Sangha News

Dharma Teachers Travel to South Africa and Botswana

From March 16 to April 2, 2008 three Plum Village Dharma teachers traveled to southern Africa: Sr. Chau Nghiem (Jewel) and her father Al Lingo, and Sr. Thuan Nghiem.


The group first spent ten days in Cape Town, South Africa, where they visited and shared at University of Western Cape theology seminar and gave a public talk. Next they visited the Nyanga Township and Etafeni Day Care Centre Trust, a multi-purpose centre for children affected by AIDS and their caregivers. Then they led an Easter Holiday weekend retreat, “Touching Stillness, Embracing Ourselves, Our Ancestors and Our Community” for thirty-eight adults and children.

Next they visited with the Group of Hope at Brandvlei Maximum Security Correctional Facility. “This was one of our most profound and memorable experiences in South Africa,” wrote Sister Chau Nghiem in her report to Thay and the Sangha. “The men there are under maximum security because of crimes like murder or armed robbery. The Group of Hope began with the intention to raise awareness about HIV in prison, to help reduce the discrimination towards prisoners with HIV. They wanted to do something for prisoners dying of AIDS and so they began a garden to grow vegetables for them and would visit them in the prison hospital and send cards home for them. This care and desire to educate others about the realities of HIV led them to widen their horizons. Soon, they began to sponsor twenty HIV-positive orphans, who come to the prison to visit with them once a month, bringing them lots of love and joy.”

During seven days in Gaborone, Botswana, the Dharma teachers gave a public talk and then visited a high school and the University of Botswana where they shared with faculty, staff and students. Then they led another weekend retreat and visited the Infectious Disease Care Clinic (for treatment of AIDS), and the Baylor Center (for children infected with HIV from birth) at the Princess Marina Hospital, Gaborone.

“Buddhism is quite a new religion to most people,” wrote Sister Chau Nghiem. “When we visited the IDCC, one of the nurses said she had never seen a real Buddhist before, only on television. We shared a guided meditation with all the nurses at IDCC to help them to be in touch with their bodies and emotions. They are overworked and experience a lot of stress. We offered them one of Thay’s calligraphies to post in their resting room, ‘Breathe, you are alive.’

“The next morning we had a tour of the whole Princess Marina hospital, the main public hospital in Gaborone. We dropped in to do a five minute guided meditation (and a much appreciated shoulder massage) for the head nurse, a matron who is so passionate about her work. She said: ‘I’d like to learn how to meditate but do not convert me to Buddhism, I love my God! I don’t understand why you have shaved your head and become nuns, but from time to time please send me a spiritual message from France so I can continue my stressful work here.’ We also visited the Baylor Center, which cares for HIV-positive children. Like IDCC, it is on the grounds of Princess Marina Hospital. An American pediatrician gave us a tour of this beautiful center and explained to us the challenges facing the society, as a whole generation of children with HIV were maturing into adolescents and experiencing the normal rebelliousness of that age and refusing to take their medication as instructed. She said that all sectors of society — education, family, social work, medical care — must cooperate to address this new challenge. We met many wonderful people and were very nourished by their aspirations.”


For recreation and renewal, they visited a local game reserve, to walk with elephants and to pet cheetahs. Sister Chau Nghiem wrote, “we had a very rewarding walk with elephants in the local Mokolodi game reserve. We walked with four teenage elephants who were orphaned as babies. Each of them weighs about three to four tons, and when they reach full maturity they will weigh five or six tons. They are so massive but so gentle to walk with. We walked alongside them and our feet made so much noise on the path, but the elephants walked completely silently. They taught us about walking meditation. Now I like to say, ‘Walk like an elephant.’ ”

In both regions the tour ended with a Sangha-building session to form a Sangha in Thay’s tradition. Racial inequality and the AIDS epidemic drew much of the group’s focus. Sister Chau Nghiem suggests that individuals and Sanghas can help with the wonderful work being done to address the AIDS epidemic in Africa by starting with these websites:


The Constant Innovation of the Dharma

At times my practice is plain and mundane. It goes through a normal routine of ebb and flow. This is when I know my practice needs an injection of something new. From the latest book by Thay to a retreat at Deer Park Monastery. Somewhere in between these two options a little known option is available to everyone worldwide — DPCAST.ORG, a Dharma portal available on the Web that brings the Dharma to you, the twenty-first-century practitioner. The latest Dharma gift from DPCAST.ORG features the practice of beginning anew from Sister Dang Nghiem and Brother Phap An. I advise you to visit DPCAST.ORG and listen in.

The acronym stands for Deer Park Podcast.You can download media from DPCAST.ORG or iTunes straight to your iPod, taking it on the go or listening to it through your desktop speakers. Alone or with a group of local practitioners; this is just the beginning of the constant innovation that has marked the rise of Buddhism across the world.

This Dharma-casting straight into your home and iPods was born after a group of Dharma friends were listening to Venerable Phuoc Tinh of Deer Park Monastery. The number of people in the audience of the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall was considerably above average, yet I sighed at the fact that more people could not benefit from the wonderful teaching that day. Light bulbs also went off in Dharma friends Laura Hunter, Ron Forster, and Mike Guerena. A serious discussion followed and we formed an informal committee of sorts that has come to bear fruit with the support of the monastic community of Deer Park.

There are many barriers to learning the practice. Today, distance and location is not as great a barrier as it was in the time of the Buddha. Mike Guerena recalled his first visit to Deer Park Monastery as “stepping on egg shells,” due to his uneasiness from not knowing what to expect, not to mention the thirty-minute drive from his home in Fallbrook.

Thanks to innovation, the Dharma is available to you in the here and now; just as life is. Our practice is based on solidity and the most solid type of practice requires the involvement of Dharma friends. The most solid way to find Dharma friends is still at the monastery, face to face, shoulder to shoulder.

But failing that, come visit DPCAST.ORG! And give us feedback to contribute to the constant innovation of the Dharma.

— Nguyen Thanh Hoang (



Announcing a New Blog: Mindful Kids

Resources for sharing mindfulness with children and a place to share ideas (

This is a four-fold Sangha resource and we need your help and participation. Plum Village monastics are currently posting the principal practices we share with children in the Plum Village tradition: practicing with the bell, pebble meditation, the Two Promises, Deep Relaxation for Children, Touching the Earth for Children, eating meditation, embracing strong emotions, walking meditation, etc. We will also include guidance on how to set up a children’s program or children’s activities for a retreat, day of mindfulness, or a children’s Sangha. We will post ideas for cooperative games and nature activities, as well as practitioners’ experience of sharing mindfulness with children as parents, teachers, children’s program staff, etc. (This is where we need YOU!)

Please register on and share with us your experience, your stories, your joy, your difficulties — share how and what you are learning from children. Share with us what activities work and what don’t work so well yet. We also encourage children to share their experiences with the practice. Feel free to send us art, songs and photos that we can post on the blog.

— Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem



Wake Up!

Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society (

Inspired by Thay’s recent teachings, young monks and nuns of Plum Village, along with lay friends, have started an international organization called Wake Up:Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society. According to the group’s mission statement, “Wake Up is a community of young Dharma practitioners who want to help their society, which is overloaded with intolerance, discrimination, craving, anger and despair.

“Their practice is the Five Mindfulness Trainings, ethical guidelines offered by the Buddha; the most concrete practice of true love and compassion, clearly showing the way towards a life in harmony with each other and with the Earth. If you are a young practitioner you are urged to join the Wake Up movement in your country. We may feel anger and frustration when we see the environmental degradation caused by our society and we feel despair because we don’t seem to be strong enough individually to change our way of life. Wake Up offers us a way to pool our energy and act in synchrony. Let us get together and form a Wake Up group in our own town. Our collective practice will surely bring transformation and healing to individuals and society. Let us get in touch with young practitioners from Plum Village, both monastic and lay, to get more support and information….


“Buddhism needs to be recognized as a source of wisdom, a long tradition of the practice of understanding and love and not just of devotion. The spirit of the Dharma is very close to the spirit of Science; both help us cultivate an open and non-discriminating mind. You can join the Wake Up Movement as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an agnostic or an atheist. The practice of maitri, of loving kindness, the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, is at the foundation of the Dharma.”

— Thanks to Sister Viet Nghiem

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The Realization of a Dream

Thich Nhat Hanh began his last Dharma talk at the Path of the Buddha retreat by speaking about the EIAB.

It has been Thay’s dream to set up an Institute of Applied Buddhism in the West, and now the dream has been realized. We have created the European Institute of Applied Buddhism [EIAB] in Germany, very close to Cologne. It is in the heart of Europe. There is a monastic community and a lay community taking care of the Institute and offering retreats and courses on Applied Buddhism. If you are a Dharma teacher in Europe or America, you might be inspired to go there and teach a course. You can bring your children and your students. There will be many students there from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and so on. You can get more information about it by visiting their website,

Unlike other institutes, there is a permanent Sangha always practicing there. At the EIAB, the residential community embodies the teaching and the practice. It is the most important feature of the Institute. Whether you are in Dharma discussion, listening to a talk or practicing sitting or eating, there is always a strong Sangha present to support you.

We want the teaching of Buddhism to be applied to many areas of life, so a variety of courses are offered. There is a twentyone-day course for young people who are planning to marry,

to help them learn practices and to gain insight that will make their commitment successful. This course has roots in the history of Buddhism. Traditionally, in Buddhist countries like Thailand, a young man had to come and practice in a temple for a year before marrying. It’s like military service, but instead, this is spiritual service. Even the prince had to do it, or he would not be qualified to be king. When a man asked a woman to marry, she would ask whether he had fulfilled his time in the temple. If not, she would refuse his offer. Now people come to the temple for a shorter period, but that service still exists. We hope that in the future in every country there will be an institute that will train young people before they can marry, because they will have a much better chance to have a happy family life. Because there are so many families broken by divorce, we must offer that course everywhere.

We also offer a twenty-one-day course for children who have difficulties with their parents, and one for parents who don’t know how to communicate with their children. And we offer a course for both parents and children to practice together. We offer a course for people who have recently discovered they have an incurable disease like cancer or AIDS, and one for those who are grieving from the loss of a loved one. We will also offer a course on how to set up and lead a local Sangha.

The Buddhism taught at the Institute of Applied Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life, a way of transformation and healing.

I think our spiritual ancestors and our blood ancestors have prepared this place for us in Germany. There is a lot of land, with many trees and clean air. The people in the town like us and are glad we have come. They support us, bringing gifts to the monastics. The building can hold 500 retreatants. Thay

intends to organize a gathering of Dharma teachers there from Asia, Europe, and North America to stay together for one week. They will sit and walk together, drink tea together and reflect on how to make the teaching and practice relevant to our times. So, please, if you are a Dharma teacher, you might like to come to that retreat at the Institute, probably two years from now.


The Meanings of Engaged and Applied Buddhism

First was born the term, “Engaged Buddhism.” Engaged Buddhism means that you practice all day without interruption, in the midst of your family, your community, your city, and your society. The way you walk, the way you look, the way you sit inspires people to live in a way that peace, happiness, joy and brotherhood are possible in every moment.

The term Engaged Buddhism was born when the war in Viet Nam was very intense. To meditate is to be aware of what is going on, and what was happening then was bombs falling, people being wounded and dying: suffering and the destruction of life. You want to help relieve the suffering, so you sit and walk in the midst of people running from bombs. You learn how to practice mindful breathing while you help care for a wounded child. If you don’t practice while you serve, you will lose yourself and you will burn out.

When you are alone, walking or sitting or drinking your tea or making your breakfast, that is also Engaged Buddhism, because you are doing that not only for yourself, you are doing that in order to help preserve the world. This is interbeing.

Engaged Buddhism is practice that penetrates into every aspect of our world. Applied Buddhism is a continuation of engaged Buddhism. Applied Buddhism means that Buddhism can be applied in every circumstance in order to bring understanding and solutions to problems in our world. Applied Buddhism offers concrete ways to relieve suffering and bring peace and happiness in every situation.

When President Obama gave a talk at the University of Cairo, he used loving speech in order to release tension between America and the Islamic world. He was using the Buddhist practice of loving speech: speaking humbly, recognizing the values of Islam, recognizing the good will on the part of Islamic people, and identifying terrorists as a small number of people who exploit tension and misunderstanding between people.

The practice of relieving tension in the body is Applied Buddhism because the tension accumulated in our body will bring about sickness and disease. The sutra on mindful breathing, presented in 16 exercises, is Applied Buddhism. We should be able to apply the teaching of mindful breathing everywhere – in our family, in our school, in the hospital, and so on. Buddhism is not just for Buddhists. Buddhism is made up of non-Buddhist elements.

So please offer your help because the European Institute of Applied Buddhism is our dream. Find out how you can help make this dream come true. Next June we will have a seven-day retreat there.

—Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village, 21 June 2009


Give from the Heart
The European Institute of Applied Buddhism

Following is an excerpt from a fundraising letter by Thay Phap An on behalf of the monastics residing at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB). To read the complete letter, view photos of construction at EIAB, see the course catalogue, or make a contribution, please visit

19 June 2009

Dear Beloved Sangha,

In September 2008, more than twenty brothers and sisters were sent to Germany from Plum Village to set up the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB). This has been a dream of Thay’s since he was a young novice. His wish is to bring the teaching of the Buddha into every aspect of our lives. Buddhism should not only be theoretical, but it should be practical and we should be able to apply it in transforming the suffering of individuals, families, and society. At the EIAB, we will have courses for new couples who are getting married, for parents and children who wish to reconcile, for police officers, psychotherapists, teachers, and businesspeople.

The EIAB building has the capacity of hosting 400-500 people. The military operated the building from 1967-2006 and they have their own set of fire safety regulations. As the EIAB, the building is considered to be in civilian use, and the authorities have a very different set of fire safety regulations for this purpose. In addition, many water pipes are now old and rusty, and together with our now out-of-date kitchen, they no longer meet the public health standards. We also need to repair our old heating system due to many leakages, and more importantly, to make it more energy efficient and ecologically friendly. To house the intended number of people, we would also need to build many more public toilets and showers.

In the last nine months, a team of experts that includes architects, engineers and technicians have looked carefully into this matter, and we now know that we would have to spend at least 3 million Euros for half of the building to be functional and open to the public. The EIAB is not allowed to be opened to the public under current conditions, and the brothers and sisters are only given temporary permission to stay in a small restricted area of this building until January 2010. This means that we have to raise 3 million Euros as soon as possible in order to proceed with the construction work and have it completed by the end of 2009.

Last night, I was thinking about how we can raise this big amount of money in such a short time. I evoked the name of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion to ask for her help, and for the whole night, I thought about my international beloved community – brothers and sisters and friends that I have come to know in my 18 years as a monk. I thought that if each of our friends, families, or local Sanghas everywhere in the world would give a contribution of 500 Euros, then with 6,000 such contributions, we would meet our urgent need of raising 3 million Euros by the end of this year. I am writing this letter to our friends all over the world so that you know about our situation. I have a deep trust in our beloved community. I know that if I communicate our difficulties to you, we will receive your help.

The EIAB is a vision not only for the European community but also for the international community. We sincerely ask for your practice of generosity to help to make the EIAB a reality for the cultivation of love and understanding for all of us, and our children.

— Thay Phap An
On behalf of the brothers and sisters of the EIAB


Help Prajna Monastery

Just as a flower garden may experience heavy winds and severe rainstorms as it grows, the Sangha body can encounter very difficult conditions as it blooms in awakening. In recent months, young monks and nuns at Prajna (Bat Nha) Monastery in Viet Nam have faced adverse conditions – including police interrogations, violent attacks, and threats of eviction. Yet they have continued to blossom.


Causes and Conditions

Prajna Monastery, in Viet Nam’s central highlands, houses more than 350 monks and nuns who have chosen to practice according to the Plum Village tradition under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh. They are all between the ages of sixteen and thirtyfive. Since Thay’s first return to Viet Nam in 2005 his teachings have inspired dozens of young Vietnamese to ordain as monks and nuns. The Venerable Abbot Thich Duc Nghi offered the Prajna monastery as a home for the new monks and nuns. Over the next few years, the number of aspirants and lay practitioners quickly multiplied, and Prajna needed to expand. Supporters from many countries donated funds to renovate buildings, build new structures, and buy adjacent land for the growing community.

During Thay’s next visits to his homeland in 2007 and 2008, he met with government officials, including the president of Viet Nam. Thay proposed that the nation open its doors to visitors, strengthen ties with other countries, and reduce its dependency on China. He presented a ten-point proposal to the president. All of his suggestions were adopted by the government except the last one, “to dissolve the religious police and the religious affairs bureau.” In a letter explaining recent events, Sister Chan Khong writes, “It seems that difficulties at Prajna can be traced back to this point.” She explains that Thich Duc Nghi was under pressure from the immigration office to expel Plum Village monks and nuns from Prajna, even those who had a valid visa.

In 2008 Thich Duc Nghi asked the police to evict the 379 monastics living at Prajna. By the end of that year, a report from the Vietnamese Buddhist Church directed the monks and nuns to leave by April 2009.

In a letter to his students, Thay writes that “this was not about an internal struggle over a temple, but it was the result of a delusion: that the presence of Prajna may be a threat to national security, because the monastics at Prajna… want to do politics.” He likens this perception to a painting drawn in the air – purely a projection. “Now everyone around the world is able to see that the monks and the nuns and the aspirants at Prajna only do one thing. That is: to practice and to guide others to practice.”

Wrong perceptions of the monastics have led to violence. A letter from the monastics of Prajna testifies: “Groups of men were ordered to throw the belongings of young monks out in the hallway. Gates to the monastery have been locked so that lay friends could not enter. Some monks and nuns have been chased with life-threatening objects.” Police came to the monastery frequently, searching and questioning the monks and nuns, and asking them to sign a statement that they were living there illegally. Sister Chan Khong writes that the monastics “always used gentle speech toward the police and even offered them tea and songs to relieve their tension.”


On June 26, monastic huts were torn down in an attack. Electricity, water, and phone lines were shut off, and food deliveries were blocked. An e-mail from a western visitor describes video footage of the event: “An out-of-control crowd swarmed over the grounds… taking things from the rooms, as uniformed police watched and did nothing.” As of mid-August the monastics were still without electricity and water.

A Chance to Practice

For the monastics, these events have offered a chance to practice mindfulness, solidity, and equanimity – to abide in stillness, even in the heart of turmoil.

In a letter dated July 20, Thay reassures his students at Prajna and everywhere: “Thay has confidence that you can behave true to the Dharma in challenging and difficult circumstances. The day Thay received the news that people invaded your monastic residence… throwing out your belongings, pushing whoever got in their way, and going to the third floor only to find all of you doing sitting meditation, evoking the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening Avalokiteshvara in the imperturbable posture, and not trying to react or fight back, Thay knew that you were able to do what Thay has hoped for, and there is no more reason for Thay to be worried about you.”

Thay’s letter recounts the story of a Prajna novice trained in martial arts. In response to the attack, the young brother “asked his mentor for permission to handle those men. ‘Please allow me to quit being a monk. I cannot bear it anymore. I only need fifteen minutes to defeat all those gangsters. After that, if needed, I will go to prison… when I finish my term, I will return to be a monk again.’” His mentor responded with compassion. “Dear brother, don’t call those young people gangsters…. They were misinformed. They are thinking that we are gangsters who have come here to take over the building and the land. They are victims of wrong information, and they need help more than punishment.” He encouraged his brother to sit in meditation and master the anger in him. A few days later, the novice realized that if he had answered violence with violence, he would have “destroyed the great example set by the Buddha and by Thay.”

How We Can Help

The world’s eyes are on Prajna Monastery. Articles about Prajna and “Plum Village style practice” have

appeared in newspapers from the United Kingdom to New Zealand. Worldwide, Sangha members are concerned, confused, and wondering how to help.

A blog titled features written accounts, letters, photo galleries, and a history of events at Prajna. It also demonstrates the resilient spirits of practitioners there. One photo shows a makeshift outdoor kitchen, with the caption: “The monks find ways to make do with hearts unperturbed.” Another picture shows a barricade of tree branches, with the words: “This pile of trees may block our path, but it can never block our understanding and compassion.”

The monastics have called for help from the international community so that they can practice in safety and peace. They “cannot just find another place to relocate, since there are almost 400 monks and nuns. Moreover, it is not likely that the monks and nuns would be left in peace to practice, even if we were to relocate. Thus, we entrust our protection in our spiritual ancestors and in you.”

To help the young monks and nuns at Prajna, Sangha members can write letters to the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate, sign a petition at, inform news organizations and human rights groups, and sit with local Sanghas, sending support and compassion to all those affected by the events at Prajna Monastery.

— Natascha Bruckner


  • AP news, Ben Stocking, “Vietnam’s dispute with Zen master turns violent,” August 1, 2009
  • Email from OI member True Concentration on Peace, July 2009
  • New Zealand Herald, Margaret Neighbour, “Monks evicted from monastery in row with government,” August 5, 2009

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We Have a Dream

Last September, twelve enthusiastic people came together in the Source of Compassion meditation center in Berlin. Our vision: a green residential community in Berlin, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. We would be excited to have English-speaking Sangha members from various countries participate. Would you be interested in joining us?

We envision that in the residential center, all inhabitants will have their own apartment where they live alone or with their family. They will continue with their outside work but will live and practice together as a Sangha. There will be enough space for young and old, families and singles, locals and foreigners.

We are a colorful group of longtime practitioners; most of us have taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings and four of us are Order of Interbeing members. Our professions include naturopath, teacher, drama therapist, hospice worker, and film director. Among us are eager eco-gardeners and a vegan/vegetarian cook.

We are looking for more support. We’re specifically searching for OI members as well as for an architect and someone who has studied finance. It would be best if these people were also OI members or longtime practitioners who would like to participate in the founding of this center. Families with children are wholeheartedly welcome. If you also dream this dream, please get in touch with Aleksandra Kumorek at


Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation Sangha Building Project

Thich Nhat Hanh has taught us that without Sangha, there is no Buddha and there is no Dharma. Sangha is essential to our practice. With the awareness of the need to help build, develop, and strengthen Sangha, the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation is honored to support our community with a new initiative—the Sangha Building Project. As part of its ongoing work to provide support for mindfulness teachings and practice programs, the Foundation is providing a start-up Sangha support fund of $10,000 to develop and help build Sanghas. Current examples of Sangha support efforts include:

Dharma Teacher Support – Grants of up to $500 to bring a Dharma teacher to a local Sangha and community for a public Day of Mindfulness.

Sangha in a Bowl – An offering of resources such as instructional and teaching books, a chanting and song CD and pamphlets, a photograph of Thich Nhat Hanh, “how-to” tips, and a bell.

For Sangha support guidelines and a funding application, or to make a donation for the Sangha Building Project, please visit or contact Lorri Houston, Foundation Community Liaison, at: Lorri@


True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing Practice

True Freedom is a Dharma-sharing practice that connects inmates with lay practitioners through the mail. The program is seeking experienced practitioners with a long-term, solid practice who can offer support by corresponding with an inmate. This is a powerful way to engage our practice while nourishing those who are in great need of support and Sangha. If you are interested in participating, please contact Pete Kuhn at for more information.

For our incarcerated friends: This is not a social pen pal program, but is designed for those who would like to share about the joys and challenges of their practice. Because we have a limited number of writers, this program is only available for inmates practicing in the Plum Village tradition. Inmates who are interested may write to us at the following address:

True Freedom
Community of Mindful Living 2499 Melru Lane
Escondido, CA 92026

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