#08 Spring 1993

Dharma Talk: Cultivating Our Deepest Desire

By Thich Nhat Hanh When a woman becomes pregnant, something happens in her body, mind, and heart. The presence of the baby in her transforms her life, and a new energy arises that allows her to do things she normally could not do. She smiles and trusts humanity and the world more, and she becomes a source of joy and hope for many others. Even when she experiences morning sickness or other adversi­ties, deep within her, an inner peace, a deep source of satisfaction, has been awakened.

Thich Nhat Hanh

We who practice meditation also need to become "pregnant"—pregnant with the desire for enlightenment. A seed that has been buried in us for many years, under layers of suffering, sorrow, and forgetfulness, needs to be touched, and when it is, transformation occurs right away. In Mahayana Buddhism, this seed is called "the mind of enlightenment," bodhicitta, the capacity to become a buddha. The moment we get in touch with this capacity, people will see joy, energy, and hope in us, and everything we do or say will manifest its presence.

We have many desires—the desire to be happy, to be enlightened, to discover, to understand, and to bring happiness to other people. Desire has very much to do with our practice. We want something, we aspire to it. If you smoke, you know what I mean. When you need a cigarette, you feel it. First of all, you know you lack something, but you don't know what it is. This is a desire, but not the deepest kind. When you find out what it is—"I need a cigarette. I will not be really happy until I have one"—it is a kind of enlightenment, although a shallow one. When we are motivated by the desire to awaken our deepest understanding, we become a bodhisattva right away, and everything we do or say will be an expression of that desire.

The seed of our deepest desire lies in the depths of our consciousness. We may not be aware of it in the upper level of our consciousness, because it is still buried in the lower part, the "store consciousness," and we have not been able to touch it. But when someone—a friend, a lover, a teacher, an aunt—provokes in us the possibility that we can become pregnant with bodhicitta, we are motivated to get in touch with it. The words "conviction," "resolve," and "determination" mean that we are motivated to find out what we really want, not just on the surface but deep down. Deep down we have the need to love, to be loved, to make people happy, and to understand the reality of life inside us and all around us. For the practitioner, especially in the Mahayana tradition, the first task is to find out what is our deepest desire.

How can we know and get in touch with it? We may need the help of a sangha or a teacher. We may think other things are important, but our true love, our deepest desire, is always the most important. If we find out how to touch it, it will be there with us all the time. We will only need to feed and nourish it, like a baby. When we are pregnant, we know our baby is there, and everything we eat and do nourishes our baby. Motivated by our deepest desire, we do it effortlessly. When we see a dharma brother or sister who is in touch with his or her deepest desire, we see great joy, energy, and happiness, even if that person is only a beginner in the practice.

When we are not in touch with our motivation, even if we struggle to make a lot of effort, even if we torture ourselves and make ourselves suffer, concentration will not come easily. It is much better not to fight, but to touch our deepest desire and concentrate on that. When that desire is strong in us, the concentration needed to realize real awakening arises effortlessly. Whether we are eating, drinking, walking, or washing dishes, even when we think we are not very concentrated, we are concentrated. Scientists and philosophers who are concentrated on their special subjects also have this kind of desire. One philosopher named Diogenes was so absorbed in his topic of concentration that when he went out during the day, he wasn't aware it was day and he lit his lamp as if it were night. He was very much one with his subject, although at that moment he was not very mindful of his own body. When we touch our deepest desire, concentration will come easily and stay with us for a long time. We will be in constant concentration, not only in the meditation hall, but in the bathroom, the backyard, the kitchen, while shopping, and so on. Otherwise the concentration we acquire during practice will be shallow, and we will have to struggle for even that.

In the Zen tradition, the teacher's role is to help the student touch his or her deepest desire. To do that, the teacher must understand the student. After observing the student for one, two, or three years, the teacher may propose a kung an (koan), and if the teacher and student succeed, after the transmission of the kung an, the student becomes really pregnant of that kung an. But successes like this do not happen every day. Both teacher and student need the right opportunity and also enough luck.

The teacher has to practice looking deeply in order to understand the student. Out of that kind of relationship, one day he may be able to give a kung an that is suitable for the student. Then the student has something to work with, a baby within him or herself. When the student is pregnant with his kung an, his practice is only to nourish that kung an—nothing else. In daily life, when he practices sweeping the floor or washing the dishes, these things have the power of nourishing the kung an. When he hears the bell of mindfulness, he practices breathing in and out, concentrating on the bell. He appears not to be concentrating on the kung an at all, just the sound of the bell and breathing in and out. But that is a dualistic way of seeing things. When the student practices listening to the bell deeply, the concentration that is generated penetrates into his store consciousness, bringing energy and support to nourish the kung an. Not only while listening to the bell, but while doing any­thing, he or she will practice motivating the best seeds in the store consciousness to come and nourish the baby.

The object of concentration while you practice listening to the bell is the sound of the bell, the in-breath, and the out-breath. But, at the same time, it is also the kung an within yourself. Without listening deeply to the bell, you will find that your kung an has no chance to grow. Whether proposed by a teacher or discovered by the student directly, the kung an needs to grow and develop in the store consciousness. It is the duty of the student to bury the kung an deep in the store conscious­ness. Mind consciousness needs to let the kung an reach store consciousness and not just play with it. Mind consciousness is the gardener; store consciousness is the garden that brings forth the flower of understanding. Entrust your kung an to your store consciousness. You have to have faith in your store consciousness.

If the kung an is a real one, it will touch the deepest level of your being, and you won't need to make any additional effort for it to be to object of your concentra­tion, just as a mother-to-be does not need to make a special effort to be aware of the presence of the baby in her. Waking up in the morning, she knows she is pregnant, and she smiles to her baby. If you are strug­gling to be mindful, it is because you are not one with the object of your concentration, your kung an. Be pregnant with a wonderful baby, and you will know what to do. The deep desire to understand, love, and be loved is bodhicitta, the mind of the highest understanding. When you have that within you, you are a Bodhisattva, filled with energy to understand and to help. Mindful­ness is energy. A Zen student who is practicing with a true, living kung an is very concentrated, mindful of his kung an twenty-four hours a day, even while sleeping. Then one morning when he wakes up, the fruit of practice may be there, offered up by his store conscious­ness.

When you are pregnant, you trust your body. You know it has the power of healing, of nourishing your baby. Your mind consciousness is the gardener that has to bury the kung an deep in the soil of the store con­sciousness. After that, you take care and do everything in your power to help bring about a healthy birth. You practice concentration twenty-four hours a day. Breath­ing, walking, eating, drinking, or hugging—everything is to nourish the kung an within you.

When someone you love comes to visit, you are so happy. You try your best to keep her with you—one or two hours, or longer—because you know that with her there you are truly happy. But when your love is bodhicitta, your true kung an, you don't have to detain her. She will stay with you wherever you go. True mindfulness is present twenty-four hours a day. Even if people come and talk to you, you are still concentrated. When a book is interesting, you don't need to make an effort to pay attention. But if it is not interesting, concentration is difficult. When you are interested in something, when it is important to you, everything becomes interesting—a leaf, a pebble, a cloud, a pond, a child. You feel eager to look deeply into all of these things, to find out their true nature. When concentration  becomes easy and natural, it is true, effortless concentra­tion.

So if you want to succeed in the practice, make it interesting. If you are interested enough in the object of your practice, concentration will be easy, and it can touch the deepest level of your consciousness. Under­standing is a fruit of mindfulness and concentration. If you are not interested in something, you can never understand it. If you are not interested in someone, you can never understand that person. If you are interested in her deeply, you will be mindful and concentrated, and it will be easy to find out all about her.

In light of the practice in Mahayana Buddhism, the first thing to do is to produce the mind of enlightenment. Enlightenment means both understanding and love. In fact, love and understanding are the same thing, because if you don't understand, the love in you is not true love. When your love is true love, you know it is made of understanding. When the Bodhisattva produces the mind of understanding, the deepest desire in her or him to understand is touched. It means love. A good teacher, a good dharma brother or sister, is someone who can help us touch that. If someone has been able to help us do that, we should be very grateful to her.

I was nine years old the first time I was really touched by something in that way. I saw on the cover of a magazine an image of the Buddha sitting on kusha grass, very calm and relaxed. I was impressed to see someone sitting that way, looking as if he had nothing else to do. He seemed to be entirely himself. I wanted to be calm, relaxed, and happy like that, able to inspire confidence and joy in those around me. That drawing was a dharma talk for me, a dharma talk without words. The seed of peace—the desire to be peaceful, relaxed, and happy in order to be able to help others be peaceful, relaxed, and happy—was touched in me.

There is a seed like that in every little boy and girl. It is important to show children beautiful images of the Buddha. An eight or nine-year-old boy or girl can be struck by such an image and motivated to practice deeply and help people. If you have young children, you can touch that desire within your child. I remember a series of articles in that magazine on "Buddhism in the World," about practicing in society and in the family, not just in temples. Reading articles like that sparked in me the desire for awakening.

Two years later, when I was eleven, five of us—three brothers and two friends—discussed what we wanted to be in the future. One boy said, "I want to be a doctor." Another said, "I want to become a lawyer." We talked about choices like these. Then my big brother said, "I want to become a monk." This was original and new. I don't know why, but all five of us came to the conclu­sion that we wanted to be monks. For me it was easy, because I had already fallen in love with the Buddha. During our discussion, it was clear that some strong aspiration was already there in me. I did not know what it meant—being a monk was a vague idea, something about following the path of the Buddha—but I knew inside that it was what I wanted.

Six months later, our school went on a trip to Na Shun Mountain, in the northernmost province of central Vietnam. Each of us brought rice balls with sesame seeds for a picnic lunch. I had heard that there was a hermit on that mountain, and I really wanted to see him. I had met Buddhist priests, but I had never seen a hermit. I felt some affinity for him.

We walked seven miles to get to the foot of the mountain, and then we climbed up quite far. When we arrived, tired and thirsty, the hermit wasn't there. I was disappointed. I didn't understand that being a hermit meant you did not want to see too many people. So when the class stopped to eat lunch, I went off to search for the monk. I found a narrow rocky path and I tried to find the place where the hermit was hiding. I climbed for a few minutes, and suddenly, I heard water dripping. I fol­lowed the sound and discovered a beautiful, natural wellspring, clear and fresh, lined with stones. I felt so happy! When I looked into the well, I saw every detail at the bottom. I kneeled down and drank the water. It was cool and delicious. That spot was so quiet and wonderful that I felt I was meeting the hermit. I was completely satisfied; I did not need anything else. Then I lay down by the well and fell asleep. I slept for just a few minutes, but when I woke up, I didn't know where I was. It must have been a very deep sleep. Then I remembered my friends, and I began walking down. On my way, this sentence appeared in my mind, not in Vietnamese, but in French: "I have just tasted the best kind of water."

My friends had been searching for me, and they were very happy when I returned. But, during my lunch, while the other boys talked a lot, I was absorbed with the image of the well. I knew I had found the best kind of water to quench my thirst.

Nhu, my big brother, became a monk first. It was difficult for him, because our parents did not want him to do so. They thought that the life of a monk was very hard. So, although I too had that desire in me, I waited until the right moment before telling my parents. The seed continued to grow steadily in me, and four years later, thanks to my brother who did everything to help me, I became a novice at the beautiful temple Tu Hiau Temple in Central Vietnam, near the imperial city of Hue.

This essay is drawn from Thich Nhat Hanh' s first lectures of the June 1992 retreat at Plum Village on "Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Tradition." A book, Cultivating the Mind of Love, based on the complete lecture series, will be published by Parallax Press in 1994.

Photo by Karen Hagen Liste.

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From the Editors

We offer you this harvest of writings which have come to us out of the daily practice of looking deeply into the nature of the reality before us. Thich Nhat Hanh shares his experience of touching his innermost request, his deepest desire, which has fueled his extraordinary creativity in working to liberate himself and others. Thay tells how a beautiful drawing of a Buddha stirred this yearning in him when he was young. We hope you see in the photographs presented in these pages many of the beaming buddhas-to-be in our midst. Each writer's investigation into his or her own koan helps all of us remember to remember what matters the most moment-to-moment as we go through our day, and how we can respond so that we take care of our "baby," that is our life, which includes everyone and everything we touch.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Carole Melkonian, and Arnie Kotler

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The Way Ahead for Buddhism in Vietnam

The following proposal has been offered by Thich Nhat Hanh for bringing about reconciliation between the government of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Buddhists. 1. Protecting our Nation's Nature-Heritage (Preserving our Mother's Body):

As Vietnamese students of the Buddha, we make a vow to protect the wholeness of the territory of Vietnam, which means to protect the soil, the mountains, the forests, the rivers, the ocean, and the air. We vow to do everything that we can to protect the environment, to protect every species of animal and plant life in the country of Vietnam. We vow to stop the pollution and destruction of the nature-heritage of Vietnam. As Vietnamese Buddhists we call on our compatriots, our government, and all those who are friends of Vietnam anywhere in the world to make a contribution to this task of protecting the Vietnamese environment. We expect that efforts to develop agriculture and industry, investments abroad, and the exploitation of resources will be founded on the principal of protecting our nature-heritage.

The protection of life is a practice observed by all Buddhists. Life here means not only the life of human beings, but also the life of all animal, plant, and mineral species. The Diamond Sutra teaches that the human race cannot exist if there is destruction of the animal, plant, and mineral species. Anyone living anywhere on this planet, if they are aware of the state of our planet Earth at this present time, will look at the world and act in accord with this principle.

2. Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Our People (As the Bird Has its Nest, so a Person Has Ancestors).

As Vietnamese students of the Buddha, we vow to bear in mind the happiness established for us by our ancestors. We are determined not to abandon the cultural roots and traditions of our ancestors and our people. All of our cultural heritage— whether architecture (our pagodas, village meeting houses, villages, tombs, non-Buddhist temples and churches), literature, poetry, music, dance, customs, or dress—need to be respected, preserved, and cared for so that all our people, now and in the future, may be in touch with our traditional culture. We call on our compatriots, our government, and all those who are friends of Vietnam anywhere in the world to contribute their energy to this work of protecting our culture. New ways of thought, new ways of life, and new forms of religious belief should be introduced in the spirit of respecting and protecting our cultural heritage.

People of our age suffer and feel alienated because they have cut off all contact with their cultural roots. As Vietnamese Buddhists we call for a return to the source in order to rediscover a feeling of confidence in the value of our traditional culture, to foster that value, and to enrich it. An individual is not a separate, self-dependent entity, but a continuation of the ancestral line, tradition, and culture. This fact is a reflection of the awareness of the teachings of interdependent origination and selflessness in Buddhism.

Anyone whosoever living anywhere on this planet earth, if they are aware of the slate of separation and alienation of people of our time, will look at the world and act in accord with this principle.


3. Vietnamese Buddhists Have No Enemies (Only Love and Compassion Can Put an End to Hatred)

Vietnamese students of the Buddha wish to live in peace in their own hearts and at peace with all other sectors of the Vietnamese people, without discriminating according to race, creed, and ideology, as long as they all share the willingness to protect the nature and the cultural heritage of our land. As Vietnamese Buddhists, we look on every Vietnamese person as a brother or a sister and do not consider anyone to be an enemy. We make the vow to contribute to the overcoming of all rivalries and resolving all misunderstandings between different sectors of our people. We appeal for understanding and forgiveness of mistakes which we have caused each other in the past in order to contribute together to building the present and the future. It is our earnest desire to have peace and joy in our hearts by living in harmony with the Confucian, Taoist, Christian, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and any other religious traditions of our people.

Recognizing that no one is our enemy is one of the basic teachings of Buddhism. This recognition is also enshrined in all the great spiritual, humanist, and religious traditions of the world.

4. Buddhism as Engaged and Unified.

As Vietnamese students of Buddhism, we wish to have a unified congregation including all the Buddhists of Vietnam. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (founded in 1964) and the Buddhist Church of Vietnam (founded in 1981) need to unite in order to combine all the good and beautiful things that are available in these two churches. A unified church of all Vietnamese Buddhists has to be independent, autonomous, and not subject to government interference in its internal affairs.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which was founded in 1964, was one of the outstanding achievements of Vietnamese Buddhists after countless struggles which cost many tears and many lives. Such a church is truly a church of the people. Such a church has to be recognized by by the people, and by the government. The performance and the strong points of such a church must be ed wholeheartedly by a unified Buddhist congregation Buddhists in Vietnam.

5. Vietnamese Buddhism Has no Political Objective.

As The Unified Buddhist Church of all Vietnamese Buddhists is determined to stay in the field of religious practice. All the teaching and practice activities of  Vietnamese Buddhists are to heal the deep wounds of individuals, families, and society; to transform the suffering, hatred, and anger so that people will be able to accept, love, and embrace each other. We reject the path of seeking power, the manipulation of political power, or engagement in partisan politics.

6. The Real Needs of Present-Day Buddhism in Vietnam

As Vietnamese students of the Buddha, we expect the right to practice and teach in freedom as religion is practiced in the free countries of the world, which involves:

  1. The freedom to publish and circulate Buddhist sutras, books, and journals
  2. The freedom to found institutes of all levels of Buddhist studies.
  3. The freedom to found centers of study and practice for both laypeople and monks and nuns.
  4. The freedom to organize ceremonies, teachings, and sessions of practice.
  5. The freedom to practice relief work in society as a way of realizing love and compassion.
  6. Vietnamese Buddhists demand that all imprisoned monks be set free.
  7. Vietnamese Buddhists demand the return of all establishments belonging to the Unified Buddhist Church that have been confiscated.
  8. Monks and nuns have the right to go abroad in order to study, make contacts, practice, and teach.
  9. All monks, nuns, and practitioners abroad have the right to come home to Vietnam to practice and to teach.
  10. All the important figures of the Council of Elders and the Executive Council of the Unified Buddhist Church be allowed to return to their former positions of responsibility in the Unified Buddhist Church of all Vietnamese Buddhists.

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Stopping to Thank

By Au-Ha Doan In the spirit of the holidays, I wish upon the glittering stars that all my friends' days be filled with much happiness and your nights be peaceful. The Christmas atmosphere has been a mindfulness bell for me, making me much more appreciative of the quality of my life, silently thanking many, many people who have enriched it. The warmth it brings to me lasts well into the New Year and is further nourished by interacting and sharing with visiting practitioners from afar. I hope that many of you find yourselves completely refreshed to take on the New Year with gusto!

My stay at Plum Village in the past two years has helped me greatly in understanding, appreciating, and accepting myself, which in turn has helped me to understand, appreciate, and accept other people. My experience with the practice of looking deeply has strengthened my faith and confidence in the teachings of the Buddha and the presence of a practicing community. The contentment I find with my lifestyle and its present course is much more fulfilled. A basic, much-needed prerequisite to the practice of looking deeply is the willingness to stop. Stop what? Stop the urge to beat time; stop the tendency to focus on the future and forget the intermediate milestones; stop the habit of letting worries and sorrows overtake my life; stop in order to take a breather, to reconsider my needs and re-focus my energies, directing them more appropriately.


Coming to Plum Village was my action of stopping, to give myself some time to look at my past, to take an inventory of my needs, weaknesses, and strengths, and to redirect the course of my life toward something more meaningful and beneficial. My first three months were like living in a fantasy land with few worries and much, much freedom. Many beautiful memories of daily activities such as learning to make tofu, to cook (take my word ... disastrous moments were plentiful!), or times when we had to re-locate the snails and slugs from our vegetable gardens to the deep woods, or quiet times watching the little kittens grow up, play with each other, explore their new terrain. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in strengthening my interactions with people in Plum Village, I had indirectly nourished my family roots. I can now understand each of my family members better. I can see the love and care they have deserved and have been giving me all these years. This newly discovered confidence has grounded me, enabling me to take control of my life with more clarity.

The practice of looking deeply helps me in dealing with sorrows that run deep. I find that this practice is much more effective if I look deeply into little irritations and small anxieties each day. I know how my mind can trick me into blaming things on external conditions or other people. By looking deeply, I personally know that not everything taught by the Buddha or Thay can be implemented exactly the same way for everyone in all circumstances!

The practice of looking deeply has helped me appreciate the beautiful, nourishing parts of my life. It has also helped me work on "recycling" internal difficulties into more beneficial energy. I find myself starting to truly enjoy each moment of practice (although it is still not continuous), truly appreciating the gifts of nature and the presence of a practicing community. I took these for granted in the past, and now I find that I have much more to be happy about, much more to live for, much more just to be!

Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience in the practice with you. This was in itself an exercise in looking deeply in order to be able to convey the fruits of my practice to you.

Au Ha Doan, True Perfume Adornment, is a permanent resident at Plum Village. She was recently ordained as a novice nun.

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Practicing Acceptance

By Svein Myreng I was born with an organic heart disease that has limited my physical activity and more than once has brought me to the brink of death. Mental aspects of this handicap have, on the whole, been hardest to handle. The gap between my wish to be active and the limits set by my heart condition has been difficult at times, but the feeling that my disability made me worthless has been the real problem. I don't know how early in life this feeling started to grow, or why, but I think it has been with me for a long time. It probably was nourished by other people's fears and denial about disease and handicaps, and their aversion to suffering. In my teens, this feeling grew into a wish to hide my heart completely and to restrain my breath carefully, never to sound out-of-breath. I fought hard to pretend that all was well. Carrying my "dark secret," it has taken me many years of meditation to open up.

I believe this is a universal experience. The pressures from society's expectations and hopes—other people's as well as our own—shape us into patterns that do not fit. Our healthy emotional tissue gets scarred by all the cosmetic surgery that is performed on our mind.

After meeting Thay, it became clear to me that practicing acceptance is essential for healing. Acceptance is not fatalistic passivity where we believe that we just have to endure. Acceptance is to acknowledge a situation for what it is and to calm down inside of it. If we then find we can bring about change, very good! If not, then we must acknowledge and accept that. In both cases, a clear, open heart and mind are useful.

Recently I woke up with my heart beating extremely fast and out of rhythm. Though unpleasant physically, I noticed that I didn't feel the strong sense of failure that this illness has triggered in me in the past. I was able to stay calm and reasonably happy, dwelling in the present moment. This felt very satisfying and has given me further trust in mindfulness practice. It also showed that acceptance is very close to patience, one of the Six Paramitas of Mahayana teaching. Physical or mental pain often brings a burning sense of restlessness. When we can stay aware and not be carried away by it, we can be present and not make things worse by futile attempts to escape that only bring tension and conflict.

Even more useful than accepting difficult situations is accepting our own reactions to them. When our feelings and thoughts are not calm and patient, but rather angry, jealous, or petty, they are often difficult to accept. Our self-image is threatened. It is helpful to remember that thoughts and feelings arise naturally. The question is how we react to them.

The Buddha mentions three ways of reacting that create difficulties. One is escaping from an unpleasant situation into sensual pleasures or fantasy through entertainment, food, sex, or shopping. We lose important opportunities to learn how to cope with difficulties and easily become victims of the many toxins in modern culture. The second way is to cling to experiences. As everything changes, this attitude also removes us from the way things are. The third is to try to block off large parts of ourselves. With concentration, we can become aware of these habits, and they will no longer dominate us. Practicing acceptance, we can allow more of our imperfections to be visible. We can learn more about ourselves and walk more lightly through life. This also makes us more tolerant of others. We won't need to project our dark sides onto others, and we become more open-minded.

Accepting and seeing ever more subtle feelings, thoughts, and impulses can be quite a challenge. I sense how I'd like to be perfect and tend not to allow myself much leeway. I can see that both the thirst for situations to go away and the wish to be someone special bring strain and unpleasantness. Slowly, as I accept myself, I let go more and more. We can remember that our internal knots—desire, aversion, ignorance, pride, indecision—are universal. There is no need to blame ourselves for them.

If our intentions are good and honest and we are willing to use difficulties as a way to learn, The Sutra of Assembled Treasures has this encouraging comment: "Just as the excrement and garbage disposed by the people living in big cities will yield benefit when placed in vineyards and sugarcane fields, so the residual afflictions of a bodhisattva will yield benefits because they are conducive to all-knowing understanding."Another exercise is to celebrate imperfection instead of seeing it as something undesirable. We acknowledge that life will never be perfect and we can actually enjoy this fact!

On their first visit to Plum Village, many people have difficulties with the simple living conditions, constantly changing schedule, and lack of orderly silence. Both this situation and our reactions to it can be very valuable, as they challenge our habits and expectations. I have a hunch that this is one of the reasons why Plum Village allows people to get in touch with deep aspects of themselves so remarkably quickly. (Of course, love, beauty, and a happy atmosphere help.)

The practice of acceptance helps us attain the stillness described in The Miracle of Mindfulness: "Once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that time mind begins to dwell in mind. Your mind will take hold of mind in a direct and wondrous way, which no longer differentiates between subject and object." We can be alive and cheerful, moving from one moment to the next and shedding our sorrows as we go.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a high school teacher in Oslo, Norway.

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Poem: Celebration

mb8-Celebration I want to celebrate chaos. I want to celebrate old worn-out cars, broken tiles, ever-shifting schedules, misplaced letters, and nettles next to flower beds; to celebrate toilets out of order, as well as friends who will remind me that mistakes are good, failure a success, and that a pure heart may prevail in the non-end. I want to celebrate being left alone, or assailed by talkers, (or, disturbing others' quiet). I want to celebrate gentle smiles, good intentions, and, especially, one step after the other. "If arrow number 100 hits the target, how can you say the first 99 were failures?"

Svein Myreng

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Poem: First Loves

Socrates was my first love.Sitting on my grand-uncle's lap, I was immersed in tales of Greek and Norse gods and heroes: escaping with Odysseus from the Cyclop's cave, sacrificing one eye with Odin for the gift of poetry. But the old sage from Athens lived on in me, as he walked the gardens with his questions, and calmly emptied his poison cup. Around the radio on our kitchen table with my mother and grandmother, we suffered with Jean Valjean in cruel times. Our hearts glowed with dreams of justice. And from ships on Far Eastern seas, my father's letters came with stories from a wondrous land, where fortune and misfortune couldn't always be distinguished. The magical world of childhood!

But later, when I was fifteen or so, the golden ball was cracked. Its warm glow started to give way to the cold light of neon signs and lonely TV sets. For many years I wandered a land of concrete city streets, turning my back to people as they turned their backs to me. My wish for love was left unexpressed, my voice stifled and flat. Death was there, as a frightening black hole in my heart. Then a door opened slightly. An old Japanese man with mossy twigs for eyebrows told a secret "You can see. It has been done before. The golden light is still around us."

My grand-uncle's rasping voice, father riding distant waves, and the safe space of grandmother and mother— silken threads in the norns' tapestry. Socrates, Jean Valjean, and Suzuki's T'ang Dynasty friends— matches lighting the candle in the Transformation Hall. I bow down gratefully and touch the warm ground of the here and now.

Svein Myreng

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Sangha as Teacher

By Richard Brady A teacher for more than twenty years, I began Zen Buddhist practice four years ago. It is the teacher's job to touch the student's deepest desire to practice, so that the work comes from his or her core, realizing great energy. In this state, one is described as having "the mind of enlightenment," or bodhicitta. Thay's beautiful teachings in June evoked bodhicitta in me. I felt the seeds of love, responding to the stimulation of his teachings and the sangha that had gathered.

A school teacher's job is generally not easy. Each student brings a unique history, base, and readiness to receive. In this context, Thay talked about the teacher's role  in the Rinzai Zen tradition. The teacher must understand who the student is and recognize that a particular kung an is capable of touching the student's deepest interest and desire to understand. The mathematics teacher's job," Thay said, "is not to teach the student mathematics, but rather to remove the barriers that prevent the student from learning mathematics." The most serious barriers to learning are the seeds of pain, fear, and suffering. These seeds can erect a wall around the garden of the store consciousness and make it nearly impossible for new, healthy seeds to be planted or old ones to be watered. How can students in this condition be transformed?

Thay also taught us early in the retreat that learning how to benefit from the presence of the sangha was the most important opportunity the retreat offered. The dharma talks and the practice were secondary, he said. At Plum Village, sangha was built in many ways. Affinity groups brought people with common concerns together. Special occasions such as tea ceremonies, formal meals, Plum Village's tenth anniversary celebration, precept recitations, and an ordination ceremony were interspersed throughout the month. At the Dharmacarya Ceremony, the sangha celebrated the empowerment of nine members as dharma teachers. Thay also helped build the sangha in symbolic ways. To emphasize the importance of mutual support, He gave each retreatant an "I walk for you" sticker to put in his or her shoe prior to the first walking meditation. Thay's teaching on interbeing further helped dissolve the distinctions between individual sangha members. When my practice felt ragged, I could feel the presence of other parts of "myself practicing beautifully and joyfully, helping me get back on track.

As I reflect on these lessons from Plum Village, I wonder what to do with them. They are not exactly prescriptions for better teaching. They are more like seeds planted deep in my soil. Better teaching will grow naturally as I tend my garden with mindfulness.

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, is a high school math teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC.

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Examining Prejudice

By Mary Garvey In November, the citizens of Colorado voted to amend our state constitution to prohibit the inclusion of gays and lesbians among those against whom discrimination is specifically prohibited. The effect of this new law is that gays and lesbians can now be denied work and housing, refused service in restaurants and stores, and subjected to other forms of discrimination based solely on their perceived sexual orientation. In the first two weeks following the passage of this amendment, hate crimes against gays and lesbians in Colorado rose dramatically.

It is uncomfortable for any individual to experience prejudice. We all want others to meet us openly, look at us directly, and see us for who we are. We do not want to be dismissed as just a member of some group, or to have characteristics assigned to us inappropriately, even positive characteristics. Prejudices hurt both the person who holds the views, because they prevent him or her from seeing clearly, and the person who is the object of their prejudice, because they prevent him or her from being seen. As individuals, gays and lesbians are as diverse as any other segment of the population, with differing life stories, individual loves, unique accomplishments, and personal suffering. To be prejudged is to be trivialized.

The problem with prejudice is that it prevents us from having a direct experience of reality. Our experience becomes filtered through our views, and we lose our openness, our clarity, and our contact with what is real. As dharma students, we strive to free ourselves from views that obstruct direct perception.

I am writing to the sangha for support. I know this particular sangha is comprised of some of the most open, accepting, and compassionate individuals whom I have ever had the good fortune to meet, and I hope that we can be strengthened as each of us examines our false views and harmful prejudices.

Many gays and lesbians in Colorado have begun a campaign to have people boycott our state. We request that you not travel or vacation in Colorado, and that any professional organizations that you belong to not hold conferences here. We also encourage you to ask your local government to join in the boycott. Please let Colorado know that such cruelty will not be sanctioned by the rest of the world.

Mary Garvey manages a day-care center with her partner in Longmont, Colorado.

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Rose Breaks

By Mobi Warren There are still roses blooming outside our kitchen door—buds of black-red velvet and cups of coral. For years I have regretted I was not more sensitive to cultivated plants. Then some months ago I read an essay by a gardener-friend in which she counselled to let affection be one's guide and teacher in learning to develop a relationship with plants. Somehow, affection was just the right word to get me to shift my perceptions. When we moved into a new home last August (a Spanish-style home generous with space and trees), the roses rugged a bit at my heart. I began to prune old and diseased leaves, water the roots, and listen to the plants. I began to gather petals to sew into little packets of sachet, and to place buds in vases on our kitchen table. I take "rose breaks" in the midst of overcrowded days and am learning from the roses that it is the unbusied heart that can make friends with plants.

Mobi Warren Phillips, True Teacher, is a translator, storyteller, and educator in San Antonio, Texas.

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Enjoying the Precepts

By Sheila Stone In a small retreat last Spring led by Sisters Jina and Annabel, I renewed my commitment to the Five Wonderful Precepts. The first time I took the precepts, the Fifth Precept seemed easy. I was so aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, especially of addictive substances, both in my profession as a public health nurse and in society as a whole. I knew how much my life improved when I made better choices about how to spend my time, and when I refused to drown my emotions in unmindful activity. But I was so judgmental of others. Why couldn't they see it and do this too? Yet, I didn't want to be fanatical about it.

I also became aware that the last time I gave up intoxicants, I did not mind being tense and less sociable; it was so much better than the previous alternative. But this time, I made it part of my vow to cultivate happiness, relaxation, sociability, and open mindedness without the use of alcohol; to cultivate sensuality and "cosmic consciousness" without hallucinogens; to develop perspective without denial of reality and mindless television shows. I vowed to learn ways to have an enjoyable life, not just a "correct" one, and to share those times with others. I vowed not to impose guilt-driven limits on my spending, but to be more mindful of the nickels and dimes( and to enjoy fully what I have bought).

Sheila Stone is a public health nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Poem: Merci

By Jean-Pierre Maradan Merci a l'univers, pour ces beaux jours de bonheur. Merci a toute la terre, pour la joie qui est en mon coeur Merci pour le soleil, qui nous a rechauffe. Merci pour la pluie, qui nous a raffraichie. Merci a ces chemins, ou nos pieds ou marche. Merci a ces maisons, ou l'ou a medite; Mreci a l'etoile du matin. Merci au sourir de chacun, Merci aux fleurs du chemin, merci! Merci a vous tous mes amis qui m'avez rejouis. Merci Oh Maitre mon ami, qui m'a un peu grandi. Je rentrerai chez moi, un tresor cache dan mons coeur. Autour de moi, je le repandrai avec sourir et douceur.


Jean-Pierre Maradan, Chan Dao, is a flutist and musical instructor in Fribourg, Switzerland.

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Acknowleding the Impact

By Jerry Braza When asked, "What is the greatest message we can leave for others?" Gandhi said simply, "My life is my message."

"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching," wrote St. Francis of Assisi.

Through the practice of mindfulness, I have become more conscious of the impact that I have on the environment, and I have, literally, changed my diet, stopped drinking alcoholic beverages, and have become more aware of living simply. These lifestyle changes were made internally after looking deeply at the consequences my behavior.

From Jerry Braza's book Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness from Healing Resources, P.O. Box 9478, Salt Lake City, Utah 84109.

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Our Practice is Portable

By Jack Lawlor Body, mind, and breath in oneness, the flower of bodhicittotpada blooms, and hearts grow helping hands. The sangha rises and walks with ancestral teachers to and from the marketplace. Village walls and temple walls merge and disappear. From the very non-beginning, no coming and going, no fear, no one to tire.

With body, mind, and breath in oneness, we live. By developing the ability to look deeply in order to understand, we can love and contribute to society. Through our practice, the Bodhicittotpada flower blooms, and our joy-filled hearts find expression in our helping hands.

Our practice is more portable than a laptop computer or a cellular telephone. There is no need to leave our practice at a retreat center or in a meditation hall. We can carry our practice with us at all times. And we practice with others. When we walk the path of mindfulness, we are not alone. Many women and men have developed and refined this practice for our benefit, despite the pressures and obstacles posed by their own historical eras and civilizations. Think of the Buddha and his sangha, walking back and forth every day between their meditation centers—located just beyond the outskirts of the cities—and the busy towns of Sravasti and Rajagriha. Although we live in the city and have to go for retreats in the country, there is no coming or going between one and the other. We need not be dependent on a particular place. What is most important is practicing in the company of a supportive, harmonious sangha, a garden of beautiful friends. Seeing fellow practitioners is a bell of mindfulness that can help us return to our practice wherever we may be. Sangha is a portable Day of Mindfulness we can enjoy every day. Thay's response to my verse reflects this:

The True person is always sitting in front of us. The Direction pointed by him is the path of great togetherness. Let us hold each other's hands and go. Our happy song will bring a rosy sun to the East.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, is an attorney in Chicago. This is adapted from the talk he gave at Plum Village in June upon receiving the Lamp of Dharma Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Poem: The Lotus Rap

By Ty Eppsteiner and Friends mb8-OurPractice

Well it's Cool Kid Sid around the block, You know, the one who dances to rap and rock. He was born as a prince in Southern Nepal. His parents thought he was the greatest of all. A fortune teller told them to raise Sid with care, Or else he'd leave home and they'd all despair. He grew up with everything a kid could want. But with all that, he was still nonchalant He was a sports jock and a straight A student, never lost his cool, and was always prudent. Even though he grew up in the lap of luxury, He was still not truly ha-ha-happy. One day he went outside of the wall and his high hopes started to fall. He saw suffering and much, much more— there was an old man, a sick man, and a dead man on the floor. Then there was a monk walking down the street. Sid said, "Yo man, you're looking pretty neat." He was talking in the most awesome way. He was teaching peace all through the day. This was where it all began. From then on Sid was a Buddha-man.

Ty and Karuna Eppsteiner (age 11) and Jesse Silver (age 7) gave an animated presentation of this poem during the recent summer session at Plum Village. Sid, of course, is Siddhartha.

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Fear and Racism

By Tomas Frehse Once again houses are burning in Germany, Molotov-cocktails are crashing into the rooms of refugees and those seeking political asylum here. Once again, victims of racism are dying. But this situation is very different from the Germany of the 1930s and '40s. 300,000 people in Munich recently built a chain of light through the town to protest the racism and hatred toward foreigners. Human chains were also built in Hamburg and Berlin, as well as in smaller towns like Dresden and Bremen. Factory managers declared they would lay off any worker who acted in a racist way or carried material supporting racism. People are aware of what is going on and are standing up to it. That is important and necessary. But it is too easy to set a line between "we are the good," and "you are the evil."

When I try to look deeply, I can see that the root of the violence against refugees is fear—fear of unemployment, fear of a society that is changing rapidly, fear of being confronted with people who look, talk, and act differently. When I close my eyes and look inside myself, I also find fear there—fear in the face of this violence, fear of what is going on in my country and in the world, fear of leaving such a world to my children. When I look deeply inside, I see fears that are not much different from the fears of those who create the Molotov-cocktails and set fire to houses. I am often afraid of facing parts of myself that are strange, that want to act in a different way. I fear myself when I am not as I like to be, wish to be, or ought to be.

The people of Mollin and Rostock throw Molotov-cocktails because they cannot face their fears or succeed in transforming them. If I don't face my own fears, I will also throw Molotov-cocktails, maybe different ones—at my wife, my children, my sangha, and myself. I hope I can be mindful enough to set up 300,000 lights of awareness in myself in order to embrace my fears.

Tomas Frehse is a physical therapist in Stade, Germany, near Hamburg

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Joy Begets Joy

By Claudia Wieland Although I live in the peaceful, beautiful countryside of Germany, the news of the growing extremism of my people shatters my heart. I have contacted a German family who take care of nearby refugee families who are scared and lonely. For example, gypsies from Romania and people from Yugoslavia say, "We escaped the war in Yugoslavia, and here we find war again." Our group offers joy and help to these new residents, showing that there is love and understanding. It is inspiring to see how fresh and joyful the children are, even when the situation is so hard on their parents.

"I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon." This is the gatha I follow these days. The miracle is that the more joy I give, the more my heart is filled with joy. My experience is showing me that when I just swallow the bad news it creates depression and numbness in me. But when I respond to the problems in the world, it makes me feel alive and interconnected.

Claudia Wieland, Chan Nguyet Quang, lives in Tufingen, Germany, near Munich.

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Poem: Untitled Poem

mb8-UntitledPoem1 I have found a light It shines in your eyes Thay's voice, my words, Daniel's drooling. When I embrace it, clouds laugh, the rain comforts andl feel the energy at the core of the planet; help my fear to not be afraid, help my cowardice to pass through the veil of maya knowing that in my blindness I may see what sight has kept from my eyes.

Claude Thomas is a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

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Beyond Picture-Perfect Practice

By Mei Mei Evans In the Northern rainforest, enormous spruce trees hung with moss surrounded the eighteen of us gathered for a ten-day "Buddhism and Deep Ecology" retreat led by Christopher Reed and Michele Benzamin-Masuda. New mushrooms and fungi appeared daily, some so orange and iridescent as to be startling. Our zendo was a pavilion of two-by-four posts, overspread by a giant tarp. The sides were wondrously open to the elements. It was not easy to sit comfortably on tree roots and uneven earth. By the end of the retreat, each of us had memorized the high and low spots of our gathering place. Despite the challenge of finding level ground, sitting directly on the earth facilitated the deep connectedness to the natural world we were seeking.

Each day, it seemed, we received and, in turn, were received by, more of our surroundings. The forest embraced us as we embraced it—some of us literally touching the bark, the branches, the needles, and feeling touched in return. We ate our meals nestled at the base of these tremendous creatures, our backs against their bark-clad trunks. We slept beneath their canopy, cradled in their roots.

Eagles were nesting within 200 feet of our zendo. The young eaglet's periodic screeks, as well as the thunder of the calving glacier across the channel, served as our mindfulness bells. And the forest itself—from spruce cone, to seedling, to young tree, to mature spruce, to toppled giant, to iridescent mushroom growing out of rotting stump—reminds us of the uninterrupted cycle of all that lives—no birth, no death, only continuation. The retreat awakened us to our interconnection, not only to the exquisite diversity of the natural world, but to one another, and by extension, to all of life. The layers of separation dissolved and we became a single organism—very much, in fact, as the world is. The retreat provided us a way to remember ourselves and our love for each other and all that lives.

Re-entry into every day life was awkward for some. I cried at the morning traffic in downtown Anchorage when I arrived home, distressed by the pollution our cars pump into the air, the isolated capsule of each vehicle with its lone driver, the dead magpie on the side of the road, its mate hovering helplessly nearby. I was happy when I saw a school of beluga whales weeks later. I hope to learn that it's not necessary for me to be in the middle of a picture-perfect scene before I can feel connected to all life and at peace within myself.

Mei Mei Evans lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

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Gathering Courage

By Mair Honan Last year I took precepts with Thay and slowly the understanding of the Five Precepts is unfolding as I journey along. I'd like to share a little about this process in relation to paying taxes.

For some time I have had strong feelings regarding the choices our government has made, specifically around the disrespect of life. The practice of the precepts moves me to a deepening awareness of my role in these choices. When I send off my dollars to the Internal Revenue Service, I know I am indirectly assisting in killing others. It is such a sanitized operation—a pen, a check, an envelope—no blood involved. Yet now at times, I smell the blood and hear the cries. The children involved seem to be my children.

My awareness brings to light some difficult realizations. As much as I would like to be courageous, I lack courage. So I focus on my breath and keep mindful as the fear ebbs and flows. My husband and I have struggled to attain some material stability. We earn around $50,000 doing work we love. We have a mortgage on our home, ten-and-a-half acres of land, and a car loan. Our two children are young, and the oldest is very frightened every time he hears us mention war tax resistance, knowing that this would be breaking the law. So we do the best we can to reassure him we are not going to jail, and that he is safe. Losing our home to the Internal Revenue Service from penalties and back taxes does not seem a loving experience for our family, so we have taken little action. "But," I ask myself, "can the security of a house and possessions be balanced against the experience of dropping missiles on people, animals, and plants?" I know I am in the missile factory as I was in the stealth bombers over Iraq. I know it clearly and then a sort of haze takes over and I go on answering the phone or taking my sons to the store.

We withhold our Federal telephone taxes and a symbolic $100, for which we have received penalties. As a family we are moving in the direction of withholding 50% of our taxes (the approximate amount that pays for past, present, and future military actions). We hope to redirect this amount to community needs. We know our money is still making weapons. We have formed a war tax resisters support group in our area. Maybe as the circle becomes larger, the courage and clarity will increase. For now, I sit and feel the pain in relation to the inadvertent destruction of my actions, and I try to remain open to this awareness.

Keeping close to my breath, the guiding stars, and hopefully a growing sangha that can be supportive in this process, I practice in the face of fear, confusion, and denial. I welcome any responses or thoughts people would like to share.

Mair Honan is a nurse therapist and an artist in Lincolnville, Maine.

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