#01 Winter 1990

Dharma Talk: Community as a Resource

By Thich Nhat Hanh

We can make people happy. One person has the capacity to be an infinite resource of happiness for others. The more we practice the art of mindful living, the more we become a source of happiness and joy. This is possible.

But we need a place, such as a retreat center or a monastery, where we can go to renew ourselves. The features of the landscape, the buildings, and the sound of the bell should be designed to remind us to return to awareness. Even when we cannot actually go to the retreat center, we can think of it, smile, and feel ourselves becoming peaceful.

The community does not need to be big. It is enough to have ten or fifteen permanent residents who emanate freshness and peace, the fruits of living in awareness. When we go there, they care for us, console andsupport us, and help us heal our wounds.

From time to time, the residents can organize large retreats so that we can learn the arts of enjoying our lives more and taking good care of each other. Mindful living is an art, and this community can be a place where joy and happiness are real. They can also offer Days of Mindfulness, so that people can come and live one happy day together in community. And they can organize courses that teach The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, and other courses on Buddhist psychology and healing in a Buddhist way. Most retreats will be for preventive practice, practicing mindful­ness before things get too bad. But some retreats should be for people who are undergoing a lot of suffering, although even then two-thirds of the retreatants should be healthy, happy people. Otherwise it may be difficult to succeed.

Practice has a lot to do with the happiness of the people in a family or a community. We practice not only in the meditation room, but in the kitchen, the backyard, the office, and in school as well. How can we incorporate practice into our daily lives, so that our daily lives can be joyful and happy?

The sangha is a community that lives in harmony and awareness. When you are with your family and you practice smiling, breathing, recognizing the Buddha in yourself and your children, then your family becomes a sangha. If you have a bell in your home, the bell becomes part of your sangha, because the bell helps you to practice. If you have a cushion, then the cushion also becomes part of the sangha. Many things help us practice. The air, for breathing. If you have a park or a river bank near your home, you can enjoy practicing walking meditation. You have to discover your sangha. Invitea friend to come and practice with you, have tea meditation, sit with you, join you for walking medita­tion. All these efforts can help you establish your sangha at home. Practice is easier if you have a sangha.

The foundation of a community is a daily life that is joyful and happy. In Plum Village, children are the center of attention. Each adult is responsible for helping the children be happy, because we know that if the children are happy, it is easy for the adults to be happy. In old times, families were bigger. Not only nuclear families, but uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins all lived together. Houses were surrounded by trees where they could hang hammocks and organize picnics. In those times, people did not have many of the problems we do now. Today, our families are very small. Besides Mom and Dad, there are just one or two children. When the parents have a problem, the whole family feels the effects. The atmosphere in the house is heavy, and there is nowhere to escape. Sometimes a child may go to the bathroom and lock the door just to be alone, but still there is no escape. The heavy atmosphere permeates the bathroom too. So the child grows up with many seeds of suffering and can never feel truly happy and then transmits these seeds to his or her children.

Formerly, when Mom and Dad had some problems, the children could always escape by going to an aunt or an uncle. They still had someone to look up to, and the atmosphere was not so threatening. I think that communities of mindful living can replace our former big families, be­cause when we go to these communities, we see many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that can help us a lot.

You know that aged people are very sad when they have to live separately from their children and grandchildren. This is one of the things in the West that I do not like very much. In my country, aged people have the right to live with the younger people. It is the grandparents who tell fairy tales to the children. When they get old, their skin is cold and wrinkled, and it is a great joy to hold their grandchild, so warm, so tender. When a person grows old, his or her deepest hope is to have a grandchild to hold in his or her arms. They hope for it day and night, and when they hear that their daughter is pregnant, they are so happy. Nowadays the elderly have to go to a home where they live only among other aged people. Just once a week they receive a short visit, and afterwards they feel even sadder. We have to find ways for old and young people to live together again. It will make all of us very happy.

A community of mindful living should be in a beautiful location in the countryside. In many cities today, you do not see a lot of trees, because so many trees have been cut down. I imagine—and I believe it is very close to reality—a city which has only one tree left. (I don't know what kind of miracle helped preserve that one tree.) Many people in that city have become mentally ill because they are so alienated from nature, our mother. In the old time, we lived among trees and we sat in hammocks. Now we live in small boxes made of concrete. The air we breathe is not clean, and we get sick, not only in our bodies but in our souls.

I imagine that there is a doctor in the city who under­stands why everyone is getting sick, and every time some­one comes to him, he tells them, "You are sick because you are cut off from Mother Nature." And he gives them this prescription: "Each morning, take the bus and go to the tree in the center of the city and practice tree-hugging medita­tion. Hold the tree and breathe in, 'I am with my mother.' Then breathe out, 'I am happy.' And look at the leaves so green and smell the bark of the tree that is so fragrant." The prescription is for fifteen minutes of breathing and hugging the tree. After doing it for three months, the patient feels much better. But the doctor has many patients, and he gives each of them the same prescription.

So I imagine a bus in the city going in the direction of the tree, while people are standing in line, waiting their turn to embrace the tree and breathe. But the line is several miles long, and the crowd is becoming impatient because they have to wait for such a long time. They demand new laws which will limit each person to just one minute of tree-hugging. But one minute is not long enough to be effective, and then there is no remedy for society's sickness. I am afraid we will be close to that situation very soon, if we are not mindful of what is going on in the present moment.

When we practice mindful living, we know what is going on in every moment of our daily lives. When we throw a banana peel into the garbage, we know it is a banana peel, and that banana peels decompose quickly and become flowers. But when we throw a plastic bag into the garbage, we have to know that it is a plastic bag. This is a practice of meditation: "I am throwing a plastic bag into the garbage can." If we practice mindfulness, we will refrain from using things made of plastic, because we know that they take much more time to degrade into soil and become flowers. And we know that disposable diapers take four or five hundred years, so we refrain from using them. Nuclear waste, the most difficult kind of garbage, takes 250,000 years to become a flower. We are making the Earth an impossible place for our children to grow up.

Practicing mindfulness with friends allows us to get in touch with the healing aspects of life, Breathing mindfully the clean air, we plant seeds of healing within ourselves, our friends, and society. Smiling, we realize peace and joy. Communities of mindful living are very important for us to cultivate these practices.

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Lecture at the "Cultivat­ing Mindfulness" Retreat, Mt. Madonna Center, Watson­ville, California, April 1989.

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

The Three Jewels

By Christopher Reed

As you are breathing, imagine, at the very center of your breath, in your heart, a beautiful flower. Perhaps it is a sunflower, a rose, or a fragrant hibiscus. Picture in the center of that flower three radiant jewels. Now reach in and hold one of those jewels to the light. The light shows through and is reflected in so many ways. The jewel casts intricate patterns all around. At times it even appears that the jewel itself is the source of light.

This jewel is the Buddha and all that the Buddha means to you. It is the historical Buddha, the human being who lived in India 2600 years ago. It is a source of inspiration. It is the representation of wisdom and compassion. It is the expression within yourself of your own archetypal Buddha Nature. Each face of this jewel is some aspect, some perception, leading you towards your own deeper understanding. Place the jewel back in the heart of the flower. The energy that moves through you with each breath is an expression of the very same energy that moves through everything that is alive.

The second jewel is the Dharma. It is neither psychology nor philosophy, nor is it doctrine in the sense of something you simply believe in. Light shines through this jewel as though it were the source of light. It is both the means and the end, the experience and the expression of unconditional loving kindness, and the clarity of seeing that cuts through clinging and illusion.

The third jewel is the Sangha, the community, which includes you and me. You entrust yourself to the Buddha and the Dharma, but in order to do so you also entrust yourself to your own capacity for realization, and to the environment and community where this trust develops. One day the Buddha's companion, Ananda, suggested that the spiritual community might in fact be half of the practice in the meditative life. "Not so, Ananda, not so," replied the Buddha. "It is the whole practice."

So the three jewels are one jewel. The jewel radiates within your heart. As you breathe, the energy that moves through you with every breath you take is an expression of the very same energy that moves through everything that lives--through the trunks of trees, through the wings of tiny flying creatures, through the deepest oceans, moving them with tides and currents. The jewel within your heart radiates light outward, touching each of these things; both the source of light and its reflection.

Christopher Reed Venice, California

The Bell of Mindfulness

Inviting the Bell to Sound

Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness.

I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.

May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness

and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

In Buddhist meditation centers, we often use bowl-shaped bells to punctuate the day, calling the community to mindfulness. Standing or sitting in front of the bell, we join our palms, breathe three times, and recite this verse. We hold the bell "inviter" (a wooden stick) in one hand and, if the bell is small, we hold it in the palm of the other. We concentrate on the position of our hand and the stick. First we "wake the bell up" by touching its rim lightly with the stick. This brief sound tells everyone that a full sound of the bell is coming in a moment.

During retreats, the sound of the bell reminds us to return to our breathing in the present moment. When we hear it, we stop talking and thinking, and breathe consciously three times. It is important that the person who invites the bell to sound quiets his own being first. If his body, speech, and mind are quiet and in harmony when he invites the bell, the sound will be solid, beautiful, and joyful, and this will help the hearers to wake up to the present moment and overcome all anxiety and sorrow.

Hearing the Bell

Listen, listen,

this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.

Hearing the bell, we make our minds one with the sound of the bell, allowing our minds to vibrate along and settle down with the sound of the bell as it fades away. In this way the mind is collected and brought back into the present moment. The "Bell of Mindfulness" is the voice of the Buddha calling us back to ourselves. We have to respect such a sound, stop our thinking and talking, and get back in touch with ourselves, breathing and smiling. It is not a Buddha from the outside. It is our own Buddha calling us. If we cannot hear the sound of the bell, then we cannot hear other sounds which also come from the Buddha, like the sound of the wind, the sound of the bird, even the sounds of cars or the sound of a baby crying. They are calls from the Buddha, inviting us to return to ourselves. Practicing with a bell from time to time is helpful.

In our society there are many bells--church bells, school bells, grandfather clocks, even telephone bells. Once you can practice with a bell, you can practice with the wind and other sounds. After that you can practice not only with the sounds, but with forms, such as the sunlight coming through your window. "Silent bells" such as "Stop" signs, red lights, or the face of a child, can call us back to the present moment. These, too, are bells of mindfulness.

Excerpted from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press. April 1990).

From the Editors

Many of the readers of The Mindfulness Bell are familiar with these verses which accompany the bell of mindfulness sounded during retreats with Thay. Practicing with the bell--sometimes several hundred of us--reinforces the sanity of stopping from time to time to return to ourselves. When we resume our activity, we are usually a little calmer, clearer, and more aware.

During the retreat in northern California last Spring, a number of us met to begin planning a newsletter which could serve as a communications link among the increasing number of people worldwide who practice mindfulness in sitting meditation and daily life. Carole Melkonian, Therese Fitzgerald, and Arnie Kotler agreed to be the core staff, and, at last, we present this first issue. We hope this collection of writings, verses, drawings, and photographs will "ring true" as reminders of what helps cultivate joy and understanding in our lives. The theme for this issue is community, or sangha.

There are four kinds of sangha. In traditional Buddhist circles, sangha means the monks and nuns who have taken the 200+ vows of ordination. In contemporary, Western Buddhism, the term has been expanded to include all who practice mindfulness. At a retreat last year, poet Deena Metzger coined the term "interdenominational floating sangha" to refer to the community of all who are more-or-less on this path, even if we see each other only occasionally. There are also local sanghas, groups of women and men who meet daily, weekly, or monthly, for sitting, walking, tea meditation, precept recitation, and/or discussion. And there are residential communities who practice peacefully and joyfully together. Presently such communities exist in Montreal, Quebec; Sydney, Australia; and Meyrac, France. A small group of us, based in northern California, is in the process of looking for land to establish such a community in the United States.

We hope you enjoy this first effort at creating a Mindfulness Bell newsletter, and we hope you will help us improve it and make it what you need. We will continue as a quarterly (January, April, July, and October). Please send your articles and announcements to The Mindfulness Bell, c/o Parallax Press, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707. Don't be shy. We really can help each other.

Therese Fitzgerald, Carole Melkonian, and Arnie Kotler.

Illustration by Michelle Benzamin Masuda.

Poem: Hearing the Bell

By Marti Pease

I walk down a path: a child smiles in greeting and gives me a flower cupped gently in his hands. The child, the flower, smiles "Breathe and remember, remember, come home to yourself,"

The brook sings and dances over rocks down the mountain, awakening a song hidden deep in my soul. The brook, the dance, sings "Breathe and remember, remember, come home to yourself."

The sun breaks through clouds and I feel my heart open like the sun radiating pure joy. The sun, my heart, pulses "Breathe and remember, remember, come home to yourself."

I drive down the highway. Green light becomes red as a flaming sunset, red as a rose. Red light brings a moment to breathe and remember, "Remember, come home to yourself."

The telephone rings out its bells of remembrance. Friends across miles breathe and hear the same bell. The bell, in this moment, rings "Breathe and remember, remember, come home to yourself."

A friend smiles and offers tea, steaming and fragrant. In this round cup I hold earth, fire, water, and wind. The circle, the fragrance, whispers "Breathe and remember, remember, come home to yourself."

Marti Pease is a family therapist in Schenectady, New York, who wrote this "insight poem" during the retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at Omega Institute.

Poem: La Marche

By Jean-Pierre Maradan

A Plum Village favorite-published here in case you want to keep the healing, refreshing seeds of this song alive and well where you are.

Quand la cloche a sonne dans le matin, nous partons marcher. Prenant bien soin de chaque pas, sentant la terre a chaque fois-- us marchons lentement.

Quand la cloche a sonne dans Ie matin, nous partons marcher. Suivant notre respiration, no us pouvons dire tout doucement-- une fleur s'ouvre a chaque pas.

Quand la cloche a sonne dans Ie matin, nous partons marcher. Au doux soleil du printemps, au quand Ie vent est deja froid-- heureux de chaqu' instant no us marchons.

Quand la cloche a sonne dans Ie matin, nous partons marcher. Au plein coeur de l'ete, ou sur la neige deja tombee-- dans Ie matin nous partons marcher.

Jean-Pierre Maradan is a flute instructor and a member of the Order of Interbeing who lives in Fribourg, Switzerland.

Poem: How to Hug a Tree

By Dorothy Marschak

Sit under a tree and thank it for protecting you from the sun, the rain, and the wind.

Eat its fruits and nuts and thank it for the bounty that sustains you.

Feast on it with your eyes and marvel at its magnificent symmetries and harmonies, and its changes through the days and seasons.

Listen to its sounds as it responds in every leaf and branch to the movements of the air and the earth.

Caress its bark, which protects it, and thank it for the houses, furniture, paper, rubber tires, chewing gum, maple syrup, and other amenities it provides.

Breathe deeply, and appreciate the air it purifies for you.

Hug a tree as it hugs you.

Study what the tree needs for nourishment. Study how it interacts with neighboring trees, plants, and animals.

Trace the connections of the tree to everything you buy or use in daily life: Are there things you should stop buying or using because they destroy trees faster than they can be replaced, or that take land away from the rainforest?

Are there things you should substitute to help the trees you love? Where do your chopsticks, your incense, and your napkins come from?

Trace the destruction of the rainforest through its chain of causes to discover how to stop it: Poor peasants are driven off the land by businesses searching for export profits, aided by foreign banks and government tax breaks.

Explore the possible ways the rainforest and humans can develop and thrive together, such as eco-tourism, extractive reserves, and the potentials of biodiversity.

Reduce consumption. Recycle. Influence others to do the same. Plant trees.

Hug a tree with a thousand arms reaching around the world, each with an eye containing your whole heart, and you will help save the rainforest and hug yourself.

Dorothy Marschak is an accountant in Washington D.C. who wrote this after her summer at Plum Village.

War and Reconciliation

By Gary Gill

The Veterans' Retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh last April was attended by Vietnamese, American veterans of the war, and Americans who did not serve in Vietnam. During the first few days, we were in silence together--eating, meditating, walking, listening to talks by Thay. This had the double effect of bringing our feelings and memories to the surface as well as creating an atmosphere of bonding and acceptance among the participants regardless of service record or nationality. In this setting, many of us were freed of our shame and were able to see what had happened in a new light, bringing to an end much of the torment and anguish we have been carrying so many years.

During the last two days of the retreat, we broke up into groups of eight to ten people to talk about what we'd been through and how we could heal. Each group included several vets and non-vets and at least one Vietnamese. The  sharing was deep and intense. People spoke from the heart and went directly to their deepest pain.

I came to see how much of the power of my thoughts and memories of shame and guilt lay in my inability to talk about or even look at them directly. Once I was able to feel them and then say them to the group, I understood that I felt that way under the pressures of war and misunderstanding. I also understood that I didn't need to continue to feel ashamed and full of guilt.

All this was revealed to me as I talked about my feelings in the group where there was enough love and support to keep me from being overwhelmed with shame. When the shame is strong, I start to fight it and often go into a rage or depression rather than sit with the actual feelings and examine their content. Instead of being able to deal with the memories, the shame kicks me out of myself and sends me into another cycle of rage, addiction, and numbness. Even though this cycle has been going on most of my life, breaking it once in the retreat seems to have released its power over me. Shame breeds on a mistaken sense of responsibility for things over which we have no control. It maintains its power by staying a secret and avoiding the light of day. Like mold or mildew, a good airing out does a lot to kill it.

A Vietnamese monk in our group shared that he had lived 33 years in Vietnam. His village was bombed by the French Air Force on the day he was born. When he was seven days old, his father hid him in a sampan and pulled him out of his village. From that day to this he has remained homeless. Twenty-five of his relatives were killed outright or crippled. His sister's face was cut halfway off. He told us he had used Buddhism to harden his heart because he couldn't stand to feel anymore pain. Tears were streaming down his face as he told us how the Buddhists had taught him not to cry.

One of the vets spoke on behalf of all the Americans present when he said to the monk that he was sorry for what had happened to Vietnam and for some of his actions while there. Everyone in the room was crying and sobbing. The monk stood up and walked slowly across the circle and bowed to the American vet. He gave the vet an orange blossom he held cupped in his hands. He then backed up several steps, got down on his hands and knees and bowed to him until his forehead touched the floor. Then he asked our forgiveness for the way he had hardened his heart to the American people. He said he saw now that the American heart, when it is open, is truly beautiful to behold. He said he now understood that we had acted out of generosity and goodwill towards his country even if our policies and their results did not reflect our intent.

It was a profoundly moving moment in my life. The natural balance that is inherent in all events, and that shame disrupts, was restored. I saw that this monk and I were one in that we had both suffered at the hands of the same forces. Rather than feeling like I had ruined his country and destroyed his life, I felt like we had both been hurt and were now helping one another to regain our balance. He saw that I was not his enemy and oppressor, and I saw that he was not my victim. His tragedy and mine were the same. He had hardened his heart and so had I. He had sought to avoid his pain by blaming and so had I. We asked him to forgive us and he asked us the same in return. I found myself at peace with him, with my country, and with myself for the first time in twenty years. The war ended for me that day.

A great weight was lifted from my shoulders. I no longer felt like a war criminal. I no longer felt that I deserved to be punished for what happened in Vietnam. My allergies were lifted. I have had a rebirth in creativity. It amazes me how much of my energy has been tied up in shame.

I left the retreat understanding that there is only one battlefield and truly, only one enemy. Our wars and our hatreds live first in our hearts. We inflict our deepest wounds on ourselves. I see that reconciliation is our only true hope for peace in the world, that fighting wars, hot or cold, will never deliver us from war. Peace cannot be won with war. War engenders shame and shame begets further war. I realized I have been at war with my country, my family, myself all these years since I came back from Vietnam. I have reacted to my shame in destructive behavior that has harmed everyone I have been in contact with, those closest to me have been harmed the most. When I left Vietnam, I was relieved of my M-16, grenades, and radio the tools of war--but I was sent home with my rage, blame, and shame intact. No one disarmed me of the weapons I carried in my heart. Now I know what great damage I have wrought. And I also know how it feels to have this burden lifted.

Gary Gill was an advisor to the ARVNs in 1970-71 in Binh Dinh Province, II Corps. RVN, and held the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He is presently a structural engineer living in Oakland, California with his wife and son.

Eating Meditation

I slid my fork under a bite-sized piece of English muffin and poached egg topped with Hollandaise sauce. The Meditation Bell rang and I paused, breathed, and smiled. After three slow breaths, Thay's voice gently reached through the silence. "In the egg, see the chicken. In the chicken, see the chicken feed. In the chicken feed, see the plant waving in the sunshine, green and dew-dropped in the early morning. See the sunshine, being gathered by the leaves and stored in the chicken feed. See that you are eating sunshine. See the shining smile on your friend's face. Feel the warmth of the sun in your own smile." The bell rang again and I paused, breathed, and smiled.

I looked down at my plate and saw 1 3/4 eggs and English muffins swimming in the sauce. My stomach turned slightly at the thought of eating all that sunshine. Why did I take so much food? How would I normally eat this much? The answers came to me in a rush. Ordinarily, I eat very fast and without really paying attention. I eat for more than myself. I eat for the people I left in Vietnam who cannot eat for themselves because they are dead. I eat too fast because I feel guilty and unworthy of enjoying my food and my life. I have tried, convicted, and sentenced myself completely outside my awareness but with deep-seated conviction and impact on my life. For twenty years, I have lived out this sentence in silence. Eating in silence with Thay and the sangha, and paying attention to what my stomach was trying to tell me, let me see the burden I've carried unnecessarily for so long.

I left it on my plate with the uneaten second egg and walked out into the garden to look at the flowers.

--Gary Gill

Poem: Mindful Mouthful

I used to eat my dinner going at the speed of light,with stereo a-blaring and newspaper in sight. But something has happened here. It's very plain to see. For now I feel connections as I silently sip my tea. I used to gulp my dinner with stomach all uptight. Now I see the world as I savour a single bite.

--Composed by Sally Taylor during the Mindfulness Retreat at Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, New York, June 1989

Poem: Cookie of Childhood

Sung to the tune of a Protestant hymn

Cookie of childhood, sweeter than a songbird's song; tasting of wheat and sky and sun; each piece a pleasure, each taste a treasure-- cookie of childhood has just begun.

Walking the woodland, working with my good hands, touching the wheat and earth and dew; now is my childhood, here is my cookie-- this is the whole which I share with you.

Cookie of childhood, sweeter than a songbird's song, tasting of wheat and rain and sun; each piece a pleasure, each taste a treasure-- cookie of childhood and I are one.

--Composed by Lyn Coffin during the Retreat for Psychotherapists, Winter Park, Colorado, May 1989

The Campanile

One of the gifts of living in Berkeley is the bell tower on the university campus. It rings hourly and on quiet days can be heard throughout the town. While preparing a salad for lunch one day, I was listening to the news on the radio, thus not fully appreciating the miracle of lettuce in my hands. It was noon and suddenly the bell sounded, turning into the voice of the Buddha.

Sometimes I hear the bell, and want to continue with my activity. But I cannot ignore the voice of the Buddha. When I listen to that great, compassionate sound, echoing, touching everyone within its reach, I simply must stop to breathe, and yes, smile, too.

Carole Melkonian Berkeley, California

Bringing Plum Village Home

Mon fils Leonard dort pres de moi et l'on a chante une chanson du village des Pruniers avant qu'il s'endorme.

Le voyage de retour en Suisse depuis Ie village, s'est tres bien passe et Ie souvenir de notre sejour la-bas, nous illumine encore. Puis les vacances terminees, j'ai repris Ie travail au conservatoire.

Comment garder ici un peu de la vie ideale du village des Pruniers, voila Ie plus difficile et la vie de notre societe qui est si eloignee (bien que je pratique regulierement) je me sens parfois un peu seul. Thay nous a dit souvent cet ete, Ie Sangha, c'est ce qui que Ie plus autour de moi. II y a bien les journees de pleine conscience une fois par mois mais aucun des participants ne vit dans ma ville. Mais maintenant que j'y pense et vous en parle, il faut que j'essaye de developper quelque chose autour de moi. Je pourrais essayer de reunir des amis qui, meme s'ils n'ont pas la meme pratique, serait peut-etre tres heureux de decouvrir les bien-faits de la meditation marchee. Je vais essayer et je vous en reparlerai dans une prochaine lettre.

Jean-Pierre Maradan Fribourg, Switzerland

Child As Peacemaker

We parents try to teach our children to value peace. We break up fights, settle arguments, and tell our children that their fighting is bad. We seem not to realize that children are the world's most excellent peacemakers. Highly perceptive, sensitive, innocent, and loving--all children crave for peace and cringe at even the slightest form of discord. They will do anything to restore harmony, especially in their own families. Without instruction, without prompting, children play the role of peacemakers simply by being children. One evening, my husband and I were arguing in the presence of our toddler child, Amy. It had been a long day and we were both very tired, and therefore short on patience. "Will you watch Amy while I get some rest?" I pleaded. "Mary, you watch her. You know I've got to study." Back and forth the argument went, each of us asking the other to take care of the baby. After a while we were very angry at each other. Suddenly, Amy stepped between us. "Daddy, I love you," she said, looking up at my husband. "Mommy," she said turning to me, "I love you." The argument ended. My husband and I looked at each other. We looked at our baby. Where there had been anger, there was now peace. Amy went back to playing. My husband and I both ended up watching her--my husband, from his typewriter, and I from the couch.

Mary Beth Nakade Berkeley, California

Nurturing Dharma Seeds

Emily (11) and Bruce (7) continue to show me creative ways to nurture the seeds of dharma. This September, Emily entered a new school -- an enormous, public middle school after attending a very small private school all her elementary years. Needless to say, it was something of a culture shock, but the second week of school I learned from Emily that she uses the bells between classes as bells of mindfulness to help her restore her peace and smile in a sometimes confusing and rushed environment.

***

Shortly after the children and I returned from Plum Village this summer, Bruce and I discovered a dead baby squirrel in our front yard. We could tell it had only recently died as it was still warm. Its tail was so tiny and soft. We felt sad and so stood and watched our breath for a moment. I was on my way out, but Bruce said he would bury the squirrel. When I returned home later I saw a small paper sign attached to a stick next to one of our rosebushes. I bent down to take a closer look and read the words in Bruce's careful printing:

Here lays a small dead squerl ready to become a Rose

Mobi Ho San Antonio, Texas

Tea Meditation at Work

As I slid behind the wheel of my Toyota, I remembered the driving gatha offered by Thich Nhat Hanh, "My car and I are one. If my car goes fast, I go fast. .. . " The road down from the Mount Madonna Retreat Center, where I had just spent five days of mindfulness on a retreat with Thay, was steep and winding. The sun filtered through tall redwoods and I thought how wonderful life can be when the mind is primed to appreciate it. Quickly though, the peace was broken by thoughts of the "real world" of job, family, and friends. Coming back from retreats, I've often questioned how to integrate what I had learned with the everyday reality of life in a fast-paced city. Just having the concept of "real world" and "retreat world" as two separate entities seemed an indicator of how cut off and compartmentalized certain areas of my life were. Here was my old friend duality rearing its head again. It occurred to me that I had often kept the more overt aspects of my spiritual life hidden. Part of this was in an effort to "be a Buddha, not a Buddhist" but part was also a worry of seeming a bit strange to people who were not accustomed to meditation practice. This time, however, I thought I would like to show rather than tell my friends what I had done on retreat. A friend's upcoming birthday seemed like a good opportunity. I called to offer a tea ceremony as a present. There was a moment's hesitation in which I had to remind myself to breathe and then my gift was warmly accepted. On the planned day, I noticed some anxiety in myself about the ceremony. Would my friends, none of whom had meditated before, feel uneasy or just outright laugh at this ritual? The guests arrived and I noticed they were a bit uneasy. Would I ask them to do anything weird, one questioned. I tried to ease their fears by explaining a bit about the ceremony and encouraging them to relax and enjoy. There was a bit of giggling as we ascended the stairs to a loft overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

Beautiful homegrown flowers were the centerpiece around which my friends arranged themselves in a human bouquet. As the ceremony started, people immediately got the idea. They moved mindfully and seemed to enjoy themselves. Traditionally, there is a sharing at the end of the ceremony--a chance to make a spontaneous comment or share a poem, dance, or song. This was a special time for the birthday girl. She was reaIly honored. We all got a chance to say how much her friendship meant to us. There was a feeling of how important we are to one another and how rarely we get a chance to say so. The mood was electric and the vibrancy extended after the ceremony as we continued to party and dance with each other.

Buoyed by this success, I decided to offer a tea ceremony to the nurses I work with at San Francisco General Hospital. We were scheduled to have a retreat and I thought it might be fun to end the retreat with tea. It had been my experience from a previous retreat together that work-related retreats could be quite intense experiences. In drinking tea together, I hoped there would be a space to just be together in some place before sliding behind the wheels of our respective vehicles back to the frenetic pace of our work. A bit to my surprise, the nurses openly welcomed the chance to participate in the tea ceremony. They expressed the need for closure and for healing. Each nurse was asked to bring a special tea cup with her. As we sat together and shared our tea and the beautiful cup that contained it, there was a wonderful silence that was almost palpable--the feeling of love and serenity was so strong. I realized I had never been with my co-workers in silence. I savored the moment. In the sharing, I saw the women I work with, these nurses, become poets, dancers, and singers. They talked of the rain outside, the smells of the earth, of seeds falling to fertile soil, and of their lives falling from one moment to the next. None had ever meditated before, but feelings of love and openness, mindfulness and joy were natural to them--like seeds sprouting in moist, ready soil.

I never cease to be amazed at the transformative quality of the tea ceremony. It seems to provide a necessary and safe structure within which people can open up and really be themselves. Most importantly, however, the ceremony is fun and therefore not so intimidating to people unacquainted with meditation and mindfulness practice. For me, it has served as a bridge connecting various parts of my life and also given me a very good time in the process.

Kathryn GutaSan Francisco, California

Being a Young Buddhist "Alone"

I would like to share this story to shed light on some difficulties that might be relevant to other people from non-Buddhist cultures. It is very unusual in my country for young people to involve themselves in eastern religions, much less put them into practice. The first visible effect Buddhism had on me was when I stopped eating meat at age 17. Although my mother worried a little about my nourishment, my family and friends accepted this change--as long as it didn't lead to any further peculiarities. Everyone thought that it was just a phase and that in a year or so I would get over it. But I didn't! After reading a few books on Buddhism and participating in weekend Zen retreats, my interest deepened. I began doing sitting meditation each morning and my practice became fairly regular.

The results varied. Some of my closest friends became very skeptical. Although young people in Oslo generally regard interest in "the world of the unknown" as trendy, they become reserved when this interest begins to affect their friends' everyday lives.

I became worried about creating a gap between me and my friends. I also moved away from my parent's home at around the same time. Despite some fear of isolation, I felt very happy and released. Through the teachings of Thay Nhat Hanh, I learned about socially engaged Buddhism. By receiving this kind of spirit, my latent fear of begin isolated vanished.

This summer I visited Plum Village. I returned home with inspiration and a quiet calm. My friends understood the seriousness of my practice when I told them of the Five Precepts which I've promised to study and observe in my life. (Editor's Note: Next issue we will discuss the precepts in depth.) Some people thought I was going "nuts!" and I was automatically excluded from many usual weekend activities and parties.

One day while in the kitchen preparing supper, a friend stopped by unexpectedly. This fellow has always been quiet mannered and modest. Nothing dramatic ever happened to him .... Not until now! We shared a quiet meal together, and over cups of hot tea, he spoke about recent changes in his life. He was very confused because suddenly everything was happening to him at the same time. He felt like he was being tossed around by circumstances. He was engaged in several sports, recently became the student representative for his school, and was to make an appearance on public television.

I am not much older than my friend, nor do I have more life experience than he. However, acquaintances were beginning to learn of my practice to be more conscious in life. My answer to him was that the important thing is simply to be in touch with each moment, and to stay rooted in the notion of who you really are. We can be as busy as we want, as long as we are capable of meeting the world with our true hearts.

After our conversation, my friend seemed content and a little more at ease. For me it was delightful to realize that going through my changes enabled me to be of use to others. It's hard to find acceptance for being different, especially when you're young. But, the fruits of practicing mindfulness are so precious.

Hasse Krystad (19 years young) Oslo, Norway

Reconciliation with Teens

I recently spent five days with my daughter Alexandra and her class while on an astronomy camping trip in the mountains. One evening around midnight, some boys came to visit some girls in their dormitory. The professor caught them and sent them back to sleep. The next day there was concern and alarm among the accompanying mothers and the professor. The professor feIt betrayed, and the mothers felt those involved should be sent home. Listening to this, I felt the tension and uneasiness among the group. Suddenly, I remembered having read in Being Peace the steps for conflict resolution between monks and their community. I whispered calmly to the professor that the problem should be presented to the whole class (the community) and that the offenders should express themselves in order to create understanding.

Before breakfast, the professor told everyone that the rules which were defined at the beginning of the trip had been broken. He called out the names of the eight young people involved, and scheduled a meeting between them and the adults after breakfast. For the first time in five days we had a silent meal!

I went to the meeting room and started a fire--to warm our hearts and help us find illumination. The "council" took place in a serious and confidential manner. The professor, mothers, and students all had the opportunity to express their feelings. Everyone felt the importance of listening to what the others had to say. I remember saying that we were not there to condemn, but to try to understand. In closing, the students were asked to decide what they should do, and for the first time an open dialogue was created. We were all satisfied with the positive outcome of this situation.

Afterwards, the teacher thanked me for the idea. I thank Thay and the whole community for using this method and letting it be transmitted to other generations.

Mari Madera Lausanne, Switzerland.

Silence Is O.K.

Amy is three years old. She loves to stand by the window on rainy days and watch the rain fall. Two of her favorite books are The Umbrella and Rain Rain Rivers. "Come, Mommy," she'll say, noticing that it's raining outside. "Let's go watch the rain fall." I am also a lover of rain. On rainy days I often turn off the television and enjoy the pitter-patter of raindrops as I go about my chores. It is especially nice when Amy is with me. Our apartment in Berkeley, California has a large bay window which is the perfect spot for rain viewing. From this window we can look out on the street below and see all the things that make a rainy day special - umbrellas of different colors, the deep green of the trees, raindrops pattering against the windowpanes, water flowing down the hill in streams, and puddles that go splash when cars go by. We also love watching people under big umbrellas walking slowly along and people with neither coats nor umbrellas racing to their cars. In this way even the coldest, wettest, and dreariest days bring us endless amounts of fun and delight.

It is very difficult for us to do something like this when other people are around. Usually other people like noise. They either watch T.V., listen to music, or talk a lot. One of Amy's friends, a ten-year-old who lives next door, turns on our television the minute she comes to visit and insists on having it on even when she's not watching anything in particular. That's the way it is at her house. The T.V. is always on in the background.

I, on the other hand, am a lover of silence. I would like my daughter to know that even in this day and age silence is okay. People seem to have forgotten this.

Amy is learning. She talks, shouts, and sings as any three-year-old, but she now knows that there are times when to be silent is perfectly okay. For instance, "It's Mommy's zazen time," she'll say when she sees me turn off the tape recorder and dim the lights. She'll even help me set up my meditation spot in front of the fireplace. While I am sitting, she knows that she can either sit quietly beside me on a cushion of her own or play quietly in the same room. She usually sits for a few seconds before going to her stack of books and magazines. Sometimes she'll sit on my lap and chant along if I happen to be chanting. Sometimes my husband, Mike, brings a cushion and sits with us.

This period of calming and quieting, breathing and simply being, has become a wonderful part of our normally hectic lives. It has helped Amy, who is a very high-energy child, settle down at the day's end. It has also helped me, frayed and frazzled as I may be, regain the sense of peace and wholeness that somehow escaped me during the course of the day.

In my life some of the most precious times are the quiet moments that I enjoy with the people I love most. Thank goodness for silence!

Mary Beth Nakade Berkeley, California