Letters From The Editors           

This past winter we have been standing on the brink of war. All of us have, in one way or many ways, practiced mindfulness to help the USA not to fall into that abyss of immeasurable and unnecessary suffering and drag many other countries into it with her. Many of us, whether monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen have been present in towns and cities to demonstrate our commitment to a solution of the problem between the USA and Iraq by peaceful means. From Plum Village Thay has led the Sangha in chanting the names of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to send wholesome energy to break through the thick veil of war that surrounds the President of the United States and his advisors. Only the deep understanding and compassionate action of the bodhisattvas can break through the thinking which constantly sees war as the only solution. Let us all send out this energy to the President and others every day of our lives.

At the time of writing we are still not sure of our success in this effort. Whether we fail in our attempts to avert war this time or whether we are successful, there is a lesson for us to learn. We have to practice now to make peace for the future. Only peace in our lives right now can ensure there will not be another threat of war in five, ten or twenty tears. If there is a war in 2003 that is because in the 1980’s or 90’s or even before we did not practice peace in our lives. We have waged war in our own person, with our neighbors and even with our loved ones. Only mindfulness practice can help us recognize when our body, feelings and perceptions are not at peace in ourselves or with others. Sister Jina’s article is designed to help you with this important aspect of practicing peace.

Poetry is a call to peace, since writing and reading true poetry is a practice of pacifying our own mind and the minds of others. Our own teacher in Plum Village is a poet of the spiritual dimension. Poetry can put us in touch with the essence of the practice of mindfulness without us having to make any effort. At times when we feel close to despair, poetry can remind us that life is still beautiful, good, and true in some of its most wonderful aspects. Poetry that comes from a pure and peaceful heart is a non-violent means to wake people up to the need for peace.

Education is a wonderful field for engaged Buddhism. How can we bring mindfulness practice into the school and university so that the future generation does not have to make the mistakes that our own generation has made? Please read the articles by educators in this issue to inspire you in your own work with young people.

Forty-two new Dharma teachers received the Dharma Lamp Transmission from Thay in Plum Village in January of this year. A taste of the transmission ceremonies comes to you in this issue where you can read transcripts of Thay’s exhortations to a few of the new Dharmacaryas as well as his or her inauguration talk. There is a thirst all over the world for the spiritual dimension made real by mindfulness. Numerous Dharma teachers are needed to respond to this thirst. Transmitting and receiving the Dharma Lamp is a concrete step towards world peace.

Last but not least, have you signed up for a mindfulness retreat this year to support the spiritual dimension in your life? You will see some of the options available advertised in this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. We look forward to practicing with you at one of the retreats this summer or fall.

Sister True Virtue,
Green Mountain Dharma Center, Vermont.

Several of my Sangha members and I have been spending each Wednesday noontime dressing in black and standing in vigil in our downtown plaza. We Women in Black stand in silent prayer all over the world, inviting all who see us to consider deeply the costs of war. Standing in a group of 400 this week, the prayer for peace was palpable. Many people in cars, who were stopped at the traffic signal in front of us, offered supporting and grateful words. And many of them offered challenging and angry words. It was easy to stand in this Sangha with my heart open to all, offering lovingkindness equally to those who agreed and those who disagreed with me. I considered how different it would feel if I were standing there alone, receiving such angry energy from the passersbys. Now, more than ever, we need the support of our Sangha members to help us maintain our happiness and equanimity. I find great comfort in the simplest of our practices: awareness of my breathing, the sound of the bell, receiving and offering a gentle smile. I try to read the Discourse on Love every day. I recall often that our practice grew deep roots in the midst of war.

This week I learned that Martin Edwards, a member of the Fragrant Rose Sangha in Santa Rosa, California left on a peacekeeping mission to Iraq with a group called Voices in the Wilderness. They are committed to stay in Iraq if war breaks out, doing whatever they can to help. A Quaker, Martin took medicine and messages of peace from Americans who wrote letters that he will deliver to people he meets. I addressed my letter to an Iraqi mother, and Martin will try to bring back a photo of her. Each little thread of heartfelt connection helps weave a strong blanket of peace to our planet.

The next issue of the Mindfulness Bell will focus on engaged practice. An interview with a Vietnamese-American monk who served in the Gulf War; an interview with a practitioner who has a center helping people with the challenge of AIDS; and stories of Peacewalks around the world are just some of the features. We welcome your stories of how your mindfulness practice engages you in the world. And we would love to receive more poetry and art. Please send us your contributions by early May.

A tip to subscribers: check the label on this issue to find when your subscription expires, and go to www.iamhome.org to renew online.

Go in peace,  Barbara Casey, Jacksonville, Oregon.

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A Day of Tea and Haiku

By Alexa Singer-Telles

Like many Sanghas, we hold days of mindfulness in members’ homes to enjoy the traditional practices of mindful breathing, sitting, walking, and eating. Our days together were enriched early on as we began to experiment with bringing other creative activities into our days of mindfulness. These opportunities grew organically by inviting our Sangha members to share the fruits of their talents. Not only did we experience a variety of gardens to walk in, but we varied our mindful movements, celebrated rituals for special occasions, and experimented with art.

In a recent conversation with an Order of Interbeing member about creativity and practice, it was mentioned that Thay wrote that though there are 84,000 Dharma doors, we are given the task to invent new doors for our contemporary needs. This was an important reminder to me not to get stuck in the view that there is a rigid form, but rather to allow the form to be the fertile ground where mindfulness can grow in many ways. This invitation for creativity and bringing our gifts into the practice parallels my experience with Jewish Renewal, a recent movement in Judaism. In their philosophy, Jews who left the tradition to explore other spiritual paths are welcomed back into Judaism. This inclusiveness is contrary to other approaches which insist that you leave other ideas at the door; instead it encourages these returnees to weave the teachings and gifts they have received from other spiritual traditions into their practice. The phrase coined to describe these spiritual explorers is “hyphens,” to honor their eclectic heritage. Rather than preserving the purity of a religious tradition, this invitation allows a rich interweaving of experience to inform spiritual practice and hopefully deepen it. In this modern time, where many of us have come to Buddhism from another root religion and have explored other spiritual paths, it is inevitable that we come to this practice made up of non-Buddhist elements. Welcoming in these valuable elements honors the wisdom of our experience and enriches the life of our Sangha.


One of the first opportunities for creative practice came when Rod, an artist in the Sangha, invited us to his home studio for a day of mindfulness. We sat in the warm spring sun on the deck and enjoyed sitting meditation and some body awareness exercises. Then we were each given a small ball of clay and invited to be present to its shaping. He explained the Japanese aesthetic, wabi sabi, “a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” He guided us in this unpretentious and simple approach, by encouraging the natural process to unfold. Our task was to breathe mindfully and feel the experience of molding clay into a small cup. Our eyes were closed to feel the sensations of form developing through our fingers.

Afterwards we placed the cups in the center of the circle to admire the uniqueness of each cup and share our experiences and insight. The next week, Rod brought our glazed cups to our weekly sit. They had transformed from plain gray clay into multi-colored, crackled raku cups. My cup sits on my altar to this day, a piece of imperfect art, pleasant to the eye, and holding memories from a wonderful day.

The pleasure our Sangha members derived from this art-making encouraged us to continue to offer creative expression to our group. Recently, one of our members volunteered to lead us in a Japanese tea ceremony during a day of mindfulness. Sandra had studied tea ceremony and was eager to share this special practice with us. The tea ceremony became the centerpiece of our day, and when our planning committee gathered, we had fun brainstorming ideas to enhance the experience of the tea ceremony. We designed a Japanese-style altar with such items as a parasol, a fan, a Buddha, and an ikebana flower arrangement. On the day of mindfulness, to our delight, one member brought a bonsai maple tree for the altar. These pieces made an interesting yet serene focal point for the room. To me the creation of an altar is like making an offering to the Buddha as well as giving a gift to the entire Sangha.

We usually include mindful movements as a way to remember to care for our bodies. At times we have added yoga stretching, body awareness exercises, and four elements breathing and movements from Sufi tradition. On this day our movement form was chi gong exercises in keeping with our Asian theme.

At the conclusion of our days together, we often share poetry, songs, and reflections. For this special Day of Tea, I suggested that everyone be invited to write a haiku (short poem) as a way to translate our awareness and experience into art. To give some background and preparation for haiku writing, I offered a brief teaching from the Japanese poet, Basho, one of the greatest contributors to the development and art of haiku. Basho’s teachings are very much in alignment with the practice of mindfulness and interbeing. His teachings guide the writer into an awareness of our deep connection with the natural world. He suggests that by immersing oneself in the impersonal life of nature, one can resolve deep dilemmas and attain perfect spiritual serenity (sabi). He found that the momentary identification of man with inanimate nature was also essential to the poetic creation. 1 Connecting with the natural world, especially during mindful practice, has brought me a direct experience of peace and tranquility many times. It was my hope that this exercise would be an opportunity for Sangha friends to experience this Dharma door of awareness.

The day was wonderful. The tea ceremony brought us into the serene beauty of the tradition and formality of drinking tea. We were given a bit of tea history and strict instructions, including how to pass the bowl, when to admire its beautiful hand-painted designs, and how many gulps to drink. One at a time, we were passed the freshly made bowl of tea, drinking it in three gulps, admiring the floral design of the bowl, and passing the cup back to the server. We listened silently to the stirring, passing, and gulping of the tea as it went around the circle. The tranquility of tea was palpable. My haiku expressed my sense of being transported back into the stream of ancestral tea drinkers.

Green tea stirs my heart,
The ancient ones whispering
Enjoy every drop!

A growing sense of awareness of our presence and interconnectedness with the natural world seemed to be captured in the haikus that were written that day. The poems, like our cups crafted many years ago, are tangible evidence of our experiences. They embody the sense of clarity that grows when we take the time to share a day of mindfulness. Here are some examples.

Hands stretch to heaven
The sun is not far away
Feet sink through the earth.
Greg White, Mindful Clarity of the Heart

Damp concrete walkway
Urges my bubbling sole
To know its cool kiss
Christine Singer

Six shoes in a row
Where are the master’s feet now
Joyful in the grass
Sandra Relyea

Hot water pouring
The cup of tea goes around
Gulping the tea is magic
Susane Grabiel

Butterfly on stone
Wings opening and closing
She’s breathing the sky
Terry Helbick, True Original Land

As I reflect on this particular day of mindfulness through these poems, it is clear to me that the most important ingredient for a day of practice is the sincere presence and -willing participation of the Sangha members. The gifts of awareness that grow in us can be so beautifully expressed in art-making and other creative forms. Simply by welcoming and weaving into our practice the talents of our Sangha friends, the possibilities for creating beauty in mindfulness abound.


Alexa Singer-Telles, Steady Friend of the Heart, is a member of the River Oak Sangha in Redding, California. A psychotherapist and artist, she is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing.

  1. Ueda, Makoto, The Master Haiku Poet: Matsuo Basho. (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1982)

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Seasoning the Soup with Peace

An Interview with My Elder Brother

by Phap Lai


Brother Phap Do and I sat and drank tea together on a number of occasions. Sharing tea is a time-honored way of building brotherhood in Plum Village. As the story of my elder brother’s journey and transformation unfolded I felt inspired to record it.

In this interview Brother Phap Do shares how he transformed his anger through practice, moving stories of reconciliation with his father, and how his mother started a Sangha after meeting a strange monk at their loved ones’ gravesides. Now forty-two years old, Brother Phap Do ordained as a monk in Plum Village in 1996.

Su Anh (elder brother), can you speak about your family background?

I was born and brought up in Hanoi, North Vietnam, with four generations, twenty-six of us all together in one house. When I was ten my father was posted to Saigon so then we no longer lived with all the grandparents. With twenty-six family members living in the same house you have a Sangha. We had to learn how to live with each other and practice patience. I received love from my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother. Sometimes my mother would be too tired and busy to give me attention or would scold me. My grandmother would take care of my mum while my great grandmother took care of me. That’s when I really saw the strength of the family all together—it was a circle of love. I learned about building family from them. There was much tension too, but my main memory is that there was a lot of love in that house.

What made you want to be a monk at fourteen?

My grandmother used to take me to the temple every week. She was the only religious one in the family. One time I stood mesmerized while a monk arranged flowers with such care: he was so peaceful. I wondered how anyone could have peace like that when everyone was going to war. We had just finished the war with America and then started one with Cambodia. I told my parents, “I want to be a monk,” and they responded “No!”  It was simply out of the question.

Why were they so definite, saying no like that?

I was the only son. They were relying on me to continue the family through having children and taking care of the family’s future. Also my father was a military man, a communist high in the government, a man of action. According to him, monks were lazy and shirked their responsibility to build the new Vietnam. They were anti-communist. For his own son to be a monk was unthinkable.

What was your father’s career?

My father’s elder brother joined the resistance army, fighting the French when he was sixteen. It was the branch of the Viet Minh which was to become Communist. He soon persuaded his fourteen-year-old brother to join him. It was 1945 and my father stayed in the army until 1968. The Communist Party put him in charge of a construction company and eventually he became the main government official for construction in Vietnam.


There seems to be a parallel between his choice to join the resistance army in the mountains and you as a boy of the same age wanting to become a monk. Both offer a life in Sangha and a sense of purpose, even adventure.

Can you say something of your experience as a soldier?

I didn’t choose to go into the army, I was drafted. Before that I’d trained as a chef and was working for a tourist company. In 1985, I underwent six months of army training and they singled me out to be in the special forces and receive more training. I found myself being dropped into Cambodian forests on reconnaissance missions. Many traumatic things happened. One day in a jeep I heard a loud crack and looked around to see that my friend had been shot in the head. I drove off, escaping his fate. After two years in Cambodia one mission went badly wrong and we found ourselves surrounded by Khmer Rouge soldiers. One of our team made a run for it and was shot down immediately. The rest of us waited, defending our position for days until another team was sent in to rescue us. One other soldier survived along with me without serious injury, another I had to carry out after he lost his legs stepping on a land mine. He died later in the hospital. Although my father was proud that I was in the army, after that incident he was scared for my life and arranged through his contacts to have me taken out.  I am grateful to him for that.

Did you have to kill people on the missions?

We were there to gather information so the regular army could go in. But on occasion that happened. It was always dark, silent, and I seldom saw their faces.

How do you feel about them now?

They are still with me.

How did you feel about your two years of army service and being a civilian again?

I felt happy to be alive—I had survived. I also felt very proud and confident. I had risked my life carrying out a noble task. As my friend in our team put it in a song he wrote: we had taken on the burden everybody else refused. We had freed Cambodia from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. That is how we saw it. I don’t view it so simply now—there was also the desire to conquer another land and people.

But as far as being back in civilian life was concerned, I was fearless.  I wouldn’t let anyone speak down to me no matter what position they were in. I never physically hurt anyone but no one ever challenged me. Looking deeply now I can see that the pride and violence in me caused me and others to suffer. But at the time I felt okay and focused on making a success of my life as a civilian.

What happened then?

I got a job as a chef and soon after my boss asked me to go to Frankfurt to be head chef at his Vietnamese restaurant there. I had the usual dream of making lots of money, having a fancy house and car for me and my fiancee. We were very committed to each other and she completely supported me in going abroad. We thought it would be a good start for our security and happiness in the future. And I’d be able to give money to my family. It’s not that they were poor, but to be able to repay your gratitude to your parents is a big thing in Asian culture and money is the usual way.   So off I went.

After some time in Frankfurt some disillusionment with my dream crept in. Although I admired the owner of the restaurant for his success, I could see that it did not bring him happiness. He had family difficulties and suffered a lot. I began to have difficulties too. The restaurant work was stressful and I couldn’t control my anger with the other cooks. We had a big turnover of customers who would often come in drunk, would drink more, be noisy, eat quickly, and leave. I would get back home most nights at around two a.m. and drink beer, smoke, and watch videos to unwind. But I found that, especially with the alcohol and violent images, memories would come up in my mind, particularly in dreams.

I knew something had to change. I began by quitting smoking and drinking and exercising regularly, and I started to feel much better. Still it wasn’t enough. So when my friend Vinh said he was planning to start a quiet vegetarian restaurant in Berlin I told him I wanted to join him.  A few months later I moved to Berlin.

In the vegetarian restaurant, the customers enjoyed their food and they seldom smoked or drank, except for a glass of wine. The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. Vinh went to see Thay speak in Berlin in 1994 and when he came back, he offered me an audiotape of the talk. I was extremely impressed so I started reading Thay’s books. Then some monastics came to Berlin in the spring of 1995 to offer a Vietnamese retreat. We invited them to the restaurant, and talking to Brother Phap An, Brother Phap Dang, and Brother Phap Dung, I could see a real quality of happiness and peace about them that I wanted too.

So I went to the summer retreat at Plum Village. I ordained as a novice monk on February 15th, 1996.

How did it feel, becoming a monk?

It was very clear—I had been reborn. I had had a feeling of being reborn when I went back into civilian life, having survived, against the odds, my time in the forces. But this was different because I had been reborn onto a completely new path, one my ancestors could not really tell me about—a path of peace and happiness and understanding. My ancestors were reborn with me even though they didn’t know it. The fourteen-year-old in me said, “Now I got my wish.”


How did your family react?

Not happy. I had told them of my intentions beforehand. But when I actually ordained they were in a state of shock and didn’t want to believe it. When I visited Vietnam later, even my grandmother asked me, “Why a monk?” And I told her, “It was you, Grandmother, who took me to the temples. You showed me the good way, now I’m only trying to follow that way.”

My parents felt betrayed and that I had brought shame onto the family. I was their only son and their hope for the future of the family. So, many times they told me I had run away from my responsibility. They had matched me with my fiancee at an early age. She was part of the family. How could they explain to her and her family? And my fiancee was very hurt, which is a wound yet to heal. It gave rise to a complex in her: if I had become a monk there must be something wrong with her; she hadn’t been good enough to keep me. This is totally untrue but I cannot persuade her otherwise.

It was a difficult time for all of us but I knew I was on the right path. I had faith in the Dharma and was convinced that eventually my family would come to understand. But my father was angry and for the following two years avoided speaking to me whenever I telephoned home.

What finally brought about a change in their view?

It wasn’t until my father became ill with a worsening heart condition in 1998 that the door opened.  Before he went into the hospital I insisted he come to the phone and I told him I was going to send him some material to help him.  I sent the book Breathe!, You Are Alive, with Thay’s commentary on the Anapanasati sutra, the sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Then I gave a visiting monk from Vietnam a box of cookies to take to my parents’ home. By the time these arrived my father was already in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack.

My family sat down to share tea with my cookies. At some point—I can only imagine how their faces looked—my mother removed the plastic cover for the second layer of cookies. It was then they saw the carefully wrapped tape cassettes of Thay’s teachings, which accompanied the book I’d given to Dad.

My mother took them to my father in the hospital and he listened to them every day. It really helped him. Back from the hospital, he sent me a letter with a photo which I still keep. It is a picture of him and on the back he wrote: “You see your father is always waiting for you.” In his letter he said, “I know your way now.” Asian fathers don’t say they are sorry or admit they were wrong to their sons directly. I spoke with him on the phone and he said he was feeling good but a week later he had another heart attack and died later in the hospital.

Hadn’t you wanted to go be with your family at this time?

Sr. Chan Khong and Thay offered to pay my airfare, but I only had two years in the practice and didn’t feel stable enough. In 1999, on an invitation from Thay, my mother came to Plum Village for three months. We spent a lot of time together.  She enjoyed the way of life here so much she wanted to become a nun but the family back home wasn’t happy with that idea so she gave up her desire and went back.

Then in 2001 I went with the Sangha to Vietnam and spent two weeks with my family, which was also a healing time. My mother and I went to my father’s grave in a special memorial ground for government officials and officers. I offered incense and chanting for the deceased that we offer in Plum Village. It happened that a neighbor of my mother’s, a family friend, was also there visiting her husband’s grave. Her husband had been a close comrade of my father in the army. After the chanting she came up to us and said, “How lovely. I suppose you made a request to the temple for the venerable monk to come and chant for the peace of your husband?”

“But, this is my son,” my mother exclaimed.

The woman stared at my face, bewildered at first but soon recognized me and began to cry. She shared about her family’s suffering. Her son had gone to Germany at the same time I did. She said, “He has returned with lots of money but he has no peace. Your son has come back with no money but he has brought back peace. That is something so precious for your family, no money can buy that.”

Soon after I left Vietnam, my mother and this friend started a Sangha, offering mindfulness days and raising money for the hungry children in their region.

Can you share how, as a monk, you are transforming your anger?

Anger was the main obstacle for me. It came from my army training and from my father who had also been shaped in the army. Every single thing they tell you in the army waters the seeds of fear,

anger, and violence in you. The way your superiors relate to you is violent and you have to take all of that without reacting, but it goes in and then you dish out the same treatment when you’re in charge. All your training and what you do generates anger and you use the energy of anger, very focused and somehow cool, to do your job. It’s hard to imagine another way, although Thay teaches it is possible for a soldier to act from the base of compassion.

Living in the Sangha, it was easy to see my anger. Learning how to handle it was my practice. Over my six years as a monk I guess my brothers have had to go through a lot with me. Sitting in a meeting one time I became so angry at a brother as he was sharing, I had the idea to put the big bell over his head and turf him out of the hall.  Fortunately I was able to breathe and stay still. The energy in me caused me to feel I was the size of the gorilla in King Kong. If I stood up, my head was sure to touch the roof. I asked to hold Br. Phap Dzung’s hand for support. Soon I excused myself from the meeting and walked to Thay Giac Thanh’s hut. He was quite ill with diabetes and had recently broken a bone, but he was able to accept his illness and discomfort and be happy and peaceful. I would often do walking meditation to his hut and share tea with him when I was angry. I didn’t need to tell my story—just his presence calmed me down.

With  time,  through  the practice  of  mindful  breathing, I have developed a zone of peace in me and have had more and more space for my anger.  I say to myself, There is anger in me, but I am not this anger.    I can recognize it as it is coming up and take care  of  it. When  driving  I used to notice that my foot was pressing harder on the accelerator because my anger had manifested.  But because the  peaceful  mindfulness energy was also there, I was able to ease off very quickly. I would slow the car right down and go back to my breath. Mainly  walking  and  sitting meditation was the base of my practice but I also used other skillful means. I found writing poetry about my situation and feelings helped me. By  finding  eloquent  words and  putting  my  anger  into a larger context which contained positive thoughts and aspirations,  it  detached  me from the emotion. So gradually I know myself better and better and can recognize all the signs of my anger coming up and am able to take care of it right away.  Now I see the peaceful zone prevents the seeds of my anger manifesting, even when I see them being watered.

What do you wish for your future practice?

Just to continue the basic practice, to increase my happiness and peace. That is enough for me. I do see I have a strong seed to be an elder brother. I like to support my younger brothers but not as an authority.

I see also that here we have an opportunity to live together, Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese. It is a challenge to live together, to understand and connect with each other. Sometimes the seeds of prejudice are very strong. For instance, many Vietnamese still resent that Westerners tried to colonize our land and that they looked down on the Vietnamese as inferior. Many Vietnamese had a rough time integrating as immigrants. There can be a desire to show “I’m not less than you, I can do everything you can do and do it better.” But here we are together under the roof of the same teacher and as monastics we have left everything else behind for the love of the same practice. So we should make the effort to get to know each other and love each other. We can live together. It is an important act of peace— stopping the war—that we do this. I feel very at home with the Western people. I don’t care if my English or German is not perfect—even with my limited French I just go ahead and have a conversation. I don’t feel a barrier or a difference but relate to people on a human level.


Br. Phap Do became a Dharma Teacher in 2002. For me his character echoes those samurai of ancient Japan who gave up their swords to become monks and channeled their one-pointed determination and zeal into the ways and practices of a monk.  Every morning at five a.m., Br. Phap Do is at the bell tower of Upper Hamlet in Plum Village, calling us with the deep bronze sounds and his strong chanting voice to sitting meditation.

Br. Phap Lai is a novice from England, currently living in Deer Park.

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Book Reviews

mb41-BookReviews1We Walk the Path Together:
Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh & Meister Eckhart

By Brian J. Pierce, O.P.
Orbis Press, 2005

Reviewed by Chan Phap De

This is not another academic comparison of two great mystics; rather, it is a love affair, a meeting of two brothers in the heart of the author. Friar Brian is a Dominican monk and Zen practitioner who has been guided through his own spiritual journey by these two teachers. “Permeated by the flavor of living experience,” comments Bhikshuni Annabel Laity, “this book provides a freshness of insight and the deep humility that we need on the spiritual path.”

After years of reading Thay’s books, the author was finally able to join the Plum Village community for the 2004 winter retreat. He writes, “Meeting Thay and practicing with his monastic community have been a gift that I shall never forget, and in a surprising way, it brought me face to face with Eckhart. I realized with great delight that, through the person of Thay, I was sitting at the feet of both of these beloved teachers, drinking in their teaching in a profound way.”

Focusing mainly on Thay’s teachings in Living Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, the author explores the common ground between Christianity and Buddhism, finding many intersecting points in the spiritual wisdom of Thay and Eckhart. For example, the following statement of Eckhart’s sounds like Thay: “God’s seed is in us. If it were tended by a good, wise and industrious gardener, it would then flourish all the better, and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and its fruits would be like God’s own nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree,…the seed of God grows to be God.”

Friar Brian credits the simplicity of Thay’s teachings on the practice of mindfulness and contemplative meditation with helping him understand the theologically rich and dense sermons of Eckhart, who, seven centuries ago, was “easily misunderstood and labeled as dangerous.” Whereas Eckhart emphatically said “What does it avail me that this birth of God is always happening, if it does not happen in me?” Thay simply says, “We are all mothers of the Buddha.” Thay also uses the birthing metaphor: “Waves are born from water. That is why we adopt the language that waves are sons and daughters of water. Water is the father of waves. Water is the mother of waves.”

Thay warns against trying to grab onto the Buddha: “You believe that going to the temple you will see the Buddha, but by doing so you are turning your back on the real Buddha.” Eckhart says, “If a person thinks that he or she will get more of God by meditation, by devotion, by ecstasies or by special infusion of grace than by the fireside or in the stable—that is nothing but taking God, wrapping a cloak around his head and shoving him under a bench. For whoever seeks God in a special way gets the way and misses God, who lies hidden in it.”

What Thomas Merton said of Eckhart can be said of Thay: “He breathed his own endless vitality into the juiceless formulas of orthodox theology with such charm and passion that the common people heard them gladly.” In this book, Friar Brian taps into the good juices seemingly hidden in the Catholic tradition. He offers meditations on subjects such as suffering, the Cross, the Trinity, baptism, the Mystical Body of Christ, equanimity and grace.

As a former priest, a current Catholic, and a “beginner” monk, I felt great joy in reading this book. It not only helped me tap more deeply into my Catholic roots, it also connected me more deeply with Thay’s teaching. Like Thay, the author has made a significant contribution to helping Christians connect with their roots and spiritual ancestors.

mb41-BookReviews2Pine Gate Meditations

By Ian Prattis & Carolyn Hill

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

The guided meditations and chants offered in this CD come from the weekly practice at Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario. The hour long CD contains two chants, performed by Carolyn Hill, and four guided meditations offered by Ian Prattis.

The two chants, from the Plum Village Chanting Book, are the evening chant and the incense offering (the variation that starts,  “The  fragrance  of  this  incense”).

The guided meditations are each from twelve to fifteen minutes in length, making them a useful way to enjoy an extended guided meditation in solitary or in Sangha. There is a meditation on the Four Brahmaviharas, one on the Five Remembrances, an Earth meditation which helps us be in touch with our connection  to Mother  Earth, and  an Indian based So Hum healing meditation that comes from Ian’s practice in India. Prattis’s soothing voice and the gentle background sounds of water help to bring the hearers into a state of calmness and centeredness.

Though this presentation is rooted in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh practice, it also offers some new ways of exploring our spiritual connections. Ian encourages us to be creative in our use of these chants and meditations, and invites us to share them with family and friends.

A practical tool for Sanghas everywhere, the Pine Gate Meditations can be purchased by check or money order to Ian Prattis and mailed to 1252 Rideout Crescent, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2C 2X7. Costs are $23.00 US, including shipping; $23.50 Canadian. Or contact Ian at iprattis@cyberus.ca.

mb41-BookReviews3What the Stones Remember
A Life Rediscovered

By Patrick Lane
Trumpeter Books, 2005

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

Patrick Lane is a recipient of most of Canada’s top literary awards and considered one of the finest poets of his generation. He has also been an alcoholic and drug addict for over forty years. This book is the story of his first year of recovery as he emerges from a rehabilitation facility.

Lane finds his salvation in his half-acre garden, and shares intimate details of the lives of the flora and fauna that are his closest friends. Month by month, we track with Lane the change of seasons in the garden, and explore his circuitous path to healing and transformation through the gentle but unyielding examination of childhood memories.

The book flows seamlessly between childhood and early adulthood memories, usually painful; brief but sharply aware observations of a body and mind coming out of a lifetime haze of addiction; and intimate observations of the natural world. But perhaps more remarkable is the honesty that comes from deeply chosen words which reflect both the beauty and the pain of this man’s story. Lane tells us what his discovery of language meant to him: “Poetry was more important to me then than food or sleep, my wife or my children. I found my place in the world with language. I was certain that with language I could heal myself and control what surrounded me. If the house should burn down what would be most important was how I would describe the flames the next day. Love for me lay in imagined places, not in the real world. Death’s only dominion was in a poem.”

Walking through these stories with Lane––sitting with him by his pond with a cup of coffee in the early morning; watching the arrival and departure of the many spiders and birds that inhabit this territory; gathering boulders at a far-off quarry––weave this man into the reader’s heart. Though the stories focus mostly on his challenging early family life and his refuge in the natural world, the brief but stark reminders of the addiction he has just stepped out of remind us of his fragility and vulnerability.

In one of the many short paragraphs that sear with the challenge of freeing oneself of addiction, he states, “This is a fearful time for me and this first morning I stare at a whirl of flies and think the mad thoughts of an alcoholic. The absence of others has always meant excess to me. Bottles of vodka clink in my mind like wind chimes. I know my sickness will abate, the sickness of drinking will slip away, but I pray to the garden that I live this one day sober.”

As the months go by, it seems that Lane goes through a softening, an increasing sensitivity to the beings in his world. One story tells of his starting to drive down the road in his pickup, only to discover a small spider in her web on the outside mirror. Knowing that increasing his speed as he approaches the highway would kill this creature, he pulls to the side of the road and finds a place to gently put her in the bushes.

The final garden project is the creation of a meditation garden. Though at first its location is surprising––in the front yard, near the road––this choice seems to represent the final stage of healing, returning to the world, centered and imperturbable.

In this remarkable book, we witness the suffering of one man, healed and transformed through a deep awareness of the world around and within him. A model for us all.

mb41-BookReviews4A Mindful Way
A Simple Guide to Happiness, Peace and Freedom in Eight Weeks

By Jeanie Seward-Magee
Trafford Publishers, 2005

Reviewed by Constance Alexander

A Mindful Way offers an eight-week course combining mindfulness meditation with writing exercises as a means to self-exploration. The three-part program includes a daily ten-to twenty-minute sit with emphasis on breathing, two to four pages of free writing (in the tradition of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), and a nightly gratitude recollection. The layout of the book, wide margins with sidebar quotes from many traditions, makes for easy reading. The central five chapters each take one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as their focus.

The author has practiced in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition for a number of years, and Thay has written an introduction to this book. All profits from the sale of the book go to support Plum Village.

As a practitioner for four years, I decided to undertake this program as a way to deepen my own practice. I like to write—a bonus, given the many writing exercises. For those of us in a post-therapy era of our lives, going back to write about childhood and family may feel like “been there/done that.” However, the author raises enough interesting questions to keep one writing; for example, “Describe your life for the past ten years, but do it as though it’s ten years from now.” Talk about confronting all your hopes, dreams, and fears of the future!

I also enjoyed taking time before bed to remember five things for which I was grateful that day. I realized how often I prepared for sleep feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Remembering the small treasures of the past twenty-four hours and writing them down helped recast things in a brighter light. That little gratitude book became my reverse “to do” list—instead of guiltily reviewing what I hadn’t “crossed off my list,” I could refer to the list of blessings which had been heaped on me (many of which, I realized gratefully, were out of my control).

The author recommends that anyone using this book, if not already in a spiritual community, join with like-minded friends for this eight week journey. I agree. Sharing what arises will sustain and enrich the experience. In the early days of my practice, I dreaded reading the Five Mindfulness Trainings as, coming out of a strict religious background, I tended to see them as the Five Commandments (think stone tablets backlit with flashes of lightning!). It was only in sitting and sharing with my Sangha that I learned the beauty of the Trainings.

The author’s personal reflections, the stories she shares from her life, are an integral part of A Mindful Way. For me, these are sometimes not quite on target as illustrations of her point. This cavil aside, I found A Mindful Way a useful practice tool. It is an ambitious book, seeking to combine a spiritual guide with a more conventional self-help manual. But as such, it may also garner readers who would not otherwise pick up one of Thay’s books. There are many doorways to the practice.

mb41-BookReviews5No Time to Lose
A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva

By Pema Chödrön
Shambhala Publications, 2005

Reviewed by Judith Toy

The night the Buddha died in the tiny village of Kusinara, nearly three hundred bhikkhus lit torches. Until dawn they told stories of the Buddha’s life in the presence of his body in repose, while sal blossoms floated to earth. It was as if the torches symbolized the light of the Buddha himself entering the bodies of his disciples. Pema Chödrön has lit such a torch for us with her book, No Time to Lose, A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, her commentary on the Tibetan Buddhist classic, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharyavat ara) by Shantideva, an eighth-century Buddhist master from the monastic university of Nalanda, India. The author calls Shantideva’s work “a rhapsody on the wonders of bodhicitta,” the mind of love.

Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group into quatrains with the accessible cadence of iambic pentameter, Shantideva’s words sing: And may the naked now be clothed,/And all the hungry eat their fill./And may those parched with thirst receive/ Pure waters and delicious drink.(10.19) Shining the light of her wisdom on small groups of stanzas, Chödrön brings the twelvecentury old teachings home to present-day Westerners.

The emphatic and pragmatic title gives us a no-nonsense summons to get down to business in our own life and practice. Shantideva and Chödrön encourage us to use our lives to water seeds of love. As we set out on the bodhisattva path to free endless beings from their suffering, Chödrön offers, “Everything we encounter becomes an opportunity to develop the outrageous courage of the bodhi heart.” The authors repeatedly remind us to fall back on our essential Buddha nature.

Chödrön offers a helpful study guide at the end, which is useful while reading. Our Sangha’s aspirants to the Order of Interbeing will use this book as they enter the bodhisattva path. Compared to two previous translations of Shantideva, I found this one the most helpful for its rhythmic, poetic translation and for Chödrön’s down-to-earth commentary. Allen Ginsberg’s translation of the last famous lines of the Heart Sutra captures for me the imperative of this book: “Gone, gone, to the other shore gone, reach (go) enlightenment accomplish!”

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