Poem: A Prayer for Peace

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In beauty, sitting on a lotus flower,
is Lord Buddha, quiet and solid.
Your humble disciple,
calm and pure of heart,
forms a lotus flower with his hands,
faces you with deep respect,
and offers this heartfelt prayer:

Homage to all Buddhas in the ten directions.
Because of your love for all people,
have compassion on us.
Help us remember we are just one family,
North and South, [East and West.]
Help us rekindle our compassion and brotherhood,
and transform our seperate interests
into loving acceptance for all.
May your compassion help us overcome our hatred.
May Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s love
help the flowers bloom again in the soil of our country.
Humbly, we open our hearts to you,
so you may help us transform our karma
and water the flowers of our spirits.
With your deep understanding,
help our hearts grow light.

Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha
whose great vows and compassion inspire us.
I am determined to cultivate only thoughts
that increase trust and love,
to use my hands to perform only deeds
that build community,
to speak only words of harmony and aid.

Thich Nhat Hanh, 1965

This is an extract from a poem/prayer written by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1965.  It was used throughout South Vietnam in the “Don’t Shoot Your Own Brother” campaign to rouse the willingness to work for peace.  It was chanted and sung by young people as a means to unite their hearts and efforts to continue the work for peace.  Thich Nhat Hanh shares, “This chant aims at reconciliation and stopping the war.  It was a powerful way of working for communication.  This is something we can share with our Western friends.”

Found in Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax, 1999)

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

Dharma Talk: Knowing We Have Enough

A Dharma Talk by Sister Annabel
At Maple Forest Monastery, June 25, 2002
Photography by Jan Mieszczanek

This is enough, I know it well.
This is enough, I don’t need more.
The call of the bird
In the bleak gray sky
Is the bright pink rose in a sea of green.
This is enough.
I thought I needed more
But now I know I am so rich.
My teacher, my Sangha,
Are precious jewels.
Every moment a gem, alive or dead.
Health and sickness are precious gifts,
Doors of the practice for all to learn.
The great living beings are always there
To guard and to guide and bring us home.
You are enough, you know it well.
No need to do more, just come back home!
All that you want is already there,
Breathe and take a step to see your home!

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Dear Sangha, today is the 25th of June in the year 2002, and we are in the Buddha Hall of the Maple Forest Monastery.

This morning I tried to find a new way to walk up to the Buddha Hall from where I was sleeping, and I lost myself in the heart of the forest! I was thinking, that I should not arrive in time for the sitting meditation that morning and maybe not even for the Dharma talk! I would go a certain distance and then I would have to turn back because the path was blocked by many wild rasp-berry brambles. Suddenly, my mind became very still. I did not know why, it just happened like that. I looked  up,  and  I  saw  the  Buddha Hall. I was just below it. That experience showed me that I often think that what is going on in my mind is disconnected from what is happening in the world. I perceive something outside of my mind. But now I see that the Buddha Hall is also in my mind, and the Buddha Hall symbolizes quiet and peace. When my mind is quiet and peaceful, then the Buddha Hall manifests itself. The hall was so beautiful with the white roof against the blue sky and the sun shining on it through the trees.

Dear Sangha, the practice of tri tuc in Vietnamese, means knowing we have enough. This has become a Buddhist practice, but in fact it was taught by Confucius. Confucius said that the important thing is to know that we have enough. The expression used by Confucius has the Chinese word tri meaning to know, to have understanding, or wisdom. Knowing when we have enough is wisdom. As long as we think that we do not have enough, we shall not have enough. When we know that we have enough, we have enough.

As a Buddhist practitioner, whether monk, nun, layman, or laywoman, knowing enough is an important part of the practice. In the Christian tradition when people take what is called the vow of poverty, it also means knowing enough. This practice belongs at least to Confucianism and Christianity as well as to Buddhism. It is a practice that our world needs very much at this moment.

Knowing enough is not just knowing enough materially – which is very important – but knowing enough spiritually and emotionally, too. Knowing that we have enough materially is based on knowing that we have enough emotionally and spiritually. Often it is an emotional need which craves more material things. Our craving comes from the feeling of insecurity rather than from a material need. That is why we have to practice mindfulness of our emotions in order to reach the root of our desire for material things. I wrote a very simple song about knowing enough. (see above)

When I feel discontent I need to look deeply at my discontent in my daily life. To do this I practice sitting still. As I sit still I begin to feel satisfied with the richness of my life. It is a very gray day with no sunshine, and I could think that the gray sky is not enough, and I need to have the sunshine. I hear the bird call through the sky, and I see that the gray sky is quite enough. The gray sky holds the call of the bird. And although the sky is so gray, there’s a pink rose, it’s very bright, and the grass is very green. The gray sky shows up the pink rose and the green grass. So I feel grateful for the gray sky. Looking deeply I see that the blue sky is always behind the gray sky. So I say to myself, “Well, this is quite enough.”

My thinking in the past made me say, “I need more.” But now I understand that I’m a very rich person already. I have an enlightened, awakened person to be my teacher, to show me the way. I have the Buddha, and all the ancestral teachers. I have my Sangha. It’s the most precious thing. One reason why my Sangha, my teacher, and my ancestral teachers are so precious is because they have taught me to be able to dwell in the present moment. The present moment becomes a most wonderful gem. Every moment is a gem.

The Treasures of Sickness and Death

I could think that when someone I love dies, I don’t have enough, because I have lost the person I love. But when I live deeply the present moment, I know that without death I cannot possibly be alive. When you walk through the forest, and see the dead leaves making room for the green leaves, it is so clear. In Australia, in forests of a special kind of eucalyptus, the seeds will only open and the new trees will grow when they are subjected to intense heat. So the forest fire makes the new forest possible. Without death there cannot be life, for death is something very precious. Death is a precious gem.

In my Buddhist meditation I have learned to look deeply into my fear of death, sickness, and old age. When I say that health and sickness are precious gifts, it’s because so many people who have come to me and have been sick have told me that it is the most precious thing that has happened to them. When we stand on the outside and we look in, without the experience of the people who tell us that, we say, “How can they say that ill-health is the most precious thing?” But that is what people have said to me. When I have been sick I have always been happy to be well again. Having been sick is an opportunity for me to appreciate good health and a wonderful opportunity to begin anew my life anew.

In the past people said that children have to be sick with measles, mumps, chicken pox, to develop an immunity to these diseases and not contract them when they were older when it would be much more serious. Today scientists have developed vaccines so that it is not necessary to go through the sickness in order to be immunized. Since scientists have seen the suffering they have compassion and do not want it to continue any longer. Without suffering there cannot be compassion and without compassion there cannot be happiness. When we know how to practice when we’re sick, then sickness can become a very precious gift. Although the experience brings us painful feelings we learn so much about ourselves and the great beings are always there to guard and to guide and to bring us home.

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Faith in the Great Beings

I have faith that there are always great beings, the bodhisattvas, and I have that faith partly because I’ve recognized that in myself and all members of my sangha there’s a bodhisattva.  The doctors in Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, are bodhisattvas. They do not confine themselves to helping people in their own country, but go to the countries where there’s the least medical supply, the least favorable circumstances for curing disease. There are also teachers without frontiers. Somewhere in the world there are always great beings who can show me how to love and understand. In myself there is also that great being, although it has not yet flowered fully.

You Are Enough

You are enough, you know it well! We think that we are not enough yet. We have to be something better. We have to go somewhere, do something in order to be enough. We don’t think we are enough just as we are. Not only do we have to know that this is enough, we have to know that I am enough, or you are enough. That is also a kind of wisdom.

In Buddhism one of the doors of liberation is called wishlessness or aimlessness. It means I know that I’m enough. We have the tendency to think, “If I could do more I would be enough, I would be better. I have to be doing more all the time!” But no, we have to say that I am enough already. You don’t need to do in order to be enough. Our world needs people who are, more than people who do, right now. We’ve been taught, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” But our teacher in Plum Village says, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” Our teacher has also told us how to look deeply into what is called our habit energy. My habit energy wants me to do something, to do more. He asks us to look where that habit comes from. It partly comes from what we have been taught and it is also handed down to us from our ancestors in our consciousness.

Transforming Our Habit Energy

In Buddhism we say we do not only receive our body from our ancestors, we also receive our consciousness, because our body and our consciousness interare. Our consciousness is part of our body and our body is part of our consciousness. We inherit so much more than our bodies from our ancestors. We inherit habit energy and consciousness. Maybe our habit energy to do something comes from a time when our ancestors needed to work very hard. If I imagine that I have come from Europe to New England, and I was one of the first settlers, I would probably have to work very hard in order to be able to have enough to survive. I have to plant this, I have to store this, I have to prepare this, in order to have enough for the winter. So taking care of the future in order to survive would become a very important internal formation with me. In times of suffering and stress, we create internal formations, knots in our consciousness, which we can hand on to future generations if we don’t know how to untie those knots.

Here is an example. Plum Village is our practice center in France. Every year there is a retreat that lasts for a month. Many, many families come and practice together, children and parents. We teach the children, “When you’re angry, don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Just breathe deeply, because if you say or do something you may regret it afterwards.” Some of the children, especially those who have come every year, learn how to do that. When they feel anger come up in them they can close their eyes and breathe deeply. Closing the eyes is an important point, because as long as you look at the person who is making you angry, it waters the seed of your anger. So you close your eyes, close your ears, close everything, close your thinking, just breathe.

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In one family, the young boy had many difficulties with his father. This difficulty probably arose because his father came from a different culture than the culture the boy had been brought up in. His father had the tendency to be angry whenever the boy fell down and hurt himself. The son would say, “ I can understand my father being angry if I do something wrong, but I can’t understand my father being angry when I have done nothing wrong.” He thought that a good father would take pity on him and help him when he fell down. So he had a strong internal formation about his father.

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One day at the retreat the boy was with his younger sister. She was playing in the hammock with another little girl and the hammock tipped and they fell out. When his little sister hit the ground she cut her head and it was bleeding. The brother was standing nearby and he saw all this, and he felt very angry. He wanted to shout at her, “How stupid! Aren’t you big enough to know better?” But fortunately, he had learned to shut his eyes when he was angry. He breathed, and he walked away from the scene. He thought the best thing he could do was move away from the scene while other people took care of his little sister.

He walked into the forest slowly, he looked into his situation to realize the truth of what was happening, and he saw that this anger was his father’s anger. He didn’t want to be angry, but he was angry because he had inherited that habit energy. He then realized that the reason his father was angry with him when he fell down was because his grandmother or grandfather used to be angry with his father when his father fell and hurt himself. No one in the family had yet managed to transform this habit energy. The young boy saw that if he was not careful, when he had his own children, he would be the same, and after him his children would continue to be the same. If he could transform this habit energy in himself he would not have to hand it on to his own children. He also wanted to talk to his father about the understanding he had come to that day. When he was able to talk to his father he was able to become his father’s friend.

With mindfulness practice we can undo the knots we receive from our ancestors.   When we undo those knots we do it not only for our self, but we do it for our ancestors, because our ancestors are still alive in us, and we are their continuation. It is a simple, and essential part of our practice.

There’s no need to do any more in order to be enough. We can undo the knots of always having to be doing something. We practice for our ancestors, but we also do it for our descendants, for our children and our grandchildren. Our world needs people who are, more than people who do.

When we can be with nature, we realize how precious it is, and we automatically take good care of our environment, preserving nature. Every morning before breakfast in the Green Mountain Dharma Center Sister Susan sits outside contemplating the mountainous scenery. It does not matter what the weather is like; rain, snow and wind may come but she is still there. For her that is a time of being. She is there for the mountains and the mountains are there for her. Someone who is as close to nature as that will never take thoughtless measures which will harm the environment. Our ancestors, who had more time to be, did not behave thoughtlessly towards the environment. When we are too busy to be with nature we do not recognize how precious it is, and therefore we are not in a position to preserve the ecology of our planet earth.

Where is My Home?

You don’t need to do any more. Just come back home. A Plum Village motto is, “I have arrived, I am home.” You might like to ask, “Where is my home?”

One time the Brahmins in India came to the Buddha and they said, “In our religion we aspire to live with the Brahma, the creator-god. Can you teach us how to do that?”

So the Buddha asked them a question. He said, “What are the qualities of Brahma?”

They answered, “The qualities of Brahma are loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.”

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The Buddha told them, “If Brahma is practicing loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, and you want to live with Brahma, you will have to do the same. When you practice loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity you will already be living with Brahma.” These four qualities are called the Brahmaviharas the abodes of Brahma, and that is the address of Brahma.

The Buddha also has the qualities of compassion, love, joy and equanimity. The address of Brahma is also the address of the Buddha. In a place where these qualities abound we feel completely secure and our true home is where we feel secure. To help us develop love and joy we have to practice mindfulness. To practice mindfulness is to be able to live the present moment with deep awareness.

The Greatest Security

We have a deep insecurity. It makes us feel that we are not at home here and now, that here and now is not safe. We have to invest in the future. We have to safeguard to make sure that the future is okay, and then we’ll be secure. We sacrifice here and now for security in the future. If we look deeply at the world as it is, is there really any security? Can we guarantee our security for the future? Can anyone guarantee that security? If we look deeply we see they can’t. Do you know anybody who doesn’t die? We tell ourselves maybe, “Oh, I won’t ever die!” Do you know anyone who’s never, ever been sick? I think it would be difficult to find that person. Is there anybody who doesn’t day by day get a little bit older? All these things hap-

pen. They are the truth. They are the reality. We have to accept that.

With mindfulness we recognize that, “All that I cherish, everyone I love, is of the nature to change, and we cannot avoid being separated from each other.” That’s true. Nothing is secure. We know we have to be separated from our loved ones, and when we meditate deeply like that, it has a very positive effect. It is not negative at all. The positive effect is that we see that our loved ones will not be always be here, and so we love them even more.  We do our best for them today because we know that tomorrow may be too late.

When we practice the meditation on loving kindness we aspire first of all, “May I be happy, peaceful and light in my body and my spirit. Then we meditate: “May the one I love live in safety and security.” Finally we aspire: “May the one who has made me suffer be happy, peaceful and light in body and in spirit. We wish for all beings that they live in safety and security, because we know that is our deepest desire. We see clearly that if it is my deepest desire to be safe and secure, it must be the desire of other beings. Even of the tiny little ant.

The other day an ant crawled onto my toothbrush. I was not very happy with that ant. I wanted to clean my teeth, but there was an ant caught up in the bristles of my toothbrush! Probably there was something sweet in the toothbrush. So I banged my toothbrush rather hard to knock the ant out, and the ant fell out of the toothbrush and was quite dizzy. The ant went around and around in circles as if it was dizzy. I looked at that ant and I suddenly remembered that that morning when I woke up I had said a little poem to myself, and that poem had gone something like,

Morning, noon, and night,
all you little insects,
Please look out for yourselves.
If by chance
I happen to step on you by mistake
May you be reborn
in a pure land of great happiness.

I suddenly thought, I said that poem this morning and what did I do here? Knocked the ant till it became dizzy! I looked at the ant and I breathed on it, saying the name of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the ant said to me, “Did I really deserve to get a knock on the head like that, for crawling onto your toothbrush?” When I heard the ant say that, I had to say, “Of course you didn’t deserve it at all.” It’s very clear that even the little ants want to have safety and security. So I make a deep wish, “May all beings be in safety and security.”

The chant on happiness goes, “Although there is birth, old age and sickness, now that I have a path of practice, I have nothing to be afraid of.” The greatest security is the practice of mindfulness. I am secure because I know what I am doing, so that I’m less likely to have accidents. But accidents can always happen, even if I know what I am doing. That is part of my karma, part of the fruition of my actions, that things will not always go right. But, since I have the practice, even when things go wrong I have a kind of security. That is the security that I wish for all beings to have.

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Enjoying Conscious Breathing

That is my home, the practice of mindfulness, to be in the here and the now. If I can enjoy my breathing, I am in my true home, my Brahmavihara, my Buddhavihara. Why do I practice conscious breathing? Is it because the teacher says I have to? Is it because the Buddha says people have to practice conscious breathing? Is that why I practice it? Or do I practice my conscious breathing because I enjoy it? I feel that conscious breathing is to be enjoyed.

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One time when some of the monks were not practicing correctly, the disciple Ananda said to the Buddha, “They practice the wrong path that has brought them much suffering and brought the Sangha much suffering.” The Buddha said, “Ananda, did no one tell them how to enjoy their breathing?” Because the Buddha had so many disciples, he could not be with them all.  It was up to the eldest students like Ananda to show the younger students how to enjoy their breathing.

When we enjoy our breathing we do not expect a result in the future, because we already have the result right now. It is the same with our mindful steps; stepping into the present moment we have the result right now. We enjoy it right now. All that you want is already there. Breathe, and take a step, to see that you’re home.

This is enough. We see everyone we love, and everything we cherish as very precious, because we know that it will not always be there. As far as relative time and space are concerned they will not always be there. With conscious breathing we look even deeper and we recognize our loved ones in new forms. They just change their appearance, like the water. You may say, “Oh, my dear cloud, you’ve gone,” but in fact the cloud is still there in the rain. You go to the lake in the early morning when the sun begins to rise, you see the mists are evaporating from the surface of the lake, and that is yesterday’s rain going back to be today’s cloud again. No increase and no decrease is the teaching of the Prajnaparamita and that is why what we have is enough.

Sister True Virtue (Sister Annabel) is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. Transcribed by Greg Sever. Jan Mieszczanek practices photography in her homeland of Poland. She says, “I met Thay one lazy, warm and sunny day. I was sitting in my garden and I was reading Peace is every step. That was a five years ago. Today I take a lot from Buddhism. I try to help the people around me, including myself, my two daughters, and my grandson to find happiness.”

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Poem: Container of Compassion

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my teacher once asked me,
how can we package compassion,
wrap it up in a small parcel
to sell at the local grocery store?

carefully, I looked at the tree before me,
are you a package of compassion?
she stood silently,
leaving no room for doubt.

this morning, sitting,
the sky growing light,
i set my mind on compassion.
can my mind be a container of compassion?
a parcel of loving kindness?
can my breath be a solid, tangible
manifestation of compassion?

quietly i sat
allowing the mind of love and understanding
fill me, nourish me
the love of my teacher
the love of the air
the understanding that embraces a sister i struggle with,
an offering of peace.

my mind journeys to a recent day,
walking along the road leading to
the cliffs and ocean below.
with each person i pass,
i allow my heart to open lightly
some look easily, friendly
we say, “hi”
others caught in their thinking
not available to look each other
briefly in the face.

the dance of moving closer,
looking down, up, over
then allowing our eyes to meet
a warming of our faces, a half smile
sometimes a bow
and i pause, my two feet next to each other
giving space to our greeting
heads lowered, then a brief smile
eyes touch and we continue our paths.

can we walk all through the day,
the evening and the night
and allow our fresh hearts to greet each living being?

and as we greet the people, animals, plants and minerals
along our path, above and below
shall we also meet the subtle beings,
the mental beings –
our thoughts, our feelings,
our perceptions and our consciousness
with kindness, with warmth, and equanimity

and perhaps we may become containers of compassion,
parcels of light for each other.

sister steadiness, 2001

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Letter from (one of) the Editors

Dear Brothers and Sisters on the path,

in this moment my heart is clear,
not because i have attained much understanding,
not because i am able to love all without discrimination. my heart is clear because i have a path to go.

a path that is rich and full of learning,
with many companions to support me and protect me. i know that i am best protected by our practice,
by our capacity to calm, to embrace suffering and pain to bridge the chasms of separation and fear,
to relax into connection.

dear friends, dear companions,
i am aware of your presence, of your sincerity and care.

i am in touch with a source of peace, a source of energy,
not dependent on the great elements of earth, air, water and fire.
yet not independent.
our energy arises from our aspirations,
our sincere wish to understand, to love, to hold as one.

i touch the earth, i touch my life source with gratitude, with concentration,
with joy.
and i am nourished,
to continue. to grow. to love.
i acknowledge my weaknesses, my mistakes
and i make the vow to lay all my suffeing on the earth,
to transform everything i have received from my ancestors,
from my society into a great source of peace and presence.

dear brothers and sisters,
please enjoy this small booklet in your hands.
it is an offering to you.
it is an opportunity to meet your friends on the path of practice,
to smile to each other,
to simply acknowledge each other’s presence,
as real.

peacefully, your sister steadiness

July 8th, 2003

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Poem: The Song of the Wind

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As the wheels leave the miles behind
in a flash of lights in the darkness

As the scene of the quiet night
floats past the windows

I want to be the humming of the engine
and the song of the rushing wind

My body throbs with the vibrations
I can feel the breathing of my fellow travelers.

The wind carries the breath of the world,
singing of love, and love only.

I am the song of the wind,
and nothing else.

Sankar Sitaraman is a member of the Washington Mindfulness community. He is a math professor at Howard University, and is originally from India.

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Poem: The flower

blooming opening with joy
to the caressing light of the sun
My petals extend

one
by
one
delighting in the warmth, the fragrance,
and beauty of being alive

Deep within
a sweet nectar is gurgling
rising slowly

Oh! I want only to offer
and offer
and offer again
all my sweetness
fragrance and beauty

Take me! Take me!
I am yours!
Please enjoy me, drink me
it is my sole desire
my deepest longing

I am full, so fresh
brimming over

Sister Chan Chau Nghiem, True Adornment with Jewels, is a nun in Deer Park Monastery, CA.

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Poem: Walking Meditation with Crows

By David Percival

More than Light
This cold gray morning under heavy dark clouds,
sudden brilliant beams from over the mountains
leave this corridor ablaze, yellow fall leaves like fire,
adobe walls glow in unnatural light.
I stop and breathe in this present surreal moment
and wonder who else sees this luminous display,
but only crows diving and frolicking as they fly to the east.
Minutes later it is gone and I walk on down the alley
under a gloomy overcast sky
and smile at a ragged man looking for cans in the trash.

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Walking Meditation
Slow walking around the Zendo.
Turning the corner to the west
a cold wind slaps my face mindfully.
The sky at dusk, a deep shade of red.
To the south, the cemetery
hosts hundreds of swooping crows
dancing in the air above tall trees,
squawking at each other endlessly,
finally settling on bare branches for the night.
I pause to savor the colors and the circling crows
then turn and walk on into the wind.
(in the Japanese Waka style)
Tall Zen Center walls
don’t shield from the radio next door
or smells of cooking meat.
We walk on under playing crows.
This is our world, the Dharma.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, is a founding member of Rainbow Sangha in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and offers marketing support for the Mindfulness Bell.

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Plover Mind

By Michael Petracca

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I unlock the plover shed, a cinder block storeroom atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific.  Through the shed’s salt filmy window, the sea looks glassy under a thick batting of overcast. Rust-colored kelp undulates slowly at low tide. Pelicans glide parallel to shore, pull up abruptly, plunge, splash. No surf to speak of today. The shoreline appears empty, save two black turkey buzzards pecking at a dead thing far up the beach.

over the kelp
beds ragged line of pelicans
like smoke in still air

The faded, once-blue canvas daypack is heavy. It holds: birding binoculars; brown data clipboard and research data entry sheets; spare dog leashes; cell phone; economy tube of sunscreen; several ocean-rounded rocks for scaring crows, who enjoy plucking eggs from plover nests like bonbons from a box; docent procedure manual in white three-ring binder; stack of Coal Oil Point Reserve flyers.

The flyers explain that the Snowy Plover Docent Program started in 2001, to help save the plovers from extinction, and “to raise awareness in the local community of the importance of the preservation of this species and its habitat.” They say that the Reserve is the only area where plover breeding has been recovered through management efforts and a strong volunteer docent program. I heft the pack over one shoulder, pick up the sighting scope and its tripod, and make my way down the crumbling shale bluff that overlooks Coal Oil Point Reserve.

foggy fall dunescape:
seaweed, sodden driftwood,
tern tracks in wet sand

Heading west, down the dunes and toward the roped-off Reserve. Workboots sink deep, thighs burn, breath comes deep and slow. Suddenly, a trick of the eye. The sandscape appears to move, as though the beach ahead were its own small geologic plate in earthquake time. A whole sheet of sand shifting away from me. It can’t be the wind; there is none. I look again. Snowies! What appeared at first glance as empty beach is actually a flock of our puffball charges, each hunkered down in a human heel print, perfectly hidden from view. My approach caused the flock to move en masse, from one heel print to the next, and as I approach slowly so as not to scare the birds into flight, the flock gradually moves from heel print to heel print, finally taking up temporary residence on the other side of the ropes, inside the Reserve perimeter.

cold autumn windstorm—
each small shorebird takes refuge
in a heel print hole

Plovers don’t know that they’re on a list of creatures whose existence on this planet hangs by a fraying thread. They don’t know that we docents are on the beach to protect them, or that the ropes mark a safe zone for them. Consequently, they rarely thank us (although their peet-peet cries, as they veer and wheel overhead, come as a blessing), and they pay no heed to the ropes.

In fact, plovers will occupy any territory that seems friendly at the moment. For short-term shelter, plovers will sometimes choose the bunker-like protection of uneven terrain over the more exposed flat of the Reserve. But if there were no roped area, there would be no plovers … or a lot fewer of them. For more than a decade before the Docent Program was implemented, breeding had completely stopped here, due to foot traffic—mainly students and their dogs—and the encroachment of non-native ground cover, which reduced the amount of camouflage-protective sand. Last year, after habitat restoration and the implementation of the docent program, we had fourteen nests, and nine plover chicks hatched and fledged.

blue sky, cirrus cloud,
small crew of westering gulls,
warm sun on dark cloth

The fog is burning off, and the foghorn has ceased its reedy moan. Reaching the eastern boundary of the Reserve, I open the tripod, set up the scope, and sight through it. At 32X magnification the far end of the Reserve looks like the moon’s surface. Hummocky terrain littered with small boulders. I pan the scope until some shorebirds come into sight. At first, a few non-endangered whimbrels and gulls loitering … then, finally, a small assembly of plovers, some motionless on sand, others darting quickly, pecking, and beach-running. I fix the scope on a still one, turn the fine-focus wheel until the plover comes into clarity. Around five inches long, stocky, whitish-tannish upper body and darker patches on the upper breast, short black legs. Eyes closed, dreaming of … what? Plover mind: Zen-empty?

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I look around, take a deep, slow breath. Happy to be here, cleansed momentarily of thought. Plover mind. The air at Coal Oil Point smells like the air nowhere else. Salt mixes with a pungent smell of tar, due to natural offshore seepage that lends Coal Oil Point its name.

one seagull feather—
sandy, matted with dried tar,
tangled in seagrass

In the very old days, the Chumash used to make good use of the seepage. They used tar to caulk their thirty-foot redwood tomols, which they paddled up and down the coast and out to the Channel Islands for fish, abalone, and pleasure cruises. They wove grasses into twine bottles and coated them on the inside with beach tar to make them watertight.

More recently the oil companies arrived to tap the offshore petroleum reservoirs. Oil gets produced at the 7,500 ton Platform Holly, two miles offshore but very visible from the beach: by day, a stumpy, stilted erector-set box that intrudes on the gentle arc of the horizon; by night, an Orc-castle of twinkling lights and occasional gas-jet flares. At another site a mile east of the platform, natural methane is caught by two “seep tents,” massive steel pyramids installed by ARCO a couple of decades ago. A three-mile-long plexus of pipes and buoys connects Platform Holly and its neighboring seep tents with the Ellwood Oil & Gas Processing Facility just up the coast. Harbor seals have taken up permanent residence on every single buoy, and when wind is blowing just right, Coal Oil Point Reserve sounds like an overcrowded kennel at feeding time.

broken pismo shell
half-covered with sand, seagrass,
crawling with sand flies

Coal tar is everywhere at Coal Oil Point, and if you walk the beach for fifteen minutes your feet will be covered. I take a seat on the fold-out nylon/aluminum chair and as I start entering data on the record sheet, a sixty-something human beach-runner with beat-up straw hat, cut-off jeans and sturdy calves rounds Devereux Point. He heads up the beach, sees me and stops to look through the scope. “Nice birds,” he says when the plovers come into focus. He looks up. “But what’s the point? I mean, if it’s their time to go, then why fight it? That’s evolution.”

His voice carries no tone of challenge. He really wants to know.

Reasonable question. No one would dispute that human presence has a devastating impact on the world and its passengers. However, species were dying off long before we arrived on the scene. Volcanoes belched sulfurous fog, ice blanketed the continents, hurricanes raged, oceans rose, lakes dried, colliding asteroids ushered in eons of sunless cold … all with attendant extinctions. A millennial winter here, a grossly overpopulating and morbidly polluting human species here and now: all engines of evolution. Natural selection is nothing if not natural. If plovers are destined to go the way of the pterodactyl, why fight it?

unpeopled sand dunes
right out of prehistory—
jet fighter rises

For replies to the beach-runner’s question, you can dab at a broad palette of viewpoints. The utilitarian: plovers don’t provide fuel oil or good eatin’—no big loss if we lose some insignificant white puffballs. The ecological: nature exists in a delicate balance, and losing seemingly insignificant species may have dire effects that we can’t foresee. The eco-philosophical: all non-human and human life have inherent value, and we humans—as stewards of the planet—have a responsibility to protect this richness and diversity. The deep-deep ecological: keep the plovers, lose the people. The fatalist: our humble nearby star, the sun, will go red giant in a few billion years, rendering this whole planetary experiment moot … so why bother saving anything? The words of my beloved: save the plovers because they’re cute!

white heron standing
stockstill in wind-ruffed salt marsh
dips its head sharply

What I tell the beach-runner comes from docent training: “Plovers have been here much longer than people. They stopped breeding because of people and their dogs, and coastal development. I just want to give them a chance to come back.”

“Well, I’m glad somebody’s doing this,” the beach-runner says.

“Me, too!” I’m cheerful. The Plover Manual also recommends that docents “make an effort to be helpful and friendly at all times.” Sound advice, and not just on a bird reserve.

“Have a good one,” the beach-runner calls over his shoulder as he resumes jogging.

On my own again, I take out the Norton Haiku Anthology I often bring to my plover shift to read after I finish my research duties. Like breathing meditation or Vietnamese kinh hanh (slow-walking meditation) practice, haiku puts me in a state of mind in which the senses are fully awake, the mind engaged in the instant. Today I read Issa, the eighteenth century Japanese hermit-wanderer.

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The toad! It looks like
it could belch
a cloud.

That wren—
looking here, looking there.
You lose something?

What good luck!
Bitten by
This year’s mosquitoes, too.

I close the book and walk down the beach, along the length of the plover exclosure. Reading haiku on the beach sometimes has the effect of turning the mind into a random verse generator. It primes the literary pump, seventeen-syllable shortforms springing to mind and page unbidden and fully formed. Today words come:

sodden redwood burl
smooth and dark-stained by ocean
looks like a cow skull

green fuzzy spongeform
rolls along the low tide line—
what the heck are you?

Haiku has everything to do with process, not with award-winning outcome. The joyful surprise in a momentary sense impression, a serene reflection on the inseparability of writer and world, the bittersweet awareness that this blissful and/or painful and/or utterly mundane moment will pass, along with this life, this planet, this warm sun, this material plane … these are the currency of haiku.

The Zen potter spends a lifetime perfecting her craft. After decades of kneading, pounding, wetting, turning, and glazing with the warrior’s impeccable single-minded focus, she produces an admirably proportioned, phyllo-thin and delicately glazed bowl. She fires it, admires it, then throws it lovingly against the wall, breaking it into a thousand tinkling shards. Perfect and nothing special; throw another. The process.

Therein lies the deeper answer to the beach-runner’s question. The goal of helping threatened animals may be a worthwhile one. Likewise, the outcome of volunteer work may be immensely gratifying, as when birds return to breed where they had stopped nesting. But the mitzvah lies in the simple act of being present. Every Tuesday I make it my priority to sit with birds. Through fog, rain, sickness, surgery, tight work schedules, and final exams, each docent comes because it’s good to be here.

a broth of dolphins
feeding just outside the kelp
gulls screech overhead

My shift is up, and I make my way back toward civilization.

walking up the beach
up the soft, crumbling shale bluff
only my footprints

Michael Petracca, True Attainment of Realization, sits with the Stillwater Sangha in Santa Barbara, California, and teaches in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Poem: Above Saigon

By Phap Tue

Above Sai Gon
and the honk of horns
the silent sky, where
Two shark kites flutter
from the rooftops tethered
vying high above the city
among the twitter of bats
and one kite
with three tails
tugs and rises on waves of wind
like a dancing lady
amidst the streaks
of rose-colored sky

mb35-Above1In the darkening light
a boy on a nearby rooftop
still gathers string
to raise his eagle kite
on currents of wind

I tell you,
the peace of Saigon
is on the rooftops
where little fragrant gardens gather
and eyes touch the peace
of the sky again
and kites, even at dusk
sway above the darkening earth

These are messengers:
and all children
young or old
meet in a silent
and secret dance
from rooftop to rooftop
and silent height to silent height
as swallows in eaves
or doves at dusk

The stars appear
slowly and dim
one shark kite still sways
above the darkness
to meet the stars
advancing toward the west
and this last kite
and all those who meet at night
are the freedom of a people
greater than any flag.

Thay Chan Phap Tue currently lives at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

An altar in the alley in Da Nang, Vietnam by Gary Richardson, Chan Dieu Hanh.

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Poem: The Oracle

mb36-TheOracle1Celebration of Tet, 2004

Stop.
Drop everything
except your breath
and walk toward the altar
like a bride
advancing toward her beloved.
Sit on your cushion
tall and serene,
concentrating
until your heart’s desire
burns in your chest
like a glowing ember.
Then lay yourself
face down
on the earth,
letting the hard shell
of your mind
crack open,
spilling its arrogance
into the soil.
When you are empty,
stand up.
Breathe three times.
In. Out.
In. Out.
In. Out.
Then leap
into the wishing well.
From the other side
of time,
deep at the bottom
of the well,
a poet will raise his arms,
catching your fall.
His love will lift you
back into time,
holding a ticket to joy.
This ticket
bears a number
that corresponds to a door.
Find this door
and open it.
On the other side
is a path.
Do not hesitate.
There is no mistake.
This is your path.
Straight ahead,
the object of your desire
reaches out
to take your hand.

Emily Whittle, True Wonderful Happiness, lives in Red Springs, North Carolina and practices with the Healing Springs Community of Mindful Living.

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Poem: Cucumbers

The cucumber slice stares back at me,
starburst mandala of seeds and flesh.
I fork it slowly into my mouth,
aware of arm, muscle, movement,
the glint of sunlight on the fruit,
then its coolness in my mouth.
How many cucumbers have I eaten in my life?
I think of cucumber and tomato salads
with red onions and feta cheese,
of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
eaten on creekside summer picnics
with my wife and children and friends,
of countless salads
punctuated by cucumber chunks.
How little respect I’ve shown this humble food.
How rarely I’ve seen what it really is,
this smooth green tube of encased coolness:
my body, my arm lifting the fork,
my heart loving this life, that very love.

Bob Speer, True Silent Voice, lives in Chico, California and practices with the Slowly Ripening Sangha.He was ordained into the Order of Interbeing during the winter retreat.

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Poem: Dixon Lake

mb36-Dixon1The trail of silent walkers
winds across the valley
like a lazy snake.

Sage blesses us with her fragrance,
while solemn stone friends witness
our peacefulness.

We arrive step by step
one after another
at the watery oasis.

Ducks race each other across the lake
over and over
going nowhere
like my busy mind.

A pair of regal pelicans glides by
slowly
bringing my attention
deep into the water’s flow.

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Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action, lives in Redding, California and practices with the River Oak Sangha. She was ordained into the Order of Interbeing at the winter retreat.

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Poem: Feelings

My heart is blushing red
I have cried for you once, I will not
cry for you twice
How I miss you
My heart is heart broken
Somewhere deep in your heart I
I know you love me so much
I am waiting
I can feel your heart wanting me.

mb36-Feelingsakira Traub is seven years old and lives in Hove, England.  She loves animals, yoga, and miso soup.  Her mother tells us that she is dealing with painful feelings following her parents’ divorce through words and music. She is a prolific reader, loves to write poetry, and has begun playing the violin.

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Vietnam Journal

When Thich Nhat Hanh left Vietnam in 1966 to teach in the United States, he told his friends that he would be back in three months. Thirty-nine years later, he has finally returned. As Thay said in the letter he wrote to the Sangha before the trip, he left as a single cell and returned as a Sangha body. Along with the one hundred monks and nuns from Plum Village, approximately three hundred lay people from dozens of countries had the privilege of accompanying Thay.

Many of them generously shared their writings and photos with the Mindfulness Bell—we wish we had room to print everything! Look for more impressions in prose, poetry, and pictures in the fall issue.

In a Dharma talk upon his return to Plum Village, Thay said that anyone who was on the journey, especially for the whole three months, was transformed. Each day was packed full of activities, even though Thay reported that he had to turn down ninety-five percent of the invitations he received. Like a delicious, heavy meal, it takes time to digest. “We need to give ourselves at least six months,” he says.

Time will tell what miraculous transformations take place—within each participant in the journey, in the people of Vietnam, in Buddhism worldwide, in our Sangha. Brother Phap Luu has called the journey “Thay’s Magical Mindfulness Tour.” The miracle of mindfulness continues to unfold.

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A Letter from Thay to the Sang­ha Members Going to Vietnam

January, 2005

As the date of our departure to Vietnam approaches, I would like to express my joy and gratitude to all of you for joining me on this historic trip. Our three-month visit will be an offering to the land and people in Vietnam; therefore as a Sangha we would like to offer our best.

When I left Vietnam thirty-nine years ago to come to the West to call for a ces­sation of the hostilities in my country, I was like a cell of the Sangha body, taken out of that body. If I did not dry up after a few years of being in exile, that is because my practice was to carry the Sangha body in myself. And there was not one day when I did not try to build a Sangha.

While talking and working with friends in Europe and America, I naturally shared the practice, and we always tried to incorporate the practice of mindfulness in our work. I have been able to regenerate a full fourfold Sangha from a single cell. I am therefore going home not as a Sangha cell any more, but as a whole Sangha body. And you are my body.

Vietnam is a beautiful land and a beautiful people, and we shall have the opportunity to contemplate many beautiful things. These will include walking meditation by the Ho Guom lake (Lake of the Returning Sword), climbing Yen Tu Mountain where King Nhan Tong practiced as a monk, and visiting Halong Bay which is considered to be the most fantastic landscape in Asia. Wherever we go, we will practice dwelling happily in the present moment, radiating peace and loving kindness around us. Those of us who stay in hotels will consider our hotel as a practice center, walking, talking, sitting, and eating in mindfulness. All of us will be closely observed, especially by secret agents, who will be able to appreciate our wholesome energy and certainly will profit from it.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete expression of our practice. There will be no consumption of tobacco, meat, or alcohol; no talking while walking; etc. As we practice to be the Sangha body of the Buddha, we are also the body of Thay at the same time. Those of us who are Dharma teachers or Dharma teachers in training will make sure that the practice of the Sangha body is solid, fresh, and joyful. We shall certainly make many people happy with our presence and practice.

When I left Vietnam thirty-nine years ago to come to the West to call for a ces­sation of the hostilities in my country, I was like a cell of the Sangha body, taken out of that body. If I did not dry up after a few years of being in exile, that is because my practice was to carry the Sangha body in myself. And there was not one day when I did not try to build a Sangha.

While talking and working with friends in Europe and America, I naturally shared the practice, and we always tried to incorporate the practice of mindfulness in our work. I have been able to regenerate a full fourfold Sangha from a single cell. I am therefore going home not as a Sangha cell any more, but as a whole Sangha body. And you are my body.

We’ll be together in a few days

Thay


Hanoi
January 12 to January 22

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Thay’s Arrival in Hanoi

We all got up at four a.m. to meet Thay and the Plum Village Sangha at Hanoi airport. We arrived to crowds, and more and more people kept coming: monks in bright yellow robes, lots of people with cameras, old men and women wearing amazing regional costumes.

When Thay entered the arrivals hall total mayhem ensued: everyone surged forward, trying to get a glimpse of Thay, who was tightly surrounded by a pair of monks to keep him from being trampled. People threw flowers, climbed on chairs, pushed and pulled, while three film crews tried to get their footage, and countless cameras flashed.

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Arriving at Bo De Temple, where Thay and the monastics stayed, rows of people lined the road leading to the temple. As Thay passed they threw flowers, and chanted, and bowed deeply —not just for Thay, but also for us, which was a strange experience. So much devotion!

For me, the most moving moment happened a couple of hours later, when Thay was walking in the temple grounds with Sister Chan Khong and the abbot of Thay’s root temple in Hue. Thay squatted between the cabbages planted around the stupas, picked up some earth and let it flow through his hands, remarking that it was the first time in nearly forty years that he was able to touch the earth of his homeland. The abbot started to cry and I couldn’t stop myself from joining him.

—Evelyn Van de Veen, Shining Strength of the Heart, Amsterdam

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mb39-Vietnam6Northern Vietnam

Vietnamese country scenes
Rice paddies and lakes
Big French style homes
And muddy shacks

In rain and cold
Unexpected weather
In farms and cities
People work so hard

Road construction
Buildings go up
In fortune of peace
Vietnam smiles

—Joy Magezis, True Wonderful Commitment, Cambridge, England

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What It Means

Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam is about importing the Buddhism he built in the West. When Thay came to the U.S. to try to stop the war, he already had a record of developing practices and approaches that would revitalize Buddhism and meet the real needs of people, both spiritual and material. It was labeled engaged Buddhism, a term that has become synonymous with Thay and his teaching.

Thay started the Order of Interbeing and the School of Youth for Social Service, a kind of Buddhist domestic Peace Corps, where volunteers studied medicine and nursing, economics, agriculture, and architecture and construction. They then went to live in rural villages to help with grassroots development. Thay was not popular with the Buddhist establishment of the time, nor the government. Not taking sides, speaking out against injustice, calling for change got him thirty-nine years in exile, which ended when he landed in Hanoi on January 12.

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Our job, one hundred monastics and ninety lay persons, was to display Thay’s Buddhism: gender equality; Sangha-centered decision making; lay persons who practice as well as support practice; close and happy relationships among lay and monastic Sangha members; engaged practice; enthusiastically embracing what can be learned from other traditions. These are all new and radical things in Vietnam. A Vietnamese member of the delegation told me, “You are the message. Educated westerners practicing and walking mindfully, that’s the news, that’s what gets the attention, that’s what gives Thay added credibility.”

—Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, Missoula, Montana

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First Days in Hanoi

The trip is starting to find its own rhythm: getting up around 4:30 a.m., having breakfast (sometimes on the bus), and visiting an average of four temples and shrines each day. We are met with exceptional warmth and kindness: people lining the streets, schoolchildren singing, women throwing flowers, followed by a sumptuous meal.

—Evelyn Van de Veen

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Letting Love

The Vietnamese are giving us a profound teaching with the abundance of love that they offer so effortlessly. Accepting it is easier when we look deeply and see that each one of us represents the love and wisdom that Thay generated over his forty years in exile. To the people who have been without their master, we are a walking, breathing, smiling testament to his life’s work. When I think of myself as capable of being a vessel for peace and wisdom, I feel for the first time that I can receive what comes from other people’s hearts and be deserving of it.

I find myself moving with marked slowness after seeing Thay pass by, because his formless beauty awakens the same in me. At times I find myself moving like him, curling my lips with ease like him, speaking with gentleness like him, and it is in these moments that I have come home. I am not so distinctly me or him; I am a vessel of stillness that is as quiet as a boat on a waveless ocean. Perhaps this is what the Vietnamese see—so many offerings of peace flowing in a river to their temples, warm with burning incense, into their hearts and palms pressed together in prayer.

—Kate Cummings, Asheville, North Carolina

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Saigon
January 22 to February 18

A Sea of Monks and Nuns

There was a Day of Mindfulness at Vinh Nghiem Temple, an enormous, modern place with a grand stair­case leading up to a huge Buddha statue. The turnout in the south is even bigger than in the north, with a sea of grey robes and bare scalps, packed in knee to knee.

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Thay’s tone today was light-hearted and informal. Addressing the Vietnamese monastics, he told about many of the practices at Plum Village, such as shining the light, using Sangha eyes, not going out alone, doing everything together, and working through a democratic system. “Our abbots are not so busy; mostly what they do is drink tea,” he said.

—Alissa Fleet, Boundless Transformation of the Heart, Berkeley, California

Sacred Ground

Thây told us that Dharma Cloud Temple (Chua Phâp Van) is on sacred ground. More than forty years ago Thây designed and built the original thatch-hut temple, and the first classes of the School of Youth for Social Service were held here in 1964. Two years later, the first members of the Order of Interbeing were or­dained here. “Phâp Van is the cradle of engaged Buddhism,” says Thây. He describes the beautiful memorial garden where victims of war-time violence are honored: Nhat Chi Mai, one of the original members of the Order of Interbeing, who immolated herself for peace; the two people killed in a grenade attack on the temple; the eight social workers who disappeared, presumed dead; and the four social workers who were shot. “I could no longer cry. I had engaged them and now they were killed.” Thây then reads the letter that Nhat Chi Mai wrote to him before her death; he tells us that Nhat Chi Mai’s sister is in the audience, and even he does not keep the tears from his voice. Then he reads some of his poems.

—Janelle Combelic, Sweet Wisdom of the Heart, Loubès-Bernac, France

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My Teacher Is In Me

In the Dharma talk today, Thay spoke at length about how our parents and grandparents are in us, in every cell of our body, that all our ancestral teachers are in us, as well as our teacher in this lifetime. Afterwards, wandering among the people in the temple courtyard, I was approached by a woman who bowed and offered me a book of Thay’s to sign. (A few of his books are being published, legally, in Vietnamese for the first time). It was open at the title page, and with pen in hand, she insisted that I sign the book! I laughingly resisted, until I remembered–– Thay is in me. This woman understood that, and was happy for me to sign the title page, since he could not. So, I happily signed my Vietnamese Dharma name, Chan An Dinh, True Concentration on Peace.

—Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace

Heaven on Earth

We took a bus out of Saigon and visited Bat Nha (Prajna Temple). This was among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. To get there, we drove for two hours through wild, green mountains that rose up dramatically on either side of the winding, two-lane road. Arriving at the temple, we stepped into a utopia deep in tea and coffee plantations. Sloping fields full of tea bushes drop on all sides of this gorgeous refuge, making an almost flat, lush, waist-high green carpet of landscape. The air smelled like jasmine, and red earth paths circled in and around the grounds. From a speaker somewhere, voices were chanting with bells, the effect being nothing short of celestial.

We spent one day and night here, sleeping on the floor in buildings ringing the main temple. I awoke before sunrise to the steady, deep sound of a single drum heartbeat, then heard male voices chanting. I walked outside into the warm air following the sound and entered the temple. Twenty saffron-robed Theravadan monks visiting from Thailand were greeting the day. I sat in back on the smooth marble floor for almost an hour, listening, breath­ing, absorbing the sense of unity that voice, drum, and quiet early morning created among us. This place, Prajna Temple, deep in Vietnam’s tea fields, is a bit of heaven on earth.

—Lisa Haufschild

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Love Food

I have never had such delicious, sim­ple, lovingly prepared food.

At Phap Van, our main temple in Sai­gon, food was prepared by the nuns. On temple visits, the women prepare beautiful things. We have had banana leaves folded origami style into octagon shaped boxes holding a coconut tapioca square. Sesame squares are in handmade packets wrapped in colorful gift-wrapped cellophane. Tan­gerines, the sweetest I’ve ever had, are stacked and wrapped. This is not restaurant food. It is love food.

—Lisa Haufschild

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Transformation

By the last evening, people know that Phap Van is no longer an ordinary neighborhood temple where you smoke cigarettes and offer a cursory handful of in­cense. You can now hear children singing “Breathing In, Breathing Out” and “Here Is the Pure Land.” When something wonderful happens on stage, people know to wave their hands in the air rather than applaud. And when the bell is invited, there is a long moment of settling and quieting. A transformation has clearly happened here: people are listening to the talks with a deeper stillness now.

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The local practitioners sit beautifully, some with their eyes closed, their hands folded before them. They listen peacefully as Thay delivers his farewell: teach­ings on interbeing; no coming, no going; no birth, no death. He holds up a sheet of paper, he strikes a match, he watches as the flame goes out. Where did it go? With deep intimacy, Thay speaks directly to each person: some day you might hear that I am deceased. And you might think I am gone. But all you need to do is look deeply to see that I am still here.

—Alissa Fleet


Hue
February 18 to March 15

Thay’s Return to Tu Hieu Pagoda

Walking in long lines in silence we made our way towards the temple entrance. We heard drums in the distance, and tradi­tional Vietnamese music. We were surrounded by trees, the leaves glistening in the damp late morning air. The route was lined with people holding Buddhist flags, flowers, and paper lotuses contain­ing candles. Some cried silently; no one said a word. After fifteen minutes we arrived at an archway, above which a sign said, ‘The Tu Hieu Temple Welcomes the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh and the International Delegation from Plum Village’.

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Ahead of me I could see the Half Moon Pond. As Thay stood opposite me, he turned, looked at the pond and said to one of the monastics, “Am I dreaming or is this real?” “It is real, dear Thay,” came the reply.

—Sita Ramamurthy, Compassionate Understanding of the Heart, London

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Heaven

Tu Hieu Temple, set in the forest a few miles from town, is where Thay became a monk at the age of sixteen. Our ancestral teacher, Master Nhat Dinh built the hermitage which served as the starting point of this temple in the middle of the nineteenth century. He was a highly respected abbot at a larger temple, but when his mother became ill he decided to find a place to build a small hermitage and take care of her. He found this place, crawling with tigers and thick with forest. Undaunted, he made a little hut for himself and another for his mother. Despite his intentional isolation, disciples found him and eventually it expanded into a monastery.

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Returning to his childhood home and learning more about his teacher, we are all beginning to understand Thay in a wonderful new way. A remarkable thing is happening — he is looking younger each time I see him. We were told his teacher also began to look markedly younger during the last years of his life. The happiness on Thay’s face makes us all glow.

—Kate Cummings

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Releasing the Fish

One day the delegation piled into seven boats painted red and yellow with dragon-headed prows. For two hours we floated up the wide and languorous Perfume River, through a landscape of brilliant green forest dotted with the occasional pagoda, vil­lage, or cornfield. On the way back, we stopped in the middle of the river across from Thien Mu Pagoda, one of the most famous landmarks in Vietnam. The dragon boat captains maneuvered to face upstream all in a row, anchored, and roped their boats together side by side. From the prow of the central boat, a senior monk led the Ceremony Releasing the Fish. After the monastics chanted the ritual, a monk took a fish out of a tub bubbling with big catfish and ceremoniously released it into the river. Then dozens of squirm­ing fish were given their freedom, more and more, finally whole buckets of them dumped into the water. Such joy!

—Janelle Combelic

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Walking Meditation

Thay and the fourfold Sangha practiced walking meditation through central Hue, Hanoi, and Saigon. In Hue, the traffic was confined to the left side of the busy streets as we walked on the right half. The pavements were lined with people with palms joined. Hundreds more joined the walking meditation along the way until we were a body of many hundreds. This, for me, was a powerful expression of Thay’s teaching that society cannot thrive on economic advancement alone, but needs to have a spiritual dimension.

—Barbara Hickling, True Wonderful Land, Plymouth, Devon, England

mb39-Vietnam23Engaged Buddhism

While the monastics held a one-week retreat at Tu Hieu Tem­ple thirteen lay Dharma teachers led us in a lay retreat. Every day ninety of us came to the Dieu Nghiem nunnery next to Tu Hieu, for sitting and walking meditation, Dharma talks and discussions. The week was a sweet respite from the sometimes befuddling intensity of the pilgrimage. One afternoon we were joined by a dozen Vietnamese members of the Order of Interbeing, including some who had been part of the School of Youth for Social Service, founded by Thay in 1965, as a helping arm of Van Hanh University. Through the war, through the brutal years of communist rule since 1975, often working underground, they have continued feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, educating the poor.

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Describing their work over the past forty years and continuing today, they told us: There are many people not cared for by anyone so we build schools and hospitals to care for them. After 1972, lots of people in the South were evacuated so those who remained grew crops to help feed the rest. A lot of blood and sweat was shed on those lands to grow crops. After 1975 all operations were terminated by the government so we stopped officially for several years but continued working underground. In 1985 we received from Plum Village, packages of medicine to sell so we could buy rice to give to people in poor areas.

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Thay has taught us not to be attached to the political system, so when the government officials ask us to stop, I tell them that we only work in the spirit of loving our people and our country. We can continue because of the nurturing support of the Buddha, of all of you and of the energy of streams of all our ancestors.

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“Thây left us when I was twenty,” said a dignified gentleman with tears in his eyes, “and now we’re all in our sixties. We have missed Thây very much, always hoping and praying that he could return. When he came to Phâp Van temple (in Saigon,where the school was located) and touched our hands we were very emo­tional, very moved. Having Thay here for the past two months has nurtured us tremendously and we do not wish for him to leave.”

—Contributed by Sozan Schellin, Wild Rivers of the Source, Austin, Texas; Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, Washington, D.C.; and Janelle Combelic


Hanoi
March 15 to March 30

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Halong and Yen Tu

Gliding past islands
Stretching up from green water
With tree topped hair
At Halong Bay

What peace
Steaming along
No sign of mines
Long past

mb39-Vietnam27Atop small mountain
Red pagoda
Against grey sky
fog hovering at base

Yesterday Yen Tu Mount
Crowds gathered for fest
Climbing muddy rock steps
To Zen King’s home

I climb with Nyu
74 year old pilgrim
Holding hands I support her
Others come past and help

With my grey robe, brown jacket
I’m less an outsider
Myu translated comments
I smile, laugh with Viets

At heart of island
There wondrous cave
Stalactites drip beauty
Into silent pond

Sangha walk through cave
Stand chanting to Avalokita
Feeling old water energy
Releasing mind to touch joy

—Joy Magezis

Flow

And just how do I step into this beginningless flow? This I am taught by the flow of traffic in Hanoi. I stop and watch, and when I begin to feel myself slow down inside, when trust arises that the flow is there for me to tap into, the fear dissipates and I can see the openings in the traffic. Only after I am aware of this slowness in and outside of myself, have stopped and concentrated on what is flowing right before my eyes, am I ready to step into the traffic. And once I step in, it must be without hesitation; any hesitation separates me from the flow and actually causes danger to others. If I am tired, or shaky, as I often have been in Hanoi, I take the arm of a Sangha sister or brother, and let them lead me into and through. If I am alone, it’s harder. I will wait until someone else is crossing; it could be an old woman or someone carrying large bundles on either end of a bamboo pole, or even a bicycle or motor scooter crossing in my direction. The guide across the river will always come if I am patient, just as the opening in the throngs climbing Yen Tu mountain always came, if I waited and watched.

—Roberta Wall, True Insight of Peace, New York

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Binh Dinh Province
March 30 to April 10

Monks and Nuns on the Beach

Now we near the sea
Beyond salt drying fields
Sister tells of old home
Then white waves, clear sand

 Off the bus we go
Onto peace time beach
Old bunker behind
Young monks jump into sea

Others follow joyfully
Soon half the Sangha’s wet
Brown robes bob in blue sea
Laughter fills the air

—Joy Magezis

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How Was It?

It was exhausting. It was pivotal, I think, for Buddhism in Vietnam. It was a floating celebration. It was a reunion and a triumphal return. It was one of the most profound experiences in my life. Every night I dream about the trip and the Sangha; a different person every night. The night before I wrote this it was about Chuck, the twelve-year-old. The night before that about Terry Barber. Tonight, who knows. Maybe I’ll sleep through the night and won’t remember dreams. But the dreams will be there as Thay lives his dream—returning home and retooling Vietnamese Buddhism for the twenty-first century.

—Rowan Conrad

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Poem: Only See The Face Before You

mb39-Only1To see the face before you,
To only see this face,
And nothing more,
And not to be in a dream,
Or drowning in an ocean
Of thinking and thoughts,
Or in your rivers of feelings, desires, perceptions;
To see clearly with all the senses,
To have pure recognition,
Pure awareness of what is
And nothing more—is to meditate
Each time you see with pure awareness
The more you see the wonders of life
And they become you;
And the more deeply you connect with life,
You vibrate with all its wonderfulness.
You just hear, see, taste, smell.

You see the unclear mind too
With its likes and dislikes,
Attachments, aversions,
Analyses, plans, judgments, criticisms.
All its imaginations, illusions,
Which block and suffocate understanding,
Compassion and love.

Just see your feelings, desires, perceptions,
Both good and not-good.
Just see their face and nothing more.
So you are not tricked and deceived,
Becoming identified with them,
Caught and imprisoned in them.
Just let these rivers flow by themselves.

Do not add or take away anything,
But simply see things as they are
With interest and wonder,
And a smile.

—By Bill Menza

Dharma teacher Bill Menza was inspired to write this poem from a Dharma talk by Thay Phap Dang.

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Poem: ghosts

mb39-Ghosts1i watched a woman die tonight

a forty-nine-year-old woman
with a sudden, massive stroke
we did everything quickly
we did everything right
and still, she didn’t make it

my day in the emergency room
was a twelve-hour-long adrenaline rush
it was only later, after,
that i realized:

this woman wasn’t ready to die

a lively african-american woman
just forty-nine years old
with a loving husband and children
she wasn’t ready to die

death is a daily event
in the san francisco general hospital’s
emergency room

i spent the rest of the evening in meditation

walking the mission district meditation
staring out over the bay meditation
tears meditation
sitting meditation
breathing meditation
hot milk and croissants meditation
angel song meditation
reading Buddhist poetry meditation

writing meditation

tonight i go to sleep
wondering if ghosts will be visiting me
in my dreams

— By Dzung Vo

Dzung Vo,Tam Lien Ban, Healing Root of the Source, is a Vietnamese-American, pursuing his residency training in pediatrics in San Francisco

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Poem: Roots

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At the end of the Civil War
my great-grandfather walked
four hundred miles
back home to Georgia
and gave up his gun.
Said he’d seen enough dead
men and beasts in those
four years to cure a man
of hunting, forever.

Not too long after that
he stumbled in the night
upon four men in sheets
about to lynch a Negro.
In those days one knew
all one’s neighbors.
He yelled, “What you plannin’
to do with that man?”
They yelled, “Kill him!”
He said, “You do, and I’ll
turn your names in to the
authorities, every last
one of you!”
They said, “You do, and we’ll
shoot you, too!”
They did.
The next day, he did.
And that night,
as he sat with his family
at supper,
they did.

Emily Whittle

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Poem: Fathers and Daughters

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I traveled on a bridge to your creative side today
after thinking you didn’t have one
noticing the interwoven stitches that are you
for a change
giving attention to your brightly colored aura
and your story telling hands
finding meaning in the pauses between your
speech
and the comfort of now
I didn’t travel alone
this time
as our ancestral footprints and the bridge
were one and the same
I asked for help
for a change
and found value in the awareness of bridge
walking
and the patience of bridge building
embracing your inner child
and mine
we left the pain on the other side
this time
as we gave priority to the family
for a change
I found refuge in your subtleties
and let go of expectations of what creativity looks
like
realizing that our potentials
are one and the same
we sat and created a painting as wide as the
bridge
that I traveled on

—Karla Broady,
Awakened Honesty of the Heart

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Poem: Decline to State

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Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
Declined to state
What is your ethnicity?
A little box in front of me fails
To see the complexity of my identity

In the face of this bureaucracy
The confusion of my whole life
Follows me
And it bothers me
It really bothers me
That only one category is acceptable

Anger, shame and sadness come up
As the complexity of my identity stares me in
the face
Challenging me from behind the linear lines
One box to represent the multiplicity of my
history
Check one and only one
And it’s there’s only one right answer
And you are not it
“Half breed, mongrel, mixed girl”
“You don’t exist
You shouldn’t exist”
There’s no room for you
on this piece of paper

Decline to state
Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
What is your race?

Well I was
Conceived of colonization
father India married his fate to
Royal mother England
Creating me
Part British part Indian
Wholly human
Yet the ancestry of my motherland
Claims I should not be born
While in India I was the half hidden little secret
My father kept from his family
Were they ashamed of me?

His mother died on her way from India to
Britain
Coming to see me
And I’ve held the guilt of responsibility for her
death
Believing my blood hold divisions she could
not bear to see.
So we moved to the United States
The land of hope, equality & opportunity
Seeking inclusion, prosperity
And respite from firebombs little
British boys were dropping in living rooms
Of mixed raced families

What is your race?
Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
Declined to state

Well, I am Indian, and now I am an American,
but
Somehow, the American Indian box just isn’t
quite right
And Asian isn’t right
Because Indians are barely Asians,
And I being half Indian, well it’s just to far to
stretch

And no way in a million years would I check
the white box
Submit under this form to the same
Annihilation of my identity?
You must be joking

Too many years of wishing
Too many years of thinking
White was what I desperately wanted to be
Only

None of the other boxes apply
And even if they give me an “other” option
What kind of race is “other” anyway?
And decline to state feels like a cop out
Two minutes too late
I know like you know that you have already
locked me down & judged me
based on what you think you see

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
Declined to state

Pen shaking in my hand, angry;
What’s your race?
Declined to state
Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
& the inadequacy of my identity is the reality
of my privilege
guilt comes rolling up like waves washing
British ships upon Indian shores
The story of my family tree bringing me
Closest to the Asian category

Asian? How can I benefit from 400 years of
oppression
I barely feel the taste of?
How can I claim a history my Indian father
taught me
to disown?
What’s your race?
Declined to state
They’ll let you blend in if you
Don’t state
They’ll let you be a normal part of this state
Of affairs

I am inclined now to think outside the box
to redefine this narrow history
and tell a different story on this
piece of paper in front of me
pull the box wide open ‘cos these racial
categories
intend to conveniently erase my identity
perpetrate colonization on me again and
again
every time I

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
Decline to state
What’s your race?
& I decline to submit to this state of affairs
and proudly,
as thee mixed girl I am
I check off, quickly,
Every single box on the page
Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian
I state ‘em all, even the “other” box
Watch me
& if there’s a space to write
in my race
I fill in “human”
Declaring unity
& equality
for all to see

I leave no trace of my identity
Make if harder to process me
Into neat little categories
Since love, life, family, my ancestry
Are much deeper than the space
One little box can afford me

It’s about time we set ourselves, humanity
& the little boxes free
about times we
take the matter of the complexity of identity
into our own hands

‘cos where I want to be
it’s all about interconnection & unity
all of us connected
one blood
one people
one love
humanity
no distinctions necessary

‘cos the way I see it
tho’ we may mix like apples & oranges
or appear to be different fruits totally,
we all grown from the same family tree
& that’s human, completely,
you see?

—Susanna Barkataki

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Six Contemplations on the Awareness of Eating

by Denise Ségor

These words arose in me while walking along the Springwater Trail in Portland, Oregon, early one spring morning. They came from a chorus of bird song; from the scent of fresh rain on flowers, leaves, bark and earth; from the coolness of air on skin; from the firmness of ground beneath footsteps; from gray and white clouds low in the sky; from trees, bushes, and grasses holding steady and still; from muscles contracting and releasing with the flow of movement; from the swish, swish of swinging arms; from breath entering coolly and exiting warmly; from eyes moving consciously from forward and outward seeing to lowered and inward seeing and back again; and from the quiet volcano hidden in this moment by clouds but visible and erupting always within my heart. They also come from a continuing practice of looking deeply at the nature of my own suffering.

Denise Ségor, Mindful Smile of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing, practicing with the Joyful Refuge Sangha and the Community of Mindful Living in Portland, Oregon.

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This food and I
We are sisters in the cosmos,
We are the universe.
And the earth, sky, air, water, fire,
space, energy and consciousness
of the universe
All are in us.
May we gently, with mindfulness and concentration,
Invite our sister food into our body
So that our transformations
may nourish our collective joy a
nd stability.
May we transform our unskillful states of mind
the knots of panic and fear
the bottomless pit of craving
And learn the Middle Way,
With heart and courage easing the constrictions and
control
Thus releasing freedom and peace into our body and the
world.
May we take in the nourishing
and life-affirming elements
Of our sister earth, Encouraging positive seeds
To take root and grow strong within us
So we may give back to the earth
compassion and healing.
May we bring awareness
To the continuing transformation
Occurring in every moment
As our sister food moves through,
fills and becomes one
with every space and cell of our body
And then permeates us out
Through our skin, our tears, our sweat,
our voices, our movement, our breath and our excrement
. . .
In every moment reminding us of the fullness of emptiness
And the nature of no self.
May we commune with her
In a pure and grace-filled way
So that easily and with peace
We may realize
The Path of Understanding
And the Mind of Love.

—Denise Ségor

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Poem: Form, Formlessness

My one small life is formed
from more than a hundred
million breaths. In, out

I am still breathing. Even
as I count
the only breath
is now.

This heart that is
my only heart pulses
without a break
thousands of times a day
whether I am grateful or not.

Thank you heart.
Thank you breath.

Songbirds ecstatic, clouds
swirl like feathers. Multiplying
cell by cell
I dissolve.

Gratitude is nothing, a breath
nothing
you can keep.
Neither a heartbeat.
Neither this moment, formless,

more powerful than all
our lives. In one
fleeting sigh
a simple feeling
washes through me. Hello
Love, I recognize your face.

By Janet Aalfs

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Janet Aalfs is the poet laureate of Northampton, MA (2003-2005) and the director/ head instructor of Valley Women’s Martial Arts, Inc. She pays attention to her breath in everything she does.

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Poem: How the Dog

is dog white. How he opens himself
to the world each day—every morning

the same—empties himself, then drinks.
How his black pads and variegated claws

click the pavement
exactly in time with the barefoot version

of Ode to Joy and he means it. How in the dignified
winter of his life he’s so willingly

your child. How the dog recovers. How his
heart is an unsealed document and he

writes upon it daily. How inside his small body
is a great hall, a library of smells in which

you’ve been permanently shelved. How the dog
forebears, how the dog goes about doing

the work of dog. How the dog unmirrors you.
How the dog is dog quiet, sprawled

on a pile of clothes. And how the dog allows,
hears violin when you throw yourself

across the bed for effect
whimpering again in that strange

human accent you have. When you’re down
there, trying to tell the dog about your life

how the dog’s best music
is listening.

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By Kelly Parsons

Kelly Parsons practices with the Mindfulness Community of Victoria, B.C. and the Mountain Lamp Community in Washington.

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Poem: Buddha in me

Sometimes I see the Buddha in me
a phrase, a touch, something I see

It touches my heart
And awakens in me
A memory of how to be free
A memory of how to be me

There’s a time the Buddha in me
Comes to surface
As if to say
Remember, life will pass you by
If you forget to stay alive
In this moment
In this place

There’s a time
The Buddha in me
Comes to the surface
As if to see

If I remember

Ariel Blair

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Poet, Peace Advocate, & Goodwill Ambassador Dies

By Norman R. Brown

For Our World*

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment…
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.

We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.

Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.

We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful

Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

mb38-Poet1The internationally acclaimed poet, peace advocate, and Muscular Dystrophy Association National Goodwill Ambassador, Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, or “Mattie” as he’s nationally known, died on June 22, 2004 in Washington, D.C. He had been hospitalized since early March with complications related to the disease that impaired most of his bodily functions.

Stepanek, of Rockville, Maryland, had dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a genetic disease that impaired his heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and digestion, and caused muscle weakness. Mattie was hospitalized many times over the years. He navigated around his home in a wheelchair he nicknamed “Slick,” and relied on a feeding tube, a ventilator, and frequent blood transfusions to stay alive.

Mattie was the author of five volumes of poetry, three of which reached the New York Times’ best-seller list. He became a beacon of hope to the millions of adults and children who have been inspired by his words, making him one of the best-selling poets in recent years. His admirers include Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and former President Jimmy Carter.

Despite his physical condition, the effervescent and playful philosopher was upbeat, saying he didn’t fear death. His work was full of life, a quest for peace, hope, and the inner voice he called a “heartsong,” which he explained as “our inner beauty, our message, the songs in our hearts.” He explained, “My life mission is to spread peace to the world.”

After the September 11, 2001 tragedy, Mattie wrote the poem to the left.

Mattie advised that, “Poetry is a great way to express your feelings and life experiences so that others can understand and get through the same situation. We all have life storms. We need to celebrate that we get through them, instead of mourning and waiting for the next one to come along and wipe us out again. Remember to play after every storm. Celebrate life no matter how bad it seems. Life is a gift, and there’s always something beautiful that you can find. We have to make the best of life and do what we’re meant to do. Everyone has a special song inside their hearts. If you believe you can be happy, then you, too, will hear your song.”

Mattie was thirteen years old at the time of his death. He was the recipient of several awards, including the 2002 Children’s Hope Medal of Honor and the 2002 Verizon Courage Award. President Carter, in eulogizing Mattie, said, “I have known kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers. But the most extraordinary person I have ever known was Mattie Stepanek.”

Contributions in Mattie’s name may be made at: www.mdausa.org or sent to MDA Mattie Fund, P.O. Box 66002, Tucson, AZ 85728.

Go to: www.mattieonline.com for links to purchase his poetry.

*For Our World copyright, April 2002, “Hope Through Heartsongs,” page 49, ISBN 0-7868-6944-5, Hyperion Book.

Norman R. Brown, Disciplined Patience of the Heart, belong to the SDGLBT Buddhists Sangha in San Diego. He is event coordinator and registrar at Solidity Hamlet, Deer Park Monastery.

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In the Footsteps of My Teacher

By Tran Kinh Tam An

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Sitting at the feet of my Teacher
Seeing the rose held in two hands
Visualizing the cosmos in the rose
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

My Teacher speaks about transformation
All is in me; realization is the goal
Transform garbage and suffering into beauty and Nirvana
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Moon shining light on pitfalls on the path
Moon casting shadows to the left and then to the right
Moon, the Sangha guiding my steps on the path
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Standing in awe on the hilltop
Gazing at the twinkling city lights below
With a calm, peaceful heart and mind
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Sitting, calm and smiling
Peacefully concentrating on nature around me
My teacher turns and quietly watches me
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Gently picking up an insect crawling on my leg
Gently putting him down in the grass
Smiling, listening deeply, speaking lovingly
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

My teacher is beautifully present by my side
Waiting quietly, patiently to hear my pain
Knowing my need for empathy
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

I bow my head, while joining my palms
Acknowledge my weaknesses and strengths
I am in my Teacher; my Teacher is in me
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Simultaneously dwelling in the historical and ultimate dimensions,
Intellectual thinking moves from head to heart.
Faithful to my true self—interconnected with the universe,
I walk in the footsteps of my Teacher.

Tran Kinh Tam An, Peaceful Respect of the Heart, lives in Portland, Oregon where she practices with the Thursday Night Sangha and aspires to join the Order of Interbeing.

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Poem: It Is Enough

By Emily Whittle

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This apple by itself
would be enough—
its crisp white center
bearing just the right balance
of tart and sweet,
garnished with the faint scent
of flowers.
But there is more!
There is the music
of water
cascading over rocks.
There is bee balm and mountain laurel.
There is a cool breeze
playing with the trees,
sending shape-shifting clouds
speeding across the sky.
Next to me,
facing the river,
is my beloved,
eating the other half
of the apple.
Far away,
barely audible,
the low rumble of thunder
warns of an approaching storm.
Savor,
savor this moment.
It is enough.
It is more
than enough.

Emily Whittle, True Wonderful Happiness, lives and practices in Red Springs, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to the Mindfulness Bell.

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Poem: Thien Mu

By Larry Ward

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Around the bend of the Perfume River
Our Dragon Boat took time
Above steep ancient stone steps
Stood a golden pagoda constructed by an Emperor,
Silently resting on the earth
Seven levels reaching for the sky

Surprised with its simplicity, grace, and beauty
The grounds, the temple, the sound of the big bell still
echoes in my heart
Touching the earth three times
In touch with my breath
In touch with my heart
In touch with my devotion

The old blue Austin that Thich Quang Duc rode
That day in Saigon 1963
A vehicle for offering his life
Engulfed in flames perfect peace, lotus in a sea of fire
Compassion speaks

The Bonsai trees laugh at my notions of age
Surrounded by the living graves of ancestors
The Temple and pine trees,
Thousands had gathered here for a day with Thay
A striking view of Hue
A red tea house peaks at me through the jackfruit trees
A gentle smiling monk

I make this pilgrimage three times
Who knew?
I would be So moved
By quiet love

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Poem: Ancestors

By David Percival

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Walking through clouds descended like a lush wet blanket
Impermanence hangs heavy in the saturated air.
Trails and lanes climb over hills through the neighborhoods of Hue
Past homes, gardens, lush undergrowth, bamboo, tall pine trees,
Neighborhoods where graves and tombs sit serenely on the hills,
next to homes, in rice paddies,
Some cared for, some abandoned or forgotten.
Our ancestors are everywhere.
At Tu Hieu we walked and sat amidst the tombs,
Contemplated hundreds of graves
And achieved a oneness with these spiritual ancestors I had never dreamed of.
Interbeing settles on me like the mist falling on my clothes
And penetrates into my very bones.
Now I know I will bring this penetration with me
To my land of disposable people, broken families, life extending pills and potions, plastic surgery.
A place where I didn’t think too much about my ancestors
Yet in Hue they are in my mind daily.
So in the hot dry desert air where I live
I can see clearly our responsibility to those who have departed
And I celebrate our global community of ancestors
And the peace and compassion of interbeing.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Poem: Tranquil Sea

By Luan Dinh

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I sit and breathe gently,
Waves that wash my lungs.
The surges of rising tides,
Swelling inside my chest.

Turbulence from deep within,
Swirling like a whirlpool.
Thoughts scattered everywhere,
A sea of spinning driftwood.

But I know it will be all right,
This muddy mix of water.
I observe the frantic swirling,
I observe the ceaseless flowing.

There is beauty in this chaos,
This mass of rapid turning.
Absorbed in observation,
I find a centre of calming.

The spin has great momentum,
Spraying great arms of froth.
Bits and bobs of floating,
Hard to recognize clearly.

As I continue to observe,
Watching this transformation.
The sea that once was raging,
Is now quietly subsiding.

Breezes are gently blowing,
Waves rippling on the surface.
What once was dark and murky,
Is now wonderfully clearing.

The surface is gently stirring,
Above the forests of shades.
Objects that are long forgotten,
Old shipwrecks and lost treasures.

Still I carry on observing,
Curious to see much more.
The wind gives way to silence,
A tranquility that is immersive.

Stretching across the horizon,
A lake as far as the eye can see.
Its murky depths are clearing,
Fish appear from deep shadows.

Their fins break the surface,
Sending ripples in all directions.
Returning beneath the water,
Fading in the depth of the ocean.

As I sit and breathe gently,
This great ocean is a lake.
Within this body of breathing,
All things are clearly reflected.

Luan Viet Dinh was born in Vietnam and lives in England, practicing with the Guildford Sangha and the Vietnamese Sangha TTT. His Dharma names are Tam Tu Quy and Compassionate Refuge of the Heart.

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Poem: Horeb, Mountain of God

Pocahontas County, West Virginia

By Emily Whittle

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The sun,
emerging from behind
a cloud,
ignited
the wild azalea,
its orange blossoms
licking the air
with tongues of flame.
Unsinged,
the lush forest
exhaled
a thousand shades of green.
And I,
privileged witness
to the fire
that does not consume,
gasped,
halted,
every bit as dumbstruck
as Moses
before the burning bush,
recognizing the place
as hallowed ground.

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Poem: The Woman, Planting

mb41-TheWoman1Shaded
by her conical
palm leaf hat,
she squats beside the road,
oblivious to traffic
and me,
digging the dry dirt
with bare hands—
no shovel, no spade,
no tool of any kind
in evidence—
just skin and fingernails
and fierce determination.
I pass her,
walking,
aware of my incongruity—
a red-haired American Buddhist
in Hanoi,
dressed in traditional
temple robe,
placing each step mindfully
on the rutted path,
alert to maniacal motorcyclists
emerging from morning mist.
No smile,
no glance
flickers between us,
each intent
on our appointed tasks.
mb41-TheWoman2How then to explain
or describe
the shock of recognition,
the explosion of insight?
I do not see her
as someone like me,
or myself
as someone like her.
I see her AS me.
We merge into one.
Showing no outer indication
of the cataclysmic event,
I walk on,
shaded
by my palm leaf hat,
tool-less,
save for deft hands
and the determined vow
to plant
a garden of peace
in the war-torn country
of my heart.

Emily Whittle

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Poem: Discourse on True Contentment

By Sister Dang Nghiem

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I heard these words of Thay one time when he was living in the vicinity of Escondido at the Deer Park Monastery in the Oak Grove. Late at night, a group of coyotes appeared, whose passionate howls made the whole Oak Grove tremble joyfully. After paying respects to Thay with the right front paw pointing in the direction of the moon, the elder coyote asked him a question in the form of a verse:

“People, animals, plants, and minerals are eager to know
what are the conditions
which bring about true contentment.
Please, Thay, will you teach us?”

(This is Thay’s answer:)

“To live in a Sangha,
to have brothers and sisters working in harmony,
to serve peoples of all nations ––
this is the true contentment.

“To have a chance to practice and transform,
to see yourself becoming more accepting and more solid,
to recognize that others also blossom ––
this is the true contentment.

“To be able to recognize and forgive,
to nurture gratitude to your blood family and spiritual family,
to express love through loving speech and deep listening ––
this is the true contentment.

“To have time to sit peacefully for your ancestors,
to touch the Earth tenderly with each step,
to eat in union with the whole cosmos ––
this is the true contentment.

“To create practice centers and hold regular retreats,
to turn gymnasiums and theatres into Dharma halls,
to bring the Dharma rain into ghettos and prisons ––
this is the true contentment.

“To witness police officers, business people, legislators,
scientists, and war veterans enjoying the Pure Land
with their mindful breaths and mindful steps ––
this is the true contentment.

“To provide a joyful environment for young people,
to help them reconnect with their families and society,
to show them that there is a beautiful path ––
this is the true contentment.

“To practice, work, study, and play together,
to realize the beauties and hardships of your brothers and sisters,
to cherish and protect them as your own marrow ––
this is the true contentment.

“To live a life simple and uncompetitive,
to come back to your breath as your soul food,
to rejoice in the music of the bell, wind songs, and laughter ––
this is the true contentment.

“To avoid speaking and reacting in anger,
not caught by your ideas and judgments,
and to be diligent in doing beginning anew ––
this is the true contentment.

“To savor the freedom in non-waiting,
to transform the grasping mind into that of true love,
to be a kind continuation of your spiritual ancestors ––
that is the true contentment.

“To see all life forms as your brothers and sisters,
to enjoy simply being together,
to actively build a beautiful past with your true presence ––
this is the true contentment.

“To rise in the morning with a smile,
to retire each night with peace, content to let go of all,
to know that you have loved and have been loved deeply ––
that is the true contentment.

“To live in the world
with your heart open to impermanence and change,
to progress stably on your true path, free of fear and worry ––
this is the true contentment.

“For he or she who accomplishes this,
arriving and at home wherever she goes,
always he is peaceful and happy ––
true contentment is in the moment one lives.”

Thay had finished the teaching. The coyotes were extremely delighted at what they had heard. At once, they stood up with posture erect and gave rise to another harmonious and joyful howl. The moon smiled contentedly from above, as she floated freely in the immense space.

Sister Dang Nghiem lives at Deer Park.

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Poem: Gratitude to the Sangha

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I remember your feet that April day—
Barefoot, sandaled—
Slowly, tenderly touching that sweet portion of prairie.
Someone said later that we must have kissed
A hundred varieties of sprouting grasses
And tiny blooms, and clover, and colorful weeds that day—
Kissed the prairie with our feet.

The wind blew hard that day, too—remember?
It wore us out and charged us up all at the same time.
We came inside breathless and needing to settle,
And we did.
We breathed, feeling a quiet prairie wind move through our bones.

Gratitude to the Sangha.
I remember bits and pieces of that day
And many other days and nights—
Sweet walks inside on the mat of the dojo.
And I remember your faces—
Animated in sharing, tranquil in meditation.

Gratitude to the Sangha.
You are always here—when I see you and when I don’t.
You are my groundedness in place and time,
My home, my boat in flood waters.

And the most wondrous thing about you
Is that you are growing.
You now include the sky, the wind, the water,
Beings large and small, beautiful and ugly,
Healthy and suffering.
Something in your generosity opens my heart.
I can embrace more. I see the same in you.

Gratitude to the Sangha.
Each of you has something to teach me—
Learnings so treasured, so useful.
Gratitude to the Sangha.
The Eternal Mystery has given us to each other—rare gift.
And in our gratitude we give this gift again and again
Wherever we show up in the world.
The gift multiplies and the sum is past figuring.
Its power is beyond measure.
Every human needs this kind of community.
So, our joy-filled work will never end.
There will be no unemployment for the Sangha.

And even on those days
When we might feel our role is small
Or our efforts feeble,
We can always stop, breathe,
Watch our feet touch prairie grass,
Feel prairie wind move through our bones,
And say with a whole heart
“Gratitude to the Sangha.”

Pat Webb, True Mountain of Action

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Poem: I Ate the Cosmos for Lunch

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I ate the cosmos for lunch
And then again for dinner
What will I tell my friends?

I noticed that I am bigger now too—
More to me than I thought.

Not only is my Mom inside me,
And that would be enough.
I also have my Dad, blood ancestors and
Spiritual ancestors.
The Sangha, mindfulness trainings,
Thay and the Buddha.

There’s more too.

Like the Forest I lived in for five years,
Walking home on a dirt road in the moonlight,
Or moonless night, to a ring of redwoods
Where I made my home.

And freight trains, as they creak and groan
Like monsters waking up,
As they start moving down the tracks,
Taking my friends and me on adventures across the country.

And my feline friend who started sleeping over on his own
And stayed with me for four years.

The list is quite endless.

But let me get this straight—I’m empty,
Yet I have the entire cosmos inside me.

I’m sure my friends will notice this,
And how much bigger I’ve become.
More solid, more joyous.
More compassionate and loving.

More able to live how I truly want—
Joyfully working for the care, respect
And dignity of all beings.

And my friends will want to know my secret.
I guess I’ll start with:
Breathing in, and
Breathing out…

—Caroline Nicola

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Poem: Why Not Meditate All the Time?

Since mindful awareness,
One-point concentration,
Daily sitting meditation,
Businesslessness seem impossible,
Most often always,
Why not meditate on the breath
All the time every moment?
Yes, just this in-breath,
Or this out-breath.
Nothing more, less, else.
So I am in my body
And not mind thinking
More useless thoughts.

Oh, how wonderful!
I’m meditating!

Bill Menza,
True Shore of Understanding

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Poem: The Oneness of Eternal Water

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Hokusai’s wave
Stands still in time,
Each tiny drop perceived,
Its foamy edges clear,
Far off Mt. Fuji
Fixing its location,
That single wave
That certain day.

Hokusai’s wave
Has been around the world
One hundred thousand million times
And touched the shores
Of every land with bordered shores.
From beginningless time
Hokusai’s wave’s been drawn to heaven
And joined the procession
Of clouds that drift and sail
Across deserts, mountains, valleys.

Fallen to earth
On one hundred thousand million journeys
To join the bodies
Of rivers and seas.
Fallen as snow
On frozen steppes in uncountable winters.
Penetrated the skins of tropical trees
In hurricanes that bear human names.

I bow to Hokusai who chanced to catch the wave
As it came together for an instant
Before rejoining the oneness of eternal water.

Jan McMillan lives in Westport, Washington, a small fishing village at the mouth of Grays Harbor.

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Reflections from the Dutch Retreat

May 1-4, 2006

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The Food!
We had to eat in silence – I wasn’t expecting that!
It was vegetarian food but sometimes you wouldn’t have guessed it.
The Vietnamese springrolls were especially yummy. Every morning we had muesli or cornflakes which was really yummy.

The Kids program!
We played games and lots of football in the kids program.
Extra information:
My wrist got really hurt during football!!!

The feeling you get!
I felt really calm

—Yoram, age 10

I enjoyed the retreat very much. The children had their own children’s program and that was quite nice. We were also allowed to join the meditations, I did that twice. Once at half past six in the morning. The other was ‘total relaxation’ or something like that. There I fell asleep.

There were also four monks and nuns who assisted the children’s program. Their names are Monkey, Grape, Shiny and Chadder. I had expected that if you would run or talk, they would say: “Hush shut up, don’t run.” But they didn’t do that.

I learned that in Buddhism everyone does everything with mindfulness: eating and walking mindfully and pay attention to your breathing. We also did that. Me and my brother enjoyed it so much that we have said to our parents that we want to go to Plum Village next year.

—Bente, age 11

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