#09 Autumn 1993

Dharma Talk: Finding Our True Heritage

By Thich Nhat Hanh We all wish to return to a place where we truly belong, where we feel happy and at peace. Most of the time we feel lost, as though we are living in exile. People all over the world feel this way, constantly searching for an abode of happiness and peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh

We are not separate. We are closely connected with others. The ground from which we grow is our family and our society. Many young people today are not happy because they come from broken families or because their parents devote so much time and energy to making a living that they have little real time for them. In the past, parents raised children according to the cultural and moral sub­stance of their tradition, but today, few adults transmit the values they themselves received. As a result, children are left without guidance or support, and they grow up not knowing what to do and what not to do.

Without receiving values and without worthy role models, young peoples' feelings of loneliness are intense. They have little knowledge or confidence about who they are or what they are doing, and their parents just tell them to earn a diploma and secure a good job. Human beings cannot live on bread or rice alone. We need to be nourished by culture and tradition as well. Parents who are too busy to transmit wonderful cultural elements to their children may feed them delicious meals, send them to excellent schools, and work many hours to save money for them, but this is not the way to love children. True love for a child comes from a heritage of true happiness between the parents.

After the family, school is the most important environ­ment in a child's life. Our children spend six or seven hours a day there. A child who can be happy at school is extreme­ly fortunate. When I was in third grade, my teacher wrote on my report card, "No talent. Needs to be better motivated." This caused a big internal formation in me, and I did poorly that year. My sixth grade teacher was more supportive, and I did well that year—I even received a prize of many books. Every time I wrote a good essay, he read it to the class, and, greatly encouraged, I went on to a writing career.

Like the family, school is a product of society. When the society is healthy, the family and the school are also healthy. If teachers are unhappy and filled with internal formations, how can they look deeply into their students and understand them well? The Parent-Teacher's Association is important. Teachers need to understand the circumstances of their students' families in order to educate the students appropriately.

To be healthy, we need a good environment. One very healthy environment is a good sangha, a community of happy and peaceful individuals, people who can smile, love, and care for us, whose presence is as fresh as flowers. When we meet someone with that capacity of peace and joy, we should invite him or her to join our sangha. If she cannot stay for two or three years, we can invite her to stay for a few months or weeks, or even a few days. The quality of a community depends on the capacity of each person in it to be happy. A good sangha is crucial for our transformation.

When someone comes to a community of practice, we should learn about his or her past and family in order to offer suitable methods of practice. In retreats offered to young people, we should take the time to understand their culture, roots, and society in order to offer appropriate teachings. If not, the practice will be unrelated to their lives. By asking a few questions concerning their loneliness and their identity, we can open the doors of their hearts, and they will begin to listen and join us in the practice.

A friend or a psychotherapist can also help us very much, just by listening to us. But many psychotherapists themselves are not healthy; they are filled with suffering. How can we feel confident working with a psychotherapist who does not apply his knowledge of psychotherapy to himself? If we find a psychotherapist who has time to live and to be happy, his listening can be highly effective and we will feel great relief. Psychotherapists also need to establish peaceful, happy sanghas, groups of friends who meet regularly to drink tea, practice sitting and walking medita­tion, and bring peace and caring to one another. Clients who have recovered can be beneficial members of such groups since they have already experienced transformation and can help others do the same.

The number of individuals anyone can help is small compared with the number of people who need help. Treating individuals is important, but we also have to help our society be well. But if we are spending hours doing charitable or social work, taking care of the sick and the poor, as a way to escape our own loneliness, our work will not be effective. If we carry too many internal knots inside us, no matter how much time and energy we spend working for the well-being of others, we will still be lost.

To grow well, a tree needs roots. We need to get in touch with our roots and our true identity. If we live with a good sangha for a while, we will find our identity and true person. The words "true person" were offered by Zen Master Linchi. One day, Master Linchi said to his students, "Brothers and sisters, there is one true person who permanently comes in and out of our being. Do you know that true person?" The audience was silent for a long time before one monk stood up and asked, "Master, please teach us. Who is that true person?" Disappointed by the monk's question, Linchi said, "That true person? What the heck!" No one understood his words.

Who is that true person? Can we be in real touch with him or her? Until we do, we will continue to be lost, unable to find our true heritage. We will not need a train or a plane to come home. We will be at home wherever we are. Being with a sangha, with those who have found their true heritage, is the best way to realize this. In a sangha, even if we just relax and do nothing, one day our true person will reveal himself or herself. Communities where people can come together and be guided in the direction of returning to their true person are very important.

Many teenagers come to Plum Village feeling aban­doned and unhappy. They suffer from cultural and identity crises. They listen to Dharma talks, but these do not help. The most important thing for them is to be in contact with others their own age who are happy. These friendships help them contact their own true person. This is a basic principle of the practice. If you are a Dharma teacher leading retreats, please keep this in mind. Otherwise you only offer tempo­rary relief—you will not touch the sufferings that are rooted deeply in people and bring about real transformation.

Individual transformation always goes hand in hand with social transformation. We may receive praise when we go on a solo retreat for ten or twenty years, seeing no one and eating only fruits and vegetables. But if, during that period, we do not meet anyone who could say something to upset us, how can we be sure that our anger and delusion have been transformed? If we are criticized and confronted with difficulties and still remain calm and happy, then we know that we have arrived at understanding, love, and insight, and our transformation is real.

The moment we feel happy, society already begins to transform, and others feel some happiness. When someone in society finds his true identity, we all find our identity. This is the principle of interbeing. The moment we come in touch with our true person, we become relaxed, peaceful, and fresh, and society already begins to transform. If we are pleasant and happy, the nervous system of those we meet will be soothed. Everything settles down when we put an end to craving, anger, and delusion.

Even though our society has caused us pain, suffering, internal formations, and illness, we have to open our arms and embrace society in complete acceptance. We have to go back to our society with the intention to rebuild it and enrich life by offering the appropriate therapies for its illnesses. People may not be ready to accept our ideas, our love, but we must make the effort. When a foreign substance enters our body, white blood cell production increases, and macrophages embrace and destroy the foreign body. Even foreign bodies that can play an important role in keeping our body functioning well are rejected. If we need a liver transplant, the new liver is subject to rejection since it is foreign to our body. The new liver is neither sad nor disappointed, because it knows that it enters our body with all its love. It tries to find a way to establish a good relation­ship with the body so that one day it will be accepted.

We are the same. When we return home—to Ireland, Poland, Vietnam, or anywhere—we have to use skillful means to weaken rejecting phenomena. Even if our return is full of good will, we can be crushed. Some medicines that can cure an illness become ineffective before reaching the intestines because of the stomach's acidity. To prevent this, pills are coated with protective substances, and the pill's content is not released into the bloodstream until the pill reaches the intestines. We should use the same principle to return to society. Rejection also exists in our own con­sciousness. Our bodies and minds often refuse things that can help us. The practice of peace is basic for our well­being, but since we already have habits, rejection is a common tendency. Many people think that if they accept new ideas or insights, their identity or security will vanish. They may cling to something they think of as their identity, but that is not their true identity. It is only an artificial cover that society has painted on them.


Look at a Vietnamese teenager growing up in America. In her are worries, despair, and problems just as there are in all young people. The cultural and social substances that she has picked up in America have built up her personality, and she thinks she is just that personality. But her Vietnamese tradition and culture are also in her, although in the form of not-yet-sprouted seeds. In this young lady, there is the substance, the personality, and countenance of a young Vietnamese girl that she has not been able to touch. She believes that what she has received from American culture is her true person. If someone suggests that she live in an environment that will help her be in touch with the Viet­namese seeds in her, she may become frightened. To her, returning to her Vietnamese roots is a threat. She is afraid she will lose her personality. Most teenagers feel the same—that if their present identity is dropped, they will not know where to stand. We should help them find their true person so that, gradually, they will be able to let go of their suffering. Concepts about success and happiness are a kind of coating that society has painted on them, and they mistake them for their identity. Vietnamese, Irish, Ameri­can, Polish, everyone should return to their true person. That is the only way we will have a chance to transform our­selves and our society, and become our true person.

All of us need to return home along that path. When we return, we may want to introduce the practice of mindful­ness to others. If we can help people see the essence of love and understanding, we might be able to help the situation. To rebuild our society, we need to bring about social balance and uncover the best traditional values. We are like a child who has crossed many mountains and rivers to find the right medicine for our mother's illness. We should tell people, "Please try this remedy. It may cure the illness of our motherland. If this medicine is not effective, let us look for another remedy together. Let us give our motherland a chance." We must go back to our society as a son, a brother, or a sister and accept everyone as our relative.

When we return home, we can live in the heart of socie­ty, but we should be careful to protect ourselves. People may reject us or try to destroy us, because they are afraid to lose what they are accustomed to. We can try to establish a sangha, a community of practice, an island standing firmly in the ocean that is not affected by social storms—a pro­tected island where trees and birds can live safely without being threatened by strong winds or high waves. A sangha is an island in which we can take refuge. Vietnamese, Irish, Americans, Poles all have to do the same. Sangha-building is a way to break through the obstacles presented by society. In order to offer a therapeutic role, a sangha should acquire a certain degree of peace and happiness itself. There need to be a number of happy individuals who have found their true person and are relaxed, smiling, accepting, loving, and helpful. Once an island like that is strong, it can open itself to more and more people for refuge. One island can then become two, three, four, or more, depending on its capacity to share the practice. Forming a sangha is not difficult if we have support of friends on the path. To take refuge, first of all, is to take refuge in the island of ourselves and then in the island of a sangha.

These islands are communities of resistance. "Resis­tance" does not mean to oppose others. It means to protect ourselves, like staying inside the house to protect ourselves from the weather. We resist being destroyed by society's pollution, noise, unhappiness, harsh words, and negative behavior. If we do not know how to take care of ourselves, we may get wounded and be unable to help others. If we join with others to build a sangha that can nourish and protect us and resist society's destructiveness, we will be able to return home. Many years ago, I suggested that peace activists in the West establish communities of resistance. A true sangha is always therapeutic. To return to our own body and mind is already to return to our roots, to our true home, to our true person. With the support of a sangha, we can do it.

In the Lotus and Diamond Sutras, there are stories of our true heritage: There was a young man from a wealthy family who led a life of pleasure, always squandering his wealth. His father loved and cared for him very much, but he could not find a way to make his son aware of his good fortune. He could see that his son would suffer and become a beggar if he did not transform, but he understood that warning or blaming the boy would not help. So he made himself a jacket and wore it for some years.

Then, one day, he said to his son, "In the future, when I die, I know you will squander your inheritance. I ask only one thing. Please do not lose this jacket. Please always keep it with you." The father had secretly sewn one very precious gem into the lining of the jacket. The young man did not like the old jacket, but he kept it because of his father's request was so easy. After the father died, the son quickly spent his entire inheritance, and soon, as his father had predicted, he became very poor. He went many days without food. The Lotus Sutra calls him "the destitute son." No­where could he make a living or find happiness. He owned only the old clothes on his back, including the jacket his father had asked him to keep.

One day, the young man was running his fingers along the outside of the jacket, and he suddenly discovered the precious gem inside the lining. For many months he had been living in hunger and despair, and as a result he now knew something of life. He understood how it was to use his precious gem to rebuild his life, and he finally received the heritage his father had left for him. For the first time in his life he was happy.

Our true heritage is a gem. It includes understanding, responsibility, and knowing the way to live happily. The Buddha uses this image in the Lotus Sutra to teach us that we are all destitute sons and daughters squandering our true heritage, which is happiness. Our heritage is right in our hand, but we waste our lives, acting as if we are the poorest person on Earth. Now is the time to rediscover the gem hidden right in our jacket.

In the Diamond Sutra, we read about sons and daughters of good families who fill the 3,000 universes with the seven precious treasures as an act of generosity, and the more they give, the richer they become. We can do that too, because we too have innumerable gems. Each minute of our life, each hour of our day is a precious gem. If we live mindfully, smiling, each moment is a wonderful treasure. Thanks to mindfulness, we can hear the birds singing, the leaves rustling, and so many other wonderful sounds. We see the flowers blooming, the blue sky, and the white clouds. If we live in mindfulness, our baskets will be filled with precious gems. Every second, every minute, every hour is a diamond. We have been living like wandering destitute sons and daughters. Now, it is time for us to go back and receive our true heritage and live our days deeply and happily. Once we learn the art of living mindfully, people around us will benefit from our happiness. We will be able to offer one handful of precious gems to the person on our right, another to the person on our left, and we never run out; our precious gems will fill the 3,000 chiliocosms. Our heritage is so rich. There is no reason to feel alienated. At the moment we claim our heritage, we can offer peace and happiness to our friends, our ancestors, our children, and their children, all at the same time. 

Adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh' s lectures at Plum Village, translated from the Vietnamese by Anh Huong Nguyen.

Photos: First photo by Ingo Gunther. Second photo by Karen Hagen Liste.

PDF of this article

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

From the Editors

To hear that someone's life has been affected by our efforts is "the greatest happiness" for us. We surely do appreciate your letters (pages 37 - 39) and well wishes. We have spent most of the past year planning and organizing for Thich Nhat Hanh's two-month U.S. visit which begins soon. The response has been overwhelming. We look forward to seeing many of you along the way, and showing you the seven new books by Thay and one by Sister Chan Khong (Phuong) just published by Parallax Press. Even if you are unable to attend a retreat, Thay warmly invites everyone to receive the Five Wonderful Precepts with him. Please see the announcement on page 35. This issue is about the theme "Returning to Our Roots."

In order to really become whole and wholly integrated, we have to come to know ourselves, including our cultural and religious roots. They are in us. Interestingly, although we invited all readers to contribute articles about their own roots, the great majority of submissions were from those whose roots are Jewish. We are confident you will enjoy reading all of these as a beckoning to each of us to become ourselves and return to our own "true home."

—Therese Fitzgerald, Carole Melkonian, and Arnie Kotler


PDF of this article

Poem: Our True Heritage

mb9-OurTrue The cosmos is filled with precious gems. I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning. Each moment you are alive is a gem, shining through and containing Earth and sky, water and clouds.

It needs you to breathe gently for the miracles to be displayed. Suddenly you hear the birds singing, the pines chanting, see the flowers blooming, the blue sky, the white clouds, the smile and the marvelous look of your beloved.

You, the richest person on Earth, who have been going around begging for a living, stop being the destitute child. Come back and claim your heritage. We should enjoy our happiness and offer it to everyone. Cherish this very moment. Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.

PDF of this article

Writing Down the Roots

By Natalie Goldberg After four years at the Minnesota Zen Center, during a seven-day sesshin, I went to Katagiri Roshi. "You know, the more I sit, the more Jewish I'm feeling."

"That makes sense," he said. "The more you sit, the more you become who you are."

This feeling of being Jewish deepened in me. I wanted to know what it meant to be Jewish. Though my family was culturally Jewish—there were smatterings of Yiddish spoken by my parents and grandparents, we ate chicken soup and gefilte fish, felt the shadow of the concentration camps, lit Hanukkah candles—there was nothing spiritual or religious about our home. My father had been brought up religiously and he rebelled. When he was thirteen and had to change in the locker room for gym, his classmates made fun of the prayer shawl he wore under his undershirt. That night, he told me, he went home and told his mother, "No more. I'm not wearing it." And at sixteen when he got his driver's license, he snuck into the family's navy blue Ford and drove it down the street on Yom Kippur, the highest holy day, when you are only allowed to walk. "I crashed the car," he told me. "God was warning me, but, otherwise, that religious stuff is a lot of malarkey." This was my religious instruction from my father. Later, as an adult, I heard that my great-grandfather on my father's side was a holy man, that he wandered from family to family teaching Hebrew and the Torah at heder, Jewish school, that he had no home of his own.

On my mother's side of the family, my grandfather often repeated, "It's so good to be in America. You don't know how good you have it." He'd come over from Russia when he was seventeen to avoid the draft there. He'd seen Cossacks ride through his small shtetl and kill people. When he arrived in the United States, he threw off Judaism as archaic. He wanted to be an American. The day before Yom Kippur, he and my grandmother parked their car several blocks from their apartment in Brooklyn, and in the morning, when all Jewish families dressed up and walked to shul, to the synagogue, my grandfather and grandmother and their three children dressed up, too. They walked like the other families, but not to shul, to the car, got in, out of sight of their neighbors, and drove out to Long Island for a picnic. When I asked my mother once, "What is God?" she said, "It is goodness. Wherever you see good, you see God." That was a good answer. It satisfied me.

Now, twenty-two years later, Judaism haunted me in the zendo. What was it? And what was this foreign religion, Zen, that I was practicing, when I had turned my back on something that was rightfully mine? There were no interfaith marriages in my family. I was one hundred percent Jewish—no mixed blood. What did that mean? Perhaps I had been arrogant. I had turned my back on my own religion and was studying something foreign.

I went to Roshi. "I'm going to study Judaism. I don't know what it is. I'm going to leave Zen Center for a while."

He nodded. "Remember, whatever you do, the one true test of a religion. Ancestors, history doesn't matter—what matters is that it can help you here and now in your life."

I was naive. I'd never gone to temple, never met a rabbi, except Zalman Schacter, and that was at Lama Foundation, not in a synagogue. I called several in the Twin Cities and asked them to meet me for lunch. I thought rabbis would be like Roshi. Roshi was my archetype for someone spiritual.

The rabbis I met—all men—one from a reform synagogue, one from a conservative orientation, another from the Lubovich organization, were friendly, warm, opinionated, distracted, talkative. With one especially, I wanted to say, "Please, slow down, connect with your breath." None had the presence of Katagiri. Each one at some point in the conversation bent close to me. "Zen, Buddhism, it's not as deep, big as Judaism. It's okay, but it's not the same."

I was surprised. "Do you know much about Zen? Have you sat?" "I don't need that. I've read a little," the conservative rabbi said. We went on to talk of Minneapolis, intermarriage, education. This couldn't be. Where was a person like Roshi in all this? I took some classes on Judaism; I went to services; I studied Hebrew. In Hebrew class, we had an Israeli instructor named Tuvia. He presumed we all pretty much knew Hebrew; after all, it was his native language. I knew nothing, not even the alphabet, but I loved the class. I constantly nudged Carol, the woman in front of me, to give me the answers. She was a dermatologist, brought up on a North Dakota farm, who planned to convert. At the beginning of the course, we all chose a Hebrew name. I chose Malka, which means "queen." I liked playing at a new identity, an ancient Hebrew one.

After taking the Hebrew class for two quarters, I won a Bush Fellowship in poetry and with the money I went to Israel for three months. In Jerusalem, I went to Sabbath dinner at the homes of different Hasidic families. One Hasidic sect had a movement to bring wayward Jews back to the fold. I went often because the Hasids felt closest to what I knew of religion.

At one Sabbath in the Old City, I asked the head of the family over dinner, "What practice is there that I can do every day?" "Get married and have children," he told me. There were thirteen of his children at the table. I liked this man; I liked his family. They liked me. It was obvious I was a religious person; I accepted and appreciated their Hasidic tradition. "Yes, but I'm not married. I don't have children. What can I do?" I asked again. It seemed obvious to him. "Get married and have children."

I walked home that night through the streets of Jerusalem, past Hasidic Jews in fur hats gathering in front of a small synagogue, the air smoky under street lights. I felt I was back many centuries. I passed rose vines climbing up Jerusalem pines, down cobblestone streets and houses built of pink Jerusalem stone. This was ancient and beautiful, but I could not find a way in. I was a modern woman, a feminist, a writer, an American. I wanted a practice, and so far I had discovered it only in the Eastern world.

I envied my parents when they visited me in Jerusalem. They seemed comfortable there, at home. They spoke Yiddish, the language they had learned in their Brooklyn homes, with people they met on the streets. One Israeli man came up to my father on Rehov Jaffa, tapped him on the stomach, said something, and then walked arm and arm with him for a block. My mother and I trailed behind. When we came to the corner, the Israeli waved good-bye.

I turned to my father. "What did he say to you? Did you know him?"

"Naa," my father shook his head. "We spoke Yiddish. He said I should lose some weight. Did you notice how trim all the men are here? It must be because of the army. I told him I was American. He said he knew."

"How do you feel so comfortable here?" I had struggled for three months to feel at all relaxed. There were Jews here, my people, but it was also a foreign country.

"Oh," my father waved his arm, "it's just like old Brooklyn."

My parents had a natural Jewish identity from being brought up in a Jewish neighborhood. They took it for granted. They never felt the need to pass it on. I was brought up in suburban Long Island, many times the only Jew in my class. I had no such strong identity. Suburbia had neutralized my roots, washed them away.

When I returned from Jerusalem, I went to Roshi.

"Roshi, I think it's driving me nuts. It's like an ornate tapestry. I can't find a way in. I get lost in the history, the holocaust. Judaism seems sexist, opinionated."

He shook his head. "Pay no attention to that. Stand up with what you have learned here and continue to penetrate. When you get to the heart of Judaism, you'll find Zen."

I took a deep breath, nodded, and left.

One late afternoon in early October at a Yom Kippur service in a synagogue on Dupont Avenue, five blocks from the zendo—I'd been fasting all day and had walked early that morning through fallen brown leaves—I touched it, touched something. I held the prayer book in my hand, "Let there be grace and kindness, compassion and love," we recited—a moment when everything opened. There among my Jewish brothers and sisters, I felt that deep stillness, that quiet, that golden joy I felt in the zendo during sesshin—it was everywhere. After that I could return to Zen Center, knowing that yes, where I came from, the religion of my ancestors had it, too. There was no barrier in me: Zen versus Judaism. It was everywhere. There was a peace in me after that. I did not need to turn my back on anything.

Natalie Goldberg is a writer in Taos, New Mexico. This piece is from her newest book Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (Bantam Books) and is reprinted with permission.

PDF of this article

Drawing from the Well

By Nancy Hawley My brother, sister, and I decided to meet with my aging parents to discuss this stage of our life as a family. As we sat together discussing health proxies, wills, and funeral arrangements, I was filled with a sense of interconnection with them, how deeply the roots go. I was also filled with a sense of impermanence.

As I walk around Fresh Pond today, tears flow as I survey the beautiful trees in the breeze and consider the trees I will plant when my parents die. I breathe and sing a prayer to soothe myself as I face not only my parents' mortality, but my own.

Four years ago I began a journey that today allows me to breathe, sing a Jewish prayer, and contemplate impermanence. In the Spring of 1989,1 met two teachers—a teacher of Jewish mysticism and Thay. I was able to open the spiritual door wider with the support of Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and the retreat community at Omega, and I left feeling inspired to learn more about my Jewish roots and discover ways to practice Buddhism that didn't offend my feminist sensibilities.

Since then, I have helped create the Boston-area sangha, and I also study the Kaballah and the Torah and learn with other women about women in Judaism. At times the practices come together. For example, I invited a small group to practice sitting meditation as we celebrated Purim and our foremother Esther. I seek out other teachers to learn from. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi blesses my journey as I integrate the precepts of Judaism and Buddhism. Most of all I practice, learn, and celebrate with family, friends, colleagues, and other spiritual seekers. I was thrilled to join with other Jewish Buddhists in Western Massachusetts last Fall to discuss where these paths come together and where they diverge, and I look forward to continuing the discussion this Fall. I see the Shofar, blown on the High Holidays, as a way to visualize my spirituality: the narrow end representing my Judaism—the particulars of my background—and the wider end representing my Buddhism—an all-encompassing, compassionate world view that provides a spacious context in which I can practice both. I put my lips to the Shofar and produce my own clear sound that joins with the sounds of others to create a strong community.

Nancy Miriam Hawley, Good Omen of the Heart, is a social worker in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

PDF of this article

Life As Prayer

By David Levy At the June 1992 retreat at Plum Village, I experienced something new and important. On the first day, Thay told us: "The most important thing about this retreat is community." And what an extraordinary group we were! Over the weeks, I had a growing sense of being held in the arms of an unconditionally loving and accepting community, a truly safe place to be. Initially, I'd felt a bit awkward; after all, a practicing Jew going to a Buddhist retreat? But I quickly discovered that my Jewishness was not only accepted, but celebrated. This gave me a taste of a deep respect for diversity and a commitment by the community to the wellbeing of all its members.

In Plum Village we practiced mindfulness all the time. Silence as a form of prayer or meditation also has biblical roots. "Commune with your hearts . . . and be still" (Psalm 4) "To Thee silence is praise" (Psalm 65) And as for the importance of the breath, in Genesis we're told that "God formed Adam of the dust of the earth and breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living soul." Here the connection between body and soul is the divine breath. This insight is made the basis of a breathing meditation in the morning prayer, Elohai n'shaman: "My God, the soul You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me; You keep body and soul together...."

In the Hebrew, many of the verbs end in pronounced (as opposed to silent) h's. The intent was to focus our attention on our breathing as we thank God for the breath that binds body and soul together. I think of the breath as my own Jacob's ladder, connecting heaven and earth, uniting soul and body, angels ascending and descending on the rising and falling breath. The Patriarchs say again and again when God calls to them, Hineini, "Here I am."

The prayer immediately following the Elohai n'shamah is also a call to mindfulness. The Bircot haShahar is a series of blessings, thanking God for the ability to distinguish between day and night, for making us in God's image, and so on. Looking at this prayer's source in the Talmud, the call to mindfulness is even clearer. "When he hears the cock crowing he should say, 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who has given the cock understanding to distinguish between day and night.' When he opens his eyes he should say, 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who opens the eyes of the blind.' When he stretches himself and sits up . . . When he dresses ..."

We are thus instructed to perform each act on awakening with awareness. In fact, it would seem that whole system of prescribed blessings, is aimed at fostering mindfulness. Not to mention Shabbat, our special day of mindful rest. With mindfulness, all acts are raised to the level of prayer, and isn't this the aim of our Jewish lives?

The Jewish tradition gives us a set of practices for quieting down, for attending to our breath and to all that is happening in the present moment. And what do we experience when we are quiet and attentive? Here too the Prayer Book gives us an answer: "We are thankful to you . . . for your miracles which daily attend us." What do we experience when we are quiet and attentive? This prayer reminds us to be aware of, and thankful for, the miracles all around us. Our tradition is rich with reminders, but I feel the precious teachings on mindfulness have gotten lost. And I'd like to find ways to bring mindfulness practice back into the life of our community and explore its place in our Jewish lives.

At Plum Village, I learned that community is crucial to the general well-being and the spiritual development of its members. I came to understand that for the deepening and maturing of my own religious practice, I need the love and support, the help, of others. We all know that community is crucial for us to live Jewish lives. Shabbat observance and the Jewish dietary laws are difficult, if not impossible, to maintain without the support of like-minded practitioners. If one wants to live more mindfully without withdrawing from our fragmented, frantic modern world, the support of like-minded practitioners is essential.

Time will tell exactly what form our mindfulness efforts take. What matters is that we plant a seed in the community, a seed of mindful living, and that we water it through our practice, believing that the fruits of this practice will benefit the entire community, in fact the entire world.


David Levy lives in Palo Alto, California.

PDF of this article

Seeing My Christian Connection

By Stephen Denney After traveling abroad, I was not sure how to respond when my friends told me it must have been very exciting. I enjoyed the week I spent at Plum Village, the day I spent with Jim and Nancy Forest and their family in Holland, and the ferry ride across the English channel. The most interesting and worthwhile parts of my trip, however, were my last days in Paris, when I thought I was going blind.

My left eye had been bloodshot and irritated for a week, but I thought it would go away with time. Unfortunately, it got worse. On returning to Paris, I woke up in the middle of the night and could not see out of that eye. Everything was very blurry. When I woke up the next morning it had not improved. I went to the pharmacy at the nearby train station, Gare du Nord, and bought some medicine. A few hours after I took the medicine, I went back to the pharmacy to ask if they were sure this would be sufficient treatment. The pharmacist looked at my eye and said I should go to the emergency ward of the local hospital. I went there, and was told it was serious, and that I should go to another hospital, since they did not have specialists who could treat my eye. (It was Sunday.)

"It is across from Notre Dame Cathedral," I was told. "Where is Notre Dame Cathedral?" I asked. "You do not know where Notre Dame Cathedral is?" They found my ignorance strange.

I went to the hospital and returned the following two days for treatment. All the doctors and nurses were very kind to me, despite the fact that I could not speak French. They also told me my problem was serious, but seemed more optimistic when they learned I have ankliosing spondalitis, a form of arthritis in the spine. It seems that life problem I was experiencing (eye inflammation) is a side effect of the disease and is treatable.

I wandered around Paris for the next two days, worried that I could go blind in my left eye; and if it happened in one eye, then it could happen in the other. "How will I support myself if I lose my sight?" I wondered. In this state of mind I entered the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was August, and Paris was filled with tourists tramping in and out of the Cathedral, but the moment I entered I felt surrounded by the presence of God. I cried, not just because of my physical condition, but because I felt unworthy to be there. I had drifted so far away from God, living for myself, yet there in the church I felt forgiveness. Although not Catholic, I dipped my hand in the holy water and crossed myself, and lit a candle with a prayer.

As I left the Cathedral, I felt that I had been healed. Actually, there was no dramatic improvement in my vision, but it is now nearly normal after five weeks of treatment. One might say that it was just my imagination, and my eye healed only because of the medicine I took. That may well be true, but more significant to me was the spiritual healing that began with my visit to the Cathedral—or more accurately, that could begin, because I still haven't found my way, but now see the starting point.


Thay once said that he did not wish to convert people to Buddhism but rather to help them return to their original religions to develop spiritually. It is a point I have always valued, but never followed. In recent years I have developed very precious friendships with American Buddhists because of our mutual interest in Vietnam. But I see now that if I am to develop spiritually it must be in a Christian fellowship. It may be said that religions are different languages we use to address God, or our concept of the ultimate meaning in life. Some may speak the language of Buddhism, others the language of Islam, Hinduism, or even political activism. For me, the language is Christianity.

Stephen Denney is the editor of Vietnam Journal and a long-time activist for human rights in Indochina.

PDF of this article

One Couple, Many Roots

A Traveling Jewish Theatre "You left with nothing, right? You got on a ship and you went. And maybe all you had was what you were wearing. Maybe you gave birth on a ship, and maybe you lost a daughter, or a son on the way. Maybe you buried them at sea. Maybe you arrived and there was no one there to meet you, but you went, and you found your community."

Intermarriage is an opportunity to think again about what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be Christian. Where does all this leave the intermarried couple? Where is their community? How do couples decide what to pass on to the next generation? What are we saying to these children? You stand at the confluence of an historical development. This is whence you came and here are the traditions. Here is a tree of life. Here is the bread of life, broken for you. Take it.

"When our son was born, we realized we had no one to turn to. We didn't want to be isolated and we wanted to affiliate ourselves to something. We went to a Christian church just down the street, and both of us immediately felt comfortable. We have attended that church ever since. Despite the difficulties, we want our children to have a sense of community. We don't want to mix two religions. It's easier to have one."

When we first started working on our play, we had the idea that the Mennonite character would go into the Jewish heritage and learn about it and perhaps bring back a story, and the Jewish partner would go into the Mennonite's heritage and learn about that. And through that there would be a reconciliation. What we discovered in actually being on our feet, improvising, and going through the lives of the characters and embodying them, was that that is not how it happens. Only when the Mennonite character went more deeply into her own Christian roots, honored, understood, and took them on, instead of running from them, and only when the Jewish character went more deeply into his roots, that they reached, somewhere underneath, this common stream, this very deep place of understanding.

"Choice is something you can do freely when you have a deep sense of who you are and that you are entitled to be who you are. I think my daughter has to, in some sense, choose to be both. To go back to one of our religions made no sense. We could not have raised the kids Catholic or Jewish. The next best thing for us was to create a personal kind of religion, the kind they don't have a passport for. As long as they feel secure within the family, they have that identity."

This is a profound change. It used to be that the boundary between different peoplehoods or cultures or communities was like a fence or a wall. Now it is more like a fringe, what comes on the edge of a piece of cloth and says, "I'm cloth and not cloth at the same time." Given that the boundaries are unclear, we are in the position to say, "Good fences don't make good neighbors, good fringes make good neighbors."

"There is something powerful about staying linked to our ancestors. I now know the name of the town in Lithuania where my grandparents came from. If I don't pass even that to my children, it's over. The sounds and smells don't exist. It's a world that dies, not just one town or one people. We are losing songs. We are losing stories. I don't know how you weigh that, but it is something about losing our humanity. Intermarriage forces you to deal with the question. What are we going to do with our child? What will they know? How will we pass this on? What stories will they be told? What are their stories? What are the songs and the rituals that are going to be incorporated into their life?"

Intermarriage opens a door to maintaining one's roots and, at the same time, reaching out and saying, "We are part of each other. We are part of the common humanity."

Joseph: Let's stop with this roots nonsense. I've had enough chicken soup to last me a lifetime.

Lydia: You're in a state of denial.

Joseph: It's not denial.

Lydia: It is denial. You deny everything. You didn't like your mother's cooking.

Joseph: Well you don't either.

Lydia: Your aunt was too loud. So you ran off to New York to become an "artist." You went through eight years of therapy. You really know who you are, don't you? But when it comes to being a Jew, you're still thirteen years old, complaining about your Bar Mitzvah.

Joseph: Mennonites don't translate poetry. Shtetl Jews don't run around with a camera trying to get photo exhibits. If I had a long beard and ayamulke, would we be married? You want to keep a kosher house? Keep a kosher house and you can forget about having a career!

This collage is from an hour-long tape, entitled "An Open Gate," produced for public radio by A Traveling Jewish Theatre. Personal stories of intermarried couples are woven together with excerpts from ATJTsplay, "Heart of the World." It was this tape that the Plum Village community listened to last year during their Christmas celebration. For a copy of the tape, please send $11 to A Traveling Jewish Theatre, P.O. Box 421985, San Francisco, CA 94142.

PDF of this article

Beach Cleaning Meditation

By Penelope Thompson Several months ago, our small sangha met at the beach for a morning of mindfulness. First we sat together, then we did forty-five minutes of "cleaning the beach meditation." After that we shared our experiences together and ended with walking meditation. The experience was extraordinary for all of us, and we have continued it.

Each of us now feels an increased awareness in our connectedness to each other and to the ocean we love. We fill our bags with the detritus that litters the sand—wrappers, styrofoam cups, tampons, cigarette butts, plastic sixpack holders, beer cans, condoms, watermelon rinds, broken balloons and string caught in seaweed, large empty plastic containers for oil or soft drinks—and empty them into the round blue trash containers on the beach, and begin again. Many of us have pain in our backs after so much bending and standing, and we feel more connection to the millions of people all over the world who do this kind of physical labor every day of their lives.

Sometimes no one speaks to us. Most people just stare as we pass them on their blankets, but occasionally someone makes a remark like the man who said to his friend as he walked by, "God, there's another cult group." Another man said to one of us: "You're just doing it for the exercise, right?" The woman replied, "No, we want to clean our beach." He replied, "No, it's really for the exercise, right?" Again she tried to explain. However he could not understand this. A lifeguard came down from his watchtower and said to me, without preamble, "Pick up the plastic first. It does the most damage." I took his advice at once. As he headed back up the ramp to his tower, he said, "Thanks for doing this." A man watched David filling his garbage bag. "You shouldn't have to do this. This is the county's responsibility. Nobody's doing their job anymore." David said later that he wished he replied, " I am the county, too." We are all learning as we go. Lee specializes in picking up cigarette butts. She says she is grateful for the opportunity to pick up some of the thousands of butts she buried in the sand for so many years.

The second time my daughter Ari came with us, she put an extra bag in her back pocket. A man sitting under an umbrella with his wife and children thanked her. She said, "I have to take care of the ocean and the beach.. .and there is so much garbage." The man got right up and said, "I'll help you." Ari gave him her extra bag, and he and his whole family began to help. The young children giggled and raced to see who could find the most. They filled the bag and emptied it in the litter bin three times, and they thanked Ari for a happy time.

Ari and I never go to the beach anymore without extra empty bags. We have both fallen in love with this simple way to take care of the ocean. Several other sangha members now have the same habit. We have become so aware of our love for and our connection to the ocean and to the earth, and our deeply felt responsibility for it.

Penelope Barnes Thompson is a psychologist in West Los Angeles, California.

PDF of this article

Mindfulness at Work

By Jorgen Hannibal Recently, as a medical doctor in Sweden, I was on-call for twenty-four hours in the emergency room. At some point, I was eating my lunch, and I became aware of the physical and mental tension present in me. I directed my attention to my in-breath and out-breath, and I realized there was no difference in the process of eating while on-call in the emergency room or while sitting at a calm lakeside. Eating became much more pleasant as I really ate my bread and banana and stopped eating my tension. I then became aware of my mind ruminating with my experience and composing a piece for The Mindfulness Bell, and I smiled.

Somewhere in Buddhist literature I have read about the importance of cultivating the capacity to be silent and to refrain from interfering. On the other hand, there are situations that call for action with right mindfulness, right understanding, and skillful means. Recently I found myself in a situation calling for professional action—but I did not act. Afterwards I felt ashamed of myself for not having acted. I felt the creation of "internal formations" and karma. In processing what took place, the teachings of Thay and the Buddha helped me. The situation is gone, and only as part of the past is it present. Only as such can I change it by the way I process what happened. The part of me responsible for not having acted adequately is still the part of me deserving loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I am not just the part that did not act; I am more than that. I experience how the unwholesome action represents energy that can be transformed and, as compost, fertilize the growth of beautiful flowers.

Jorgen Hannibal is a medical doctor in Helsinge, Denmark.

PDF of this article

Curse Turned Companion

By Alan Cutter Last November, Arnie Kotler, and Therese Fitzgerald, and Claude Thomas came to share a Day of Mindfulness with a group of Vietnam veteran ministers. We could all sit, but walking meditation was difficult for a few. One of our group lost his legs in Vietnam; I injured a hip and knee during an incident and cannot walk slowly and deliberately without a cane. I mentioned to Therese that during the walking meditation, as I sat on the porch and watched, I had felt left out and separated from the group; half in jest, I said that what I needed was some form of "staggering meditation." She replied, "It's up to you to invent it."

That day I had left my wooden cane in a corner of my room at the retreat center. For years I have kept it hidden, having learned how to compensate for and disguise my painful problem with walking. That "stick" was a reminder of things I wanted to forget. I did not want to remember "Cripple Corner" in Danang, an intersection near a Vietnamese hospital where maimed Vietnamese soldiers, surrounded by canes, crutches, and makeshift wheelchairs, would gather to wait for an American convoy of large trucks to pass, hoping to be able to throw themselves, or be thrown by friends, under the huge tires so that their families could collect some monetary compensation from the U.S. government. Yet I could not forget, a few years ago, watching a parade in Wheeling, West Virginia. I knelt down beside my young son, and my hip went out and I could not get up, and I was one with the soldiers of years before, a "cripple" by the roadside. Shame, disgust, and despair welled up within me; my helplessness found a focus on that hated cane, and in my anger I would not use it.

When I returned to my room later that afternoon, I sat and thought about inventing "staggering meditation." I decided that I would go for a walk, and rather than take my "suck" along as a necessary evil and out of anxiety over falling, I would "invite" my cane to be my helper. "Please come and be my companion," I said. So we set out to walk into the nearby city center. As we made our way along the sidewalks, I tried being aware not only of my breath but of my feet and of the wooden cane in my hand. Many emotions and thoughts came and I greeted both the pleasant ones and the not-so-pleasant ones and invited them to join us in our walk. After a while, I became less aware of these emotions and thoughts and more aware of the ground on which I was walking, the beauty and gentle warmth of the evening, and the people around me. I even became thankful for the companion which supported me.

As I have continued my "staggering meditation" with my companion, I have tried to think deeply about this practice. For so many years, because of my anger, I deprived myself of support that I needed to be fully mobile. When I did seek that support, I was motivated more by a fear of falling than anything else. I have come to an awareness that my companion is a gift that helps connect me not only with the ground, but also with the many others who for a variety of reasons cannot walk easily, but who also stagger. When I am connected with these brothers and sisters, I no longer feel separated or left out. Rather than a reminder of a terrible past, I have uncovered a deep root of present meaning in this "tree" that I hug in my hand.

Alan Cutter is a Presbyterian Minister in Duluth, Minnesota.

PDF of this article

Recovery of Oneself

By Mack Paul Despite the poor rewards and aggravations of teaching, I've always been attracted to the work. The kids are vibrant, and underneath their veneer of adolescent crudity, they are often heartbreakingly sweet. Nonetheless, I became aware that the stress of it was beginning to take a toll. A few years back a friend introduced me to Thay's teaching of "being peace," and I resolved to incorporate a meditative attitude into my daily activities.

Since then, I have been surprised at how much easier my job has become. When I notice that I am beginning "to lose myself," I pull myself into myself and breathe. I've found that many potential confrontations spontaneously dissipate when I decline to participate. I find that other problems can be creatively resolved if I check my initial aggressive impulse and search for a more creative solution.

I recently had an illuminating experience with one of my more troubled students. This young man, whom I will call Jim, comes from a difficult home environment with an alcoholic father who alternately neglects and bullies Jim. Consequently, Jim resents authority figures and tends to bully his classmates. He finds it difficult to stay on task in school, finding disruption a more satisfying activity than diligence. He has learned, and has articulated this learning to me, that if he behaves badly enough that teachers will let him do what he wants so they can attend to more willing students.

Recently, our entire school was having a stressful day. Jim wanted to go the the gymnasium to watch a basketball game and Mike, the vice-principal told him that he could not. Jim, who hates being thwarted, came into my classroom upset and swept a pile of books off a table so he could sit there. I had an immediate negative response to this and told him to pick them up. He snarled in reply that he would when he felt like it. In return, I blew up and marched him down to Mike's office. Mike refrained from punishing him but just kept him in the office and told him to stay away from me for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, Jim found me after school and rather aggressively informed me that our encounter was my fault because I knew how he responded to people giving him orders—a rationale that I was simply not willing to hear. I told him to "get out of my face" and stomped off. I was, by now, pretty upset. Mike and I decided to have his mother keep him home the next day for a cooling-off period.

By Monday I had pretty well cooled off, but I could see that Jim was still distressed. I could tell that our relationship had been damaged by the incident, but I was not ready to approach him. I suffered with my emotions for the next couple of days, just sitting and breathing with my discomfort. As I sat, I realized that despite his provocation, it was not my intention or desire to yell at him. He missed school one day. I knew that he was not sick and took this as a bad sign, so I called him on the phone and apologized. His response to me was honest and touching and I could hear the agony in his voice as he said, "I didn't know what else to do." I told him that I didn't either and that the incident was behind us.

Since that time I've been gratified to hear some reports from amazed colleagues of Jim behaving in a manner that they find uncharacteristically civil and courteous. His softening has been a palpable phenomenon and, sometimes, he even does his school work. He is showing a bit more willingness to play by the rules. I don't have great hopes that Jim will ever be a model student, but I hope mat he will make it through high school. I had a lot of authority to take revenge upon him for his initial rudeness to me and his subsequent self defense. Many teachers would argue that he should have suffered some consequence for that incident. Unfortunately, many of our students like Jim live very punishing lives and what discipline we do provide them only further alienates them from us and from society. They are often very unpleasant but desperately need someone to be on their side and to patiently show them less self-destructive forms of behavior.

I believe that mindfulness practice has made it possible for me to do just that. Sometimes, when someone misbehaves badly we say, "It is the drugs doing the talking through him." These days I sometimes get the feeling that the practice is talking through me. As I approach the end of this school year, rather than feeling the exhaustion and burnout that are common to this time, I feel a sense of joy in my work and a deep affection for my students and my colleagues as well. I am very grateful for these powerful teachings.

Mack Paul teaches junior high school students designated as "learning disabled" in Norman, Oklahoma.

PDF of this article

A Real "Good Morning"

By Laura Siegel My heart was filled with joy as I walked my dog one March morning. The sun was warm and bright, my steps light, and my pockets were filled with plastic bags.

My dog lifted his leg and peed on numerous bushes, fire hydrants, and lamp posts. He sniffed, turned circles a few times and squatted. I reached down with my plastic bag and scooped up his droppings. Merrily I swung the full plastic bag at my side. Buds were springing up everywhere. The first yellow daffodils of Spring grew in a circle around a birch tree.

Down the street, a man was opening a car door. He was saying good-bye to a younger man who appeared to be his son. As I passed his house, he shouted to me, "If I see that dog near my lawn, I'll kill him."

I was thrown. This was just not what I had expected on such a beautiful day. In that moment—only a fraction of a second—I stood perfectly still and took one deep breath. As the air of that warm, sun-filled, jasmine-scented day filled my lungs, I looked across the street, and said, "Good morning."

"Good morning!" he shouted harshly.

Still shaken, I walked on.

I was pleased with my "Good morning." In the moment before I took a deep breath, I wanted to react to that man's angry words. What I would have said, I'm not sure. But in that moment when I took the breath, I said what was true for me. It was a good morning. I was happy. I was pleased that I did not lose my good moment to that man's angry words.

I also believe I detected a slight hesitation, a "harumph" in the man's "good morning," as if I had shaken him up with my "Good morning" as much as he had shaken me with his threat to kill.

After I arrived home, I sat down to write some letters and pay bills. As I was getting postage stamps from my stamp box, I noticed my rubber stamp that says, "Handstamped with love." I decided to stamp a few special letters with this. Then I realized, why not "hand stamp with love" the phone, gas, and electric bills? Why not let the person at the cable TV office and the garbage company experience the same love I felt that morning walking in the sunshine and noticing the first daffodils in bloom.

Laura Siegel lives in Pacifica, California.

PDF of this article

Poem: The World Today

By Bruce Ho Sun shines brighter than the sky. It bursts through the clouds. Capture it in your hand. Turn the world round and round. It's time to look around you. See the land change every season. Look around once more. There is more than this continent. Explore the world. Let the sun shine brightly, Let it see the stars. Time after time, day after day, conserve energy. Let sunlight warm up your senses. Turn around in a circle. See the sights again. Find yourself in the present moment. Don't think about the future. Let your senses shine. Smell the flowers. Eat the fruit. Touch the sky. See the world around you, Let them move your heart. Look and tell the tale. Tell it in it's full length. Details are important. The story will tell itself. Unless we keep polluting, it's time for the greatest change of all eternity! Take the daybreak course in the midst of the clouds. Time is not important. Just let your ideas spin. Justice and eternity roll down the streets, waiting to be caught. Here is today, Our only hope for tomorrow!

PDF of this article

Reading Each Other

By Peter Levitt Recently, as part of a book tour, I was scheduled to be interviewed on a National Public Radio affiliate station. Before heading to the station, I called in to tell the interviewer I'd arrived and would be at the studio just in time. He asked me what I wanted to discuss and I told him I'd follow his lead but that he might want to read a few specific poems before I got there and, by the way, had he read the books? "Oh, yes! They're wonderful!"

When I arrived at the station I was led into the broadcast studio to meet my host. His back was to me as I walked in and so I just quietly introduced myself. He turned around, greeted me with a big smile and said "Welcome. Welcome." That's when I saw that he was blind. Disarmed, I thought, "How could he read my books?"

I fought with the apparent contradiction. But as I tried to make sense of the situation, my host, with great heart and humor, laughed as he heard the intra music to his show, ushered me into my seat before the microphone with a wave of his hand, bent to the controls, flipped a few switches and we were on the air. After a few welcoming remarks, he said, "I'm very pleased today to have poet Peter Levitt in the studio with me. Peter is the author of two new books," and then, to my amazement, he held one of them so close to his face that the cover brushed his eyelash. Then he did the same with the other. "My God," I thought. "He did read the books!" Knowing what he gave of himself to read my poems, my heart turned over and I felt the tears come into my eyes.

For the entire interview I couldn't take my eyes off this man. As the interview progressed, I realized he was "reading me" in the place the poems come from. As Robert Creeley once wrote, "What love might learn from such a sight."

Peter Levitt lives in Santa Monica, California. His two new books are One Hundred Butterflies and Bright Root, Dark Root, published by Broken Moon Press, Seattle, Washington.

PDF of this article

One Child at a Time

By Lisa Benitez I had a dream in which hundreds of eyes were looking at me. A voice said, "These are the eyes of the children of the world. Never turn away from them." If you look into the eyes of children long enough, along with the pain and the suffering you will see tremendous hope, joy, and love. The children I teach on the reservation give me so much more than I can ever give them.

This summer one of my eleven-year-old students has come to stay with my son and me. Both his parents, alcoholics, were murdered when he was very young. Although the alcohol has left him with severe learning problems, he was blessed with a most gentle spirit and tremendous artistic talent. I have enrolled him in a summer art class at our community college. One child at a time is the way we will heal this world.

Lisa Benitez is a special education teacher on a Navajo Reservation in Kirtland, New Mexico.

PDF of this article

Who Decides Suitability?

By R.A. Poolman Ten years ago, after our house was broken into, I phoned the dogs' refuge home to ask whether it was wise to adopt a larger, mature dog. I was concerned as I was to be away on business for the next two weeks, and the break-in had been very disturbing for my family. The person at the dogs' refuge said, no, it was not generally a good idea to adopt a larger mature dog. However, they had one at the home that had become a favorite of all the staff, and they would love her to go to a good home.

At the dog's refuge, my wife and son went off immediately to look at the puppies, while I went to see the recommended dog. Sure enough it was a large German Shepherd cross. When I told my son that I had been looking at a dog who was unsuitable, he wanted to go and see for himself. The cage was opened, the dog ran to my son and licked him. They both ran off onto the grassy area, rolled around together, and they have been good friends ever since.

Who decides suitability? The interconnectedness had simply been there waiting for the pattern to be completed.

R.A. Poolman , a taxation and arts management consultant, lives in Claremont, Australia.

PDF of this article

The Courage To Heal

By Anneke Brinkerink Imagine you are eleven years old. Your grandfather—the one you love and trust most in life—is with you. He wants to touch you all over. What would you do? I froze. I didn't know I could say, "No!"

Now, more than twenty-five years later, it still takes courage to heal. It's a long and painful thaw. During meditation, little by little, I am able to allow myself to face different parts of this experience. Awareness and understanding about body-mind resistance, hidden anger, losing self-respect, confusion about trust, food addiction, fear of fear, and a part of me that is strong and wise.

Family values are cast in another light. My grandfather and father were both ministers—fathers of the community. Due to this active Christian background, the incestual secret created a barrier between me and loved ones. I was ashamed—until I realized it wasn't my fault, until I realized that the only essential forgiveness was and is for myself. I look at the Third Precept over and over again. I imagine my grandfather as an eleven-year-old child.

Healing happens in a context. The support of the sangha makes it possible to be with this part of my history on all the different levels. My feeling of connection with my global family is growing, and compassion begins at home.

Anneke Brinkerink, True Compassionate Nature, is an illustrator living in Dorpsweg, Holland.

PDF of this article

Working On How I Work

By Eveline Beumkes Since I first invited Sister Jina to come to Holland, after I moved from Plum Village to Amsterdam, my life has been filled with "organizing sangha" activities. I have finally found something that I can do with all my heart, without the least bit of resistance. I wouldn't want to do anything else. But I have not managed (yet?) to do whatever presents itself in a lighthearted way. There are always so many things to do, and they all seem equally urgent. The pile on my desk never gets down to the point where I feel it is manageable. It often burdens me. I feel no space. I often feel I am not in touch enough with the present and the joy that it contains. I know how incongruent this is with the work I am doing.

So this is what I have to look deeply into—the way I work. It has to do with a lot of other things—how I do (or do not) deal with my feelings, the need to manifest myself in some way, the wish to please others, and so on.

Eveline Beumkes is a sangha builder in Amsterdam, Holland.

PDF of this article