No Heat, No Fear

By Peggy Rowe Ward

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“Bring a sleeping bag,” announces a sign on the Zendo. “Hmmm,” I wonder. I stick my head into the room and am greeted by a cool blast of air. Ah, the power is out. I turn around and walk briskly back to my dorm room in Lower Hamlet and return to the Zendo with more layers of clothing and my sleeping bag. I cannot recognize anyone in the hall this morning. I sit.

It’s January and the poplar trees stretch their bare arms into a grey sky. It is Sunday, the day that we open the monastery doors for a public Day of Mindfulness. Not that many folks join us these days. It’s the early 1990s, and the French have yet to discover that there is a Zen master tucked away in the rolling green countryside of southern France.

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Thay will offer the Dharma talk in the Lower Hamlet dining room, as there is a wood stove in this space. My roommates and I strategize on how to prepare for the talk. From experience, we know that one side of the room will be very hot and the other side will be very cold. We calculate a perfect time to arrive and sit right in the middle, and then we prepare to dress for this event. We take out all of our clothes and help each other layer up. Each of us looks like a strange cross between a bag woman and a gypsy as we are covered with shawls, blankets, coats, and hats. We laughingly lumber out of our room and link arms as we make our way to the dining room.

The dining room is jammed with benches and chairs. Pierre sits by the stove, feeding the fire. Pierre lives a few vineyards away from Lower Hamlet. He is one of a handful of friends that appears every Sunday looking wildly French. He sports a black beret, dark wool Melton coat, and thick knit sweater. He has a large nose that fits perfectly with his kind face. He has a habit of resting both of his strong weather-etched hands on the top of his wooden walking stick. He is a regular presence at Plum Village and we are comfortable with his watchful gaze.

There is no aisle, so we bump-bump-bump our way through the room. The padding has tripled our girth. We crawl on top of the chairs toward the middle of the room. We sit and spill over our white plastic chairs. We are almost wedged together with softness. I look to my left and recognize the eyes of my friend. We smile softly and look around the room. The windows are covered with steam so we cannot see out. Everyone who enters is wearing a similar disguise.

The bell is invited and Thay enters the room, followed by his attendant. Pierre moves away from the stove so that Thay can sit close by the heat. Thay settles in. He is offered a cup of tea, which he holds in his brown-mittened hands. The pine logs simmer and crack. Thay begins his talk and we cannot hear a word.

I have a moment of upset. I look around and quickly discover that none of us can hear. The fire is speaking loudly; there is the drip-drip-drip of moisture off the windows, the rustle of bodies, and no microphone. Breathing in, I breathe into that small upset, take her by the hand and put her on my soft lap. Breathing out, I smile. I sigh and settle into this day. What could be more lovely than this? Magically, I feel my neighbors doing the same. I notice several heads starting to bob and I can feel mine bobbing, too.

A small frisson moves my heart. I recognize that we are in the presence of Maitreya Buddha, that we are Maitreya Buddha. We relax together and breathe as one padded body. Thay is close by. We are warm. We are safe. We are together. Today the Buddha of loving community has manifested herself as woolen-wrapped students of the Buddha silently seated in a dining room, taking refuge in the warmth, in the teachings, and in each other.

Peggy Rowe Ward, True Original Vow, lives and practices in Claremont, California with her husband Larry Ward and dog Charlie, as well as the Baby Step Sangha.

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Fertile Ground

Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism

By Sister Hanh Nghiem

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The Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (AIAB) in Hong Kong, on Lantau Island, was established in May 2011. It is a continuation of the At Ease Mindfulness Practice Centre, Plum Village’s first home in Hong Kong, which was opened February 2009 and located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Before the center moved to Lantau Island, only four monastic brothers lived there. Now the AIAB is home to eighteen monastic brothers and sisters. The sisters dwell at Lotus Pond Temple and the brothers dwell at Bamboo Forest Monastery.

The AIAB is a quiet part of the Ngong Ping Village. Ngong Ping is home to several tourist attractions, including Po Lin Monastery, the Big Buddha, the Heart Sutra Pillars, and Phoenix Peak Lantau Island has many Buddhist temples and shrines, Lotus Pond Temple being one of the oldest. The popularity of this place is easy to understand, because nature has been preserved, making a beautiful natural environment for people and living beings. When people come to Lotus Pond Temple, they immediately feel more peaceful and light as they pass through the temple’s gate. The daily practice generates a special energy that penetrates the natural environment. Friends comment on how noticeably the energy of the temple has changed since the Sangha has come here. Even the temple dogs have transformed, becoming more friendly and trusting of people.

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Here is our typical daily schedule:

4:30 a.m.               Wake Up
5:00                       Sitting Meditation & Chanting
6:15                       Exercise
7:00                       Breakfast
8:00                       Walking Meditation
9-11:30                  Classes
12:00                     Lunch & Rest Time
14:30                     Gathering & Working Meditation
16:30                     Meetings
17:30                     Dinner
19:30                     Sitting Meditation & Chanting
21:30                     Noble Silence

As the tradition holds true, Monday is our sacred Lazy Day. Sunday is our public Day of Mindfulness, when we offer general practice for the public. We also try to give particular attention to the local Vietnamese and to children on the first Sunday of the month; Wake Up for young people ages eighteen through thirty-five on the second Sunday; Order of Interbeing members and teens on the third Sunday; and affinity groups like applied ethics and health care professionals on the fourth Sunday. There are also Days of Mindfulness and evening practice gatherings at different sites in Hong Kong.

Essential Teachings 

The curriculum of the AIAB is coming together in the sense of its ability to be articulated and implemented in our daily life practice. The material is already prepared because Thay has been teaching it for a number of decades. The core classes start with the fundamental sutras of the Plum Village practice: the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, and Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone. They are studied along with introductory Buddhist psychology as covered in Thay’s book, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body. Essential Buddhist teachings complete the core curriculum, as covered in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. These are followed by in-depth study of Manifestation-Only Buddhist psychology, as taught in Understanding Our Mind: 50 Verses on Buddhist Psychology. These core courses are prerequisites to any further studies at the AIAB.

mb62-FertileGround3In the meantime, people can hear lectures when they attend a full day of practice at our tri-monthly course for health care professionals and monthly Day of Mindfulness focusing on Applied Ethics. We have already covered a general base for The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching and Buddha Mind, Buddha Body in our two three-month Summer Retreats. The same basic instruction was offered to the general public every Sunday, and was followed by Dharma discussion to clarify and enrich our understanding of the teachings.

In the Plum Village centers in France and the U.S., the three-month retreat for monks and nuns to stay within the monastery boundaries is in the winter months, but at the AIAB we have our three-month retreat during the summer months, at the same time as the other local Buddhist monasteries. We also have a three-month “bonus” rain retreat from December through February, when we limit teaching trips to those that are made by special request.

From March through May, and again from September through November, we collaborate with our other monastic brothers and sisters in Thailand and Vietnam to hold teaching trips in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. We also hold teaching trips in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries in Asia.

Lay practitioners are welcome to stay and practice with us. At the moment, there is not a set arrival day. You can email us to inform us of when you would like to come. We ask that people do not arrive on a Lazy Day (from Sunday at 6 p.m. until Monday at 6 p.m.).

The Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism is young and full of energy. It is a blessing to be on such fertile ground for our roots to go deeper and our horizons to broaden.

mb62-FertileGround4For more information about the AIAB, visit www.pvfhk.org or email  aiab@pvfhk.org.

Sister Hanh Nghiem, True Adornment with Action, presently lives at the AIAB.

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Living Beautifully, Living Solidly

A Day of Mindfulness for People of Color

By Angela Dews 

We are not noble by our race, but by our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. Nobility comes from thoughts that have understanding and compassion. We are noble by our way of life.

- Thich Nhat Hanh at the first people of color retreat, “Colors of Compassion,” March 2004

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The summer day selected for “Living Beautifully, Living Solidly: A Day of Mindfulness for People of Color” in New York City turned out to be the same day as the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party with 125,000 people,  a Hari Krishna parade with floats down Fifth Avenue and a street fair on Madison Avenue.

Most of the more than forty individuals who came together on June 9, 2012, walked mindfully together through the smoke and smells and sounds of drums and cymbals.  Afterwards, Brother Phap Thuat asked our small group to share the experiences of our mindfulness practice in this crowded city. The answers spoke to the deep settling we had been led to: “The crowd is made up of single people and we send love to each one of them.” “Sangha is essential.” “Today, it is easy to see that the fruits of our practice benefitted all beings.”

During the day’s practice, Sisters Lang Nghiem and Cu Nghiem and Brothers Phap Khoi and Phap Thuat led the People of Color (POC) Sangha in guided sitting and movement, mindful eating and deep relaxation, a Dharma talk, group discussion, and a question-and-answer session.

The Day of Mindfulness (DOM) brought together members of the New York Sanghas—Morning Star in Queens, Riverside in Manhattan, Rock Blossom in Brooklyn—as well as visitors from Philadelphia’s Peaceful City Sangha. Members of the New York Insight Meditation Center, where the DOM was held, also attended. For some, this was their first practice in the tradition of Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. The NYI POC Sangha gratefully received gifts of a beautiful bell, one of Thay’s calligraphies, and the wonderful book, Awakening of the Heart.

The first New York City DOM for people of color in this tradition was held two years ago. Last year, the monastics concentrated on the many elements of Thay’s 2011 North American teaching tour, so there was a special sweetness inherent in the organizing team’s gratitude that the seeds of mindfulness could be allowed to again take root in New York City.

From the anonymous responses to an online survey conducted afterwards, it appears that the seeds did indeed take root and blossom:

I found the day to be inspiring, deepening my daily practice. I understand better that every moment can be mindful, like a meditation.

It was, as is always the case, a wonderful way to spend a day, in fellowship with other POC, deepening practice, listening to each other, and spreading metta in the room and beyond.

I connected very strongly with the ways in which we can practice for those in our lives who aren’t able to because of their paths. This was a new way for me to think about meditation practice as a kind of metta.

Although I did not feel as comfortable speaking in the smaller group, I was working on just listening and not feeling like I should respond to my every impulse to speak. I greatly enjoyed hearing about other people’s experiences.

 

mb62-LivingBeautifully2Angela Dews attended the first people of color retreat at Deer Park, where she took the Five Mindfulness Trainings and was given the name Peacemaker, Strength of the Heart.

 

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Snowy Steps

By Tracey Pickup

mb62-Snowy1The sound of the cold wind, the crunch of ice and snow under each foot and the swish of heavy coats are the only sounds of the Sangha. High on a white ridge overlooking the city, the Sangha slowly puts one foot in front of the other. It is impossible not to hunch slightly before the wind.

It is January and many degrees below freezing. It is our Day of Mindfulness. Looking at my friends, I think to myself: Why on earth should we do this? I see the great blue sky before us, small birds hanging in the bare shrubs and bushes. The dim winter light scattered over the valley.

It’s hard enough to slow down and pay attention when the conditions are beautiful and comfortable. Most of the time under these winter conditions, I run through the wind to get somewhere warmer.

Here we are, approaching this noble practice under these conditions simply because they are the ones before us. As we turn slowly towards each other and sing one soft song together, I realise that we practice this waking up for what is right here in this place. This place is our home of mindfulness. Just as Sanghas around the world take mindful steps under whatever conditions are before them, so do we. Though it is sometimes a cold and difficult place, these are our mindful steps. For us and for all beings together.

 

 

mb62-Snowy2Tracey Pickup, True Fragrant Field, began the Calgary Sangha in her apartment in 2003. She enjoyed walking meditation in the snow until she moved to a more coastal climate. She now lives at Mountain Lamp Community, a rural retreat centre near the west coast of Washington state, and serves as the Temple Keeper.

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Ancient Tree, Fragrant Flower

By Sister Thoai Nghiem 

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They’re always beautiful, the good old days. Each time someone asks me about the old days, I am perplexed, saying “umm” and “ahh,” but once I start, I often run out of time. Our memories, when we touch them, vibrate as a musical note echoing in the vast silence.

I can see the images of those days…

Plum Village Memories 

Those days, our beds were slats of wood placed on four bricks in a cement-floor room with unpainted walls, without a heater, and the winter wind freely slipped in, freezing cold.

Those days, everyone was wearing a pair of wooden clogs because everywhere was muddy. Some lay practitioners, after returning home from Plum Village, would try to look for a pair of clogs because they thought it was a fashion at Plum Village. Some left with a chunk of mud as the village token. On the day when Lower Hamlet had to lay gravel on the path around the dining hall so that firefighters’ trucks could drive there according to the law, I looked at the new white path reflecting the sunshine and felt like I had just lost something very precious. It was a little bit like civilization had come to a remote rural area, and I became someone who missed the good old days.

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Those days, Dharma talks in the Lower Hamlet were given in the dining hall. Every fifteen minutes, teacher and disciples stopped to breathe and listen to the clock chime. The stove was placed at the end of the hall. Anyone who cooked could secretly chop and peel vegetables if they were not spotted by Thay.

Those days, the kitchen in Upper Hamlet had a top level, which was the dining hall. Going there to eat or for Dharma sharing, when standing up, you would have to bend your head since the pillars and rafters were so low.

Those days, in the Violet Cloud building, only Thay’s room was unchanged. It used to be the cow shed. Sister Tu Nghiem’s room is a common room now; Sister Hieu Nghiem’s is Sister Chan Khong’s now. The office was a library, and the rest of the upstairs space was for storage of miscellaneous things and/or straw.

Those days, each summer, Vietnamese would be heard all over the Lower Hamlet, where there was a festive atmosphere. Wooden slats and bricks were carried from here to there to build beds. At the end of summer, a row of plastic containers full of soiled bed linens was waiting to be washed by hand. Often I jumped inside the container to wash by feet.

Those days, almost every week, Thay would teach us chanting and ho canh. However, nine out of ten people would chant in different melodies.

Transforming Mind and Body 

Those days, Thay constantly introduced new practices with which we hardly could keep up. Our personal practice was still not good enough, so Thay had to find out new practices to help us transform our mind and body.

Those days, Thay organized a Dharma festival. When each person heard his or her name called, he or she had to go in front of the Sangha, breathe in and out three times, and pick a small piece of paper with a topic from the bell. Then that person had to talk about the selected topic for ten minutes. Some were freaked out, a few were quite articulate, and others burst into tears.

Those days, Upper Hamlet only had one blue van for shopping. The side door would not close properly. It was very nice to sit in there because when the van climbed uphill, the door would slowly open, allowing the wind to blow in, just like boarding a xe loi in Vietnam (very similar to a rickshaw, being pulled by a motorbike instead of a person).

Those days, Lower Hamlet only had an old car, donated by uncle Cao Thai. Sister Hieu Nghiem was the only driver since no one else could drive a manual car.

Those days, I wandered around the whole day in the forest because the schedule was very relaxed except on a Day of Mindfulness. In the autumn I picked apples and hazelnuts and gathered wood for the fireplace in the dining hall. In the spring I hung a hammock under the plum trees and fell asleep.

Those days, all novices wore grey robes. Thay loved the memories of his novice time, so one day Thay came into the meditation hall wearing a grey robe.

Those days, bikkhus wore brown robes. Bikkhunis and novice nuns could wear only brown robes during retreats. When there was an announcement on the board about putting on sanghati, the sisters would ask each other what color robe to wear.

Those days were nearly twenty years ago. I was still very clumsy; it took me nearly half an hour each time I shaved my head. I was still up and down due to little-things-that-seem-to-be-very big happening in the Sangha. I still got very excited like a child receiving a gift each time I had a chance to play/be with Thay. I still worried about Thay’s fragile health because I was such a baby stumbling on my feet. I still anxiously wondered how Plum Village would be without Thay.

Those days, Thay talked about Vietnam, or the root temple, or the traditional protocols from when Thay was still a novice, without expecting that one day he would be able to set foot in his homeland. And I sat there, listening with a soft heart. I loved Vietnam, loved those intelligent novices who were very keen in learning and practicing, loved my beloved Dharma sisters and brothers whom I had never met, and who were trying to preserve the Buddhist conduct in Vietnam.

Inheriting the Fruits

Now, Thay has been able to go back to our homeland, although his returns were full of difficulties and challenges. I too have gotten to know Vietnam. I was there for more than four years, living in a traditional temple and being close to the root temple.

Now, Plum Village has turned thirty years old. Ten years is long enough for a child to mature; thirty years is sufficient for a newborn baby to become a well-established adult in society. And the children of Plum Village—Upper Hamlet, Lower Hamlet, New Hamlet, Maison de l’Inspire, Deer Park, Green Mountain, Blue Cliff, Magnolia Grove, EIAB, AIAB—although being born in different times, have already started to stand firmly on two feet, self-sufficient and contributing peace to the world.

In the early days of Thay’s Dharma tours, Thay was assisted by just a few lay and monastic Dharma teachers. Today, Thay’s presence is inseparable with the image of a big Sangha and retreats with approximately 1,000 attendees. Not only has Thay conducted Dharma tours, but our young Dharma teachers have also been to many different places to provide teachings. Additionally, various centers have organized many retreats. In recent years, both the Wake Up movement, which has introduced mindfulness to young people in schools and universities, and health retreats have developed strongly and have been very well received. And our very young novices have played a really active role in this work.

At this present time, Thay continues to generate new insight. For many years, the tree of wisdom has flourished and has been fruitful. Now, at the age of eighty-five, Thay has still not stopped. Thay would like us to be solid on the path to renew Buddhism. Thay would like us to bring Thay into the future.

mb61-AncientTree3It is the image of an ancient tree that suddenly produces a fragrant flower. How I love this image! The fruits of meditation practice, of daily enlightenment from Thay, have been inherited. And the fragrance will be spreading in countless directions, even if the tree grows against the wind, and regardless of storms.

Sister Thoai Nghiem resides in New Hamlet, has been with Plum Village since 1993, and likes to take care of the gardens.

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Sangha-that-Sings-to-Birds

By Laura Hunter

One of my favorite memories involves the time we were doing walking meditation at Deer Park Monastery soon after I had begun attending Days of Mindfulness there. We came to sit in the Oak Grove, and, looking up, we saw two Great Horned Owlets perched high in the trees. They were prehistoric looking marvels—all fluffy with their white down and patchy feathers, with big eyes open wide. Joy spread through the Sangha as we gazed up at them, and they down at us. Then, as if on cue, several monks and nuns stood up and starting singing to the owls—I am free, I am free, I am free. The owlets tilted their heads in wonder. Sitting there, under the cool oaks, bathed in the dappled forest light, surrounded by such loving people who sing to birds, I fell in love with the community at that moment. I knew I belonged with   this Sangha-that-Sings-to-Birds, and would forevermore be a part of it.

mb61-SanghaSingsLaura Hunter, True Ocean of Teachings, lives in Escondido, California with her husband Ron and Dharma dog Sprout. She sits with the World Beat Sangha, works for environmental justice, and is coordinator of the Deer Park Dharmacast (www.dpcast.net).

 

 

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