#04 Spring 1991

Dharma Talk: A Peaceful Heart

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Just before the land offensive in the Gulf, the Soviet Union proposed a six-point peace plan to end the war. The first point was that Iraq consent to withdraw all its troops from Kuwait within twenty-one days. But President Bush said that Iraq must evacuate Kuwait in just seven days, and he ordered the allied troops to begin attacking and killing the next day at noon. After the attack began, President Bush addressed the nation, saying, "Whatever you are doing at this moment, please stop and pray for our soldiers in the Gulf. God Bless the United States of America." I think that many Moslems were also praying to their God at that moment to protect Iraq and the Iraqi soldiers. How could God know which nation to support?

Many people pray to God because they want God to fulfill some of their needs. If they want to have a picnic, they may ask God for a clear, sunny day. At the same time, farmers who need more rain pray for the opposite. If the weather is clear, the person going to the picnic will say, "God is on my side. He answered my prayers." But if it rains, the farmers may say that God heard their prayers. For the most part, that is how we pray to God.

In light of the Persian Gulf War, I would like to discuss the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught a style of life that can bring people happiness. I think it is important for us to go back to the Gospels to discover Jesus' true, simple teachings: 

"Seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" When you know that you are spiritually poor, you are no longer spiritually poor. When you think that you are spiritually rich, then you are spiritually poor. When you know that you do not have enough wisdom, that is when you begin to have wisdom. When you believe you already have wisdom, you are blocked, and you do not have enough "spiritual riches" to make yourself or other people happy. Confucius said, "If you know that you don't know, then you can begin to know." We can understand this passage from the Bible in the light of the teaching of Confucius.

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be com­forted." When you mourn, when you suffer, you have an opportunity to learn. If you do not suffer, it is difficult to learn what happiness is. If you are not hungry, it is difficult to realize the joy of eating. If you do not have bad weather, it is difficult to appreciate good weather. If you are aware of your suffering, you can learn from it, and you will have the conditions to be happy. 

"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." If you are not humble, you may remain in ignorance for a long time and miss many opportunities to learn. Humility is a condition for you to advance in your understanding. 

"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteous­ness: for they shall be filled." God requires that we love and understand each other, that we stop killing each other and making each other suffer.

"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." God is merciful to those who are merciful to others. You don't have to wait. The moment compassion springs from your heart, you benefit from it immediately, maybe even before the other person benefits from it. If you want to make another person happy, you are transformed the moment you have that intention, and a smile is born on your lips. Even before you do or say anything, the other person notices your transformation. Compassion is the capacity and the willing­ness to remove pain and suffering from others. This kind of love does not require anything in return; it is unconditional love. It pervades your whole being, and you find peace right in that moment. 

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." "Pure in heart" means that you do not have the intention to harm other people. This is equivalent to the Buddha's teaching: "To refrain from doing evil things, to practice doing good things, and to keep your heart pure." When your heart is pure, you see reality. You step into the Kingdom of God, into the Pure Land. When the heart is pure, the land must be pure. Land is a creation of the heart. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Those who work for peace must have a peaceful heart. When you have a peaceful heart, you belong to the Kingdom of God. You belong to the Pure Land. You are children of the Pure Land. There are those who try to work for peace, but their hearts are not at peace. They still have anger and frustration, and their work for peace is not really peaceful. We cannot say that they belong to the population of the Pure Land.

We must do anything we can to preserve peace. But this is only possible when our hearts are at peace with the world, with our brothers and our sisters. When we try to overcome evil with evil, we are not working for peace. You may say, "Saddam Hussein is evil. We have to prevent him from continuing to be evil." But if the means you use are exactly like the ones he has been using, you are exactly like the person you are fighting. Trying to overcome evil with evil is not making peace. 

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." When you practice purity, nonviolence, understanding, and mutual acceptance, even if you are persecuted, you have peace in your heart. You are in the Kingdom of Heaven. You know that what you are doing is right and that you are not harming anyone or anything. This teaching is about patience. You have the strength to continue your nonviolent way of securing peace. If people put you in jail, persecute you, or call you names, you can still be happy and peaceful, because you are dwelling in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Pure Land. Even if you are in prison, even if you are beaten or killed, you will continue to be in the Pure Land. You are at peace with yourself, at peace with the world, and even at peace with those who are persecuting you. This is the most important contribution to life that the followers of Jesus can bring to the world. This is to practice Jesus' way here, not elsewhere. It means the Kingdom of Heaven has to be realized here. Nowadays people think that the Kingdom of God is somewhere else.

"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." In this passage, Jesus describes his followers as salt. Food needs salt in order to be tasty. Life needs under­standing, compassion, and harmony in order to be livable.

This teaching is equivalent to the teaching about the sangha. Without a sangha, we cannot do much. Therefore, elements of sangha have to practice being the taste of life, the taste of liberation. You have to practice so that you become salt yourself - practice until you become freedom, understanding, and love. When practicing, if you do not "become salt," then people cannot make use of you, because you are not real salt. So a true sangha is one that practices the teaching of liberation and becomes free; practices the teachings of understanding and develops understanding; practices compassion and becomes more compassionate. A true sangha contains the Buddha and the dharma. If a community of Christians practice so that they become the salt of life, then they will be a true community of Christians.

In the Buddhist canon, salt is compared to emancipation, liberation. Happiness, in Buddhism, is not possible without liberation. You must be liberated from your own ignorance in order to be really happy. If you want to make other people happy, you must also work to help them liberate themselves from their afflictions and internal formations. 

"Ye are the light of the world." When you practice meditation, you get wisdom, comprehension, understanding, and that kind of wisdom will shine upon the world. Anyone who feels the light emanating from you will be enlightened and will profit from your understanding. You don't need to be a saint to emanate tight. You need only to be mindful, and you will begin to send light around you already.

"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candle­stick; and it giveth light unto all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

Each of us is a light for the whole world. Don't keep the light for yourself. Share it with others. Show yourself. Jesus said, "You have benefited from my teaching. You have to bring this teaching to many people."

He also said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment...whosoever shall say, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire."

Jesus did not say that if you are angry with your brother, he will put you in hell. He said that if you are angry with your brother, you risk the danger of being in hell. Because anger is hell. When you get angry, you jump into hell right away. You don't need someone to put you there. When you commit murder, you are put into jail. But Jesus went one step further: Before you commit murder with your body, you commit murder in your mind. That is jail already. You  don't need to kill with your body to be put in jail. You need only to kill in your mind and you are already there. This is a wonderful teaching. In Buddhism, we say that among the three kinds of actions—actions by thinking, by speech, and by the body—the first is the most basic.

We know that in the Persian Gulf, many people have been learning and practicing killing in their minds. Iraqi, American, French, British, and many other soldiers, have been practic­ing killing day and night. They know that if they don't kill, the other person will kill them.

They use sand­ bags to represent the enemy, and holding their bayonets, they run, shout, and plunge their bayonets into the sandbags. They practice killing every day in their hearts and minds. The damage caused by that kind of practice is very great.


I happened to see just a few seconds of that kind of practice. Even if President Bush had not given the order for a land offensive, a lot of damage had already been done in the minds and hearts of one million people in the Gulf. This kind of wound, this kind of damage will last for a long time in the lives of these soldiers, if they are able to survive the war. This kind of wound will be transmitted to their children, and to the children of their children, over a long time. It is very depressing. If you don't practice killing, and if it happens that you have to kill, the damage in your heart and mind will be much less. But if you train yourself for days and months to kill—"killing" during the day and then dreaming of killing during the night because you have spent so much time concentrating on that—the damage, the wound, is very deep. If you survive, you will go back to your country and bear that kind of scar for a long time. Even if you don't want to kill, you have to learn to kill and to practice it, every day, in your heart and your mind, This is a tragedy.

We have to tell people about this. Usually they count bodies in order to measure the damage of a war. They do not count this kind of wound in the hearts and minds of people.  But it will last for a long time. If I am killed, my children can "continue" me. You can only kill my body. You cannot kill the things I have transmitted to my children. So the damage is not as great. But if I have learned to kill in my heart and my mind, if I survive, I will transmit that kind of wound, that kind of "internal formation," to my children and their children. We have to count the wounds in this way and tell people of the long-term damage that war causes to humanity. Soldiers live in hell, every day and every night, even before going to the battlefield.

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee; leave there thy gift  before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." This is a practice of loving kindness. You want to make an offering to God, but if, when you are facing the altar and looking at God, you become mindful of the fact that you are in conflict with one of your brothers, you cannot make an offering in that state of being. God will not accept it, and you will not accept it because God is in you. So Jesus said to put down your offering, go back to your brother, and reconcile with him first.

Being mindful, we know when we are in conflict with someone. We know that we have to go to that person in order to reconcile with her or with him. The altar and the offering are not separate. The altar is right where your brother or your sister is. We may have the impression that God and the altar of God are separate. We leave the offering there and go back to our brother or sister. But in the practice of mindfulness, God follows us all the time. When we go back to our brother or our sister, God is with us, and the offering is with us also. By reconciling with our brother, we offer our gift to God at the same time.

You may have the impression that altars are old fash­ioned, but you still have many things you consider to be sacred. For example, the flag of your nation is a kind of altar. On many occasions, you stand up and salute your flag.

In  a way it looks funny, because the flag is only a piece of cloth. But it represents something—a country, a people—and you stand and salute it. In Asia, we have altars for many things, but we do not kill anyone because of them. If we understand the teachings of Jesus, we will not die and kill anyone because of the flag. We will pursue the avenue of reconciliation.

We have learned that all transgressions, all mistakes come from mind; that mind is the ground for all wrongdo­ings. Knowing this, we can go back to the mind and transform the mind and suddenly, the wrongdoings are no longer there. This is "beginning anew." When we change our thinking and our attitude, our mind is transformed, and we feel as light as a cloud floating in the sky.

Many people think of peace as the absence of war. They think that if the superpowers would agree to reduce their weapons, we would have peace. But according to the teachings of Jesus, and also the teachings of the Buddha, when you look into the weapons, what you see is your mind. If you look deeply into any bomb, you will see fear and ignorance. Even if we were able to transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of the bombs are still in our hearts, and sooner or later, we will make more bombs. It is most important that we take care of the roots of war that reside in our mind. Working for peace means to uproot war in the hearts of men. If we start a war and give the opportunity to one million men and women to practice killing day and night in their hearts, that is not uprooting the roots of war. That is planting more seeds of war—the fear of being killed, the anger, the frustration. Seventy-five percent of the people in America supported the President in the Gulf War, I think even more than that.

This is Jesus' teaching about revenge: Matthew 5:38: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also."

If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When someone asks you for something, give it to him. When someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him. How many Christians practice this?

There is a story about an American soldier who was taking a Japanese prisoner during World War II. While walking together, the American discovered that the Japanese soldier spoke English, and so they spoke to each other. The American soldier learned that the Japanese soldier had been a Christian before he abandoned his faith. So he asked, "Why did you abandon Christianity? It is an excellent religion." The Japanese man said, "I could not become a soldier and continue to be a Christian. I don't think a good Christian can become a soldier and kill another person." He understood this passage of Matthew. There must be ways to solve our conflicts without having to resort to killing. We must focus our attention on this. We have to find ways to help people get out of difficult situations, situations of conflict, without having to kill. 

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

The rain that God made is for good people and for evil people—nondiscrimination. When you pray only for your picnic, and you don't pray for the farmers who need the rain, you are doing the opposite of what Jesus taught. Jesus said, "Love your enemy, bless them that curse you." When we contemplate our anger, we try to do that. When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we believe that if we do something to hurt him or her, we will feel relieved. But when we say or do something cruel, the other person suffers more, and he or she will try to say or do something even more awful to us. Here we have an escalation of anger.

When we look deeply into our anger, we can see that the person we call our enemy is suffering also. Because he suffers so much, his suffering spills over onto us and other people. As soon as we see that someone is suffering, we have the capacity of accepting him and having compassion for him. This is what Jesus called "loving your enemy." Love, here, does not mean attachment. It means to encom­pass the other person with compassion. That is possible when we know that the other person is suffering and needs our compassion, not our anger. When we are able to love our enemy, he is no longer our enemy. The idea of "enemy" vanishes and is replaced by the someone who is suffering a great deal and needs our compassion. Sometimes it is very easy, easier than you may think. What is important is that you practice. If you read the Bible but don't practice, it doesn't help much. 

"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?" Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? You love the people who love you just to profit from friends. It is not love, it is just profit. Sometime we don't even love the people who love us. If you pay your taxes, the tax collector will smile at you. If you don't pay the tax, well... And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? You just speak and spend time with the ones you love. You leave out other people. This is not the practice of love. Love here is to make an effort to understand the people that suffer, and go in the direction of these people. It is important to be aware of the suffering in the world.

In a community, we may find two, three, or four friends who are sweet, who bring us a lot of happiness. But if we stay only with these friends and ignore everyone else, that is not practicing love. We have to reach out, with the support of these friends, to the people who are not as sweet. They are not as sweet because they have suffering in them. 

"Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men." "When thou doest alms, let not thy left had know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

When you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it. That would be a practice just for the sake of the form. If you practice for the sake of the form, there is no understanding or compassion, and you will have no transformation. In other words you will have no rewards from your Father in Heaven. Your Father is love and understanding. This is a very important teaching. When you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you are doing, will reward you. 

"When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." You have to focus your mind our heart on your prayer. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. Because you are concentrated in your practice, you are sowing the seeds of wisdom, understanding, and love in your heart. You are planting good seeds in the land of your heart, and you don't need to ask for anything. Praying is not just asking, praying is giving to yourself and to other people. If you make yourself happy, if you sow good seeds into your mind and heart, you do that not only for yourself but for other people as well. Happiness is not an individual matter. When you can smile, when you can be fresh and loving, not only you, but everyone benefits from it. 

"After this manner therefore pray ye: 'Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Heaven is in our hearts. In the Buddhist teaching, the Pure Land is always present in our hearts. We need only one step to enter the Pure Land, and that step is mindfulness. When mindfulness, love, and understanding are present in your heart, whatever you see or hear belongs to the Pure Land. You can hear the birds and the wind in the willow expound the Dharma. When you pray to God in mindfulness, understanding and compassion arise, and the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven open at once. 

"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven." In Heaven it is easier to realize God's will because everyone is mindful. In New York or Paris, it is more difficult. People there suffer a lot. We have to bring the Kingdom of God into our hearts and then shine our lights upon the world. It is easy to pray in order to leave the world and go to paradise. But this is not what Jesus taught. He said to bring the light here and make this world livable, practicing love, forgiveness, and acceptance right here. The message is clear: We can practice God's will right here on Earth. We do not need to wait until we go to Heaven or anywhere else. 

"Give us this day our daily bread." Again, Jesus is reminding us to live in the present moment, here and now. He does not say, "Bring us to Heaven quickly. We suffer very much here. Help us to leave the Earth as quickly as possible." He says give us today the food we need.

Nature, water, air, and soil are the source of our life. They give us our daily food, but we are destroying these resources. It means we are destroying God. How can we continue to pray like this, "Give us this day our daily bread," when we are destroying the source of our own food? A theology of the environment should be taught in order to protect God, to protect man, to protect other living beings. Man is just one species among many. Without the presence of other species, man cannot be. Man is made by "non-man elements," such as trees, water, soil, and sunlight. If we destroy the non-man elements, how can humans continue to survive? We are asking God for food, even as we are destroying God, the source, the ground of our being. 

"And forgive us our trespasses. as we forgive those who trespass against us." Everyone can make mistakes. If we are mindful, we see that some of our actions in the past have made others suffer, and some actions of others have made us suffer. We want to be forgiving. We want to begin anew. "You my brother, you my sister have done me wrong in the past. I know that it is because you suffer, you did not see clearly. I understand that and I don't have anger toward you anymore." That is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the fruit of awareness. When you are mindful you can see all the causes that have led that person to make you suffer. If you see these causes, then forgiveness and release arise naturally. It is impossible to force yourself to forgive. It is only when you understand what has happened that you have compassion for the other person and you can forgive.

I think that if President Bush had more understanding of the mind of President Hussein, peace could have been obtained. President Gorbachev tried. He made a number of proposals that could have been acceptable to the allies. Many lives could have been saved. But because anger was there, President Hussein gave the order to burn the oil wells in Kuwait, and hundreds of wells are in flames, creating a huge amount of smoke all over the region. President Bush saw that, and he became angry. In an atmosphere of anger and distrust, he had to reject the Soviet Union's proposal. But if he could see more clearly the suffering of the people of Iraq, he would not let his anger be expressed by starting a ground war. He asked the American people to pray for the allied soldiers. He asked God to bless the United States of America. He did not say that we should pray for the civilians in Iraq or even the people of Kuwait. He wanted God to be on the side of America.


Who is President Bush? President Bush is us. We are responsible for the way he feels, for everything he does. Polls show that seventy, eighty percent of the people in America supported President Bush. Why blame him? Our degree of understanding, our degree of love, our capacity to understand and to love is so poor, so limited. We have not looked deeply enough, we have not brought our lamp high enough. We are not engaged enough in our effort to practice peace and to bring peace to the hearts of people. When I look at the way we prepare for war and practice killing day and night in our hearts and minds, I feel overwhelmed.

What people have been practicing in the sands of Saudi Arabia is fear. Aware that they may be killed, they have to practice day and night to prepare to kill, and also to prepare to die. They have to accept the killing and their death. There is no alternative. Practicing for six months like that, how many internal formations have been created? What have their minds become? When they go back to their country, what will their wives, their children, their brothers and sisters receive from them? The American society will receive all the seeds of affliction of the war. We cannot imagine the long-term effects.

In tradition of Christianity, we find the guidance we need for exactly this kind of situation. But what have we made of Christianity? Are we listening to Jesus? How can we help Jesus reveal himself again? These are a few of the questions I have when I read the Gospels. 

Based on a lecture given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in France, on February 24, 1991, the day the land invasion of Iraq began. It will be included in a book of essays on nonviolent social action by Thich Nhat Hanh, to be published by Parallax Press later this year.

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From the Editors

Thank you, readers, for your patience as we offer this issue of The Mindfulness Bell a little later than it was scheduled to appear. Your editors have been traveling in Texas and Southern California helping organize the retreats and lectures with Thich Nhat Hanh. Now, as we "pass through" Northern California, we have the time to complete this fourth issue. During this post-war period, many of us seem to need some solace and support in processing the violent actions that we witnessed and thereby partook in. The first article on nonviolence and a peaceful heart is offered in this vein.  Following it are a number of pieces on this same subject that many of you sent in as the war broke out. These essays, and the responses we hope the rest of you will send in for future issues, are most welcomed.

We are happy to be able to share with you some of the fruits of the Spring retreats with Thay. It has been a deep pleasure and a source of reassurance and inspiration to see so many sanghas making the teachings and practices of mindfulness their own. And the size of the response has been staggering. Four thousand people came to the public lecture at the Berkeley Community Theater last week, and all the retreats and days of mindfulness are now full, except those listed below. We especially hope a few more Veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and the Persian Gulf will register for the June 5-9 retreat at Omega. Scholarships are available for all Veterans.

Once again, we hope you enjoy this newsletter. We continue to welcome your contributions and feedback, and we hope to get back on schedule with the July issue.

-Carole Melkonian, Therese Fitzgerald, & Amie Kotler

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Buddhist Nonviolence

By Paula Green The Buddha was once asked by a disciple, "Would it be true to say that a part of our training is for the development of love and compassion?" The Buddha replied, "No, it would not be true to say this. It would be true to say that the whole of our training is for the development of love and compassion."

All of Buddhism is founded on non-harming and the development of compassion and loving kindness. Two thousand five hundred years ago the Buddha taught, "Do as much good as possible, avoid harm, and purify your mind." Recently the Dalai Lama responded to a question about basic Buddhist practice, saying, "It is best, if you are able, to help others. This is the main practice."

Thus Buddhism, from its beginning, has had a deep commitment to nonviolence and to caring for others. Buddhism and nonviolence cannot be separated; all of Buddhism is about nonviolence. The fullness of this belief was exemplified by the Dalai tama, who said in his acceptance speech for the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, "I speak not with a feeling of anger or hatred towards those who are responsible for the immense suffering of our people and the destruction of our land, homes, and culture. They too are human beings who struggle to find happiness and deserve our compassion."

For Buddhists, nonviolence is a way of life, born of the fusion of spiritual insight and practical action. Meditation is at the core of Buddhism and from it comes experiential understandings of the nature of suffering and responses to help alleviate suffering and its causes. Buddhism is an engaged and active practice: meditation leading to insight, and insight leading to behavior and action on behalf of the happiness and liberation of all.

One of Buddhism's unique contributions to today's nonviolence movement is its emphasis on the importance of spiritual training to develop the self-knowledge and awareness that creates skillful responses in a violent world. Buddhists understand that to heal self and society are one and the same, that inner and outer work are imperative and interrelated. As one engages in confronting society's violence one must simultaneously acknowledge and tame the violence within the self. Personal and world peace are linked by the thoughts and actions of every human being; in myriad ways we each contribute daily to a violent or a pleasant world.

A further contribution, and again one that is directly experienced in the meditation practice, is the interconnectedness of all life. In meditation, the concept of a strong, separate self-identity becomes more permeable. A vision of interdependence arises, in which everything is connected, mutually influenced, and conditional upon everything else. This deep understanding of the profound reverberations and consequences of every act gives rise to behavior based on an infinite responsibility for nonviolence, as it is seen that any other behavior produces harm to the self as well as to others.

According to Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy, "This law of dependent co-arising is such that every act we make, every word we speak, every thought we think is not only affected by the other elements in the vast web of being in which all things take part, but also has results so far-reaching that we cannot see or imagine them. We simply proceed with the act for its own worth, our sense of responsibility arising from our co-participation in all existence."

The clear and direct Buddhist teachings on the causes of suffering, unhappiness, and violence are of great benefit to all people, whatever their spiritual or political orientation. The Buddha devoted his life to the problems of the human mind. "I teach one thing and one thing only," he said, "suffering and the end of suffering." He identified three root causes of suffering and saw that through meditation and principled conduct the practitioner could develop behaviors to counterbalance each of them.

The three roots are greed, hatred, and delusion; the antidotes for these poisons are generosity, loving kindness, and wisdom. These wholesome and unwholesome conditions of mind exist in all beings, including the Buddha, who noted: "In this fathom-long body, the whole universe is contained."

Greed, the first of the violence causing mindstates, can also be described as desire, selfishness, or clinging. Thai meditation master Buddhadasa believes that this state is a spiritual prison and the core cause of misery in individual and communal life. "The heart of Buddhism is just to uproot or cut off this greed and selfishness; then suffering will be finished. To do so, we must practice, which is to study from inside."

Generosity, letting go, and being open is the remedy for greed and desire. It is a practice that can be cultivated as a nonviolent way of life, as a statement of personally reversing the global trend toward more wanting in the mind, as a way to create daily happiness for self and others.

Hatred and anger are difficult mind states that are at the heart of violence. The Buddha likened anger to a burning coal, which in the process of picking up to throw at another causes burning in one's own hand. In anger, the mind is contracted and tight, so that one experiencing anger is already suffering very deeply.

In the peace movement, righteous indignation and anger are often used to energize, to propel action. Buddhists believe that this tempting reflex to create separations and "us/them" must be avoided, as it is a violence that in the end can only beget resentment and thus more violence. "Anger cannot be overcome with anger," wrote the Dalai Lama, "and world problems cannot be challenged by anger or hatred. They must be faced with compassion, love, and true kindness."

Compassion and loving kindness, the fruits of practice, are the antidotes to anger and hatred. Thich Nhat Hanh believes that, "We are challenged to apply an antidote as soon as anger arises, because of the far-reaching social effects of individual anger." And Sri Lankan monk/activist Dr. Rewata Dhamma writes, "The cultivation of universal compassion by every possible means is essential, a compassion that has immediate, practical, and sustainable results in the alleviation of suffering."

The third and last violence-producing mind state is delusion, or ignorance. This is born and maintained out of an untrained, undisciplined mind that has not been penetrated by its "user," who has not directly experienced interdependence, the consequences of harm and anger, or the roots of alienation and violence within the self. It is the state of mind that most human beings live with: confused, restless, and unhappy.

Through practice in one of the various forms of meditation, insight into the nature of reality can gradually replace ignorance. With devoted practice comes purification, which makes the mind less violent on increasingly subtle levels. Gross harm is avoided, awareness, and self-control is increased, and with time, wisdom develops. Ethical conduct, which is itself a foundation of Buddhism, becomes internalized, so that behavioral choices are made with great care and personal responsibility.

The Buddha was asked by his disciple Ajita, "What is it that smothers the world? What makes the world so hard to see? What would you say pollutes the world and what threatens it most?" The Buddha answered, "It is ignorance which smothers, and it is carelessness, and greed that makes the world invisible. The hunger of desire pollutes the world, and the great source of fear is the pain of suffering."

"In every direction," said Ajita, "the rivers of desire are running. How can we dam them and what will hold them back? What can we use to close the floodgates?" Replied the Buddha, "Any river can be stopped with the dam of mindfulness. I call it the flood stopper. And with wisdom you can close the floodgates."

These are a few of the many Buddhist roots of active nonviolence. Violent and nonviolent behaviors arise according to the conditions of the mind and the society. Purifying and strengthening the mind, cultivating consciousness, acting from awareness, developing abundant compassion, and loving kindness, and understanding the interdependent nature of being and doing in the world, can all contribute to nonviolence within the self and in the global community.

For Buddhists involved in active nonviolence, Buddhism begins but does not end on the meditation cushion. The notion that Buddhism is passive is based on misinformation. As Thai scholar/activist Sulak Sivaraksa writes, "Many people, particularly in the West, think that Buddhism is only for deep meditation and personal transformation, that it has nothing to do with society. This is not true. Particularly in South and Southeast Asia, for many centuries Buddhism has been a great strength for society." In Tibet as well, a unique and highly principled society arose from centuries of devotion to Buddha Dharma.

Buddhist principles and practices can be applied equally to family/community life and national/international movements for social change. The insight, discipline, and wisdom gained from meditation retreats leads to skillful choices of behavior and action. The lotus, the symbol of Buddhism, can grow only when planted deeply in the mud. The fruit of awakening, the personal transformations that gradually occur with years of practice, the tools of understanding and compassion that accrue to the mediator, these are for the benefit of all beings and for the implementation of nonviolent changes in our cultures and institutions. In engaged Buddhism, response to the needs of others comes out of the practice and becomes the practice. One does not wait until personal enlightenment, or even full moral development, is attained before embarking on the path of engaged Buddhism. Rather, one sees the reciprocal nature of practice in the meditation hall and service in the world.

The contemporary era, as we all know, is one of great and interrelated crises. To cope with these challenges, we do well to call forth the teachings of the world's spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, for they contain the distilled truths of all the centuries of human experience. The Buddha's teachings are as relevant today as they were 2,500 years ago, for they are the essence of what the planet needs most: wisdom, love, and compassion.

Buddhist nonviolence training is currently being used by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the United States, and the International Network of Engaged Buddhist in Thailand, to bring such Buddhist principles as mindfulness and compassionate conduct to further the causes of justice and peace. Thus Buddhist activists add their particular expertise to the growing worldwide commitment to nonviolent social change.

Buddhist poet Gary Snyder writes, "Buddhism's traditional harmlessness and avoidance of taking life has nation-shaking implication." May the fruits of these trainings shake the nations from their long slumber and create a world where violence ends and love begins.

Paula Green is the Director of the Karuna Center for Social Change, Leverett, Massachusetts. She is also on the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Steering Committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists.

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Leashing the Dogs of War

By Gary Gill The Buddha said there is a still point within each of us about which the endless cycle of pain and suffering revolves but does not penetrate. A place within from which the appearance of the world is transformed and transcended. From this place, what we thought was wrong about the world is revealed in its perfection and inevitability. What we may have looked upon with abhorrence and repulsion, we suddenly see with love and acceptance. Though we may have spent many years away from this still point, it is nevertheless within us and the basis of our being. We see also that all beings are thus connected, consciously or not, to the truth of the universe, actually are that truth and can be nothing else, no matter how far afield from its basic tenets we may appear to stray.

Without conscious contact with this still point, the world appears to us in a series of convincing opposites between which we feel compelled to choose. Good and evil, peace and war, life and death, now and not now, beginning and end - are manifestations of the ground of the infinite perceived through the limitations of the imposed finite. These are phenomena that are created in our minds and exist nowhere else.

Consider two points in space. There is a line that stretches to infinity in each direction that is implied by the points. There is also a line segment between the points.  When we limit our consideration to the segment we see it has a beginning and an end and a middle. It is a finite piece of line. When we include the rest of the line, the beginning and the end disappear, and every point becomes the middle. Any point we choose has infinity to its left and infinity to its right, hence all points occupy the exact center of the infinite line. Everywhere is the same place. When we limit our consideration to a segment, the idea of beginnings and ends and middles arise. When we include the rest of the line, they disappear or are radically transformed. The middle of the segment is one separate point, an exact location. The middle of an infinite line is every point. A concept that serves to distinguish and to separate in the realm of the finite flips around and destroys the distinction between this place and that in the realm of the infinite. It is our decision to include or exclude the infinite, to examine the segment or the entire line that determines what we observe.

It is the same with our consciousness. As long as we impose limits upon our experience and are aware of only one segment or another, we will see and believe in beginnings, middles and ends. We will see and believe in the apparent relationship of the parts which is opposition and miss the realm of the infinite from which the parts arise. When we are born, we move from the infinite to the apparent finite. Our birth is analogous to the beginning of the line segment; our death to its end. They are actually only the beginning and end of our limited awareness. By ignoring the infinite preceding our birth and following our death, we make nonsense out of death and time. When we come to see that the infinite is not interrupted by our birth or our death, an entirely different set of relationships are revealed that govern our existence and interaction with the world. The order of our normal reality is turned on its ear. The teachings of Christ and Buddha suddenly make sense. "You must become as little children . . ." "The first shall be last and the last first . . ." "Fear not them which kill the body . . ." "All that has form is deceptive. But when it is seen that all form has no form, the Buddha is recognized. All things are Buddha things."

When Christ says to love our enemy as ourself, he is speaking from the perspective of the infinite. Just as everywhere is the same place in the infinite, everyone is the same person. When you love your enemy, you truly do love yourself and when you hate your enemy, you hate yourself. "Them it was their poisons hurt . . ." The apparent boundaries between self and other collapse. When Christ said, "I am the one way the only way, there is no way but through me," he did not mean that only the Christian Church offers salvation.  He meant that there is truly only one person in the world and that on the deepest level, we all that person. No matter which teacher we choose, even if we choose to teach ourselves, Christ will be our teacher.

Buddha talked of the illusion of self that gives rise to all suffering. I believe he was talking about our identification with our finite perception of ourselves and the misapplication of the rules of the finite to our lives. When we shift our consciousness to the infinite, we are freed from the cycle of greed and fear and illusion. We see that there is no basis for greed. We have what anyone has and we lack what anyone lacks. We naturally stop envying those with plenty or more than plenty and turn to helping those with too little. We see that there is no basis for fear. We live when others live and we die when others die. This includes species and even the fact that life has ever occurred on Earth, should it cease. We see that there is no basis for or consequence from illusion. Illusion is not madness nor is it a mental deformity. It is a simple small mistake that has horrific apparent consequences. A mistake in perception cannot alter the truth of the world, even if whole nations and worlds participate. We cannot impair our infinite origin, the infinite love of the universe, a kind of primordial vibration that can be mistaken for pain and agony. We are restored to a state in which awful becomes awe full.

It is perhaps our greatest irony that only when we realize that we cannot harm one another on the plane of the infinite, that we become able to stop harming one another on the plane of the illusory apparent finite.

Gary Gill is an engineer who lives near Seattle. This essay was written shortly after Gary attended Thich Nhat Hanh's 1989 retreat with Vietnam Veterans in Santa Barbara.

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Thoughts on the War

By Millie Grenough I lock my doors, buckle up, and turn on my radio to catch the news. It's 6 p.m. and I'm driving home from work in the inner-city of New Haven, Connecticut.

". . . we'll kick his ass."

I turn left off Orchard Street. Drug dealing, street loitering in the next stretch. Don't want to be caught at a red light. I'm alone and it's dark.

The radio continues, ". . . no holds barred. We'll go in all the way, do the job fast, and come out winners."

The language punches my stomach. I've been with clients, mostly women, since 8 a.m.; five of the women were sexually abused as children.

The radio, the voices continue, then there are sounds of male laughter, and applause. What is this anyway . . . high school locker-room talk? - or one drug posse talking about wiping out another posse?

". . . there's no question that we'll run them out of Kuwait. The only question is if after that we'll go on to carpet Baghdad . . ." More male shouts of approval, and clapping.

My God. I turn off the radio, and drive home in silence.

Yep. The president of my country is about to "kick the ass" of another head of state . . . and his military leaders (my military leaders) are cheered as they talk about bombing a city that has tens of thousands of people in it.

I turn left again at Hillhouse High School, drive the few more blocks to our house. My husband's due home in a half-hour, my sixteen-year-old son is doing the easy part of his homework in front of the television, my seventeen-year觔ld son is off to a rehearsal for his concert tomorrow night. Everything seems pretty normal: the guys are all healthy, doing their usual things, the furnace and electricity are working, there is food in the refrigerator, and there have been no break-ins in the last four weeks. I sort through the mail, find no personal letters in the proliferation of catalogs and appeals.

In the kitchen quiet, I ask myself, "What is going on underneath all this 'Hitler-and-oil' talk?"

Do we always need an enemy, somebody different so we can feel special? Growing up in the working-class West End of Louisville, Kentucky, my family prided itself on having no prejudices, but we sure hated rich people. My all-girls high school basketball team's rival was from the wealthy part of town, so we easily changed their name from Sacred Heart Academy to Snob Hill Academy: It's easier to outshoot and outguard a bunch of girls when we have them boxed in as snotty, rich girls . . . when I lived in South America, the Peruvians scorned the Bolivians; when I worked in Spain, I heard northern Europeans affirm their superiority by saying that Europe (and, therefore, civilized living) ended at the Pyrenees; Spain and all the rest belonged to Africa. Spain in turn looked down on Portugal, the Portugese belittled the Moroccans, and the Moroccans did God knows what to whom . . . I came back to Connecticut and taught in public high schools: Black students couldn't hear me - I was white and not hip. White acquaintances thought I was financially and emotionally unsound for living in a racially-mixed neighborhood.

Later on down the line as I personally got to know Sacred Heart girls, and Bolivians, Spaniards, Portugese, and Blacks, I found out that I liked some of them and didn't like others. They are all people, living beings like me. They all were babies at one time, had parents, homes, people, and places they loved.

I'm writing this on Christmas Day 1990. I woke up early this morning with "kick his ass," and "do the job fast," New Haven streets and Baghdad carpets knocking around in my mind. Then right after that came the quote, "We have met the enemy, and they are us." So who said that anyhow? Churchill? MacArthur? Pogo?

My counLry of birth, in my own lifetime, has demonized Indians, Blacks, Germans, Japanese, Jews, Poles, Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, and Communists. Now it's the Arabs.

I am terrified that my country may not truly understand the horror caused by war and the manufacturing of arms until we experience it in our own land, until our own cities are bombed.

Please, fellow Americans, let's wake up.

Millie Grenough lives in Connecticut.

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Poem: Untitled Poem

I'm so grateful to have friends:a lotus bud two clear eyes  a smile a comradely arm around my shoulder a vibrant breathing hug tears together.

I'm so grateful to be alone: crickets in the darkening grass a walk among pine trees with the ocean's pulse or the silent early dawn. Ah! To exchange, to flow . . . and to rest in the center To walk with peace within chaos.

Svein Myreng Oslo, Norway

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By Ellen Goldstein Before the war broke out, I watched Saddam with disgust, terror, interest, even with amusement. I listened to his war cries and his claims, and heard the machinations of a power glutton. But did not see that my growing hatred of him was feeding the very mind that so horrified me. I did not see that, in fact, his sickness and my sickness were identical, that Saddam and I are the same poison.

At times I hate him for bringing this to me. I don't want to see that, by falling into this pit of anger, and justified righteousness, I become Saddam.  What is so different? I hate, he hates. I see that I wouldn't be saddened by news of his death. I count the downed planes and forget the disintegrated pilots. I hope that the Allied war machine can uproot the entrenched swarm of Saddam loyals. I forget that many of those hunkered soldiers fight for Saddam only because if they do not, they face their own death and that of their wives, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins.

In the first days after the war began, I spent hours stuporously watching the television, mesmerized by the words used to describe, without naming, murder and death. The first night, my son leaped out of a sound sleep from our bed - where he had fallen quiet an hour before -- and with a look of absolute terror on his face, ran to the bathroom, and vomited his fear. I was panicked at the sight of such a terrible fear on my innocent, young boy's face. I saw then, only to forget again, the face of a child who has bombs dropping on his head, his world, his life. My son, who was to be home ill for the next week as we watched this insanity unfold, reminded me that all of this could not be taken lightly, that I could not afford to fall into the haze of an unfeeling, unaffected spectator of a glorified war movie.

I watched a video this morning about the Dalai Lama. He spoke about the Buddhist teaching of compassion, of opening one's heart to the oppressor, of seeing that the oppressor and the oppressed share the same human heart, human suffering. I remembered that Gandhi, when he was shot by an assassin, reached out his hand, gave his heart to his killer. I am reminded of a poem, "Please Call Me By My True Names," by Thich Nhat Hanh, who asks if we can recognize ourselves in each other. There is a struggle to find a place to rest here, a cause to believe in, an action to feel righteous about, a soldier to encourage, support, and defend. I can be the soldier. I can be the peace activist marching on the street. I can be the wailing mother whose child was killed by a bomb, or the bitter wife whose husband drops dead from fright, or the thirsty man holed up in a shelter, wondering when the bombing will stop. I can be Saddam, hungry for power, martyrdom, control, wealth, and loyalty.

Ellen Goldstein is a counselor at the Heartwork Institute in Rochester, New York.

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Children and War

By Deborah Huntley When we talk with young children about the war and the state of the world, we need to pause, breathe, and consider our own state of mind. When we speak to the young, we have an open and vulnerable audience. What we (adults) offer children is far more than words. We share our state of mind with them even more than the information we try to convey.

When an adult speaks with a child, the child's mind is spontaneously scanning the way the adult is relating to his or her own mind. Chances are good that the child will unconsciously copy the adult's pattern. Young children naturally imitate.

So then, what would we like to offer the young children when we speak to them about this war? We want to tell them the truth that since world leaders are unable to understand each other and negotiate an agreement, force is being used. We can tell the children that the fighting is far away and that we ourselves are safe from immediate danger. We can say how sad we are that people we know or don't know have been hurt by this war. Children over three will understand these words. Yet more than that, the young will be absorbing the patterns of the adult's state of mind. We need to protect the minds of children from the roller coaster rides of too much talk, speculation, conceptualization, and the violent swings of protests and patriotism.

Adults who are with children have the responsibility and position to offer the children a worthy model of how to be a real human being. This is an intense time. The young are busy taking it all in. We adults must be conscious of our own state of mind. That is the most immediate and helpful thing we can do for children here at home.

What can we do to change our own shaky state of mind to be better for the children? The old remedy to take a deep breath and count to ten is still as good as ever. Or, better yet, take ten deep, slow breaths to change a fearful mind into a stable and careful one. Oxygen does wonders for the brain.

While we humans are re-making this world, one wonders how we can survive. If we can promote stable and open minds, we are opening a gateway to the understanding heart - and that means giving a future to children everywhere.

Deborah Huntley is the Director of the Apple Alley Children's Center in Longmont, Colorado.

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Supporting the Troops

By Patrick McMahon Recently I was startled to find on the door of the classroom down the hall from me a poster of the American flag, with the slogan, "We Support Our Troops in the Middle East" I thought of the bumper slicker on my car, "Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home." The juxtaposition brings home to me the saying, "The first casualty of war is truth." For neither of these slogans is truthful. I don't actually support the troops, I just want them out of harm's way. And "We Support Our Troops in the Middle East" is a euphemism for "We Support the War." There's fanaticism and narrowness underneath the apparent neutrality of both expressions. I and my colleague down the hall could easily get caught in a war of viewpoints. I don't want that to happen. Neither can I remain silent. I'm compelled to risk the demanding route of compassionate dialogue. I owe it, at the very least, to my students, who are swimming (sinking, I'm afraid) in a sea of half-truths about the war. I'm terrified, I must confess, by the enterprise. I'm fairly skilled al avoiding conflict, not so skilled on the field of opposition. But the avoidance is a fake pacifism, as I learned anew several months ago.

The last day of school before the winter break, Santa visits our school with his big bag of candy canes. My fifth graders go wild. In the midst of his rounds, we have recess, and at the end of recess I spot one of the other teachers - the one with the poster - in a shouting match with one of my students. She motions me over. "Your Rodney here needs a little talking to!" The tone and pitch of her voice, the flashing eyes and clenched fists, put me in the position of an errant boy myself. Perhaps I was in line for a talking to!

"What's the problem?" I come back as levelly as I can, my heart pounding with adrenalin, my breath fast and constricted.

"There were a bunch of kids hanging around Santa at the end of recess, trying to get some more candy canes. The bell rang, and I told them to get back to their classrooms. Rodney was the only one who didn't listen to me."

I know Rodney well: he simply doesn't hear when excited. I've learned through many painful incidents that coming down hard on him at these times does not work. When Irepeat myself, make eye contact, put my hand gently on his shoulder, he nearly always comes around for me.

"So then what?" I ask my colleague. Neither of us, by the way, has consulted Rodney for his story, though I'm acutely aware of the sense of violation in his overflowing eyes.

"What happened?!" - my colleague is beside herself with the memory. "Why I grabbed him by the shoulder, and he used some language on me that I wouldn't want to repeat."

The picture clarifies: Rodney's dignity had been assaulted, bodily. I can feel it in myself, this recoil from an adult force, physically superior and fired with authoritarian righteousness. I make an effort to extract myself from this whirlpool of helplessness. I am, after all, an adult, moreover a teacher. Caught between warring forces, all I want is a quick peace. My thinking is that if we throw a bone to the aggressor she will return to her territory and we to ours, where I can come to a separate understanding with Rodney. "O.K. Rodney," I say, my voice stem for the benefit of my fellow teacher, "You know what the rules are. Never talk back to a teacher, and certainly no profanity. I want you to write that a hundred times and have it ready for Ms. _____ by the end of the day."

He gives me a look of betrayal, "But wait a minute, Mr. McMahon - she grabbed me. I don't let anyone do that"

"Good for you," I say to myself. Out loud, I say, "You've still broken the rules. I want those sentences."

"I won't do them," he says flatly.

"Then I guess you'll need to talk about it with the principal." "Great I want her to hear about this."

Again, I have to admire his pluck, even though I know he is doomed. The principal is going to back up her teachers, just as I am expected to back up Ms. _____. I catch my colleague's eye: There's a small, acid, conspiratorial smile. I'm sick at heart.

An hour later Rodney is back with a note from the principal saying he's going home, suspended. It's all been so predictable, all so tragic. Suspended just before the Christmas party and the exchange of gifts and cards, all for a lousy piece of candy. Or rather because at the moment of crisis I panicked, took a position, sided with power, put loyalty to authority over loyalty to a child.  I could - had I been more confident in my status in the school's hierarchy - have sided with Rodney, humiliating my colleague. How sweet it would have been, protecting a young male from a raging, devouring female energy! But that, too, would have been a misstep, off the mark of compassionate dialogue, and just as productive of further oppressive karma.

"If only I had . . ." - the tape plays over and over as I drive home that night. If only I could have contained it all, both positions and the moment, not been pressured into a quick peace by my own low threshold for tension. If I'd refrained from imposing punishment on the spot, stayed uncommitted, later I could have heard Rodney out; I could have shared with my colleague what I've learned over the course of the year of working with this volatile, in many ways admirable, boy.

Talking these regrets through later with a friend and fellow educator, he reminds me, "So much gets thrown at you every day, you just have to let some if it slide. Chalk it up as something learned for the next time."

Thich Nhat Hanh's words in the Third Precept of the Order of Interbeing return to me: "Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever to adopt our view. However through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness." I feel I've practiced this precept with my students, facilitating discussions on the war, having them write letters to the President, steering them toward background information on the Middle East, scrupulously avoiding judgment of any position. It's not so hard, I find, to keep my balance with children. But as I approach the issue of the poster, as I must, with a peer, my confidence wavers. I'll say this, and she'll say that, and I'll come back with such and such . . . and we'll never talk again: so goes the scenario. But the urgency of the times doesn't permit indulgence in these old habits. I can't teach peace to my kids, and turn around and engage in war with my peers. How then do I take issue with my colleague's forcing her view of the war on her students, without forcing my own view on her? The parallels with the war itself are unavoidable: Saddam Hussein forces himself on Kuwait; President Bush tries to force him out. Has Bush ever stopped to consider his opponent's point of view, indeed, any point of view other than that of Imperial America? There has not, I'm startled to reflect, been a moment of dialogue since August, much less compassionate dialogue. We can all learn from this stark demonstration of how not to settle disputes. The clue I take is to ask more questions, make fewer statements; to inquire into how my adversary came to think the way she does. Surely along the way I'll learn something about how I've come to think the way I do. But even opening up dialogue on the issue is premature; the conditions for dialogue themselves need to be cultivated.

After resolving over the last few days to speak with my colleague, I knock on her door. Her face shows delighted surprise, and I realize I haven't been in her room for months. "A break from these damn report cards," she says, as she motions me to a chair. I can sec from all the papers fanned out on her desk how ensconced she is. I notice the spelling words on the blackboard, the "My Best Work" display, the profiles of Washington and Lincoln, those timeless February figures - all the evidence of a teacher doing the best she can, by the light she has. I look in her face, weary at this time of day, but pert: clearly a person using her talents to the limit, who wouldn't be doing anything else. A veteran.

"We never seem to get around to chatting anymore," I say.

"Yeah, well, we're both so busy. So how have you been?"

It might be weeks before we get around to talking about the war. I have a feeling we'll be talking about Rodney along the way, as well as many other things. The poster may well disappear before we can get around to it. Already it seems quite incidental.

Patrick McMahon is a schoolteacher in northern California.

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Spiritual Footing for Environmentalists

By Grove Burnett Ed. note: This letter to Thich Nhat Hanh was read during the sutra recitation period following morning meditation at the March 25-30 Retreat for Environmentalists in Malibu.


I have been practicing environmental law for eighteen years, representing public interest environmental organizations in five states in the Western United States, both national and grassroots, on a wide variety of issues ranging from pollution of our air and water, cutting of our ancient forests, and protection of our vanishing wildlife. Being a lawyer has offered me a strangely unique perspective that no other work in the environmental movement - or for that matter our society - can provide. Sadly, the legal profession is a pretty unwholesome gathering that practices all too diligently the universal principles of greed, hatred, and delusion! It's a challenge that continuously tests my practice.

I came to this ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness by way of the occupational hazard of this movement and all activists: bum out. I crashed, suffering a severe physical illness and a classic life crisis. In the darkest hour of all this, however, some door opened and I stumbled into a seven day Vipassana retreat with Jack Kornfield. Suddenly and with a clarity that changed my life, I understood what I was looking for: that hole inside of me that I had been trying to fill with all sorts of things during my life could only be filled by a genuine spiritual teaching and practice. I've been studying and practicing in the Vipassana tradition with Jack for the last five years, and attended your retreat two years ago where my wife, Linda, and I received the precepts.

The most compelling issue facing the environmental movement - at least the mainstream movement in this country - is its lack of spiritual footing. Without a solid spiritual foundation, the movement lacks wholeness and wisdom and the personal happiness and effectiveness of those involved is severely compromised. The environmental movement struggles desperately to ground itself on something other than standard political and social rhetoric; without a genuine spiritual grounding, however, it is largely rootless, casting about for a center. We all know and feel that the present environmental destruction is unjust and unacceptable, yet we tilt about trying to fit those feelings into inadequate political frameworks. What we are really searching for is a deeper religious and spiritual framework in which to articulate and act on these feelings.  This lack of solid spiritual footing means that we involved in the struggle suffer, on a personal basis. Too often - I see this with all my colleagues all over the country - environmentalists operate from a level of panic and crisis in our mission to rescue the planet. We become warriors battling in a war zone - confronting one impending disaster and crisis after another, trying to save the planet. The results, of course, are predictable: being dedicated soldiers we take no time for our own personal and spiritual nourishment and our lives, health, families, friendships suffer and sometimes break apart under the tension.

In addition, our effectiveness to effect change and relieve suffering is severely compromised as we push ourselves harder, sacrificing our lives for saving the planet, until often we are consuming enormous amounts of time and energy with meager results. The consequence of reduced effectiveness is one that comes with the terrain of being a dedicated, angry activist who has no spiritual place of rest and healing. When we work in the panic zone we begin to think that the best and only strategy is to put other people into the panic zone. Clear thinking and wisdom, of course, are not characteristics of the panic zone and does not produce quality actions or work.

As my personal practice has deepened I have recognized that the mentality of a warrior is not the appropriate model or course for the environmental movement. We don't need warriors - and we certainly don't need more lawyers. What we need are guardians - guardians committed to the middle path of mindfulness and dedicated to the enormous task of restoring and healing our ravaged planet. Guardians who have penetrated the anthropocentric notions of our civilization and who, as Aldo Leopold said, can begin to "think like a mountain" and acknowledge that we are only "plain members of the biotic community."


Grounding our engagement in a spiritual practice offers us the extraordinary opportunity - which has been confirmed in my own life - to find a middle way. Instead of reeling from one crisis to the next, motivated by anger and outrage towards those we deem responsible for the precipitous state of the planet, this practice, with its profoundly spiritual grounding, can bring us to a path of equanimity and peace about what we are doing. This is a profound teaching. We cannot heal our ravaged planet unless we have the ability to heal ourselves. True healing only comes with the surrender of stepping on a spiritual path. Unfortunately the environmental movement does not have a spiritual path.

Stepping upon the spiritual path, especially the path of mindfulness, has immense rewards for environmentalists and all activists who are committed to active engagement in our society. We environmentalists are frequently overwhelmed by the magnitude of the global environmental crisis and the enormity of the task to restore and heal this fragile planet of ours. Tending to our own healing and spiritual work should be a matter of the highest priority. If environmentalists connect with the profound spiritual dimension of our work, we will be able to acknowledge the need for healing ourselves - not just the planet we are frantically and desperately fighting to preserve.

For myself, the effects of a spiritual practice have been truly rewarding. Not only has my own personal suffering diminished as I have attended to my own healing, but, most surprisingly to me, my effectiveness as an advocate in the movement has increased dramatically. I did not enter upon this path and take this teaching to become more effective in my work - it was the furthest consideration from my mind. I embarked on this journey to heal my battle scared and weary soul and body. The gift of this path, however, has been not only the personal healing, but increased effectiveness in the world.

Grove Burnell is an environmental attorney in New Mexico.

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Mountains and Flowers

By Jacqueline Kramer When I sent in a check to secure our reservations for a family retreat I envisioned sharing lots of quality time with my daughter. I pictured us sitting together, eating together, healing together. I was so happy to have a chance to share the precious jewel of Buddhism with my only child. My daughter, Nicole, age 11, had been hurting terribly for the past few years. I wanted to put a balm on her wounds and provide her with the tools she would need that would enable her to rebuild her self-esteem in a world that could be confusing and hurtful.

We had great fun Easter Sunday when we took the train from Martinez to Santa Barbara. It was her birthday, so I packed little presents for her to open along the way. The ride was harmonious, if somewhat dominated by her electronic video game toy. We arrived in Le Casa De Maria at night and settled into our dormitory room - its sole occupants. We awoke to a foggy morning and a smattering of early retreatants eating pancakes at the dining room. After breakfast, Nicole and I walked back to the dorm to get ourselves organized. Nicole was lying on the bed when I approached to invite her for a walk. She was crying. "Nobody likes me here. I want to go home." I was stunned at this sudden unhappiness and made the mistake of trying to talk her out of it. I got so frustrated I knew I needed to go out for a walk to clear my heart. While walking out my frustration, I met up with a girl Nicole's age and invited her to come meet Nicole. The two girls went off together for a walk in the orange grove.

As the retreat commenced, Nicole was less and less in my presence. She wasn't interested in coming to the meditations or the walking, or the talks. She didn't want to eat with me or spend free time with me. She was pouring her energy into making new friends and doing God knows what when her new friends were participating with the rest of the community and she was by herself.

I watched mothers sitting with their children, I watched the children up close to Thay drinking in his words, I watched the adults being like mountains and the children being like flowers on the mountains. I longed to share this with my daughter. I knew that forcing her to participate would only create more rebellion so I just watched the longing, the anger, and the wanting. I wanted her to hear what Thay was saying about enfolding anger with loving aims, I wanted her to hear what the gentle sister was saying about sexuality and its place in a loving context. All the hurts Nicole was feeling were being addressed, but she was too withdrawn to drink this medicine.

I let go. I let go of trying to direct Nicole's healing. I felt the support of a community of loving, mindful people. They were there for us if we needed them. We were safe. I could finally relax and let go of my daughter knowing that if she fell, there was a whole community of people to help her get back on her feet again. I was beginning to trust that Nicole was taking care of her own healing even if it looked to me as if she was drifting and lost.


The last day of the retreat was sunny and flowerful as Thay and the community walked to a field to celebrate Buddha's birthday. We gathered around a statue of the baby Buddha on the fresh green grass and sang songs of simplicity and awareness. After three breaths, I looked up and there was Nicole standing next to Thay. His arm was around her, and she was singing with the rest of the community.

Later that day, we were in our hotel room preparing for dinner. I walked into the bathroom and there in the tub was my sweet Buddha child singing, "I vow to develop understanding in order to protect the lives of people, animals, and plants." My eyes filled with tears to witness the healing I longed and prayed for which had come about in its own mysterious way without effort on my part. I had simply become a mountain amongst mountains - solid and present, unmoving in my commitment to love, water amongst raindrops - sprinkling wishes for happiness and unlimited space, trusting that with freedom, air, and sunshine, the plant would repair itself. The precious tulip flower child drank in the air and sun and water and became fresh and new again.

Jacqueline Kramer lives in Sonoma County, California.

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Wise Parenting

By Fred Bender On two beautiful afternoons during the April Santa Barbara Retreat for Young People and Families, some fifteen adults held an informal discussion on the topic, "Spiritual Practices Within Families." Quite magically, this group jelled immediately. People spoke from their hearts and many deeply moving experiences were shared. We then met a second time to share ideas in the search for that elusive quality I'll call "wise parenting."

It was widely agreed that the key to inspiring interest in spiritual practice is to elicit children's interest rather than to impose parental beliefs. Many people agreed that experience shows that children more readily follow what you do, not what you say (a reminder of the importance of Right Speech, Right Action, and how the two are related). Parents need to get their own spiritual act together if they expect their children also to want to practice. We emphasized the importance of not becoming anxious if our children don't want to practice. Even if they don't practice themselves, they will learn from us indirectly. Trust the children and let go. If they do come down the path, they will do so at their own speed and in their own time. The big question, of course, was how to help children want to enter the Path.

Under the trees and blue afternoon sky, we shared the following ideas which have helped our children develop an interest in spiritual practice:

  • keeping an altar and having a few small religious rituals, such as the bell of mindfulness, incense, and candles
  • sharing with our children our understanding of what meditation is for and why it is important. Someone suggested the book, Spinning Inward, by Maureen Murdock, which deals with guided imaging as a gentle way to get children interested in meditation.
  • at dinnertime, talking about the food on our plates; honoring the food and all those who helped bring it to us
  • holding family ecological rituals, such as recycling and cutting six-pack rings and using them to bring out the meaning of interbeing.
  • reading the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of lnterbeing and discussing them with our children.
  • showing how an understanding of the dharma and practicing can help children deal with their real needs. For example, one parent described how she and her son started the "Young Adults Peace Project," which helps young men learn about their rights under Selective Service. In time, the boys' understanding deepened and they began meditating and reciting the precepts together.
  • visiting places where spiritual traditions are still intact.

We also discussed some of the following experiences that have helped us become wiser parents:

  • establishing a family forgiveness ritual
  • starting a "family council" to give everyone the chance to speak from the heart. Tips for making the council a success include having the leadership of the meetings rotate, creating the agenda together in advance, if only by posting a notice for people to write in agenda items as they arise. Another helpful technique is the use of a ritual object to empower speakers and require silence of everyone else.
  • allowing kids to tell you to stop and letting them go to another room
  • remembering that children carry inside them real suffering
  • developing the art of listening. After all the blaming comes out, ask "What's really going on?" If your child won't open up to you, take him or her out to dinner or to a provocative movie. Acknowledging our own feelings to our children can encourage them to feel safe to open up. Saying "I'm sorry" can be a mind-blowing modeling of humility and compassion.
  • expressing our feelings in positive statements - for example, "I love you and I will never leave you." "I love you the way you are, not for what you do." "I'm glad you are a little boy/girl. You are exactly the child I need" Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book, How to Talk So Children Will Listen, was cited as a helpful resource.

I hope the above conveys some of the flavor of this very exciting exchange of views among the participants, and that it may be of use as we continue on the parenting path.

Fred Bender lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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New Mindfulness Verse

During the Spring Lectures and Retreats, Thich Nhat Hahn has been suggesting we use this gatha:


Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.


Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.

Breathing out, I feel fresh.


Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.

Breathing out, I feel solid.


Breathing in, I see myself as still as water.

Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.


Breathing in, I see myself as space.

Breathing out, I feel free.


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Simply Being Present

I use the exercises in The Miracle of Mindfulness daily and have recently begun to use the gathas in Present Moment, Wonderful Moment. Reading these books has had some interesting effects on my everyday life. Recently, I helped instruct a dear friend in how to make leather purses for his two young daughters. All went well until the time came for us to dye the leather. The leather dyed improperly, making a terrible mess. I promised my friend I would take the leather back to the shop where we bought it and seek advice on how to remedy the situation. The leather store was a large, dingy warehouse. I walked into the store and found the owner and three others packing crates for shipping. I told them I needed help to correct a problem with my leather. The owner growled, "I'll look at it, but you'll have to stand over here by me while l work. We're busy." Just then  the phone rang for him. He stomped by me and walked the fifty or sixty feet to the front of the store to answer the call. I stood in the somber place and wished I could just leave. I dreaded having to be near such an unpleasant person and having to ask him for help. If I had not been there for my friend, I might have just walked out.

But then I decided that I might be able to change the situation by changing myself. I recited the gatha, "I take refuge in the Buddha; the Buddha takes refuge in me. I take refuge in the Dharma; the Dharma takes refuge in me. I Lake refuge in the Sangha; the Sangha takes refuge in me." I did this several times and became completely at peace. The owner hung up the phone and started back towards me, still scowling. As he came closer to me his scowl slowly vanished. When he reached me he smiled just slightly and said, "Come with me and I'll see what I can do." He worked on my leather for more than twemy minutes, trying several solutions and finally finding a way to fix it. He handed me new dye and leather to replace the bad leather we had used for the purses. When I reached for my wallet to pay him, he shook his head and said, "No, I'm giving this to you. I hope you have Better luck this time." I left the warehouse with spirits soaring. By simply being there, doing nothing, I achieved my purpose.

On my morning and evening walks with my dogs I practice walking meditation and breathing, trying to be aware of everything around me. Sometimes as I breathe outward, I chant "om mani padme hum." The other morning I was chanting when suddenly, without a thought about it, 1 felt an incredible sensation of being loved by Buddhist monks who were a long way away in space and time. The feeling was palpable, as if their arms were around me in a loving embrace. I was overcome by emotion and began to weep. But as I stood on my street in the midst of tears, I returned the love to the universe with the intention that they would receive it, no matter where they might have been at the time.

I have no idea how or why this experience happened to me. However, it now has a special meaning, as I am not a monk or member of any order and I do not practice with a local sangha. So when saying the prayer I have thought of those friends who are on a spiritual quest with me. But now, after this special experience, I feel as if I am somehow connected on some spiritual level to a sangha somewhere. I take refuge in them, and I ask them to take refuge in me.

Jerry Davis Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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Beginning Mindfulness Practice

In 1988 I was in the midst of a difficult period of my life and needing all the help I could get. A newspaper book review directed me to Being Peace, and from there I found The Miracle of Mindfulness and Interbeing. The precepts of the Order of Interbeing seemed to fit my needs and the instructions to observe sixty days of mindfulness per year intrigued me. At the time I was living by myself and in control of my schedule so it was possible to devote one day a week - to a practice of silence without the use of motors or electronic devices. I tried to follow in detail the guide in The Miracle of Mindfulness. I discovered just how powerful this practice can be. During this time which lasted about six months I would set aside one day a week - usually Thursday, occasionally Friday (much like the Biblical commandment to "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.")

The power of the practice was remarkable. The difficulties in my life were dissipated and converted from stressful times into "wonderful moments. "The major problems in my life at the time were resolved.

The 1989 Spring retreat in the Washington area with Thich Nhat Hanh produced insights that showed ways around the conflict between mindfulness and the demands of an externally structured time schedule. Therese Fitzgerald suggested that the "all or none" mind could be transformed into "let's do what we can do." Starting with half a day of mindfulness per week is superior to doing nothing because you have external commitments every day of the week.

Since the 989 retreat, I have experimented with a number of approaches to the problem of busyness. All of these experiments have involved mindfulness on Sunday, Monday or both. The practice has led me to the notion that every day should be a Day of Mindfulness. Electronic entertainment and news is turned off. Meditation in a group has always been more powerful for me than solitary meditation, so I've been attending the local meeting of the Society of Friends on Sunday afternoons. The commitment to total silence has been replaced with a commitment to minimal talking.

If it is possible to work out one day a week of silence and devoted mindfulness, this is the best practice in my experience. The practice of mindfulness without total silence on two days is also very refreshing. It would be very useful to me to hear of the efforts of others who are attempting to follow the practice of the core community of the Order of Interbeing by observing sixty days of retreat and intensive practice yearly.

Ralph Dougherty Tallahassee, Florida

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Being on Time

Usually we use our awareness of time to justify a rushed quality in our lives - that there is not "enough" time. We look at our watch and say to ourselves, "I'm late. I'm behind. I don't have the time to be peaceful and enjoy the present moment." mb4-Being

The following verse can help us make our "time watching" an opportunity to breathe and smile, as we see the clock face as the face of the Buddha, smiling at us, reminding us of our true nature.

Looking at the clock I see the clock smiling at me. It is time to breathe peacefully; Time to smile.

Jackson Metcalf Salem, Virginia

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Commuter Gathas

Morning Rush Hour Although the sun is rising high in the sky, and cars and buses rush toward work everywhere. I am not anxious about events of the day. My real work is here, in the present moment.

Evening Rush Hour

Now that the sun is beginning to set, homebound traffic surges toward narrow highways. I walk city streets and breathe in mindfully, already at home in the present moment.

Jack Lawlor Evanston, Illinois

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Gathering Strength

I finally found a way to do walking meditation in the center of my town. It's a secret plot. It's happening, and no one knows that's what we're doing. We walk silently on Friday mornings from 8:00-9:00 at the town square in Concord to remember the Earth and its beauty, the absolute worth of each human being, our sons and daughters, and the world we leave to them. We walk to remember that war is a tragedy, whether we believe its cause to be just or unjust And to remember its costs - human lives, in physical, emotional, and psychological wounding in environmental consequences, and in financial resources that could otherwise be used for human human betterment. We walk to gather and renew the strength of spirit to continue the difficult work of dialogue and discussion - even in a time of war. Truly it has been very healing and renewing to walk slowly with a group of friends and strangers during this very difficult time.

Anne Yeomans Concord, Massachusetts

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Legacies of the Vietnam War

By Cao Ngoc Phuong and Therese Fitzgerald During the tumultuous past months, it has been very telling to note the juxtaposition of the many programs, such as Vietnam: A Television History, and Phan's War, along with news and programs about the war in the Persian Gulf. We still have so many wounds within our own society, within Vietnam, and beyond to care for. Now we have the wounds of the Gulf War to attend to.

Our aim with the committees to help the hungry in Vietnam is first of all to become intimate with people in Vietnam who suffer from the lack of such a basic necessity as food. Out of this awareness, we are moved to find ways to alleviate the suffering of the hungry, homeless, and displaced persons. We are uniquely suited to learn from, and respond to, people in even remote areas of Vietnam, thanks to the great network of friends and social workers of Sister Cao Ngoc Phuong and Thich Nhat Hanh.


Of course, the devastation of Vietnam's population, land, and economy during the war with the United States and since has left deep scars. The United States still has an embargo on all economic exchanges with Vietnam. Many of the people we assist in Vietnam are people who are suffering very directly from physical, psychological, and political wounds from the Vietnam War. Letters, such as the following one from a social worker, keep us in touch with their struggle:

When we received the money you sent, our hands trembled as we held it. We have been involved in relief work since 1975, and never before have we received such a large sum of money. During the last ten or fifteen years, I have invited a few friends along with me to repair houses in villages struck by hurricanes. We give massages, relief care, and prepare herbal medicine for the sick. Sometimes, when I see my countrymen starving, I cannot hold back my tears. In the past, you have sent me enough money to help only two or three small villages. But this time, with more money, I was able to reach many more families, among them twenty of the hungriest and neediest in Dong Hoi, where three people had already died. We reached fifteen families in Gio Linh, seven families in the village of Huong Chu, five orphaned families in the village of Huang Chu, nine families in Le Kho with children who had died from hunger, and eight families in Vien Pho. All of them received the gift that you collected from various meditation students all over the world and sent to me.

Dear friends, if only you could have seen the light of astonishment and deep emotion in the villagers' eyes when I brought the money to them and placed it in their hands.  Tears of joy could be seen on all the old people, all the parents of children who are like skeletons because they have no milk or rice; all the fathers who are in good health but wholly powerless because they do not even have the dried strips of manioc mixed with weeds and banana skins to give their wives and children to eat.

I am sure you will feel happiness and gnawing pity at the same time as I do when I look at the naked children, lips purple, shivering in the biting cold wind, and when I can bring a half-smile and a little hope to them. We suffer because we see our work is so minimal, like a drop of water in the desert.

In 1990, the committees worldwide who help with this work, sent parcels of aid to many families with handicaps (including victims of napalm, blindness, leprosy), as well as many families that were victims of natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, etc.). Financial assistance was sent to medical teams that serve many remote villages in Vietnam, including Dong Nai, Binh Long, Nha Trang, and Binh Dinh. Also to support the boat people still detained in refugee camps in Southeast Asia, we sent assistance three times during the year to four camps in Hong Kong, one camp in Thailand, two camps in Malaysia.  We offered spiritual support to refugees in the Galang Camp in Indonesia and the Palawan Camp in the Philippines (by sending books and tapes of dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnamese). To support the writers, artists, monks, and nuns who are in jail in Vietnam, we sent financial and material assistance to them. Six childcare centers in Ho Chi Minh City received aid from our committees. These centers provide dinners and shelter for street children at night and day care for children of poor, working parents.

During the Retreat for Young People and Families this past month in Santa Barbara, we devoted one day to contemplating the casualties of the wars in the Persian Gulf and in Vietnam. We listened to a representative of the Fellowship of Reconciliation "Civilian Casualties Fund" speak about the devastation for the Kuwaiti and Iraqi people. Over $1,000 was collected to help support the victims of the Gulf War, and another $1,000 to help support the victims of the Vietnam War. We also prepared thirty負wo parcels of medical supplies to send to desperately needy people in Vietnam. It was wonderful to hear the questions and comments of the young people as they learned about a life quite different from their own here i n America, while they packed and taped up the parcels.

In the evening, we made a procession, chanting the "Two Promises" of understanding and compassion, to the swimming pool where we floated handmade wood and crepe paper boats in remembrance of the boat people, the victims of the Hiroshima bomb, and others who have suffered because of poverty and war.

Human Rights Situation

The news that the monk, Venerable Thich Quang Do has been given back his freedom (a government report from Hanoi sent to an Australian Senator) is completely wrong. The most recent letter we received was sent on October 11, 1990, and the news is "Thay Quang Do is still sick [which is code-language for 'in prison'] and he urgently needs medicine. I am getting more and more worried about him."

The Venerable Huyen Quang is still in exile in Quang Ngai with no likelihood of his being allowed to return. Thay Tue Sy is still held in prison A-20, in a remote part of Thy Hoa. Thay Tri Sieu, and the writer Doan Quoc Sy are still being held in Xuan Loe, but it is reported that the government has tightened up on them since the first of January, and life in the prison is now very difficult with severe hard labor. The two writers and scholars are no longer allowed to do the translation work they did during their first months in this camp. The Venerable Due Nhuan is still being held in Ham Tan, and has just recovered from a serious illness, which some people thought he would never recover from. Thay Tue Sy is no longer allowed to see anyone except his closest relatives - which is impossible because his father has died and his mother lives in Laos. He is reported to be as thin as bamboo, although his eyes still shine brilliantly.


The Situation of the Boat People

The situation of those who are being held in refugee camps as prisoners is desperate. In Hong Kong last December, there was another case of

self-immolation. Boat people are being refused the right to dock not just in Hong Kong, but everywhere. A heartless and unjust system of screening has disqualified great numbers of boat people from the category of political refugees." Many people were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor in 1982 because they resisted the regime in Vietnam, but they are not determined to be political refugees because they do not have papers from the government confirming this fact, as the screening system demands. There are many hands silently working in Plum Village to supply the screening authorities with such letters of confirmation for each case. Work like this is as minimal as a few drops of rain on a vast desert, but until now, Plum Village did not know what more to do. Ecole Sans Frontieres, based in France, is looking for volunteers to go to the camps in Malaysia to teach Vietnamese to the Vietnamese children there because they are afraid the day will come when they are sent back. If these children cannot read or write in their native language, it will be very difficult for them. Plum Village sent cassette tapes of Thay's talks in Vietnamese to all the refugee camps and a small number of books. We have heard that in all the camps, which have able monks and nuns, the refugees learn sitting and walking meditation, and tea meditations are also organized.

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Pilgrimage to Plum Village

By Anne Cushman Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation community in the south of France is an abode of harmony, peace, and ethnic diversity.

As I drive through the vineyards, chateaux, and sunflower fields of southwestern France, en route to Plum Village, I find myself briefly wondering why I'm going there for my vacation. Wouldn't I really rather be exploring the nearby medieval town of St. Emilion, famous for its macaroons? Or sampling Bordeaux wines? Or slathering Camembert onto French bread while lounging topless on some beach? But after five minutes in Plum Village, all doubts vanish. This is clearly not a monastery - children race about laughing and calling to each other in Vietnamese, French, and English; grey-haired women chatter in Vietnamese as they prepare rice and vegetables in the communal kitchcn; a group of teenagers sit under a tree playing sitars. But permeating all this activity is a sense of peace and simplicity that I find deeply refreshing after a week of frenzied tourism.

My introduction to the spirit of this unique practice center comes as I'm signing in. When the office telephone rings, no one jumps to answer it.  Instead, everyone within earshot - children, monks, nuns, visitors from around  the world - stop moving, stop talking, smile, and take three deep, slow breaths. Only then does the office manager pick up the receiver. Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of Plum Village, permitted the installation of a telephone only on the condition that it be treated this way - as one of the many "mindfulness bells" that ring throughout the day to remind practitioners to return their joyful attention to the present moment. During silent meals, a small bell invites mindfulness every few mouthfuls; in daily Dharma talks, a large bowl-shaped bell periodically reminds teacher and students to stop talking and breath; gongs ring out over the plum orchards to call practitioners to meditation, tea ceremonies, and festivals. After several days of pausing for these bells, even digital watch alarms and distant car horns start to seem part of their chorus.

This interweaving of practice and daily living is the essence of Plum Village, founded in the early 1980s to fulfill Nhat Hanh's decades-old dream of a community where people involved in the work of social transformation could come for rest and spiritual nourishment. Known to his students as Thay (a Vietnamese title pronounced "tie"), Nhat Hanh is the author of numerous books on Buddhist practice, including the popular Being Peace and The Miracle of Mindfulness. Exiled from his native Vietnam because of his antiwar activities, he finally established his spiritual oasis on 75 acres of land in the wine country east of Bordeaux. In exchange for a home, Vietnamese refugees helped to clean and renovate the beautiful, rustic, 18th century stone farm buildings and to construct additional cinderblock structures. Currently, only a handful of residents stay year-round, studying Buddhism, working to help Vietnamese refugees and political prisoners, and tending the 1,250 plum trees (whose crop, they hope, will earn money to send medicine to Vietnam). But for one month each summer, the community is open to the public, and nearly 800 visitors (about half Vietnamese and half Westerners) come to practice. This month is by no means a grueling meditation retreat. (Nhat Hanh likes to use the word "treat," rather than "retreat," to describe a gathering of Buddhist practitioners.) Instead, the emphasis is on learning skills for bringing mindfulness into everyday life. Family practice is central, and children are wholeheartedly encouraged to participate in all activities, including meditation, tea ceremonies, and Dharma talks. (Typically, the first ten minutes of every talk is directed to the children, who then play outside for the rest of the talk.)

This emphasis on family practice creates a unique atmosphere at Plum Village - a curious fusion of monastery and summer camp. One evening, for example, we are guided through a version of the classic Buddhist meditation on impermanence and death. While we sit in half lotus and visualize our loved ones' bodies turning purple, rolling, and disintegrating, we can hear the happy shrieks of children playing volleyball outside the meditation hall. The daily schedule at Plum Village begins and ends with seated meditation. Daily Dharma talks by Nhat Hanh alternate among English, French and Vietnamese and are simultaneously translated through headphones into the other two languages. Each day Nhat Hanh also leads walking meditation, a slow silent excursion through the orchards, fields, and woods, past magnificent vistas of rolling hills and golden acres of sunflowers. During my visit, we often pause in a clearing during walking meditation to sing songs (in French, English, and Vietnamese) about how wonderful it is to breath, smile, and walk.

One of the missions of Plum Village is to help exiled Vietnamese families keep their cultural legacy alive as well as share it with Westerners.  Frequent performances, festivals, and ceremonies celebrate the Vietnamese heritage. One day, the children make star-shaped lanterns out of bamboo and brightly colored tissue paper to celebrate the Full Moon Festival. Another evening, teenagers perform traditional Vietnamese music and dance. Accommodations are spartan - shared dormitory rooms with bare walls and narrow cots - and many visitors choose instead to pitch their own tents on the property. Practitioners are asked to participate in daily chores, including cleaning, gardening, and helping to prepare the communal vegetarian meals. However, ample time is allotted for relaxation, making friends, quiet contemplation - and even an occasional outing to a nearby lake.


No matter what the activity, visitors are gently reminded to perform it with joy and awareness. For me, the spirit of Plum Village is epitomized by the carved wooden sign beside the walking mediation path: "The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, a gentle wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms."

Anne Cushman is assistant editor of Yoga Journal. Reprinted with permission from Yoga Journal, 2054 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704. ©1991 Yoga Journal.

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