Seasonal Family Practice

By Sister Fern Dorresteyn

Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.

Begin your evening with
walking meditation. The clear,
crisp night sky in the winter is
wonderful and refreshing for the
spirit. When you come back,
each person can light a candle
from the center one and say a
special prayer:
Winter is here,
the time of night
we make our heart fire bright.
When we are kind and loving,
we give warmth
to the hearts of others.
Happiness is like
the candle flame
shining light into darkness.

Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:

Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.

Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food . May they be happy and safe through these winter days.

Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.

Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.

You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking “What can we doT We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.

Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.

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Ben’s Laces

By Peggy Mallette

Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist  with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.

Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.

I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:

Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.

Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Always Coming of Age

By Ariadne Thompson

I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.

The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’ s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.

Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves “blooming adults.” I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life:
May I develop the capacity to be alone;
to take time out from my day
and go places that I love
to speak with the earth,
reflecting on the beginning of the world
or talking about the weather.

Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.

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Practice with Young People

By David Dimmack

Young people are the flowers of our Retreat Sangha. They radiate innocence and spontaneity, and their fresh smiles remind us that our retreat can be joyful as well as peaceful. In them we see our own innocence and freshness. Their presence is an important gift.

Unconditional acceptance of each young person and relentless patience are essential in planning a young people’s program. In 1989, I observed my son and daughter with Sister Chan Khong and other nuns. They were learning a skit to present to the Sangha. The group was loud and wild, but what impressed me was the nuns’ calm, gentle, and persistent approach. There was not even a hint of scolding (which I was inclined to do). They calmly and consistently directed the young people back to the task. I aspire to practice this teaching in fathering, and it is probably why I lead these programs whenever possible. As Thay says, “When a tree does not grow right, the farmer does not blame the tree. He changes how he treats the tree.” These words encourage our mindfulness in our relations to our vulnerable and impressionable young people.

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Young people’s programs usually include singing, pebble meditation, and the bell of mindfulness. The primary song and pebble meditation are based on a gatha from The Blooming of a Lotus: In-Out, Flower-Fresh, Mountain-Solid, Water-Reflecting, Space-Free. We often sing the Two Promises of developing understanding and compassion. Both songs have accompanying hand gestures that young people enjoy learning, and help set a lighthearted tone. Betsy Rose’s tape, “In My Two Hands,” has many songs children enjoy, Music, song, and story are essential to a young people’s program.

In pebble meditation, each person makes a pouch and finds five pebbles it can hold. Each pebble represents one phrase of the gatha. When it’s time to meditate, we place our pebbles in a pile. We pick our In-Out pebble, hold it and look at it, breathe with it, and imagine the phrase, then lay it on a new spot. With the next pebble, we imagine being a flower and feeling fresh, and place it with the first pebble.

We leisurely transfer our pebbles, one by one, to their new spot-looking, holding, breathing, and remembering. We then replace them in our pouch or begin again. Children of all ages can learn to meditate this way.

Each young person also practices being bellmaster. When calm and ready, the beIlmaster stops and bows to the small bell, slowly picks it up, holds it in the palm of their hand, and raises it to eye level. Looking at it, they imagine they are holding a precious gift. Using the smaIl wooden stick, they tap the bell to wake it up and let everyone know to become quiet. Then, with a full stroke, they sound a long, beautiful tone. Everyone enjoys three full breaths and returns to what they were doing more refreshed and aware. Young people also enjoy apple meditation, relaxation, drawing and craft projects, discussions and sharing, reading and storyteIling, improvisational skits, interactive games and open play, stretching, tumbling, hiking, jokes, and just hanging out. Often, they present songs, skits, drawings, or Dharma recitations to the Sangha. A happy program tends to be loosely structured, allowing each person to focus on their own project. Monks, nuns, musicians, storytellers, and others are welcome visitors. We want to cultivate the seeds of mindfulness in these tender young sprouts and have it be fun.

A young people’s program reflects the positive attitude of the Sangha. Feelings of trust and cooperation grow between everyone involved. Young people welcome the slower, gentle rhythm of the meditation and retreat process, away from television and other fast-paced gadgets.

Local Sanghas can create similar programs. Playfulness and mindfulness need not be separate-breathing and smiling as well as a balloon or a funny hat works wonders. As Phaedrus says, “The mind ought sometimes to be diverted that it may return to better thinking.” A leader only needs to provide a few simple activities, be devoted to gentle play, and be willing to be a little foolish. Let the collective playfulness of your Sangha be your guide.

David Dimmack, True Mirror, has assisted with young people’s programs since 1991. He practices with the Ambler, Pennsylvania, Sangha.

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The Practice of Collective Wisdom

In a world dominated by individualism and competition, it is a real challenge to live as a spiritual community. “Please use the Sangha eye to understand the nature of suffering in our times,” urged Thich Nhat Hanh during the 21-day retreat in Plum Village last June. The metaphor used by Thay was to practice like bees in a beehive or ants in an anthill, like a true organism. In our case, as humans, “a mindful organism, which is even better.”

Realizing that, opinions and ideas are among the greatest obstacles to our practice together. To be a real Sangha—a “living being” that communicates awakening (Buddha) and compassionate love (Dharma)—it is crucial to learn to harmonize different views. “Everybody,” Thay said, “wants to do what he or she likes best. To take care as a Sangha, of the different opinions, restoring communication and practicing permanent sharing, is what we have to do.” Not an easy task, especially when living in big cities in the West.

Fortunately, the retreat was a wonderful chance to meet friends in the Dharma, and enrich the understanding of these teachings. Among the many, I met Dennis Bohn, one of the more involved members of the New York Metro Community of Mindfulness. I still remember very well an article written by Dennis in The Mindfulness Bell about how to practice consensus in the delicate process of decision-making. [“Deciding How to Decide,” Issue #20] When the article appeared, our Milan Sangha was going through a very difficult moment of its quite young history. The problem was deciding how to decide. We shared about the article, and wanted it translated and published in the Italian Sangha newsletter. The deep inspiration and the support we received from that experience was part of our growth, even though conditions in our environment were not the same as the New York Sangha Dennis described. Three years later, at Plum Village, Dennis generously shared with me the latter part of his Sangha’s story.

Q. Do you think that, in New York, you developed already as a group, the capacity to express togetherness and live as a mindful organism, at least as related to decisions?

A. I don’t know if we have evolved to that point yet. I think that decision making by consensus was just the right process for our group. What I might stress today is that we cultivated the value of sitting there and working over a decision. It reminds me the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Everyone has a little bit of a different viewpoint, but if you can sit a little longer, a more accurate picture of the elephant emerges.

Q. In Milan, the core members of the Order of Interbeing wondered if it was more helpful to include everyone in the process of decision-making rather than invite to the meetings only the more committed friends. Now, Thay has explained very clearly that also lay Sanghas can apply the Sanghakarman procedure, a mix of democracy and seniorship. What is your experience?

A. We started thinking about how to make decisions as a community, because at the first meetings to formally organize the New York metropolitan community, no one agreed on anything. It took a year to get a definite proposal for a decision making process, inspired by the method used by the Quakers. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible. In fact, anybody in our community has the right to attend a meeting and speak out. But for an individual to block consensus and prevent the community from moving forward on an issue, we ask a commitment. The person must have practiced with the Sangha for a year and have attended two of the previous four meetings of the core community. This way, they are more likely to fully understand the background of the matter being considered by the Sangha. Our opinion is that to make a decision, like how to coordinate a day of mindfulness or how to use donations, is very important, but the process the Sangha uses to come to it is far more important.

Q. Patience is the key, I guess.

A. Sure. The meetings are not been always completely wonderful, but now the qualities of tolerance, patience, and skillful speech are part of the culture of our community. We have learned not to be in the hurry to get a decision right in that meeting. Furthermore, we take as much time as we need, so as not to push things before their time has come and allow the whole group to cope with different ideas.

Q. Might we call it the embodiment of the Sangha eye?

A. I only mean that in my experience of this consensus model, the collective vision, the Sangha eye, is much clearer and purer than in any single individual. Ultimately, I have seen the collective wisdom of the group grow and become much stronger. To me, this is a real wonder.

Alberto Annicchiarico, True Gathering of Understanding, is a journalist for a daily newspaper, and practices with Dharma Door Sangha in Milan, Italy.

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Dharma Talk: Liberating Our Hearts – Practicing with the Paramita of Inclusiveness

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Before our airplane takes off, we are told the way to use the oxygen mask. And we are always told that we have to put on the oxygen mask for ourselves first, and only then can we place the oxygen mask on our child, the young person sitting next to us. If we are not successful in placing the mask on ourselves first and afterwards on our child, then we will both die for lack of oxygen.

Thich Nhat Hanh

In Buddhism it’s the same. We have to help ourselves before we can help others. The word we use to speak of this is the word meaning “to cross over to the other shore.” The shore over here is the shore of suffering, the shore of anger, of anxi­ety, of pain. But the shore over there is the shore of peace, of freedom. To go from this shore to the other shore is called “paramita.” There are six ways of doing that called the six paramitas, six ways of going to the other shore.

We may think that paramita is a very difficult practice, but if we learn how to do it, we can go to the other shore quite easily. Even in ten minutes or half an hour or an hour we can cross over to the other shore. When we are angry, when we are drowning in our anger, we suffer a great deal in our body and our mind. It is as if we are being burned, and if we don’t know how to deal with the situation, we can drown in our suffering. Therefore, we have to practice going over to the other shore, the shore of no-anger, the shore of no-hatred. We have a raft to take us to the other shore and we have to use it every day. The six paramitas are the six ways of going to the other shore.

The Kshanti Paramita 

The third paramita is called Kshanti Paramita; it can be translated as inclusiveness. It means literally, “to forebear, to endure,” but we could misunderstand that word. Kshanti re­ally means to accept and to embrace. For example, this glass — it can hold about twenty cubic centiliters and it can endure those twenty cubic centiliters, that is its capacity. If we pour twenty cubic centiliters into it, the glass will not suffer. But if we want it to hold more, it may suffer. If we force a lot of sand into it, it will break. And we are the same. Each of us has the capacity to endure, to accept a certain amount of injustice but if we are forced to accept more we shall crack or we will break. Somebody says something or does something which we do not like, they do something unjust to us, and we suffer. But whether we suffer a lot or a little, whether we suffer at all, depends on whether the capacity of our heart to accept and to endure is small or great. There are people who could hear those same words, be treated in that same way, but they would not be angry. They would smile. But we, when we hear those words, when we see that behavior, we suffer a lot because compared with their heart, our heart is very small.

The capacity of the bodhisattvas’ hearts is very big, the ca­pacity to receive, to embrace and to include. The reason why we suffer is because the capacity of our heart is very small. We hear the same words, we have the same treatment and some people can accept it, but we cannot. We suffer a great deal. Therefore we have to practice the capacity to include, to em­brace. If we practice, if we train, the capacity of our heart will grow and we will suffer much less. We will hear the same words, we will be treated in the same way, and we will smile and we will not suffer.

To practice inclusiveness, or patience, does not mean that we have to suffer. When we suppress our suffering sooner or later we will crack, we will break, Therefore, the paramita of patience does not mean to suppress. If you practice suppress­ing, if you grit your teeth and bear it and think that that is the practice of patience, it is not. Soon you will crack, you will break. That is not what the Buddha taught. The Buddha taught that we have to practice, we have to train in order to open up our own hearts.

And when our understanding is great, our love is great, our heart will become great. We often say in Viemamese that it is our heart which is small, not our house. When our heart is wide, our house can receive many guests. If our heart is small, even if our house is very large, we will not receive any guests.

Every morning on the fifteenth or the first of the lunar month in the traditional temples, we organize a ceremony called “Com­mending the Virtues of the Buddha.” It is to praise the Buddha and the bodhisattvas and our ancestral teachers. There is a sen­tence praising the Buddha which goes something Like this: “The Awakened One who is fully awakened, arose in India. His heart is able to embrace the whole of space, his capacity includes all the three chiliocosms.” It means the capacity of his heart is very great. These are also four lines which are offered as praise to the Buddha. “The capacity of his heart can include all the worlds even though they are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges.”

And why does the Buddha have such a great capacity of compassion and understanding? Because he has practiced. We can do the same. If we prac­tice the paramita of patience, if we practice the Four Immeasurable Minds of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, our heart will grow. And we will have the capacity to accept everything people say, however people treat us, even if we suffer injustice, we can still smile, we can still be happy.

A fistful of salt 

In the sutras there was a time when the Buddha taught like this: “Imagine there is someone who is holding a fistful of salt. They place it in a small bowl of water and stir it around with their finger. Monks, do you think people could drink that wa­ter?” And the monks said, “Such water would be far too salty to drink. How could you drink it? You’d have to throw it away.” The Buddha said, “That is correct.” Then the Buddha said, “But if, for example, you were to throw that fistful of salt in the river, then would the people who lived in the villages alongside of the river continue to drink the water of the river?” And the monks said, “Yes.” “Why?” “Because the river is vast and the fistful of salt cannot possibly make the water of the river salty.”

It is the same for us. If our heart is small, then those words, that action, that injustice will make us angry. A small injustice will cause us many sleepless nights and we may not even be able to eat for a week. If our heart is great, like the river, then those words will not have any effect on us, that behavior and that injustice will not have any meaning. We can continue to smile, we can continue to be free, peaceful, and joyful as we were before. Therefore, the practice of the paramita of inclu­siveness helps us to look deeply and to be able to see clearly the truth and to allow the heart of understanding and love in us to grow. Then our heart will become like a river and people may come and throw twenty or thirty kilos of salt into it, but we will not suffer.

Be like the earth 

Rahula became a novice when he was only eight years old. When he was eighteen years old the Buddha taught him about the practice of inclusiveness. He said, “Rahula, you have to practice to be like the earth.” “Why?” “Because the earth has the great capacity to receive, to accept, to embrace, and to trans­form. If people pour fragrant milk, perfumes, and sweet things on the earth, or if they pour on the earth filthy things like spittle, mucous, excrement and garbage, the earth does not crave or is not greedy for the sweet things and is not angry with the filthy things. It receives everything equally. The earth has the capac­ity to include them all and to transform them all. It is not attached to the clean or angry with the dirty. You have to practice to be able to behave like the earth.”

The Buddha continued to teach Rahula that not only the earth, but also the water, the fire and the air have the great ca­pacity to accept all forms of offerings, wonderful and fragrant as well as polluted and dirty. It means the capacity of these four elements is very great and our heart has to be as great as that and then we will not suffer. In this way the Buddha shared the paramita of inclusiveness with Rahula.

I remember one day I was leading the children on walking meditation in the Upper Hamlet. We went along a beautiful path, seeing so many beautiful leaves, flowers, and butterflies, bees, and dragonflies, and all these beautiful things made us feel we were in paradise. Then we came to a place where we saw on the lawn the excrement of a dog and the children held their noses and stood to one side. I took their hands and I said, “Look deeply, my children. I have a lot of faith in the earth because the earth has received this excrement of the dog, but in a week’s time the earth will have transformed it, and it will be­come nourishment for the flowers and the trees which we are seeing today. The earth has the capacity to accept, to embrace and to transform and is never angry with what is thrown upon it.”

The method which helps our heart to grow bigger is the Four Immeasurable Minds. The Four Minds have become so great, the mind of loving kindness, the mind of compassion, the mind of joy, and the mind of equanimity. Maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksa are the four elements of true love. If you cultivate them every day, then they become boundless. You are capable of embracing everything, everyone, then the larger your heart becomes, the happier you become. You don’t have to suffer because of all the small things, the inconveniences that make you suffer every day. So the practice is not to be a bowl of water but to be a river and after that to be the ocean. What makes other people suffer cannot make you suffer any more because your heart is large. That is what it means by “bound­less states.”

Maitri — the capacity to offer well-being 

In Sanskrit, loving kindness is maitri; it is the capacity to offer well-being and happiness. And you cannot offer some­thing that you do not have. Therefore, practice in order for you yourself to have maitri , the energy of loving kindness, and you will be the first to profit from that energy. With the practice of looking deeply, the practice of calming, of understanding, you make the energy of loving kindness grow within yourself. You experience bliss, solidity, freedom, and well-being, and your presence will naturally offer the person you are with that same kind of energy. You only need to just be there. Before you do anything, before you say anything, your presence can already make him or her happy, because in you there is the energy of maitri.

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There are people who are very pleasant to be with and children like to come and sit close to them. Just sit­ting close to them, the children feel good in themselves. There are people whom we want to sit close to. We don’t need to talk to them. We don’t even need them to look at us, just sit near them and you can feel that wonderful energy of love, of well-being. When you come and sit close to the linden tree, then the linden tree has the ca­pacity of calming you down. The lin­den flower also helps you to calm down; the linden tree has something like maitri within herself. So a person who cultivates maitri is someone whose presence is wonderful, refresh­ing and healing, and you would like to stay close to him or to her.

If you want to practice loving kindness, you have to look deeply to see and to understand. And when you see and understand you can offer joy and happiness to the other person. That person, what do they need and what do they not need? When we can see their real needs, we can offer the thing that they need. That person may be very afraid of the color red and we force her to wear a red dress; that will make her suffer. When we were a child, we really wanted to wear a red dress, but our mother would not allow us to wear red. When we have our own daughter, we want our daughter to wear a red dress in order to satisfy the desire we had when we were young. But our daughter hates red. To force our daughter to wear a red dress is to make her suffer.

When we were young, we wanted to be a doctor, but we did not have the chance to learn to be a doctor and therefore our desire has become an unsatisfied wound in us. When we have our own children we force them to train as doctors in order to satisfy the desire that we once had. But our daughter has a different skill or talent and does not want to be a doctor. To force our children to be doctors is to make them suffer. We think that to be a doctor will bring a lot of money and bring a position in society. We have an idea of happiness and we want to force that idea onto our children. That comes from our love, but this kind of love is not produced by understanding. There­fore, the more we love, the more we make our children suffer. To understand is the element that brings about true love. If we want to love, if we want to understand, we have to look deeply. If we want to practice maitri, we have to learn to look deeply.

Karuna — the capacity to reduce suffering in the other person 

The second immeasurable mind is the mind of compassion. Compas­sion is the capacity to reduce and to transform the suffering in the other person. If we want to remove the suf­fering from the other person, we have to have a right perception of the na­ture of their suffering. What is the cause of the suffering? What gave rise to the suffering in the other person? We have to practice looking deeply; that is, we have to practice another of the paramitas, called the paramita of meditative concentration. When we have time, when we have the ability to open our heart, when we don’t have prejudice, we can look into the other person and see the suffering that that person has been through. We can see the nature of their suffering and when we know that, we know what we should do and what we should not do in order for that wound to heal in the other person. If we don’t have that understanding then we will not have the insight which is another paramita, the paramita of understanding, and we will just make the other person suffer more. Compassion is the heart which has understanding and wisdom in it.

Mudita — the capacity to offer joy 

The third immeasurable mind is that of joy. In our relation­ship with our loved one the element of joy is very important. If we love each other, we have to love each other in such a way that both of us have happiness every day, then it is real love. If every day we weep, we are sad, we suffer, then that is not real love, In the morning, were we able to smile and be happy to­gether in our love? Were we able to say good-bye to each other and go to work with the energy of joy and love? But if, in the morning, we weep, in the midday we weep, and in the after­noon we weep, then the element of joy is not there. Therefore, the element of joy is very important in our love. First of all, there is the element of loving kindness, which is to offer happi­ness; the element of compassion, to remove suffering; and then the element of joy, the happiness which comes from our love.

Upeksa — the capacity to love with equanimity 

And finally, there is the element of equanimity. Equanim­ity means to love in such a way that we can preserve the free­dom of the other person and our own freedom. If we lose our freedom and we take away the other person’s freedom, that is not yet real love. When we love with the aim of possessing the other, we take away our loved one’s freedom. We have to love in such a way that we have a lot of space and the other person has a lot of space. If we see there is a little bit of loving kind­ness, of compassion, of joy, and of equanimity in our love we should try to practice so that every day the loving kindness, the compassion, the joy, and the equanimity grow a little bit more. After a couple of weeks, we shall see that gradually our love is becoming true love and our happiness is growing all the time.

We have learned that understanding leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to forgiveness and love. It makes our heart grow up. The love and the understanding help us to mature, and when our heart is mature, we can easily accept these words, this unskillful behav­ior, this injustice, and we continue to be happy.

Dear Sangha, in the Vietnamese war nearly all of us were the victims of unin­telligent policies. And in our suffering we condemned each other, looked on each other as enemies. But in fact we were all the victims of the government which did not really act with clarity. Southerners were victims and so were Northerners. If we’d seen that, we would have been no longer angry, we would have been able to embrace everyone. The Northerners would have been able to embrace the Southerners and the Southerners embrace the Northerners. The Vietnamese would have been able to embrace the North Americans and the North Americans would have been able to embrace the Vietnamese. We see that our enemy is our inability to see the situation as it really is. It is our ignorance, it is the darkness of our mind which cannot see the real situation and therefore gives rise to wrong observation and brings about a war where we kill each other and create a Iot of suffering for ourselves and for the people around us too.

The Bodhisattva Thi Kinh 

Quan Am Thi Kinh is the bodhisattva of compassion of Viet­nam, with a great, large heart. At that time in Vietnam there were no temples for nuns, and Thi Kinh very much wanted to devote her life to nunhood. So she had to pretend to be a boy in order to be able to lead the monastic life. She entered the temple as a novice monk; she was very happy. There are, among us. people who feel they have to become a monk or a nun to be happy. So they are willing to do anything to become a monk or a nun, and Thi Kinh was one of those people. There are people in Plum Village, monks and nuns, who feel like that. People have said to me, “If I could not be a nun, I could not bear it.”

At one point there was a woman who was a great admirer of the “monk” Thi Kinh, who was really a young woman. But Thi Kinh paid her no attention. The woman became pregnant and accused Thi Kinh of being the father. Of course as she was a woman this was not possible, yet she did not defend herself because she cherished the monastic life so much. When ar­rested and accused she remained silent. She was beaten and abused and still she remained silent. The woman who accused her left the child at the gates of the temple to further aggravate the situation. Instead of being angry, Thi Kinh embraced the child and raised her as a daughter of the Buddha. She was so full of compassion. Only when the “monk” Thi Kinh passed away did people discover that she was really a woman and they realized the great forebearance and love she had to have with­stood such accusation and abuse. Her heart was so great. They saw she was truly an em­bodiment of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.

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If we have great happiness, we do not mind wrong accusations which come from ignorance and hatred. We hear them and yet we do not suffer. We just feel sorry for the person who says them. The reason we can bear it is because our heart is great and there­fore the paramita of inclusiveness is very im­portant. If you are still suffering a lot, it’s not only because of the other person who’s mak­ing you suffer. If you are still suffering a lot, it’s because the capacity of your heart is not very great. Cultivating the great, boundless minds of love – loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity – help us to grow our inclusiveness, so that we too may embrace and forgive, forbear and overcome obstacles in our lives, and become refreshing sources of compassion and happiness for ail beings like the bodhisattva Thi Kinh.

Excerpted from Dharma talks in Vietnanamese and English from Spring 1991 and Summer 2000. The Vietnamese talk was translated by Sister True Virtue. The talks were transcribed by Barbara Casey and edited by Sister Steadiness. 

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A Key to Peace: Listening To Myself

By Peggy Lindquist

mb38-AKey1Kwan Yin sits on my dresser. Although she has twice taken a fall and there are chips from her veil, her eyes are half closed/half open, listening to the pain of the world. She pours from her bottle a river of endless compassion. I can enter it at any time.

Since autumn of 2002, I have belonged to the Yahoo group “Deeplistening.” Inspired by Thay’s urging for us to listen deeply to the pain of the world, we share our sorrows, our frustrations, even our rage at times. We report when we are able to be calm and when we can listen to people with views different than ours. We encourage each other not to despair and to listen to the birds singing or notice the flowers blooming even when we read of injustice or of the great damage of war.

But only recently did I understand the value of listening deeply to myself. At the winter retreat in Deer Park, I was able to notice when voices arose in my consciousness. The voices were critical, fearful, anxious, doubting. They are with me all the time and have been probably since I was a child, but I have been in the habit of pushing them away. They are uncomfortable––not how I want to feel and not how I want to think of myself. They get in the way of my goals.

Reminding me of voices of children who aren’t getting the attention they need, they repeat themselves again and again and again, getting louder and louder and finally doing something destructive, or becoming silent and withdrawn. With the loving support of the Deer Park Sangha, I began to listen to the voices rather than push them away. I began to ask, “What is it?”

What I heard were stories tucked away in my consciousness from years ago, accompanied by fear, doubt, and anger. Most of these stories were so simple I found that I could just listen. For example, I discovered that when I am in a group, I am sometimes afraid of being left out. I learned that my petty criticisms of people

I don’t know often come from a fear that I am not good, smart, pretty, or likeable enough.

I have also learned to listen when I don’t feel comfortable with a plan and when I just need to stay still and quiet. Sometimes I have recognized a fear and just allowed it time to be. I have been able to be patient and let conditions for a particular course of action arise naturally without forcing them because I listened to my need to move slowly. And I have heard anger arise in me and have been able to take care of it rather than take it out on someone. (Not every time, mind you.)

These discoveries have been very rich, not frightening as I supposed they would be. The inner voices are not those of boogey men or monsters—they are more like uncertain children with something interesting to say. I have gotten to the point that, when I feel an upsetting emotion start to arise, I look forward to the journey of listening and discovering.

Thay says that in order to create peace we must listen to the suffering in the other person. He also teaches that peace begins with each of us. I am finding that deep listening is the key to creating peace within myself and that inner peace and respect create the ground for moving toward peace in the world. As I learn to listen to myself as Kwan Yin does, with an open heart of compassion, I hope I will be able to listen to the suffering of others and take part in their transformation.

If you are interested in joining our discussion, go to yahoogroups.com and register for the deeplistening group.

Peggy Lindquist, Gentle Forgiveness of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing and practices with the Joyful Refuge Sangha in Portland, Oregon.

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The Joys of Nurturing Regional Mindfulness Practice

By Jack Lawlor

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We know that practicing without a Sangha is difficult. That is why we try our best to set up Sanghas where we live. To be an Order of Interbeing member is wonderful. Wonderful, not because we have the title of OI membership but in that we have a chance to practice. As an OI member you must now begin to support a practice group or to organize one if none exists in your area. It does not mean anything to be an OI member        if you do not do this in your area. So if we know what it really means to be a Sangha-builder, an OI member, or a Dharma teacher, it is a very good thing. To receive the Mindfulness Trainings transmission and a brown jacket and decide not to build a Sangha would be like getting a student identity card at a university and not using the library or going to class, but telling people that you are a student of a very famous university. It would be very funny. Sangha building is what we do. It is the practice.
–Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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Sometimes, in the wake of receiving ordination into the Order of Interbeing, a new ordinee can feel a bit lost. New OI members express their desire to be of help but sometimes don’t know what to devote their time and energy to.

Let’s not forget Thay’s observation about the Order of Interbeing, that “Sangha building is what we do.” The need for Sangha builders—and where Sanghas already exist, Sangha nurturers—is hidden in plain sight. It is a life’s work, since there are so many needs and opportunities. There is plenty to do!

We all remember that our interest in joining the Order was to express our bodhicitta, our heart and mind of love, which aspires to practice mindfulness not only for our own sake but also for the benefit of others. As the Order’s charter describes, “With the aspiration of a bodhisattva, members of the Order seek to change themselves in order to change society in the direction of compassion and understanding by living a joyful and mindful life.”

We may have forgotten the historic interrelationship between the Order and local Sanghas, with the result that we may have not yet applied our time, energy, and talents to help nourish existing local spiritual communities or help create new ones where needed, and where doing so will not fracture an existing healthy Sangha. We may forget from time to time that the Sangha is one of the Three Jewels in the Buddhist tradition and that most of the Buddha’s life was devoted to living in the context of spiritual communities. As students of Thay we are encouraged to enjoy a Sangha-based practice and to remember that Sangha building is part of the Order’s very reason for existing. The Order’s charter states that “members are expected to organize and support a local Sangha,” and that Order members are to “help sustain Mindfulness Trainings recitations, Days of Mindfulness and mindfulness retreats.” Hopefully, Order members do these things with a frequency, buoyancy, and dedication that inspire other Sangha members.

Local Sanghas can play a key role in filling the gaps in time between our international and national retreats with Thay. They also provide important practice opportunities for those who cannot afford travel costs or obtain sufficient time off from work or family responsibilities to attend Days of Mindfulness and retreats, either in Plum Village or in the inspiring practice centers created with care and skill at Deer Park Monastery in southern California and Blue Cliff Monastery in New York State.

Sister Sanghas

So let’s be careful not to overlook resources that are reasonably local and readily available! Let’s join hands with sister Sanghas that have evolved in our vicinity, perhaps only two or three hours away. While our local Sangha may not yet have sufficient size or financial resources to organize and support a Day of Mindfulness or retreat at a rented facility, it is likely that when our local Sangha coordinates its efforts with sister Sanghas within a reasonable driving radius, we will have the ability to practice together in grace and ease. Care must be taken to ensure that the events are not too costly or placed too close together on the calendar, in an effort to include as many people as possible.

Our midwestern Sanghas have been practicing as a network of sister Sanghas for many years. Nearly twenty years ago, sister Sanghas in Illinois and Wisconsin first began working together to rent lovely facilities, some of which were surrounded by trees and wildlife, to accomplish together what may not have been feasible alone. Over the past sixteen years more than seventy “regional” multi-Sangha Days of Mindfulness and overnight retreats have been held in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, usually attracting between 60 and 100 participants per event. More and more Sanghas are joining in, including Sanghas in Minnesota and Iowa. The sincerity, joy, and ease manifested at each event are evocative of mindfulness practice at our root practice center, Plum Village. Events are facilitated by our local lay Dharma teachers and, from time to time, by visiting members of the monastic community, including Sister Annabel and Sister Jina. We’ve also enjoyed four visits by Thay.

When we hear that a developing local Sangha would appreciate help, older Sanghas are happy to provide it. However, Order members are always careful to be deferential to the modest differences in local Sangha practices that have evolved in various locations over the years, and to honor the sincerity and quality of mindfulness practice manifested by local Sangha members who have not elected to join the Order of Interbeing. After all, many local Sanghas functioned for years before joining in collective regional Sangha efforts, and their ways of doing things deserve great respect. Similarly, many local Sangha members who have not chosen to receive ordination have been practicing mindfulness wholeheartedly and consistently for decades.

Trust, Friendship, and Patience

What is the key component of regional Sangha practice? What are the secrets of success? There are a number of contributing factors, but I have come to the conclusion that trust, friendship, and patience are the key components of enduring success.

There is a beautiful term in the Pali language that describes spiritual friends: kalyana mitta. Spiritual friends share the aspiration to cultivate their bodhicitta, the seeds of wisdom and compassion within themselves, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of others. We can cooperate with each other in building successful Days of Mindfulness, retreats, and local Sanghas in a spirit of friendship and fun! We can get to know and like each other as we work on the details that make a retreat successful.

Success in regional Sangha building may also depend on the organizers’ willingness to let the process evolve in an organic way, attentive to the practitioners and local Sanghas involved, rather than trying to impose a top-down model that does not respect or understand how local Sanghas have developed over time. Those involved in local and regional Sangha building must prioritize the resolve to make mindfulness practice available to as many people as possible for the prime purpose articulated by the Buddha—the transformation of suffering. The purpose behind our efforts should be this simple, this pure. The intentions of genuine Sangha builders are described in the Avatamsaka Sutra:

Not seeking the objects of desire or positions of authority,
Wealth, personal enjoyment, or fame,
It is only to forever annihilate miseries,
And to benefit the world that they arouse their will.

Patience is another helpful ingredient. Regional Sangha building need not be approached in a spirit of rushing, but in the spirit of kalyana mitta, friends on the path, embarking on a spiritual journey together in mindfulness. Our root teacher, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, never seems to rush, not even at airports! Yet think of what he has accomplished during his time in the West, and the array of local Sanghas he has inspired that gleam like a string of pearls, like a jeweled Net of Indra across the world, deserving of our care and attention.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, has practiced in organized Sanghas since the mid-1970s. Jack was a co-founder of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, and was ordained as a Dharma Teacher by Thay in 1992. In 2000, he collaborated with Thay and Sanghas throughout the world in compiling the anthology on Sangha building entitled Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities, published by Parallax Press.

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Dharma Talk: Take Refuge in Mother Earth

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Lower Hamlet, Plum Village November 29, 2012

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Editors’ note: This is Part I of the Dharma talk from November 29, 2012.

Good morning, dear Sangha. We are in the Assembly of Stars Meditation Hall of the Dharma Nectar Temple, Lower Hamlet, in our winter retreat.

Our society is not very healthy. Therefore, many of us are sick, and we need healing and nourishment. We have intoxicated ourselves with poisons. Our mind has a lot of poisons, like craving, hate, anger, and despair. Our body also has a lot of poisons because we don’t know how to consume.

mb63-dharma2Mother Earth has the capacity to heal herself and has the capacity to help us heal if we know how to take refuge in her. When the Buddha was teaching his son, Rahula, he talked about the Earth as having the virtues of patience and equanimity. Patience and equanimity are the two great virtues of the planet Earth. If needed, Mother Earth can spend one million years or ten million years to heal herself. She is not in a hurry. She has the power to renew herself. We have to see that. If we study the history of the Earth, we know that she has had a lot of patience, and now she is a very beautiful star.

When we walk, we are aware that the Earth is holding our steps. But Mother Earth is not just below us, under our feet; Mother Earth is inside of us. To think that Mother Earth is only the environment outside of us, around us, is wrong. Mother Earth is inside of us. We don’t need to die to go back to Mother Earth. We are already in Mother Earth. That is why we have to learn how to take refuge in her. That is the best way to heal and to nourish ourselves.

Walking meditation is one of the ways to heal. Walking meditation is successful when we know how to allow the Earth to be in us and around us. Just to be aware that we are the Earth. We don’t have to do much, we don’t have to do anything at all, to get healing and nourishment. Just like when we were in our mother’s womb, we did not have to breathe, we did not have to eat, because our mother breathed for us and ate for us. We did not have to worry about anything. It is possible to behave like that now.

When you sit, allow Mother Earth to sit for you. When you breathe, allow Mother Earth to breathe for you. When you walk, allow Mother Earth to walk for you. Don’t make any effort. Allow her to do it. She knows how to do it.

When you are sitting, allow the air to enter your lungs. Allow the air to go out of your lungs. We don’t need to try to breathe in. We don’t need to try to breathe out. We just allow nature, allow the Earth to breathe in and out for us. We just sit there and enjoy the breathing in and the breathing out. There is no “you” who is breathing in and breathing out. The breathing in and the breathing out happen by themselves. Try it.

We allow our body to relax totally, without striving or even making an effort. Behave like the fetus in the womb of the mother. Allow your mother to do everything for you, to breathe, to eat, to drink. This is possible if you know how to take refuge in Mother Earth. She’s a great bodhisattva; she’s the mother of all the buddhas, all bodhisattvas, all saints. Shakyamuni is her son. Jesus Christ is also her son. We are also her sons and daughters, and we have to learn how to take refuge in her and to allow her to continue to do everything for us.

Healing Is Taking Place 

We don’t need to do anything at all. Just allow yourself to be seated; let the sitting take place. If you don’t strive to sit, relaxation will come. And you know something? When there is relaxation, healing begins to take place. There is no healing without relaxation. Relaxation means doing nothing, not trying.

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So while there is breathing in, it’s not you who is breathing in. While there is breathing out, you just enjoy it. You say, “Healing is taking place; healing is taking place.” Allow your body to renew herself, to heal herself, to be nourished. This is the practice of non-practice.

If we observe, we see that Mother Earth has the power, the capacity to heal herself and to heal us. You believe in that power, which comes from your own observation, your own experience, not something people tell you and ask you to believe in. Mother Earth can renew herself, can transform herself, can heal herself, and can heal us. That is a fact. If we recognize that fact, faith is there, and we can take refuge. We allow ourselves to be healed by Mother Earth. While sitting, we get the healing. While walking, we get the healing. While breathing, we get the healing. We do not have to do anything at all. Just surrender ourselves to Mother Earth and she will do everything.

When breathing in is taking place—I don’t want to say when you are breathing in—you say, “Nourishment is taking place; nourishment; nourishment.” Allow yourself to be nourished. You are nourished by the air, you are nourished by the sunshine, because the air is breathing you, penetrating you. And the sunshine also penetrates you. Father Sun and Mother Earth are there twenty-four hours a day for us. Even during the night, the sun is present; otherwise, we would freeze. Like Mother Earth, Father Sun is also in us, not only up there, outside us. When I wrote The Sun My Heart, I had the insight, the vision, that the sun is my heart outside of me.

If we know the practice of non-practice, we don’t have to strive or fight in order to practice. You may believe that you need a lot of medicine, a lot of exercise, to heal. But the only exercise that can heal you is the exercise of non-exercise. Allow yourself to relax and release all the tension in your body, and all the worries and the fear in your mind, because these things are preventing you from healing. Let go, release, take full refuge in the Earth and in the sun, and allow yourself to be healed. Do this in the four positions: sitting, lying down, walking, standing. Allow Mother Earth and Father Sun to penetrate you, to act for you so you can heal.

It is our experience that no healing is possible without releasing, relaxing. So when you sit, sit in such a way that you don’t have to try, you just enjoy deeply your sitting. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. I just enjoy my sitting. With a half an hour of sitting like that, you have a half an hour of healing. You enjoy every in-breath. It’s not you who are making the in-breath and out-breath. You don’t have to make an in-breath and an out-breath. It will happen by itself.

The in-breath does not need a self in order to happen. I don’t have to breathe; the breathing just happens by itself. I just enjoy. If I know how to enjoy the breathing, the breathing will become more pleasant. The quality of breathing will increase, because I don’t try to interfere and to force it.

So the sitting should be natural, without effort. The breathing also, and walking also. Don’t try to walk; just allow yourself to walk. The walking will take place without you. Only be there and enjoy, because if there is letting go and relaxation, every step is healing, every step is nourishing. No healing is possible without relaxation and letting go.

We should practice this simple thing in order to get healed and to help heal our society and the world. If you do it for one hour, you have one hour of healing. If you do it for one day, there is one day of healing. This is possible. Make it pleasant; make it healing and nourishing. Everything you do, don’t try; don’t make any effort. Take refuge in Mother Earth. She knows how to do it. She continues to do it for you, just like during the time you were in the womb of your mother.

Edited by Barbara Casey

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