#26 Summer 2000

Dharma Talk: Transforming Negative Habit Energies

By Thich Nhat Hanh I would like to speak a little bit about Heaven, or Paradise, and Hell. I have been in Paradise and I have also been in Hell. I think if you remember well, you know that you too have been in Paradise, and you have been in Hell.

Thich Nhat Hanh

There is a collection of stories about the lives of the Buddha, The Jataka Tales. Among these hun­dreds of stories, I remember one very vividly about a former life of the Buddha. In this story, the Buddha was in Hell. Before he became a Buddha, he had suffered a lot in many lives. Like all of us, he made a lot of mistakes. He made himself suffer, and he made people around him suffer. Sometimes he made very big mistakes. The Buddha had done something wrong and caused a lot of suffering to himself and to others. So he found himself in the worst of all Hells.

Another man was in Hell with the Buddha. Together they had to work very hard, under the direction of a guard who did not seem to have a heart. The guard did not seem to know anything about suffering. He did not know about the feelings of other people, and he beat up the two men. It seemed his task was to make them suffer as much as possible.

I think the guard also suffered a lot. It looked like he didn't have any compassion within him. It looked like he didn't have any love in his heart. It looked like he did not have a heart. When looking at him, when listening to him, it did not seem that one could contact a human being because he was so brutal. He was not sensitive to other people's suffering and pain.

The guard had a weapon with three iron points. Every time he wanted the two men to work harder, he pushed them on the back with the points, and of course, their backs bled. The guard did not allow them to relax; he was always pushing, pushing, pushing. But he also looked like he was being pushed.

Have you ever felt that kind of pushing? Even if there was no one behind you, you felt pushed to do things you don't like to do, and to say things you don't like to say. And in doing these things, you created a lot of suffering for yourself and the people around you. Sometimes we say and do horrible things that we did not want to say or do. Yet we felt pushed by something, so we said it, we did it, even if we didn't want to. That was what happened to the guard in Hell; he pushed, because he was being pushed. He caused a lot of damage to the two men. They were very cold and hungry, and he was always pushing and beating them.

When I read this story, I was very young, seven years old. And I was astonished that even in Hell, there was compassion. That was a very relieving truth: even in Hell there is compassion. Can you imagine?

The other man saw the Buddha die, and for the first time he was touched by compassion. He saw that the other person must have had some love, some compassion to have the courage to intervene for his sake. Compassion arose in him also. He looked at the guard, and said, "My friend was right, you don't have a heart. You only create suffering for yourself and for other people. I don't think that you are a happy person. You have killed him." The guard became very angry with him also, and he planted the weapon in the second man's stomach. He too died right away and was reborn as a human being on Earth. Both of them escaped Hell, and had a chance to begin anew on Earth, as full human beings.

What happened to the guard, who had no heart? He felt very lonely. In that Hell, there had been only three people, and now the other two were dead. He began to see that to live with other people is a wonderful thing. Now the two other people were dead, and he was utterly alone. He could not bear that kind of loneliness, and Hell became very difficult for him. Out of that suffering, he learned that you cannot live alone. Man is not our enemy. You cannot hate man, you cannot kill man, you cannot reduce man to nothingness, because if you kill man, with whom will you live? He made a vow that if he had to take care of other people in Hell, he would learn to deal with them in a nicer way, and a transformation took place in his heart. In fact, he did have a heart. Everyone has a heart. We just need something or someone to touch that heart. So this time the feeling of loneliness and the desire to be with other humans were born in him. Suddenly, the door of Hell opened, and a radiant bodhisattva appeared. The bodhisattva said, "Good­ness has been born in you, so you don't have to endure Hell very long. You will die quickly and be reborn as a human very soon."

When I was seven, I did not understand the story fully, but it had a strong impact on me. I think it was my favorite Jataka tale. I found that in Hell, there could be compassion. It is possible for us to give birth to compassion even in the most difficult situations. In our daily lives, from time to time, we create Hell for ourselves and for our beloved ones. The Buddha had done that several times before he became a Buddha. He created suffering for himself and for other people, including his mother and his father. That is why, in a former life, he had to be in Hell. Hell is a place where we can learn a lesson and grow, and the Buddha learned well in Hell. After he was reborn as a human, he continued to practice compassion. From that day on, he continued to make  progress in the direction of understanding and love, and he has never gone back to Hell again, except when he wanted to go there and help the people who suffer.

I have been in Hell, many kinds of Hell, and I have seen that even in Hell, compassion is possible. With the practice of Buddhist meditation, you may very well prevent Hell manifesting, and if Hell has already manifested, you have ways to transform Hell into something much more pleasant. When you get angry, Hell is born. Anger makes you suffer a lot, and not only do you suffer, but the people you love also suffer at the same time. When we don't know how to practice, from time to time we create Hell in our own families.

Hell can be created by Father, Mother, Sister, or Brother. You have created Hell many times in your family, and every time Hell is there, other people suffer, and you also suffer. So how to make compas­sion arise in one of you? I think the key is practice. If among three or four people, one person has compas­sion inside and is capable of smiling, breathing, and walking mindfully, she or he can be the savior of the whole family. He or she will play the role of the Buddha in Hell. Because compassion is born in him first, compassion will be seen and touched by some­one else, and then, by someone else. It may be that Hell can be transformed in just one minute or less. It is wonderful! Joy and happiness are possible, and if we are able to practice mindfulness, we will be able to make life much more pleasant in our family, our school and work, and our society.

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Dear friends, the energy that pushes us to do what we do not want to do and say what we do not want to say is the negative habit energy in us. In Sanskrit, the word is vasana. It is very important that we recognize habit energy in us. This energy has been transmitted to us by many generations of ancestors, and we continue to cultivate it. It is very powerful. We are intelligent enough to know that if we do this or say that, we will damage our relation­ship. Yet when the time comes, we say it or we do it anyway. Why? Because our habit energy is stronger than we are. It is pushing us all the time. The practice aims at liberating ourselves from that kind of habit energy.

I remember one day when I was sitting on the bus in India, with a friend, visiting Untouchable commu­nities. I was enjoying the beautiful landscape from my window, but when I looked at him, I saw that he looked very tense. He was struggling. I said, "My dear friend, there is nothing for you to worry about now. I know that your concern is to make my trip pleasant, and to make me happy, but you know, I am happy right now, so enjoy yourself. Sit back. Smile. The landscape is very beautiful." He said, "Okay," and sat back. But when I looked back two minutes later, he was as tense as before. He was still strug­gling. He was not capable of letting go of the struggle that has been going on for many thousands of years. He was not capable of dwelling in the present moment and touching life deeply in that moment. He has a family, a beautiful apartment, and a good job, and he does not look like an Untouchable, but he still carries all the energies and suffering of his ancestors. They struggle during the day; they struggle during the night, even in dreams. They are not capable of letting go and relaxing.

Our ancestors might have been luckier than his were, but many of us behave very much like him. We do not allow ourselves to relax, to be in the present. Why do we always run, even when we are eating, walking, or sitting? Something is pushing us all the time. We are not capable of being free, of touching life deeply in this very moment. You make yourself busy all of your life. You believe that happiness and peace are not possible in the here and the now, but may be possible in the future. So you use all your energy to run to the future, hoping that there you will have happiness and peace. The Buddha addressed this issue very clearly. He said, "Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future has not yet come. Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom."

The Buddha said that living happily in the present moment is possible: drsta dharma sukha vihari. Drsta dharma means the things that are here, that happen in the here and the now. Sukha means happiness. Vihari means to dwell, to live. Living happily in the present moment is the practice. But how do we liberate ourselves in order to really be in the here and the now? Buddhist meditation offers the practice of stopping. Stopping is very important, because we have been running all our lives, and also in all our previous lives. Our ancestors ran, and they continue to run in us. If we don't practice, then our children will continue to run in the future.

So we have to learn the art of stopping. Stop running. Stop being pushed by that habit energy. But first, you must recognize that there is such an energy in you, always pushing you. Even if you want to stop, it doesn't allow you to stop. At breakfast, some of us are capable of enjoying our meal, of being together in the here and the now. But many of us are not really there while having our breakfast. We continue to run. We have a lot of projects, worries, and anxieties, and we cannot sit like a Buddha.

The Buddha always sits on a lotus flower, very fresh, very stable. If we are capable of sitting in the here and the now, anywhere we sit becomes a lotus flower, because you are really sitting, you are really there. Your body and your mind together, you are free from worries, regrets, and anger. Though each of us has a cushion during sitting meditation, the cushion can be Heaven or Hell. The cushion can be a lotus flower or the cushion can be thorns. Many of us sit on the cushion, but it's like sitting on thorns. We don't know how to enjoy the lotus flower.

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Our joy, our peace, our happiness depend very much on our practice of recognizing and transforming our habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, there are negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace, and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us be aware of what is going on. Then, when the habit energy shows itself, we know right away. "Hello, my little habit energy, I know you are there. I will take good care of you." By recognizing this energy as it is, you are in control of the situation. You don't have to fight your habit energy. In fact the Buddha does not recommend that you fight it, because that habit energy is you and you should not fight against yourself. You have to generate the energy of mindful­ness, which is also you, and that positive energy will do the work of recognizing and embracing. Every time you embrace your habit energy, you can help it transform a little bit. The habit energy is a kind of seed within your consciousness, and when it becomes a source of energy, you have to recognize it. You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and you just embrace that negative energy: "Hello, my negative habit energy. I know you are there. I am here for you." After maybe one or two or three minutes, that energy will go back into the form of a seed. But it may re-manifest later on. You have to be very alert.

Every time a negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will no longer push you to do or to say things you do not want to do or say, and it loses a little bit of its strength as it returns as a seed to the lower level of consciousness. The same thing is true for all mental formations: your fear, your anguish, your anxiety, and your despair. They exist in us in the form of seeds, and every time one of the seeds is watered, it becomes a zone of energy on the upper level of our consciousness. If you don't know how to take care of it, it will cause damage, and push us to do or to say things that will damage us and damage the people we love. Therefore, generating the energy of mindfulness to recognize, embrace, and take care of negative energy is the practice. And the practice should be done in a very tender, nonviolent way. There should be no fighting, because when you fight, you create damage within yourself.

The Buddhist practice is based on the insight of non-duality: you are love, you are mindfulness, but you are also that habit energy within you. To medi­tate does not mean to transform yourself into a battlefield with right fighting wrong, positive fighting negative. That's not Buddhist. Based on the insight of nonduality, the practice should be nonviolent. Mind­fulness embracing anger is like a mother embracing her child, big sister embracing younger sister. The embrace always brings a positive effect. You can bring relief, and you can cause the negative energy to lose some of its strength, just by embracing it.

A practitioner has the right to suffer, but does not have the right not to practice. People who are not practitioners allow their pain, sorrow, and anguish to overwhelm them, to push them to say and do things they don't want. We, who consider ourselves to be practitioners, have the right to suffer like everyone else, but we don't have the right not to practice. We have to call on the positive things within our bodies and our consciousness to take care of our situations. It's okay to suffer, it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to allow yourself to be flooded with suffering. We know that in our bodies and our consciousness, there are positive elements we can call on for help. We have to mobilize these positive elements to protect ourselves and to take good care of the negative things that are manifesting in us.

What we usually do is call on the seed of mindful­ness to manifest as a zone of energy also, which we will call "energy number two." The energy of mindfulness has the capacity of recognizing, embracing, and relieving the suffering, calming and transforming it. In every one of us the seed of mindfulness exists, but if we have not practiced the art of mindful living, then that seed may be very small. We can be mindful, but our mindfulness is rather poor. Of course, when you drive your car, you need your mindfulness. A minimum amount of mindfulness is required for your driving; otherwise you will get into an accident. We know that every one of us has the capacity of being mindful. When you operate a machine, you need a certain amount of mindfulness, otherwise, you will have un accident de travail (an industrial injury). In our relationship with another person, we also need some amount of mindfulness; otherwise we will damage the relationship. We know that all of us have some energy of mindfulness, and that is the kind of energy we need very much to take care of our pain and sorrow.

Mindfulness is something all of us can do. When you drink water and you know that you are drinking water, that is mindfulness. We call it mindfulness of drinking. When you breathe in and you are aware that you are breathing in, that is mindfulness of breathing, and when you walk and you know that you are walking, that is mindfulness of walking. Mindfulness of driving, mindfulness of ... , you don't need to be in the meditation hall to practice mindfulness. You can be there in the kitchen, or in the garden, as you continue to cultivate the energy of mindfulness.

Within a Buddhist practice center, the most important practice is to do everything mindfully, because you need that energy very much for your transformation and healing. You know you can do it, and you will do it better if you are surrounded by a community of brothers and sisters who are doing the same things as you are. Alone you might forget, and you might abandon your practice after a few days or a few months. But if you practice with a Sangha, then you will be supported, and your mindfulness will grow stronger every day, thanks to the support of the Sangha.

When we practice mindfulness as an art of daily living, the seed of mindfulness in our store con­sciousness becomes very strong. Anytime we touch it or call on it for help, it will be ready for us, just like the mother who, although she is working in the kitchen, is always ready for the baby when the baby cries.

Mindfulness is the energy that helps us know what is going on in the present moment. When I drink water, I know that I am drinking the water. Drinking the water is what is happening. When I walk mindfully, I know that I am making mindful steps. Mindfulness of walking. I am aware that walking is going on, and I am concentrated in the walking.

Mindfulness has the power of bringing concentra­tion. When you drink your water mindfully, you are concentrated on your drinking. If you are concen­trated, life is deep. You can get more joy and stability just by drinking your water mindfully. You can drive mindfully, you can cut your carrots mindfully, and when you do these things mindfully, you are concen­trated. You live deeply each moment of your daily life. Mindfulness and concentration will bring about the insight that we need.

If you don't stop, if you don't become mindful, if you are not concentrated, then there is no chance that you can get insight. Buddhist meditation is to stop, to calm yourself, to be concentrated, and to direct your looking deeply into what is there in the here and now. The first element of Buddhist meditation is stopping, and the second element is looking deeply. Stopping means not to run anymore, to be mindful of what is happening in the here and the now. Mindfulness allows you to be in the here and the now, with body and mind united. In our daily lives, often our body is there, but our mind is in the past or the future, caught in our projects, our fear, and our anger. Mindfulness helps bring the mind back to the body, and when you do that you become truly present in the here and the now. Mindfulness is the energy that helps you to be fully present. If you are fully present, with your mind and body truly together, you become fully alive. Mindfulness is that energy that helps you be alive and present.

You have an appointment with life—you should not miss it. The time and the space of your appoint­ment is the here and the now. If you miss the present moment, if you miss the here and the now, you miss your appointment with life, which is very serious. Learning to come back to the present moment, to be fully present and alive, is the beginning of medita­tion. Since you are there, something else is also there: life. If you are not available to life, then life will not be available to you. When you stand there with friends, contemplating the rising moon, you need to be mindful, you need to be in the here and the now. If you allow yourself to get lost in the past or the future, the full moon is not for you. If you know how to practice mindful breathing, you can bring your mind back to your body and make yourself fully present and fully alive. Now, the moon will be for you.

With the practice of mindfulness, you stop running, because you are really there. You stop being carried by your habit energy, by your forgetfulness. And when you touch something beautiful with mindfulness, that something becomes a refreshing and healing element for you. With mindfulness, we can touch the positive things and we can also touch the negative things. If there is joy, mindfulness allows us to recognize it as joy. Mindfulness helps us profit from that joy and allows it to grow and help us in the work of transformation and healing.

Of course, there are negative things within us and around the world. Mindfulness will help us to recognize and embrace them, bringing some relief. If you continue to look deeply into the nature of your pain, of the pain of the world, insight will come, about how that pain came to be. Insight always liberates us, but there will be no insight without mindfulness and concentration. Mindfulness pro­duces your true presence, produces life, and helps us with nourishment and healing. Mindfulness helps bring relief. Every time we embrace our pain and our sorrow with mindfulness, we always bring relief. 

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This article was adapted from a Dharma talk given in PIum Village on August 6, 1998. 

Photo courtesy of Plum Village.

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

From the Editor

Spring came early to North Carolina this year. Warmth and light transformed the winter world into carpets of violets and flurries of apple and cherry blossoms. In this issue of The Mindfulness Bell, writers share how the warmth and light of practice transformed difficulties and opened doors of compassion and understanding. We hope that you are nourished and supported in your own practice by all of the articles in this issue. Please remember The Mindfulness Bell welcomes submissions.

In the Dharma,

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Surrender and a Lotus

By Ian Prattis After Thay's "Heart of the Buddha" retreat in the fall of 1996 at Plum Village, I went to India to teach and train in Siddha Samadhi Yoga, a system of meditation for adults and children. Committed to global religious harmony, program participants work to heal and transform deeply rooted schisms in Indian society—through rural development, civic responsibility, and anticorruption programs. and through praying regularly with all the religious communities in India. It also has a marvelous outreach to introduce meditation into schools. training colleges, universities, and factories. I was privileged and honored to experience so many treasures of India.

Then, in November and December of 1996,I became seriously ill in India. As I observed my body's systems crashing one by one, I knew there was a distinct possibility of death. I was surprised by my calm and lack of panic. As December drew towards its close, I totally surrendered. I will always remember Saturday, December 21, 1996. On that day, I let go of all attachments to my body. Throughout the day and evening, I read The Blooming of a Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh, from cover to cover, practicing those meditations that spoke to me. I felt at one with all my spiritual ancestors. I felt Thay's wisdom, love, and gentleness as a tangible presence. I was in a small ashram in the city of Mumbai, reserved for saints and holy men, and I also felt their grace close at hand.

The meditations in The Blooming of A Lotus took me deeply into my roots of being, and I felt very calm about the impermanence of my bodily existence. My heart opened wide. While I did the meditations on "Looking Deeply and Healing," I thought about my many mistakes, and chose not to deny them or brush aside the bodily pain in this moment, for I knew that the experiences of joy and freedom that were flooding through me were dissolving both. I felt very simple, that I was living properly. I was without panic and present with whatever arose. I did not fear death. This lack of fear gave me freedom and strength, and opened a huge door to send love and joy to all. I felt my true self, peaceful, not pulled in any direction. Despite all that was going on, I was solidly and timelessly present. I could freely share whatever gifts, skills and energies I had. I finally understood the real significance of the Buddha's words about the Five Remembrances:

I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old. I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape ill health. I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change; there is no way to escape being separated from them. My actions are my only true belongings; I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.


To be with myself at this time—happy and content in the moment—was all I had, and it was enough. As I practiced this meditation, I felt that each moment of life was absolutely precious and somehow I was communicating this to all that I connected to. Before I slept that night, one last meditation secured me in the refuge of all my spiritual ancestors. Although the focus was on the Buddha, I felt all my teachers and guides throughout lifetimes gathered together inside and around me, without boundaries, and they stayed while I slept. When I fell asleep, I was content and happy.

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The next morning, to my surprise and joy, I woke up! Over the next six months, I slowly recovered my health. Friends in North America who tune in to me very closely had booked airline tickets in December to take me out of India to recover. While I was touched by their love, I said no to their proposal.

Whatever the outcome, this particular journey was to be in India. I had written countless Christmas cards to friends and loved ones all over the world and signed them with "Blessings and Love from Ian." That is what I had wanted to send before my death. Then I lived! And I was even more happy that the cards were sent.

I am glad that at the last moment before leaving for India I intuitively put The Blooming of a Lotus into my backpack. It has always been one of my favorite books, as it never fails to take me deeper into myself. I love it for additional reasons now. I can recommend it to people I meet as a "lifesaver," for it was exactly this for me—a Lotus that carried me through.

Ian Prattis, True Body of Understanding, practices in Canada


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Prem Kutir Ashram, Mumbai, India

December 20, 1996

Feel weaker than ever this morning. Could hardly make it from my bed to the bathroom. Hope the saints who have passed through this little ashram are casting a protective eye over me. Perhaps they can cheer up Chotolal, the Nepali cook here, who has become quite anxious, especially as I have not had the energy or inclination to eat the special dishes he prepares. He only has me to look after at the moment, and my state of health is not a good advertisement for the care he gives. He is watching me write in my diary, so I will change hands and write with my left hand so he can laugh and feel less anxious about me. It worked! Is there some major purification going on in my body, is there something I do not see? What lessons are there in this for me? Or are my days drawing to a close in the silence of this ashram? My blood tests from the hospital show that I am low and deficient in just about every category, and the antibiotics and other medications only make me feel worse. So many questions and worries, yet they do not seem totally important. I ask them, then they fade away. It is a bit strange. A few days ago I collapsed and passed out while at dinner at Madhuma's house. I know she and her family would take me in, yet this saint's refuge is where I feel most comfortable right now. The quiet and simplicity of the place speaks deeply to me. I guess it allows me to prepare.

Have been in an almost constant state of mediation for days now, a deep quiet silence. Making entries in this diary is almost an interruption to the silence. Yesterday, Tom and Bev phones from Tucson in the States and it was wonderful to talk to them. They know how ill I am and sent prayers from the desert. Another friend, Barbara, from Michigan also phoned. She tunes into me very closely and was sufficiently alarmed to offer to fly to Mumbai and take me back to the States to get well in her home. Their love and care is very moving, but I know that whatever is to happen is to be here in India. For sure.

Have sent Chotolal on an errand as he was moping a bit an needed something to do. I gave him some money and asked him to buy some cards and stamps for me. The cards are beautifully hand-painted ones on pipal leaves, and have pictures of the Buddha, Krishna dancing and other such scenes. Want to make sure I finish my Christmas list. Sending tons of Christmas cards to friends and loved ones. Feel such a calm about all this that would normally surprise the heck out of me. The calm is just there, sitting with me, just fine. I know there is a distinct possibility I will not live beyond Christmas and want to send out a Christmas message from India--"Blessings and Love from Ian." Guess there is some ego in that, but it is what I want to do. Just addressed a card of the Buddha to Thay Nhat Hanh in France. Writing and addressing the cards has exhausted me, but feel very satisfied and full--a sort of mission accomplished. Chotolal brought in a package of mail from Canada: letters and cards from family and friends. Made me very happy, also made me cry as I thought of friends I may not see again. Yet they were strange tears--not full of sorrow or anything, just tears as I thought of loving friends.

I keep falling asleep very quietly, then waking up very quietly. Sleep is like a light breeze that seems to visit now and then. Ate a little bit of dinner to allay Chotolal's anxiety, but it is my supply of rice malt and vitamin C that is keeping me going. Chotolal is usually very jolly but I think my poor health has caused him to become quiet. He left some fruit and water on the table by my bed, then left to spend the next day with Nepali friends in another part of the city, taking my pile of Christmas cards to post. Care and love just beam from his eyes and drip off his moustache. I am enjoying the silence and aloneness, now that he has left. Going to bed now, it is about nine o'clock in the evening and I am drifting off to sleep as though gentle wings are carrying me.

December 21, 1996

Waking up was easy, getting up was a bit of a struggle but did that in stages. The quiet and silence inside the ashram is quite palpable and almost visible--maybe the lack of noise from the kitchen. But that is not it. I remembered my shamanic training with White Eagle Woman. Had a dream about her during the night but do not totally recall all the details. I do remember that she told me to call in my guides, and construct a mental medicine wheel around me, and include all my spiritual ancestors. Did that  and feel an incredible constellation of energies, like millions of guardian angels from every conceivable dimension. This place is really hopping with energy. I just know that today is about surrender to Go'd wisdom, and I freely place myself in His hands. Feel a funny kind of delight inside me, want to dance to an imaginary orchestra, but do not think my legs would move too well.

Took some fruit and returned to my book of meditations and began to read. The book is by my Buddhist teacher and I feel so grateful to have been around long enough to receive his teachings. I read slowly, stop frequently to close my eyes and feel the words. Doing quite a number of the meditations and have no sense of time or space today, as each meditation seems to move me with its own measure and carry me along. Feel such a deepening in my heart, all the way inside my body. Aware that there is no fear or panic, just a sort of simple and happy acceptance. That is all that is there. I have never experienced anything like this. Have no thought of anything and feel deeply content for no apparent reason. is this surrender? Peace with God? No flashing lights, visitations or visions--only a quiet surrender and being with the inevitability of it all, whatever "IT" is.

December 22, 1996

I woke up this morning, heard the crows saying hello from the tree outside the window. Feel so happy to be alive. Chotolal is singing in the kitchen and rattling his pots and pans, so I will celebrate this new day with a little breakfast. That will make us both very happy. A clear insight that this "death" is a spiritual one, as is the "rebirth." I feel completely new this morning, as thought I have been rewired and plugged into sockets with a bigger voltage. Part of my preparation to continue moving along. I feel such gratitude to all the saintly energies, guardian angels and spiritual ancestors that supprted me thorough the most important experience of my life. I will eat a good breakfast for all of them.

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Opening My Heart to the Catholic Church

By Viktoria Rendes If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation. If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation. But preserve your Jewish, Christian, or Muslim roots. That is the way to continue the Buddha s spirit. If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy. From Teachings On Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Practicing with Lotus Buds Sangha on Wednesday nights has become a sacred ritual in my life. My spirit is nourished by the Dharma talks. The quiet sitting and walking meditation with my sisters and brothers firmly grounds me and helps me be present to myself and others.

We all struggle at times to find meaning in "simply" being alive, in our breath, in our daily interactions with each other. Yet at some point, all of us have experienced the joy of being in the present moment, letting go of the past, and not being pulled into the future. The importance of being in the present moment is also part of the Christian tradition. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself." I have found this lesson to be deceptively simple, and so difficult to learn. How many times have I been obsessed with the "destination" and failed to understand that on the journey, I am already there? Humming "/ have arrived, I am home, In the here and in the now" helps me feel grounded in the present.

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As a child, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. My formative years were spent in Austria, a Catholic country. I was sent to the local school, for all intents and purposes, a Catholic school. We prayed in the morning, were taught religious education by the parish priest and the nuns, took part in church-run activities for children, sang in the church choir, and went to mass on Sunday. Life revolved around the parish church and I was happy. But in my teenage years, I began to question the need for organised religion. All I could see was the church's many mistakes. I saw the church as a bastion of repression; I failed to see that within the tradition, there were also people working for justice and peace. By my mid-teens I only went to church to see the boys I fancied. In the vernacular of the time, "We went to church to search."

After 22 years, I have returned to church to search, but this time, it is a different kind of search—a search for my spiritual roots, stillness, meaning and fellowship. The Wednesday night meditation sessions and retreats have offered me stillness, meaning, and fellowship, but deep down, I was cut off from my roots. What motivated me most strongly to take that first tentative step was the celebration of Christmas, which in the Catholic tradition is filled with joy, wonder, and the most beautiful rituals. My three-year-old daughter was old enough to want to understand Christmas, yet this society offered her only a shopping mall experience. So, I took her to church.


The sixth Earth Touching: In gratitude and compassion, I bow down to my ancient spiritual roots. I see myself as a child, sitting in church or synagogue, ready for the sermon or ceremony—Yom Kipper, Holy Communion. I see my priest, pastor, minister, rabbi, and the people of the congregation. I remember how difficult it was to be there and to do things I did not understand or want to do. I know communication was difficult, and I did not receive much joy or nourishment from these services. I felt anxious and impatient. Because of the lack of communication and understanding between my spiritual family and me, I left my rabbi, my pastor, my synagogue, my church. I lost contact with my spiritual ancestors, and became disconnected from them. Now I know there are jewels in my spiritual tradition, and that the spiritual life of my tradition has contributed greatly to stability, joy, and peace of my ancestors for many generations. I know those who practice my spiritual tradition were unsuccessful in transmitting it to me, to us. I want to go back to them to discover the great spiritual values in my tradition, for my own nourishment and the nourishment of my children and their children. I want to connect again with my ancient spiritual ancestors and get their spiritual energy flowing freely to me again. I see Moses, Jesus, and so many others as my spiritual ancestors. I see teachers over many generations in these traditions as my spiritual ancestors, and I bow n to all of them in the present moment.

Bowing down deeply and letting these words touch my heart, I have been able to take another step along my path and open my heart to the Catholic Church. What surprised me most, however, was that the church was there ready to receive me. I was rather apprehensive that first time I returned. In the beginning, I sat self-consciously, aware that I had forgotten much of the ritual. Then I let go and listened. I saw people get up and read from the Bible. The priest read from the Gospel and then brought it alive by making it relevant to our lives. There were clear parallels between what he was doing and the Dharma talks on Wednesday nights. Coming from different traditions, both were giving the same message. I could not help but express my gratitude to Father John afterwards.

Since then, I have gone regularly to church while continuing with the Wednesday night meditation. One never fails to enrich the other. I am still not fully reconciled with the Catholic Church, but I have faith that this reconciliation will take place in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to the Buddha's teachings, I have been able to make an important step, but still the journey remains. May each of my footsteps be grounded in the present. May I walk the path with peace in my heart.

Viktoria Rendes, Stability of the Source, lives in Australia. She practices with the Lotus Buds Sangha.

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A River or Feelings

By Patrecia Lenore Like many people's, my mind has several negative habit patterns. Perhaps because of childhood abuse and neglect, the seeds of reactivity, anger, and mistrust are particularly strong. Recently, when these three habits arose in me, I had the opportunity to observe their transformation.

Because I needed advice, I confided in a dear friend about a difficult situation, but after our conversation, I felt a lot of shame. I thought she had not listened to me in the way I needed and I felt hurt and abandoned. My shame quickly turned into anger and mistrust, as I said to myself, "See, you can't trust anyone. She probably thinks you are really bad. But what I did was shameful, so it's not surprising she thinks of me that way." I hurt, but part of me knew that my feelings were growing out of proportion to what had really happened.

After sitting with my feelings, I called my friend to share what I was experiencing. I couldn't reach her. The negative habit patterns continued to intrude upon my consciousness, with an added message: "She is angry, because what I told her was so shameful, and she doesn't care for me any more or she would call back right away." Meanwhile, my "mother" awareness was holding my feelings, and although they felt "true," mindfulness softened their effect and helped me remember they were just habit patterns. I kept coming back to my breath and practiced loving kindness meditation for my friend and for myself. Even so, later in the day, the thoughts were still painfully present.

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Then I remembered a practice from my other Sangha, a twelve-step group. In this practice, if you are having difficulty with someone, you pray for them every day for two weeks. In this case, my prayer was forgiveness meditation: forgiving my friend for any way she might have hurt me, and asking her forgiveness for any way I might have hurt her. The next two days, the habit pattern of mistrust was still pretty strong, so I kept coming back to my breath, cradling my feelings and attempting to let them go, and doing forgiveness and loving kindness meditation.

On the third day, as I waited for a subway, I visualized Thich Nhat Hanh and other compassionate teachers in my life. With surprise, I realized that in that particular moment, I didn't trust them either. I saw how deeply embedded my feelings were, and I almost cried. How could I not trust even these people? I began naming to myself all the wise and good things these teachers have imparted to me and many others. As I meditated on their gifts of wisdom and compassion, I was suddenly flooded with memories of all the wonderful qualities of my friend, the things that make me love her so much. In that moment, the pain of the anger and mistrust lifted, and sweet feelings of love and trust filled my heart again.

That day at work, my friend called. She explained that she had not called sooner because she had visitors. I told her my whole story, and said she had called at the perfect moment. If she had called sooner, perhaps I wouldn't have experienced how diligent practice can free me from even the most painful feelings. I had also had time to contemplate how perceptions formed in my childhood cause much of my torment and my fear of being unlovable. We both laughed gently about my experience (what a busy mind!), and observed how quickly I went through a process that used to take me weeks or months.

I am learning to give myself time to be with my feelings and to contemplate "right action" before I take any steps. Knowing that anger and mistrust are strong in me, I can more quickly see these habit patterns when they arise and not be consumed by them. I see they are simply habit patterns, which arise and will subside. As I nurture the seeds of forgiveness  and loving kindness for myself, for my feelings, and for all beings, the painful habits have less power over me. These practices are helping me heal my wounded heart and become more open and loving.

Patrecia Lenore, Flower of True Virtue, practices with the Community of Mindfulness/New York Metro.

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The Best Gift

By Chan Ngo (Vinh Nguyen) mb26-TheBestMy mother was a wonderful person, very devoted to her three children. She worked extremely hard to nourish us and provide us with whatever we needed to study and succeed in our lives. When she passed away, I was studying in a foreign country far from home, following her wishes. Knowing that her time had come, my mother told my brother and sister not to tell me immediately of her death. She feared that the bad news would disturb my study. So I did not learn the sad news until a year later, after I had finished my second engineering degree. You can see how thoughtful and wonderful my mother was. But since that day, I kept regretting that I was so far away from her for all those years. I felt remorse about not being able to fulfill my duties as a good son. My sadness, motivated by remorse and regret, became a habit energy—one that did not bring happiness to me or to others.

Then one day, I received a booklet by Thay, A Rose for Your Pocket. Reading it brought tears to my eyes. I wanted so much to meet the author of this poignant essay. When I finally met Thay, my view was opened with his teachings. As I learned to come back to myself through the practice of mindful breathing, I started to gain some sovereignty over my own house—my own body and mind. Mindfulness allows me to see my mother in me, and. in my children. I learned that the best way to thank my mother is to take care of myself. To let myself be carried away by sadness, regret, and remorse is to go against her love, her will, and her devoted hardship. With time and practice, my sadness has been washed away and I can smile each time the image of my mother appears in my memory. With prudent steps and profound gratitude for all the wonderful things I encounter, I walk forward in life.

Dharma teacher Chan Ngo (Nguyen Duy Vinh) practices with the Ottawa and Maple Village Sanghas.

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Poem: Comment Prendre Soin De Soi

(How to Take Care of Ourselves) Le temps passe et je suis reconnaissant. A chaque pas dans ma vie, je deviens prudent. Quand j'ai quitte ma mere, j'avais dix sept ans. Ma mere m'a dit en pleurant : "Tu vas la-bas, n'oublie pas de bien prendre soin de toi" Moi en pleurant, lui repondant, Oui maman ! Le temps passe et j'ai beaucoup appris en grandissant, Que chaque moment present, Est le plus merveilleux moment, On doit savourer chaque instant, toutes les bonnes choses nous entourant, ici et maintenant. Retourner a notre respiration consciente, est une technique puissante, pour apprivoiser le monde et etre reconnaissant, en retrouvant sa propre souverainete dans ce monde tracassant.

Time passes and I am grateful. At each step of my life, I become careful. When I left my mother, I was seventeen years old My mother told me, crying: "You are going over there, don't forget to take very good care of yourself." I, crying, answered "Yes, maman!" Time passes and I have learnt much while growing up, that each present moment is the most wonderful moment. We must savor each instant, all the good things surrounding us, here and now. To return to our conscious breathing is a powerful method for taming the world and being grateful, finding again our own sovereignty in this troubling world.

mb26-TheBest2by Chan Ngo (Vinh Nguyen)

English Translation by Sarah Benzaquen Lumpkin

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Grief and Wholeness

By Leslie Rawls When my father died in the summer of 1965, my world shattered. I was 11 years old, he was 39, and I adored him. In those days, few Americans spoke with their children about terminal illness and death. My parents were no exception. And Daddy's life hadn't seemed to change much while he was sick. He went to work every day and was the doctor-on-call each week, though he occasionally slept in a recliner because of pain. When he collapsed and went to the hospital—to die, as it turned out—we were more than halfway across the United States, on a family vacation during which he'd changed two flat tires. Shocked to my core, I struggled for a long time with the truth and finality of his absence.

Before our father died, my older brother and I had taken increasing responsibility around the house and in caring for our younger brother and sister. Afterwards, my mother relied even more upon us. As I grew to adulthood, I became strong and dependable. I worked hard and accepted responsibility. I sometimes felt I could handle just about anything. Within a short time of meeting me, most people learned that my father died when I was young. I saw it as a badge of strength and independence. Yet, I ached with unresolved grief. I always cried on his birthday and the anniversary of his death, each time mistakenly believing that this last cry would exhaust my well of sorrow. Finally, 31 years after he died, with the help of the Sangha and guided by Thay's teachings, I was able to transform and "resolve" this bone-deep ache.


 

In the fall of 1996,1 spent four weeks in Plum Village. During the three week "Heart of the Buddha" retreat, I lived in New Hamlet. There, as usual in Plum Village, we formed work families. Our New Hamlet families were all named after fruits. I was in the banana family, and we became quite close. I told many of my new friends about my father's death. During a seemingly unrelated conversation, my banana brother Kees Lodder said to me, "I wonder why that eleven-year-old girl still hurts so much?" I have forgotten what prompted his statement, but these simple words opened the door to my practice focus for much of the rest of the retreat. Over the next few weeks, Kees's deep listening and mindful speech and the support of other Sangha members helped immensely. And Thay's sharing of the Buddha's teachings offered the tools that made transformation whole.

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The day after Kees's troubling question, Thay taught us about the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is suffering (dukkha). The Second Truth is the origin or roots of suffering (samudaya). The Third Truth is the cessation of suffering (nirodha). The Fourth Truth is the path that leads out of suffering to well-being (marga). Thay encouraged us to test these truths through our own experience. With a deep outbreath, I realized how deeply and how long I had hurt. "Here," I thought, "is a real test for these Truths."

Practicing the First Truth seemed easy. Suffering surely existed in me. To practice the Second Truth felt more challenging. It seemed simple to say that the cause of my suffering was my father's death. But starting from this cause, how could I possibly move to the Third Truth—that there is a way out of suffering? There was no way to undo the death. I felt stuck. "Look deeply at the causes of your suffering,"Thay encouraged. "What we first see as the cause may not be correct." I practiced walking meditation on the roads around New Hamlet for hours each day, holding my suffering like a child. Sometimes Sangha friends walked with me. Sometimes we sat beside fields and talked about the practices.

I am somewhat reluctant to share what happened next, for it involves something I can only call a vision—not an ordinary experience for me. I did not consciously beckon or create this vision, but one day, as I listened to Thay's Dharma talk, it came. I was not daydreaming, but in my mind's eye, I saw a tornado dropping from the sky. It did not move across the ground, but stood stationary. Near the top, a face went round and round. I recognized the face as myself at eleven years old. With this vision, I saw that, just as Thay had taught, my original perception about the cause of my suffering was wrong. My suffering arose not from my father's death, but from my own entrapment, my own clinging to all the things I still wished for—to have been a teenage girl with a father, not to be hurt.... I listened to Thay and followed my breath. My mind's eye watched the girl—me—trapped high in the whirlwind. I wanted desperately to get her out.

A few days later, Thay taught us about transforming the suffering of our ancestors and making peace with them. He encouraged us to see our parents and grandparents in every cell of our bodies, in our speech and actions. My vision had not left me, although I did not always focus on it. The girl kept whirling. Thay said to call on the strength of the ancestors in us to transform our own suffering. Putting the teachings into practice, I touched my ancestors, and hoped to gather their strength to liberate the girl in my vision. Each night, I practiced the Five Touchings of the Earth after sitting meditation. One day, in walking meditation beside a rustling cornfield, I tried to free her. In my vision, I stood beside the tornado with my father. "Come on, Daddy. We'll get her down," I thought. I focused. But the girl kept whirling.

"Not enough ancestor power," I thought. So I decided to call on my land ancestors too—the mythological Pecos Bill, legend of the American West. I wasn't sure if myths counted as real ancestors, but he seemed a perfect candidate. At the end of the American tall tale, Pecos Bill lassoes a tornado, jumps on, and rides the whirlwind into the sunset. So, standing at the edge of the cornfield, breathing mindfully, I called with all my heart on Pecos Bill and my father to help me get her down. It didn't work. After fifteen minutes of my conscious breathing and focusing, she still twirled and looked down woefully. I felt defeated.


 

The next day it rained during Thay's Dharma talk in Lower Hamlet. I sat. I breathed. I listened to Thay and the rain. Then, Thay said, "Practice must be linked to a real problem. Look to see its connection to your life, not as an escape." Hearing this, I saw that the goal of my efforts so far had been to escape from my suffering. I wanted transformation in order to leave the suffering behind. Listening to Thay, I began to feel a deep peace.

The vision did not leave me as peace descended, but it changed. Now, in my mind's eye, I sat cross-legged beside the tornado, following my in-breath and my out-breath. I no longer tried to pull the girl down. I saw that just as my father is present in every cell, this hurt child in a whirlwind is also an integral part of me. As I listened to Thay's Dharma talk, I knew that I didn't need to "save" the girl. I needed to accept her suffering, my suffering, without judgment or blame.

I thought the Third Noble Truth had stumped me, but I had never really practiced the First. Trying to conquer my suffering, I had separated from it, not fully accepting the truth of the suffering itself. After weeks of strong Sangha support, miles of walking meditation, and Thay's transmission of the Buddha's teachings, my heart opened to my own suffering and to the little girl of my vision, and I could offer nonjudgmental love and acceptance.

In the Dharma Hall—as in my vision —I sat and followed my breath. And things began to change. Slowly, the tornado collapsed, ring by ring, like an old-fashioned camping cup. The girl walked to me with a smile. Now, I could accept my own feelings of grief, anger, and abandonment. And I could see, welcome, and love my father in me—all of my father, including his death at the age of 39. Practice transformed the compost of suffering, and joy bloomed in my heart.

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Leslie Rawls, Country of True Enlightenment, lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Transforming Companionship

By Lynda Schaller I have a dear friend with whom I exchange frequent letters, but visiting each other is not often possible. As I drove to our last get-together, I thought about the fact that I usually feel dissatisfied after our visits. "Over already? Did I miss something? But I want more!" Being together is so precious. I recognized that I was usually not mindful in our time together, and I vowed to be different this time.

I arrived early for the visit, and took the extra time to walk mindfully, breathing and enjoying a spectacularly lovely day—the beautiful sky, the sunshine, and the view of surrounding fields and hills. When my friend arrived, I was relaxed and much more present to the experience of being together. I remembered to stop and breathe periodically, soaking up our companionship and appreciating my friend's presence. Our time ended with a mindful hug.

It was a richly satisfying visit, and while it would have been delightful to have more time together, what we had was sufficient. Since then I have even felt less frustrated that we don't see each other more.

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My friend also does some mindfulness practice. Maybe on our next visit, I will suggest that we practice together. I can't imagine a better way to get the most out of our companionship than being completely present to each other.

Lynda Schaller lives in an intentional community in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

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Poem: Renouveau

Renouveauen lambeaux dechiquetes I'ecorce brune,vieille et seche des eucalyptus traine par terre a la base des troncs qui I'a arrachee a pleines mains sures d'elles? les troncs se dressent nus, neufs, jeunes, la peau pale, a peine verte, couleur de tranche d'aubergine prets a commencer, a recommencer c'est le printemps.

Renewal torn in strips the brown, old, dry bark of the eucalyptus trees gathers on the ground at their feet whose hands, strong and sure, pulled it down ? the trunks rise naked, new, young, skin pale, barely green like a freshly cut slice of eggplant ready to begin, to begin again it is Spring.

Sarah Benzaquen Lumpkin

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The Pine Gate

By Thich Nhat Hanh It was a chilly autumn evening, and the full moon had just risen, when the young swordsman arrived at the foot of the mountain. The wilderness was bathed in the light of the moon glimmering playfully on branches and leaves. It seemed that nothing had changed during the seven years he was away, and yet it was surprising that no one was there to greet him. The swordsman paused at the foot of the mountain and looked up. He saw that the narrow path up the mountain was barred by a tightly shut pine gate. He walked forward slowly and pushed at the gate, but it was immovable, even under his powerful hands.

Never, in as long as he could remember, had his master locked that gate. This narrow path was the only way up the mountain. So, holding onto the handle of his sword, he jumped as high as he could, but he was unable to jump over the low gate. A strange force had gripped his whole body and pushed it back down. Next he unsheathed his long sword to cut the gate's bar open, but the sword's sharp blade bounced back from the soft pinewood with so powerful an impact that it sent a shock through his hand and wrist. He raised his sword toward the sky and examined its edge under the moonlight. Somehow, the gate was too hard for his sword. It seemed that his master had endowed it with the strength of his own spirit. It was impassable. The swordsman sighed deeply, returned his sword to its sheath, and sat down on a rock outside the gate.

Seven years earlier, on the day he was to leave the mountain, his master looked into his eyes for a long moment without saying anything. There was a kind expression on his master's face, and yet there was something else, too—a kind of pity. The young swordsman could only bow his head in reverence. After a while, the old man said to him, "I cannot keep you here forever. I know you have to go down the mountain and into the world to carry out the Way and help people. I thought I could keep you here with me a little longer, but if it is your will to leave now, you have all my blessings. Remember what I have taught you. In the world below, you will need it."

Then his master told him what to seek, what to avoid, and what to change. Finally, he put his gentle hand on his disciple's shoulder. "These are the main guidelines for your actions: Never do anything that might cause suffering to yourself or others, in the present or in the future. Go without fear in the direction that will lead yourself and others to complete awakening. And remember the standards by which happiness and suffering, liberation and illusion are measured. Without them, you betray the Way, and will not help anyone.

"Here is my most precious sword. It is a sharp blade that comes from your own heart. Use it to subdue all evil and also to conquer all ambition and desire.

"Here is the me ngo glass," he said, handing his disciple a small viewing glass. "It will help you distinguish the wholesome from the unwholesome, the virtuous from the immoral. Sometimes it is called the 'Demon Viewer,' for looking through it, you will be able to see the true forms of demons and evil spirits." The following day, at the break of dawn, the young swordsman went up to the central hall to take leave of his master. The old man walked with him down the mountain, all the way to Tiger Brook, and there, amidst the murmuring of the mountain stream, master and disciple bade one another farewell. The master put his hand on the young man's shoulder, looked into his eyes, and said, "Remember, my child, poverty cannot weaken you, wealth cannot seduce you, power cannot vanquish you. I will be here the day you come back, your vows fulfilled!" Then he watched his disciple's every step very carefully, as the young man walked away to begin his journey.

The swordsman recalled the first days of the journey vividly. Then, months and years swirled through his mind. Humanity had revealed itself under so many different guises! How helpful the sword and the me ngo glass had been! Once, he met a monk, an old sage, whose appearance instantly inspired reverence. The old man invited him back to his hermitage to discuss how they might "join their efforts to help humankind." The young man listened with rapture, but then something struck him as odd about the old monk. He took out the me ngo glass and when he looked through it, he saw in front of him a giant demon with eyes sending forth crackling sparks, a horn on its forehead, and fangs as long as his own arms! The young man jumped back, drew his sword, and furiously attacked it. The demon fought back but, of course, it had no chance. It prostrated itself at the young man's feet, begging for mercy. The swordsman then demanded that it swear, under oath, to return to the place it had come from, study the Way, pray to be reborn as a human being, and refrain from ever disguising itself again as a monk to  bewitch and devour the innocent.

Another time, he met a mandarin, an old man with a long white beard. It was a happy encounter between a young hero out to save the world and a high official, a "father and mother to the people" bent on finding better ways to govern and benefit the masses. Again, the young man's instinct was aroused, and under the glass, the handsome, awe-inspiring official turned out to be an enormous hog whose eyes literally dripped with greed. In an instant, the sword flew out of its sheath. The hog tried to flee, but the swordsman overtook it in one leap. Standing in front of the gate to the mandarin's mansion, he barred the only escape route. The beast took on its true form and cried out loudly for mercy. Again, the young man did not leave without extracting from the monster the solemn oath that it would follow the Way and that it would never again take the form of a mandarin to gnaw the flesh and suck the blood of the people.

Another time, walking by a marketplace, the young man saw a crowd surrounding a picture and bookstall. The vendor was a beautiful young lady with a smile as radiant as a lotus opening to the sun. Seated nearby was another beautiful young lady singing softly while plucking the strings of a lute. The young ladies' beauty and the grace of the songs so captivated everyone present that no one left the stall once they had stopped. They could only stand and listen, enraptured, and buy pictures and books. Also drawn to the scene, the young man managed to make his way to the front and he held up one of the pictures. The elegance of the design and strength of the colors overwhelmed him. Yet an uneasiness arose within him, and when he reached for his me ngo glass, he saw that the two beautiful girls were actually enormous snakes whose tongues darted back and forth like knife blades. The swordsman swept everyone aside in one movement of his arms, and with his sword pointing at the monsters, he shouted thunderously, "Demons! Back to your evil nature!"

The crowd scattered in fright as the big snakes lashed at the young man. But as soon as his fabulous sword drew a few flashing circles around their bodies, the reptiles coiled at his feet in submission. He forced their jaws open, carved out their venomous fangs, and extracted the solemn promise that they would never come back to bewitch the village people. Then he burned down the bookstall and sent the monsters back to their lairs.

The young swordsman went from village to village and from town to town on his mission, using his sword and his viewing glass to vanquish demons and offer them priceless counsel. He began to see himself as the "Indispensable Swordsman." He had come down from the mountain into a world where treachery and cunning reigned, and the world was surely better for his presence. He experienced great exhilaration in his actions for the good. At times, he even forgot to eat and sleep, the joy and satisfaction from helping people was so great.

Years passed quickly. One day, as he was resting alongside a river watching the water flow quietly by, he realized that he had not used the me ngo glass for some time. It was not that he had forgotten it. He just had not felt like using it. He remembered that at first he had used the glass reluctantly, and then had fought to the death every time he saw, through the me ngo, the true natures of the many evils that faced him. He recalled the great happiness he felt each time he saw, through the glass, the image of a virtuous man or a true sage. But, obviously, something had happened to him, and he didn't know what it was. He no longer felt much joy or fury whether he saw a sage or a monster. In fact, the monsters began to have a certain familiarity to him, even their horrifying features. The me ngo glass just remained safely in his pocket. The young swordsman thought about returning to the mountain some day to ask his master's advice. Why was he reluctant to use the me ngo glass, that had obviously been of great help to him in the past?

On the twelfth day of the eighth month, seven years after he had left the mountain, he was walking through a forest of white plum trees, when suddenly, he yearned for the days when he studied under his old master, whose cottage also stood in an old plum forest. Covered with snow-white plum blossoms under the autumn moon, he decided to return to the mountain.

He climbed many hills and crossed dozens of streams and, after seven days and seven nights, he reached the foot of the mountain. As he arrived, darkness was descending, and the rising moon revealed that the pine gate to the path up the mountain to his Master's abode was tightly shut. There was nothing he could do but wait. He could not go any further until one of his brothers came down to open  the gate. At dawn, he thought, one of them will surely come down to fetch water from the stream, and they will open the gate for me. Now, the moon had risen and the entire mountain and forest were bathed in its cool light.

As the night wore on, the air became chillier. He pulled his sword out of the sheath and watched the moon's reflection on the sword's cold, sharp edge. Then he sheathed it again and stood up. The moon was extraordinarily bright. Mountain and forest were still, as if unaware of the swordsman's presence. He dropped onto another rock, dejected, and the past seven years passed before him again. Slowly, the moon edged toward the summit of a distant mountain, and the stars shone brightly. Then they, too, began to recede, and there was a hint of glow in the east, as dawn was about to break.

The swordsman heard the rustling of dry leaves. He looked up and saw the vague form of someone walking down the mountains. It must be one of his younger brothers, he thought, though it was not light enough to be sure. The person was carrying something like a large water jug. As the figure came closer and closer, the swordsman heard it exclaim, happily,

"Elder Brother!"

"Younger Brother!"

"When did you arrive?"

"As the moon was just rising! I've been here all night. Why is the gate locked like this? Was it the master's order?"

The younger disciple raised his hand and pulled, ever so lightly, at the heavy gate. It swung open with ease. He stepped through it, and, grasping the swordsman's hands, looked at him and said, "You must be chilled to the bone. Look, you're covered with dew!

"My job used to be to come down here all day to pick herbs and watch the gate. If someone came who deserved an audience with the master, I'd bring him up. If I thought someone was not ready to see him, I'd just stay behind the bushes, and eventually they'd just give up! As you know, our master doesn't want to see anyone who does not have a true determination to learn.

"Lately, the master has allowed me to move on to more advanced studies, and as I stay up at the retreat most of the time, he told me to close the gate. He said it would open itself for anyone who is virtuous, but that it would bar the way for those too heavy with the dust of the world!"

The swordsman asked, "Would you say I am such a person? Why did the gate stay shut for me?"

The younger man laughed heartily, "Of course not! Anyway, we can go up now. But wait a moment, Elder Brother! I must first fetch some water. Will you come with me? Smile, Brother! Why are you so angry?"

Both men laughed. They made their way down to the stream. The sun was not yet up, but the east was already glowing brightly. The two disciples could now see each other's faces clearly. In the water, which was tinted a pale rose by the dawn, they could see their reflections next to one another. The swordsman was bold and strong in his knight's suit, the long sword slung diagonally over his back. The younger disciple's figure was gentler in his flowing monk's robe, a jug in his hands. Without speaking, they looked at both reflections, and smiled to one another. A water spider sprang up suddenly and caused the rose-tinted surface to ripple, sending their images into thousands of undulating patterns.

"How beautiful! I would certainly destroy our reflections for good if I dipped the jug in now. By the way, do you still have the me ngo viewing glass with you? I remember that our master gave it to you when you came down the mountain years ago!"

The swordsman reached in his pocket to get it, and he realized that for all the years he was away, he had used the glass to look at others, but never once had he looked at himself through it. He took the glass out, wiped it on his sleeve, and aimed it at the water's surface. The two men's heads came close to look through the small glass together.

A loud scream escaped from the throats of both of them. It reverberated through the forest. The swordsman fell forward and collapsed. A deer, drinking water farther upstream, looked up in fright. The younger disciple could not believe what he had seen. There he was in his flowing robe, jug in hand, standing next to a towering demon whose eyes were deep and dark like waterwells and whose long fangs curved down around its square jaw. The demon's face was bluish gray, the shade of ashes and death. The young man shuddered, and, rubbing his eyes, looked again at his senior, who was now lying unconscious on the blue stones of the riverbank, the older man's face still expressing shock and horror. Suffering had been etched upon his brother, who, for seven years, had ceaselessly braved the rough and cruel world down below their mountain retreat.

The young disciple reached down to the stream to fetch water to douse his elder's face, and a moment later, the swordsman came to, his face ravaged with despair. His true image had appeared in the me ngo glass so unexpectedly, bringing him self-knowledge in such a swift, brutal fashion that he could do nothing but collapse under the blow. His energy had vanished. He tried to stand up, but he had no strength in his legs or arms.

"It's all right. It's all right, my elder brother! We'll go up now."

To the swordsman's ears, his brother's voice was like a faint breeze murmuring from afar. He shook his head. His world had collapsed, and he wanted to live no longer. He felt as if he had just stood in the path of a hurricane. How could he bring himself into his beloved master's presence?

The younger man brushed the dirt off his brother's shoulder. "You need not worry about it. Our master has nothing but compassion for you. Let's go up now. We'll live and work and study together again."

The two figures made their way slowly up the steep, rock-strewn path that wound its way up the mountain. It was not yet day, and the silhouettes imprinted themselves on the thin veil of dew stretching over trees and rocks. The first rays of sun finally reached the two men and heightened the contrast—the swordsman seemed only more broken in body and spirit walking next to the younger disciple whose steps were firm and whose mien was gentle. Over the mountaintop, far away, the sun rose.

Reprinted from The Stone Boy and Other Stories (Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1996)

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Through Prison Gates

By Bill Menza On October 16, 1999, for the first time ever, the state of Maryland opened its prison doors to a renowned Buddhist Zen master. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh rode in the second of two cars caravaning from Washington, D.C. to the medium security prison at Hagerstown, Maryland. The glorious autumn day reflected the importance of the event, making the one-and-a-half hour trip seem as wondrous as the leaves falling from the passing trees.

A few months before, Emma Lou Davis, who chairs the Community Correctional Services Committee of Washington County, Inc. (CCSC), a nonprofit group of volunteers who support prison inmates, had read some of Thay's books. A few weeks later, Bo Lozoff, Director of the Human Kindness Foundation, called to see if she could arrange Thay's visit to the prison. Bo and Sita, his wife and Foundation codirector, have worked for more than 25 years to bring spiritual support to people in prisons. They have visited over 600 prisons to teach a way of life based upon three common principles taught by the great sages of all religions: simple living, dedication to service, and commitment to personal spiritual practice. The foundation and CCSC also work with the American Friends' Alternatives to Violence Project, which teaches prisoners how to turn away from violence and toward  responsible nonviolent ways of handling conflict and living.


 

Hagerstown, Maryland is a rural area with many farms and beautiful landscapes. Signs to the correctional facilities brought us to a small gravel road that ends at three prisons set in rolling fields: the Maryland Correction Institution at Hagerstown (MCI), the Roxbury Correctional Institution, and the Maryland Correctional Training Center. These three medium-security prisons hold almost 7,000 inmates and have a staff of 1,800. Each is surrounded by 16 feet high fences topped with razor wire, which hide the buildings they embrace. The customary towers with armed guards added to the foreboding scene.

As we approached the small reception building, we could see guards looking out at us. These brownrobed monks and nuns must have been a strange sight for them. I wondered how we would be accepted and treated by the guards and the prisoners. We signed in, showed identification papers, and were checked off the pre-approved visitors list. Then we went through the metal detector machine. Even our shoes had to be removed, for they set the machine's alarm off. Throughout our visit the guards were professional, but also cordial, helpful, and friendly. I sensed that our visit might have softened their more usual tough detachment. Later I learned that they were hand-picked to make sure we were treated exceptionally well.

Leaving the reception building, we walked mindfully toward the entrance gate to the stone castle that is MCI. The guard leading us signaled for the chainlink gate to be opened, and we entered the first sallyport of many as we went deeper into the prison. This first sallyport is a cage; when the gate behind you closes, the one in front is opened, leading into the yard. The sun was warm and flowers near the entrance smiled at us.

The guard signaled for the next door, directly into the castle. We entered a hallway and were directed to a waiting room. Signs warned prisoners and then visitors that chair legs must remain behind the yellow lines painted on the floor. If the chairs are moved, the visit is terminated. Other signs proclaimed: "Once visitors and inmates are seated there will be NO changing of seats." "Physical embracing is limited to the start and end of the visit. Hand holding is the only other contact permitted." "No Warnings. Violations will terminate visits."

We were led through more sallyports and down halls to the chapel. Prisoners watched us pass their cell blocks. The cells were the size of a small bathroom. I wondered what it must be like to live in such a tiny place day in and day out. And most likely, as a former prisoner told me, with a cell mate you would not want to be with in such close quarters. I wondered too about the double bunking that goes on in many prisons to handle the over-capacity of prisoners. All of this is hidden from the public.


 

There were 30 of us with Thay, including Sister Chan Khong, Brother Phap Hoa, Order of Interbeing members Pritam Singh and Bill Menza, and Washington Mindfulness Community associate Larry Inghram. Sister Chan Thieu Nghiem and Brothers Phap Kham and Phap Thong waited for us in the reception area. The other visitors, including another 40 waiting in the Chapel, were volunteers with the CCSC, the Human Kindness Foundation, and the Alternatives to Violence Project, and some of their family members, as well as some prison officials. Sita Lozoff and her son and daughter-in-law were with us. Bo Lozoff was concluding a speaking engagement at the National Cathedral and would join us shortly. There were also some Maryland prison staff, including Nancy Williams, Director of Maryland's Department of Corrections Volunteer and Religious Services.

About 120 prisoners waited for us. Lloyd "Pete" Waters, the warden, introduced Thay by saying that they had things in common, and that there was a bond between them from their experiences during the Vietnam War. Waters grew up nearby in Maryland. In 1967, the United States Army sent him to Vietnam. He remembered the news photos of Buddhist monks immolating themselves to awaken others to the pain and suffering of the war. He told the prisoners many details of Thay's life, including his peace efforts in Vietnam, his nomination for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his founding Plum Village.

It was remarkable that the warden, the highest authority in this prison, was introducing Thay. This introduction told the prisoners that this monk from Vietnam was an honored guest to be listened to with great respect. And his attitude was reflected all during our stay at the prison, particularly during our lunch together. The prisoners gave us our sandwiches, drinks, and apples and took away our empty containers as if we were special guests in their home.


 

Thay taught about how to visit paradise in prison. He began by explaining about a poem he wrote after Sister Chan Khong's home village was bombed, and how his poem was turned into a song. He read the poem, "For Warmth," and then Sister Chan Khong sang the song. Thay went on to summarize and explain 2,500 years of teaching on the instructions of the Buddha to be free of pain and suffering. He advised us to "practice freedom, to cultivate it," in order to bring happiness to ourselves and others. He told each of us to walk as a free person; to breathe as free person; to eat as a free person, not as a victim of anger and despair. And, he explained, that to walk, breathe, and eat as a free person is possible anywhere.

Thay said that when you walk in prison you can walk mindfully with joy, peace, and solidity. You can enjoy the air you breath, which is the same air outside the prison. You can enjoy the earth under your feet, which is the same earth outside the prison, and you can enjoy the warm sun, which is the same sun outside the prison. You can walk for your loved one, for your son or daughter. When you walk like this, Thay said, call out their name to yourself. "David, here I am," as you step with your foot. This makes David walk with you. You are here for him. You are walking with joy and stability for him.

Paradise, Thay said, is a place where there is compassion. You can bring Paradise to Hell, if you allow your suffering and the suffering of others to give birth to compassion. To understand your suffering and the suffering of another person you must look deeply. When you look deeply, deep understanding develops. Understanding brings compassion. Here in prison there is time to look deeply, to live  compassionately, and to let this liberating force rise up. Each of us contains the whole universe, Thay said, and when we go back to ourselves mindfully in the here and now we can enter the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land. We can be alive and awake, touching the refreshing and healing elements in and around us, or we can live in Hell. Both are in us.

As we were leaving, many prisoners came up to us to thank us for this visit. Their deep appreciation was evident in a letter from a prisoner to a local newspaper a few months later. The seeds that Thay planted that day in prison are growing into flowers.

Bill Menza, True Shore of Understanding, is a member of the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax, Virginia. The transcript of Thay's talk to the prisoners was published by Parallax Press this spring. It is available through the Prison Project of Community of Mindful Living. Please see page 35.

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Peace Is in Our Hands

What if the Year 2000 was a new beginning, an opportunity to turn the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and nonviolence? The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. To translate the resolutions of the United Nations into everyday language and make them relevant to people everywhere, Thich Nhat Hanh and a group of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates drafted Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence. The six points of the Manifesto do not appeal to a higher authority, but represent an individual commitment and responsibility. They are a kind of variation on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, presented as a universal door.

By signing the Manifesto 2000, each of us takes the first step of engagement in the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence. The six pledges of Manifesto 2000 already bear the signatures of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. You too can sign it and make it known to family, coworkers, friends, and community, giving others the same opportunity of engagement. If enough people become messengers, gathering signatures on the Manifesto, then the Movement for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence can become a reality on a global scale.

You will certainly find original ways to make Manifesto 2000 known, but here are three ways you can start: leaflet, Email, and website links. At the Manifesto website, you can obtain an account number for entering signatures you collect.

Leaflet: Print the Manifesto and present it to your family, friends, and colleagues at work. Present it to schools, universities, clubs, cultural centres, and public places. After you collect signatures, enter them on the technical Website of the International Year for the Culture of Peace (www.unesco.org/iycptec) under the section "Add signatures on the Manifesto 2000."

Email: Send an Email to your friends and contacts inviting them to sign the Manifesto. Put the following link in your Email so that all they need to do is to click to arrive directly at the Manifesto website: http://www.unesco.org/manifesto2000.

Website: Make a link from your personal website or that of your organization to the home page of the Manifesto 2000 website by using the following URL: http://www.unesco.org/manifesto2000.

This article was compiled from the UNESCO website: www.unesco.org. For further information, please see the website or Email: iycp@unesco.org. For news about problems distributing Manifesto 2000 in Vietnam, please see the article on page 30.


 

Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence 

Because the year 2000 must be a new beginning, an opportunity to transform—all together—the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and nonviolence.

Because this transformation demands the participation of each and every one of us, and must offer young people and future generations the values that can inspire them to shape a world based on justice, solidarity, liberty, dignity, harmony and prosperity for all.

Because the culture of peace can underpin sustainable development, environmental protection and the well-being of each person.

Because I am aware of my share of responsibility for the future of humanity, in particular to the children of today and tomorrow. I pledge in my daily life, in my family, my work, my community, my country and my region, to:

Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice;

Practise active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economical and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable such as children and adolescents;

Share my time and material resources in a spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice and political and economic oppression;

Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, giving preference always to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanaticism, defamation and the rejection of others;

Promote consumer behaviour that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet; and

Contribute to the development of my community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity.

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Cultivating Mindfulness on a Radioactive Path

By Michael Winnell For years, I have worked to slow, if not end, the long-term threat of radioactive waste products created by nuclear weapons and power plants. Radioactive waste is likely to threaten life as long as humans inhabit this world, so it is important for me to speak clearly and firmly. Those who support the nuclear cycle are also very determined. In this atmosphere, it is paramount to know one's grounding. I am learning to respond to this very difficult issue from my Buddhist understandings, largely revealed through the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh and the concept of interbeing.

Bringing mindfulness to an issue this large and difficult is challenging. It is very easy to take sides, point fingers, become a talking head of facts and statistics, forgetting that "This is like this, because that is like that." Having read Thay's talk, "Man is not our Enemy," I am struck by the depth with which he, and each of us, can hold the whole of the reality without choosing sides. It is not helpful to view producers of radioactive waste as wrong or the enemy. Their motivation springs from the same place as my own. In fact, I benefit by being able to turn on the lights at night. But their actions, as well as my own, are creating very difficult problems. I must bring to their attention my understanding of the future we are creating, but I must also realize they may not respond. My attachment to their response, and my desire for a specific response, is a negative seed to hold in mindfulness. At the same time, I must continue to firmly state facts about these dangers, truthfully and without exaggeration.

The Buddha taught that reality is both historical and ultimate. The suffering generated by fear—particularly the fear of death or nonbeing—is enormous. Being and nonbeing are elements of suffering in the historical dimension, but in the ultimate dimension, understanding can transform fear, relieve suffering, and bring joy by opening the door of loving kindness. Remembering these teachings, I can better relate to the people directly involved in the decision-making and production process of the nuclear cycle, and to myself. It is a demanding practice. Many people involved in nuclear waste production and storage do not see the connection between what they are doing and all life. They do not seem to recognize that nuclear waste could sicken or end many life-forms, or that it brings suffering even to the elements split by nuclear fission. All atoms split by fission emit energy in an attempt to regain a stable state. The energy they emit in their quest for stability, however, threatens all life. My determination not to harm people, animals, plants, and minerals is directly challenged by the production of this energy, and by my benefiting from the energy when I turn on the lights, the washing machine, or the computer.

With mindfulness, it is easier to be aware of my tendency to move into fear and duality, to choose sides and create more suffering for myself and others. It is easier to understand those whose perspective differs from mine, and not to vilify them. As Thay taught, "they" are not our enemies, nor is fear, hatred, or even duality; all can be held and transformed by understanding. It is important for me to remember that behind each environmental concern or dispute, are people with varying degrees of suffering. Mahatma Gandhi used to say that if his adversary did not respond positively to his proposal, it was not the adversary's fault, but his own, for not stating the truth clearly or simply enough. Each person contains seeds of goodness, truth, and beauty. When suffering is relieved through understanding, these seeds respond, joy is born, and there is no ability to continue to do things that harm others.

Leaping into the debate surrounding radioactive waste requires mindfulness and careful attention to motives. It is important to gather information, research the facts, and engage. The Buddha taught his followers to engage the Dharma in daily life, and in our engaged practice, the Buddha still lives. In the spirit of the teachings, I must engage first in my own heart, and then move into the communal arena with my concerns about nuclear waste, in order to help relieve suffering of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

As I breathe into my fear, I breathe out hope that this life has made a difference to at least one atom of radioactive waste and perhaps one mind. Reminded that nirvana is in this moment, may I understand, so as to relieve the suffering brought to matter and to living beings alike, actions are all we take with us. May we know the joy of interbeing, not grasping or judging, just walking on the path with mindful breathing and attention.

Michael Winnell, practices with Dancing Rabbit Sangha, in Elk Rapids, Michigan. If you would like more information about the radioactive waste issue in relationship to nuclear disarmament and the burning of MOX fuel in commercial reactors, please email him: mwinnell@onramp.freeway.net

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The Smile or Freedom

By Shalom About seven years ago, I was caught up in some frustration with my then seven-year-old daughter. She was sitting on the bed, and I was standing in the doorway of her room. I was very cross about something she had done and pouring forth a great torrent of words. My view of the world at this moment was probably as wide as a pinhead! As I went to take a breath to pour forth more of my parental wisdom, the seed of mindfulness that I had been cultivating for some years on my cushion suddenly sprouted a wonderful new green shoot! Instead of a further outpouring of words, there was the realisation that I had just breathed in. Awareness bloomed—I was suddenly and absolutely in the present moment. I simply breathed out... and in and out... no more words, just breathing and looking deeply.

In that moment the blindness of my habitual responding simply fell away. I was at home in myself, no longer lost in some story I was creating. As I stood there, simply breathing with awareness, I began to also really see this other small person in front of me—no longer the image daughter of my mind but a vibrant full colour live other human being! It was very quiet for a few moments, quiet in the room and quiet inside me. Can you understand it when I say that in that moment there was a new me looking at a new daughter? In the spacious and quiet mind there was an awareness of this fragile young girl sitting with head lowered, not speaking, not looking, not being seen and not being heard.

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A new and softer voice arose from within me as I told my daughter that I could see now that something was wrong for her and that she didn't seem able to look at me. I said that I wished I had been calm enough to notice that earlier and I was sorry that I had not. Gently, I invited her to take her time and when she felt ready and able, to lift her eyes and take a peek at me ... to just see that I am her mother and that I loved her. In such a space, the truth can reveal itself safely.

My daughter raised her eyes, and without blame or anger she simply said, "Mummy, I am afraid of you." This, my friends, was a most painful and shocking revelation to me—and yet I also recognised it as a liberating truth. Breathing in and embracing my grief I heard this truth—without self-hatred or blame—simply breathing with compassion and gratitude. My daughter was finally safe enough to let me in to her world, and I was awake enough to accept that it was a different world than the one I had been living in.

I had always been so proud of the fact that I didn't hit my child, and I worked very hard at being a good mother, which of course I had been. However in the busyness and in the conceptualising of "good mother" I had quite lost the ability to simply be and see her and myself as we really were. In the following moments there were no more words. My daughter saw my tears and felt recognised. She came into my arms, and as I looked down into her shining and miraculous, tear-stained face, I remembered the baby I had held to my breast seven years earlier. A baby who had looked up into my eyes with this same tender and trusting love. How long it had been since I had seen her! The space had opened for the healing of a habitual way of responding that had been the mark of many generations of women in my family. A seed of mindfulness had set us, and future generations, free.

My daughter is now a teenager. We have our challenges, but the seed of mindfulness has grown steadily. It stands now as a strong and stable tree, blossoming and yielding much sweet and nourishing fruit.

The cultivation of mindfulness and learning to look deeply into ourselves and into the hearts of others can bring a lot of relief within us and in the world around us. Let us practice conscious breathing together and nourish the seeds of awareness in each other. When we see with clarity and spaciousness, we have the experience of waking up, a smile is born in the garden of our hearts, and manifests in our speech and in our actions. It is a true smile from a mind clear and spacious. It is the smile of freedom.

Shalom, True Auspicious Land, is a parent, therapist, and teacher. She leads Mindfulness Retreats in New Zealand, and has taught in Europe and the United States.

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The Path of Mastication

One Carrot's Story By Cindy Meier

Once upon a time there was a baby carrot. She was very happy in the black earth, nestled next to rocks, caressed by snails. She was bright orange and fresh. Each day the sun shone its nourishing rays on her. Each day a little rain fell and watered the hair on her head, and she grew and grew. She was one happy carrot.

But one day, a farmer plucked the carrot from the earth, her home. She was thrown into a crate with her brothers and sisters. She thought her life was over. The carrot was wrapped in plastic, put in a truck, and delivered to the kitchen at a retreat center. There, the cook unwrapped her, washed her carefully, and took her to a board. The cook lifted his sharp knife and again, the carrot thought her life was over as he chopped her into three pieces.

Two of the pieces were cooked in a stew with other vegetables for people on the retreat. As the stew boiled and the carrot felt her skin soften, she thought, "This time, I will surely die." The two pieces of the carrot were served in a beautiful tin pan with onions and squash and pepper. The carrot waited.

One piece of carrot was spooned into a bowl by a monk. As the monk slowly and mindfully chewed his piece of carrot, she felt herself transforming into the body of the monk. She became his hands and heart and brown eyes. She became the monk! And as the monk went on to be a great teacher, the carrot touched thousands of people through his voice, through his thoughts, through his touch. The carrot was very happy.

The second piece of carrot was scooped into a bowl by another retreatant, who had not yet learned the art of mindful eating. The carrot piece was swallowed whole and the next morning, she found herself in the sewage system traveling to the sewage treatment plant. Once she arrived at the plant, she was pulverized and treated and transformed into water for the grass of the city parks. There, the carrot, now water, sprinkled onto a playground where she could feel the feet of little children and hear the sound of their laughter. The carrot was very happy.

The third and last piece of carrot did not make it to the stew. A spot where a snail had slept against the carrot made the cook toss her into a bucket. She thought she would die for sure, separated from the rest of herself. But the retreat center composted food scraps, and the carrot joined other vegetables and fruits being transported to the garden. The sun shone, the wind blew, the rain fell. Soon, she was no longer her bright orange self, but was transformed into rich black earth. Now she found herself nourishing a new crop of baby carrots, along with the warm sun and sweet rain. And the carrot was very happy.

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Cindy Meier, Refreshing Still Water of the Heart, lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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The Path: To Sink or Swim

By Lily Pond At our Sangha meeting one Tuesday night, the Dharma teacher spoke of loving kindness. I nodded and nodded as she spoke. I had spent years reaching the same conclusions: that loving kindness, gentle friendship, and the way of the heart are all that bring joy and rest to our spirits. And on that sunlit spring evening, when even the leafy limbs of trees clung to the late daylight, and the faces of all who gathered radiated its presence, I believed I could live in that light forever, my heart open, in that place of essential joy.

As part of her talk, the teacher led us in meditations, "I will be safe from danger," "There will be peace in my heart," "I will radiate peace to all." Even something that had been difficult for me to assimilate, "radiating peace" to those who did not radiate peace back, suddenly came clearer. I understood that they were radiating all the peace that they could, they were loving to the extent that they could love, and that whatever encased them need not encase me. I glowed from the evening for nearly twenty-four whole hours. Then I went swimming.

I swim three times a week in the Albany High School pool. In the mornings, the shallow end is roped off for various swimming lessons, and the deeper half is open and unmarked for those swimming laps the width of the pool. People measure off their own lanes, and swim without submerging or bumping anyone else. Wednesday morning was like many others. I lay on my back doing a backstroke, blissful behind my pale-blue tinted goggles, humming a song just loudly enough to hear myself under the water.

I was going along happily for about twenty minutes when suddenly I got a face full of water; someone had inserted herself in the far too narrow space between me and the next swimmer, ignoring the entire rest of the pool with plenty of available lanes. She was splashing right where I'd been swimming all morning. Boy, did my blissful loving kindness disappear fast! How dare she?! Doesn't she know the rules?! Can't she see?! Then I began to analyze this total stranger. "She must be a selfcentered little brat. She doesn't care whose place she takes as long as she gets exactly what she wants!" All this in the space of an instant. With as much mindfulness as I could gather, I did the only reasonable thing. I moved to another lane. But I didn't think I should have to!

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I thought about this encounter the rest of the week. It's one thing to grasp the concept of loving kindness and its importance; that's a lot and I don't mean to diminish it. Nor can I disregard the goal of loving my enemies as well as my friends, to wish them peace and revel in their joys. But in actuality, to be able to keep my heart fully open in the face of someone stealing my lane, or cutting in front of me in a checkout line, or turning on their electric hedge trimmer the moment I sit down in the yard for a quiet session of deep meditation—these tests will take me a while to pass.

My reaction was about me, and mine—territory, property, identification of boundaries, or perhaps lack of them. This is what wars are fought over. I wanted to look at my response more closely; it was so immediate it seemed instinctual.

One thing I came up with is the identification with the self, the ego, the body. This, as they say, is the root of all suffering, the body clings and it pushes away. The ego, built of layers of fear, seeks to sacrifice everything to protect itself. Because make no mistake: if loving kindness is the route to perfect joy, my wish, on one level, to annihilate this woman for taking my swimming lane, is saying, "This lane is more important to me than perfect happiness." That's pretty heavy.

Another thing I notice is that the very things I thought about her are the things I think about myself when I'm being most self-critical. Perhaps these are the same things my self-centered mother became the most angry with me for—my own self-centeredness, which I learned from her, which she learned from her mother, which she learned, presumably from hers, and, probably, my swimmer did from hers. And what is "self-centeredness" if not fear? So much sadness and fear for mindfulness and loving kindness to heal. When I interrupt or don't listen well enough, when I put my own needs before those of someone else, I don't always know I'm doing it, and neither did the splashing swimmer. Sometimes I come home from the simplest of evenings and rake myself over the coals for the same kind of behavior that angered me about her. In following my body's call, in perfect unmindfulness, I behave from such ever-present and simple fears that it's not till I reflect that I see those fears at all.

If I can feel compassionate toward all of my own fears, can I also feel compassionate toward all of hers, my small thoughtless pool-mate? Sometimes. Can I remember that her thoughtlessness is born of the same things as mine? Sometimes. Can I open up my heart with love to her as one of all sentient beings in such a way that her doing this or that is absolutely unnoticeable? Well, not this week anyway. Will I do it perfectly every time? No, never.

Yes, there's the interim step: communication, communication from the heart, "Hey, girl, check this  out: see these lanes ...," etc. When do I simply accept the situation and move on, when do I try to change things? I'm not sure. And in any case, I have to know and recognize from the start that she may not hear. I have to make that decision, that one choice from minute to minute to minute: will I hold my heart open now? And now? And now? Can I really wish to trade perfect happiness for "my lane" at the pool? Can joy really be that simple?

Yes, I think it can. If my whole happiness depends on this woman's stroke, I guess the best thing I can do

Postscript: When I later learned that this swimmer was terrified of deeper water, I realized that there was even more I could learn from this situation. Lily Pond is a member of the Fragrant Earth Sangha in Albany, California.

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Wine as Sacrament

By Leslie Rawls At retreats and in Sangha discussions, friends often ask about the use of wine in religious ceremonies in light of the Fifth Mindfulness Training's prohibition on alcohol. Some practitioners are comfortable offering juice instead of wine, and are in a position to suggest the change. But for others, wine is an important part of a spiritual celebration. Some Christians believe that during Holy Communion, the wine transforms into the blood of Jesus, so that they are not drinking wine at all. Wine has long been part of the Jewish Seder. Lay members of a spiritual congregation may face the choice of drinking sacramental wine or foregoing a sacred ritual. In our Dharma discussion group at Omega last fall, two clergy wanted to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and wondered if they could continue to offer the communion chalice to parishioners. Sister Chan Khong, who was in our group, explained that the Training does not prohibit using small amounts of wine as a sacrament in religious ceremonies.

We undertake the Fifth Training, aware of the damage caused by alcohol abuse and intoxication. When we refrain from drinking the first glass of alcohol, we will not take a second glass and become drunk. Our not drinking helps create a safer world for ourselves and our children. Thich Nhat Hanh has said if we are not ready to give up a glass of wine with dinner or other "casual" drinking, then we should wait to take this Training. In For a Future to Be Possible, Thay encourages us to consider nonalcoholic choices in religious ceremonies, when we can. Some rabbis and priests have told him this is possible. But not all practitioners are able to make this change, and for them, the choice is not so simple.

In religious ceremonies, a very small amount of wine is offered as a sacrament; this is not the sort of drinking that leads to more drinking and intoxication. Sister Chan Khong told our Dharma discussion group that when some Christian friends in Germany invited her to share the sacrament with them, she took the small sip of communion wine in mindfulness. When juice cannot be substituted for wine without strong disrespect or abandoning an important ritual in our root tradition, we can mindfully take a small sip of wine as a sacred act without violating the heart of the Fifth Mindfulness Training. But let us not forget the great suffering related to alcoholism among clergy, as we continue to encourage use of non-alcoholic beverages in our sacred rituals.

Leslie Rawls was raised in a Presbyterian church that used grape juice for communion.

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Unmindful Tea

By Tom Reinert One recent morning, my first business meeting finished early. Since I had about 45 minutes to "kill" before the second meeting in nearby Bethesda, I decided to stop for a cup of tea. I thought I could spend half-an-hour collecting my thoughts, reviewing my notes, and preparing for the rest of my day. Not exactly a moment of mindfulness, but at least a break in an otherwise hectic day.

I sat down with my hot tea and took a sip. Good. My cell phone rang. The 11:30 Bethesda meeting had been changed to Washington, D.C. at noon, and I needed to handle some things in the office first. I had two minutes to finish my tea, get in the car, and drive downtown. Damn. I took a fast gulp of tea. Hot! Tried another quick gulp. Really hot! Then I realized you cannot drink really hot tea any way but mindfully. You have to slow down, take a sip, wait for it to cool, take another sip. Rushing only burns your mouth. That is the genius of tea drinking as a mindfulness practice.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to drink my tea at all, let alone mindfully. With regret, I tossed the full paper cup into the trash.

But that night, I made myself a cup of tea. I watched the steam rise and smelled its fragrance. The hot cup warmed my hands. I sipped slowly. It was very good.

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Tom Reinert practices law in Washington, D.C., meditation at the Mindfulness Practice Center in Oakton, Virgina, and tea drinking at his home in Vienna, Virginia.

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