From Sister Chan Khong

Editor’s Note: In the following two letters, Sister Chan Khong shares some ideas about implementing Thay’s vision of a unified Sangha and invites the input of the larger Sangha to help determine how this vision might be realized. Some of the advisory boards have already begun their work, but many other ideas-such as widespread use of the CML name and the establishment of a group tax exemption-have not been implemented, pending input from the Sangha and consideration of applicable law. We welcome input from the entire Sangha about these proposals.

March 31, 1999

Dear Friends,

In his Dharma Talk, Thay sets forth his vision for an inclusive and unified community. In 1974, while the war raged in Vietnam and Thay and I were exiled and living in Paris, Thay wrote his book, Zen Keys. In this book, Thay asked the question, “Is Awakening Possible?” He answered it as follows:

The problem that faces us is the problem of awakening. What we lack is not an ideology or a doctrine that will save the world. What we lack is mindfulness of what we are, of what our situation really is. We need to wake up in order to rediscover our human sovereignty. We are riding a horse that is running out of control. The way of salvation is a new culture in which human beings are encouraged to rediscover their deepest nature.

The first phase of this civilization must be to establish social conditions in which life can be lived in a human way. “Awakened” people are certainly going to form small communities where their material life will be simple and healthy, and time and energy will be devoted to spiritual concerns. These communities of mindful living will be like Zen monasteries with no dogma. In them, the sickness of the times will be cured and spiritual health will be renewed. Great art and thought will be produced.

The day following Thay’s Dharma Talk at Plum Village, a transcription of which is enclosed, the then-board of Community of Mindful Living, inspired by Thay’s vision of community inclusiveness, voted to add four monastic members to the CML Board. Thereafter, all of the nine board members of CML voted to merge CML into the Unified Buddhist Church, creating one inclusive, unified organization for our community. There were some difficulties in the process of merging, but with efforts made by everyone the good decision was ftnally achieved. The vote was unanimous.

Innovations–Inspired by the successes and innovations of numerous members of our community in bringing mindfulness practice to our society and in response to many suggestions of the Sangha, the following organizational modifications to our community are being proposed. The overall goal is to create a mindful organization that is integrated, easily understood by its members, an organization that encourages and realizes broad-based participation and a feeling of welcome, that defines the different roles and functions in the organization, and that applies consistent procedures and standards throughout all levels of our community.

Plum Village Example–It has been proposed by the Sangha that we all apply the practices used in Plum Village to all parts of the community. For example, we may consider, as Thay explains in his talk, that seniority in the monastic community is not a matter of number of years, but in time spent in defined practice sessions, for monastics, the winter retreat. Thay suggests that seniority in the lay community be viewed in this light also. Another practice used in Plum Village, which has been suggested be used in the lay community, is the use of guidance and Sangha Eyes. This is an important part of the community life here in Plum Village, and all of the Sanghas can beneftt from this practice. There are many other practices and innovations developed here at Plum Village that we would like to encourage members of all parts of the community to explore and use.

Different Elements of the Community

Sanghas or Local CML Chapters. As early as 1974, in Zen Keys, Thay was using the name Community of Mindful Living to describe the future practice communities he envisioned. It has been suggested that all local Sanghas could add the name Community of Mindful Living (CML) to their existing names. As an example, the existing Lotus Bud Sangha of Sydney Australia could now be called the Community of Mindful Living-Lotus Bud Sangha. If all Sanghas use the name, Community of Mindful Living, we become a family sharing a common name. By using the same name, CML, all Sanghas could be easily identifted, and anyone searching in the phone book, on the Internet, or in a Dharma directory, could ftnd the local CML Sangha chapter easily.

The name Community of Mindful Living is now available for all of our Sanghas to use. Also, we are applying through the Unifted Buddhist Church for recognition of an IRS taxdeductible group exemption. Each CML Sangha may beneftt from being able to receive tax-deductible donations, making sales-tax-free purchases, etc., using UBC’s tax exempt status.

It has been suggested that we encourage the creation of regional counsels of CML Sanghas so that we can have more participation and support each other. It is also suggested that a board of advisors be established to encourage and assist the growth of CML Sanghas. It is proposed that the initial board of advisors be: Therese Fitzgerald-USA, Anh Huong Nguyen-USA, Br. Phap An-Plum Village, Lyn Fine-USA, Chan Huy-Canada, and LeVan Khanh Chan Truyen-Australia.

Order of Interbeing. It has been suggested that the Order of Interbeing also have a board of advisors. The Order of Interbeing board of advisors, among other responsibilities, would deal with membership applications, review membership in good standing, and consider ways to nurture the growth of the Order of Interbeing. The Order of Interbeing board of advisors suggested for the first year is: Jack Lawlor-USA, Mitchell Ratner-USA, Larry Ward-USA, Terry Barber-USA, Sister Thoai Nghiem-Plum Village, Karl Riedl-Germany, Francoise Pottier-The Netherlands, Ha Vinh Tho-Switzerland, Elisabeth Ollagnier-France, and Chan Luong-Australia.

Dharma Teachers. It has been suggested that a board of advisors be established to assist Dharma teachers. This advisory board would support Dharma teachers in their quality of practice, Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and practice retreats. The board of advisors suggested for the ftrst year is: Sister Annabel-(GMDC) USA, Chan Hoi-Canada, Thay Giac Thanh-(MFM) USA, and Karl Schmied-Germany.

Mindfulness Bell. Thay envisions this publication becoming a worldwide Buddhist magazine with all parts of the community, Dharma centers, monasteries, CML Sanghas, mindfulness practice centers, mindfulness training institutions, laypeople, and monastics all contributing their insight and understanding. It is envisioned as an edited collection of articles written by and about all the different parts of the community and the Dharma and being a catalyst to create great art and thought, as Thay discussed in Zen Keys.

This publication, now edited by Leslie Rawls, could become an even more vibrant aspect of our community, and all members are encouraged to write and their submitted work is welcome. The board of advisors for the ftrst year is suggested to be: Richard Brady-USA, Jerry Braza-USA, Helga Riedl-Germany, Sister Jina-Plum Village, Ann Johnston-USA, Hoang Khoi-Australia, Mai Chan My-United Kingdom, and Eveline Beumkes-Holland.

Parallax Press. Headed by Arnie Kotler, Parallax Press will now have all our book publishing operations, both national and international, under its direction. It will also be expanded to include not only publishing but also all marketing of the intellectual property rights to Thay’s works recently transferred to the ownership of the UBC. We envision this Press as a strong, growing institution of our community. Its board of advisors, suggested for the fIrst year, is: Michael Rosenbush-France, Sister Huong Nghiem-GMDC, Sister Thuc Nghiem-GMDC, and Nguyen Ba Thu Chan Tri-USA.

Central Communication System. Using the existing CML webpage and a new 1-800 number, we would like to establish a comprehensive directory system for all CML Sanghas, Green Mountain Dharma Center, Mindfulness Practice Centers, the UnifIed Buddhist Church, Parallax Press, Plum Village, Maple Forest Monastery, Maple Village, The Mindfulness Bell, etc.

Future Years

The members of these advisory boards are unpaid volunteers. Of course, the paid staff employees of the various parts of the community, such as Parallax Press, The Mindfulness Bell, and the Order of Interbeing will have significant input into the decision-making process.

The above advisory board members are to be nominated for the fIrst year only. After the fIrst year, the community itself will decide whom to have on its boards of advisors. The entire community will be consulted by using the combination of democracy and seniorship outlined by Thay.

These proposed organizational innovations are inspired by Thay’s recent Dharma Talk and will bring in many new voices to the decision-making processes of our community. All of us, as individual drops of water, are joining together as one river flowing to the sea.

Yours in the Dharma,
Sister Chan Khong


Plum Village, the 250th day before the year 2000. April26, 1999

Dear friends,

Thay is very happy that the invitation of more participants and input contained in my letter of April 4, 1999 to all of you has borne fruit. We welcome and are grateful for your suggestions made over the past few weeks. The receipt of these contributions has encouraged us improve even more energetically on the path of broad based community decision making.

Thay is a generous teacher who has offered his guidance on how our community should be organized so that everyone may feel included and that his or her contribution is valued. Thay always listens to his Sangha. Together, we can carefully consider matters and our collective insight will bring forth well being of the entire Sangha.

We have proposed thirty members to be advisors. Initially. these advisors were chosen to give the broadest representation geographically from many continents and countries. speaking many languages and including laymen, laywomen, nuns, and monks. We are looking forward to expanding this core group over the next twelve months as the community determines. We wish that the various boards of advisors for The Mindfulness Bell, the Order Of Interbeing, Parallax Press, and CML will soon start to make plans to meet and discuss how to give more inspiration and encouragement to each part of the Sangha Body.Please do not wait, go ahead as a Sangha to discuss and to give new fresh air to that part of the Sangha where we suggested you put your energy. Even if your name is not on the board of advisors of that branch of the Sangha body, just contact those on the board and give your insight. We are listening carefully to the advice of our Sangha members who are attorneys about tax exemption at the local level, and will consider with you again before acting. Thank you.

We are pleased to inform you that as I write this letter, the board of advisors for Parallax Press has traveled to and has already spent many days in Berkeley, to work with Arnie and the staff of Parallax Press. Thay is very happy that so many members of the community are now contributing and that his students feel encouraged to contribute even more. With the maturity of practice and spiritual growth of so many of his lay students, Thay has decided that soon he will transmit the Lamp to many new lay Dharma teachers.

We need your input and help to make a True Sangha Body. We write to you with love and trust in the deep insights of the stream of our spiritual teachers existing in each of you and we wait to hear from you.

We believe strongly that this merger of two arms of Thay in the United States of America (UBC and CML) and the enlarging of the Sangha Body is the will of our spiritual ancestors but not from Thay only.When conditions are sufficient, where the merits of those who have received and who will receive this teaching are sufficient, deep energies push and things should be realized have been realized without premeditating. It comes out finally and helps everyone go in the direction of beauty.

Please continue to share your wisdom with us.

A wonderful green spring to you, a renewed fresh Sangha member,

Chan Khong True Emptiness Bare Feet

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Twenty Years Young in Plum Village

By Sister Viet Nghiem

I was born in 1982, the same year as Plum Village. My twentieth birthday, January 10th, 2002, was on a mindfulness day. I received a lot of love that day from the Sangha. I was very moved when Thay wished me a “happy birthday” before starting the Dharma talk.

Later, Sister Phuc Nghiem came into my room and gave me a package in a plastic bag. I could see a yellow-orange color that was very beautiful. It reminded me of the color of the sun playing with the leaves in Autumn. At that time I was still an aspirant and I did not know that the next ordination was coming soon. When I recognized the sanghati robe, I felt funny. Trying on my monastic robe on my birthday had a deep effect on me. I felt like an angel.

I shared my birthday cake with my brothers and sisters . I was so happy, my heart was full and my cheeks hurt from smiling, laughing and singing too much! I realized that I was twenty the same year as Plum Village. But what was the true meaning? Our monastery has been built up wholeheartedly and with great patience. Because all the conditions have been sufficient today we see Plum Village in its many manifestations and I am also one of those manifestations.

I saw that it is a real blessing to celebrate my twentieth birthday here. When I was fifteen , I came to Plum Village for the first time. For me, it was a refuge, a place where I could find the rest and comfort I needed. When I turned twenty I ordained in a family of twenty-one monks and nuns, the Sugar Palm Tree family. I dreamt of having a younger sister or brother and now I have ten brothers and ten sisters! They are in me and I am in them, and together we bring youth to the monastery because we are the cells of the same body, the Sangha body. I see also future generations in me, because by practicing well, I am more able to open Dharma doors for them. When I received the precepts I became a link in a long chain that has no beginning and no end.

To turn twenty in Plum Village allowed me to open up and bloom in the Sangha. I feel fresh because I am twenty for all those who came before me and all those who will come, whoever they are, wherever they are, visible or not visible. I am twenty for my mother, my father, for Thay, for my brothers and sisters, wherever they are today.

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Sister Viet Nghiem, True Adornment with Transcendance, is from Paris, France. After finishing her baccalaureat she came to live in Plum Village and after one year ordained as a novice in February 2002.

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Letter from the Editor

mb35-EditorTo Our Readers

The practice of compassion is not for the faint-hearted; it takes great courage to keep our eyes open to the suffering all around us without shutting down.

In the first Dharma talk at the retreat in Estes Park, Colorado last summer, Thich Nhat Hanh began, saying, “It’s lovely to see the Sangha body manifesting herself.” What you hold in your hands, dear reader, is another manifestation of the Sangha body. Every conscious breath, every step in mindfulness that each of us takes, contributes to the collective insight offered in these pages.

Lately I’ve been in the midst of several loved ones who are experiencing physical and emotional difficulties. I feel a growing daily awareness of their sadness and pain. My interactions with them have been both greatly challenging and rewarding. The day after the Colorado retreat, I unexpectedly left to help my aging and almost home-bound parents for three weeks. During that time, I felt myself being carried on the wave of practice generated by the Sangha in Colorado. As a result, my heart was able to stay open, and compassion led me into a new, soft and tender expression of love for my parents. I was able to give them my best—my presence. Through this experience, I see what a great teacher compassion is for me—giving me a way to be in the world, my heart breaking open every day to the sweetness of this life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint-hearted; it takes great courage to keep our eyes open to the suffering all around us without shutting down.

“Leading with Courage and Compassion” was the subject of Thay’s teachings to U.S. Congress members. A section on these memorable events includes questions and answers at the public talk, and notes from a journalist/ practitioner.

We learn about another aspect of the practice of compassion from Never Disparaging Bodhisattva in the Lotus Sutra. Thay leads us through this teaching, showing us that we all have the capacity to realize our Buddha nature, and the responsibility to encourage others to have faith in their ability to become enlightened.

Also in this issue, the Sangha body has manifested as:  inspiration from nature, including a breathtaking photo collection, and a story with haiku from two writer/environmentalists; a guided tour in story and photo from a trip of practitioners to war torn Israel; a teaching from senior nun Sister Jina, offering many concrete ways to deepen our daily practice; the story of a mindfulness psychotherapy clinic in Ottowa, Canada and ways to practice with our bodies and with pain; a letter from the mountains of Vietnam, asking for our assistance, as well as many other fruits of practice from Sangha members throughout the world.

Please consider offering the fruits of your practice to the worldwide Sangha through the Mindfulness Bell.

With this issue, we welcome a new graphic designer to our pages. Lien Ho, our tireless designer of ads and posters, subscription manager, and all around business administrator, is now designing the Mindfulness Bell. Lien is a treasure of the Sangha; she is a rare orchid that seems to never stop blooming, even in the most desolate of conditions. I look forward to seeing her gentle care and her professional hand add her touch of beauty to the magazine. Sr. Steadiness continues on the editorial team, as she lets go of the primary design tasks.

As this issue goes to press, the winter retreat will soon be upon us. When I first heard about the chance to be with Thay and the entire monastic community during this time, my heart knew that, for me, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one not to be missed if at all possible. To spend ten weeks nestled in the arms of the Sangha, letting the safety generated have its way with my heart, was an offer I just couldn’t let pass. To witness the loveliness of the Sangha body manifesting herself. Please join us, if you can.

In gratitude,

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Barbara Casey

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