Jewish Holidays

By Anne Rogal Winiker

Because the Jewish year is based upon an ancient lunar calendar, Jewish holidays are never on the same date from one year to the next. Thus, my nonrefundable plane tickets were already purchased when I realized that our most sacred holidays overlapped the time period of “The Heart of the Buddha,” the September retreat in Plum Village. I felt conflicted, but stuck to my decision to spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur far from home. My rationale that “spiritual work is spiritual work” did not appease my family. As I departed, my younger brother hugged me and hissed into my ear, “Have a safe trip, happy holidays, and don’t ever do this again!”

The day after my arrival at Plum Village was also three days before the first of these holy celebrations. There was a group of Jewish retreatants, and written recognition from Thay about the importance of this time “for our Jewish brothers and sisters.” But how would we celebrate without rabbi, services, or synagogue? The Jewish group numbered about 40, and most of us were now sitting in a big circle by the linden tree, trying to figure out how to create our own ceremonies.

“I feel like crying,” one woman said. “I can’t believe nothing has been organized.”

“I’d like to develop something accentuating Buddhist themes.”

“We have twenty-one days of Buddhist themes. I want a Jewish service.”

“We need a bell. Someone please ring a bell.”

“Maybe we should just go find a synagogue in Bordeaux.”

“Can we talk about process before content?”

“My name is Shalom,” said Shalom. She extended her hands, and one by one we connected our circle, closing our eyes, breathing, and finding ourselves united, after all.

The days passed, and a small group worked to .combine strongly-held philosophies and opinions, ceremonial objects and writings, and favorite songs and traditions. My sense of mission expanded abruptly when Ruby, a non-Jew, insisted that the celebrations should be offered to everyone at the retreat. “What a wonderful opportunity to experience our true interbeing,” she said. Startled, I realized the image I held of our Jewish group celebrating unobtrusively in some quiet corner. To share the significance of this time with non-Jews was unprecedented in my life.

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As the holidays approached, we prepared our texts so that an “outsider” would be able to understand them. We made announcements and public invitations. When we gathered by the bamboo grove to rehearse our music, we. were joined by new people, strangers to us and to the Jewish traditions. A large circle of singers formed, standing and swaying as our ancestors have done in worship through the ages. The newcomers approached the unfamiliar Hebrew words and haunting melodies with incredible zeal. Emanuele, a non-Jewish friend from Italy, said, “I feel as if I have always known this music.”

The 60-strong German Sangha loomed large for me. They circled us, clearly wanting to participate. Eulysia, gentle and self-effacing, had joined our first planning group. “I’m not a Jew, I don ‘ t know if it’s all right for me to be here, may I help with something?” I felt the sincerity of her intention, and a pain behind it. Why did I also feel a sense of annoyance, as if I wondered, “What could you do anyway?” The next day two handsome, blond men approached us, politely offering, ” May we share with you?” in German accents. As they sat down, I felt an intangible sense of threat, and could not get the phrase “perfect Aryan specimens” out of my mind. Several of my new Jewish friends were children of concentration camp survivors. I wondered if the religious services could somehow serve as a vehicle for German-Jewish reconciliation. But I didn’t know how to reconcile these visceral feelings that came from a time before many of us were even born.

Friday evening arrived, bringing the Sabbath and Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the New Year. To my amazement, perhaps 200 people gathered in the large meditation hall of the Upper Hamlet. Thay was there. The room glowed with warm candlelight, illuminating the flowers, fruit offerings, and rose-colored Buddha statue. Together, we sang the beautiful melodies. People’s arms extended around their neighbors. Together, we rose to call out the Shema, the “watchword of the Jewish faith,” affirming the Oneness of God. Stretching our arms to the sky, we affirmed the oneness of us all. We blessed bread and fed pieces to each other, saying, “May you never be hungry.” And we recited the Shehechianu, a prayer for blessing anything new. We were blessing not only the New Year, but also this new Sangha of Jews and non-Jews celebrating at a Buddhist retreat. As the service ended, Nel , a friend from Holland, rushed up to me. “I want to convert!” she exclaimed.

Tashlich” is the New Year’s Day ceremony symbolizing throwing away one’s sins. Thay led the Sangha on a mindful walk to the little pond in the Lower Hamlet. We had been instructed to gather small sticks along the way. At the water’s edge we stood silently for a few moments, then threw the twigs into the water and called out aspects of ourselves we’d like to cast away for the new year. Soft voices filled the air: “My greed, my impatience, my lack of involvement, my anger. .. ” We were told to imagine these attributes transformed into our aspirations for the coming year. Suddenly, miraculously, the sticks sprouted wings! Brown dragonflies arose from the pond and took flight.

As we turned to go back, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Andreas, one of the “Aryan duo.” In that profound moment I felt a warm recognition. We bowed, smiled, and embraced in a meditation hug. Then with silent accord we took each other by the hand and began to walk. I became terribly self-conscious: “I don’t know this man. German. Jew. It’s hot. Why is he walking so slowly? My shoulders feel so tense.” Eventually, mind and body relaxed, hands remaining gently linked. We were going slower and slower. Each pace took me deeper into my mind. I saw myself led on a death march into a concentration camp. But here was a German friend, and he was coming with me. I was an African child, leading a blind grandfather on the long walk from the river to our hut. I was the first of a long line of Jews, and he of Germans, with our ancestors and the generations to come stretched out behind, walking, walking. I was myself, and a student of mindfulness, taking one slow step after another, no attainment, no path, no destination. Thay’s gatha from walking meditation the previous day returned to me. I practiced it, linking silent words to my breathing and my footsteps: “Andreas, Andreas, I am here; Anne, Anne, I am here,” bringing myself with him into the present moment even as, absurdly, a loud megaphone from some nearby auto racetrack blasted noisy commentary across the fields. Present moment, wonderful moment.

Trust blossomed, and friendship without discrimination was born. The stereotyped German and Jewish concepts fell from me as gently as the sticks had fallen into the pond. Later after we had talked, we brought the idea of a German-Jewish dialogue back to our friends. This idea bore fruit. On two separate evenings, about 35 people from both groups met to share their historical wounds, fears, shame, guilt, and mistrust. Gentle mediation by the visiting Japanese Zen Roshi and the respectful setting of shared mindfulness brought healing for many.

After the ten “Days of A we” separating the two holidays had passed, we gathered again to celebrate the eve of the solemn Day of Atonement. The service opened with a poignant and powerful song, Kol Nidre. This ancient prayer absolves us of vows that could not be kept from the previous year, and symbolizes cleansing and purifying our failures. Jacqueline, a violinist whose Jewish parents raised her as a non-Jew, said that she had “lived, eaten, and breathed” the Kol Nidre music for two weeks at her tent site. Now she played it for the ceremony, and her violin cried and soared. We could feel the pain and joy of her Jewish spirit, finding its voice after a very long sleep.

On Yom Kippur, Jews and non-Jews gathered in the Transformation Hall throughout the entire day, fasting, praying, singing, breathing, and sharing together. The ceremonies were profound: meditations on forgiveness; recollecting our dead; casting rose petals into bowls of water as we shared our memories, traditional Hebrew prayers and song; a writing exercise, beginning with the words, “I remember” ; a symbolic purification ritual, washing of the hands; the prayer for healing, preceded by calling aloud the names of our loved ones who were ill. Then it was sundown, and we heard the thrilling, ancient sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. “May you have a good year!” We all embraced, went through the food lines together, and broke our fast in hungry and eager mindfulness. Over and over the words kept turning in my mind: “We are the heart of the Buddha.”

Anne Rogal Winiker is a wife, mother, musician, and physician living in Boston, Massachusetts. She practices with the Community of Interbeing.

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Here Is the Pure Land. The Pure Land Is Here.

By  Sister Annabel

One day,  Queen Vaidehi asked the Buddha , “Is the place with no suffering very far away?” The Buddha replied, “No, it is not far away.” And then the Buddha taught the queen how to touch the land of Great Happiness in her own heart and in her own mind.

We talk about “the Pure Land.” In Sanskrit, the word is “Sukhavati. Sukha means happiness; vati means having: “The Place Which Has Happiness.” In the Chinese tradition, it is translated as the Pure Land, perhaps because of the nature of the writings about that place. These writings put us in touch with things we call pure. The Prajnaparamita writings were probably composed round about the same time as the Pure Land writing, and they say “No defiled, no immaculate.” And yet we talk about the Pure Land in Buddhism.

In the Pure Land, there are many kinds of wonderful birds. Let us think about a bird. The bird’s song sounds very pure, very beautiful. But we know the bird has to eat, and the food that the bird eats has waste matter, which we would consider impure. The sutra doesn’t tell us whether birds in the Pure Land eat or not. But if they do, there must be bird droppings in the Pure Land, which means that the Pure Land wouldn’t be quite so pure. Perhaps that is why the people who composed the Heart of the Prajnaparamita say, “No defiled” and “No immaculate.” We know that if there isn’t defiled, there can’t be immaculate.

To understand the teachings of the Pure Land, we need to understand about Buddhist psychology. We need to understand that the store consciousness contains all the seeds-seeds of purity and impurity, seeds of happiness and suffering. We need to learn skillful ways of touching the seeds of happiness and purity in us, particularly when we feel overwhelmed by impurity and suffering. The Buddha and other spiritual ancestral teachers have helped us find ways to touch the seeds of purity.

The Buddha gave teachings about places where there was a lot of happiness. He sometimes pointed to a city like Kushinagara, the city where the Buddha later passed away, and said that in former times, this place was a place of great happiness. He would describe how the people lived there in a lot of happiness. Probably some ancestral teacher put together the Sukhavati Sutras based on some of the things the Buddha had said about lands of great happiness.

The Sukhavati Sutras and the Avatamsaka Sutra may seem very strange when we read for the first time. We read descriptions of trees that have jewels for their leaves, flowers, and fruit, and descriptions of water with eight virtuous qualities- clarity, sweetness, purity, coolness, limpidity, etc. These descriptions are not for us to consider intellectually. We do not read the Pure Land Sutras or the Avatamsaka Sutra with an intellectual mind. But when we read them, the descriptions touch the seeds of purity in us. For instance, we do not see leaves of jewels on the  trees here. In autumn, the leaves here fall to the earth, decompose, and become one with the Earth again, whereas, a jewel doesn’t decompose. But actually, if we look deeply into it, a jewel comes from decomposed material, because the mineral realms are also made up of the plant realms. When we walk among the trees in the autumn on this planet Earth, we see the beautiful red and yellow colors like jewels shining in the sunlight. But sometimes, we don’t bring our mind to the presence of the trees, because we are lost in our worries or regrets. When we have been reading the Pure Land Sutras on a regular basis, then something in the depth of our consciousness knows that a tree is very precious, as precious as the most precious jewels. So whenever we meet a tree in mindfulness, we remember that it is precious, and we can be there with it in the present moment. And when we are really there in the present moment, we are already in the Pure Land.

There are different levels of belief in the Pure Land, and the highest level of Pure Land teaching is that your mind is the Pure Land, the Pure Land is available in your mind. The ancestral teachers put  together the Pure Land Sutras with a kind of wisdom that helps us be in touch, and helps us to have the deep aspiration to be in a Pure Land and also, to help to build a Pure Land.

In Plum Village, we often have to write assignments for Thay. One year, Thay gave us the assignment to write about the Pure Land that we wanted to be part of. He told us to give a very clear description. What kind of trees would be there? What kind of activities would there be? Everybody wrote about a slightly different Pure Land, so we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Pure Lands. In each of our minds, there is the Pure Land, and we can go about establishing the Pure Land. You may like to write about this also. It’s a very enjoyable assignment.

When we think about our own Pure Land, we have to come back to Queen Vaidehi’s question. “Lord Buddha, is there a place where there is no suffering?” Out of compassion, the Buddha said,  “Yes, there is.” Queen Vaidehi’s heartfelt aspiration to be in that place of no suffering came about because she  had suffered so much. If she hadn’t suffered, the idea of a place where  there is no suffering would never have occurred to her. So suffering and no-suffering go together, in the same way defiled and immaculate go together. They are not absolute realities; they are only relative realities. And sometimes the Buddha has to teach the relative truth in order to be compassionate, to help, and to encourage. And that is why the Buddha said there is a place where there is no suffering.

But we know that Queen Vaidehi would also want to help those who are suffering. In the Pure Land, we have many bodhisattvas. The great joy of being in the Pure Land is that we are near many bodhisattvas. And if a bodhisattva wants to help those who are suffering, there must be people who are suffering. Therefore, in the Pure Land, there are people who are suffering for us to help. When we wrote about our Pure Land in Plum Village, many of us wrote about how the bodhisattvas helped others. One person even had a hospital in the Pure Land.

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When you come to a Dharma talk, you feel very happy. Maybe you feel you are most happy when you are sitting and listening to the Dharma, because the Dharma is deep and lovely. It is beautiful in the beginning, it is beautiful in the middle, and beautiful at the end. In the Sukhavati Sutra, they say that in the Pure Land, you are always hearing teaching of the Dharma. But you don’t just hear the Buddha Amitabha- the Buddha Of Limitless Light, the Buddha who founded the Pure Land. You don’t just hear him giving teachings. You hear the birds giving teachings, you hear the trees giving teachings. Every time the wind rustles in the trees, that is a teaching of the Dharma; and every time the birds sing, that is a teaching of the Dharma. And when the people hear the wind rustling in the tree, they stop and remember the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Awakening, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the other teachings of the Buddha.

There is a song written by Thay in Vietnamese, and then translated into English and put to music: “Here Is the Pure Land.” I practice this song when I do jogging meditation. If I sing it in Vietnamese, then every syllable is one footstep. And I can also sing it in English and jog at the same time. It’s very wonderful to be jogging in the Pure Land.

The first words of the song are “Here is the Pure Land.” And the second sentence is “The Pure Land is here.” This is in the  tradition of the ancestral teachers. “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” We say things twice like that because our  consciousness receives the first word of a sentence as the most important word. So if we just said, “Form is emptiness,” our mind concentrates more on the word “form” than it does on “emptiness.” So we then say “Emptiness is form,” so our mind is equally concentrated on form and emptiness. In the same way, if we say “Here is the Pure Land,” our mind is more concentrated on the word “here.” And if we say “The Pure Land is here,” our mind is more concentrated on “the Pure Land.” So the words of the song allow us to be concentrated on both.

Watering the seeds of purity in our store consciousness helps establish a good balance between purity and impurity. We have the tendency sometimes to look on everything as being impure and we need to put the balance right. We practice watering the seeds of happiness for the same reason. We have the tendency to look on the planet Earth as a place of suffering, and we need to put the balance right by seeing the happiness also.

When the Buddha taught Queen Vaidehi, she asked him “If the Pure Land is not very far away, if it’s right here, how do I practice to be there?” The Buddha gave her a guided meditation in which she could touch the Pure Land. It’s a little bit like the guided meditation “Breathing in, I am a flower; Breathing out, I feel fresh.” He taught her to be in touch with the lotus flower in her own consciousness, the lotus flower blooming. He taught her to be in touch with the lake of the most clear, sweet water in her consciousness. In that way, she could begin by touching the seeds of happiness in her own consciousness. Then, when she was outside, walking in nature, she would also touch that world and feel happy.

Each of us has the capacity to build Pure Land a little bit in their own home, or by building a practice center, or by joining a practice center, or in their local Sangha. The local Sangha where we only meet each other once a week, or perhaps a bit more, is also a place where we can build Pure Land together. We can decide what kind of environment we can make. How can we arrange the sitting meditation hall in order to water the seeds of Right Attention in everyone who comes into the meditation hall?

The idea of attention in Buddhist psychology is quite important. It’s called manaskara in Sanskrit, and is one of the 51 mental formations. It’s one of the  first five mental formations, which we call “the universal mental formations.” Universal means that they are always occurring, they’re always there. We are always giving our attention to something. We know that we can give our attention in an appropriate way, or we can give our attention to what is inappropriate. So we have Appropriate Attention and Inappropriate Attention.

When we go into the town or turn on the television, we need to be very careful what we give our attention to. You may see newspapers with words and images on them, and even though you don’t stop to read them, if you give your attention to them, they can sometimes water the seeds in your consciousness that are not altogether wholesome. All kinds of information can flow into our consciousness through our eyes and our ears. We don’t have to intentionally  receive that information; it may still flow in. This is the meaning of universal mental formation (sarvatiaga); it is happening all the time.

So, we should make our environment a place where everything surrounding us helps nurture the best, the most refreshing things in us, things that can make us and other people happy. We can all do a little bit of this work-in our garden, in our home, in our school, in the place where we work. This is part of making a Pure Land.

Sister Annabel Laity is the Abbess of Maple Forest Monastery and Green Mountain Dharma Center in HartlandFour Corners, Vermont. This article is excerpted from a Dharma talk she gave in San DiegoCalifornia in September 2000.

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The New Continuation of the Heart of Perfect Understanding

By Brother Phap Hien

This chant does not have a precise and constant timing. Therefore this notation is simply a representation of the chant, offering a basic guideline in order to get started. Please learn the melody and chant in a relaxed way, pronouncing the timing of the words much in the same way as if you were reading them out loud. Each measure is a phrase. Each phrase is about one breath long and the first and last syllables receive a slightly longer expression, much like the Gregorian style of chanting. When done correctly the chant flows from one breath to another, in a natural and meaningful way. The chant encourages the chanter to be aware of what he or she is chanting, entering into the content of the chant. Realizing this the act of chanting becomes an act of real presence
and clarity.

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A new CD with current versions of many chants in English will be available from Parallax Press later this year.

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Walking Meditation Song

by Laurie Rabut

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Every step I have arrived, touching joy to be alive.
Touching peace with every step, touching truth, no birth, no death
And our smiles as the water fresh and clear.
It’s good to walk with you, my dear.

As we walk upon the land, Mother Earth holds out her hand
As we walk in peace, with grace, seeds of joy on every face
And our smiles as the flowers fresh with dew.
It’s good dear friends to walk with you.

This song came to me while traveling with Thay’s delegation in Vietnam. It is dedicated to Thay, the delegation of monastics and lay Sangha members and to all the beautiful Vietnamese people with whom we practiced walking meditation. During the trip I received many gifts and I was deeply moved. This song is my gift in return. It brings me great joy to share it with the Sangha.

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An Explosion of Grace

The First Retreat for Young People at Plum Village

By Susan Rooke

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Thay has often spoken of the tragic situation in France, where thirty-three young people commit suicide every day. He has asked us, “What are we doing today for those who are going to kill themselves tomorrow or the day after?”

A year ago, Anne-Marie Ascencio, a French member of the Order of Interbeing, shared with Sister Chan Khong her dream of initiating a retreat for young people run by the fourfold Sangha at Plum Village. Her idea was received with enthusiasm, so a small group of young monastics and members of the French OI organized, over the Internet, the first young persons’ retreat in Plum Village. It was held during the last week of June 2005 at the Middle Hamlet and thirty-two young people came, ages thirteen to twenty-six. Of the twenty staff members, there were five monks, three lay Plum Village residents and seven members of the French OI. A group of young nuns and aspirants visited and offered daily support.

We divided into three families, one of which was English-speaking. We had planned to include only French speakers to avoid translation problems, but retreatants took turns translating for friends, and the international flavor was a bonus.

This was a typical day:
6:00  Wake up; exercise with bamboo poles, or yoga
7:30  Sitting meditation
8:00  Breakfast; working meditation; questions & answers with monks and nuns
11:00 Free time
12:00 Lunch
14:30 Sharing in families
16:30 Creative workshops (drawing, painting, writing, calligraphy, collage, dance, music…)
18:00 Dinner
20:00 Deep relaxation; evening activity 22:00 Noble silence
23:00 Lights out

The creative workshops were new for Plum Village. A nun gave a dance workshop under the trees, the music offered spontaneously by two young people. An array of paints, brushes, pencils, and paper was provided in the painting area, along with piles of old magazines for collages. On the dining veranda a large white wall displayed the creative works as they were made; before long the veranda was decorated with paintings, poems, and calligraphy. Retreatants were encouraged to create spontaneously, in a relaxed, non-academic way, working on pieces alone or in groups.

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One evening we participated in a percussion workshop, creating rhythms on drums, saucepans, wash bowls, bells, wooden spoons, and blocks of wood. Another evening, around a bonfire we enjoyed pancakes cooked by a group of young retreatants as a gift to the community.

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The practice was offered in formal and informal ways. Youngsters were taught sitting and walking meditation, stopping and listening to the bell, and eating in silence. The informal teaching was also important: a long conversation with a monk over a cup of hot chocolate; visiting together around a group painting; talking and really listening to each other. This atmosphere of freedom and peace was created with a minimum of structure so the young people had a safe space to talk, be creative, make music, or just be together.

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During the week, Thay gave two teachings that were attended by the Plum Village community and a question and answer session for the young people. Appreciative of this special opportunity, the young people asked good questions about violence, anger, and monastic life. Thay finished the session asking the young people to continue the spirit of the retreat by forming a “committee of the heart.” This new committee will operate over the Internet. For information about future retreats, keep an eye on the Plum Village Web site.

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The ultimate expression of gratitude for this wonderful retreat came on the last evening, when fifty of us practiced Beginning Anew. Seated under the oak trees, with the evening light fading, we shared the transformations of the past six days. A younger and elder brother reconciled with deep, loving words and a hug. Many shared long-hidden, hurt feelings, brought into this compassionate space to be held gently, listened to, and respected. Finding understanding, forgiveness, and healing. Heard over and over: “This has been the best week of my life.”

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On the first day, the young people arrived anxious, fearful, and stressed from school exams and the pace of city life. They were noisy and talked a lot. It was a joy to watch their faces transform; to see their shy smiles and hear their laughter; to enjoy the noble silence becoming more silent; to hear their language become more gentle. For the sake of the young people, and for our sake, I hope others will organize young persons’ retreats all over the world.

Susan Rooke, True Joyful Stream, lives in the foothills of the French Alps.

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Dharma Rain

Practice as Inspiration for Artists

By Denys Candy

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Stonehill College, Massachusetts, August 2000

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

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

“I think so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estes Park, Colorado, August 2005

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

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

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

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

Ring that bell, soft sweet sound, ringing clarity.

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Claymont Court, West Virginia, October  2006

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

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

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

Glory, glory Halleluiah.

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

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

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

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The Heart of Creativity

By Aleksandra Kumorek

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The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

“Together we are one,” reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat centre, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed “tribe” spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the “altar of creativity”––something that represented each person’s connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay* method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon “Zen” master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we’d grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn’t resolve the world’s problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone.

The next Mindful Artists Network retreat is scheduled for July 17-20, 2014, at the Source of Compassion practice centre in Berlin. It will be guided by Sister Jewel. Please visit www.mindful-artists. org for information about the previous and upcoming retreats.

*InterPlay (www.interplay.org) is a creative practice that integrates movement, storytelling, silence, and song to unlock the wisdom of the body.

Amb65-TheHeart2leksandra Kumorek is a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. In 2012, she became a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. She has practiced with the Sangha Source of Compassion in Berlin since 2005. She and pianist/composer Susanne Olbrich launched Mindful Artists Network at Plum Village in 2012.

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To Continue Beautifully

Sangha, Loss, and the Creative Process: An Interview with Susanne Olbrich

By Philip Toy 

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Into the nebulous, ongoing mystery of life I welcome, as if through an open door, the continuing spirit of the one I have loved.
– Martha Whitmore Hickman

During our summer 2010 pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland, while visiting the Findhorn Community, we were invited by Northern Lights Sangha to conduct two Days of Mindfulness. One of the Sangha leaders, Susanne Olbrich, True Ever-present Stability—pianist, composer, and teacher—graciously consented to this interview.

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Philip Toy: Susanne, you have just returned from a concert tour in Germany, where your Marama Jazz Trio was warmly received. You composed some of the music after the sudden loss of your dear friend and former partner. One piece, “Beyond Gone,” was a meditation you played soon after hearing the news of H.’s passing. How do your practice and your music relate to such a loss?

Susanne Olbrich: It was in Plum Village during the ‘05-‘06 Winter Retreat, just after H.’s suicide, where I took refuge in the Three Jewels. Thay’s teaching on continuation supported me then, especially in light of his conviction that those who take their own lives may not have a good chance of continuing beautifully. Then and there I made a deep commitment to help my friend continue beautifully. Thus the piece “Beyond Gone”—a phrase from Stephen Levine’s book, Who Dies?

PT: Keeping such a commitment in the wake of deep loss requires extraordinary support. Where and how did you find support and encouragement?

SO: It started the first few moments after hearing the news when the shock set in and my legs began to go numb. It seemed as if what kicked in and began to operate was an emergency program designed to hold me. I heard the instruction, “Breathe, just breathe!” This inner voice lingered, and later became like a reliable old friend suggesting when I should rest, when I could let go of an excess obligation, when to focus on one breath, one step, and when to ask for help. Very unlike me! Yet, I would sit on my cushion much longer than usual, however long it took for the pain to subside.

PT: I can see how your decade of practice before this loss paid off. Yet, even with this fortunate help, how did you sustain yourself?

SO: I could not do it without my loving and steady Sangha. They gathered at my place, cooked soup, and filled the house with warm food aromas and their even warmer understanding presences. Whether I had the energy to fully participate or not, soon my isolation began to melt in the warmth of their companionship and compassion—their Sangha eyes, hearts, and hands.

PT: I know from my own experience of the death of my son, Jesse, by drug overdose, and my very close association with Sangha—the complexity of the loss of a child, likely by suicide, calls out for a rich and special brand of caring. How does Sangha embrace and minister to these complexities?

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SO: Making space and holding it, deep listening, sharing from the heart—all central components of effective Dharma discussion— together with the gift of benevolently witnessing one another in the circle. These all allow for the kind of conscious grieving and reflecting that can help dissolve searing issues and questions, such as not having time for bidding goodbye to the lost loved one, or the anger and guilt of “What did I do, or not do,” or “What could I have done,” or “If only….” We can allow all this to unfold within the stable and protective space of the Sangha without fear of getting lost or overcome.

PT: You and I share the experience of surrendering and taking refuge in Sangha following a tragic loss. For me it was key to surviving those earliest days, weeks, and months after my son’s death. As Thay teaches, the Buddha is there, too, in the midst of Sangha. Were you able to take refuge in the Buddha?

SO: The Buddha I took refuge in was the Buddha I had discovered in myself through practice, especially practice with my Sangha. It was the energy capable of witnessing tears and distress with utmost tenderness and letting me know it was okay. There arises an open space for us to recognize harsh feelings and thoughts. Within the fold of Sangha, these feelings may be held gently in the light of awareness, and we may finally watch them evaporate! This was the single most powerful act of self-care I could have given to myself—not just once or twice, but again and again with patience and perseverance. This is the love that heals.

PT: You say you made a commitment to help your lost partner continue beautifully. Tell us more about that commitment.

SO: Thay says that Dharma, too, can be found in Sangha. In Plum Village Sangha those five years ago, I read Thay’s book, No Death, No Fear. Through the teachings on no-birth, no-death, transformation, and continuation, my sense of deep loss was mitigated some and it sparked a new awareness. I was able to see the ways in which my lost friend continues: his adult children, the song I wrote for him, the tree planted at his memorial, the sturdy wooden tables he built for our Findhorn Community Centre, the grove in the Scottish Highlands planted in his honor as part of a national reforestation project, and of course, the many memories I and others hold dear. Also at that winter retreat, I birthed the idea for a new album, a CD in H.’s honor. The cover art would be one of H.’s beautiful nature photographs and the album’s name would be Continuations, in order to celebrate that: “Nothing exists on its own…. Everything is a continuation of something else, and everything will continue in manifold forms…. Nothing is ever lost.” Manifestation of the CD took nearly four years. Every step of the project was a teaching for me, from cover design to legal questions about royalties, from finding a manufacturer to creating a record label, and it was a labor of love. When I finally held the finished product in my hands, with H.’s photo of the Scottish West Coast, it was beautiful. I knew part of my grief had transformed into something else; an artistic offering, a rose from the compost.

PT: You seem to have a heightened awareness of transformation and continuation, leading to the birthing of your Continuations CD; there’s an interaction between mindfulness and the creative process.

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SO: Yes. The energy generated in mindfulness and the practice of deep listening, together with a present-moment focus—allowing what is to be—are working elements for me during the composition or playing of a musical piece. Composing music in its essence has much to do with listening deeply. What takes shape in my inner ear—from apparently mysterious sources—often amazes me. I simply could not have thought it out. In the case of “Beyond Gone,” that’s exactly what happened. About six weeks or so after H.’s suicide when many of my friends had gone back to normal, I was still feeling anything but normal. There was this not-so-subtle pressure that I should be over and done with this grief—ready to move on. In this emotionally stuck place, I had a strong impulse to play for H. It was a meditation.

PT: Your band members’ masterful back-up and solos on Continuations could be seen as an extended Sangha support for you in your grief journey.

SO: Yes, I am extremely fortunate to have found Anja Herold (soprano and tenor saxophone) and Jens Piezunka (acoustic bass and cello). Both bring an extraordinary quality of listening, musical sensibility, and creative imagination to the project. Both of these seasoned improvisers have significantly broadened my musical horizons. Musically, creatively, as well as personally, my work with Marama Trio has been harmonious and joyful.

PT: It seems that as your grief unfolded, your creative process ran parallel to your practice, or in concert with it. I’ve discovered that grief is different for everyone, that it’s at best a bumpy road, and that there is no fast forward button.

SO: Exactly my experience. During the final stage of the creative journey that led to the Continuations CD, I was blessed with two extra-large helpings of Plum Village energy. I was able to spend a whole month with Thay and the Sangha for Summer Opening, 2008, and again for Path of the Buddha Retreat, 2009. Feelings of inadequacy, ignorance of the technicalities of CD production, plans gone awry, bouncing between Scotland where I live and Germany where my band members live—all of these left little time for rehearsals and other preparations. So the energy of the practice was strong in me when I needed it most.

At Findhorn we have woven into the fabric of the community workday the practice of “attunement,” a kind of practical, organizational deep listening. Shifts in every department—management, kitchen, garden—begin with a joint attunement, sometimes holding hands, sometimes sitting around a candle, always breathing together for a moment in silence with a wish to benefit others, uniting heart and mind for the task at hand. While producing Continuations, for the first time in my life I adopted regular attunement sessions for my own often solitary musical work and have continued the practice ever since. We’ve discovered that our attuned work frequently yields a better result than work driven simply by efficiency-oriented thinking mind.

PT: You are very fortunate to have the dual communities of Northern Lights Sangha and the Findhorn Community to engage with, especially in times of great loss and creative struggle.

SO: Yes, I feel gratitude for these two amazing groups every day. I’ve been living in the spiritual community of Findhorn for over ten years now, and our inherent humanistic and ecological missions inform all that I do, here in my Sangha and everywhere I travel. While in the distant past my life has felt at times like pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain, guided by Buddha mind within these two communities, the CD manifestation unfolded remarkably gracefully. I wish I could claim success practicing equanimity in every corner of my life. In fact, work and relationships are two areas where I do get caught in habit energies more often than I like. Yet, mindfulness practice over the years—be it through dark paths of grieving or inspiring musical projects—has informed and enriched my life. Music, like mindfulness, has the capacity to bring us home to ourselves and in touch with the wordless, refreshing, and healing aspects everywhere surrounding us. With it we can water seeds of beauty, understanding, and love. The piano has been my passion since age six and, long before I knew the term “meditation,” it became a refuge, a place to learn about concentration and dwelling happily in the present moment.

PT: I noted that some of the most common audience responses to your music during the Germany concerts were meditative: “soulful,” “spacious,” “it slowed me down in a pleasant sort of way.”

SO: Yes, though the project may not explicitly be about Dharma, it makes me so very happy to have touched listeners in this way.

PT: Thank you very much, Susanne. May you and your work in this world ever remain soulful and spacious.

Author’s note: On our return from Isle of Skye to Findhorn for our second Day of Mindfulness, I received news that my sole surviving elder brother had died. As I reflect on our stay at Findhorn, although we were across the ocean and far from home, we could not have been in a more accepting, loving, and understanding environment. From my sundown bedroom window at the Shambala Retreat House, I watched the tide wash out over Findhorn Bay, and I knew, despite everything—maybe because of everything—all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.

For more information about Susanne Olbrich and her music, visit www.myspace.com/susanneolbrich or www.susanneolbrich.webs.com.

mb58-ToContinue6Philip Toy, True Mountain of Insight, and his wife Judith have founded three Sanghas in Thay’s tradition. Since 1993, they have hosted mindfulness practice centers—first at Old Path Zendo in Pennsylvania, and for the last twelve years at Cloud Cottage Sangha, Black Mountain, North Carolina. Philip is a poet and jazz pianist. Cloud Cottage Editions is the Toys’ Dharma publishing imprint.

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Peace Sounds

By Joe Holtaway

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I’m a member of London’s Wake Up Sangha and producer of Peace Sounds, a collection of twelve songs on the theme of peace. My friends and I made this album to bring awareness of Thay’s 2012 United Kingdom tour and to support the tour by raising extra funds.

The seeds of this project were planted last summer in London’s Hyde Park. A number of us from the Heart of London and Wake Up Sanghas were gathered for one of our “Joyfully Together” picnics where we meditate, eat, and share songs and mindful yoga stretching.

We include Thay’s practice of walking meditation in our gatherings. Hyde Park, one of the largest in our city, is our piece of countryside, and silently walking together there feels like a gift indeed. We had warm sun that day and the old tall trees brought us shade. I remember just how the sunshine softly lit that afternoon.

With songs sung and food eaten, we were talking over Thay’s forthcoming tour. Sister Elina Pen (Little Earth), flash mob meditation organizer, singer, and a visionary member of our Wake Up Sangha, proposed a musical adventure: we should write a song to be released with his tour. I guess you never know what will come about when a project begins, though I felt full of its magic during my bike ride home!

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That night I stayed up until 4 a.m., composing “Walk with Me My Friend,” inspired by our practice of walking meditation. The Wake Up Sangha had been running flash mobs in London, where young people like us would come by the hundreds with flowers in their hair and peaceful smiles on their faces, to sit and meditate with strangers, then sing and hug as friends. I came to our Sangha’s next flash mob with a recording I had made of the song.

To Soundtrack Love

With a good six months before we had to begin Thay’s tour preparations, we began talking about more music. And from there, the other songs emerged. A mailing to the Wake Up list brought some musicians; we requested other songs from artists we already admired.

Little Earth and I collaborated—the first-ever recording of her magical voice. Both she and Kim McMahon performed versions of Plum Village songs. Kim and I also collaborated for her track. Little Earth had pronounced, “Joe, we just have to have her voice on the record.” Hearing Kim sing was a beautiful discovery; I feel honored to share her voice with the world.

The same goes for Chris Goodchild. He recorded “Life is Beautiful” especially for this project, a song he’d sung that first day in Hyde Park. To spend time with this gentle man was touching enough, but to capture his song was so special. We just left the mic on… I was humbled.

Pianist Tom Manwell and singer James Wills are friends from here in London. I recruited them and four more artists whose work I’d admired: Northern England’s Jackie Oates, London’s Cornelius, Ireland’s Nathan Ball, and the U.S.A.’s Joe Reilly, whom I had heard through his connection with Plum Village (Joe’s song, “Tree Meditation,” features brother and sister monastics, and was recorded there). Finally, we were gifted with recordings sent by Manchester-based Hilary Bichovsky and Brighton’s Gavin Kaufman; they had heard about the project through their meditation groups.

The process involved bus trips around London and the rest of the United Kingdom with a microphone and guitars. I made some recordings in artists’ homes, where we drank tea, ate cake, meditated, and forged friendships. Other songwriters came to my place in London. I recorded my own song at my family’s home in Cornwall, a peaceful coastal area, amidst sea air and warm summer days.

To gather these songs was to soundtrack a sense of honest and, I feel, revolutionary love. Here were individuals responding to life by singing about it and sharing their passion outward. This collection of songs carries that feeling for me, a considered response to what was moving in each singer’s musical soul. I feel a fearlessness in each of them, to stand up for what they feel is worth caring for.

Listening to the collection, I feel a huge sense of gratitude. As I watch the album trailer clips (see www.peacesounds.org), I’m brought back to a sense of reverence for love and peace that was as much in the songwriters’ homes and letters as it is in their songs.

You can listen to the album online and download it for a donation (follow links on the website). Proceeds go to the Community of Interbeing UK, which makes meditation available here within groups, in schools, and on retreats.

For a free download of the song “Peacefully Free” by Little Earth, email “Mindfulness Bell” to info@peacesounds.org.

mb60-Peace3Joe Holtaway was born in Cornwall and currently lives in London. He has a fondness for music, poetry, songwriting,
and gardening.

 

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Avant-Garde Dharma

For “People in Sorrow”

By Karen Hilsberg and Peter Kuhn

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On October 2, 2011, in downtown Los Angeles at the REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theater), an unusual fusion of jazz legends and the Plum Village Sangha converged. The occasion was the world premiere of “For People in Sorrow,” arranged by Alex Cline (True Buddha Mountain). Cline, a world-class percussionist and composer, has been working for years to integrate elements of his mindfulness practice and our spiritual tradition into cutting-edge musical expressions.

Dharma teacher Larry Ward offered an opening benediction in the form of his poem, “A Wild Thing,” written for the occasion (see p. 43). The concert was attended by many friends from local Sanghas as well as by luminaries in the jazz community, including Roscoe Mitchell, whose composition “People in Sorrow” received Cline’s new treatment. Sister Dang Nghiem, a Dharma teacher and friend of Cline and his family, contributed a Vietnamese chant which was recorded in advance and projected on a large screen above the eleven-piece band. In Cline’s words, “After accepting my rather unusual invitation, Sister D (as she’s known) chose to chant the following verses, presented here in English translation: a gatha for listening to the bell and the Verses of Consecration used as part of the Ceremony for Closing the Coffin.”

Listening to the Bell
Listen, listen,
This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.

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Verses of Consecration
This water’s shape is round or square
according to the container that holds it.
In the spring warmth, it is liquid; in the winter cold, it is solid.
When its path is open, it flows.
When its path is obstructed, it stands still.
How vast it is, yet its source is so small it is difficult to find.
How wonderful it is in its streams which flow endlessly.
In the jade rivulets, the footprints of dragons remain.
In the deep pond, water holds the bright halo
of the autumn moon.
On the tip of the king’s pen, water becomes
the compassion of clemency.
On the willow branch, it becomes
the clear fresh balm of compassion.
Only one drop of the water of compassion is needed,
and the Ten Directions are all purified.
Cline was inspired to rework this piece, which orchestrated a rich blend of composed and improvisational sections, in honor of the original composer, Roscoe Mitchell. “People in Sorrow” was first performed by the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1969. It profoundly expanded the language of modern jazz, utilizing a wide range of small sounds and percussion to create layers and subtleties of expression that helped define a new era of post-Coltrane modernism. It clearly made a strong impression on young Alex, who was a teenager at the time.

Cline recalls when he first heard “People in Sorrow” on the LP of the same name and, in the concert’s program notes, he also reflects on the genesis of the current project and the connection between being a jazz musician/composer and a student of the Buddha.

mb62-Avant-Garde3 “[When I first heard Mitchell’s piece, it] was an unprecedentedly miserable time of my life, but it was also an exciting time, as I was hearing a lot of creative music, most of it in the ‘jazz’ genre, that was tremendously inspiring to me, something that awakened in me a sense that perhaps there was something akin to a greater purpose in life and which I feel ultimately contributed heavily to my surviving that otherwise grim period.

“The music itself became like some sort of raft carrying me safely across seas of my own bitterness and confusion or a torch lighting the darkness. …While I didn’t know what inspired Roscoe Mitchell to title his piece ‘People in Sorrow’ (and I still don’t), as I listened to its meditative and poignant collective creativity I felt in touch with both my own suffering as well as the world’s, and was somehow consoled by the beauty and immediacy of the music at the same time. For me, ‘People in Sorrow’ was one of the deeply influential musical performances I experienced at the time that served as a potent example of magnificent validity of free improvisation and of the transformational power of music.

“Today, as a musician who chooses to follow in the footsteps of the many great artists who inspired me so many years ago and continue to do so, and as a person who aspires and practices to understand and ultimately transform suffering, this occasion holds special significance for me. Performing this piece offers me a unique opportunity to enable and enjoy an overt confluence of the streams of both my musical and spiritual practices.

“I bow deeply and humbly in gratitude and offer this music to all who suffer, to all people in sorrow, that all may embrace and transform their suffering and find peace, healing, and happiness, the true happiness that our suffering helps make possible.”

The performance was not foot-tapping music. The listener was asked to let go of his or her notions of what can be defined as music or beauty, and to embrace the offering as practitioners learn to embrace all that arises in meditation. Letting go of conditioned responses and suspending judgment, the unfolding transformations of the theme created a visceral experience that was transcendental for some listeners. The all-star ensemble created a musical tour-de-force in celebration of Cline’s deepening practice and engaged life. Mr. Mitchell, who shared the concert bill, expressed his humble appreciation of the tribute and was obviously moved by the performance.

The ensemble featured: Oliver Lake (saxophones, flute), Vinny Golia (woodwinds), Dwight Trible (voice), Dan Clucas (cornet, flute), Jeff Gauthier (violin), Maggie Parkins (cello), Mark Dresser (bass), Myra Melford (piano, harmonium), Zeena Parkins (harp), G.E. Stinson (electric guitar, electronics), Alex Cline (percussion), Sister Dang Nghiem (chant, bell), Larry Ward (opening poem), and Will Salmon (conductor).

The CD/DVD “For People in Sorrow” will be released in March of 2013 on Cryptogramophone Records. Find it on www. amazon.com or www.crypto.tv.  

mb62-Avant-Garde4Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, works as a psychologist in correctional mental health at Los Angeles County Women’s Jail and is a founder of the Organic Garden Sangha in Culver City, California.

Peter Kuhn, True Ocean of Joy, practices with the Shared Breath Sangha  at Donovan State Prison and Open Heart Sangha in San Diego, California. He coordinates “True Freedom,” a prison Dharma sharing (pen pal) program, and recently started a twelve-step Zen group.

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Poem: A Wild Thing

By Larry Ward

The bones of our ancestors still dance
At ease in the field of magic stardust

An ounce of poetry from long ago
The crane says, “I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A tiny bird will drop dead, frozen, from a bough of a tree without having once felt sorry for itself”. *

In the thick jungles of Costa Rica I was told mother
My mother had passed away
Through the veil of no coming and no going she went
Heart broken I wandered for days
Walking jungle trails
Going no where but sorrow
Trapped in a cloud of sadness.

The cry of an unknown bird cracked open the moment
Ripe! Ripe! Ripe it was! For something, for anything, to heal my savaged soul.

Music of my roots rose up from the earth,
Like a rainbow bridge supporting every step as I climbed grief’s holy mountain
A path wet with the salt of bitter tears.

Sometimes I forget music’s vibrations can touch and quake places
The Mind dares not go, kneading, holding, inviting
With notes of wonder and surprise,
Healing pain, the pain of the second sorrow, created by an arrow fashioned by my own hands

Plucked from my own quiver and shot with my own bow,
Into my own heart.

Picked up on the dusty road of wounded souls
The sacred carriage of music lifted me up from the edge of grief’s deep pit
On the wings of sound I rode to the mysteries of grace and peace
Moment! By moment! By moment!

The music says, “Take up your rightful residence in your Hale Mana, your spiritual house.”
The music says, “Come on in, come on in, come on in,
Enter the clear light of sweet music.”

The music says,
“Take your stand on the back of the fearless dragon of wisdom and compassion
Let go of the gossamer threads of regret
Still attached to your beating heart.
Now catch your precious breath
Right now! Right now! Right now!”

Music is a wild thing
Music is a wild thing
Music is a wild thing

*    A reference to the D.H. Lawrence poem titled “Self-Pity” from Pansies (London: Martin Secker, 1929)

mb62-AWildThing1Larry Ward,True Great Sound, is the director of the Lotus Institute, an adjunct faculty member at Claremont Graduate Universityand University of the West, and a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies.With Peggy Rowe-Ward,he co-authored Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships. He received Dharma teacher transmission in 2000 from Thich Nhat Hanh.

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