether it’s original sin or the popular version of selfish genes, we’re bad. With that belief comes the belief that we need to be strictly controlled. That is one of the bases of domination.

Humans have a very large spectrum of possibilities. We can be cruel, violent, and insensitive. But we also have an enormous— indeed unprecedented as a species—capacity for consciousness, caring, and creativity. The issue that I’ve been probing is what kinds of social configurations support or inhibit the expression of these positive capacities. Unfortunately in domination systems, you’ve got rigid rankings (man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, man over nature).

JM: Economics is not easy to understand. It seems that much money is made from the exploitation of people and nature while caring professions are not well compensated.

RE: Economics is basically about what is or is not valued. Classical economists will say, “It’s just a matter of supply and demand.” What they ignore is that much more important are underlying cultural values which are unconsciously embedded. Like the devaluation of anything considered to be soft, caring, care-giving.

Just having “caring” and “economics” in the same sentence causes a lot of us to do a double take. It’s a terrible comment on the un-caring values that we have learned to accept as driving economic rules, practices, and policies. We need economic policies that give real value to the most important human work: caring for people and nature.

These life-sustaining activities aren’t counted in our measures of productivity, such as GDP (gross domestic product) and GNP (gross national product). Market economy professions that don’t involve caring and care-giving, like engineering and planning (they may be done by caring people but the work isn’t care-giving), are uniformly higher-paid than professions that are about care-giving, like child care and elementary school teaching.

In the U.S. we think nothing of paying the plumber—the person to whom we entrust our pipes—$50 to $100 an hour. But to the person to whom we entrust our children—the child care worker—we pay an average of less than ten dollars an hour with no benefits, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. This isn’t logical. It’s pathological.

JM: Some countries are developing economics that place a high value on caring.

RE: There are nations that have moved more to the partnership side, and they have more caring policies. Sweden, Finland, Norway. They were so poor at the beginning of the twentieth century that people fled famines in droves. But today they have the highest life spans and the lowest poverty rates. They invested in caring for people and caring for nature. It’s not that complicated. They have universal health care, as well as high-quality child care and early childhood education.

JM: In your book you write, “Policymakers always seem to find money for control and domination, for prisons, weapons, wars. But we’re told there’s no money for caring and care-giving. For feminine activities such as caring for children and people’s health. For nonviolence and peace.”

RE: Anything that is stereotypically considered feminine— associated with caring, care-giving, nonviolence—is devalued, whether it’s in a woman or in a man. That’s very important. Women can be cruel and men can be caring. How a society organizes the roles and relations of the two fundamental halves of humanity— female and male—doesn’t only impact our individual lives, but it affects everything about our social system, including economics. It makes our families either authoritarian or democratic.

We did a study at the Center for Partnership Studies comparing statistical data from eighty-nine nations that correlated the status of women with measures of quality of life like infant mortality, human rights, and environmental ratings. We found that the status of women can be a better predictor of the general quality of life than GDP.

We now have the enterprise of coming together and constructing a better future. It’s the most important work for us on the planet. If we don’t join together to change how we think and act, we just don’t have much of a future, and neither do our children.

Editors’ note: Sister Annabel, Senior Editor of the Mindfulness Bell, read this interview and offered an additional question for Riane Eisler.

Sister Annabel: While I was reading this article I felt there was something missing. It was the feeling that we should pay the caregiver more than the plumber. Why do we not pay everyone the same? The caregiver cares because that is how she expresses compassion, and the plumber can also plumb compassionately. What is wrong is that we continue to express value in money. I think this is something economists have to look at. In a humane society, everyone has the same material needs and everyone should receive the same amount of money.

RE: Thank you, Sister Annabel, for your question. I want to say, first, that what our work is about is not that one kind of profession be paid more than another, but that the work of caring for people and nature be given visibility and real value. This is essential for a more just and caring world, because as long as caring continues to be devalued, not only will the essential work of caring for children, the elderly, and others in need of care be given few if any rewards, but we cannot realistically expect more caring policies. So policy makers will continue to have no trouble finding funding for prisons, weapons, and wars, but won’t find money to fund health care, child care, and other “soft” caring activities. From my perspective the problem is not money, which is a useful invention for exchange, but that money is not allocated in humane and caring ways.

For more information about Riane Eisler and the Caring Economics Campaign, see www.partnershipway.org.

mb55-Toward3John Malkin, Clear Path of the Heart, lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Author of Sounds of Freedom and The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America, he hosts a radio program called “The Great Leap Forward” (www.freakradio.org) on Free Radio Santa Cruz. His guests have included Thich Nhat Hanh, Riane Eisler, Philip Glass, and Sister Chan Khong.

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Listening Deeply

Public Office as a Dharma Door

By Pam Costain

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As an elected member of a school board, I regularly make difficult decisions that affect thousands of children’s lives. While all public officials make tough choices, none are quite so personal as those made by school boards. After all, nothing is more precious to people than their children.

After four years of service and dozens of challenging decisions, I can honestly say this has been both my most rewarding work and most challenging burden. Quite simply, I could not have done it without a regular mindfulness practice. My practice has enabled me to slow down, listen deeply, check my own intentions, and find comfort in the recognition that there is no guarantee about the outcome, only the possibility of creating a stronger community of support.

My Life Is My Practice

I ran for the Minneapolis School Board in 2005 because I loved the schools here, yet saw that too many children—especially those living in poverty—were not doing well. As my concern turned to alarm, I realized that I had some skills that could be useful, and put myself forward for elected office.

At this time I was also taking steps to deepen my mindfulness practice, such as attending the Estes Park retreat with Thay. Like many others, I left Colorado with many new insights, a profound sense of peace, and a strong intention to bring mindfulness practice more fully into everyday life.

Nevertheless, I was experiencing a crisis. On the one hand, I had been a social justice activist for thirty-five years, and deciding to run for school board meant committing even more time and energy. On the other hand, I was being drawn to a more contemplative and spiritual path. Part of me wanted to leave it all behind and move to a Buddhist community, while another part of me wanted to use my energy even more powerfully to act in the world.

Ultimately, I decided to try to meld the two paths into something authentic for me—a stronger practice of mindfulness coupled with a very public presence in the life of my community. This would not be a simple synthesis, but rather a process that would unfold over time.

It was not until my second retreat with Thay in 2007 that I came to a very important realization: my life as an elected official was my practice. My practice was not primarily the time I sat on a cushion or attended retreats or recited the Five Mindfulness Trainings. As important as these all were, the most significant aspects of my practice were my everyday actions as an elected official. Having finally understood that my life was my practice, I have tried to bring more of the wisdom of our tradition to my public role.

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Practicing in the Public Eye

How do I bring my practice into my role as a school board member? I try to cultivate an attitude of respect for each and every person I talk to, no matter how difficult it may be. I try to listen to everyone with focused attention and compassion for their point of view. I remind myself that when I make decisions about children and schools, I am making decisions about individual children whose parents care deeply for their well-being. I must be very careful with my words, actions, and voice. I try to be completely present and give undivided attention to all those who talk to me, even when it is exhausting. Often those who speak are very angry, but I understand that underneath that anger is fear.

Early in my fi year, we had to make a decision about closing five schools in neighborhoods where people already had lost a great deal—their jobs, grocery stores, safety, and, in some cases, their dignity. Now the school district was going to close neighborhood schools. Hours of tearful and angry testimony could be summed up as: The school board does not care about African American children.

The day after an especially painful public hearing, where emotions had run high, I ran into a woman who had been very vocal. To my surprise, she approached me smiling. Rather than being hostile, she was friendly and even thanked me for listening so thoughtfully the night before. I was able to share what I felt would benefit children in her neighborhood. As we parted, I was reminded that our practice encourages us “to make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

Through all difficult situations, my practice has been to try to remain calm (at least in public) and keep an open heart. Wherever I’m approached, my role is to bear witness to people’s fears and concerns. “Aware that the lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. We will learn to listen deeply, without judging or reacting.”

I try to be as honest as I can with people, which is especially challenging when I have to tell them something they don’t want to hear. I have found that it is best to be honest with people about what I am thinking or how I am going to vote, regardless of how painful that may be. As the teaching says: “We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred.”

Finally, I try to operate from a belief that everyone’s motives are good and decent. Many times, I have differed with decisions of the administration or my fellow board members, or with an angry parent who has called me at home during supper. When faced with these challenging situations, I try to take a deep breath to open up the space around me. With more space and calm, I strive to give people the benefit of the doubt and to understand things from their perspective. “Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences.”

As a public official, my job is to make decisions, imperfect as they may be. It has been humbling to recognize that making decisions is much more difficult than simply having an opinion. Even when several points of view have merit and each contains a kernel of truth, ultimately I have to exercise my judgment and choose. Doing so has been both a burden and a gift. I have had to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity (which I believe is essential to the practice of mindfulness), but not allow them to prevent me from making difficult decisions.

I am very grateful for Thay’s teachings, the strength of the practice, and the support of my Sangha in this path.

mb55-Listening3Pam Costain, Empowering Communication of the Heart, is a member of Blooming Heart Sangha in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Generation to Generation

By Judith Toy

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Faces of the children I work with—victims of great violence and injustice—file through my heart during meditation. What do these children and their families need in order to heal? Only loving attention.

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When fifteen-year-old Dee first came to us at the Strengthening Families Program (SFP) in Asheville, she brightened the room, chattering non-stop about her training in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and an after-school program. Dee’s family does not include a father. Because she was in the throes of alcoholism, her mother, Louise, left Dee with her grandmother, who routinely beat Dee with a yardstick. Louise, who had also been beaten, is now in recovery. When she came to us, Louise had only recently regained custody of her daughter and was desperate to re-bond with her child.

Two Dharma sisters, Susan Hales and I, share an office at the SFP, cherishing the opportunity to realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Our federally funded program is free to families. Over fourteen weeks, we teach families interaction skills based on a rich, award-winning curriculum. With several staff members on hand to model dinner table conversation, we share a mindful meal, a family ritual which seems to be lost to TV. After dinner—no highly processed food or sugar—children attend class with two youth facilitators. Susan and I begin each class with breathing and stretching exercises. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Inhalation and exhalation are a kind of prayer to invoke inner peace.

The children learn peer refusal skills, how to identify their feelings, problem solve, and empathize. Their parents—in a separate class with parent facilitators—learn how to better understand themselves and their children, set boundaries and consequences, stay calm, play with their children, problem solve, and empathize. Finally, they learn to help their kids build on their goals and dreams. An hour later, the two groups join a family class to practice what they have learned. Often we use games and artwork to convey deep truths.

Dee and her mother joined this program at a critical moment. There are two times in a child’s life when the brain is completely plastic: ages two and fifteen. This may account for the fact that fifteen-year-olds are often at odds with their parents, because they can see clearly that what their parents say does not mesh with what they do. It is time for them to individuate—to carve out their own values and ethics. This is difficult if the family’s values and ethics are unclear. So, we try to help parents name their family strengths by teaching good seed watering. “Catch your teen doing something good,” we say to parents. And to the teens, regarding their parents: “You can attract more butterflies with honey.”

Mindfulness helped me put myself in Dee’s shoes. What would it feel like to have no father, to lose your mother, to be abused by your grandmother? Through mindfulness, I could model a calm and patient authority for her newly sober mother. One of the ways we guide parents is to help them set boundaries. Time and again, I see kids respond favorably when their parents are able to set firm rules with reasonable consequences and stick to them. Kids interpret this attention as love.

When Louise began to set boundaries, and Dee fi y realized she would not be hit if she went outside the lines, Dee pushed them. One evening she arrived with a new piercing—a ring in her lip.

Louise had been away on business, and Dee pierced her own lip with a sterilized needle. What delusions needed to be punctured? Louise hit the ceiling when she returned home. She was new to her daughter, and didn’t know how to cope.

Dee was upset at her mother’s reaction, which she said was to throw a loud temper tantrum and lock her out of the house in the cold. I took Dee aside. In tears, and picking at her skin, she told me living with her mother was not working out. She wanted to leave the household and live with her aunt. She was afraid of her mother’s temper. I saw that part of Dee’s fear stemmed from mistreatment at the hands of her grandmother. This is, because that is! In families, we see the flower in the root of the plant. I could see the seeds of rage and dark mental formations that had been carried from generation to generation. Educator and visionary Rudolf Steiner expressed the larger implications of right livelihood with children well: “The way I work with every growing child has significance for the whole universe.”

At a staff meeting, we processed the family problems. To ensure that Louise would continue to attend class and that she did not feel cornered, we decided to set a meeting for her, Dee, and three staff members after graduation, a few weeks away. The happy ending to this story is that by the time graduation rolled around, mother and daughter were reconciled, Louise had learned ways to take care of her anger, Dee had learned that her mother cared enough to set boundaries, and both of them gave SFP an amazing testimonial at the ceremony.

Names and circumstances of SFP participants have been changed to protect the families.

mb55-Generation3Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, is a senior OI member who, with her husband Philip Toy, guides retreats around the U.S., and this summer, in Ireland and Scotland. They have founded three Sanghas, one in a medium security prison. Judith practices with Cloud Cottage Sangha in North Carolina. She is former associate editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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The Joyful Buffalo Herder

By Brother Phap Co

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mb55-TheJoyful2Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

This morning, I was doing walking meditation with the Sangha. I breathed in and out with every two steps, and after a while, I saw that I was becoming calm. I was able to direct my calm mind to the wondrous surroundings, the green trees, warm sun, flowers, and grasses of Deer Park Monastery. I felt light and at peace. I continued to bring my peaceful mind into contact with my brothers and sisters and with nature. Gradually I saw I was a part of nature, so no effort was needed to enjoy it, because nature seemed to have permeated me and flowed inside of me. I realized my past is behind me and my future is in front, and if it is beautiful and clear in front of me, then the past behind me is also beautiful and clear. If we live beautifully and mindfully in the present and in the future, then our past will also be beautiful, with wonderful memories.

I would like to share my memories about taking care of buffaloes. I grew up in the countryside in Vietnam. My father was a farmer with thirteen children and over thirty water buffaloes. I was the herder in charge of the buffaloes. In the morning, I let the buffaloes out into the fields for grazing, making sure they did not feed on rice plants and other crops. This kind of attention required my constant presence, leaving little time for schoolwork. That’s why by the age of thirteen, I was only in the third grade. In our society at the time, the uneducated and illiterate were often called “buffalo herders.”

When herding buffaloes, one has to know how to keep buffaloes of different characters together. Some buffaloes, once out in the field, will look for rice, sweet potatoes, or other crops to eat rather than staying with the herd. Some buffaloes like to walk by themselves. Some refuse to be led to the field. The first duty of the herder is to collect the herd using three tools: a wooden rod, a long piece of rope, and the best-behaved buffalo, called the “herd gatherer.” This buffalo must be the fastest, strongest, and best trained of the herd. If a buffalo decides to leave the herd, the herder must promptly dispatch his gatherer to bring it in.

Buffaloes graze for five or six hours and you have to be with them all the time. When they have eaten enough, the herder takes them to a large, empty field so you can all rest. Buffaloes like to play with the large, beautiful cranes that gather in these fields. Cranes’ songs are very beautiful and so are their dances. The buffaloes lie on the ground and the cranes approach them to feed, sing, and dance.

The herder often relaxes by making up songs which imitate the sounds of the cranes. Vietnamese literature contains a lot of references to buffalo herding. Here is one of the traditional songs:

Who says buffalo herding is a tough job?
Sitting on the buffalo I dreamily listen to the birds up high
There are days I skip school and chase after butterflies by the pond bridge
Caught by mother, I cry even before the whip comes down
There is a young girl sitting by, watching me and giggling
Aren’t her round black eyes forever so lovely?

 Cranes and Buffaloes inside Us

We have both the crane and the buffalo in ourselves. Taoists love cranes and often praise these birds for their quietude. Cranes are symbolic of nobility and calm. Zen practitioners compare the mind to a buffalo, which tends to wander and run after various distractions. A Zen practitioner is said to be a buffalo herder, keeping his or her mind from causing havoc.

Our mind has many parts; it does not have just one buffalo but a whole herd. Anger, blame, and resentment are not the good kinds of buffaloes. These emotions cause disturbances in our mind, and we have to know how to keep them in check. What are our tools to keep our minds from running wild?

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The rope we use to maintain direction over our buffalo mind is mindfulness. Mindfulness has the capacity to embrace mental formations that are running wild. When negative mental formations arise, we must recognize them immediately and ride the mindfulness buffalo after them. Recognition through mindfulness puts the negative mental formations on hold. How can we use mindfulness to take care of the scattering buffaloes? One good method is to do walking meditation, being aware of the breath and the steps. This form of meditation creates the energy of mindfulness so that we can take good care of our mind.

In order to generate the energy of mindfulness, certain conditions are necessary. A buffalo herder finds time to rest once he has taken his animals to a good grazing field. We must bring our mind to a spacious place so that it can rest and relax. We generate mindfulness so that we may take proper care of the wild buffaloes and the confusion of our mind.

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When we come to a practice center, if we feel spacious and light as a crane, and if we feel there is nothing important we have to do, it means our mind has become relaxed and calm. We do not feel the need to meet the abbot or visit with monastics, because in our mind, the most important thing to have here is spaciousness for our practice. We create merit through our practice, not through contact with someone like the abbot. For the energy of mindfulness to arise more easily, we have to be calm and light as a crane, with a lot of concentration.

When we perform a deed in accordance with the Dharma, our mind is quiet and calm, and we work in mindfulness. When we learn about the Buddha and do everything in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, we are performing a deed in accordance with the Dharma. Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in; breathing out, I know I’m breathing out—that’s breathing in accordance with the Dharma. When we arrange the cushions in the meditation hall, our hands pick up each cushion and place it carefully on the mat in alignment with the others. This is arranging the cushions in mindfulness, in accordance with the Dharma. If we do things with that mind, not being concerned whether a deed is large or small, then even if the work is as small as a speck of dust, the merit associated with the work is so large that it is indescribable.

Imagine seeing a cherished friend off at the train station. We don’t know when we’ll see him again. Our mind is totally concentrated on our friend, not distracted by other people or things. We are with him until the last moment when we shake hands as he boards the train. Our eyes follow the train until it disappears before we turn back. That memory, which we will carry in our heart forever, is possible thanks to mindfulness, which means that our mind is aware of the event that is taking place, and this awareness brings about a deeper understanding of life. That is our memory, and it can take us forward to the future. If we have a beautiful past, then our future will be joyful and beautiful, too.

When we come to the monastery, when we walk very slowly with our mind concentrated, it is a deep practice, and it becomes a part of our memory. When sharing a meal with the Sangha, we do it with a concentrated mind. We sit quiet and upright, let our mind relax, stop and breathe with the sounds of the bell, and have a deep appreciation for the food which is the gift of the earth and sky, as stated in the Five Contemplations. Aware that the food does not come by itself, we eat with deep gratitude. A meal like that, even simple, can be a good memory. It’s rare that we have an opportunity to share a meal with so many friends. Walking, eating, seeing a friend off, we always have the same sense of gratitude because we are aware that these opportunities don’t take place all the time. This awareness helps us feel intimate with life.

Connecting with Others

When we experience the joy of life deeply, we develop a close connection with others, and this generates within us a love for our fellow human beings. If we feel distant from others, it is a sign that we are also distant from ourselves and we lack a deep understanding of life. People are a part of life. The thought that we can stay away from people by living in nature is not logical, because people are part of nature. When we suffer from negative mental formations, we tend to blame it on other people, but the root cause of this suffering is the fact that we are not in touch with life and do not understand life. We may be competent in many fields of study, but we have not devoted enough time to understanding our own mental formations and those of the people living close to us. This creates a separation between ourselves and others, and life. When we live mindfully and wholeheartedly, we learn to be present so we can listen to the other person with an open heart, which relaxes and gladdens our mind. To be able to sit for a cup of tea or to share a conversation with someone, even for a few moments, makes wonderful memories that nourish us, helping us see that we are not alone on our life journey.

We cannot handle such negative mental formations as anger when we are not in touch with our own mind. But when we are mindful and in touch with life, we have a good “herd-gathering” buffalo which enables us to get hold of the anger at the level of mind consciousness, and take good care of it. Because they have such strong momentum, anger, worry, or sadness may not cease immediately when we recognize and try to embrace them. When this happens, we should not try too hard. When we see that the mental formation arising in us is creating tension, we should put only sixty to seventy percent of our attention on it. If the mental formation continues to run wild despite our effort, we develop the impression that we are helpless and powerless, and then our mind may become even more agitated. So we should pay only sixty percent attention to the mental formation, and save the other forty percent for relaxing and getting in touch with wonderful things around us. This is a useful technique when our concentration is not strong enough to completely embrace the negative mental formation and resolve it right away. Patience is important in this situation.

Equanimity is the absence of grasping. With equanimity, our mind is as unencumbered as when we take the buffaloes to the empty field. When the mind is able to observe anger, the anger is gradually subdued, and it merges with the mental formation of mindfulness. The runaway buffalo is gradually brought back by the “herd-gathering” buffalo, and the herd comes together as one. When anger is embraced with mindfulness, it becomes less strong, and it is transformed into the energy of mindfulness, like water and milk mixed together. We need to practice mindfulness diligently so that we gradually develop the capacity to embrace our anger and sadness. Once we are able to do this, we will be able to care for all other mental formations, such as jealousy, hate, love, etc. We begin with simple recognition, calling a mental formation by its true name as it arises. Then, also with mindfulness, we gradually embrace it, feeling the mind calming down, seeing that everything is mind. And when we can see the full depth of the mental formation and pull up its root, transformation happens. The buffalo herder and the Zen practitioner are similar in their approaches. Zen practitioners tame the buffaloes of our minds.

This is an excerpt from a Dharma talk given at Deer Park Monastery in January 2010.

mb55-TheJoyful6Brother Phap Co was ordained in December 1999. He is Vietnamese Australian. He is very loved in our Sangha, because he is always positive and helpful to everyone. He loves to hike, bake bread, and work in the garden.

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A Gift Economy

By Zachiah Laurann Murray

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Throw away holiness and wisdom
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and allow all things to take their course.

–Tao Te Ching, A New English Version, Chapter 19 (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

“Each week we give all of our profits to Barbac, the owner of the Wise Cicada Health Food Store. When he has taken care of his financial obligations, he returns to us what he feels the cafe can offer,” says Susan Gribble, co-creator and visionary of the new Wise Cicada Cafe, located in New Market, New Zealand. “Then on gifting night,” she continues, “we place the money Barbac has offered us into the center of the circle on the floor, where we have come together, and each person takes according to his or her need.” She pauses. “It takes real trust.”

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On February 28, 2010, I had the honor and privilege of washing dishes on the cafe’s opening day, just before embarking on a silent walkabout in the bush of New Zealand. The cafe is the manifestation of a vision shared by Donna Murray, Susan Gribble, and Endel Araujo. Their vision is to create a cafe based on a new paradigm, one dedicated to living—actually embodying—a new way of being in the flow of commerce in today’s marketplace.

In a gift economy, no prices are placed upon the items being offered. One is asked to go beyond what physically appears on one’s plate or in one’s cup. One is asked to look deeply and mindfully into one’s entire experience—the love and hearts of those in service, the nourishment one receives, the beautiful atmosphere of the cafe, and all the beings, plants, and minerals, including the clouds, the rain, the soil, and the sun, that have contributed to making the food. Looking with the eyes of mindfulness, one is called to deeply acknowledge one’s complete interbeing with all of life. And from this inspired place of truth, one is asked to offer an authentic expression of one’s heart and understanding in gratitude for the gifts received.

This expression of gifting and gratitude shows faith in the truth of our oneness. The exchange is an embodiment of the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on interbeing. While the visionaries and co-creators of the cafe are not Buddhists, they have great insight into our need to see beyond the illusion of our separateness. Not only do they recognize our interbeing, but they have also dedicated their livelihood to this knowing. Their cafe gracefully reflects the beauty of our oneness with all of life and directly invites each of us to see with our Buddha eyes, to live from our Buddha hearts, and to fully express and realize our Buddha nature while actively engaged in our daily lives.

Through their being and presence, the co-creators of the cafe stand as a clear mirror of faith and trust, offering us the opportunity to acknowledge Thay’s teaching of interbeing through our own action; this action deeply waters the seed of truth in each of us. The mirror of truth stands before us; it is ours to look closely and not only know, but embody, its wisdom.

During a month-long silent walkabout in the bush of the Waitakere Ranges, I stayed down the hill from my friends’ retreat center and cafe. Each morning, very early, I went up the hill to the center. Sometimes when I arrived, they were preparing food for the cafe. I entered into their flow, silently joining them, and then slipped back into the bush and disappeared like a visiting bird. The love of this silent communion with my friends hummed its song within my heart as I spent time in solitude with nature.

My final day upon the sacred land—for certain, my second home—returned me to the familiar and welcoming arms and hearts of my friends at the Wise Cicada Cafe. Having ingested only protein shakes while in the bush to keep things simple and not attract animals, I was extremely grateful that my last nourishment in New Zealand would be the soul food offered by my friends. When I arrived on the morning of March 25, Endel served me as I carefully selected the beautiful foods that would fill my plate and my soul, foods prepared “with great love,” as Donna was often heard to say. I asked if I could partake of my meal before paying for it, that I might drink deeply of its offering. With a warm and easy smile, Endel granted me the opportunity to explore the fullness of my senses before making my financial offering.

I relished the food’s rich flavors and looked for all the life and energy within it. I realized I was embodying the sky, the clouds, the rain, the sun and its warmth. I was grateful to the hearts and hands of the beings, animals, plants, and minerals that had offered their life energy to this meal, and I let this truth resonate deeply within me. Enfolded, too, in this experience, were the love and hearts of my beloved friends. I wrapped their love in my heart cloth, and I will carry them with me wherever I go.

I realized no money could ever really recompense my friends for the gift I had received. I resolved to express its merit and truth through my life and through the extension of my own generosity and love. In each moment, as I observe the world, I stretch to see beyond my physical senses and to trust my inner vision and knowing—to see the sky, the clouds, and the sun in everything I meet—and from this awareness engage with the true presence around and in me.

Donna, Susan, and Endel have thrown away industry and profit, and in so doing have made room for the human heart in commerce. They have planted the seed of a different way of being within our economy, one that deeply acknowledges the one life we all inter-are. We are all nourished by their effort and their living message as they manifest this beautiful gift economy in New Zealand. May they and all beings prosper in the soil of this new vision.

For more information about the Wise Cicada Health Food Store and Cafe, visit www.wisecicada.co.nz.

mb55-AGift3Zachiah Laurann Murray, Pure Truth of the Heart, is a Registered Landscape Architect. The Heart Sangha of Santa Cruz, CA, is home for her practice.

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Painting Spring

By Tasha Chuang

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Right where you stand
is the valley of endless spring.
–Dogen

I left home at a very young age, determined to see the world and live a life of my own. My parents were heartbroken, yet nothing could stop me from setting out to explore the world. Like a little river on the mountaintop, I wanted to see and swim in the vast ocean! For as long as I could remember, I had incessantly searched for a paradise outside of myself, believing that it was somewhere on the other side of the horizon. Yet, even after traveling to so many stunning lands, I never arrived, nor was I ever content where I was for long, until one day I arrived at the refuge of Thay’s teachings.

I came to learn that I really had no need to run or to search. All I needed to do was simply be present with what was right in front of me, here and now, with my breath and my whole being. I learned to breathe. I learned to walk. I learned to be with the natural environment. I learned to be with myself.

Mindfulness has taught me to live life deeply—whenever I am able to—and helped me touch the wonders of life all around me and within me, something I had dreamed of being able to do since a young teenager. I feel so blessed to finally have a tiny taste of living that dream, a dream that does not require much wealth or great success, but the freedom of being able to simply live life deeply and beautifully.

Smiles often bloom on my face as I discover the wonders of life around me. Thanks to the practice, the world has once again been revealed beautifully to me. The practice has helped me see, hear, touch, and just be with life. As I began to see miracles every day and everywhere, I began to touch the child inside me and to create the way I did when I was a kid. I delight in the childlike freedom of expressing my experiences and feelings without worrying about being perfect or being judged. I try to remember always that I am a child of Mother Earth and how I love her and wish to protect her in every way that I can.

I have happily arrived home, here on Earth. I have touched and painted endless spring.

Oneness

I love walking in the rain, my steps in sync with the droplets. One rainy night, as I enjoyed the refreshing air cleansed by the rain, I noticed a little snail. He was crawling slowly toward the grass on a sidewalk littered with the remains of his companions, all crushed to death by passers-by.

I picked up a leaf and prodded him to move a bit faster. I found myself talking to him— “If you don’t move faster, you will surely be stomped to death like your friends!”—and saw that he was slowly crawling back into his shell for protection.

Looking closely at him, so fragile, struggling for survival, I felt a deep sense of love for him. His desire to live and to breathe was just as grand as mine. In our shared worlds, his existence is just as important as mine. Yet for humans like me, it is so easy to carelessly kill him with our steps.

With our irresponsible ways of living and consuming, we humans are extinguishing the rights of many species to live on this beautiful planet, and those of our own future generations. We act as if we were the only species on this planet, superior to all.

Without the sun, we cannot exist.
Without the water, we cannot exist.
Without the minerals, we cannot exist.
Without the trees, we cannot exist.

When we have the awareness of interconnectedness, we will naturally want to live in such a way that we cause less harm to our beloved planet. We will respect the rights of all other species as brothers and sisters of one big family. Together we can transform the suffering of our planet by living mindfully and gently as individuals, societies, and as a global community.

Ocean Waves
The fragrance
of winter sands
of winter grasses
Entered me
Entered me
As I listened to ocean waves blossom overnight
As I watched the soul of Mother Earth rose in flight

mb55-Painting2Tasha Chuang, Peaceful Calling of the Heart, practices with the Morning Star Sangha, Rock Blossom Sangha, and Blue Cliff Monastery, and works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator in New York City. She considers Sangha building as her greatest teacher and aspiration.

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Mindfulness in Social Work

By Sheila Canal

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Breathing in, I am aware of feeling irritation.
Breathing out, I am aware I am being manipulated.
Breathing in, I know I am working with someone on meth.
Breathing out, I understand what to do and what not to do.

I work at the State of Oregon’s Department of Human Services, Self Sufficiency. We provide Food Stamps, medical benefits, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, historically known as welfare. We see many people affected by drug addiction, physical and mental disabilities, domestic violence, and homelessness, and some who are recently unemployed due to the recession.

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Working with methamphetamine (meth) users consistently produces a feeling of irritation in me. When I notice this feeling, I remember that meth users are controlled by their drug, and I relax my irritation. Meth attacks the nervous system and brain. Addicts are not free, and they often behave in ways we characterize as criminal in order to maintain their habit. Awareness of the causes of my irritation enables me to sink into a well of compassion, and allows me to work with these users effectively, with healthy boundaries. Their presence in my office, rather than in prison, shows some hope for these individuals and their families.

My fellow workers are truly my Sangha. We see each other daily, more than we see our children. We rub up against each other as we interpret state policy and help people find the means to relieve their hunger and become self-sufficient. In the process, we build teamwork, communicate honestly, and work through conflicts. We are from diverse backgrounds and spiritual orientations, from atheism to evangelical Christianity. We take time during staff meetings to share who we are in the moment. We are a happy community, and from this place, we are able to meet our clients with a high level of service.

Mindfulness supports my work with clients, helping me to focus on their strengths rather than their needs or barriers. This strength-based approach helps each person see the positive aspects of their lives. We talk about their suffering in terms of concerns and motivators, and we base case management plans on their strengths. Because strengths are at the forefront, compassion overcomes pity and we become equals; each person, especially the client, contributes to action steps that will generate self-sufficiency.

A memorable example occurred one afternoon when a coworker asked me to see a particularly angry client. A homeless Vietnam veteran, he had only a bike, a dog, and a camping spot in the mountains. Extremely angry that he hadn’t received his Food Stamps, he had our totally competent, unflappable receptionist absolutely unglued. David, the receptionist, was so upset by the vet’s insults about his Peruvian accent that he made a mistake, further escalating the situation.

I was asked to intervene. Incidents involving prejudice frequently water my seeds of anger. This time, I had to embrace my anger with mindfulness. Sensing the staff ’s wish for a decrease in verbal abuse, I knew I had to avoid contributing to it. I agreed to see our friend. After taking a little time to breathe, I calmly and respectfully invited the veteran into my cubicle to sit. He told me exactly how the system was screwing with him. Without interrupting, using eye contact and nonverbal cues, I listened to him with my full attention. I acknowledged his anguish and injustice. He became calm, and then spoke of his life and needs. Together we addressed what was preventing him from getting his stamps, and he left calm and satisfied, with access to food. He remains memorable to me because my Buddha nature spoke to his Buddha nature, and we saw each other.

When mindfulness is strong, touching suffering each day by serving the poor and the homeless has its own rewards. Along with helping the hungry get food, I can relieve the anxiety of parents by helping them get health insurance for their children, child care subsidies, and training. The Mindfulness Trainings support my work and keep me whole and grounded. Being present in the moment—walking mindfully through the office, stopping and breathing when the telephone rings, breathing mindfully as often as possible—alleviates frustration and overwhelm, and restores me. I can bring my whole presence to my work and make my work my practice.

mb55-Mindfulness3Sheila Canal, True Spiritual Understanding, met Thay and the Sangha at the Retreat for Environmentalists in 1991. She is a member of  the Many Rivers OI Stewardship  Council in southern Oregon.

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Practicing in Uncertain Times

By Bethany Klug

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Uncertain economic times can bring up difficult emotions and challenge our practice. Mindfulness practice can decrease our stress and help us see opportunities that we might otherwise miss. Here are a few tips to keep our practice on track.

Dwell in the present moment. Certainty is a notion that causes suffering, as all things—even human-made things like companies, stock markets, and jobs—are born, change form, and die. This is impermanence. Dwelling in the present moment increases our awareness of how things change, and lessens our surprise or shock when they do.

Let go of external definitions. We suffer when we define ourselves by our job or possessions. If we lose them, we feel worthless. Identifying with our job or possessions prevents us from being happy and free. Letting go of external definitions of ourselves and enjoying the fullness of the present moment, we can lose our job, possessions, and even everything we cherish, and still be happy and free.

Nourish peace and joy. Often, letting go means confronting difficult feelings and perceptions. We must be sure to nourish our peace and joy to avoid feeling overwhelmed. This could be as simple as appreciating birdsong in the morning or fireflies at night. How is it possible to enjoy anything in difficult times? The Buddha taught that the mind is a field of seeds where wholesome and unwholesome states exist side by side. We make unwholesome seeds stronger by giving them the wrong kind of attention, such as obsessing or worrying over them. Tough emotions invade our consciousness like a pop-up window on a website. By returning our attention to our breath and a more neutral feeling—such as the freshness of the morning—we can close the pop-up window and shift to a more wholesome mind state. Once we feel stronger, we may consciously re-open the pop-up and look more deeply into the feelings that arise from it.

Empower yourself. We may feel powerless amidst the news of plants closing, the Gulf oil spill, and home foreclosures, unless we recognize that the economy is a manifestation of our collective mind. Since our thoughts and actions create our economy, they can change it for the better. This is empowering. Each of us can pick an area of the economy we’d like to improve and change our relationship to it. For instance, I don’t like the impact of industrial agriculture on our health or the planet’s, so I buy my food from local organic farmers and grow a garden. Last year I built a root cellar, stocked it with squash and root vegetables, fermented vegetables, and canned using low temperature methods. I didn’t need to shop for vegetables until March.

Looking deeply into the Fifth Mindfulness Training, mindful consumption, helps us see ways to create a more equitable and sustainable economy. We have the power and the responsibility to change our situation. If we don’t, who will?

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Be sure to practice! When life gets stressful, it’s easy to resonate with that stress and do things that make it worse. Instead of taking a mindful walk after dinner or attending a Sangha gathering, we might watch bad economic news on TV, becoming so consumed in fear and anxiety that we miss that fact that we’ve eaten a bag of chips or cookies—leaving us more depressed and five pounds heavier! With deep intention and awareness we can turn off the TV or other source of bad news, and do what nourishes our happiness, peace, and joy.

Many years ago, my teacher, Brother Chan Huy, suggested the profoundly beneficial practice of reciting the wake-up gatha each morning upon rising and the gatha on impermanence before going to sleep. The wake-up gatha helps us touch joy and affirms our aspiration to live in an awakened way before our feet even touch the ground. The gatha on impermanence reminds us that another day has passed, and encourages us to reflect on our practice “so that life does not drift away without meaning.”

Wake-up Gatha
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.

Gatha on Impermanence
The day is now ended.
Our lives are shorter.
Let us look carefully,
What have we done?
Noble Sangha, with all of our heart,
Let us be diligent,
Engaging in the practice.
Let us live deeply,
Free from our afflictions,
Aware of impermanence,
So that life does not drift away without meaning.

mb55-Practicing3Bethany Klug, The Practice of True Emptiness, convenes the Heartland Community of Mindful Living along with her husband David, True Wonderful Lamp (pictured). They reside in Kansas City with their spiritual director, Shanti the Cat.

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For a Happy and Abundant Life

By Charlie Turner

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The evidence from various empirical happiness studies, from psychologists, and from wisdom and religious traditions tells us that consumption beyond a basic level does not lead to much extra happiness. It is not that consumption is bad, but we should not expect much of an impact on our happiness from having more. Yet, most people continue to pursue the acquisition of more money and status.

My book, Mindful Consumption: The Economics of Happiness and Abundance (in manuscript), offers guidelines for a happy and abundant life. A few of the principles are: develop a sense of gratitude and generosity; live simply and in a socially conscious way; and appreciate and nurture your loved ones.

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Develop Generosity

Generosity is a trait that I observed in my Japanese friend, Ikeda-san. He has been very generous to my wife and me when we have been in Japan. He extended his generosity to our family and friends when they visited us there. I also observed his generosity to others, such as foreign students and his own friends and acquaintances. His wife is very gracious, kind, and generous. For a number of years now, my wife, Libby, and I have tried to promote generosity in ourselves in emulation of the Ikeda-sans. We are still nowhere near being as generous as they are, but we have benefited from the attempt.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, reported that his students experienced a long-term sense of happiness when they performed good deeds for others. The happiness that comes from helping others and being generous is different from directly acting to benefit yourself. Yet, it ends up being one of the best things you can do for your own happiness. But, as one of my students said, it is important that you actually do it for others and not for the happiness that tends to flow to you from the good deed. The difference is one of intention and focus.

One way to be generous is to perform good deeds that are anonymous. I remember a story about a Zen master who made a practice of cleaning the toilets during the night when others were asleep. One small practice that I have developed is to make adjustments to toilet seats when I notice they are loose. I don’t know how many times I have sat on a public toilet seat and needed to be careful because the seat was loose and tended to slide. I used to moan and feel put upon whenever this happened. Now, I try to find the time to kneel down, reach under the commode, and tighten the seat screws. Sometimes I have to use a quarter to turn the screw; sometimes I can just use my fingers; and sometimes I am unable to make the necessary adjustment. Now, instead of feeling irritated when I find a loose seat, I feel like I have been granted an opportunity to do a small good deed.

Live Simply

Living simply gives you the greatest freedom and sense of abundance. We have probably all seen children over-stimulated at Christmas time as they open package after package. Often the presents that end up being most meaningful to them are the ones that require them to practice and develop their own skills. It is often in the quiet of having time together that the richest parts of our life occur. It is not the fancy house or car that enriches our lives. It is the tapestry of our loving interactions with our fellow human beings, animals, plants, and the natural world that brings the most happiness.

Three of the greatest sources of pleasure in my life have been walks, bike rides, and watching sunsets and moonrises. Admittedly, these have all been enhanced by my location in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. My wife and I take long walks along the beach during the spring, summer, and fall. Walking along, looking at the seagulls, pelicans, breaking waves, and an occasional dolphin is truly wonderful as well as being excellent exercise. We have seen many marvels of nature in the park including two snakes trying to swallow the same frog (poor frog). We have developed a wonderful tradition of watching the full moon rise over the ocean. For over twenty-two years, we have managed to see almost every full moonrise from the sea when the weather permitted. We have been awed many times by the beauty. It is also amazing to us how often we have seen people eating with their backs to the window, missing out on this fantastic sight.

Nurture Love

It is important to nurture love in your life. Let your nurturing begin with yourself. As Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you don’t love yourself, you will have difficulty loving anyone else. Thich Nhat Hanh’s message, “You are already home,” has helped me a great deal. I strived most of my life to do something really good in order to justify myself. Thay said that I was already acceptable. This has been very comforting to me.

How do we nurture love? We can begin with the intention to be loving to ourselves and others. Then, when we notice that we have acted or spoken in a way that is contrary to the intention of love, we can act to rectify the situation. With awareness, we can eventually come to intercept such action or speech before it occurs. We will not always act in the most judicious way or speak to others or ourselves with kindness. Nevertheless, as we nurture love and consider being loving as one of our most significant goals, we will strengthen our loving nature. To paraphrase Thay, we should plant seeds of love and water them regularly and they will grow into beautiful flowers.

mb55-ForAHappy4Charlie Turner received his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1981, and has been teaching economics ever since. When he taught The Economics of Happiness, the student response was overwhelmingly favorable. For the last sixteen years, he has been a member of the Mindfulness Community of Hampton Roads, Virginia, led by Allen Sandler.

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Peace, Understanding, and Compassion

An Urban Retreat for People of Color

By Valerie Brown
Copyright 2010

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“The value of a person is not his race or caste, but the value of his thinking, speaking, and acting. We are noble not because of our race, but by our way of thinking, acting, and speaking.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh, Colors of Compassion Retreat, Deer Park Monastery, Escondido, CA (2004)

After months of planning, hundreds of emails, meetings, and discussions, the Sanghas of the New York City and Philadelphia areas held our first People of Color Days of Mindfulness, supported by the monastics of Blue Cliff Monastery, on April 17 in West Philadelphia and on May 22 in Manhattan. These were the first People of Color Days of Mindfulness held outside monastery walls. For me, these days of practice marked a real “growing edge” of the Sangha and a unique moment to bring the collective energy of mindfulness to the heart of the largest cities in the United States.

Planning these events involved extraordinary attention to details. We made efforts to ensure that people of color from a wide array of backgrounds—Indian, Vietnamese, African American, Latino, and many others—felt cared for and loved. The Philadelphia Planning Team, all people of color, worked joyfully, knowing that our mindfulness in the present moment would form the base for our practice and the entire Sangha. We were well supported by Philadelphia area Sanghas, including Peaceful City Sangha, Lilac Breeze Sangha, Open Hearth Sangha, Willow Branch Sangha, and Old Path Sangha. The Philadelphia Shambhala Meditation Center Sangha offered considerable support as well. For the NewYork City Day of Mindfulness, the organizing team was supported by the Community of Mindfulness NewYork Metro and NewYork Insight Society. We took each email as an opportunity for practice.

Safe and Supportive Practice

The Philadelphia Day of Mindfulness would not have been possible without the loving support of the monks and nuns of Blue Cliff Monastery. Their mindful practice and sharing of personal stories was inspirational. Their words of encouragement and insight about handling difficult emotions, being aware of what supports us, and what to do with erratic practice, led to the emerging of a deep theme: the importance of connecting with like-minded people.

Many people were new to the practice or had practiced meditation in isolation for years. Initially, we came together with a sense of hesitation and fear. Slowly, we released these feelings through sitting meditation practice, gentle movement, rest, and outdoor walking meditation on the city streets. In group discussions, many expressed deep gratitude for creating a safe and supportive atmosphere where people of color could practice together, knowing that our practice would benefit not only ourselves, but the entire Sangha. By the end of the day, there were tears, laughter, and a strong desire to continue what was started.

Learning to Love Ourselves

For many of us, the gifts of time and space have become increasingly hard to find, especially in New York City. This People of Color Day of Mindfulness was a huge gift to us. The gifts of time, of space, of being truly present to ourselves—all these were ways of learning to love ourselves. I recall the words of Sister True Vow: “When you give yourself space, you give yourself love.”

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We explored acknowledging and embracing our fears as they arise, and practicing listening deeply and communicating in a loving way. When asked about how to deal with difficult, harmful, deep-seeded patterns of communication, Sister Fulfillment said, “The greatest inspiration for your loved one is the fruit of your practice… Our transformation is the best we can do to help our loved one.”

Walking Meditation in the Big City

Perhaps the most moving moments for me were during walking meditation on the sidewalks, which were full of city life. I was particularly moved during the Philadelphia event. As we turned a corner, directly in front of our group of sixty people were two homeless men sitting on a park bench. They were visibly fascinated, sensing the peace in our movement. In Manhattan, the experience was even more profound. People stopped and looked in wonder, knowing that something they could not explain was happening as our group of seventy-five people walked by mindfully.

I grew up in New York City and know the streets well. Normally, I am in a rush, walking, thinking about my destination or a project. I live by the language of speed, pushing myself to do more and try harder, and I am rewarded for it at work. But on this day, despite the traffic, crowds, people on skateboards, people walking their dogs and eating from street vendors, it all seemed so very interconnected, and our group of people of color seemed to fit beautifully and seamlessly into the flow of city life. A feeling of great luxury and ease came over me as I walked slowly, feeling the soles of my shoes on the cement sidewalks. Going slowly while everything around me moved at high speed, my experience seemed almost surreal. As I looked around me, some people stopped while others seemed unphased by it all. At that moment I felt so much freedom—freedom from deadlines, projects, and pressing obligations. It was a moment of great happiness.

A Step Forward

Both of these People of Color Days of Mindfulness came together organically. I am sure that we as a Sangha benefited those who participated and those who witnessed our energy of mindful walking, as well as those who assisted us but did not attend the events. The Sangha has made an important step forward by offering both Days of Mindfulness to the wider people of color community. Many people who attended had never participated in this type of event, but were very open. I am hopeful that the Sangha will continue to offer urban practice days for people of color, knowing that mindfulness at its core is about developing a heart of love.

mb55-Peace3Valerie Brown, True Power of the Sangha, was ordained as an OI Member in 2003. She is a founding member of Old Path Sangha in New Hope, PA, and has attended every People of Color Retreat since their inception in 2004 at Deer Park Monastery. Her essay on mindfulness is featured in Thay’s new book on People of Color, We Are All Together.

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World Beat Sangha Soup

Sangha Strengthening Weekend Retreat

By Phuong Ai La and Nhu Quynh La

mb55-World1At Deer Park Monastery in May 2009, a new Dharma door opened for the World Beat Sangha from San Diego, California. Originally some of us had the simple wish to gather for days of mindfulness at Deer Park. Thay Phap Dung and the other brothers and sisters wisely nurtured this tiny seed. A few dedicated Sangha members nourished the sapling, and the wish finally bloomed into a full weekend retreat. While the road to the retreat was smooth for some, it presented more challenges for others who had to rearrange their lives temporarily to make this appointment with life. And so, tortoise or hare, we all made the trek up the rocky hills, turned the knob, opened the door, and entered an experience that was as diverse as our fifty-six eyes, but also unique in its magic.

Magic? In things as ordinary as breathing, sitting, walking, singing, working, eating, drinking tea, and studying? How could this be? Perhaps there were secret ingredients in the soup. Starting our healthy vegetarian broth, we threw in the carrot of generosity and the sweet onion of inclusion. The Sangha collectively determined that everyone who wished to, could attend the retreat. Sangha members practiced dana (generosity) and contributed money to assist those who couldn’t afford the full cost of the retreat.

For a broth sweeter and richer by far, we included some apples: the exquisite loving-kindness and care of monastics who planned and led the retreat activities. Thay Phap Dung, Thay Phap Thanh, and Thay Phap Ho explained the Sutra on the Four Nutriments and answered questions from members puzzled or bewildered by this provocative sutra.

Thay Phap Dung taught the World Beat Sangha how to conduct our first formal Tea Ceremony. In different ways, we all participated. Some baked cookies. Four served as hosts. Two offered incense and flowers to our ancestors. We enjoyed the songs of musicians, the humor of a puppeteer, the laughter and poetry of children, and Dharma jokes. One Sangha member shared: “The tea ceremony was special. Walking in and sharing a bow with each host in turn. Then sitting peacefully on the cushion, with the abbot embodying solidity. For moments, we let go of discrimination, of judgment, of past and future. We laughed, sang, and drank deeply of the joy of living together.”

Slow Down, Relax, Breathe

But it was not all cookies, tea, and song. There was work to be done, joyfully and mindfully. We couldn’t live off of a thin, watery broth. We needed substantial protein and nutriments—chunks of squash, slices of daikon, cubed tofu, and chopped scallions. We rallied to the call of the dedicated Plant Sangha and the good cheer of Thay Phap De, who doled out our gardening gloves, shovels, and hoes. For several hours, with refreshment and rest in between, we were dutiful weed whackers, planters, and mulchers. We managed to clear an area that had been full of weeds. Trees were nourished and several young plants put down roots that day, ready to welcome Thay and the Plum Village Sangha for the summer.

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In truth we were really fertilizing and mulching ourselves. We were the young plants that put down deeper roots that day in the hazy sun. To practice is to stop, or at least slow down. And when you stop the monkey mind—just as when the morning or night is at its quietest—strange and shy creatures emerge. Daily stress, frustration, and countless negative habit energies that catch us unaware, that push us unceasingly away from a genuine connection with life, come up. We say, “Ah, hello friend, so there you are.” A Sangha sister shared her fertilizing moment, when she encountered difficulty upon arriving and felt frustration and disappointment. She was reminded that “a more respectful, saner solution with the help of breathing and a little more mindfulness might help. It did.” Another Sangha friend penned a poem about his own encounter with stopping:

Slow down, relax, breathe—notice your breath, notice your green relatives with white flowers; notice other relatives have green leaves and red flowers, notice your relatives give pure air, in the pure land, on the pure mountainside. So slow down. Ask for Buddha mindfulness, remember the “enjoy your footsteps” sign, and enter enjoyment. Slow down your footsteps, end suffering, enter peace.

A Wonderful Dharma Door

Traditional Buddhist literature teaches that there are 84,000 Dharma doors. Thay inspires us to find new Dharma doors appropriate for our brave new world. That weekend we found one, not with just one pair of eyes but with twenty-eight. This manifold quality of the unfolding of the weekend was present in the diverse range of ages, ethnicities, and cultures within the Sangha group; the coyotes, caterpillars, frogs and toads, turtles, and rabbits; and the light footsteps of our two young Sangha members, Ananda and Micah. No one could forget three-year old Ananda, dancing and prancing, moving from person to person, hugging and tickling and hanging from our serious-looking and stoically seated practitioners who were trying hard not to burst into laughter.

Reflecting upon the fruits of our Sangha strengthening weekend, one Sangha organizer shared this beautiful insight:

“We at the World Beat Sangha recognize our great fortune of being in such proximity to Deer Park Monastery. A Sangha weekend together may be less feasible for those much further away from a major practice center. But the local Sanghas in California, on the east coast, in France, Germany, and elsewhere may also like to take advantage of being near a practice center, and explore this wonderful Dharma-Sangha door.”

Perhaps this metaphor from another happy Sangha sister describes the experience most aptly: “Each of us is precious and complete on our own. However, as members of our Sangha, we become richer. We become a nutritious, celestial bowl of World Beat Sangha Soup!” It was a magic soup indeed, a soup of our collective practice. We hope that your local Sanghas will open your own Dharma doors, enter, and cook up a bit of magic too.

mb55-World3Phuong Ai La, True Compassion of the Heart, and Nhu Quynh La, True Gentleness of the Heart, are sisters who live and practice in San Diego, California. This article was written with insight from Velma Carrio, Healing Practice of the Heart, Barbara Casler, Jim Cook, Ron Forster, Joyous Equanimity of the Heart, Jim Hornsby, Namaste Reid, Joyful River of the Heart, and David Viafora, True Mountain of Meditation.

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The One Who Bows

By Ann Moore

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One day in January 2010, my friend and Dharma teacher Joanne Friday called me and shared that she had a significant birthday coming up, her sixtieth. Westerners are used to celebrating every birthday under the same zodiacal sign; but under the Chinese astrological calendar, one’s birth sign recurs only every sixty years. Joanne had been born under the sign of the metal tiger. Her sixtieth birthday marked the only recurrence of her birth year that she would ever likely celebrate, and celebrate she intended to do, being filled with gratitude to all of her non-self elements for the fact that she would be celebrating at all.

“I plan to have a potlatch,” she told me, explaining that this is an event where the hostess gives gifts to the guests. “I have received so much,” she said. “I want nothing for my birthday but to give back.”

The woman is delusional, I thought, as the words of the Apostle Paul came to mind—“being poured out like a drink offering.” Joanne was always pouring herself out, giving and giving back, but when had we ever given anything to her?

I first met Joanne in August 2007 when she oriented me to the practice and welcomed me to Thay’s retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. What joy was in my heart the day I arrived at my first Sangha gathering to find that Joanne was the Dharma teacher! Then in March 2008, Joanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. About the time she received this diagnosis came the news that her mother was dying. While Joanne was visiting her mother, twenty of us met in a Sangha home to offer the Ceremony to Support the Sick, and afterward each of us shared how Joanne had touched his or her life. How beautiful and refreshing it was to eulogize the living!

Joanne underwent a year of cancer treatment: two surgeries, life-threatening chemotherapy, and radiation. She scheduled her treatments around our twice-monthly gatherings at her home, facilitating one Day of Mindfulness on a Saturday after spending Friday night in the emergency room and another after undergoing surgery on a Thursday. She attended a weekend retreat in Cape Cod only a couple of hours after receiving permission from her doctor to travel. At one meeting she spoke wistfully of missing Thay.

“A potlatch,” I thought wonderingly, after Joanne’s phone call. Joanne wanted to give on her birthday, so surely the loving thing to do was to let her give. But her phone call planted a seed in my brain and reminded me of the beauty of those shared eulogies. I visualized a scrapbook filled with loving tributes from many people, together with funds enabling Joanne and her husband Richard to spend three weeks at Plum Village. After consulting with Richard, I went to work.

Into cyberspace went an invitation to send a card bearing testimony of a transformation catalyzed by Joanne, to contribute money for the trip if feasible, to share the invitation with any who might be interested, and to keep the project secret from Joanne. We would present the scrapbook and trip funds at the February mid-month meeting, one week after Joanne’s potlatch and three days before her actual birthday.

Before long I was swamped with contributions: people sent money, cards, and even letters of gratitude to me for giving them this opportunity to express their love and appreciation for Joanne. “Here is my check—thank you so much for asking!” My positive seeds were receiving so much nourishment; I was like a pond in danger of eutrophication! Affirmations from complete strangers left me in awe of the distance an action travels to come to fruition.

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Joanne made the February meeting a joyful expression of gratitude for her sixtieth birthday. She invited Clear Heart Sangha to a festive dinner, cooked by her, which included foods from the garden tended by Sangha members. After dinner, thirty-seven people congregated for sitting meditation. Joanne had planned a tea ceremony, with cookies and chamomile tea, to follow the meditation. As tea was poured, she gave a discourse on love, and everyone was invited to share something of significance to him or her, such as a poem or a song.

At the end of our sharing, I presented Joanne with the scrapbook and an envelope with a business card reading, “Shamatha Travel” (shamatha means stopping, calming, resting, healing). Inside was a mock travel brochure featuring Plum Village, the European Institute of Applied Buddhism, and the destination of your dreams, with Avalokiteshvara as the agent to call. Also in the envelope were two simulated airline tickets, together (coincidentally?) with the amount of money I had estimated the trip would cost!

Joanne couldn’t have been happier or more surprised. She spoke of how much she had missed Thay and kept repeating, “I just can’t believe it.” Referring to her discourse during the tea ceremony, she said, “And I thought I had something to tell you about love!” I told her what a gift it was to us to be able to offer her this tribute. She agreed that this was clear from the joy on everyone’s face.

During the planning and realization of this gift to Joanne, I felt strongly that it was not my project and that I was acting as a conduit for Sangha energy. I am left with a sense of happiness and humility at having been instrumental in the realization of a vision; gratitude that I was able to be open for the project to unfold and fall so “perfectly” into place; a sense of interbeing with the greater Sangha community; a deepened commitment to the aspirant process; and a sense of new spaciousness now that the project is behind me.

Yes, but, Joanne says, the lesson is that you simply cannot give without receiving; you simply cannot receive without giving; giver and receiver inter-are—which seems to perfectly paraphrase the familiar gatha:

The one who bows and the one who is bowed to
are both, by nature, empty.
Therefore the communication between them
is inexpressibly perfect.

Or, in the words of Joanne as she looked out at the gathering: “I am looking at all my non-self elements, and I am gorgeous!”

mb55-TheOne3Ann Moore, Skillful Acceptance of the Heart, is an Order of Interbeing aspirant practicing with Clear Heart Sangha in Matunuck, RI, and the New London Community of Mindfulness in New London, CT.

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One Recipe at a Time

By Eve Heidtmann

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“What’s for supper?”

It’s a question that comes up with a sense of hopeful anticipation just about every day. For some of us, answering that question became more complicated at the 2007 Deer Park retreat when Thay told us the Buddha’s parable of Eating the Son’s Flesh. He spoke of the connection between the livestock industry and global warming. It became clear that the food we put on our plates today has everything to do with the world our children will face in the future. Thay planned to adopt a plant-based (vegan) diet and was asking his monasteries and retreat centers to do the same. We were invited to help be the change.

Several friends from my Portland Sangha were with me when we heard Thay’s call. We were touched by his words and wondered what we could do. Changing one’s diet can seem daunting. Habit energies are strong, especially where food is concerned. Food is close to the heart, comforting, and closely connected with family memories. The idea of giving up our favorite foods was tinged with feelings of sadness and loss. Could we really do this and feel good about it?

Joy Was the Essential Ingredient

As I thought about all this, I began to see a practical solution. Maybe it wasn’t necessary to make a sweeping decision to turn away from what was familiar. Maybe instead we could simply explore plant-based cooking and see what satisfactions might be found there. I had a head start on this. My family had begun a vegan diet two years earlier for health reasons. I had started then with low expectations: how could a meal be satisfying when the basics were missing? But I had been delightfully surprised! Checking out vegan cookbooks and trying one recipe after another, I discovered many novel combinations and wonderful new flavors. In fact, I really preferred eating this way. Perhaps I could help others see the possibilities, one recipe at a time.

I suggested to my Sangha that we could share recipes, with the goal of helping each other cut down on animal products. My suggestion went out to our Engaged Buddhism group and soon there were a dozen of us in an email circle, some with recipes to offer and others looking for ideas. Before long we were meeting for potlucks, tasting each other’s culinary experiments, and telling our food stories. After many months, our ever-growing recipe collection became unwieldy. I asked my son Evan if there was a way to store it online. Voila! He created a homemade website for us. Because we had discovered that joy was the essential ingredient of our project, the name of our website became “The Joy of Mindful Cooking.”

Healthy Recipes, Healthy Earth

Having a website has been both a learning experience and a lot of fun! The site has allowed us to organize our recipes in different ways. When you visit our website, you can click Browse Recipes to find a list of main dishes, salads, desserts, and so on. If you click on a category heading—for example, Main Dish—you will see brief descriptions of all the recipes in that category. Another approach, if you have something on hand you want to use up, is to click Find a Recipe, then enter your ingredient and call up all the recipes that include it. You can also search for recipes best suited to a particular season. If you are wondering about reducing the animal products in an old favorite recipe, just click on Common Substitutions to find suggestions for plant-based substitutes for meat, dairy, and eggs.

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The website also gives us a place to recommend books and films, talk about food issues, and help answer kitchen questions. The Five Contemplations appear on the Home page, reminding us of our purpose every time we look there. The About Us page explains the origin of our project. Thanks to our website, our original Portland email circle has grown to include thirty-five cooks in six states who are interested in knowing about recipes and hearing news of our project. Anyone who would like to join our email list is welcome. Just click on Join the Mailing List and fill in the spaces to start a user account. Please don’t be dismayed that it won’t register you instantly: our project is still homey and needs a real person (me) to push buttons to get you in. Of course, you don’t need to register to use the recipes or explore the site.

Our Portland group is still gathering around the table every few months. We talk about whatever is on our minds about food, which means everything from how to use an immersion blender to the obesity epidemic to the problems caused by giant food corporations. We pass around cookbooks and talk about local volunteer projects to feed those in need. Most of all, we swap recipes and encourage each other in our efforts to live in closer harmony with the earth.

Next time you wonder what’s for supper, come visit our website and have what we’re having. With gratitude to Thay for getting us started, we offer our recipe collection to everyone along with our hopes for a joyful cooking experience and a sustainable future for all the world’s children.

mb55-OneRecipe4Eve Heidtmann, Natural Outreach of the Heart, is a member of the Thursday Night Sangha in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and son. She works as a private tutor for children. The Joy of Mindful Cooking can be explored at www.mindfulcooking.org.

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Curried Red Lentils with Barley or Rice

A quick, easy, and satisfying soup.

Ingredients
1 cup red lentils
1/2 cup barley or rice 6 cups water
1/2 c. chopped onion
1-2 cloves minced garlic
One potato, skin on or off, cubed (optional) 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root (or powdered ginger) 1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 & 1/2 tsp. curry powder (Madras suggested) 1 tsp. cumin

Instructions:
Simmer the lentils, barley or rice, onion, garlic, salt and spices in the water about 20 minutes. Add the potato cubes and cook 15 or 20 more minutes. Just before serving, add a little chopped tomato and/or cilantro.

An original recipe contributed to www.mindfulcooking.org by Faith Arsanis.

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Sangha Hopping

Vision of a Modern-Day Pilgrimage

By Natascha Bruckner

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Brother Phap Dung has a vision of a modern-day pilgrimage. He calls it Sangha Hopping. “Two practitioners travel together, visiting Sanghas,” he explained recently at Deer Park Monastery. “It would be planned in advance, like a balloon trip around the world.”

The travel buddies could schedule visits with Sanghas all over America, and Sangha members in different cities could log on to a web page and volunteer to host the travelers. The pilgrims would not only practice with each sponsoring Sangha for a week, but would also act as social scientists by interviewing Sangha members about their community and documenting their stories and customs. Best of all, they’d blog about their adventures to connect all the hosting communities with the global Sangha.

“They could find a way to do it environmentally. Partners who are cyclists would be perfect, so they’re not using fuel,” the Deer Park abbot said. “The Buddha was a wanderer, a homeless beggar. He relied on the fourfold Sangha, and that took humility and obedience. Bringing those qualities alive now, we could learn about a cross-section of American Sanghas, reflect on how our tradition has grown in this culture, and help people see what’s rich in the Sangha. It’s a modern twist to the hippie ethic of everyone belonging to the same family.”

“I’m planting the seed of an idea,” he smiled. “Maybe somehow it will take root and grow.”

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Sangha News

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mb55-SanghaNews2No Worries
Report from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism

By Sister Annabel

The European Institute of Applied Buddhism, also known as the Ashoka Institute, will celebrate its second anniversary on September 10, 2010. We are enjoying ourselves very much in Germany, where we have favorable conditions for the practice: the support of the local people, the teachings of Thay, fresh air, and a daily practice timetable.

mb55-SanghaNews3The Ashoka Institute and neighboring Great Compassion Monastery have the taste and fragrance of the practice since monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen have been practicing there for at least eighteen months. When guests arrive, they are welcomed into the ambience of mindfulness practice. There is a feeling of being at home when we help with cutting vegetables or cleaning toilets during a retreat or course. It is possible to apply what we study straightaway when we live with others who are practicing. Thay was with us in June for German and Dutch retreats. Every day we did walking meditation in the park that lies directly in front of the Ashoka Institute. Our campus became very alive with six to seven hundred people. Almost the whole of the Plum Village monastic community, 120 monks and nuns, came by bus and van from France. The monks and nuns did all the cooking in a temporary kitchen set up in the garden of the Great Compassion Monastery (formerly Zivildienstschule, or civil service school).

mb55-SanghaNews4During these two retreats many of our guests camped in the orchard, and some stayed in pensions and hotels. The fact is that we have received permission to live in only one fifth of our large building and in the monastery. We have held courses and conducted all other activities in the monastery over the past year, since most of the Ashoka Institute is still a building site. This year, Great Compassion Monastery is being looked after by a group of six nuns, while the monks and the remaining nine nuns live in one fifth of the Ashoka Institute building. The monastery has enough space for eighty people to stay, and the habitable part of the Ashoka Institute enough space for about one hundred. Now we really want to make the rest of the building habitable so we can host as many people as want to come.

The courses offered this year have had a wide range of topics, such as bereavement, terminal illness, fear, love, and parent-child relationships. While most courses are led by resident monks and nuns, some are taught by visiting lay Dharma teachers, such as a course for business people and a course for mothers on child-raising. If you are a lay Dharma teacher and would like to lead a course here, please let us know.

In spite of ups and downs with construction regulations and financial difficulties, we enjoy the practice with our friends who stay with us. Most of our visitors are German, but many come from other European countries, especially Holland. We also have a few guests from the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

We are confident that the Ashoka Institute will grow and survive. The initial stages may be difficult, but we do not need to worry. After all, the name of the Institute, Ashoka, means “no worries.” If you live in the U.S. and would like to help financially, please send donations to EIAB Fundraising Committee, c/o Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026. Checks should be made payable to “Unified Buddhist Church” with a memo: “Funding for EIAB.” If ever you are in Europe, please do not forget to visit us for a week-long course, a weekend course, or a longer stay. Our website is www.eiab.eu and next year’s prospectus will be available online in November.

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mb55-SanghaNews5Historic Visit to Southeast Asia

Thich Nhat Hanh and the brothers and sisters of Plum Village will make a historic visit to Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, from September 8 to November 14, 2010. Due to recent events at Bat Nha Monastery, our brothers and sisters in Vietnam who were ordained with Thay are now dispersed. The majority of the young monastics found refuge in a small, simple center in Thailand. During this trip to Southeast Asia, Thay will inaugurate this center in order to support the young monastics who went through traumatic experiences in Vietnam. Thay and the Plum Village monastics will also lead retreats, days of mindfulness, and public talks for the local people. In Indonesia, Thay will offer two retreats as well as public talks and days of mindfulness in Jakarta, Bogor, and Yogjakarta. The community will visit the historical site of Borobudur, one of the wonders of the world.

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mb55-SanghaNews6True Freedom: Prison Dharma Pen Pal Practice

The Community of Mindful Living receives many letters from incarcerated friends, asking for complementary subscriptions to the Mindfulness Bell, books, and other resources in their life of practice. In response to the needs of incarcerated practitioners, a group of monastic and lay friends has formed a pen pal program, True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing. Peter Kuhn, a member of the World Beat Sangha in San Diego and the Still Ripening Sangha at Deer Park Monastery, has volunteered to help coordinate the pen pal program.

Peter writes: “There is a reason Buddhists frequently do prison and hospice work. These are the shunned, neglected, hidden, locked up members of our society. Most of us have fear about encountering them and aversion to dealing with these challenging dynamics. What I love about this work is that by opening my heart to the disenfranchised people in our world, I also open my heart to the disenfranchised parts of myself. As I learn to truly show up and care for these populations I learn to be present and attend to the parts of myself that are scorned, shunned, feared, and silenced.”

True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing needs writers for pen pal correspondence with inmates looking to nourish their practice in the Plum Village tradition. The program especially needs male writers, since most letters come from male inmates. Writer privacy is protected as all mail is routed through the CML address.

Contact Peter at peterkuhnxx@gmail.com or (619) 890-1832 for more information on how you can be of service.

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mb55-SanghaNews7Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council

In March 2010, a Sangha of North American Dharma Teachers gathered at Deer Park Monastery to consider ways we might support each other, the North American Order of Interbeing, and the North American Sangha. During the retreat, we manifested a Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council to nourish and support our practice. Before sharing news of this endeavor,

we offered it to our teacher, so that he might provide guidance and insight. Thay has now reviewed and embraced the fruit of our gathering. Therefore, we joyfully share this news with the larger Sangha. Here is the document from the Dharma Teachers Sangha, manifesting the caretaking council and calling certain Dharma teachers to form the first council. The DT Caretaking Council can be reached by email at dtc@tiephien.org.

Deer Park Monastery — 20 March 2010

We recognize and embrace one another as a North American fourfold Order of Interbeing Dharma Teachers Sangha. Participation in the Dharma Teachers Sangha is voluntary and open to all North American Dharma Teachers who have received Lamp Transmission in the lineage of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh and who actively practice in the Plum Village tradition.

As a Dharma Teachers Sangha, we manifest a Caretaking Council representing the fourfold Sangha and grounded in the practice of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We encourage the Council to receive input from the Dharma Teachers Sangha. With gratitude, the Sangha calls the following Dharma Teachers to serve as the initial Council:

Sister Huong Nghiem
Brother Phap Tri
Brother Phap Hai
Brother Phap Dung
Sister Dang Nghiem
Anh-Huong Nguyen
Eileen Kiera
Jack Lawlor
Joanne Friday
Lyn Fine
Mitchell Ratner
Peggy Rowe Ward

We entrust and empower the Council to develop ways for its continuation and inclusive representation. The Council may create committees from the wider Dharma Teachers Sangha. We commit to support the Council wholeheartedly and energetically.

We expect the Council to communicate regularly with the Dharma Teachers Sangha and our Root Teacher. We trust this Caretaking Council to function harmoniously and manifest the spirit and practice of the Order of Interbeing.

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Book Reviews

mb55-BookReviews1The Mama Bamba Way
The Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth

By Robyn Sheldon
Findhorn Press, 2010
Soft cover, 272 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

I met Robyn Sheldon when we shared a taxi during Thay’s 2008 tour in Vietnam. I learned that she is a midwife in South Africa who teaches mindfulness to expectant parents. This led me to reflect on my own experience being born in the 1960s. During the birth, both mother and baby experienced trauma. Not surprisingly, the labor and delivery of my first child were similarly traumatic for mother and baby.

Contrast this to the births described in Sheldon’s new book, aptly subtitled The Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth. Sheldon’s main thesis is: “Birth is a baby’s first experience of life. It impacts strongly on how deeply she trusts the world. Her primary need is to feel your attention and welcome at this moment.” This is the basis of the Mama Bamba method of childbirth, developed by Sheldon. The core tools of this approach include meditative awareness, relaxation and surrender, deep exploration of our unconscious processes, connecting with our babies in the womb, and labor support.

Sheldon works with women before labor so that no matter how the birth unfolds, it is a satisfying experience. Being in the moment with openness and receptivity is the fruit of her own daily meditation practice, and she brings this to bear when supporting women during childbirth. In addition to techniques for birthing with integrity and awareness, the book includes beautiful photographs by Nikki Rixon, quotations, and stories of all different sorts of births in the words of the mothers. Intermingled with the text are instructions for guided meditations, relaxations, and visualizations on the topics of simplicity, releasing tension, peaceful birth, the unborn child, and breast-feeding. There is guidance for labor, practical advice for the early months of parenting, and what to do when we suffer from the loss of a baby, preor post-birth. Finally, Mama Bamba is a remarkable example of one woman’s journey to integrate her personal mindfulness practice with her livelihood as a midwife, where she can make a meaningful difference in the way new beings are birthed: with acceptance, peace, and awareness. In the words of our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The stories, meditations, and lived experience in this book are powerful wisdom for expecting parents. It shows us concretely how to relax into, accept, and transform the fear and pain of birth by coming back to the present moment to be aware of our body and mind.”

mb55-BookReviews2Voluntary Simplicity
Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

By Duane Elgin
Harper, 2nd edition, January 2010
Paperback, 210 pages

Reviewed by Brandy Sacks

Duane Elgin is considered to be the father of the voluntary simplicity movement. In 1981, when his book Voluntary Simplicity was originally published, Elgin’s ideas were widely regarded as counter-cultural and irrelevant. The book was ahead of its time. Now, three decades have passed, and the world is a very different place—a place that is unfortunately similar to the one the author warned us about.

With Elgin’s revised and updated edition we have more ways to learn “a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich.” Voluntary Simplicity is not about living in poverty but living with balance. By embracing voluntary simplicity—frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth— people can change their lives. In the process, they have the power to change the world.

The book reaches beyond the how-tos of voluntary simplicity to examine the many psychological, spiritual, and cultural benefits of living more simply and consciously. Elgin makes clear that voluntary simplicity is not self-sacrifi but rather enlightened self-interest, and that this emerging lifestyle choice can foster individual and collective well-being in multiple areas. The depth and significance of Elgin’s ideas are matched by the clarity of his writing, so that Voluntary Simplicity is an education, an inspiration, and a pleasure to read.

In the introduction, Elgin writes: “Overall, the world has changed dramatically since I wrote the first edition of Voluntary Simplicity in the late 1970s. To respond, I’ve completely revised this book and more than half of it is new material. It is my hope this new edition will extend the promising wisdom and healing force of simplicity to our imperiled world, for on the other side of the fast emerging planetary systems crisis is a future bright with promise.”

For more information, see Duane Elgin’s website, www.awakeningearth.org.

mb55-BookReviews3The Wisdom of Sustainability
Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century
By Sulak Sivaraksa
Koa Books, 2009
192 pages

Red Alert
Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge
By Daniel R. Wildcat
Fulcrum Publishing, 2009
128 pages

Reviewed by David Percival

If there was ever a time for the so-called “developed world” to listen to the “less developed world” and the indigenous teachers living among us, that time is now. We—the people who don’t know how to stop—need to pay attention. These two books call us to practice deep listening and let go of much of what we have previously learned.

In The Wisdom of Sustainability, Ajahn Sulak, a lay Thai Buddhist activist and writer, is like an old friend gently but forcefully telling us that we can’t live by consuming alone. Instead, we can make a difference through understanding Buddhist teachings, holding to a moral code, embracing sustainable living, and taking care of ourselves. He takes us through basic Buddhist principles, international development, structural violence, globalization, and governance, and gives us a vision of where we need to go. “Capitalism’s promise to bring about emancipation through perpetual economic growth is, to use Jerry Mander’s word, insane. Nothing can grow forever. There are limits. Before we irretrievably erode the matter of our mother earth, we need to change direction and build a future based on wisdom and compassion.”

Ajahn Sulak tells us to stop exploiting our beautiful earth and her people. Instead, we need to rebuild our economies based on wisdom, understanding, and loving-kindness. E.F. Schumacher coined the term “Buddhist economics”—societies based on sustainability, “where people help each other in difficult times, where power is shared, rather than fought over, where nature is respected, and wisdom cherished.” The author discusses moral governance and the idea of “gross national happiness,” which, in a Buddhist democracy, would be based on compassion and nonviolence, our shared humanity, and the interdependent nature of all beings. He examines the true meaning of “real security” in our changing world.

This short but life-changing book concludes with the metta (loving-kindness) meditation exercise: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings dwell in peace.”

Red Alert, Daniel Wildcat’s provocative book, is a call to pay attention to indigenous realism and develop “respect for the relationships and relatives that constitute the complex web of life.” He writes: “This alert is also a wake-up call to those always forward-looking societies that have failed to inquire into the modes of living of indigenous peoples that their histories interrupted and ultimately destroyed… a challenge to replace a search for humankind’s general development along a Western-inspired universal timeline with a rethinking of our diverse human cultural development as shaped by places.”

By not paying attention, we marginalize or destroy indigenous peoples and their knowledge. If we would only listen to our indigenous elders and teachers, we could see that their wisdom and knowledge systems are all around us, and that they offer hope. Wildcat explores our fascination with technology and our vast ignorance of indigenous ways of life. This book has the power to awaken us with its wisdom and compassion. It is a strongly worded appeal to pay attention, listen, and throw away our cultural imperialism and “culture of conquest.” It is a brilliant look not only at the mess we have made, but also the hope offered by merely slowing down and paying attention, realizing our interdependent nature, and taking indigenous wisdom seriously. Although Buddhism is not mentioned, this is a very Buddhist book; it reminds us that deep listening brings great rewards.

These two books offer hope and engaged solutions to save our earth from climate change, globalization, consumerism, and materialism, and ultimately from ourselves.

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