#03 Autumn 1990

Dharma Talk: "Relationships" — Community as Family, Parenting as a Dharma Door, and the Five Awarenesses

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Taking Refuge 

To practice Buddhism, we have to take refuge. This means that we have to base our practice on some ground that helps us be stable. It is like building a house—you have to build it on solid ground. If we look around and inside ourselves, we can find out what is stable for us, and we can take refuge in it. We should be careful not to take refuge in what is unstable.

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This morning I was touching the ground, and I felt that there is some stability in the Earth. Why don't we take refuge in the Earth? There is also some stability in the air, the sunshine, and the trees. We can count on the sun because we know it will rise tomorrow. We have to look around to see things that we can count on. In order to practice, we need to take refuge in stable things.

Our bodies have a healing power. Every time we cut our finger, our body has the capacity to heal itself. We take care of it by washing it carefully, and then we can leave the work of healing to our body. In a few hours or a day, the cut will be healed. Our bodies have that kind of healing power. We have to take refuge in our bodies.

The same is true with our consciousness. Our consciousness has a healing power, and we have to trust it. When we have some anger, distress, or despair, we don't need to panic. We can trust our consciousness to know how to heal these kinds of wounds. When we have a feeling of instability, we only need to breathe in and out consciously and recognize the feeling of instability, knowing that our consciousness is much more than that feeling. We know from our experience that there have been times in the past when we were not very solid. We know that we can take refuge in our consciousness We can let it do its work without interfering too much. After cleaning out the wound in our finger, we just let it heal. If we have a wound in our mind or heart, we just clean our wound and then we trust our consciousness to heal it.

If we have a teacher and dharma brothers and sisters who are stable, they look very much the same today as yesterday and yesterday they looked very much the same as the day before. We have to take refuge in a sangha that is stable, that we can count on. We can contribute to the quality of our sangha by our smile, and by our own stability. A sangha can be improved by our practice. We can never find a perfect sangha. An imperfect sangha is good enough. We have to do our best in order to transform ourselves into a good element of the sangha. It is not helpful to complain too much about our sangha: "This sangha is not good; this sangha is not worth my refuge," and so on. We have to accept our sangha and build it. It is like a family. And our family is also a kind of sangha. We have to accept the members of our family as they are and begin from there. We should be a good member of our family sangha in order to help others.

Taking refuge means also taking refuge in ourselves. When we take refuge in the earth, it is because the earth is stable. When we have a friend who is stable we can take refuge in him or her. We use our insight and our experience to see his or her stability. We don't just go on blind faith. Taking refuge is not blind faith. It must be based on our own experience. There are many stable things around. We should refrain from taking refuge in things that are not stable, that have made us shaky in the past. Sometimes we don't know much about something. We hope that it can be a refuge for us simply because we want it. It is not based on any direct experience or observation. We should refrain from taking refuge in things like that.

Single Parenting 

If you are a single parent and if you think that you need to be married in order to have more stability, you have to reconsider that idea. Perhaps you have more stability right now by yourself than if you were with another person. Another person coming into your life could destroy the little stability you may already have. It is most important to take refuge in yourself, and to do that with your understanding, insight, and capacity of recognizing stability in the things inside you and around you. The things inside of you are just like the things around you. If they are stable, they are worth taking refuge in. By taking refuge in this way, you become more solid. You are taking refuge more and more in yourself. By doing so, you develop yourself into a ground for the refuge of your child and your friends. We need you also. The children need you; the trees and the birds also need you. You have to make yourself into someone stable, someone we can rely on. That is the practice of Buddhism.

We abandon the idea that we cannot be ourselves unless "that someone" or "that something" is with us. We our­selves are sufficient. We are enough for ourselves. When we transform ourselves into a cozy hermitage, with a lot of air, light, and order inside, we begin to feel a great peace, joy, and happiness. And we begin to be someone that others can rely on. Your child, your dharma brothers and sisters, and your teacher can all rely on you.

So return to your hermitage and arrange things from within. You can benefit from the sunshine, the trees, the earth. You can open your windows wide for these good elements to enter, because you are one with your environ­ment. Many times unstable elements try to enter our hermit­age. Then we must close our windows and not let them in. When thunder, winds, or heat are about to intrude into our cozy, refreshing hermitage, we should be able to prevent them from entering. The practice of being a refuge to oneself is a basic practice. We do not rely on someone or something that we do not know much about, something that may be unstable. We go back to ourselves and take refuge in our own hermitage.

If you are a mother raising your child alone—without the help of a man—you must learn what to do and how to do it. You have to learn to be a father also, otherwise you cannot raise your child. If you don't learn how to be a father, you will continue to need someone else to play the role of a father for your child, and you will lose your sovereignty, you will lose your hermitage. But if you can say, "I don't need anyone else, I can learn how to be both a father and mother to my child, I can succeed by myself, with the support of my friends and my community," that is a good sign.

Every other year, I give a retreat for about sixty Viet­namese monks and nuns in northern California. One day, when we were conducting the closing of such a retreat, the Abbot of Kim Son Monastery said to me, "Thay, you are our mother." Why didn't he say, "You are our father," which is a more normal thing to say? It was because some­thing in me has the manner of being a mother. When I am with children, I can play the role of a mother as well as a father. The love of a father is different from that of a mother. A mother's love is somehow unconditional. You are the child of your mother, that is why you are loved by her. There is no other reason. A mother tries to use her body and her mind to protect that very soft, vulnerable part of herself. She has a tendency to consider her child as an extension of herself, as herself. This is good, but it may create problems in the future. She has to learn gradually that her son or daughter is a separate person.

A father's love is different. The father says, "If you are like this, then you will receive my love. If you don't do that, you don't get my love." It's a kind of deal. I have that in myself, too. I am capable of disciplining my students and I also have the capacity of loving my students as a mother. That is why the monks and the nuns call me mommy. I know it is not easy for a mother to be a father, especially when she hasn't learned how to do it. Single mothers should be aware that they can profit from the community, from the brothers and sisters in the dharma. If she does it well, her child will have uncles and aunts. If the child doesn't have a father, he can consider his uncle as a father. It is not difficult to provide your child with an uncle. If you have a good sangha and good relationships with the people in the sangha, other members of your sangha can have a nephew or niece in your child.

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The nuclear family is very small. There is not enough air to breathe. When there is trouble between the father and mother, the child has no escape. That is a weakness of our time. Having a community where people can gather as brothers and sisters in the dharma, and where children have a number of uncles and aunts is a very wonderful thing.

We have to learn to create that kind of family. Each of us needs to be loved in order to go on. We need the kind of love that does not shatter our stability. If we cling to our teacher as a father and we want that father to pay attention to us only, that is not the way we love in the practice com­munity. We have to share the love of the teacher with everyone. We have to see the other members of the commu­nity as our brothers and sisters. This is something we can learn to do. It is already a tradition in the East, and it can be learned slowly here in the West. We can take the best from both cultures.

I hope that communities of practice will take that kind of shape in the West. Without that kind of warmth and family flavor, it is difficult to practice. When you bring your children to some practice centers, your children may be regarded as an obstacle for other people to practice. But if we have a community where people regard each other like brothers and sisters, a child of that community becomes the child of everyone. If he is doing something disturbing, such as hitting another child with a stick, his mother is not the only person who is responsible. Everyone in the community shares that responsibility. Together we try to find ways to prevent the child from hitting the other children. We might try holding the child tightly, doing that as an uncle, not as a foreigner or a policeman. Of course, the parent of the child should prevent their child from throwing rocks or hitting other children, but if the parent cannot discipline her child, then he or she has to let an uncle or an aunt do it.

When you are a student of your teacher, your children are grandchildren of your teacher in a spiritual family. The children in Plum Village call me "Grandpa Teacher." I always approach them as a grandfather, not as someone outside the family. This is the way we conduct the practice in Vietnam. We do things as a family. A practice center should possess that kind of warmth, that kind of brother­hood and sisterhood that will continue to nourish us and not be a place where people come only to take care of their own problems.

In a community of practice like this, a single parent can be very self-sufficient. At the same time, he or she will see that when the community is not there, he or she is capable of playing the roles of both mother and father. When you have learned and have the capacity of loving your child as a mother and a father at the same time, you are transformed. When you see stable families coming to practice, you can look at their stability and learn from it. You can learn a lot: how a father loves a child, how a mother loves a child. There must be some coordination between father and mother. A good father would not say, "If he's spoiled it's your fault." It's not her fault; it's a collective lack of mindfulness.

The phenomenon of single parents is widespread in the West. If you practice and succeed in bringing up your child happily, then you can share the fruit of your practice with many people. Parenting is a dharma door. Single parenting is a dharma door. We need retreats, seminars, and dharma discussions on how to be parents. We cannot accept the ancient way of parenting. At the same time, we do not have a modern way of parenting. We need to elaborate on the way of being parents, drawing from our own experiences and practice. Using the greater community of practice to bring another dimension to the life of the nuclear family is important. Even though the nuclear family structure may not have much space in it, when nuclear family life is combined with the life of a practice community, a sangha, it can be very successful. You can bring your child to the practice center, very often, and both you and your child will benefit from the atmosphere there. And the practice center will benefit from your presence also.

In a good practice center, there should be a garden for the children to play in and there should be people who are skillful in helping children, people who can be good aunts and good uncles for the children. Then you will enjoy your practice, as a parent or as a single parent.

The Buddha did not specifically address the issue of single parenting. This is a new problem. But we can apply the basic teachings of the Buddha to find a way out. There are so many divorced parents: in Australia, in the West. When things become too difficult, people tend to think of divorce. Vietnamese families living in the West are also beginning to adopt this point of view. In traditional Vietnamese culture, the failure of a marriage is considered to be very bad. People don't look on divorce with much respect.

Collective consciousness helps a lot. Instead of thinking of divorce, you make an effort to preserve your marriage, to return to your spouse with more harmony, with more understanding. In the West many people have divorced three, four, five times. They keep making the same kinds of mistakes. This is an issue which Buddhist practice has to address. We should not complain about having to deal with this issue. We should take it as an opportunity to study, look, and explore, in order to provide people with a new dharma door. How can we practice and bring the practice community into the nuclear family? How can we create a balance?

The Five Awarenesses 

Ed. Note: When Thich Nhat Hanh celebrates a marriage ce­remony, he asks the couple to repeat the Five Awarenesses and then to recite them together once each month. The following is from a talk given at Plum Village in August, following Kathy Season and Damien Cameron's wedding. 

Mindfulness is the basis for happiness. Before two people marry, they should practice mindfulness together, and after becoming husband and wife, they should continue to practice the Five Awarenesses as a manifestation of their Practice of Mindfulness. Happiness is not an individual matter.

In the first awareness. we see ourselves in the context of a lineage. We see that we are one element in a continuation of our ancestors, and that we open the way for future generations. We play the role of connection. We can see the elements of the future and the past right in the present. The Buddha teaches us that the present contains the past and the future. By being in touch with the present, we shape the future and heal the past. If we take good care of our body and our consciousness, we take care of our ancestors in us, and at the same time we take good care of our children and our grandchildren.

The second awareness reminds us that our ancestors have expectations and that our children and their children have expectations also. Our happiness is their happiness; our suffering is their suffering. If we look deeply, we will know what our children and grandchildren expect of us. We may not see them in person yet, but they are already talking to us. They want us to live in a way that they won't be miser­able when they manifest. Buddhist practitioners, especially the Vietnamese, see themselves not as individuals, separated from their ancestors, but as a continuation representing all previous generations. Actions of the couple do not aim merely at satisfying the spiritual and physical needs of their individual selves, but also at realizing the hopes and expectations of their ancestors and at preparing for future genera­tions.

The third awareness tells us how joy, peace, freedom and harmony are not individual matters. We have to live in a way that allows our ancestors inside us to be liberated. Liberating them means liberating ourselves. If we do not liberate them, we. will be in bondage all our lives, and we will transmit that to our children and grandchildren. Now is the time to liberate our parents and ancestors in us. We can offer them joy, peace, freedom, and harmony, at the same time as we offer joy, peace, freedom, and harmony to ourselves, our children, and their children. This reflects the teaching of interbeing. As long as our ancestors in us are still suffering, we cannot really be happy. If we take one step mindfully, freely, happily touching the earth, we are doing it for all our ancestors and all future generations. The first three awarenesses are all aspects of one deep teaching. We have to continue to study and practice these first three awarenesses to deepen our understanding.

The fourth aware­ness is also a basic teaching of the Buddha. Where there is understanding, there is love. When we understand the suffering of some­one, we are motivated to help. This energy is called love or compas­sion. Whatever we do in this spirit will be for the happiness and liberation of the person we love. But, some­times we destroy the person we love. It is like the general who said that his fighter bombers had to destroy the city of Ben Tie in order to save it. We have to practice in a way that whatever we do for others will only make them happy. The willingness to love is not enough. When people do not understand each other, it is impossible for them to love each other.

The first year of marriage is a difficult time. There is excitement, enthusiasm, and exploration, but the two people do not yet understand each other well. They live together twenty-four hours a day, looking, listening, and being aware of many details that they have not seen before, discovering more of their partner's reality. Everyone of us has flowers and garbage inside us, not just of our making but of the making of our ancestors. If we know this in advance, we can be ready to accept everything that will manifest in the other person. When people fall in love, they construct a beautiful image of the other person, and they may feel shocked when they compare it with the reality. During the first year, many illusions about the other person will vanish. Until we give up our preconceived image, we miss the real beauty in the other person. We must be mindful to discover these flowers.

When we begin to see each other's weaknesses, we may feel discouraged. We may need to be reminded of the other's strengths. A married couple consists of two persons who have to lean on each other to help each other. We receive and nurture our partner like a tree, and we must find ways to water and protect him or her. We take care of the tree so that it flourishes. If there is some disease on the leaves, we must learn how to treat it. If the tree flowers and bears fruit, it is we who benefit. Both partners in the couple should regard themselves as the gardener, the caretaker, of the other. When we discover a weakness in the other person, we have to accept that. This is why the Buddha said, "Everyone has Buddha-nature," the capacity of smiling, understanding, and being awake.

When we marry, we form a primary sangha, a sangha of two, and we begin to learn to love. If we still have the feeling of being attached to each other, that is not real love yet. Love in the Buddhist context is loving kindness and compassion. It is the kind of love that does not have any conditions. We form a sangha of two in order to practice love—to take care of each other, to make our partner blossom like a flower, and to make happiness something real in that tiny sangha of two.

"Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity and of all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. Unless I succeed in loving you, I cannot love any­one else. So I am determined to love you. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth."

This is the real message of love. How can we take advanced steps before we succeed in the primary steps? In the first one, two, or three years, this should be our purpose—to realize peace, happiness, and joy in that small sangha. We know that the small sangha should be placed in the context of a larger sangha. We are practicing with the help of our teachers, parents, friends, and all living beings in the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds. That is our larger sangha. "I want to express my love to the larger sangha, and I do it through you. Therefore I must be able to love you, take care of you, and make you happy."

The practice of mindfulness is the practice of love itself. Looking deeply in order to understand is the basic practice. When a couple is happy, understanding and harmony are there. Then it is easy to extend that happiness, and joy to the people around us—our parents, sisters, brothers, and dharma friends.

If we blame each other and argue, we are divided. This is the fifth awareness. Everyone agrees, but when we become angry, we forget, and a force in us begins to argue and blame the other person for what happened. Only by practic­ing conscious breathing and smiling every day can we control that impulse. Conscious breathing and smiling every day help us develop the capacity to stop at that critical moment, to keep ourselves from blaming and arguing.

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Loving speech is an aspect of practice. We say only loving things. We say the truth in a loving way, with nonvi­olence. This can be done only when we are calm. When we are irritated, we may say things that are destructive. So when we feel irritated, we should refrain from saying any­thing. We can just breathe. If we need to, we can practice walking meditation in the fresh air, looking at soothing things like the trees, the clouds, the river. Once we have returned to our calmness, our serenity, we are capable again of using the language of loving kindness. If, during our expression, that feeling of irritation comes up again, we can stop and breathe. This is the practice of mindfulness.

All of us need to change for the better. When we marry, we make a promise to change ourselves and to help the other person change himself or herself so we can grow together. If we think only of changing and growing alone, eventually we will lose patience with the other person. Prac­ticing together, we change and we help the other person change. As a result, we grow together, sharing the fruit and progress of practice. It is our responsibility to take care of the other person. We are the gardener, the one who helps the tree grow. If the tree doesn't grow well, we don't blame it. We blame ourselves for not taking care of it well. Human beings are somehow like trees. If they are taken care of well, they will grow beautifully. If they are taken care of poorly, they will wither. To help a tree to grow well, we must understand its nature. How much water does it need? How much sunshine? If we understand, the tree will grow beautifully.

Every time the other person does something well, some­thing in the direction of change and growth, we should con­gratulate her or him to show our approval. This is important. We don't take things for granted. If the other person mani­fests some of her talent and capacity to love and create hap­piness, we must be aware of it and express our appreciation. This is the way to water the seeds of happiness. We should avoid saying destructive things like, "I don't know whether you can do this" or "I doubt that you can do this." Instead, we say, "This is difficult, darling, but I have faith that you can do it." This kind of talk makes the other person stronger. This is true with children, also. We have to strengthen the self-esteem of our children. We have to appreciate and congratulate every good thing they say and do in order to help our children grow. When we are married, we can love each other in a way that encourages change and growth for the better, all the time.

For those who have been married for ten or twenty years, this kind of practice is also relevant. You can continue to live in mindfulness and continue to learn from the other person. You may have the impression that you know everything about your spouse, but it is not so. Nuclear scientists have studied one speck of dust for many years, and they still do not claim to understand everything about it. The more deeply they look into an electron, the more they realize how little they know about it. If a speck of dust is like that, how can a person say that he or she knows everything about the other person? Driving the car, paying attention only to your own thoughts, you just ignore your spouse. You think, "I know everything about her. There is nothing new in her anymore." That is not correct. And if you treat her or him that way, she will die slowly. She needs your attention, your gardening, your taking care of her.

We have to learn the art of creating happiness. If during our childhood, we see our mother or father do things that create happiness in the family, we can learn. But if our father and mother did not know how to create happiness in our family, we may not know how to do it. So in our practice community, we try to learn the art of making people happy. The problem is not one of being wrong or right, but one of being more or less skillful. Living together is an art. Even with a lot of good will, you can still make the other person very unhappy. Good will is not enough. We need to know the art of making the other person happy. Art is the essence of life. Try to be artful in your speech and action. Art needs some substance, and that substance is mindful­ness. When you are mindful, you are more artful. This is something I have learned from the practice.

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From the Editors

This issue of the Mindfulness Bell is about relationships. In his opening dharma talk, Thich Nhat Hanh addresses the concerns of community, family, and parenting, especially single parenting. Thay spoke about these subjects quite a lot during the summer retreats at Plum Village, his practice community in France, emphasizing that these are important dharma doors for Buddhism in the West. Annabel Laity and Allan Hunt Badiner's comments on the Six Principles of Harmony and the Five Awarenesses follow Thay's dharma talk. We have received much encouraging feedback from the first two issues of the Mindfulness Bell. Utne Reader favorably reviewed us among just a few new publications in their September issue, and we continue to receive letters and word of mouth that you, the readers, are pleased. Please, if you want to write something about your experience practicing mindfulness, we would be most grateful to receive it and to try to publish it. Also, if there are things we could be doing better or more to your satisfaction, let us know.

On page 26 is Thich Nhat Hanh's Spring 1991 North American Retreat and Lecture Schedule, including registration information. We hope that many of you will be able to come to one of the dozen retreats and Days of Mindfulness. We hope you enjoy and are engaged by this issue.

Arnie Kotler, Carole Melkonian, Therese Fitzgerald

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Reflections on the First Awareness

By Allan Hunt Badiner "This is what you can say tomorrow, and every full moon" Thich Nhat Hanh told us as he smiled and handed us a slip of paper in the dining hall of the pilgrim's hostel in Sarnath, India, in November 1988. "These are the Five Awarenesses." Later that night, my bride-to-be and I studied them by candlelight, while Hindi film music blared from a loudspeaker just outside our window. At our wedding ceremony the next morning, we found ourselves reciting these awarenesses to forty people amidst the ruins of ancient monasteries.

The oft-repeated words of the first awareness filter down to deeper states of attention, and my thoughts dwell on genes, pregnancy, and how human life is generated and sustained. In contemplating the fact that living cells have passed from my father's body into my mother's to mine and on to my wife's, to our child, and so on, I realize that there is a distinct molecular configuration that is part of me and all my relations that has never died. There is something in us, discernible at least in our physical bodies, and in the bodies of our ancestors hundreds and thousands of years ago, that is in continuous living evolution, just as there is some essence of our life that will live within a body and experience life countless ages into the future.

In scientific terms, we are composites of genetic material. Eight great-grandparents contributed to our make-up. If we trace back only thirty-two generations, we arrive at a figure of 4.3 billion -- greater than the total number of all the people who ever were alive at one time. Yet thirty-two generations span only half the Christian era, a fraction of our tenure as a species. Everyone, therefore, must have ancestors in common with a large number of other people through intermarriage and common ancestry. Every individual being is part of a vast biological reservoir.

The notion, culturally perpetuated since the advent of Darwinism, that we exist as independent pockets of life, fades quickly in light of the awareness that we are embedded in a veritable stream of life. This transformative awareness is vividly described by actor and Tibet House president, Richard Gere, in a recent magazine interview:

I had an amazing vision one time. It had to do with seeing my whole lineage behind my parents lined up through a field and over a hill. It went back hundreds of generations. I had this tremendous sense that I was the outcome of all that work and my connection to that was very emotional and very powerful. Not only are you the outcome of everyone else's previous work of all the lineages that came before you, but also if you perfect and cleanse yourself getting rid of all the guilt and suffering –- then you get rid of it for all those who came before you too. As you free yourself, you free the whole horde. I felt that I was one with all this love from all those before me.

In contrast to the idea that at birth, human beings are a tabula rasa, a clean slate, the first awareness reminds us that we are a composite of conditioning with roots that extend well beyond our life, spanning deep into both directions of time. It is helpful to use the metaphor of a garden to illustrate this. We find ourselves growing like flowers, conditioned by the way the garden was planted and cared for before our blossoming. We also find ourselves as the gardener, in a position to create or change the conditions that affect the life of the flower and all future generations of flowers.

While looking at this awareness of interbeing between generations, two confusions may surface immediately: The deep and apparent differences between generations, and the mistaking of this awareness with the notion of a soul or its physical counterpart. While one generation may seem totally distinct from another, almost to the point of seeming unrelated, in the long view, over many generations, the close similarities and shared aspirations become more apparent. Furthermore, the strong connections between generations of the same lineage often become more apparent in every other generation. According to the New England Journal of Science, recent studies conducted with wide samples over two decades indicate a surprisingly predictable relationship between the longevity of grandparents and their grandchildren. Statistically, the study concludes that to have two grandparents who both lived well into their nineties is a greater predictor of one's longevity than all other factors – diet, exercise, and personal habits notwithstanding.

To confuse that aspect of oneself that never dies with the notion of a soul is to misunderstand two of the most basic teachings of Buddhism-the awareness of constant change and the absence of any permanent, unchanging self. While the essence of life never ends and gets passed from one generation to the next, it is always being conditioned anew, constantly metamorphosing and adapting to an ever-changing environment.

As my wife, Marion, and I prepare to have children, we are looking deeply within ourselves for an awareness of the aspirations of our lineage. Can we experience the primordial feelings of our ancestors and forebears, and be conscious of their yearnings and dreams?

One area has been a fertile ground for learning these lessons. Since we began focusing our attention on the first awareness, we have noticed differences in the way we approach food, health care, and substance usage. We are clearer about our roles as caretakers for the stream of life passing through us, and our concerns for health and happiness are not as personal or self-involved as they once were.

In this precious lifetime, we have the opportunity to break the chains of despair and delusion, and shed light on those areas of darkness that have pained a family of beings for many generations. Equally, we have the ability to ignore our responsibility to past and future generations, exacerbating and compounding the chain of suffering. The choice seems to be ours, and the first awareness offers an important perspective to help us choose well.

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Harmony in the Sangha

By Annabel Laity This story is adapted from Old Path White Clouds, Thich Nhat Hanh' s recently released biography of the Buddha (Parallax Press, 1990). Annabel Laity's commentary on the Buddha's Six Principles of Harmony follows the excerpt. At monasteries during the life of the Buddha, certain monks were assigned the task of memorizing the teachings of the Buddha. In addition, there were precept masters, who were experts in the rules for novices and ordained monks.

One year at Ghosira, a conflict arose between a sutra master and a precept master. Their argument stemmed from a small event, but ended up creating a sharp division in the sangha. A sutra master forgot to clean out the wash basin he had used and was charged with a violation of a lesser precept by a precept master. The sutra master was a proud person and contended that since he had not intentionally left the basin dirty, he was not to blame. Students of each monk took the side of their own teacher, and the argument escalated. One side accused the other of slander, while the other side accused their opponents of acting foolishly. Finally, the precept master publicly announced the sutra master's transgression and forbade him from attending the bi-weekly precepts recitation ceremony until he formally confessed before the sangha.

The situation grew more and more intense. Both sides spoke ill of each other. Their words flew like poisoned arrows. Most of the other monks took sides, although naturally there were some who refused to take either side. They realized that this conflict was creating a harmful division in the sangha.

At that time, the Buddha was residing not far from Ghosira monastery, but he was unaware of the conflict. One day a delegation of concerned monks visited him, told him of it, and asked him to intervene. The Buddha went right away to meet with the precept master, and he told him, "We should not become too attached to our own viewpoint. We should listen carefully in order to understand others' viewpoints. We should seek all means to prevent the community from breaking." Then he went to the sutra master and said the same thing. Returning to his hut, he was hopeful that the two men would reconcile.

But the Buddha's intervention had almost no effect. Too many ill words had already been spoken, too many wounds had already been inflicted. The monks who remained impartial did not have enough influence to bring the two sides together. The conflict reached the ears of the lay disciples, and before long, even other religious sects had heard of the trouble in the Buddha's sangha. It was a serious blow to the integrity of the sangha. Nagita, the Buddha's attendant at the time, was unable to endure the situation anymore. He discussed the matter with the Buddha, beseeching him to intervene once again.

mb3-Harmony

The Buddha put on his outer robe and went at once to the monastery's meeting hall. Nagita rang the bell to summon the community. When all were present, the Buddha said, "Please stop arguing. It is only creating division in the community. Please return to your practice. If we truly follow our practice, we will not be victims of pride or anger."

But one monk stood up and said, "Master, please don't involve yourself in this matter. Return and dwell peacefully in your meditation. This matter does not concern you at all. We are adults and capable of resolving this on our own."

Dead silence followed the monk's words. The Buddha stood up and left the meeting hall. He returned to his hut, picked up his bowl, and walked down into Kosambi to beg. When he was finished begging, he entered the forest to eat alone. Then he stood up and walked out of Kosambi. He headed for the river. He did not tell anyone of his departure, not even his attendant, Nagita, or Venerable Ananda.

The Buddha walked until he reached the town of Balakalonakaragama. There he met his disciple, the Venerable Bhagu. Bhagu invited him into the forest where he dwelled alone. He offered the Buddha a towel and wash basin to wash his face and hands. The Buddha asked Bhagu how his practice was going. Bhagu replied that he found great ease and joy in the practice, even though he was presently dwelling all alone. The Buddha remarked, "Sometimes it is more pleasant to live alone than with many people."

After bidding Bhagu farewell, the Buddha headed for Eastern Bamboo Forest, which was not far way. As he was about to enter the forest. the groundskeeper stopped him and said, "Monk, don't go in there or you may disturb the monks who are practicing in there."

Before the Buddha could think of a response, Venerable Anuruddha appeared. He happily greeted the Buddha and said to the groundskeeper, 'This is my own teacher. Please allow him to enter."

Anuruddha led the Buddha into the forest where he lived with two other bhikkhus, Nandiya and Kimbila. They were very happy to see the Buddha. Nandiya took the Buddha's bowl and Kimbila took his outer robe, and they cleared a place for him to sit by a thicket of gold bamboo. They brought a towel and wash basin. The three bhikkhus joined their palms and bowed to the Buddha. The Buddha asked them to be seated and he asked, "Are you content here? How is your practice going? Do you encounter any difficulties in begging or sharing the teaching in this region?"

Anuruddha answered, "Lord, we are very content here. It is calm and peaceful. We receive ample food offerings and are able to share the dharma. We are all making progress in our practice."

The Buddha asked, "Do you live in harmony with one another?"

Anuruddha said, "Lord, we care deeply for each other. We live in harmony like milk and honey. I consider living with Nandiya and Kimbila a great blessing. I treasure their friendship. Before I say or do anything, whether they are present or not. I stop and ask myself what their reaction will be. Will my words or actions disappoint my brothers in any way? If I feel any doubts, I refrain from the words or actions intended. Lord, although we are three persons, we are also one."

The Buddha nodded his approval. He looked at the other two bhikkhus. Kimbila said, "Anuruddha speaks the truth. We live in harmony and care deeply for each other." Nandiya added. "We share all things, from our food to our insight and experience."

The Buddha praised them, "Excellent! I am most pleased to see how you live in harmony. A sangha is only a true sangha when such harmony exists. You have experienced real awakening and that is why you have realized such harmony."

The Buddha spent a month with these three monks. He observed how they went begging every morning after meditation. Whichever monk returned first from begging always prepared a place for the others to sit, gathered water for washing, and set out an empty bowl. Before he ate anything, he would place some of his food into the empty bowl in case one of his brothers had not received any food. After they had all finished eating. they placed any leftover food on the ground or in the stream, careful not to harm any creatures that lived there. Then they washed their bowls together. Whoever saw that the toilet needed scrubbing did it at once. They joined together to do any tasks that required more than one person. They sat down regularly to share insights and experiences.

Before the Buddha left the three monks, he spoke to them, "Monks, the very nature of a sangha is harmony. I believe harmony can be realized by following these principles:

"I. Sharing a common space such as a forest or home.

"2. Sharing the essentials of daily life together.

"3. Observing the precepts together.

"4. Using only words that contribute to harmony, avoiding all words that can cause the community to break.

"5. Sharing insights and understanding together.

"6. Respecting others' viewpoints and not forcing another to follow your own viewpoint.

"A sangha that follows these principles will have happiness and harmony. Monks. let us always observe these six principles. "

The monks were happy to receive this teaching from the Buddha. The Buddha bid them farewell and walked until he reached Rakkhita Forest, near Parileyyaka. After sitting in meditation beneath a lush sal tree, he decided to spend the approaching rainy season alone in the forest.

Commentary

After seeing how Anuruddha, Kimbila and Nandiya lived, the Buddha arrived at the Six Principles of Being Happy Together.

The first is called "the body as the principle of harmony." Although in a community, we share a common space, we have to take into account that we are many different bodies. Although everybody has to be treated as a member of the family, we each have a responsibility to look after our own health, so that we won't be a burden on the community. In the winter at Plum Village, we remind everyone to keep warm. If someone gets a cold, we worry about him or her. So we give people all sorts of advice on how to stay healthy. That helps us keep harmony and happiness in the community. If one person gets a little sick, everybody else feels a little sick as well.

We also learn how to breathe together. Everyone's breath is a little different. Sometimes if we are sensitive to another person, we can breathe with him or her. Sometimes rather than talking with the person, this is a wonderful way to communicate with them. People who work with the dying often harmonize their breath with the person who is dying. When I see a member of the community who isn't very happy, I sometimes synchronize my breath with his or hers. It is a wonderful practice. When we do slow walking meditation, sometimes someone at the beginning says, ''In ... Out ... '' and everybody breathes in and out together. Living in a community, we try to learn how to be both individuals and members of the community at the same time. In the West, we over-stress individualism. What we are trying to do at Plum Village is to learn how to diminish our individualism and, at the same time, learn how to practice in a very creative way that is full of our own initiative.

The second principle is called "the sharing principle," about sharing material things with the community. The Buddha saw this principle at work when he noticed how the monks, upon returning from their alms round, would always leave some food for the monk who returned last.

Even if you don't know how to share, you can very quickly transform and learn how to share things. The Buddha wanted to say that you don't need to worry too much about how you are, because you can transform that. Sharing is one of the most beautiful things in the community. Sometimes we may think that if we offer something to another person they won't want it. But that does not matter. You offer it just the same. If you want to share, you share. Children are naturally very good at sharing. They don't need to be told too much about it.

The third principle of harmony is sharing the same precepts in our practice. In Plum Village, we ask that everyone who joins the community as a permanent resident should keep the Five Precepts (See Mindfulness Bell No. 2). When we work in the plum orchard, or when we work in the garden, we are very aware of the first precept--not to kill. We try not to use any products that will result in killing, or come from killing. It means that we need more time. But if we know how to live simply, we will have more time. The slugs are really a problem, so every day we go around with a little tin can, pick up the slugs, and transport them to some ground where they won't eat the vegetables.

We observe the first precept in regard to all life. We are particularly concerned about the trees, so we plant a lot of trees to replace the ones that are dying. All this comes from the first precept. The Five Precepts are necessary for the wholesomeness of the community.

The fourth principle of harmony has speech as its basis. A lot of our speech comes from patterns, from things we have said before, or from what people have said to us. Maybe when we were children our parent said certain things to us over and over again, and their habits may have become pan of our own pattern of talking to other people. We need to find new patterns of speech, ways we can keep harmony by means of speech. When Anuruddha and the other two monks told the Buddha that before they said anything they would ask themselves, "If I say this, will it make my other two brothers happy?" That has to do with breaking the pattern of speech. If we stop and follow our breathing, there is a sort of renewal, and a new kind of speaking comes out. Before speaking, we ask ourselves, "Will it make the other person happy? Will it help the other members of my community?"

The fifth principle is the harmony of views. This may be the most important principle. We have to learn to water down our individualism . Each of us has strong views. Each of us has an innate feeling that "I am right and others are wrong." When we hear someone say something, our immediate reaction is, "That's what I think. They must be right" or, "That's not what I think. They must be wrong." In Plum Village, when we have a discussion and someone offers an idea, we listen to that idea and then say that idea is the basis from which we are going to work. If somebody else disagrees with that idea, the work is to try and see how the two can both be taken care of. We have the principle and we have the negation of the principle. After that, our work is to try and integrate the two, to make them both possible. This is how we discuss what we ought to do in the community.

Sharing views is also sharing our experience in the practice. It 's very important--not just sharing the good things that are happening to us in the practice, but sharing the mistakes we make, and asking for other people's help. Saying, ''I'm going through this as well. I make these mistakes as well." So you don't have to worry too much. If we have something good coming out of our practice we share it straight away. We don't think, ''I'm more advanced I than other people. Maybe they're not quite up to sharing this practice yet." We share it with them in the best way we can.

Words are our vehicle. Yet the essence of what is happening in the practice can never be described in words. When the Buddha sat under the bodhi tree and reached enlightenment, it wasn't that he actually saw the twelve links in the chain of causation and how they work. For seven weeks after that experience, he didn't know what to say. He felt he had nothing to communicate. It was only when he came into contact with the five ascetics that he felt deeply into their own suffering and confusion. Then the words to describe what he had experienced came to him and he was able to formulate interdependent origin and the Middle Way. The Middle Way was an obvious thing to talk about to those who had been going to the extreme of trying to escape from life. The other extreme was wanting to be involved too much with the sensual pleasures of life. The Buddha taught how to take the Middle Way. That teaching did not come from the Buddha having a certain view. It came from seeing how the wrong view of the ascetics was leading them to suffer more.

In a dharma discussion, when we present our ideas on the practice, it is partly to see how we can best talk about our experience in a way that is helpful to ourselves and to others in the community. If, for example, we talk about our own experience when we are doing walking meditation, and then after that we remember the words we said and we are doing walking meditation again, we may find that we can go even deeper into that walking meditation. So, to express our views of the practice in a dharma discussion helps us too. Our deeply held views are our greatest obstacle in practice. Slowly, with the help of others, we learn how to let them go.

The sixth principle of harmony has the mind as its basis. We use our mind, our thinking, to help others in the community. We think about the welfare of others. For instance, if we are aware that someone has some physical suffering, we keep a note of that in our minds. We might even write it down. It is as if we keep a file on other people in our community. We see what causes them to suffer. If, for instance, they tell us a story about their past, that becomes part of that file. Gradually we learn more and more about that person. In learning more about that person we are able to see how we can practice meditation to love them more. That is how we keep the harmony by means of the mind. We are aware and thinking about the welfare of the other people in our community. We keep it always in our mind. Just as Ananda always kept the welfare of the Buddha in his mind, so we do that for other members of our community.

Editor's Note: About the conflict at Ghosira Monastery: Eventually the community's lay supporters threatened to withhold donations of food and the monks got the message. So the sutra and vinaya masters went to the Buddha, and, using the Seven Techniques of Reconciliation, easily resolved their conflict.

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Ping and Bong

Over New Year's, my wife and I spent five days away, alone with each other. We had just come through a time of intense strain, and we had been arguing a lot. In our retreat, we blended silence and meditation with time to talk things through. That time gave birth to a new ritual, a small ritual that has become very precious. Because Kris and I were meditating more, we were very sensitive to the emotional flow of our conversations. We could both tell when one of us was feeling off-balance, or when the conversation was treading on thin ice, ready to crack and bathe us in icy anger. If we had had a bell with us, this would have been the perfect time to ring it and breathe.

We did not have a bell. But once, I simply said "Ping!" I said it loud and let it resonate. We each took three breaths, laughed, and continued our conversation free of the heavy burdens that had been building up. We both began to say "Ping." It became a gift from each of us to the conversation, lightening difficult issues.

Kris and I argue so much as we struggle to find the balance between expressing our anger and pain, and silently repressing our feelings (which results in us feeling stifled and oppressed). When we listen to each other, we experience the struggle between allowing the other to freely express feelings, and insisting on the right to be treated with respect. It is here where Ping's brother Bong came to our aid.

One time, I got angry. I felt I had to say something that I knew might be hurtful to Kris. Ping didn't seem right so, I said what I felt, but followed it with a deep and resounding "Bong" We both laughed and understood.

We use "Ping" when the conversation is difficult for both of us, or when we feel the other person has stepped too far, and we need breathing space. We use "Bong" when we see that we ourselves have overstepped. The ritual has no accusatory form. We do not distinguish between "this is difficult for me," and "I feel that was unfair of you." In the past, accusing the other of being unfair has only escalated our arguments. Peace comes much more quickly when we seek harmony rather than victory.

Use of the ritual requires some care, for it is important not to let simply saying "Bong" become an excuse to plan nasty verbal attacks. It is very important to really and fully take three breaths with the gatha.

Sid Kemp New York, New York

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Compassion for the Abuser & the Abused

This morning a friend called and said that she had a question for Thich Nhat Hanh, but that until she could ask him directly, she wanted to know what I thought. She said, "It is a question about forgiveness." I immediately knew that her question was also my question -- "How do I regard my abuser?" My friend spoke of Thay's poem, "Call me by my True Names," about the girl who is raped by the sea pirate.  She talked of her experience and then said that she could not forgive her father. I was in a similar conversation a short time ago. I was visiting a very close friend of mine, whom I had not seen since my return from the Satipatthana retreat at Plum Village. I told her how I was rethinking our feminist exhortation to "know your enemy." As I talked, I could feel her becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Having just reached the point, at forty-eight, of being able to remember her sexual abuse by her father, and being able to own her anger towards him, she was disturbed by what I was saying. Did I mean that she should forgive her father? She said she had to hold him responsible for his actions. In that moment of her sincere and piercing questions, I felt suddenly unsure of everything. I knew only that this woman standing before me, had been intolerably lonely, depressed, and suicidal; that slowly this was beginning to change for her; that she now had hope that she could live fully, with joy and happiness.

In that moment, I felt like the well-known bull in a china shop, and I knew what damage could be wrought so quickly by the arrogance of the dogmatic. Was I turning this beautiful practice of compassion into a concept? I thought of the second precept of the Order of Interbeing: "Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge."

I am grateful to my friend for staying with me, for working though our feelings and for bringing me back to the truth of my own life. For many years I cultivated a "blaming practice" in which I developed a hatred for the men at whose feet, or in whose hands, I laid the responsibility for raping women and destroying the planet. Then I found myself in a loving kindness meditation at the end of a ten-day retreat, and something in me let go. I wept, and slowly I opened my fist and extended my hand to the world. This last gesture has taken me seven years.

Coming back to the question my friend posed this morning, I find that I am without answers and have only fragments toward an answer:

  • For me the "blaming practice" cast an armor around my heart that hardened into a stranglehold. It was and is a profound relief to let it go. For others, like my friend, anger comes as a gift to herself in her own healing process.
  • Over and over again, Thay reminds us that we "have to deal with our anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence."
  • Perhaps those of us who are not so immediately involved in the moment of anger may be able to hold compassion, understanding, and consciousness of interbeing in our hearts. I can hold the understanding that Barbara's father grew up poor and neglected; that he became an alcoholic as a young man; that he repeated family patterns that Barbara herself has traced back through many generations. I can see that "this is, because that is," and that we are all part of the web that makes incest possible.
  • I must avoid calling anger a phase and forgiveness the goal. Treating a woman's anger as something to be worked through so that she can come to the higher, more enlightened position of forgiveness is hurtful and arrogant. It is an attitude that barely disguises exactly the kind of conceptual separation that Thay is warning us about -- separation between my friend and her anger. If I am to treat her lovingly, must I not treat her anger lovingly? If I tell her that her anger is wrong, or talk in that conceptual way so that she thinks that that is what I am saying, I am promoting yet another belief which turns a woman against herself, and that is precisely what I do not want to do.

I write this piece in the hopes that there are others willing to share their experience and understanding of these questions.

Anne DeUenbaugh Brunswick, Maine

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Poem: Meditations Under a Tree

mb3-MeditationsThis tree existsbecause I am here to see. My mind gives it treeness. And through its leaves, I come to understand soft and green.

Empty spaces between the leaves are filled with shimmering light. The tree seems green and moves like a cloud, but it has no form except in my eyes.

Ah, the emptiness, the shimmering light! I feel myself scattering, opened by this emptiness into my own possibility.

Tom Elliott Grass Range, Montana

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Breathing with Children

Every night my three-year-old daughter, Amy, sleeps cuddled up next to me. Every morning she wakes up, flings her little arms around my neck, kisses me, and says, "I love you, Mommy. It's time to rise and shine!" One morning, Amy sat up in bed, rubbed her eyes, and came over to whisper something into my ear. I yawned, wondering what secret my little girl had for me this time.  Her words came, soft and gentle as a lullaby: "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment." I blinked, wondering if I was dreaming. But there was Amy in her nightgown, grinning proudly. "That was beautiful, sweetheart," I said. "Please say it again." Amy put her mouth to my ear and whispered the verse again. Still amazed, I hugged her and said, "Thank you for starting Mommy's day in such a nice way!" Amy smiled and kissed me again.

It's amazing how naturally children learn. I had been using this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh to help my child calm down. Whenever she was angry or frightened or frustrated, I would hold her close to me and whisper the poem in her ear.  It served to calm the both of us. In time, Amy memorized its soothing lines, in the same natural way that she learned songs and nursery rhymes.

Today this poem is one of our favorites. Sometimes we recite it together. Sometimes we create our own melodies and sing it. Amy cannot possibly understand its full meaning, but she has been able to connect the acts of breathing in and out with feeling happy and peaceful. She especially likes the part. "I smile," because it signals the moment when we always smile at each other and hug.

Mary Beth Nakade Berkeley, California

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Mini-Bodhi Fruits

In many of Thay's Dharma talks, he reminds us that we can taste mini-bodhi fruits by practicing awareness. They are a sort of instant effect, a switch from forgetfulness to buddhahood, just like when we switch the television channel. We don't have to wait for the great enlightenment to know how tasty the bodhi fruit is. With every moment of mindfulness, we can enjoy a mini-bodhi fruit. Surely, the mini-fruit has a mini-taste, but it's still the mini-taste of clear water springing from the source of true happiness. "We may touch the inner common core of self which is the source of inner peace, love and happiness," writes the psychologist, Joan Borysenko. This inner joy and happiness is very different from the joy of obtaining things or wealth, or flattering words from others when we "succeed." In our sangha, I believe that every one of us has at some time tasted the same mini-bodhi fruits. And we can share it with others. We will benefit from each other's experiences and we will encourage each other on the way. I would like to share with the sangha a kind of minibodhi fruit that I received some time ago in daily life's practice. Working as a pharmacist in downtown Montreal, I was held up once in 1979. The drug addict pointed his gun at my head and ordered me to empty my narcotic drawer into his bag. I always felt fear and got stiff when I encountered drug addicts. I knew in my heart what to do and how to act to be safe when held up, yet I still felt unsafe until the day of another encounter.

In the end of June, 1986, some weeks after the Maple Village retreat with Thay, I was alone behind the prescription counter. A young man came in and banged his fist on the counter and screamed, "Give me some valium, dammit!" I was upset and recognized right away that he was an addict who needed his drugs badly. His bearded face looked clumsy, his red eyes reflected great misery, and his hands were as dirty as his clothes. I picked up the telephone, as if I had just heard someone calling, and I started to talk to the phone while following my breath, "In and out, I calm my body and mind." I knew that I was in trouble. The guy shouted again, "Bring me some valium, you..." After some long breaths, I was calm and no longer stiff or angry as I was the other time. I just looked deeply into the drug addict's eyes and felt pity for him. I really felt bad for this young man who might be my young brother enjoying school at that moment. I wondered why this guy was so miserable and desperate for toxic drugs? Where was his family? How did he get hooked on drugs?

mb3-Important

The addict still stood there, two hands on his waist, staring at me with furious eyes. I continued to breathe and looked straight into his eyes. With a calm voice, I said slowly, "You know that I cannot give you pills without a prescription." Then I pretended to continue to talk on the phone and looked at him with compassion. After a while, he stopped staring at me and walked out, frustrated but less furious. I think that the incident would have happened differently if I had acted without awareness. This man became less angry, and he calmed down a bit, maybe because the waves of his hard feeling did not encounter any in me. And maybe my eyes, which showed him calmness and feelings of pity, helped a bit in alleviating his suffering. I felt so relieved and had much more faith in the way of practicing awareness. From that day on, I was not afraid anymore to meet "bad guys" in the pharmacy. It is very strange too, that from that day, it seems I never encounter them anymore. Maybe because of my non-fear attitude, the drug addicts don't have to show their rage...

The mini-fruit that I tasted that day still gives me its sweetness. I hope other readers of The Mindfulness Bell will also write in and share their mini-bodhi fruits.

Quyen Do Montreal, Canada

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Important Day and Way of Life

I am thirteen, and I had my Bar Mitzvah on May 28, 1990.  Rather than make a speech of thank you's, I chose to use the "Discourse on Happiness" that was translated into English by Thich Nhat Hanh in The Mindfulness Bell, No. 1.  The reason I chose to do this was twofold. First, I wanted to dedicate this talk to Jeff Rubin for teaching me about mindfulness and supporting my practice. Second, I wanted to share the beauty of these ideas with others because I believe this discourse expresses what we are all looking for. This was a very important day in my life and mindfulness is a very important way of life. This was my chance to put both together and feel at peace. Aren Goldfaden Valley Stream, New York

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Touching My Jewish Roots As a Buddhist

At a monthly-mindfulness sitting, Lyn Fine spoke about exploring the relationship between her Jewish roots and Buddhism. Lyn announced that the theme, "Chaos and the Emergence from Darkness," would be discussed at the Tisha B'av gathering. I lacked any knowledge of the holiday but often felt the need to both caress and throw rocks at my personal Jewish edifice. I wrote the following as an offering to the Tisha B'av gathering, in an attempt to help clarify my own mishmash of thoughts about my Jewishness: On Tisha B'av, an aspiring Buddhist looks in the mirror and finds a Jew. Tisha B'av--The meaning was foreign to me. The New York Times found its story fit to print. The holiday is: "An intense spiritual search on a national level. The temples were destroyed, expulsion from Spain, and Holocaust." It's hard to feel concern for the survival of nations. At best I can care for an individual--my wife, my children, and when I provide faces, those slaughtered at Auschwitz.

Watch the breath. Thoughts come and go. Two months ago I lay paralyzed--Why? An aberrant reaction to a virus--Why? Focused on my survival. Not the Jewish Nation. Yet, if all is empty ... I do not, cannot, exist in isolation.

So there must be an interconnection between Bronx Jewish ways and in-danger-of-being-destroyed Amazon Basin cultures. As with Tibet. Can she survive on her own soil? In diaspora. A teaching from Tibet: Everyone was once my mother and I theirs. So how can we not wish to soften the suffering for each?

All beings seek happiness. Extend the compassion to all.

But can I extend the compassion to the Jewish Nation? To the Jew in myself? Never Bar Mitzvahed. I loved the Jewish Socialists, not the religion. Later L.B. Singer, dybbuks and images of Jewish poets writing mysticism in Lower East Side dairy restaurants gave sustenance.

Look in the mirror. Yikes,a Jew who was once a Jewish momma, emanating from nations of Jewish mothers, offering their children the milk of compassion.

On Tisha B'av I sense there must be a reason for my Jewish karma. Out of my illness, perhaps, will come understanding, a kinder and gentler person. What will come of my encounter with the Jewish Nation? Left with thoughts of destruction and rebirth, darkness,and candlelight.

Rabbis Business Men Knish eaters Buddha Nature

Barry Denney New York City

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A Meditative Fast

My friend and I subscribe to The Mindfulness Bell and have read both issues avidly. They have been of great pleasure and benefit. Thank you! I have also been practicing with the group of people who meet at Lyn Fine's house in New York City. My Buddhist practice started several years ago with a Tibetan group, with whom I continue to practice, and finding Thich Nhat Hanh and the sangha around his teachings has been wonderful. I was particularly struck by the piece, "Slowing Down," and have been trying to find ways of slowing down in my own life. The greatest difficulty I have encountered thus far has been in the relationship with the man I live with. Although he is a practitioner and wishes also to slow down, he finds it more difficult than I do. We are still experimenting.

I would like to share a recent experience where my practice of mindfulness helped me not only to successfully complete a certain task, but made it a wondrous event. My doctor, whom I have been seeing for several minor ailments, suggested an eleven day detoxification program, the highlight of which was a water-only three day fast. I was intrigued and decided to try it.

A friend reminded me to practice mindfulness, especially during the water-only period. My three days of almost complete solitude, with a jug of spring water by my side, were very awake days. When I got hungry, I looked into the hunger and saw that at one moment my tummy was grumbling but that at another the hunger might be an odd physical sensation in my throat. I discovered that the hunger was constantly changing. After several minutes of mindful awareness, it usually disappeared. Most of the sensations I had during these three days were physical, and there were many of them. Mindfulness helped me discover their true nature.

I related my experiences to my doctor, who practices not only Western medicine, but also homeopathy, Chinese herbal medicine, and acupuncture as well as meditation. He liked the idea of using mindfulness and thought it might help his other patients.

I am very thankful for having come into contact with Thay's teachings, especially mindfulness and breath awareness. I hope I can carry a small piece of what I learned during those three days with me into the rest of my busy life.

Linda Wronker New York City

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A Day of One's Own

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thay describes how daily life and meditation can be unified; how we can tum all of our time into our own time. The secret is to be fully in touch with that which is now. In order to be able to enjoy a slice of bread, a cup of tea, the presence of a friend, we have to be in touch with them, otherwise, the taste of the bread, the fragrance of the tea, and the warmth of being together will pass "unlived," without having been experienced. We then feel an emptiness and long for some fulfillment that we expect the future will bring. If we are one with that which is now, each moment is rich and full and sufficient in itself. Thus all our time becomes our "own" time. The key that opens the door to the present moment is undivided attention. The difficulty of being, and staying in the here and now shows as soon as we start trying to develop our awareness in the present moment. The very means that help us do so is our breathing. The breath is the umbilical cord that links us to the present moment. Awareness of our inbreath and our outbreath during all our actions can stop the ever flowing stream of associative thoughts that carries us either to the past or to the future .

Another means that can help us stay in the here and now is to smile a "budding" smile. When we smile the muscles on our face relax. Once the face relaxes, the whole body relaxes.

A third means to keep the lamp of awareness burning is the use of gathas. A gatha is a short poem concerning a daily action--such as switching on the light, washing one's hands, waking up in the morning--which we can learn by heart and recite at the moment we do that action. By using a gatha, we can transform an automatic action into a moment of awareness.

The Miracle of Mindfulness is called The Grass is Turning Greener in Dutch. In French it is called The Miracle is to Walk on the Earth. Mindfulness, undivided attention, allows us to discover the miracle in seemingly ordinary things. Thus walking, for example, can become a wonderful experience if you take each step with full attention, feeling again and again the contact between your feet and the ground, and staying in touch with your breath as well. The same is true for washing the dishes. Being aware of all the movements of your hands, and the contact with the warm water changes the experience of washing dishes altogether. Each moment is precious and no action is too unimportant to let your awareness shine on it. The most simple actions often are best fit to keep in touch with the here and now.

The practice of mindfulness may be very pleasant and healing. To integrate mindfulness into our busy daily lives is quite a challenge. A Day of Mindfulness, where we practice together, can give us the necessary support and inspiration. There are bells of mindfulness sounding from time to time to help bring us back to the present moment. On hearing the bell we stop talking, thinking or whatever we're doing at that time, and return to concentrate only on our breathing: "Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self."

In fact, a Day of Mindfulness is a "Stopping Day"stopping all hurrying to the future, stopping the rush to finish this in order to do that. Only if we can be present in this moment and enjoy what is here and now, will we be able to do so in the future.

Eveline Beumkes Amsterdam , Holland

Eveline is offering Days of Mindfulness this Spring in Holland. Please see the Sangha News & Listings for details.

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Poem: Plum Village, June 1990

This is France,but we are not at Lourdes, nor Chartres, nor Saint Michel.

We practice together, but this is no stupa in Vietnam, nor a shrine at Bodh Gaya. There are no holy temples here, no Taj Mahal, nor Stonehenge.

The sacred sites are in ourselves -- our steps our stories mindfully lived and fully shared.

We bring awareness as our alms -- attention polished beyond indulgences. Flowing hearts our only offerings. Our steps gesture into sacred space as inner seeds ripen into fleetingly crystalline awareness of all that is ordinary and sun-ripened holy.

Kate O'Neill Cambridge, Massachusetts

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