#51 Summer 2009

Dharma Talk: Leading with Courage and Compassion

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Unexpectedly, while on tour in India, Thay was invited to speak to the Parliament of India. On October 17, Thay addressed the assembly and many dignitaries.

Honorable Speaker, honorable Secretary-General, distinguished Members of Parliament,

In this time of turmoil, in this time of violence, anger, fear and despair, every one of us suffers. The people suffer and also the leaders suffer. A spiritual dimension developed in our leaders may help to bring more insight and peace so that our leaders can find a way out for all of us. Is it possible to bring down the level of violence, fear, anger, and pain? To me, the answer is yes.

Those in the society who believe that they are victims of discrimination and injustice blame it on the society and their leaders. They have the impression that no one has listened to them. They have tried but they have never succeeded in making themselves understood. So, the practice of deep listening should be used in order to give them the sense of being heard and understood.

Compassionate Listening

In a nation, there are those of us who are capable of being calm, who can sit down quietly and listen with compassion. Our leaders may like to invite those people to sit and listen to the sufferings of the nation, to the sufferings of the people. This kind of practice is needed for everyone – not just for the political leaders. Suppose a father does not have time to listen to his son or daughter. That father would not be able to understand the suffering and the difficulties of his son or daughter and will not be able to make them happy. Even if the father has time to sit down and listen, if in the father there is too much anger, pain, and despair, the quality of listening will not be good enough.

That is why, to listen to the suffering of other people, we should listen to our own suffering. But in our society not many people have the time to listen and understand their own suffering and difficulties. If we are able to listen to our own suffering and if we understand the true nature and roots of our suffering, then we will suffer less. We will be able to see a way out.

After that, we can listen to our loved ones, our community, our nation. And listening like that can bring relief because the people who are listened to in that spirit feel that they are now understood.

The Parliament could organize a session of deep listening, inviting wise and skilled spiritual people to come and sit down with our political leaders. Then we can invite those who think they are victims of social injustice and discrimination to come and we can say to them: “Dear people, we are here. We are ready to listen to what is in your heart and to hear about your suffering, your difficulties, and your despair.” Preparation like that may take some time.

The session of deep and compassionate listening can be televised so that the whole nation can participate in it. If the quality of listening is deep and good, people will feel that they are beginning to be understood, and then the level of anger, violence, and suspicion in our society will come down.

Practicing with Israelis and Palestinians

In our community of friends, we have tried this practice in many ways. We always succeed. Every year, we invite a group of Palestinians and Israelis to come and practice with us at Plum Village. Of course, at first they cannot look at each other, they cannot talk to each other. There is a lot of fear, anger, and suspicion. First, we offer them the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, and learning to recognize the pain, sorrow, fear in themselves. Supported by the practice of the whole community, they get some relief in their body and emotion from practicing in this way.

After about ten days, we teach them the practice of deep listening and loving speech. One group is given the time to tell the other group about all the suffering it has undergone, what kind of pain, injustice, fear, and despair it has experienced. They are asked to tell everything using the practice of loving speech. They do not condemn, blame, or accuse each other. You can tell everything in your heart but refrain from accusing, blaming, and using bitter language.

When you are in the group that listens, you have to practice mindful breathing and remind yourself to listen with compassion. We know that if we can sit and listen calmly like that for one hour, the speakers will suffer less and will feel that they are being understood. Many sessions of listening and loving speech can transform the situation.

When a group of people are expressing themselves, there may be a wrong perception or misunderstanding — a fear or anger that has no foundation — but we do not interrupt or correct them because interruptions will make them lose the inspiration to speak out. So, we continue to listen and we tell ourselves that later on, maybe several days later, we will provide them with some information so that they may correct their perceptions. Now we only listen.

While listening we can gain many insights into how the speakers have gotten the wrong perceptions that they have; and how fear, anger, violence, and hate are born from those wrong perceptions. We tell ourselves that later on we will help them by offering them information that will help correct these wrong perceptions that are the foundation of their anger, hate, and violence.

Discovering Our Wrong Perceptions

While we listen, we might find out that we ourselves have been victims of our own wrong perceptions, that we have misunderstood ourselves and that we have misunderstood the others. In the process of listening we can correct our own perceptions and later on we might tell them that we have had wrong perceptions that have brought about fear, anger, and hate; and that now that the wrong perceptions have been removed, we feel much better.

After a few sessions of listening like that, one begins to see the other side as human beings who have suffered exactly as we have. You feel sorry that they have undergone such suffering. When you begin to look at the other group with that kind of understanding and compassion, they feel very much better because you are looking at them with the eyes of understanding and compassion. You feel much better within yourself and they suffer less. So, the practices of deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving speech always bring reconciliation and always help to remove wrong perceptions.

By the third week together, groups of Palestinians and Israelis are able to sit down and share a meal, they can hold hands during walking meditation and enjoy nature together. Reconciliation has taken place. At the end of the retreat, they come as one group to report about the progress of their practice and always inform us that when they go back to the Middle East, they will organize sessions of practice like this for other Palestinians and Israelis.

The difficulties between husband and wife, mother and daughter, father and son can be resolved with that kind of practice of deep listening and loving speech. If a father does not understand the suffering or the difficulties of the son, how can he love him and make his son happy? Understanding is the foundation of love — understanding the sufferings and difficulties of the other person. But we have seen that if we do not understand our own suffering, our own difficulties, it will be hard to understand the suffering and difficulties of another person.

Terrorists Are Victims

In France where we live and practice, thousands of young people commit suicide every year because they do not know how to handle strong emotions like anger and despair. When you speak of terrorists, we know that in a terrorist, there must be a lot of anger and despair; that anger, violence and despair have come from somewhere. They have become victims of the kind of information they have been given. When people have the impression that they are not understood, no matter what they have tried.

To me terrorists are victims of wrong perceptions and many people become their victims. In order to help the terrorists, we have to listen to them, try to understand them, and help them to remove their wrong perceptions. They may think that we are trying to destroy their way of life, their civilization; based on that conviction they want to punish.

Looking deeply into the matter, I see that the roots of terrorism are wrong perceptions that have brought us to anger, fear, suspicion, and the willingness to punish. Our political leaders should be able to listen, to help the terrorists remove their wrong perceptions. We cannot remove wrong perceptions by using bombs and guns. How can you bomb a wrong perception? That is why violence does not work. Removing terrorism needs to be done with the practice of compassionate listening and the practice of loving speech. If we think we are too busy, if we do not take the time, we cannot heal the violence in our society. We must make the time to listen to our own suffering and to the suffering of our own family and our own nation.

Just by listening deeply with compassion, we can bring relief and reduce the suffering in the family, in the community, and in the nation.

The Role of Journalists

I was invited by the Times of India to be a guest editor for the edition of October 2. On the day I was working with the journalists, there was a series of blasts in the city. I was asked: What should journalists do when such a thing happens? After sitting quietly in contemplation, I said that we have to report about events in a way that helps to explain why such violent actions continue to happen. We have to show that anger, violence, and fear are born from wrong perceptions. If we ourselves understand, then we may be able to do something to help remove wrong perceptions, fear, and anger. If we do not know how to do this skillfully, then we will create collective fear and collective anger that will be very dangerous for the whole nation. The role of journalists is to report in a way that promotes understanding and compassion.

I also told the journalists that they need to report more on positive things in order to balance all the negative things that we are reading in newspapers and seeing on television. After finishing elementary school children have viewed one thousand acts of violence on television. They consume violence and fear every day. We have allowed the producers of television and films to poison our minds with fear and violence. When another person expresses a lot of fear and anger, we may take that poison into us. When we are reading an article or watching a program on television we may consume the fear. I suggest that the members of Parliament make time to discuss this, because the anger and violence we are consuming every day is causing us to react violently in our families and in society.

Non-Discrimination

I would like to offer a story about non-discrimination. My right hand can do many things that my left hand does not do. When I write, I always write with my right hand. When I use a bell, I use my right hand. Yet my right hand does not ever complain to the left hand saying, “Well I do everything and you do not seem to be very useful.” My right hand has the wisdom of non-discrimination. And my left hand does not suffer from the complex of inferiority.

One day I was hanging a picture. I was not very mindful and I hit a finger on my left hand with the hammer. Immediately my right hand threw down the hammer and held my left hand gently. It did not tell the left hand, “You must remember that I have helped you and in future you have to do something to help me.” My left hand did not tell my right hand, “You have done me an injustice. You have made me suffer by hitting me with that hammer.” My left hand and right hand have the wisdom of non-discrimination. That is why my left hand and right hand live in perfect peace and harmony.

If the father and the son look deeply at one another, they can see that the son is the child of the father and it is the son who brings the father into the future. If the father makes his son suffer then he himself suffers. When you are able to make your father smile, you are happy because your father is happy. It is your own happiness because happiness is not an individual matter.

Regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians, we can say that the peace, joy, and safety of one side have very much to do with the peace, joy, and safety of the other side. So, to take care of the peace, well-being, and safety of one side is to take care of the peace, joy, and safety of the other side. The same thing is true with Protestants and Catholics, Muslims and Hindus. We are all like hands of the same body. If we know that our happiness is not an individual matter, then we can take care of the happiness and safety of our brethren. So, the insight of non-discrimination is the foundation of harmony and peace. We must educate our young people about this. Once we realize that either we live together or die together as a planet, as a nation, we can reconcile and transform the anger and suffering in us.

Transcript courtesy of Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, India. Edited by Barbara Casey, Janelle Combelic, and Sister Annabel, True Virtue.

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

War, Conflict and Healing

A Buddhist Perspective

By Ha Vinh Tho

According to the first of the five precepts (panca sila) given by the Buddha to his lay disciples (upasaka):

“Lay students of the Buddha refrain from killing, put an end to killing, rid themselves of all weapons, learn humility before others, learn humility in themselves, practice love and compassion, and protect all living beings, even the smallest insect. They uproot from within themselves any intention to kill. In this way, lay students of the Buddha study and practice the first of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.” (1)

Even though all religious and spiritual traditions agree to condemn the destruction of life, and although the precept “do not kill” is one of the most universally recognized ethical rules, war and violent conflicts remain an ever-present reality in the history of mankind. For this very reason, it is of utmost importance to reflect on ways to prevent conflicts, to alleviate suffering once conflicts have occurred, and to facilitate reconciliation and healing in post-conflict situations.

The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

The objective of this presentation is to show how the practice of Engaged Buddhism can contribute to the construction of the defenses of peace in the mind.

Developing the Great Compassion

I work in the field of humanitarian action; I train young people to help civil populations, war prisoners, the wounded and the sick in situations of war, armed conflict, and natural catastrophe.

Although neutrality and impartiality are the very guiding principles of true humanitarian action, it is often difficult to maintain this attitude when confronted with the harsh reality of violent conflict. To refuse to take a stand and to maintain an attitude of neutrality can be perceived as a lack of courage or lucidity. Indeed, how not to take sides for the weak against the strong, for the victim against the perpetrator?

I will argue that meditation on the universal law of interdependence, on non-self and on the nature of suffering, is the foundation of the Great Compassion which allows us to develop an attitude of neutrality which is not cowardice and of impartiality which is not indifference.

In the current world situation, characterized by the confrontation of cultures, religions and civilizations, it is more than ever necessary to develop non-attachment to opinions and to wrong perceptions. The Buddha teaches skillful means allowing lifelong learning, and an attitude of tolerance and authentic opening.

I recently acted as a mediator in a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and one of the participants explained:

“Our problem is that there are two competing narratives for one and the same situation.”

Not only is there a competition over land and resources, but there is a competition over the interpretation of reality. Each party is convinced, and wants to convince the world, that his story is the true story.

Each time one is confronted with violent conflicts, one can observe this phenomenon — the two sides have competing narratives, competing stories. And each side sees itself as the “the good guys” versus the other side perceived as “the bad guys.” Most armies are called “Defense Forces”; for instance the German army during the Second World War was called “Wehrmacht,” German for “Defense Force,” and on the buckle of the belts of the soldiers was written “Gott mit uns”: “God with us”, or “God on our side.”

I don’t know of any state that calls its army “Aggression Forces” — the aggressor is always the other side. The demonizing of the other side is a recurring phenomenon in any conflict; otherwise, how would it be possible to kill and maim the so-called enemy, if each one was fully aware that the other is just like oneself?

To give another example, during the Rwandan genocide, the actual physical violence had been prepared through intense radio propaganda by the “Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines” (RTLM) that was broadcasting slogans like: “Kill all the cockroaches,” referring thus to the moderate Hutus and to the Tutsis.

These few examples show clearly that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

But how can we build these defenses?

The Reality of Suffering

In his first teaching, “The Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma,” Lord Buddha began by explaining the Four Noble Truths, and the First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering (dukkha). Because of this, some people who do not understand the deeper meaning of the Dharma think that Buddhism is a pessimistic world view that emphasizes suffering over joy, and only sees life as a burden best gotten rid of. But this is a very superficial view; the Buddha acknowledges suffering in the same way a doctor acknowledges illness: in order to cure it.

Suffering can be a powerful way to develop compassion and in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, the Fourth Training addresses this reality:

Awareness of Suffering— Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help me develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, I am determined not to avoid or close my eyes before suffering. I am committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so I can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy. (2)

I would like to share an experience that I had some years ago, and that helped me understand in a more concrete way the reality of this Mindfulness Training. During a peace conference, I heard a lady from Northern Ireland tell how her sister had lost her son in a terrorist attack, and how, soon after, the man who had killed her nephew had also been shot dead. The mother of the young man who had been killed decided to visit the mother of the one who had killed her son, not in order to seek revenge, but to console her. She said:

“Only a mother who has lost a child can understand another mother who has had the same experience.”

These two women started a powerful peace movement in Northern Ireland that was instrumental in bringing about the Good Friday Peace Agreement that stopped a violent conflict that had been raging for decades.

In the same way, in Israel and Palestine there is a movement called the Parents’ Circle; all members of this circle have lost a son or a daughter in the conflict. I have had the privilege to facilitate meetings of the Parents’ Circle. It is a deeply moving experience to see how these people have transformed suffering into compassion. They have been able to overcome the natural striving for retaliation and revenge and to come together, united by their common experience of a terrible loss, to share a message of peace and reconciliation. When they meet, they share their stories, the memories of their lost children, but out of this grief they draw strength, energy of love and compassion, and a strong will to bring an end to war and to violence. Whoever listens to them can only be deeply moved because they speak from the depth of an experience that no theory or abstract ideal can match. They have discovered through their own suffering the reality of the Buddha’s saying:

“Hate is not overcome by hate; by love (metta) alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law.”

The Realization of Interdependence and Non-Self

From the point of view of conflict prevention and peace building, interdependence and non-self are the most important tools that Buddhism has to offer. What I have called the problem of competing narratives is always based on the false assumption of a radical, unbridgeable difference between me and you, between my community and your community.

At first sight, good and evil, right and wrong, victim and perpetrator seem to be completely separated realities; we may think that if we get rid of the negative, only the positive will remain. But interdependence or, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it, interbeing, is the realization of the interconnectedness of all life. The more we become aware of the reality of interbeing, the more we realize our shared responsibility for the state of the world. On one hand, this can seem like a burden; on the other, it makes us conscious that we are not passive onlookers, but that we can do something to bring about transformation and healing. I would like to quote venerable Thich Nhat Hanh who shared a powerful example of this insight:

“One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself. When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years.” (3)

If we awaken to the reality of interbeing and non-self, we awaken to the wisdom of non-discrimination. This is the wisdom that can break the barrier of individualism; with this wisdom we see that we are the other person and the other person is ourself. The happiness of the other person is our own happiness, and our own happiness is the happiness of the other people, plants, animals, and even minerals.

This is not only true on a personal level; it is also true for communities, countries, religions, and civilizations.

“Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhism elements. If we look deeply we can see that the elements of non-Buddhism have made Buddhism… It’s exactly the same as a flower. A flower is made from non-flower elements; the sun, the clouds are not flower, soil is not flower, water is not flower. The self is made of non-self elements. It is the same with the other religions.” (4)

The more this insight can become not a mere theory, but an actual experience, the more we can realize that the so-called enemies are always part of a common interdependent reality. And if we strive for the freedom, the peace and the happiness of our own community, the only way to achieve it is by protecting the freedom, the peace and the happiness of the other community. This is true between Israelis and Palestinians, between Americans and Iraqis, between Tutsis and Hutus, between Tibetans and Han Chinese.

This is also the key insight that helps us to be neutral and impartial without being indifferent. I have personally struggled with this dilemma more than once, and I would like to share an experience that had a transformative effect on me.

The first time I visited a detention center, I went to meet with security detainees in a military prison. I spent most of the day having interviews with the detainees and met with dozens of men. I was listening to one story after the other, stories of violence, of fear, of injustice, of hatred, of despair. Taking all these stories in my heart, it was easy to feel a lot of compassion with them and, on the other side, to feel anger arising against the soldiers who had all the power, the weapons, the authority. At some point, I was taking a short break in the courtyard, resting from the intensity of the encounters, from the stench and the claustrophobic atmosphere in the prison cells, when a young soldier came to sit next to me. I felt he wanted to talk to me. He was very young — most soldiers are very young, war is always about elder men sending out young men to do things that they would not do themselves. I asked his age and he was several years younger than my own son. He began to tell me about his life before the military, he told me about journeys he had taken, countries he had visited, and he also said that he was active in his community, helping teenagers who had problems with their families. He told me that after the army, he wanted to study education and do something useful for the youths. I felt he wanted to show me another side of himself, he needed me to see beyond the uniform he wore and the machine gun he carried. After we had talked for a while, he suddenly asked me: “Do you think I am a bad person?”

The question touched me deeply. I realized how easy it is to perceive only the soldier, the one having the power and oppressing the prisoners. In a flash, I realized that if the causes and conditions had been different, I could have been the one with the machine gun and he could have been the humanitarian worker. And I could not be absolutely sure that if I had been the one with the weapon, I would have not been more cruel and harsher on the prisoners than he was. So I told him very sincerely: “No, I don’t think you are a bad person, I understand that you are in a situation that is not easy, just try to do the best you can. ”

Meditation and Mindfulness

True insight into the nature of suffering, interdependence, and non-self can bring about peace, reconciliation, and healing, but it cannot come from intellectual reasoning alone. It needs to be nourished by life experience, by mindfulness in everyday life, by meditation.

Meditation is not about turning away from reality and dwelling in an illusionary inner peace, ignoring the suffering that so many people and other living beings experience day after day.

Meditation is looking deeply into reality as it is, both in us and around us. It is training ourselves not to react immediately with sympathy or antipathy: I like, I dislike, I want, I don’t want, I grasp, I reject.

But rather to create an open space, free of judgment, free of notions and preconceived ideas, allowing reality to unfold and reveal itself in our heart and mind. By doing this, insight and compassion arise naturally, effortlessly, for they are the very nature of our deeper being.

  1. Upasaka Sutra, Madhyama Agama 128
  2. Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press
  3. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam, 1992
  4. Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 4, 1997 in Plum Village, France

Ha Vinh Tho, Chan Dai Tue, is half-Vietnamese, half-French. With his wife of thirty-eight years, Lisi (both Dharma teachers ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh), he founded the Eurasia Foundation for the development of  special education in Vietnam. Tho is the head of training, learning, and development in a humanitarian organization whose mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence.

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Letter from the Editor

mb51-Editor1Dear Thay, dear Sangha, In conjunction with Thich  Nhat  Hanh’s  2009  U.S  tour,  we  are delighted to publish this special issue on Sangha building — the first time in many years that we’ve had a whole issue devoted to a single theme. Even with sixty-four pages, we didn’t have room for all the excellent submissions; our heartfelt gratitude to all who contributed.

“Ever since I was a young monk,” Thay writes in Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community, “my dream has been to build a happy Sangha. Now, after sixty years of monastic practice, I continue to feel that Sangha building is the most precious work that we can do as practitioners. The Sangha is our community of practice, and it is also our refuge. We rely on it and trust it to support our deepest aspirations and to give us energy and inspiration on the path of practice.”

Anyone who has been to Plum Village or Deer Park or Blue Cliff knows that Thay has succeeded in building a happy Sangha. Anyone who has been on retreat with Thay’s monks and nuns or his Dharma teachers has felt a touch of Sangha joy.

At my first big retreat, in Colorado in 2003, I knew no one. By chance, in our first Dharma discussion, I was the first one to introduce myself. I said my name and explained that I was from Fort Collins, just an hour away. The person to my left then introduced himself, and said he, too, was from Fort Collins. And so on around the circle, all twenty-some of us! A number of them met regularly in town and so I started to attend Peaceful Heart Sangha. My life has never been the same.

The Dharma talk in this issue is the speech on “Leading with Courage and Compassion” that Thay delivered to the Parliament of India when he was there last fall. It is followed by a moving article about President Obama’s inauguration; the section on “Sangha Fruits” explores the wider meaning of Sangha — our place in the world.

“Buddha’s Medicine” provides wisdom from Dharma teachers who have been building Sangha for decades. A host of practitioners describe their personal experiences in “Living Sangha,” and then specific practices are described in “Nuts & Bolts.” A few articles delve into more advanced practice in “Order of Interbeing & Beyond.”

Sister Chan Khong sent us a report on the India trip, which closes out the issue, along with the book reviews. As usual, Thay and his monks and nuns traveled and taught tirelessly; we have room for only a few stories from the trip.

A personal note: one Sangha that is not mentioned elsewhere is the Mindfulness Bell Sangha. For the last four years, I have had the privilege of immersing myself in this amazing worldwide community. Most of you I have not met in person; nor do you know each other. Yet your love for the Dharma, for our beloved teacher, for your Sangha brothers and sisters comes through in many ways — your beautiful submissions, the comments you make in e-mail or in person, your subscriptions, your donations, the copies you send to prisoners. You reprint articles in your newsletters and in major newspapers in Israel and India; you share readings in your Dharma discussions.

These are challenging times. As Thay has often said, we need not sink in the sea of despair — we can take refuge in the raft of Sangha. May all beings find Sangha and realize their deepest aspirations.

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Support President Obama’s Sangha

An Invitation from Thay On April 15, 2009, during the Francophone Retreat in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh made this request of the Sangha.

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President Barack Obama is surrounded by his Sangha — his family, his advisors, his community of faith, his supporters — and I want to help that Sangha. If Barack Obama succeeds it will be thanks to that Sangha. His job is very difficult and he needs a strong Sangha to nourish and protect him because he’s vulnerable. There are attacks coming from every direction.

In 1965, I wrote a letter to Martin Luther King to tell him about the suffering in Vietnam and the struggle we were leading for human rights and peace. Exactly one year later I met the Rev. King in Chicago, and we talked a lot about the future of the world, of America, Europe, Asia. We were hosted by an organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We spoke of community and Sangha; Rev. King spoke of Sangha in terms of a Beloved Community. We discussed how we could spread the ideas of truth and right thinking, how we could practice right speech to educate people about peace, human rights, and social justice.

Practicing right speech, right action, and right thinking we worked hard to change the way the world is thinking. About forty years have gone by since we planted seeds that are starting to sprout a little bit everywhere. All over America, Europe, Africa, and Asia we have worked to sow the seeds of brotherhood and sisterhood and peace, and I feel that Barack Obama is the blossoming of our work. And Obama is not the only flower to blossom; if there is Obama, then there are others like him who also have manifested to realize the Beloved Community. This is a consciousness that has been growing for many years, a consciousness and a community that can support Obama’s Sangha and Beloved Communities all over the world.

It is a great joy to see President Obama have a chance to represent us at this time in the history of the planet. We wish him to succeed and we have to support him; we have to help his Sangha be stronger.

All of us can do something. We can write a letter to tell President Obama and his Sangha that they have our support.

I think our practice here in France should have some connection with the American Sangha. We can support this Sangha that Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. The French Sangha is growing very quickly — you are that community. This French retreat represents the French Beloved Community. And we need to do something to support President Obama and his Beloved Community.

Thank you.

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Please join our French Sangha and embrace Thay’s inspiring invitation to support President Obama and the Sangha that surrounds him. Please send your letters to the following addresses: pvbelovedcommunity@gmail.com or Sr. An Nghiem Plum Village New Hamlet 13 Martineau 33580 Dieulivol France

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The Buddha's Medicine

“The Buddha’s medicine is made of only two ingredients: Sangha and time.” When I first read those words I knew them to be true. This sentence, on page 159 of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Opening the Heart of the Cosmos, tells the story of my life. mb51-TheBuddhas1

For many years I meditated by myself, but the benefits didn’t manifest much beyond my meditation bench. I still felt isolated, anxious, alienated from my family and society. It wasn’t until I discovered Sangha that Thay’s teachings started to take hold. With my new friends in Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado, I began to put the teachings into practice — to live them. Over the months and years since then I have gradually become happier, healthier, more peaceful, more joyful. I attribute these benefits far more to Sangha than to my own diligence.

As my Sangha friends accepted me in their midst and I felt safe enough to reveal more and more of my true self, I learned to accept those qualities I had previously despised or feared in myself. Hearing my friends’stories opened my heart and helped me appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. The more I’ve given to Sangha, the more I’ve discovered my own gifts. Even the conflicts have been precious — you can’t have community without conflict — because they have deepened my relationships and forced me to develop skillful means.

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In The Lonely American, psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz write that “our society is in the midst of a dramatic and progressive slide toward disconnection.” Studies show that people have fewer close friends than in previous decades and more individuals live alone than ever before. At the same time, medical research shows that “[s]ocially connected people live longer, respond better to stress, have more robust immune systems, and do better at fighting a variety of specific illnesses. Health and happiness, the two things we all say matter most, are certifiably linked to social connectedness” (excerpted in Utne Reader, March-April 2009). These trends are not limited to the United States; along with the technology that makes “virtual” connections possible, we are exporting this social malaise all around the world.

mb51-TheBuddhas3Whether this disconnectedness is symptom or cause of the grave sickness in our modern society, I don’t know. But I have no doubt what the cure is: community. A community based on mutual respect and personal responsibility, grounded in mindfulness and insight, bathed in love and compassion — in other words, Sangha.

The matter is urgent. “Whether or not the twenty-first century becomes a century of spirituality depends on our capacity of building community,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism. “Without a community, we will become victims of despair. We need each other. We need to congregate, to bring together our wisdom, our insight, and our compassion. The Earth is our true home, a home for all of us. We invite everyone to look deeply into our collective situation. We invite everyone to speak out to spread the message. If we fail in this task of Sangha building, then the suffering of the twenty-first century will be indescribable.”

And how can we transform our situation? Sister Annabel, in her article “The Collective Bodhisattva,” gives us the answer: “We are living at an exciting time when our world can either make a turn for the better or continue down the hill for the worse. Let us stand at the junction and direct the traffic by our compassion and inclusiveness and especially by our right thinking.... The only way we can proceed is as a collective — a Sangha body.”

The work is up to each one of us. The benefits, without limit.

— Janelle Combelic

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Peace Is Every Step

The Path of Mindfulness at the Presidential Inauguration By James Figetakis

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The morning was cold. The anticipation was high. The crowds were intense. After nearly two years of a historical campaign that became an unprecedented social movement, the day had arrived for the Inauguration of our forty-fourth President, Barack Hussein Obama.

As residents of Washington D.C., my wife and I had decided to make no specific plans for Inaugural weekend. No striving, no grasping, no expectations. Stay open to all possibilities. Our intention was simply to embrace the energy of the historical moment. Whatever arises, enjoy the power of the wonderful present.

Like a Pilgrimage to Mecca

As it unfolded, many of our good friends from around the U.S. and Europe streamed into D.C. to participate in the Inaugural festivities. Ours became an open house for overnight guests, for impromptu dinners, for spontaneous celebrations of the moment and the new era.

One surprise was that some friends came bearing gifts, as a token of gratitude, such as tickets to the Inauguration (among other festivities). We felt blessed since it also meant sharing the historical moment with them. We also anticipated that the crowds, the security, and the cold weather would be challenging.

Peace is every step. The shining red sun is my heart. How cool the wind blows. Peace is every step. It turns the endless path to joy.

Carrying one friend’s child — a six-year-old girl — on my shoulders, I set out with my friends for the Capitol somewhat late on the morning of the Inauguration. We fell into crushing crowds in the metro, masses walking in the streets, throngs of thousands waiting to pass security and enter their ticketed sections. Making our way to the Capitol was like a massive pilgrimage to Mecca.

An Extraordinary Collective Peace

Despite staggering lines since sunrise in freezing temperatures that wrapped around entire city blocks twenty people deep, there was a palpable peace in the air among the crowds. I chose to practice walking meditation in the sunshine for the twenty-minute walk from our home to the Capitol, rather than focusing on the possible outcome that we might not enter in time (if at all) to witness history.

We are what we feel and perceive.

Afterwards, many people who decided to watch the Inauguration on TV or were not in D.C., asked me about our experience: were the crowds unruly, police threatening, people delirious? Was there dancing in the streets or chaos in the capital?

The Inauguration of President Obama was the most extraordinary experience of collective peace and mindfulness that I have ever witnessed in a public setting in my life. It surpassed even the power of the Dalai Lama on the Capitol steps that I experienced when His Holiness received the Congressional Medal of Honor in October 2007.

If we are not peaceful, then we cannot contribute to the peace movement.

While we waited in endlessly long lines, strangers were friendly and respectful toward each other. As we passed the security checkpoints, police guards were calm and good-natured. When we noticed that our ticketed section was impossible to enter due to more bottlenecks, a rare solidarity emerged: people on the other side generously offered their hands to help us over an eight-foot stone wall so we could reach our section just minutes before the Inaugural events began. The security police nearby smiled as we three adults and the six-year-old were hoisted over the wall by strangers and into our section by a multi-racial smiling crowd of well-wishers.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred.

I continued mindful breathing and standing meditation before and throughout the Inaugural ceremonies, absorbing the warm rays of sunshine, the deep blue of the sky, the awe of the Capitol at this moment in history.

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Tears and Smiles

Everyone near us, around us and within view appeared to be in complete reverence. They were mindful of the power in the present moment. Connected through their silence, they dwelled in inner stillness. The tears and smiles on everyone’s faces reinforced this experience of shared joy, complete awareness, and extraordinary interbeing.

When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness.

A collective awareness seemed to pervade the air and reminded us that every moment was precious. Whether it was the somber invocation by a controversial minister, the exhilarating singing of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by Aretha Franklin (wearing that hat!) or the historical swearing-in ceremony — first of Vice President Joe Biden, and ultimately of President Barack Obama — they were a series of fleeting moments, passing so quickly, that they could only be fully absorbed through the power of everyone’s mindfulness.

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Enjoying Our Beautiful Environment

As the new President delivered his Inaugural speech, the sun shone more brightly and the air felt more pure. The crowd of nearly two million continued to dwell in profound stillness and reverence, but now they were interconnected by deep gratitude.

As far as I could tell, there was no pushing for a better view nor jockeying for a better position, no attachment to an outcome nor grasping for something more. This was it, and it was wonderful!

There is nothing to chase after. We can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.

James Figetakis has been a member of the Washington D.C. Mindfulness Community since 1999, and before that, of the Mindfulness Community of Paris, France. After working for U.S. and French multinationals he now advises global philanthropists and non-profits. James resides in Washington D.C. with his wife, Patricia Langan.

All quotes are from Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (Bantam Books, 1992).

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War, Conflict, and Healing in Belfast

By Bridgeen Rea This talk was presented at the Vesak Conference in Hanoi in May 2008.

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I first went to Plum Village for a week of the summer retreat in July 2005. Sitting with Thay and the Sangha around the lotus pond in Upper Hamlet — following my first-ever walking meditation— had a massive impact on me. Maybe it was the strong French sunshine or the beautiful pink lotuses, which I’d never seen before in my life, but I was deeply touched by the peace and the happiness all around me in Plum Village. I had a joyful, wonderful time and I felt lots of love. I decided to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings that week.

Back in Northern Ireland I went to meditation once a week in the Belfast Zen Centre, which follows the Soto Zen tradition. I feel like the Mindfulness Trainings worked on me, rather than me working on them. I was training to be a yoga teacher and tried to be as mindful as I could — when I remembered!

In August 2006 I went to the Neuroscience Retreat at Plum Village, where I met a psychologist from Dublin who told me I should go to Vietnam. I thought it was impossible, but I went! Many friends supported me to go and even my family were happy for me.

For the whole three weeks of segment two, I shared a room with Gladys from Hong Kong, who has now been ordained as Sister Si. I felt so happy to have met such a beautiful person. In Vietnam many of the lay friends encouraged me to start a Sangha in Belfast. In Belfast it’s not really possible to be Buddhist — if I say I practice Buddhism, people say ‘but are you a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist?’ and it’s only half a joke!

Growing Up During “the Troubles”

I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1974, five years into what is known as “the Troubles.” Growing up in a divided society rife with sectarianism, hatred, and fear was the norm, but I had a happy childhood and enjoyed school.

The Troubles did penetrate my life though. I was born on July 8, which is right in the middle of the ‘marching season’ — the guaranteed time for trouble in Belfast. Belfast used to shut down and become a ghost town. I have memories of people protesting out on the streets when a hunger striker died around my eighth birthday and I didn’t get to go on a planned outing. When I was much older and wanted to have a party or an evening out in a local place, often my friends couldn’t come because of trouble in parts of the city.

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As a teenager I had to be aware of going to places wearing my school uniform because it identified me as Catholic. I had to be careful about going out with Protestant boys. Also I was very aware that my name, Bridgeen, labels me as a Catholic, unlike my sister’s neutral name Jenny, which can be either Catholic or Protestant.

My family doesn’t understand the practice. They ask, “What is it you do, worship Buddha?” My parents and friends understand that Buddhism is a peaceful thing, but they worry that I’m too into it. They say, “Why don’t you just go on a ‘normal’ holiday?”

In April 2007 I told my friend Sinead about the idea of Sangha — she is a poet and very open to new ideas. She thought it was wonderful! She had just had a baby and thought that Sangha would be the perfect thing to help her balance her life. So with her encouragement I called a couple of friends who were interested or at least open-minded towards Buddhism and meditation. The Tall Trees Sangha started in my apartment. After a year five of us are still practicing once a week. It is very wonderful and brings all of us many blessings.

How to Be at Peace?

By coincidence when the Sangha started in May 2007, Northern Ireland installed its first power-sharing executive. Ten years after the historic Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland finally has a locally elected government. This is something that my Granddad didn’t live to see and would never have believed could happen. Belfast has been transformed. In some ways the peace is still tenuous and people are now having to learn how to live in a new situation after forty years of conflict.

How to be at peace? My friend Sinead says: “I think there is a psychosis in the society here — there has to be, given our history — and it will take a long time for this to be resolved, even though we are witnessing miracles. They say for every year of conflict you need another year of reconciliation. And I think this affects people who live here on all sorts of levels.”

I work in the new government administration as a Press Officer — for a Minister who belongs to a party that my community once saw as the enemy. But in spite of the many positive events, sectarianism and fear are still rampant. The society is still very much divided in terms of where people live and the schools they go to. There are many social problems of deprivation, depression, and suicide.

My mindfulness practice and Sangha can’t do much on a large scale but on a micro scale five us are learning a lot from Thay and trying to nourish our good seeds. Every week we practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, listen to Thay speak on CD and we have a Dharma discussion. Two of us come from a Catholic background, one was brought up Protestant, one was brought up with no religion; there’s also a German guy whose religious background doesn’t really count in the Northern Ireland context!

Forgiving and Moving On

We don’t discuss politics or the state of society, rather our personal problems and challenges. I really believe in Thay’s saying “peace in oneself, peace in the world.” I aspire to follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings, though sometimes I don’t find it easy to live up to them.

Another Sangha member in his fifties with five children says gratefully that the Sangha nourishes the spiritual aspect inside him and that it makes a space in his week. He remembers being angry and depressed during the Troubles and shouting at the TV. I think every family experienced that.

He says: “Sangha is a space where people can express themselves without upsetting anyone. It is open-minded, far from my dogmatic Christian upbringing. I always feel uplifted after it. It also helps me to relax as I am often an anxious frightened person. As I lived through the Troubles the fear in the community was palpable and people were steeped in it, and they weren’t allowed to question it. The atmosphere was full of tension, hatred and anger — sectarianism and bigotry everywhere. You were constantly waiting on something bad to happen.”

When I am out socialising and people find out I practice meditation they ask me all sorts of questions. There is a lot ignorance, confusion, and misunderstanding about anything that comes from the East. There is fear that it’s some kind of cult or it’s against Christianity. Yet Belfast people are the salt of the earth; they are warm and friendly and funny! If you ever visit Belfast you will find people go out of their way to help you and make you feel welcome.

Because of our history we may have a dark sense of humour, but there is also awareness of the importance of forgiveness. People understand about changing and moving on for the sake of future generations.

Bridgeen Rea, Peaceful Gift of the Heart, hosts Tall Trees Sangha in her apartment in Whiteabbey Village, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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The Gift of True Freedom

By Trish Thompson We often hear reference to what it means to be free. We speak of the “free world.” We speak of “freedom of speech.” Most of us, at least in the West, as well as in many Eastern cultures, have the freedom to choose our mates, our careers, and even how many children we want to bring into the world. We value having the freedom of mobility, political and physical. We feel free when we can go anywhere we want, when we want, “without hindrance or restraint.”

Those of us who have these freedoms and other, similar ones, consider ourselves to be a free people. Are we sure? Are we truly free?

As an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, I am on an e-mail list devoted to aspects of our mindfulness meditation practice. One day in 2006, Bill, an American practitioner who has been involved for years in prison ministry, posted a message. In it, he told of an American woman, ‘Sarah,’ who was an inmate in the Women’s Prison in Bangkok. He asked that anyone passing through Bangkok try to reach her to give her some solace.

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Learning of this woman, members of our Hanoi Community for Mindful Living decided to write letters to Sarah. A member took them to Bangkok and left them at the U.S. Embassy for her, along with some books by our teacher. We wanted her to know she was not forgotten.

Months later, while in Bangkok, I decided to follow up. I learned she was still in the prison. Could she have visitors? The answer was yes.

First Prison Visit

Books have been written about the notorious Bangkok Women’s Prison. Available at the Bangkok airport, they make popular in-flight reading. I was thankful I had not read them. As the taxi whizzed along the highway to the prison, forty-five minutes from the city-center, I felt anxiety. I had never been inside a prison. Scenes from the films Silence of the Lambs and The Green Mile kept coming to mind.

The Women’s Prison is very large. Many buildings sprawl over an area several blocks long. Even though the driver had instructions in Thai, we had difficulty finding our way. Twice, I followed first one guard and then another, only to learn that I was in the wrong place. This was not wasted time. Surprisingly, everyone was extremely cordial and helpful, even smiling and cheerful. My anxiety disappeared.

Finally, we were there. I found the right window, gave my ID and my reason for being there, and was told to take a seat. The waiting area was outside, but protected from the searing Bangkok sun. There were twenty-five or so other visitors, all Thais of various ages, including small children. Finally, after a one-and-a-half hour wait, my name was called. My handbag was put in a holding bin, and my body patted down.

Through the Chicken Wire

The visitation windows were also outside, consisting of a long fence of chicken wire three meters tall. Wooden partitions, set one meter apart, created an illusion of privacy. A grassy area, two meters wide, separated my wire fence from another like it. In a moment, a woman appeared behind it, and took her seat directly across from me.

She immediately asked, “Who are you?” “I’m Trish,” I answered. “Trish from Hanoi.”

Her puzzled expression changed to one of amazement. Excitedly, she asked, “Trish? You’re Trish Thompson?” I nodded, yes.

She smiled very broadly. “Oh,” she said. “So you got my letter.” She looked so happy, even though I could not clearly see her through the two thicknesses of wire.

I told her, no, I had not. None of us who had written to her had received an answer. She did not appear surprised. Then, she said, “I got the books, and I’ve read them and reread them. They have changed my life.” She said I was her first American visitor, other than the embassy personnel who came every four to six weeks to give her a monthly stipend, a loan of some kind from the U.S. government. Her food and bare essentials had to be bought by her at the prison store.

Just then, a bell rang, and her face dropped. “Can you come back?” she asked. “Next time we can meet in a special room, with more privacy, but you must get a letter of authorization from the embassy. We can meet for a whole hour!”

I said I would come on the next visiting day. In response to my question of what I could bring her, she asked for some fruit and some panties large enough to fit a Western woman.

The greater part of the next afternoon was spent looking in the lingerie section of department stores for underwear for a middle-aged Western woman in a women’s prison. Bikini panties did not seem appropriate. My mission, not an easy one, was made more difficult by my total dependency on English. Somehow, using hand signals and repeating, “Grandma, Grandma,” while bending over, pretending to use a cane, I made myself understood. Several large and unattractive pairs of panties were produced for my inspection.

I chose the two I thought were most feminine, in pale pink and blue.

Sarah’s Story

On visitation day, I arrived at the prison, with time to spare. I had my authorization letter, the panties, and a huge bag of fruit bought on the street near my hotel. I was led to an upstairs room where I met the supervising guard for the building. Kindly, but firmly, she informed me that I could not give Sarah my gifts. All gifts must be bought in the prison store, in order to guarantee that they are drug-free. Disappointed, I vowed, once again, to be more mindful and not make assumptions.

I was led to another small room, in view of the guard, but out of her range of hearing. I sat in front of a Plexiglas window. Almost immediately, Sarah appeared on the other side and took her seat. We were now only about one meter apart.

What a lovely woman, I thought. She looked quite calm and peaceful. She wore no makeup. Her skin was clear, and she looked very healthy.

She accepted, with little comment, my apology for my ignorance and subsequent failure to deliver the requested gifts. She clearly had things she needed to say to someone.

With little prompting, she told the following story.

She was traveling with a male friend, both of them drug addicts, when she was caught trying to sell two kilos of heroin. After a trial, she was sentenced to death. A year later, her sentence was commuted to life. In Thailand, a life sentence is a life sentence, with no possibility of parole.

She had been in the Women’s Prison, in the section for drug offenses, for four years. She described the first two as a kind of hell, and then said, “Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hell, but I have learned to accept my situation. I was a drug addict for 20 years. Now, I am clean. Prison has saved my life.”

She possessed the shift she was wearing, another like it, and two sets of underwear. Her diet was a daily bowl of soup with “something strange floating in it,” supplemented by fruit purchased by her in the store. She and several friends sat in a circle to share their food. I exclaimed, “So, you have a community!” She replied, “Oh, yes, I do.”

When asked to describe the worst part about being in prison, she shared her sorrow that she could not see her mother who was too old to travel. She expressed her concern for the entire families, including children and elderly grandmothers, who were inmates. “When the Thai police make a drug bust, everyone in the area is picked up and presumed guilty.” She said she knew women who had been there more than forty years.

An extreme hardship was “the noise and complete lack of privacy.” Her bed was a mat on the floor, the room so crowded with 300 women that they slept toe to toe.

She told me that since receiving the meditation books, she had begun to meditate, waking at 3:00 a.m., the only relatively quiet time in the day. Sitting on her mat, she practiced conscious breathing, learning to focus on her breath, rather than on the snoring of her roommates.

She had also begun to practice mindful walking throughout the day, especially when in the exercise yard. “I am aware of a big difference in my state of mind,” she said.

And, then she said something so powerful that I shall never forget it. “You know,” she said. “When I was ‘out there,’ free to come and go as I pleased, I was never satisfied, I always wanted more, more of everything. I never felt I had enough. In here, I have enough. I actually feel happy, truly free for the first time in my life.”


One of the books sent to Sarah was Be Free Where You Are by Thich Nhat Hanh, based on his talk given to inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute. The book never reached her, apparently confiscated by censors.

Sarah was transferred in 2007 to a prison in the U.S. Under U.S. law, she will be eligible for parole in 2014.

mb51-TheGift2Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace, remained in Hanoi, after accompanying Thay to Vietnam in 2005. She started and continues to support the Hanoi Community for Mindful Living. Currently living in the Central Highlands, she is writing a Dharma memoir, Mother, Where Did You Go?

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Seeing Ourselves in Each Other

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Brett Cook is committed to bringing collaboration and healing to communities all over the U.S. — through passionate creativity. Guided by the ideal of interbeing, Brett applies his training in visual art, education, and contemplative practice to lead community members in cooperative art projects. And the results reach far beyond their stunning works of art. In communities that have been divided or wounded, Brett offers a bridge between conflicting beliefs and painful histories. By leading people through dialogue and art-making, he generates healing and peace.

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A practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, Brett has traveled to Deer Park Monastery and Vietnam to practice with the Sangha. He’s blended art and mindfulness practice in communities from New York to California. Last year in Durham, North Carolina, Brett facilitated a project called “Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life.” Hundreds of people took part in community conversations about neighborhood goals, then traced and colored drawings of local heroes in large public art installations.

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The Face Up project featured portraits of human rights activist Pauli Murray (1910-1985). “For me,” Brett explains, “Pauli was an exemplification of emptiness; she wasn’t one thing, but all things. She spent her life expanding for other people, as well as herself, the idea that we don’t have to be limited by one identity, particularly from the world around us. We can be seen as infinite and connected to all things.” As the community worked together to create images of Pauli and other role models, they had a chance to “see themselves in each other” and in their artistic creations.

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For more information about Brett Cook’s Sangha building and art, including video clips and art slide shows, visit www.brett-cook.com.

— Natascha Bruckner

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A Net of Sangha Jewels

By Jack Lawlor mb51-ANet1

There is a famous metaphor in the Avatamsaka Sutra about the Jeweled Net of Indra, which likens the interdependent, interwoven nature of reality to a vast net of jewels in which each jewel is reflected in the other.

The Sanghas that have been inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings resemble the Jeweled Net of lndra. They too are vast, now extending throughout the world. They extend from the Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam (our Root Temple where Thay at age sixteen began practicing and studying as a novice), to Plum Village in France, to affiliated monastic practice centers in China and Korea, to our Deer Park and Blue Cliff major practice centers in North America, to twenty-year old Sanghas comprised primarily of lay practitioners located throughout the world, and to the newest Sanghas just formed in a practitioner’s living room.

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Each of these jewels reflects the others. Although they may be separated by oceans, although their membership is comprised of practitioners from much different cultures, although some Sanghas are considerably older than others, they each reflect what’s shared in common: a deep reverence for mindfulness practice and a characteristically gentle but wholehearted aspiration to be mindful in everything we say and do — not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of all beings.

Stop, Be, Look, See

Early in his efforts to inspire the growth of the Dharma in the West, Thay asked lay practitioners to master just three things: sitting meditation, walking meditation, and the use of the breath poems known as gathas. The equanimity we nourish through the practice of conscious breathing in the form of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and daily gatha practice manifests not only in stress reduction, but also in enhanced understanding and insight, helping us know what to do and what not to do even in the most perplexing situations. Thay summarized mindfulness to North American practitioners in the late 1980s in a simple four-word breath poem: Stop, Be, Look, See.

We are so fortunate that Thay also impresses upon us the need to live in an ethical manner consistent with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which in so many ways help us remain together as a healthy, happy community. Another great fortune is the emphasis Thay places on Sangha practice itself. When we practice meditation and mindfulness with others, we receive loving feedback through the shared practice of deep listening and appropriate speech, and our rough edges become smooth. Our spiritual practice grows, rather than become either the fond memory of a retreat we attended or a book we once enjoyed.

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With a modest degree of persistence, we soon learn how much easier it is to practice together than alone; how we contribute to a Sangha without the need to say very much because our presence is in and of itself a gift that supports and authenticates the practice of other Sangha members; how we are inherently social beings who need the interaction and support that may not be forthcoming from books and tapes; and how someone in our Sangha will likely have been down the same road we’re traveling and have the ability to listen to us and understand us.

We’ve all experienced tastes of the grace and ease that arise when we practice together as a Sangha rather than alone. We’ve all taken our place on our meditation cushions at home, observed that it is 7:00 a.m., done our best to sit through 35 minutes of sitting meditation, only to peek at our watch and find that it is 7:03! Yet when we sit together as a Sangha, we sit in a relaxed way free of such tension and anxiety, because we have the support of friends on the same step-by-step spiritual journey.

Spiritual Friends on the Path

It is now approximately six years since I helped Thay and our Sanghas throughout the world assemble the Parallax Press manual on Sangha building and practice entitled Friends on the Path. I have continuously marveled at the effectiveness of Sangha practice and come to realize why the Sangha — together with the Buddha and his teachings, the Dharma — are regarded as the Three Jewels in the Buddhist tradition shining so brightly within Indra’s net.

There is a beautiful term in the Pali language, kaylana mitta, that describes the kind of spiritual friend we can be to one another. I have seen assemblies of kaylana mitta do so many things quite well without the benefit of resources other than their friendship and their dedication to mindfulness practice. I have witnessed how local Sanghas develop consistency in individuals’ sitting and walking meditation practices to the point where they are deeply woven into each practitioner’s life. I have seen how Sangha practice encourages Sangha members who were alienated from their blood families and their children to reconcile. I have witnessed how Sanghas help Sangha members in time of need, and even serve as primary caregivers as a Sangha member approached death. It has been encouraging to see how our Buddhist faith community contributes to political dialogue by joining hands with other faith communities in efforts to stop war and prevent further ecological destruction.

Perhaps you, like me, have seen local Sanghas serve their communities in countless ways, including working with the homeless and raising funds for charitable causes both in North America and overseas. It is clear that our Sanghas and Sangha members serve in innumerable ways, without a lot of fanfare, setting examples in work places and in other social settings that have helped place the Dharma seed deep in the social fabric of the West.

Only twenty years ago, Thay opened our eyes to the possibility of Sangha practice at a time when a large Sangha would have been six or seven people sitting together in a dining room. Today, this Jeweled Net manifests in Sanghas and monastic practice centers throughout the world in which thousands of people participate. Yet all this has been accomplished in a surprisingly short period of time with no sense of hurry, in the spirit of one step, one breath. When I first met Thay twenty years ago near the busy baggage claim at O’Hare International Airport, and soon thereafter found myself following his example of practicing airport walking meditation toward my car, I realized instantly that this lineage would have its impact upon our world in no other way.

What lies ahead? Thay has predicted that the next Buddha may indeed be a Sangha. That prediction will manifest if each of us infuses our lives consistently with the most basic mindfulness practices based on conscious breathing, and if we keep doing so together with a light, loving touch, as kaylana mitta, friends on the path.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, was ordained by Thay as a Dharma Teacher in 1992. Jack was a co-founder of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois and practices extensively with Sanghas in the American Midwest.

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Poems by Bill Menza

Sisterhood and Brotherhood Everyone is my teacher. Everything is the Dharma. Look for the miracles, The magic words, Of understanding and love. Make friends with yourself, Speak from your heart, Practice limitless non-self interbeing. Your only career is the realization of  perfect understanding, Imperfections accepted.

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So Just Be Your hopes and desires, Your expectations Bring tension and stress. There is no peace. You look for happiness With old thinking So it cannot arrive. You want one thing, And the world Gives you something else, Thus your present moment wonders Are taken away. So just be With your out-breath.

Bill Menza Sarasota, Florida

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The Collective Bodhisattva

Sisterhood and Brotherhood in the Twenty-first Century By Sister Annabel, True Virtue

If you were to ask me what could save this planet Earth I would say not eating meat, not using fossil fuels — but only if based on sisterhood and brotherhood. Sisterhood and brotherhood come first. Whatever we do we should do as a Sangha, as a community. First we look deeply as a community then we come to a consensus on how we should act, and then we act as a community. Our community wants to establish sisterhood and brotherhood within itself and then within society and in the world. As a monk or nun our community is the one into which we have been ordained. As a layperson your community is your family, your church or local Sangha, and possibly also your work place. Having established brotherhood and sisterhood here, you can also bring sisterhood and brotherhood into the society.

Your spouse, your children, your parents and siblings are all your brothers and sisters. To the best of your ability you can practice looking deeply together, come to a consensus, and act together. Children from five years or seven years old can be encouraged to share their views, listen to the views of others that can be simply expressed, and play a role in family decision-making. Teachers and pupils in the school also practice sisterhood and brotherhood in this way. Sisterhood and brotherhood is not just reaching consensus and acting together. It is also communication: listening deeply and speaking lovingly. We should all train in expressing our sincere appreciation of each other; expressing our regret when we do something hurtful; asking others if we have done anything to hurt them; and expressing mindfully and without blame or resentment when we have been hurt.

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You may say this is wonderful but it is unrealistic. Yet others have done it and you should make your best effort for the sake of the planet Earth. I have faith in it and I will go on singing my song until this body disintegrates — and the song will continue.

About which programmes you will watch on the television, parents share and children share. If we do decide to watch a programme that is not wholesome, it is not the end of the world, but having watched it we share how it affected each one of us. What seeds were watered, how tired or otherwise we felt afterwards.

Our Contribution to a Global Ethic

There are more than 84,000 things we can choose from to do to save this planet Earth from global warming, from toxic wastes, from running out of drinking water — we have to choose for our own community what is realistic. We do as much as we can and we learn from what other communities are doing but we do not force our ideas on other communities. We encourage them to do what is best for the planet in the context of the appropriateness of their own situation. This is the practice of the Third of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, “Freedom of Thought” [see below].

Once we embark on this path, we feel safe. We are living in a time where the challenges are great, but we face the challenge with compassion and resolution. Knowing that we are doing our best we do not despair. Our minds are at peace and if our efforts to save our planet fail, we will accept to offer up the merit of what we have done for a new civilization that could arise millions of years from now. After all, all civilizations are impermanent. In past lives we have died with our civilization and in future lives we shall die with our civilization. The important thing is the heritage we leave behind us with the actions of our body, speech, and mind.

The Mindfulness Trainings are there to guide us. They are our contribution to a global ethic. They are a living reality. They come alive when we bring them into our daily life. Every day new situations will arise for us to find new ways to put the Mindfulness Trainings into practice. When we see the different situations that arise we shall know how to revise the Trainings every twenty years. The cultural and social situation is constantly changing. There are new challenges that arise and need to be faced. The spirit of the Trainings is clear and they need to be appropriately worded in order to help guide us in the new challenges that are arising.

Buddha Shakyamuni said this clearly, “Ananda, the minor precepts should be revised according to the culture and the time.” When Ananda reported this to the elders, they asked, “But Ananda, did the Buddha say what are the minor precepts? Which precepts specifically can be revised?” Ananda said no and as a result no one ever revised the monastic pratimoksha for 2,600 years. Certain avenues have been opened up by technology that can lead to real corruption of the monastic order, but these cannot be dealt with, because the precepts cannot be changed. When the Buddha said minor precepts he said we can add precepts that are needed because of the time and the culture. We can word precepts in such a way that keeps the spirit of the vinaya but gives concrete guidance where it is needed. The major precepts: not killing, not stealing, keeping celibacy, not lying about our attainments. The minor precepts are there to help us observe the major precepts. If we break them we have not broken the major precepts but we may be on the way to doing so. Technological advances such as the Internet, telephone, and e-mail can be means that take us in the direction of breaking the major precepts. The revised pratimoksha that has been recited and practised in Plum Village and affiliated monasteries since 2000 guide us so that we use these things skillfully in a way that benefits society and our community and not for our corruption as a monk or a nun.

Stopping vs. Acting

We can analyse the Mindfulness Trainings according to the three different actions of body, speech, and mind. We can also analyse them according to the two aspects, stopping and doing. Mindfulness Trainings are not just to remind us to refrain from unskillful actions, they also encourage us to replace unskillful with skillful — in other words, to transform unskillful into skillful energy. If we look at the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we see how the First Training is to stop the principally physical action of killing and replace it with action that protects life. It is mainly a Mindfulness Training encouraging bodily action but in a minor way it includes speech and thought action — “I am determined not to condone any act of killing in my thinking and in my way of life.” We condone by our way of thinking and speaking. At this point, mind and speech action are involved.

Here we can digress a little to see how the aspect of doing has gained importance in the wording of the Plum Village versions of the lay Mindfulness Trainings. In the revised pratimoksha the prescriptive aspect of the Trainings is a little more prominent than in the classical pratimoksha, but it is still of comparatively minor importance. Master Chih I, founder of the Tendai school (late 6) was already discussing Mindfulness Trainings in terms of stopping and acting. He discusses the ten wholesome action trainings (dasakusala-karmani.) These ten trainings that belong to both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions include three trainings for body action, four for speech action, and three for mind action. The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are a revolutionary continuation of the ten wholesome trainings. The ten wholesome trainings were as follows:

1. Refraining from killing (stopping) Protecting life (acting)

2. Not stealing (stopping) Practicing generosity (acting)

3. Refraining from sexual misconduct (stopping) Protecting the good name, happiness, respectability and commitments of others and oneself (acting)

4. Not speaking falsehood (stopping) Speaking of things as they are (acting)

5. Not speaking divisively (stopping) Speaking constructively and to bring about reconciliation (acting)

6. Not insulting or denigrating others (stopping) Speaking gently, respectfully and with compassion (acting)

7. Not exaggerating (stopping) Speaking words that give rise to confidence and respect (acting)

8. Not being carried away by craving (stopping) Living simply (acting)

9. Refraining from anger and enmity (stopping) Developing compassion (acting)

10. Not holding on to prejudices, preconceived ideas (stopping) Being open and ready to exchange ideas (acting)

If we examine these ten traditional trainings and their continuation in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, we shall see that the fifty-fifty stopping and acting ratio has been maintained. What is different in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings is the ratio of trainings concerning mind action in comparison with those concerning speech and body action. At least half of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings concern mind action. The tenth training of the ten has become the first three trainings of the Fourteen.

The Six Harmonies

Our next link is the Six Harmonies or Togethernesses — how to live in harmony with each other. If we analyse these six we shall see that one is for the body, one for speech, and two for mind action. The remaining two are for body, speech, and mind. Here are the Six Harmonies:

  1. The harmony of the body, to perform bodily actions that promote harmony (body).
  2. The harmony of sharing – to share equally and according to need, benefits that accrue to the individual or the Sangha (body, speech, and mind)
  3. The harmony of speech – speech to promote harmony (speech).
  4. The harmony of thought – thought that promotes harmony (mind).
  5. The harmony of views – resolving questions by harmonizing views (mind).
  6. The harmony of the mindfulness trainings the whole community practises the same mindfulness trainings (body, speech, and mind).

Thus we see that mind is involved in four of the harmonies, body in three, and speech in three.

The Six Harmonies are guides to practicing sisterhood and brotherhood. It is clear that mind action is the overriding practice.

What is it that our world needs? The happiness brought about by sisterhood and brotherhood. We need mind action to bring this about. One right thought can heal the person and heal the world. We should give greater emphasis to mind because mind action can also be very harmful. Mind action can be violent and destructive both to the thinker and to the world. How we think matters. Thinking produces karma; it is not only bodily and speech actions that produce karma. Right thinking is a basic need in order for harmony, sisterhood, and brotherhood to be possible. Right thinking can make harmony of the bodily action possible.

The Buddha gave the example that a monk sees a bowl that has not been washed. He thinks to himself: “The owner of the bowl must have been called away on urgent business to help someone. Why do I not wash his bowl for him?” Thinking like that he washes the bowl, feeling joy in his heart. Or the monk thinks: “What scoundrel left his bowl lying here, unwashed?!” And feeling irritated he turns his back on the bowl. Or the monk thinks: “It is not correct practice to leave the bowl unwashed, but there are demanding circumstances. I have time now, let me wash his bowl.” This shows how right thinking makes right action possible and the feeling of joy that comes with right thinking.

Right thinking also makes right speech possible. The Buddha gives this example. Suppose you want to say something to someone in a discussion or meeting. The situation could be delicate and you want to have a positive outcome from your words. So, before speaking you stop and ask yourself: “If I were to say this, would it make the other(s) happy?” Having breathed mindfully you can either feel a near certainty that it will bring happiness or unhappiness (in which case you do not say it) or you feel unsure and in this case you do not say it. The harmony of mind is the way of thought that produces harmony. When we are thinking negatively about a person we are mindful of our thinking and change the thought as we would a television channel we do not want to watch. We change the thought for a positive thought about the other person. That is how to practice harmony of thought.

Harmony of views depends on mind action. When we hear an item on the agenda to be discussed, our mind may immediately have a view about that item. There is nothing wrong about that. We can share our view, but we are not caught in it. We listen to everyone who has a different view. We feel happy when we hear a view that is more sensible than our own, and immediately let go of our view. When we have listened to everyone’s view and we still like our own idea, we ask ourselves what it is that we like about it and try to see how we can synthesize part of our idea to arrive at consensus, only maintaining our own view if we see it is a matter of life and death — a real danger to body or mind could exist if our own idea is not heeded.

Letting Go of a Separate Self

When I first came to Plum Village twenty-four years ago, it was not a practice centre as it is now. Thay and Sister Chan Khong sponsored refugees from the boat people who were held in refugee camps. They stayed here until they were ready to go out into French society and work. I, too, was a refugee from England from a difficult teaching job. Since we were not yet a practice centre we made our living by agriculture. We were quite poor if you compare it to our community now. We did not have the money to mend the roof in the Lower Hamlet and it needed mending. Our cultivation of soya beans, colza, oats, and vegetables was important to us as a source of revenue. Apart from that there was only the one month summer-retreat.

My mind was shocked to see that the cultivation was not organic. Thay taught me to practice the harmony of views, which is also to practice the first three of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. I was somewhat surprised that Thay did not agree that we must cultivate our land organically and impose this idea on the other refugees. Thay told me: you must sit down together and decide as a community how you are going to cultivate. We did this and I was the only one who wanted to go organic. When I told Thay he said that if I wished I could make a small organic garden, cultivate a few plum trees organically, and see how it worked. If it worked well it would be a good argument for increasing the percentage of organic cultivation. I still feel strongly sometimes about certain matters, but I remind myself to practice harmony of views and the first of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. If we are not careful, something like organic gardening can become an –ism or ideology rather than a collective action by the community for the common good.

In practicing letting go of our views and perceptions, we are practicing letting go of our separate self. There is no single pair of eyes that can see as clearly as the Sangha eyes. Working with mind consciousness we are beginning to work with manas. Manas is the layer of consciousness that lies below mind consciousness. It is not as conscious as mind consciousness. It has an energy of its own that seldom rests. It is the energy of cogitation. This cogitation produces and preserves a separate self idea. Sometimes in deep sleep manas is inactive, no longer producing the idea of a separate self. On awakening it immediately comes into action, preserving the idea of self. We could explain this as a primitive survival mechanism. We need to ask, is survival possible without the idea of a separate self? If we can wake up and follow our breathing without needing the idea of a separate self, we are safe. We do not need any other survival mechanism.

The Fourth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings also concerns thought action. It concerns not avoiding suffering. It is the natural tendency of manas to run away from suffering and seek pleasure. In transforming this natural tendency we are mindful of cogitation and can transform manas along with its four mental formations of self — self-love, self-ignorance, self-view, and self complex. Self-love is what makes us feel that suffering is bad and fail to see that suffering is necessary and can also be good. The Fourth Training is to learn to face suffering, accept it, and use it as the mud upon which lotuses can grow. The wording of this Training may also be revised to help us see more clearly the interbeing nature of suffering and happiness.

The transformation of manas does not take place through ideas. In the beginning we hear the teachings on no-self, we meditate on them, and we put them into practice. In order to transform manas we have to practice no-self. What better place than in a practice community? Sitting together, walking together we entrust ourselves to the Sangha body. In the case of personal needs we can bring them to the Sangha body. If the Sangha sees fit and possible the Sangha will help. It is by living no-self that we transform manas. The experience will penetrate down into the deeper levels of consciousness but not the intellectual ideas of no-self.

Education as Key

People have conducted surveys in the United States and Europe to find out what percentage of the population lives in a relatively awakened way — caring for the environment, open to multicultural experience, giving importance to a spiritual dimension in life, living simply in order to have time to share with family and follow the pursuits that nourish oneself, devoting time to helping society, wanting to transform self more than demanding that others transform. What percentage of the population would you think lives this way? Somewhere between seventeen and twenty percent. People such as this are open to a global ethic. They want to live in an ethical way but are not interested in political or moral authorities. When we talk of a global ethic we are talking of something that does not belong to any particular creed or faith but can be accepted by anyone whether he has a creed or not. Such people can easily accept the precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

mb51-TheCollective2We are living at an exciting time when our world can either make a turn for the better or continue down the hill for the worse. Let us stand at the junction and direct the traffic by our compassion and inclusiveness and especially by our right thinking. Education will help more than political or moral authority. Education is to discover, to make known, and to participate. In some schools now children participate, growing and cooking their food in the school garden. It is not only children who need education, we all need it, and it is quite possible to educate without imposing our ideas on others. You can tell your children that they cannot watch television or eat junk food but they might go to their friends’ houses and do just that. The question is how to communicate about toxic foods and allow the children to discover for themselves what is harmful for their minds. Some parents have succeeded in following this middle way.

Education takes place in the framework of the Sangha of sisterhood and brotherhood. If parents are able to educate their children in how to watch television healthily, that is because they have the support of Sangha friends and because the children are able to attend retreats and Days of Mindfulness where there is a children’s programme. We educate each other through the wonderful practice of Dharma discussion. What could be more beautiful than the scene at large retreats of many small groups sitting in circles and listening deeply to learn from each other?

Enlightenment is no longer (or was it ever?) an individual matter. The only way we can proceed is as a collective — a Sangha body. We wake up and help others to wake up together. We are a collective  bodhisattva.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, resides in Waldbröl, Germany where she is helping Thay to establish the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

THE FOURTEEN MINDFULNESS TRAININGS

  1. The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.

  1. The Second Mindfulness Training: Nonattachment to Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

  1. The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are committed not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination to adopt our views. We will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through practicing deeply and engaging in compassionate dialogue.

  1. The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, we are determined not to avoid or close our eyes before suffering. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images, and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

  1. The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Simple, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, we are determined not to take as the aim of our life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. We are committed to living simply and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those in need. We will practice mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs, or any other products that bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness.

  1. The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Dealing with Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognize and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger comes up, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking and acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We will learn to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger.

  1. The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness.

  1. The Eighth Mindfulness Training: Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. We will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. We will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

  1. The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will not spread news that we do not know to be certain nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten our safety.

  1. The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

  1. The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not supporting companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

  1. The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world. We are determined not to kill and not to let others kill. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war.

  1. The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. We will practice generosity by sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

  1. The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: Right Conduct

(For lay members): Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a long-term commitment. In sexual relations, we must be aware of future suffering that may be caused. We know that to preserve the happiness

of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with respect and preserve our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will meditate on the world into which we are bringing new beings.

(For monastic members): Aware that the aspiration of a monk or a nun can only be realized when he or she wholly leaves behind the bonds of worldly love, we are committed to practicing chastity and to helping others protect themselves. We are aware that loneliness and suffering cannot be alleviated by the coming together of two bodies in a sexual relationship, but by the practice of true understanding and compassion. We know that a sexual relationship will destroy our life as a monk or a nun, will prevent us from realizing our ideal of serving living beings, and will harm others. We are determined not to suppress or mistreat our body or to look upon our body as only an instrument, but to learn to handle our body with respect. We are determined to preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal.

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Sangha Building

A Lesson in Love By Joanne Friday

Our practice is about expanding our capacity for love and compassion. We use the practice to transform our unskillful states of mind and develop fearlessness so we can go through the world loving freely with an open heart.

In my experience, this is the basis of Sangha building. It is a very deep practice of expanding our capacity to love. The Sangha, committed to practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings, ideally provides a safe container in which we can water the wholesome seeds in ourselves and each other. It is a community with which we can practice deep listening and mindful speech and share our aspirations, our joys and concerns, and support each other in our practice.

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It also gives us opportunities to be more aware of the unwholesome seeds in us and to use all of our practices so that we can transform them. We can observe our habits of mind and our attachment to views. Because our Sanghas are open to everyone, we come in contact with some people who are difficult for us. We can feel our hearts close. It requires that we invoke Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, whom I see as a sort of patron saint of Sangha building. S/he is the bodhisattva of deep respect who sees the Buddha nature in everyone. We need to be able to do that for each one of our brothers and sisters. When we find our heart closing, we can look at what arises in us regarding the person we find to be difficult. We embrace those difficult feelings, look deeply in order to understand, and with understanding, we arrive at compassion and love for ourselves and the one we thought to be “difficult.” Then our heart can open again.

The Sangha gives us many opportunities to put into practice the teachings of the Discourses. We might use the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. If a person’s actions are not kind, we focus on their words. If their words are not kind, we focus on their actions, and so on.

In the Sangha, we have a responsibility to resolve all conflicts however small in a safe way. We can touch those things, like conflict, that scare us, and develop skillful means to transform them. This enables us to become more fearless and more honest with ourselves and each other about conflicts when they arise. Once again, we can allow our hearts to open instead of to harden and close.

These are just a few examples of the transformative power of Sangha building. If we want to build a healthy and happy Sangha, we need to discover and transform the barriers to love in our own hearts, so we can truly love every one of our brothers and sisters. We are so blessed to have a practice to help us to be truly joyfully together.

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Joanne Friday, True Joy of Giving, practices with the Clear Heart Sangha, the Radiant Bell Sangha, and the Mind Tamers Sangha in Rhode Island.

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Buddhist Enough Haiku

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Sangha/No Sangha haiku Are we a Sangha or just a group of friends? Such questions: words, mere words!

Sangha haiku Sangha is where you find it: music, books, the woods, communing together.

Suchness haiku 2 No gurus, chants, rites, no lineage. We touch the earth: free-range Buddhas

Kill the Buddha haiku A letter comes back: Sorry, these haiku are just not Buddhist enough.

— Charles Suhor

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Why Build Sangha?

mb51-Why1 Thich Nhat Hanh shares the fruits of monastic civilization with lay practitioners so that we, too, can experience community as a resource for awakening. Meditation can seem easier when we’re in a group, and we learn from each other, so we build Sangha to enjoy and support our practice.

The Buddha was explicit about the value of community: “Monks, as to external factors, I do not see any other factor that is so helpful for the arising of the seven factors of enlightenment as this: good friendship.” (Samyutta Nikaya, Bojjhangasayutta, 51)

My first experience with Thay’s community was at a five-day retreat. Someone in our Dharma discussion group suggested we could keep meeting after we returned home, so we created a roster, and someone volunteered to host a gathering. Two weeks later, we sat, walked, listened to a reading, and shared our experience of the practice. We couldn’t agree on a name, but the No-Name Sangha enjoyed practice together enough that we met each week for several years!

I enjoy it when people visit our Sangha, and I like to visit Sanghas, too. When my teenage son and I went to check out some colleges, I used the Mindfulness Bell Sangha directory to locate friends along the way. [Editor’s note: the Sangha list is now online at www.mindfulnessbell.org under “Directory.”] One woman I called said that the Sangha in her town hadn’t actually met for over a year, but she was happy to meet me, and even offered us a room for the night! We meditated in her garden, and then talked about what made practice nourishing, what some of the difficulties could be, and so on. A few months later, she called to thank me for the visit, adding that she had talked to some of the people in her old Sangha and they had started to sit together again.

How Does Sangha Support Practice?

First of all, Sangha is an explicitly safe place. “Alone together” in community, we make the practice visible, credible, accessible. When we’re alone, we may routinely get carried away by our thoughts, but Sangha reminds us how to be diligent and observant. We recognize what’s true and nourishing, and we create a foundation upon which we can stand when we encounter adversity. The gardener makes the garden, and the garden makes the gardener.

A practice community is a creation, and takes time, but the work of Sangha building isn’t about planning and hard labor. It requires involvement, but when it feels difficult, we’re not doing it correctly. Learning how to build Sangha, like meditation, means learning how to get out of our own way!

Sustaining a Sangha is practice, too. If we’ve been nourished in the Sangha, we’ll have patience to learn to trust the “Sangha eye” to arrive at decisions that will be in everyone’s best interest. Lay practitioners can implement practices that the monastics rely upon, like Beginning Anew and Shining the Light, but as Thay says, “What is most important is to find peace and share it with others.”

“This Is the Entire Holy Life”

On one occasion, the Buddha was dwelling in the Jeta Grove of Anathapindika’s Park, in Savatthi. His attendant, Ananda, mused to his master how the company of like-minded people constituted such a big help: “Venerable sir, this is half the holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship.” Vehemently, the Buddha corrected him: “Not so, Ananda! Not so, Ananda! This is the entire holy life, Ananda ...When a bhikkhu has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.” (Samyutta Nikaya, Part V, Ch.1)

Dictionaries define Sangha as “the community of Buddhist monks,” but more inclusively, it applies to any group that meditates together. With practice, we may recognize that Sangha actually consists of everything that supports us. We bow to a cushion, smile to the bean in our soup spoon, attend to the rustling of leaves, the splash of the rivulet.

mb51-Why2Caleb Cushing, True Original Commitment, practices with the Pot Luck Sangha and the Open Door Sangha in the East Bay Area of Northern California.

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Sangha Building in Southern California

By Karen Hilsberg mb51-SanghabBuilding1

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that the Buddha of the twenty-first century may manifest as Sangha. The simplest definition of Sangha is a community of friends practicing mindfulness together and offering spiritual support to one another.

I practiced on my own in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for ten years before beginning to practice regularly with a local Sangha and with the Deer Park Sangha. And from practicing with a Sangha my mindfulness practice has deepened exponentially. I learn so much from my friends in the fourfold Sangha (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen)! We grow and develop together through our formal and informal practice together and through our special friendships.

Here are some tips and best practices that have worked to strengthen community and build Sangha in Southern California during the past seven years.

  • If you build it, they will come. My husband and started a Sangha in our home in October 2003. We publicized the Sangha for about three weeks before the first meeting by putting up fliers in health food stores and coffee shops, and sending out e-mails. Nine people attended our first gathering, and the Sangha has been meeting every week for the past six years.
  • Meet for at least two hours at a time so that people can have time to settle in without rushing. The format of many Sanghas is to begin with a silent or guided meditation for twenty to forty-five minutes, followed by slow walking meditation, then more sitting meditation. The second part consists of a Dharma discussion on a prearranged topic, such as a talk by Thay, an article in the Mindfulness Bell, a book by Thay, a sutra, or the Mindfulness Trainings. The Sangha may also learn a song or chant together, or practice inviting the bell. Have a different person lead the Sangha each week.
  • Meet every week at the same time in the same place. This creates continuity and dependability. Recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings or Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings once a month. Sangha members learn about the Trainings, discuss them, and then find ways to incorporate them into their lives if they like.
  • Use e-mail to remind 3angha members of the time and topic of each Sangha gathering. Create a website and add a listing on the worldwide directory of Sanghas at www.mindfulnessbell.org so that practitioners can locate a Sangha in their area.
  • Be inclusive. Welcome new members and make it easy for new members to participate. Some Sanghas offer an introduction at the beginning of each meeting or once a month. Some Sanghas have people who welcome everyone at the door at the beginning of the Sangha and are available to offer basic instruction in mindfulness practice.
  • Move the Sangha to a public space. Everyone loved meeting at our home and practicing walking meditation in the garden. However, we were encouraged to move the Sangha to a public space, which we did. Meeting in a local yoga studio has relieved the responsibility of leading the Sangha every week from any one person. It is often more comfortable for people to meet in a public space.
  • Collect dana each week to support rent for the space, community service projects, or scholarships for Days of Mindfulness and retreats.
  • Encourage Sangha members to subscribe to the Mindfulness Bell and periodically discuss an article or issue as a Sangha.
  • Lead by caretaking council. Share the Sangha leadership among a group of people who meet quarterly to make decisions about Sangha schedule, organize picnics or potlucks, arrange Days of Mindfulness, and attend to other Sangha business. Practice deep listening and loving speech during caretaking council and try to come to consensus when possible.
  • At least once a year, offer a Day of Mindfulness from 10:00 to 4:00 to the community and nearby Sanghas. Either lead the activities of the day yourselves or invite a Dharma Teacher or Order of Interbeing member to support or lead the activities.
  • When possible, attend a practice center or weekend retreat together as a Sangha. This is a wonderful opportunity to
  • get to know one another in a different context, to have unstructured time together, and to deepen the practice of the Sangha together.
  • Create an Order of Interbeing and/or OI Aspirant Sangha. Deer Park Monastery has been offering an opportunity on the third weekend of the month for OI members and aspirants to attend the monastery and meet together as a Sangha to deepen their understanding of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the OI Charter, and to build community in Southern California. This has been a wonderful opportunity for many Sangha leaders to feel recharged and nourished in their practice of Sangha building in their home communities.
  • Welcome and support families with young children. Children are wonderful practitioners and teachers. Children can understand mindfulness practice and families can practice together. Offer gatherings for families that can support parents in the wonderful and challenging task of fostering mindfulness and peace within the family.

The practice of mindfulness takes place at Sangha and increasingly in every aspect of our daily lives. Our Sangha brothers and sisters become our spiritual family with whom we share the landscape of our lives. As Thay has said, a practitioner is like a drop of water. If the drop of water is alone, it may evaporate easily. However, when many drops of water join together to form a river, all the drops of water in the river can travel safely to the ocean. The Sangha is our river that supports our practice of mindfulness and the cultivation of joy and non-fear in our lives.

For further support on Sangha building, refer to Friends on the Path by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, practices mindfulness and builds Sangha in Southern California. She recently self-published her first book entitled Be Like a Tree: Zen Talks by Thich Phuoc Tinh.

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One View from the Cedar Cabin

By Nancy Stewart mb51-One1

The Cedar Cabin Sangha in Ithaca, New York came into being in 1999 following the Ascutney, Vermont retreat with Thay. In my Dharma discussion group I was introduced to four people from my community whom I had never met, two actually living right down the road! We organized a regular meditation practice, invited friends to join us, did occasional half-days of mindfulness. In the next couple of years we sponsored two well-received retreats for the general Ithaca community led by delightful Order of Interbeing monks (and we are still so grateful — you know who you are!). We thought all was well; and it was, but impermanence set in.

Sangha members began to come infrequently or dropped out — too busy, new jobs, time conflicts. We put out fliers, used our e-mail list, and got listed on the Sangha directory website. New members came enthusiastically — for a while, then left town or just stopped coming. For many months, regular attendance was down to two of us: Pamela and me. While everyone else had become less committed, Pamela and I began to realize just how helpful the practice was for us and we became more committed.

Week in, week out, we were there with rare exception. I dragged myself there many times when I didn’t feel like it and discovered I was always glad I had come. We were meeting in a friend’s cedar cabin heated by a wood stove. Freezing in winter, stifling in summer, it was difficult to find but had fabulous atmosphere — woodsy decorations, birds chirping, vegetable garden and long tall grass to walk in. We were attached to our cabin, but we knew we needed to let go of our attachment.

A Fortuitous Move

Pamela had the insightful idea of changing our meeting place to our local hospice, right near the cabin. Everyone in town knows where that is. In exchange for the space, and to create goodwill, musical Pamela began to do intermittent singing and dulcimer playing for the hospice patients and staff. We started a collection box (well, a green and red striped can) and the hospice was our first donation recipient.

Pamela journeyed toward the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings; with persistence and long-distance mentoring she became an OI member in 2007. Her mindful energy for keeping in touch with the wider Sangha, generous spirit, and calm tenacity have helped mentor new Sangha members along the way. And new members keep coming. Some come once, some for a while, and some have stayed long-term, but the difference is that now it is rarely just Pamela and me sitting together. And two more of us have started our own aspirant journeys.

Everyone’s favorite part of our weekly meditation (besides getting up for a walking meditation after a long sit!) is our herbal tea ceremony in silence, followed by Dharma discussion. When we share and listen from the heart about our meditation experience or our practice struggles, we deepen our human bonds and inspire one another.

Words of Wisdom

What would I say in a nutshell (or lotus blossom) about Sangha building? Show up even when you think you’re too busy — it will help your busy-ness and add to everyone else’s meditation energy. Be willing to lead meditation and let your mindfulness be a role model — you will help others on the path. Notice new members with love and compassion, and add them to your member listserv. Send a regular mindful message to your members. Choose a known and accessible location and keep a low-key visible presence in your community with fliers, newspaper articles, and online information. Hold a community event occasionally. Look for ways to give back to the community. Get help from the wider Sangha.

But in the end, it is probably not so important to enlarge your Sangha as it is to commit to regular practice — and along the way you will help yourself and others become more attuned to a miraculous way to live!

mb51-One2Nancy Stewart, Meaningful Flower of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing and a founding member of the Cedar Cabin Sangha in Ithaca, NY. She is a semi-retired integrative family physician. Now that their three children are grown, she and her husband Ray Terepka live with their golden retriever, Bodhi, who reminds them to be in the present moment.

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Form Is Emptiness

The Umpqua Area Mindfulness Sangha By Hope Lindsay

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Eleven years ago, our home-based Sangha in Roseburg, Oregon began with three friends. Each of us invited others and at our zenith, about twenty people were on our reminder list with as many as fourteen at any session. Because we came from various traditions, or none at all, we had no particular structure until one of us attended a retreat with Thay and registered our Sangha with the Order of Interbeing.

As time will do, the years drew us in different directions. Changes in jobs, relationships, and family needs took many of us away. For me, a painful transition took place. During our third year I joined the Order of Interbeing, but others wanted different Buddhist orientations. Some had attended Ruth Denison’s Dhamma Dena and felt deep loyalty to that tradition. One person was a devotee of Jack Kornfield and vipassana; one dismissed our tradition as “just mindfulness”; still others found that Tibetan traditions suited them best. Finally, two formed a pre-session study hour for pondering the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings and made a decision that our Sangha should be closed to new attendees unless they had an established history of Buddhist practice.

To myself, I repeated the refrain, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” It felt like a power struggle was taking place in a Sangha that had begun in tranquility. The closer we came to a purist form, the further away from openness, inclusiveness, and time for discussion. Our numbers began to dwindle.

Luckily, the minister of Umpqua Unitarian church suggested that I hold a mindful meditation session at the church. The only time available for the space was Wednesday noon. The time of day limits us, perhaps, but we are mostly retirees. A small subgroup comes from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and our Sangha takes on a bit of that flavor. Rather than attention to form, we focus on contemplation, spiritual growth, and insight. Our numbers are growing.

Most of the attendees have a keen sense of social justice and participate in activities such as Women in Black, hospice volunteering, or community action committees; some members sponsor seasonal giving to homeless, animal shelters, third world countries, and so on. When I was drawn to Thay’s teachings many years ago, it was a similar combination of social outreach and contemplation, meditation and daily dedication to the precepts that attracted me. I like this Sangha very much.

Whether it is my shortcoming or my memory of the former Sangha’s struggle, we are not fully structured in the style of Order of Interbeing. We do read the Five Mindfulness Trainings — one Training each week. This seems popular. We open with a bell, lighting incense, a brief reading, silent meditation for twenty minutes, followed by one of the Trainings and a reading that reflects the precept. Most of us sit in chairs. Some of us are ailing, so we do not do walking meditation except at occasional Saturday retreats. And heaven forbid that we sing! No one knows the OI songs but me and I can’t hold a tune. Also, we are rural and out of the way for other OI members to visit us and refresh our practice.

I feel at home in this Sangha. But I do not wear my beloved brown jacket. It would set me apart too much. Instead, I put it on for meditation at home, my private sacred moment.

mb51-Form2Hope Lindsay, True Recollection of the Dharma, worked as a social worker and counselor in hospitals, school districts, and community mental health settings. Now that she has retired she is fulfilling her dream of being a writer.

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Morning Sun Rising

By John Young mb51-Morning1

Five years ago Fern Dorresteyn and Michael Ciborski began a series of conversations with practitioners across the United States and around the world; listening, talking and imagining a life rooted in practice outside the structured container of the monastery. Having spent nearly a decade in Plum Village (also Deer Park and Maple Forest monasteries), first as lay people and then as monastics, they knew that practice would always be the foundation of their lives. And they knew that a life of practice is vitally nourished by living closely in spiritual community. Their aspiration is to creatively meet our fast-paced, stressed-out consumer society face to face with a clear, vital alternative.

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So began the journey that has led to the creation of Morning Sun, a small (but growing!) residential lay community and practice center in rural New Hampshire.

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In dreaming and living Morning Sun, we look for balance; allowing space for the organic development of our community, depending on who arrives into it, and also ensuring that there is a glittering diamond of clear intention rooted in practice that informs all we do. For those of us (like me, for example) who come from lives of planning, power, control, and strategy, this wise fluidity is a wonderful opportunity to embrace “don’t know mind.”

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As the seasons turn from winter to spring, we are growing into the next chapter of life in Morning Sun. We will soon close on the purchase of 240 acres of beautiful land and begin construction of the first two houses, a simple meditation hall, and a couple of cabins. We’ll plant our gardens, grow our vegetables, and open our hearts to practitioners who may wish to come and join their lives to ours in Morning Sun.

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The summer ahead will be a full one — both in terms of working on the land that will house our community and in terms of programming. We’ll offer our mindfulness adventure summer camp for children, teens, and parents for the third year in a row. We’ll offer half-days of mindfulness three times a month and one full day every month, we’ll collectively offer deep ecology/spirituality workshops based on Joanna Macy’s work and hope to hold a series of these throughout New England. And we’ll continue to navigate the local planning process so that we can move forward in preparing the land to welcome new practitioners.

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As the community grows, so will our efforts to be present with and serve the world. Clustered around a beautiful pond we will slowly build our center, where people can join in practice and learn about the bodhisattva way of life. Around our central campus, individual dwellings and co-housing will be built for residents and long term guests. Our intention is to offer diverse programming for individuals and families: helping them to slow down and touch the joy of simple living; transform anxiety, confusion and stress; and develop their capacity to work through the practice of mindfulness and sustainable living for the benefit and healing of society and the Earth.

As all of this unfolds we are delighted to be making new friends in the micro-region right around the Morning Sun land. It turns out that we are in one of those very special spots on the planet where people have been drawn to put down roots and build community in all kinds of different ways. The Orchard Hill community, school, and fantastic bakery is a just a couple of miles up the road. And a couple of miles in the other direction is the Sustainability Project, where we’ll be holding our camp this summer. And then there’s Mole Hill right across the road from our current practice house, where our neighbor Dennis holds evenings of theatre, music, and other festivities.

As we look out over the coming months and years we are filled with gratitude. So many conditions are coming together to support the vision we have been dreaming of for such a long time. We are blessed and so very happy to share the fruits of Morning Sun with all.

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John Young worked as a political adviser and activist in Canada until three years ago when he went to Plum Village for the first time. He then left his career, his home, and all his possessions to follow the path of practice. You can reach the folks at Morning Sun online at morningsunedcenter.org or by phone at (603) 357-2011.

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Together in Beauty, Together in the Everyday

Sangha Retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery By Sara Becker, True Wonderful Path, with insight from Danielle Rinnier, David Snelbaker, Harold Adams, Jay-Philippe Myerson, Lee Alter, Maria Rodriguez, Compassionate Light of the Heart, Push Mukerji, Gentle Voice of the Heart, Steve Becker, Harmonious Wholeness of the Source, Susan Saltzman, and Tara Swartz.

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It’s early morning and the sky is still dark: fresh cold, deep silence. Stars shine on snow. In the great meditation hall, candles and incense are burning. The bell is invited. The Sangha sits together, breathing, as the sun begins to rise.

One winter Friday in 2009, eight members of Peaceful City Sangha in Philadelphia drove up to Blue Cliff Monastery for a three-day weekend. Carpooling was a joyful opportunity to get to know each other better. At Blue Cliff, the women shared a room, the men, a dorm, and we ate breakfast with the nuns and monks respectively. Together we enjoyed other meals, morning sitting, walking meditation in the woods, total body relaxation, touching the earth, Dharma sharing … and also time to rest, or connect over a cup of tea. In the evenings and mornings, we shared silence.

Being engulfed into the practice in this beautiful and conducive setting, surrounded by monks and nuns that embraced with their largest hearts this practice day in and day out, was sublime.

Guy time was cool!

Spending nights in community and hearing each other’s snores, washing up in the early morning, and cleaning the washroom when it was time for working meditation — these experiences foster a tender familiarity.

Time to bond with fellow Sangha members — especially with members you have never talked to or thought you would not be able to connect with — allowed a warm glowing feeling to transpire.

Whether we were feeling deep peace and joy, deprogramming from our lives, or gnarly stuff was surfacing inside us, we experienced this within ourselves, within the body of the larger fourfold Sangha, and within Peaceful City’s own Sangha body.

To look inside and touch my rawness, my bareness, in the presence of our Sangha was so scary! And amazing — you’ve seen part of me that scares me and you still love me as a sister.

The retreat was an exceptional experience of community. One that comes close to my family experience.

Traveling and returning as a Sangha continues the energy.

The retreat taught me how to integrate mindfulness into my everyday life as a way of life and also that the Sangha can be part of that life, not just an isolated few hours each week. I feel as if I am an active participant now rather than just a guest or visitor.

Folks who weren’t able to attend the retreat are also enjoying new vitality and cooperation in our practice sessions. At the same time, the retreat shines light on experiences of separation in ourselves, our Sangha, and society.

I’m happy that many members of our Sangha have been able to attend a retreat together, but I feel sad not to have been able to deepen my practice or connection with the Sangha in this way.

As a result of not taking part in the retreats, I do feel a little like an outsider, part of the group, but not really in it. But I probably would feel that way even if I went. I sort of go through life feeling that way. I think I must like or feel familiar with that feeling — not committed.

Sound of trees in snow. Kiss of cold night air. Silence. In loving community, may the energy of this retreat continue, finding forms to support and nourish us as a lay city Sangha, flowing, in all our connections, out into the world.

Peaceful City Sangha, Philadelphia, has been meeting since 2005 and offers practice sessions on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, as well as a twice monthly Thich Nhat Hanh Reading Circle (currently reading Old Path, White Clouds). As a group, we tend to enjoy a good meal, cherish companion animals, and care deeply about relieving suffering and offering love in the world.

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