Please Help to Support Our Two Monasteries in Vietnam

mb42-PleasePlum Village, 27 March 2006
Dear friends,

We urgently need a car for Tu Hieu Temple in Hué, the root temple where Thay grew up as a novice. It may cost 15,000 US dollars for a second-hand Toyota van with twelve seats. The monks and nuns need to go teach in many sanghas about 50 to 200 km from the Root Temple. They also need to shop daily for food for 100 monastics and for the 300 lay practitioners who come every Saturday. For the last nine months, they can only shop for 100 persons, riding on their motobikes and carrying big bags of vegetables.

We also need to provide a new bed, mattress, and blanket for each monastic aspirant, at a cost of 45 dollars. Each new practitioner is a new spiritual worker to continue the work of Thay to alleviate suffering caused by misunderstanding, violence and abuse in families, etc.

More and more aspirants want to study in the tradition of Plum Village at Tu Hieu and at our other monastery, Prajna near Bao Loc. [See Sister Dang Nghiem’s letter from Prajna Temple on page 28.] We are in great need of your help to continue this work.

Please send your donation to one of the addresses below. We depend on you to continue this beautiful and noble service. Yours truly,

Sister Chan Khong

United States
Make check payable to: UBC Deer Park
Mail to: Deer Park Monastery
2499 Melru Lane Escondido CA 92026, USA.
or transfer funds directly to account of :
Deer Park Monastery,
Wells Fargo Bank,
145 North Escondido Blvd.
Escondido CA 92025
Account # 029-1314078
Routing transit # 121-04-28-82.

France
Make check payable to:
EBU Village des Pruniers Mail to:
Loving Kindness Temple
13 Martineau
33580 Dieulivol
France
Attn: Sister Chan Khong

Europe and Asia
Transfer funds directly to:
UBS Bank Aeschenvorstadt 1
CH Basel, Switzerland
Account of Sister CAO N.P.F. Chan Khong
for the Unified Buddhist Church
Attn: Mr. Guy Forster;
0233-405 317 60 D in USD,
405 317 01 N in Swiss Francs, and
405 317 61 F in Euros;

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2007 Vietnam Trip

You are invited to join Thich Nhat Hanh and the monastic sangha for a journey to Vietnam.

First Segment
Feb 21 to March 12
(20 days)

Two days in Ho Chi Minh City, which is fairly warm, then 16 days in Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery in the highlands, very cool but not cold like in Hanoi, more like spring in France. Surrounded by tea and coffee groves, Prajna Monastery has two hamlets: Fragrant Palm Leaves Forest Hamlet with 110 monks, and Rosy Hearth Hamlet with 220 nuns.You will be housed in several hotels near the famous and beautiful Dambri waterfalls, 3 kilometers from the monastery, and you can either walk to the monastery or ride on buses. We will spend one day in Dalat and visit one of Thây’s friends, the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu, in his very beautiful monastery. There will be one full six-day retreat for lay people in Prajna, and another day when the monastics are having a monastic retreat. You may also spend a few days at the Phan Thiet Mui Ne beach. There are also 102 preschools in remote mountain areas nearby that you have supported via Plum Village and that you can visit.

Second Segment
March 12 to March 30
(18 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Ho Chi Minh City on March 12; we will arrange your flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, then to Hue on March 22, and return to Ho Chi Minh City March 30.

We will spend five days in Ho Chi Minh City, taking part in a Great Ceremony of Chanting with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war, and receive a profound teaching every evening. We then go to Nha Trang and Cam Ranh, two beautiful cities with wonderful white sand beaches where the water is very limpid and warm. Then we spend eight days in Hue City, at Tu Hieu, Thây’s root temple, where he spent his happy novice time, now housing 100 monks, and in Dieu Nghiem nunnery, 50 nuns who live and practice in the Plum Village style. You will stay in one of several hotels in Hue not far from these two monasteries. We may spend one day in Da Nang. There are also 567 preschools in remote mountain areas of Thua Thien and Quang Tri nearby that you have supported via Plum Village and that you can visit.

Third Segment
March 30 to April 18
(20 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Hue City. You should arrange your flight to arrive in Hanoi March 30, with a connecting flight to Hue the same day; then on April 10 fly back to Hanoi.

This segment begins with 11 days in Hue City with Thây and 150 young monastics at the root temples, followed by a Great Ceremony of Chanting together with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war. This city suffered a lot from massacres during the war. Thây will offer his characteristic deep teaching every evening. Hue also has the peaceful and romantic Perfume River, where we can spend a day riding boats, liberating fishes. Hue is also not very far from a wonderful beach, a beautiful landscape of mountains, lake, and waterfalls. There are also many humanitarian projects you have supported not far from Hue, in Thua Thien and Quang Tri. Then we will fly to Hanoi to spend six more days, including a visit to Ha Long (Dragon) Bay, featuring amazing and wonderful caves with stalactites and stalagmites in a magical setting.

Fourth Segment
April 18 to May 9
(21 days)

Meet up with our delegation in Hanoi on April 18 and return back to your country from Ho Chi Minh City on May 9.

There will be lively public talks featuring exchanges between Thây and Communist party members in Hanoi; Buddhism is very new for these people. There are also wonderful caves with stalactites and stalagmites in other places with magical beauty in Ninh Binh or Ha Tay, and the cave of the Vietnamese Avalokiteshvara on the Fragrant Mountain. We also will have a Great Ceremony of Chanting together with many holy High Monks to send energy to those who died unfairly during and after this war. We will spend eight days in Hanoi, with Thây teaching every evening. There will be two days of mindfulness for business leaders on a weekend in Hanoi. We fly back to Ho Chi Minh City April 26, where we will have another two days of mindfulness for business people. The Vietnam trip ends in Ho Chi Minh City on May 9th.

We Need the Support of Your  Practice

Please join Thây on this trip and support Thây with your practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, to show the Vietnamese people that Western practitioners approach Buddhism through the three very practical doors of Mindfulness, Understanding, and Compassion, and not through blind devotion and superstition. We humbly request that during your time in Vietnam with Thây, you refrain from eating meat, fish, or seafood and from drinking alcohol (even beer or wine). This, our only request to those joining Thây’s trip, is the offering that Thây wishes to dedicate to Vietnam. For 32 years there has been no war, but the people are not aware that without keeping the Five Mindfulness Trainings they are engaged in many other little wars—in families, at work, and in society.

Please send your registration to Sister Tue Nghiem at Plum Village: NH-office@plumvillage.org. For more information about the trip check www.plumvillage.org.

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Return to Vietnam for Vesak

May 2008

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In the Autumn 2008 issue of the Mindfulness Bell, we published several articles on the biannual United Nations Day of Vesak, which was held for the first time in Vietnam. We are pleased to continue our coverage of that historic event.

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Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s lifelong teachings on Engaged Buddhism, the conference explored “Buddhist Contributions to Building a Just, Democratic, and Civilized Society.” Five thousand Buddhist monastics and laypeople from all over the world participated. Thich Nhat Hanh was the main keynote speaker and many of Thay’s students made presentations on various panels. Four of those talks are reproduced here.

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Before the conference Thay gave a series of retreats, culminating in a seven-day retreat in English at Golden Lotus Hotel in Hanoi. Four hundred people attended; in this issue we offer reflections from two of the retreatants.

FromVietnam several monks and nuns traveled to Hong Kong, where a strong Sangha has developed in recent years. Sister Hanh Nghiem shares her thoughts about the Buddha’s Enlightenment Retreat, where “Mindful breathing was our peace, joy, and freedom.”

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Retreating to My Roots

By Loan To Phan

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I am a Vietnamese-born Australian citizen. While attending a winter retreat at Plum Village in November 2007, I got in touch with my ancestral roots on a level that over the last twenty-three years has been unacknowledged and unexplored, almost foreign. “Boi dap goc re, khai thong suoi nguon” (nourishing our roots, clearing our streams) were the themes at Plum Village that awoke a deep gratitude and curiosity about my blood ancestors. I realized that my existence came from a life force that runs through my parents, grandparents, and continuing back and back through many generations before them.

Growing up in a generally individualistic society has distanced me from my roots. Ironically, this has created a blank space that allows me to bring a beginner’s mind to explore and understand myself through knowing my ancestors. What better way to find answers to these questions than a trip to Vietnam?! And what better conditions than Buddhist retreats — with opportunities to deeply contemplate myself and hence my ancestors in me?! It was particularly meaningful to be able to do this with my parents.

Dharma Rain at Bat Nha

The first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh or Thay (Vietnamese for Teacher) was a five-day retreat at Prajna Monastery in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province. The spacious monastery and temperate weather of the green highlands near central Vietnam were ideal conditions for practice. In total there were approximate 3500 people of all ages attending this retreat. I was surprised to see so many young people there, some as young as fifteen — students and young people working in business, film industry, social work, health, etc. They all shared a search for meaning as well as relief from the difficulties faced in their increasingly demanding and pressured  environment.

Vietnamese people really enjoy socializing; in particular they like to be lively and vocal. However, during meals together and walking meditation all one could hear were the click-clacking of plastic cutlery and crockery, or the melodies of bird songs and rustling of leaves.

Thay spoke lovingly to the young people about having ideals and purpose in life, recounted funny love stories, and explained how having values or guiding principles as outlined in the Five Mindfulness Trainings can help restore and improve the quality of our relationships. He urged the young people to be determined and diligent in their practice of returning to the present moment by focusing on their breathing as they go about daily tasks. He explained how to listen deeply to cultivate understanding and Beginning Anew, a practice of reconciliation and expressing hurt in a constructive way. Brother Phap An gave a compelling account of his personal experience in dealing with a block of suffering he had gained during his childhood as a result of the war. Brother Nguyen Hai’s explanation on the Five Mindfulness Trainings contributed to inspiring about a third of participants to take the commitment to study and practice the Mindfulness Trainings and take refuge in the Three Jewels.

The regular afternoon exercise time came to life with traditional Vietnamese games such as bamboo stick jumping and Vietnamese hacky-sack, singing songs of meditation and joyful practice, or just walking around the beautiful gardens of Prajna.

The question-and-answer session contained some queries about forming and maintaining a Sangha for young people.

As a Viet-kieu I was impressed at the openness, depth and wisdom my young Vietnamese friends had drawn from their experiences. For some, Thay’s Dharma talk was a confirmation of their hard-earned life lessons, while for others the retreat planted a seed of curiosity about what it means to live engaged Buddhism.

The pouring monsoon, symbolising Dharma rain, came down generously as we shared deeply our experiences of life’s challenges and successes during Dharma discussion groups. The tents that we slept in became soaked but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We just rolled up our sleeping mats and joined the snoring choruses of the “young at heart” participants in the main meditation hall. In fact, the hard floor, lack of sleep (because it was colder than expected so some of us could not get good sleep) actually made our memories of the joy and peace in newly found friendship even more memorable!

Retreat for the Young People of Hanoi

Continuing their tour to the north, Thay and the Plum Village delegation held another four-day retreat for the young people of Hanoi, at Bang Temple, Hoang Mai province. Bang Temple was still under construction when over a thousand people crammed into its grounds, overtaxing its already limited accommodation and sanitary facilities. I was particularly moved to see elderly women bent over from their hard laboured life as well as young people from well-to-do families determined to receive the Dharma so much that again, the wet weather, hard floors, simple meals did not deter them from fully participating in the mindful practices.

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My Dad, who only attended the last session and lunch, was moved to tears by the collective energy of the four-fold Sangha eating mindfully. The walking meditation through the narrow local streets brought curious faces to the doors, preschool children offering their joined palms in respect and bright smiles as the river of Sangha flowed past, silent and reverent.

A highlight of this retreat was the session between young people and young monastics of Western and Vietnamese background. There was lively singing that accompanied eager questions about monastic life and faith. These questions illustrated the young people’s collective responsibility through concerns about their future as a generation facing the challenge of living in a society with increasing materialism and consumerism, corroding morality, and where Buddhism is a religion rather than a way of life and practice. The question-and-answer session with Thay was also dominated by questions from young retreatants about monastic aspirations and how to deal with the tribulations of romantic love.

Busy Hotel to Tranquil Monastery

There couldn’t be more of a contrast between the last two retreats and the twelve-day retreat titled “Engaged Buddhism for the Twenty-First Century” held at the Kim Lien Hotel in central Hanoi. This included the UN Day of Vesak 2008 and a three-day conference on the theme “Buddhist Contributions to Building a Just, Democratic and Civil Society.”

I went from a traditional incense-perfumed, spiritual environment with austere facilities to a relatively affluent, Western, secular hotel in downtown Hanoi. From sleeping on the floor and using squat toilets to serviced beds in air-conditioned rooms — I realised how attached I am to Western creature comforts! I am amazed at how in both of these environments the mindful practices can create wonderful and joyful energies, which confirms the universal nature of the Buddha’s teachings.

I am blown away at how a few simple collective practices of over four hundred participants from forty-one different countries can transform a busy worldly hotel into a tranquil monastery (not that there are any real differences in the ultimate sense!).

This retreat was special in that there was an ordination ceremony for the Order of Interbeing with over fifty people committing themselves to living the Fourteen Precepts, and close to one hundred taking refuge in the Three Jewels and Five Mindfulness Trainings.

After a week of solid practice one young person felt glad to call the hotel “home” after spending a day out in the hectic streets of Hanoi. Other under-thirty-five-year-old participants reported that their discussion groups provided an open, safe, and honest context where young monastics were accessible to lay friends, and together we listened and shared deeply our inner suffering, challenges, and experiences in living the Buddhist teachings. These were precious moments where we felt connected and supported to express ourselves; we could practice being the change we want to see in our lives and relationships with others.

The whole Sangha really flowed and practiced as one body as we did walking meditation around the beautiful Hoan Kiem (Returning Sword) Lake. Physically we must have looked quite impressive, all wearing the uniform grey robes or brown of the monastics, walking with each step contemplating the gatha: “Life is every step. Healing is every step. Miracle. Freedom.”

We ate together in silence and stayed within the hotel compound to preserve the wonderful collective energy, which was contagious as the hotel staff reciprocated our calm and respectful manners.

In his Dharma talks Thay warmly and humourously talked about the Four Noble Truths, Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Four Practices of True Diligence, and Three Doors Liberation. His presentation was always captivating, down to earth, and relevant to the current times, so that we could see daily applications.

Equipped with a week’s solid practice and new-found friendship and connectedness we attended the UN Day of Vesak 2008 with a strong and wonderful collective energy that moved and inspired other conference participants.

May all find a Sangha and flow as a river of clarity and freshness.

Loan To Phan, Tam Tu Hoa (Loving Harmony of the Heart), lives with her parents in Brisbane, Australia. She practices with the Solid and Free Sangha (Vung Chai Thanh Thoi) while working as a psychologist in a mental health service.

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Media Reviews

mb52-MediaReviews1Clear Peaceful Moon
Songs inspired by the poetry of Thich Nhat Hanh

By Joseph Emet
Parallax Press
CD, 47 minutes

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

This is a new release from the creator of the beloved collection A Basket of Plums. Joseph Emet is a Dharma teacher who lives in Montreal and writes beautiful songs in both English and French, all inspired by the words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

This new collection includes an old favorite that I heard at Plum Village many years ago and always loved for its whimsical lilting tune. The words evoke the delights of walking meditation:

The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this lovely path I walk in peace.
With each step a gentle wind blows, with each step a flower blooms.

In his note about this song Joseph writes that he “saw this gatha of Thay’s printed on the back of a friend’s calling card a long time ago.”

Most of these songs are practice songs, meant to be sung with a Sangha — or perhaps alone in the car or while walking. The arrangements are simple and sweet, showcasing the clear voices of Emily M. King, Jean Monpetit, and the Skylarks, a women’s ensemble from the Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa. But when I actually sing them with others they come alive.

At the June 21-day retreat at Plum Village in 2006, Joseph taught us to sing “Waking Up This Morning”:

Waking up this morning I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thankfulness for the many wonders of life.

It is especially beautiful as a round. A friend and I tried to teach it at the monastic retreat in Estes Park last year, and failed laughingly at making it into a round. But it’s a lovely song just as it is.

I had the good fortune of participating in a singing circle with Joseph at the Path of the Buddha retreat this past June at Plum Village. On our last lazy day, Joseph came to Lower Hamlet and about twenty of us sat on the veranda of the meditation hall while Joseph led us with his guitar.

My favorite moment came while we were singing “Remember”:

Remember the time when, a white cloud, you were
floating in the sky and I, a wandering stream, used
to sing on my way to the wide ocean.

After we had learned the song, Joseph instructed us to turn to the person next to us, and sing it to each other. It wasn’t long before my partner and I had tears in our eyes. Somehow, for that moment, we truly remembered being a cloud, being a stream flowing to the ocean.

Newcomers to our practice often wonder at the childlike songs we enjoy. But music opens the heart in a way nothing else can. Almost everyone can sing. Simple songs connect us to one another — and to our inner child’s joyous heart.

mb52-MediaReviews2Mindful Living Every Day
Practicing in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh

A film by David M. Nelson
Parallax Press
DVD, 120 minutes

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

A few Sundays ago, nine of us gathered to enjoy a morning of mindfulness. After sitting and walking outside, we watched Mindful Living Every Day: Practicing in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the new film that introduces Plum Village style practice in a fresh and beautiful way. Produced and filmed by David Nelson, and written by Nelson and the Plum Village monastics, the deep, mindful energy of this film conveys the teachings impeccably. After the viewing, every person present wanted his or her own copy.

The narration in this forty-minute film is shared by several monks and nuns. The scenes of Plum Village life, children in the Netherlands, and practitioners in Vietnam and the U.S. bring variety, interest, and light-heartedness to the presentation. The narrator begins the film explaining that we practice the art of mindful living, and that mindfulness reveals love, which makes us free. From there, the first section of seventeen short chapters offers simple teachings on stopping, mindful breathing, sitting and walking meditation, working and eating. Later, simple teachings on interbeing, how to water good seeds, transforming feelings, the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and Beginning Anew are offered.

The photos include Plum Village sunrises, children playing, practitioners exercising, walking, and working, and Thay inviting the bell. Each chapter is introduced with Thay’s calligraphy, and occasional cartoons illustrate teachings as well.

Already this film has brought great happiness to our Sangha, and to friends and family of our Sangha members. One Sangha member is passing her copy to her children and grandchildren. Another member invited a friend and her thirteen-year-old son to watch it, after dishing out bowls of ice cream. She reported that they all sat in silence at the end, ice cream melting in the bowls.

This may be the best method I know to share the simple practices and the deep, transformative energy of mindfulness in a widely appealing way. A deep bow of gratitude to David Nelson for this Sangha-building tool.

Bonus feature: Each of My Steps Is a Prayer. A documentary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s pilgrimage to his homeland Vietnam after over 40 years in exile.

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Dharma Talk: No Birth, No Death, Only Transformation

Questions and Answers with Thich Nhat Hanh

Upper Hamlet, Plum Village July 24, 2012

 Thich Nhat Hanh

Thay: Today is the 24th of July, 2012, and we are in the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village during our third week of the Summer Opening. We are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Plum Village.

Today we have a session of questions and answers. We know that a good question will help many people. A good question has to do with our practice, with our difficulties, with our suffering, with our happiness, with our experience. That is why we should ask a question of our heart, a question that has been there for a long time.

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Child: If you just moved into a new school, and you’re finding it hard to make new friends, how can you make new friends?

Thay: If you’ve just moved to a new school, that is very exciting. Many things will happen and you will have to be ready to encounter new events and new friends. Don’t worry. Just allow things to happen. New friends will come to you if you are ready. Just practice pebble meditation, breathing in and out, to help yourself relax. It’s like when you go to the mountains for a vacation and there are many beautiful trees and flowers that you have not seen before. You will be happy to see them. You cannot predict what you will see, but you know that you will see many beautiful things, animals, vegetables, and minerals. Going to a new school is like that. There will be many new things that can make us happy. So don’t worry. Prepare yourself. Tell yourself, “I am going to have new friends. And I allow it to happen. I don’t have to choose.”

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That girl that you will meet will be a good friend of yours, or not a good friend of yours: that depends on you. She might be very lovable. The way you look at her, the way you talk to her, can make her even more lovable. If that person is not very lovable, your way of looking and smiling can make her more lovable. So it depends on us also, not only on them.

We wish you a lot of luck and success, and maybe next year you will come to Plum Village and report to us how things are with the new school, okay? Remember. Thank you.

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Adult: If there is no such thing as death, then why is it wrong to kill?

Thay: Very good question! When you want to kill, when you think that you can kill, you have wrong perceptions. Suppose you want to kill a cloud, because you don’t know that a cloud can never die. A cloud can only become snow or rain. So the willingness to kill is a kind of energy characterized by ignorance, wrong perception, anger, and violence. That is why the act of killing is wrong. It is wrong because it does not have intelligence, wisdom. It has a lot of violence and suffering. Even the idea before the act of trying to kill is already wrong. What is wrong can bring a lot of suffering. Not to the other person, but to ourselves.

The person who killed Martin Luther King, the person who killed Mahatma Gandhi, the person who killed John F. Kennedy, the person who killed Jesus Christ, they were people who suffered a lot. They had a lot of anger, of fear, of violence, because they had a lot of ignorance and wrong perceptions. They thought they could kill. You cannot kill Martin Luther King. He becomes very strong after your attempt to kill him. Martin Luther King is now stronger than before.

Suppose you want to kill a cloud. How can you kill a cloud? Your attempt to kill someone, to destroy someone, will only lead to your suffering. That is why we have to touch the true nature of no-birth and no-death.

Someone who commits suicide brings a lot of suffering. He thinks that he can kill himself, but the fact is that he cannot. His attempt to kill himself makes him suffer more and makes people around him suffer more. You cannot die and you cannot kill someone. Mahatma Gandhi is still alive and is very strong now. He is in every one of us. Martin Luther King, also; Jesus Christ, also; the Buddha, also.

The willingness to kill is suffering because it has ignorance, anger, and violence in it. Modern science agrees with the Buddha that you cannot kill anything; you cannot make anything disappear. Nothing can die. Rien ne se crée; rien ne se perd, tout se transforme.* There is only transformation; there is no death. It appears that there is death and birth, but if you go deeply, you see that it’s not true. If you study science, chemistry, or biology deeply, you will touch the truth of no-birth and no-death.

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Teenager: Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I suffer a lot from my father. It’s difficult for me to see him, and it’s almost become dangerous. I don’t want to see him anymore. I’ve given him several chances to change. I have forced myself to go see him. Now I can’t. My question is, do I still have to try and change him, and try to go to him? Even though it is making me very tired?

Thay: This is a very important question, and many of us have that question in our heart. The other person does not seem to change after many of our attempts to help change him or her. Should we continue or not? In order to find the right answer, we have to look more deeply to see the relationship between us and the other person. Whether we are son and father, or daughter and mother, or partner and partner, if we have difficulty with the other person and if we want to change him or her, the first thing we should do is to look deeply into ourselves and into that person, to see the relationship, the connection.

Usually we think that the other person is outside of us. That is not right view. In this case, we think that our father is outside of us, and we need only to change the outside and not the inside. We need to see that our father is in us; our father is present in every cell of our body. We are the continuation of our father. It may be easier for us to change our father inside first, and we can do that twenty-four hours a day. You don’t need to go and see him, talk to him, in order to change. The way we breathe, the way we walk, can change him in ourselves. Invite him to walk with us, to sit with us, to smile with us, and the father inside of us will change. Otherwise we will grow up and behave exactly like him.

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There are many children who hate their father, who promise that when they grow up they will not act and say things like their father. But when they grow up they will act exactly like their father, and they will say things exactly like their father. That has happened many times. You hate it, you don’t want to do it, you don’t want to say it. And yet you will do exactly that, and you will speak exactly like that. In Buddhism, that is what we call samsara, going around. You continue your father, not only with your body, but with your way of life. That is why when you encounter the Buddhadharma, you have a chance to change your father in you first. When you have been able to change your father inside of you, he will not go to samsara again. And you will not transmit that kind of habit to your children. So you end the round of samsara going around, recycling. When the father inside has been transformed, the transformation of the father outside will be much easier. That is my experience.

I have fellow monks who are difficult. They are dignitaries in the Buddhist church. They are very conservative. They do not allow transformation to take place in the community. You know that in order to serve society, you have to renew your community, whether your community is Christian, or Buddhist, or Muslim, or Jewish. Many of us are eager to renew our tradition to serve our society and human beings, right? But there are so many conservative elements in the church or religious institution. That is true in my case also. I noticed this very early. I said, “They are in us. We have to change ourselves first.”

So if you are a partner, and your partner does not change, don’t think your partner is only outside of you. Your partner is inside of you, even if you have divorced him or her. Yesterday I received a question, “Can we reconcile, can we begin anew with the one whom we have divorced?” This is exactly the question we have to answer. In the beginning you believe that after divorce you can be yourself entirely and you can take him out of you completely. That’s wrong! You can never remove him from you. You can never remove her from you. No way. Before you attempt to do something with the other person outside of you, try to help him transform inside of you, try to help her transform inside of you.

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With this practice, we can succeed in transforming ourselves and become a model. We become fresh. Our way of being is exactly the way we want him to be. So by speaking, by acting, by living, you begin to change him. You don’t change him by talking alone. Maybe talking cannot change him. But your way of acting, your way of responding instead of reacting, will help change that person. And because he also has intelligence, he can notice that.

You know that to succeed in the work of changing yourself and changing the other person, you also need a Sangha, you also need friends to support you. That is why you have to take refuge in the Sangha. You have to know how to make good use of the collective energy of the Sangha to support your transformation and healing and to help us transform the other person.

Don’t be too eager to transform him right away. You have to accept him as he is first. You have to accept her as she is first. After acceptance, you feel much better already, and you begin to change him inside of you. This is a very deep practice.

Since our friend has come to Plum Village every year and practiced with us since he was a small child, I believe he can do it. And we’ll try to support him to do it. We never lose our hope. The way not to lose our hope is to make progress every day by the practice, daily practice. Thank you for asking the question; it was very good.

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Child: How do you become a monk?

Thay: In Plum Village, we have a program of five years of monastic training and service. If you want to, you can take five years and live as a monk or a nun. If you are young, from sixteen to thirty-six, you may try living with us as a monk for five years. You will practice three years as a novice and two years as a fully ordained monk. During that time you learn more of the Dharma, you learn to apply the practice in your daily life, you live in community, you practice monks’ or nuns’ precepts, and you help your monastic brothers and sisters organize retreats for other people. You can train and serve at the same time. Your way of walking, sitting, organizing, can already inspire people. Every time we have a retreat, you have a chance to practice, and you can see the transformation and healing of the people who come to the retreat. That makes you very happy because the Dharma works, the Dharma is effective. After five or six days of practice, people change; people restore their joy and their peace, they reconcile with each other. That helps you believe that your life can be useful, your life has meaning. You can help make people happy.

In Plum Village this year, at the Summer Opening, four thousand, five thousand people came and practiced with us. Among them were many children. You can see their transformation, their healing, their joy. That is something that can nourish you very much.

After five years of monastic training and practice, you can go back to lay life or you can continue as a monk. Ninety percent of us monastics here, we are monks or nuns for our whole life. Less than five percent are five-year monastics. After five years as a monastic, you can either continue as a monk or a nun, or you may go back to lay life and become a lay Dharma teacher, because after the fifth year, you become an apprentice Dharma teacher for one year. After that year of practicing as an apprentice Dharma teacher, you’ll be transmitted the lamp and become a Dharma teacher.

So on this occasion I would like to invite the young people to think about it. Is it possible to live as a monastic for five years? To directly experience the joys of brotherhood, sisterhood, generated by the practice, and to have a chance to serve also?

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Adult: Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I have two questions. My first question is: I am the last child from the lineage of my ancestors, and so there is a lot of suffering to transform. But also I was very lucky to have enough conditions to encounter the Dharma and not to be running after survival, so I could practice. Now I just came back from a long journey, and I can see very clearly how the suffering was built up in our family, generation after generation, through historical conditions. So I am trying to share with my elders so that they might also find relief, but some of them are very hardened. They have a lot of anger. They have become very mean and very desperate. Even though I have some understanding, I know I am also not stable enough in certain situations. I don’t know what to do anymore to help them. I’m very worried, because I have seen some from my parents’ generation, who escaped from the war, become completely insane and really destroy themselves. So this is my first question.

And my second question is: Why is it, in the Buddhist tradition, that even today there is still so much discrimination against women?

Thay: Do you think that in Plum Village we discriminate against women? The nuns and some laywomen practitioners in Plum Village play a very important role in organizing the lives and the practice of the Sangha here and the practice of the larger Sangha.

The tradition of bhikshunis** still exists in many countries. There are countries that have lost the bhikshuni Sangha. That’s not because of Buddhism, but Buddhist practitioners. They allow that kind of discrimination from society to penetrate into their community. In Thailand and in Sri Lanka, they don’t have bhikshunis anymore, and many of the people in these countries are trying to restore the order of bhikshunis. So Buddhists are not practicing well enough. That is why you have to do better than the former generations.

Thay is one of those who tries to restore the spirit in each order, the original spirit of Buddhism, because the Buddha removed all kinds of discrimination. He received all kinds of people, all races, all castes into his community. He welcomed women to become bhikshunis. He was a real revolutionary in his time. It was very difficult, but he was able to do it. So we who are the continuation of the Buddha should practice well enough in order to maintain his heritage, to preserve his heritage of no discrimination.

Suffering is overwhelming. There are those of us who came out of the Vietnam War full of wounds. We have seen our brother, our father, our mother, our sister killed, destroyed, maimed during the war. We have seen many of them imprisoned and tortured during the war. The foreign ideologies and the foreign weapons had been brought in from all over the world to destroy us, to kill us, and we were forced into a situation like that for a long time. Each of us, each Vietnamese of the new generation, carries within himself or herself that kind of suffering.

And Thay, after forty years of exile, has been able to go home a few times, organizing retreats in order to help heal the wounds of the war in people, in the younger generation. He tried to do his best. He tried to do it as a Sangha, not as a person. Thay went back to Vietnam not as an individual, but as a community. Three hundred practitioners went back to Vietnam with Thay for the first time after forty years of exile. That was in 2005. Our practice was very solid.

Imagine the hotel in Hanoi where we stayed. Secret police came and observed us because they were afraid of us. Everywhere we went they followed us. They wanted to know what we were telling people, what we were doing. They were forced to allow Thay to come home, but they were afraid that we might say something, we might urge the people in Vietnam to say something against them. Several hundred of us practiced with solidity. The way we walked, we way we breathed, the way we ate our breakfast, the way we encountered the people in the hotel and those who came to see us, including the secret policemen, reflected our practice.

The hotel where we lived looked like a practice center. There was mindfulness, there was peace, brotherhood, sisterhood, and they were very impressed. One time we did walking meditation around Hoan Kiem Lake, and for the first time people of the city saw such a large number of people walking with peace, joy, and happiness. They were struck by the sight. That had a big impact on the population. They saw solid practitioners, and we were able to share the practice with so many people in our public talks and in our retreats.

After that, we organized ceremonies of prayers. We prayed for the millions of people who died during the war, and thousands of people came and practiced with us and prayed together. We promised, each of us, that never again would we accept such a war of ideology and kill each other with foreign weapons and foreign ideologies. That was possible. We practiced to help with the healing of the whole country.

So my answer here is that in order to succeed in our attempt to help, we have to do it with a Sangha. We have to belong to a Sangha. We have to be powerful enough to be able to handle the suffering. There’s a lot of garbage, and since many of us do not know how to transform garbage into flowers, making good use of suffering in order to create peace and healing, we need a Sangha to support us.

When we practice alone, self-transformation is already difficult, not to say transformation of others. That is why we have to try to build a Sangha, to be with a Sangha. Without Sangha, you cannot do much of the work of transformation and healing. Without the Sangha, even the Buddha cannot do much. That is why after enlightenment, the first thing he thought of was to go and identify elements of his Sangha.

You have to do the same. Thay is very aware of that. Thay knew that if he went home alone, he would not be able to do anything. So he put forth a condition: I will come back only if you allow me to come with my Sangha. With Sangha we will have the collective energy powerful enough to take care of our suffering, to transform our suffering.

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Adult: Is there life after death?

Thay: Life is always with death at the same time, not only before. Life cannot be separated by death. Where there is life, there is death; and where there is death, there is life. This needs some meditation to understand. In Buddhism we speak of interbeing, which means that you cannot be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with the other side. It’s like the left and the right. If the right is not there, the left cannot be. If the left is not there, the right cannot be. It’s not possible to take the left away from the right. It’s not possible to take the right away from the left.

Suppose I ask one of you to bring the left to the Lower Hamlet, and one of you to bring the right to the New Hamlet. It’s impossible. The right and the left want to be together, because without the other you cannot be. It’s very clear. Like the above and the below. The above cannot be there if there’s no below. That is what, in Buddhism, we call interbeing. They have to be there at the same time.

So when God said, “Let the light be,” the light said, “I have to wait, my God, I have to wait.” God asked, “Why are you waiting?” And light replied, “I am waiting for darkness to manifest together with me.” Because light and darkness inter-are. Then God said, “Darkness is already there.” And light said, “In that case, I’m already there.”

That is true of good and evil, before and after, here and there, you and I. I cannot be there without you. The lotus flower cannot be there without the mud. Without the mud, a lotus is not possible. There is no happiness without suffering. There is no life without death.

When biologists observe the body of a human being, they see that life and death happen at the same time. In this very moment, thousands of cells are dying. When you scratch your skin like this, many dry cells fall down. They have died. Many cells die every moment of our daily life. Because you are so busy, you don’t notice that you are dying. If they die, you are dying. You think that you don’t die yet. You think that you have fifty or seventy years more before you die: that’s not true. Death is not down the road. Death is right here and right now.

Death is happening right here and now, at each moment. Because of the dying of a number of cells, the birth of other cells is possible. So many cells are being born in the present moment, and we don’t have the time to organize a happy birthday for them. The fact is that, scientifically speaking, you can already see birth and death happening in the present moment. Because of the dying of cells, the birth of cells is possible. Because the birth of cells is possible, the dying of cells is possible. They lean on each other to be. So you are experiencing dying and being born in every moment. Don’t think you were only born in that moment written on your birth certificate. That was not your first moment. Before that moment, there were moments you were already there. Before you were conceived in the womb of your mother, you had already been there in your father and your mother in another form. So there is no birth, no real beginning. And there’s no ending.

When we know that birth and death are together always, we are no longer afraid of dying. Because at the moment of dying, there is birth also. La vie est avec la mort. They cannot be separated. This is a very deep meditation. You should not meditate with your brain alone. You have to observe life throughout your day, so you see birth and death inter-are in everything—trees, animals, weather, matter, energy. Scientists have already pronounced that there is no birth and no death. There is only transformation. So transformation is possible, is real, and birth and death are not real. What you call birth and death are only transformation.

When you perform a chemical reaction, you bring a number of substances together. When the substances meet each other, there is a transformation. And sometimes you think that a substance is no longer there; it has vanished. But in fact, looking deeply, you see that the substance is still there in another form.

When you look at the blue sky, you don’t see your cloud anymore. You think your cloud has died, but in fact your cloud continues always in the form of the rain and so on. Birth and death are seen only on the surface. If you go down, deep down, there is no birth and no death. There is only continuation. When you touch the continuation, the nature of no birth and no death, you are no longer afraid of dying. Not only the Buddhists speak of no birth and no death, but science also speaks of no birth and no death. They can exchange their findings. It’s very interesting. It’s an invitation for us to live our life more deeply so that we can touch our true nature of no birth and no death.

Thay’s answer, I know, is only an invitation to practice. We have to live our life more mindfully, with concentration, so that we can be deeply in touch with what is happening. And then we have a chance to touch the true nature of reality, no birth and no death. We describe it in Buddhism with the term nirvana. Nirvana is no birth and no death. In Christianity you may call it the Ultimate, God. God is our true nature of no birth and no death. We don’t have to go to find God. God is our true nature.

It’s like a wave who believes that she is subjected to birth and death. Every time she comes up and then begins to go down, she’s afraid of dying. But if the wave realizes that she is water, she’s no longer afraid. Before going up she is water, before going down she is water, and after going down, she continues to be water. There’s no death. So it’s very important that the wave does some meditation and realizes that she is wave, but she is at the same time water. And when she knows she is water, she is no longer afraid of dying. She feels wonderful going up; she feels wonderful going down. She’s free from fear.

Our clouds are also like that. They are not afraid of dying. They know that if they are not a cloud, they can be something else equally beautiful, like the rain or the snow.

So the wave does not go and look for water. She doesn’t have to go and search for water, because she is water in the here and the now. The same thing is true with God. We don’t have to look for God. We are God. God is our true nature. You don’t have to go and look for nirvana. Nirvana is our ground. That is the teaching of the Buddha. A number of us have been able to realize that. We enjoy the present moment. We know that it isn’t possible for us to die.

The earth is the most beautiful thing in the whole solar system. We should be able to enjoy walking on this beautiful planet, which is our mother, the mother of all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and saints. The mother of Mahatma Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, of Jesus Christ, of the Buddhas, our own mother. And we enjoy being with our mother. Our mother is outside of us, and she is inside of us. Walking down the hill, we can enjoy every step, enjoy ourselves, enjoy the presence of our beautiful mother, the earth. We should walk in such a way that with each step, we can touch our mother deeply for our healing and also for the healing of our mother.

* “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, all is transformed,” a maxim attributed to the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, 1743–1794

** bhikshunis – Buddhist nuns who have received the full ordination

Edited by Barbara Casey and Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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