#10 Winter 1994

Dharma Talk: Returning Home

By Thich Nhat Hanh

I have arrived.
I am home,
In the here
And the now.
I feel solid. 
I feel free.
In the ultimate
I dwell.

It is important for us to return home — to come back to the here and the now — and make peace with ourselves, our society, and those we love.

At times we suffer so much we want to run away. We feel burned out, overwhelmed, and so we take refuge in our projects, even our projects for social change. At these times we need a source of peace and joy, but when we arrive home, we may find a lot of violence and suffering there. We begin to practice mindful breathing, and, after a while, we are able to touch real peace and joy. Going home and touching peace is a source of great nourishment. The practice is to arrive home in each moment, to touch the peace and joy that are within us, and to open our eyes to the wonders of life around us — the blue sky, the sunset, the eyes of our beloved. When we do this, we experience real happiness.

Touching our eyes with mindfulness, we know that our eyes are a condition for peace and joy. Touching the beautiful trees, we realize how wonderful they are. We feel nourished, and we vow to do whatever we can to protect them and keep them healthy. Then, when our mindfulness has become strong enough, we can touch the war that is also going on inside us. But we must be careful. If we touch the suffering too soon, before we have developed concentration, stability, and the energy of mindfulness, we may be overwhelmed.

Sometimes when we suffer, we blame another person — our partner, our son, our daughter, our parents — as the cause. But when we look deeply in mindfulness we can see that they too are suffering. We see that our enemy is not the person. It is the seed of despair, anger, frustration, or fear in us. In Buddhism, we describe consciousness in terms of "seeds" — seeds of peace, joy, and happiness, and seeds of war, anger, despair, and hatred. All of these are in us. I know that you are not my enemy. In fact, I need you to help me transform my seeds of suffering. We are both victims of our own suffering, so why don't we come together and touch some of the positive things instead? Looking deeply, we can see seeds of peace, joy, talent, and happiness in each other, and we can tell each other how much we appreciate these things.

When two warring parties arrive at a peace conference, they always begin by accusing each other, touching the negative seeds. A third party, someone who can practice "flower watering" — pointing out the positive jewels in the traditions of both sides — is needed. Both sides need more respect and appreciation for each other. These kinds of negotiations can drag on for months just disputing procedures. Why not devote the first days to flower watering? When two individuals are in conflict, when their fears and frustrations are too great for them to reconcile alone, the practice of touching peace and flower watering is also very helpful. In fact, in any relationship, this is a useful practice. Psychotherapists can practice walking meditation, looking at the beautiful sky, and touching the seeds of joy, peace, and happiness that have not been touched in a long time, with their clients. Then, when the balance is restored, it will be much easier to touch the pain, the war going on inside.

There is no need to be afraid to go home. At home, we can touch the most beautiful things. Home is in the present moment, the only moment we can touch life. If we do not go back to the present moment, how can we touch the beautiful sky, the sunset, or the eyes of our dear child? If we do not go home, how can we touch our heart, our lungs, our liver, and our eyes to give them a chance to be healthy? At home, we can touch all the wonders of life, the refreshing, beautiful, and healing elements.

Touching the present moment deeply, we also touch the past, and any damage that was done in the past can be repaired in that moment. We see that the future is also made of the present moment. There is no need to worry about the future. The way to take care of the future is to take good care of the present moment.

According to the Buddha, most of our suffering is caused by wrong perceptions. One man I know believed that the baby his wife gave birth to was really the child of his neighbor, and he held onto that wrong perception for twelve years, too proud to talk about it with anyone. The man became distant and cold to his wife, and the whole family suffered deeply. Then one day, after twelve years, a house guest observed that the twelve-year-old boy looked exactly like his father, and only then did the man abandon his wrong perception. A lot of damage was done during those twelve years. Wrong perceptions, like walking in the twilight and mistaking a length of rope for a snake, are common in our daily lives. That is why it is so important to practice mindfulness and stay in close touch with our perceptions.

Each of us has habit energies that cause us difficulties. One Frenchwoman I know left home at the age of seventeen to live in England, because she was so angry at her mother. Thirty years later, after reading a book on Buddhism, she felt the desire to return home and reconcile with her mother. Her mother also felt the desire to reconcile, but every time the two of them met, there was a kind of explosion. Their seeds of suffering had been cultivated over a long time, and there was a lot of habit energy. The willingness to make peace is not enough. We also need to practice.

So I invited her to come to Plum Village to practice sitting, walking, breathing, eating, and drinking tea in mindfulness. Through that daily practice, she was able to touch the seeds of her anger and her habit energies. Then she wrote a letter of reconciliation to her mother. Without her mother present, it was easier to write such a letter. When her mother read it, she tasted the fruit of her daughter's flower watering, and peace was finally possible.

If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give is your presence. If you are not really there, how can you love? The most meaningful declaration you can offer is, "Darling, I am here for you." You breathe in and out mindfully, and when you are really present, you recognize the presence of the other. To embrace someone with the energy of mindfulness is the most nourishing thing you can offer. If the person you love does not get your attention, she may die slowly. When she is suffering, you have to make yourself available right away: "Darling, I know that you suffer. I am here for you." This is the practice of mindfulness.

If you yourself suffer, you have to go to the person you love and tell him, "Darling, I am suffering. Please help." If you cannot say that, something is wrong in your relation­ship. Pride does not have a place in true love. Pride should not prevent you from going to him and saying that you suffer and need his help. We need each other.

One day in the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, I saw a young woman walking alone who looked like a ghost. I thought she must be from a broken family, from a society that does not appreciate her, and from a tradition not capable of nourishing her. I have met many people like that, without roots. They are angry, and they want to leave their parents, their society, and their nation behind and find something else that is good, beautiful, and true. They want something they can believe in. Many people like that come to medita­tion centers, but because they have no roots, it is difficult for them to absorb the teaching. They do not trust easily, so the first thing to do is to earn their trust.

In many Asian countries, we pay a lot of respect to our ancestors. We have an ancestors' altar in each home. On the full moon day of the seventh month, we offer flowers, fruits, and drink to them. It is a happy day, because we feel that our ancestors are with us. But, at the same time, we are aware that many souls, "hungry ghosts," have no home to go back to. So we set up a table for them in the front yard and offer them food and drink. Hungry ghosts are hungry for love, understanding, and something to believe in. They have not received love, and no one understands them. They have large bellies and their throats are as small as a needle. Even if we offer them food, water, or love, it is difficult for them to receive it. They are very suspicious. Our society produces thousands of hungry ghosts like that every day. We have to look deeply if we want to understand them, and not just blame them.

To be happy and stable, we need two families — a blood family and a spiritual family. If our parents are happy with each other, they will be able to transmit to us the love, trust, and the values of our ancestors. If we are on good terms with our parents, we are connected with our ancestors through them. But if we are not, we can easily become a hungry ghost, rootless. In our spiritual family, we have ancestors, too, those who represent the tradition. If they are not happy, if they have not been lucky enough to receive the jewels of the tradition, they will not be able to transmit them to us. If we are not on good terms with our rabbi, our pastor, or our priest, we will want to run away. Disconnected from our spiritual ancestors, we will suffer, and our children will suffer too. We have to look deeply to see what is wrong. If those who represent our tradition do not embody the best values of the tradition, there must be causes, and when we see the causes, insight, acceptance, and compassion will arise. Then we will be able to return home, reconnect with them, and help them.

Transmission has three components — the one who transmits, the object transmitted, and the receiver. Our body and our consciousness are objects transmitted to us; our parents are the transmitters; and we are the receiver of the transmission. Looking deeply, we can see that the three components are one — this is called the "emptiness of transmission." Our body and many of the seeds we carry in our consciousness are actually our parents. They did not transmit anything less than themselves — seeds of suffering, happiness, and talent, many of which they received from their ancestors. We cannot escape the fact that we are a continuation of our parents and our ancestors. To be angry at our parents is to be angry at ourselves. To reconcile with our father and mother is to make peace with ourselves.

One young American man who came to Plum Village told me that he was so angry at his father that even after his father passed away, he still could not reconcile with him. The young man put a photo of his father on his desk, with a small lamp near it, and every time he got close to the desk, he would look into the eyes of his father and practice conscious breathing. Doing this, he was able to see that he is his father, a true continuation of his father. He also saw that his father was incapable of transmitting seeds of love and trust to him, because his father had not been helped by anyone to touch these seeds in himself, seeds that were covered over by many layers of suffering. When the young man became aware of that, he was able to understand and forgive. His father had been the victim of his father. He knew that if he did not practice mindfulness and deep looking, the seeds of love and trust in him would remain buried, and then when he had a child, he would behave exactly as his father did, continuing the wheel of samsara. The only thing to do is to go back and make peace with his own parents, and through his parents, reconnect with all of his ancestors.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we can also discover important jewels and values in our spiritual traditions. In Christianity, for example, Holy Communion is an act of mindfulness — eating a piece of bread deeply in order to touch the entire cosmos. In Judaism, you practice mindfulness when you set the table or pour tea, doing everything in the presence of God. Even the equivalents of the Three Jewels and the Five Wonderful Precepts can be found in Christianity, Judaism, and other great traditions. After you practice mindfulness according to the Buddhist tradition, you will be able to return home and discover the jewels in your own tradition. I urge you to do so — for your nourishment and the nourishment of your children.

Without roots, we cannot be happy. If we return home and touch the wondrous jewels that are there in our traditions — blood and spiritual — we can become whole.

I would like to offer an exercise that can help us do this. It is called Touching the Earth. In each of us, there are many kinds of ideas, notions, attachments, and discrimination. The practice is to bow down and touch the Earth, emptying ourselves, and surrendering to Earth. You touch the Earth with your forehead, your two hands, and your two feet, and you surrender to your true nature, accepting any form of life your true nature offers you. Surrender your pride, hopes, ideas, fears, and notions. Empty yourself of any resentments you feel toward anyone. Surrender everything, and empty yourself completely. To do this is the best way to get replenished. If you do not exhale and empty your lungs, how can fresh air come in? In this practice, the body and the mind are working together, in harmony, to form a perfect whole.

We prostrate ourselves six times to help us realize our deep connection to our own roots. The first bow is directed towards all generations of ancestors in our blood family. Our parents are the youngest, closest ancestors, and through them we connect with other generations of ancestors. If we are on good terms with our parents, the connection is easy. But if we are not, we have to empty our resentments and reconnect with them. Our parents had seeds of love and trust they wanted to transmit to us, perhaps they were not able to do so. Instead of transmitting loving kindness and trust, they transmitted suffering and anger. The practice is to look deeply and see that we are a continuation of our parents and our ancestors. When we understand the "emptiness of transmission," reconciliation is possible. Bowing down, touching the Earth, we should be able to surrender the idea of our separate self and become one with our ancestors. Only then should true communion become possible and the energy of our ancestors able to flow into us.

The second bow is directed towards Buddhist ancestors who came before us, those who have transmitted these teachings and practices to us for more than 25 centuries. The third bow is directed towards our land and the ancestors who made it available to us. The fourth is to channel and transmit the energy of loving kindness to those we love. We touch the Earth, look deeply into our relationship, and see how we can improve it. The fifth bow is directed towards those who have made us suffer. Looking deeply, we see that these people suffer also, and do not have the insight to prevent their suffering from spilling over onto others. Motivated by compassion, we want to share our energy with them, hoping it will help them suffer less and be able to enjoy some peace and happiness.

The sixth bow is directed towards our own spiritual ancestors. If we are lucky, it may be easy for us to connect with the representatives of our spiritual tradition — our rabbi, pastor, or priest. But if we have had problems with them, our effort is to understand how they themselves were not able to receive the jewels of the tradition. Instead of feeling resentment toward them, we vow to go back and rediscover the jewels of our tradition ourselves. Getting connected with our church, synagogue, rabbi, or priest will enable us to touch all our spiritual ancestors.

Photos: First photo by Karen Hagen Liste. Second photo by Stuart Rodgers.

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

From the Editors

We are happy to offer this new Mindfulness Bell, on the theme of returning to our true home. Thich Nhat Hanh's opening article, edited from a lecture given to 3,500 people in Berkeley last October, encourages us to become deeply rooted in our spiritual and blood families so we can enter the present moment fully, with strength and ease. The experiential pieces that follow describe the challenges of being present with difficult states of mind, family members, and neighbors, and in the midst of war, poverty, and oppression. Returning to the anchor of mindfulness holds us steadfast to arrive home and know how to respond with care for all. Beginning with this issue, The Mindfulness Bell is officially the newsletter of the international Order of Interbeing, which was founded by Thich Nhat Hanh nearly 30 years ago as an expression of mindfulness in every aspect of our lives. To learn more about the Order, we encourage you to look at the newly revised edition of Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, from Parallax Press.

Our next issue will be on "Mindfulness in the Workplace." Many of you spend most of your waking hours at work, so we especially welcome your insights and struggles in trying to shine the light of mindfulness there.

We hope you are keeping well and happy, warm and safe.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Carole Melkonian, and Arnie Kotler

Touching the Earth - Six Prostrations

We bow down to the Earth, fall deeply, as low as possible, and touch the Earth with our forehead. We empty ourselves, surrender ourselves in order to become one with the Earth. Then we can accept anything the Earth gives, everything that arises. Unafraid, we surrender completely to our own true nature.

1. In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.

I see my father and mother, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see all four of my grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and all ancestors. I know that I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect, and transmit to me your energy. I know wherever children and grandchildren are, ancestors are there also. I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they encountered. I see that my ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving kindness. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply and allow their energy to flow through me. I ask my ancestors for their support, protection, and strength.

2. In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family.

I see in myself, my teacher, the one who shows me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teacher all teachers over many generations, all bodhisattvas, and the Buddha Shakyamuni, the one who started my spiritual family 2,600 years ago. I see the Buddha as my teacher and also my spiritual ancestor. I see that the energy of the Buddha and of many generations of teachers have entered me and are creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving kindness in me. I know that the energy of the Buddha has deeply transformed the world. Without the Buddha and all these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive the energy of understanding, loving kindness, and protection from the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha over many generations. am the continuation of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I vow to practice to transform the suffering in myself and the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners.

3. In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of the ancestors who made it available.

I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this land and all of the living beings who have been here, and, with all their efforts, made life easy and possible for me. I see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, and all the others known and unknown. I see all those who have made this country a refuge for people of so many origins and colors, by their talent, perseverance, and love, those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice. I see myself touching my ancestors of Native American origin who have lived on this land for such a long time and known the ways to live in peace and harmony with nature, protecting the mountains, forests, animals, vegetation, and minerals of this land. I feel the energy of this land penetrating my body and soul, supporting and accepting me. I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and transmit it to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming the violence, hatred, and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy, and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support.

4. In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.

All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, all who have suffered and worried because of me and for my sake. I know I have not been mindful enough in my daily life. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. They have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development. I transmit my energy to my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my beloved ones, my husband, my wife, my daughter, and my son so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I pray that all ancestors in my blood and spiritual families will focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.

5. In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile with all who have made me suffer.

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger, and hatred. I know that anyone  who suffers that much will make those around suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people I love. I pray to my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us suffer, the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar of love and blossom like a flower. I pray that that person can be transformed so that he can experience the joy of living, so that he will not continue to make himself suffer, and make others suffer. I see his suffering and do not want to see the suffering continue any longer. I do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself towards that person. I do not want that person to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to him, and ask all my ancestors to help him.

6. In gratitude and compassion, I bow down to my ancient spiritual roots.

I see myself as a child, sitting in church or synagogue, ready for the sermon or ceremony—Yom Kippur, Holy Communion...I see my priest, pastor, minister, rabbi, and the people in the congregation. I remember how difficult it was to be there and to do things I did not understand or want to do. I know communication was difficult and I did not receive much joy or nourishment from these services. I felt anxious and impatient. Because of the lack of communication and understanding between my spiritual family and me, I left my rabbi, my pastor, my synagogue, my church. I lost contact with my spiritual ancestors and became disconnected from them. Now I know there are jewels in my spiritual tradition, and that the spiritual life of my tradition has contributed greatly to the stability, joy, and peace of my ancestors for many generations. I know those who practice my spiritual tradition were unsuccessful in transmitting it to me, to us. I want to go back to them to rediscover the great spiritual values in my tradition, for my own nourishment and the nourishment of my children and their children. I want to connect again with my ancient spiritual ancestors and get their spiritual energy flowing freely to me again. I see Moses, Jesus, and so many others as my spiritual ancestors. I see teachers over many generations in these traditions as my spiritual ancestors, and I bow down to all of them in the present moment.

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True Love, the Greatest Relief

By Katherine Cook

I found myself ambivalent about going to the retreat I had signed up for so many months in advance. I feared the size of the crowd (450 people) and my own internal formations about "not being good enough." After consulting a good friend, I decided to make the leap and go to "The Greatest Relief at Camp Swig.

Once I arrived, the sight of familiar faces and people smiling, sitting, and breathing put me at ease. The atmosphere created before we even began was very pleasant. I set up camp and went to dinner in the large dining hall, where I heard for the first time the meal chant beautifully translated and set to a lovely, simple melody that reminded me of Plainsong. I was moved to tears. I had lived and practiced for many years at Zen Center which emphasized Japanese-style chanting from the hara, and it was so wonderful to hear the thanksgiving for the food in words and sounds that were part of my cultural heritage.

At the opening meeting, Thay mentioned that he thought we might have a happy retreat. I was reminded again about the simple practice of putting my attention on the in-breath and the out-breath, took it as my practice and returned to it again and again during the retreat.

Early on I realized how much my habitual consumption of coffee and cigarettes interfered with my ability to be present for Thay's teachings and other events. Much to my astonishment, I simply abandoned them both. I have struggled with these addictions for years. This time I knew that nothing was more important than being available for the teachings and being able to practice unencumbered by bad habits. Nothing had moved me to that point before. I understood so well what Thay meant by keeping our "living room," or mind consciousness, full of what we consume. Doing so creates a floor between our mind consciousness and store consciousness so that circulation between them stops. This I have experienced myself.

What moved me so deeply during this retreat, though, was finding out that with a skilled and committed teacher, one could practice even with this feeling and come to a place of ultimate trust in the practice and touch the ground of being. I felt myself actually moving in this direction, until, at the end of the retreat, I felt quite strong in my practice and trusted in it completely. I felt more like I had a responsibility for teaching the practice than for just being a student. I felt I had been completely met and understood for who I was both as wave and as water. That was the gift to me of the Sangha and of the teacher.

Over the course of the retreat I discovered what a treasure it was to find a true Dharma teacher. It was so timely and skillful that Thay and Sister Chan Khong were able to use the language and feelings of "true love," which is one of our deepest longings, and that we practiced with it until we were carried to the ground of the ultimate. The retreat could not have been better for me, and I sensed this was true for others as well.

When I got home, I faced a difficult family situation. My daughter had fallen in love for the first time and wanted to get married right away. Her blood family, her spiritual family at Green Gulch Farm, and I had never seen her so ungrounded. I could not communicate with the person she had become and I did not trust her partner. Fearing I had lost her forever, I became very distraught. I even feared for her life at times. When I began to run on fear like that, I knew the only thing that would save me was mindfulness of the breath, and I practiced it to save my life and try to find some calmness and peace of mind so I could accept my daughter's situation. Sometimes my feelings were so intense the only way I could practice was lying down in bed with no external stimulation. I asked my friends to sit with me to help ease my suffering. I went to the park and practiced walking meditation in nature as much as I could.

Eventually I became calm enough to write my daughter a letter. As "wave-mother," I expressed my hopes and fears about her life situation. As "water-mother," I expressed my unconditional love. She responded to that. She could feel my calm, and she left a message on my phone machine saying she would respond-in writing. We tried to talk by phone, but we just hurt each other. I felt as if we had barbed wire stretched between our hearts. I thought we might have to separate in silence for years to heal our wounds.

I went to a retreat center in a beautiful natural setting near her new home where I worked with the community and refreshed myself in nature. I became calm and happy enough to call my daughter and ask if she would meet me for dinner. I said I would prefer to meet her alone, but agreed to meet her with her partner. She agreed to meet me alone the next time. The three of us met for dinner and we were finally able to talk. Real communication began around her new situation. She was able to understand that, even though I could not understand her choice of partner, I would not do anything to try to separate them. I was able to understand that, even though she had a new commitment to her partner, she was not going to cut me off. We were able to reveal to each other our hopes and fears for our relationship as mother and daughter and recognize that we were truly bound by a very deep love and valued each other's presence in our lives very much. She had also heard the concern of her friends and family, and had come back down to earth into the present moment. This was a great relief to mc. I had no choice but to bring my retreat experience to my family life. Mindfulness practice made my family life possible again.

We stood in the restaurant embracing for a long time.

Katherine Cook practices flower essence counseling, Shiatsu massage, and teaches Pueblo pottery and lives at San Francisco Zen Center in California.

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Facing the Violence Within

By Phyllis Austin

Late one evening recently, I received a phone call from my sister with sad news. Her daughter, who had been raped at gun point by a felon just a year ago, had been beaten badly by her husband. My family was understandably upset and angry. They have seen my niece through much suffering, including a previous marriage also beset by violence and alcohol. They have anguished about the impact on her two young children, who have been battered emotionally and don't know what a safe, secure home is.

In the past, I too have responded with much anger at the men who have brutalized my niece and caused such terrible pain to the children. I have also been pointedly angry at my niece for taking her problems to my aging parents, who are unable to bear such woeful burdens anymore. This time, however, I wasn't furious; I did not feel a need to blame anyone or join in the fray. I was just sick at heart. And the repetitive nature of my niece's troubles jolted me into awareness of how seeds of violence had manifested in my blood family.

Looking deeply, I came to understand that my niece is the garden in which my family's seeds of anger have sprouted and blossom. Seeing this way enables me to be part of her suffering, as well as that of her husband. I could see myself as the one beaten and the beater—because we all are, I believe, co-responsible for the haired and violence in our families, in our society. To truly accept myself as a participant, not an observer, of violence is a crucial point in my life. For a long time, it has been politically and spiritually popular to give lip service to such a notion. But I didn't take it on because I didn't feel it in my gut until now.

In the days after my niece's beating, other family members exploded in ways beyond anger. I sat 1,000 miles away, able to do little concretely. I pondered the question of how anger and violence had been passed on from one generation to another. What kind of "seed storehouses" were my ancestors? How did my family get to this point today—this painful place we share with so many families in America?

My maternal grandparents, with whom my parents, sister and I lived, didn't express anger openly. Had they healed it in themselves, or were their seeds of anger suppressed by strong Victorian mores? My parents, I know, smothered their anger. With no role models for anger, I was into my 40s before I learned how strong my own anger was and how to express it in a healthy way. But do I understand my anger well enough? Who is watering the seeds of my anger now, as well as the seeds of happiness, sorrow, fear, joy, and hope?

I was fortunate to have just returned from a retreat with Thay when the news of my niece's difficulties arrived. He had focused much of his teachings on transforming anger and violence through mindfulness. From mindfulness, or insight comes love, he says.

"Love is the intention and capacity to bring joy to others and to remove and transform the pain that is in them.. .[when] love is present, relief is there, peace is there." I had read these words before in books Thay has written on the subject. I had listened to them on audio tapes. But being in his presence made me realize I hadn't really grasped them. For the first time, sitting on my cushion a few feet away from him, I "got" the message. So when I returned home and received my sister's call, I was prepared to see the violence not as just my niece's and her husband's. I now saw how I and every member of my family plays a role.

Thay describes the seeds of anger, once watered, rising like a flame into "mind consciousness." Every time anger manifests at the conscious level, "it is strengthened at the base as a seed," he says. "In psychotherapy, it's said we have to be in touch with our anger, experience our anger, allow our anger to be," he notes. "But if we don't know how to do it, it.. .can be very destructive." Thay teaches that when anger arises, "you should invite the seed of mindfulness to manifest because you do have that seed in you too."

This way is nonviolent, non-dualistic, he says. "The energy of mindfulness embraces the energy of anger in the most tender way. In touching your anger with mindfulness, you will bring about a change." The Buddhist tradition considers the seed of mindfulness as the "baby Buddha in us," Thay says. "The baby Buddha is under many layers of forgetfulness and suffering, but it's always there. If you go back and touch the seed of mindfulness, it will grow and begin to generate the kind of energy that has the power to heal and to transform."

With Thay's teachings as a guide, the best way I know to help my family is to nurture the seeds of peace within myself, to be supportive without judgment and blame. Every time I breathe mindfully, I am helping my niece to heal, helping the children to not grow up to be the ones who are beaten, or the ones doing the beating.

Phyllis Austin, a reporter for the Maine Times (where this article originally appeared), lives in Brunswick, Maine.

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Mountain Cider Meditation

By Anne Dellenbaugh

In early September, fourteen women on a "Mountain Dharma" backpacking trip set camp under large white pines and firs by a stream in northern Maine. A granite ledge, worn smooth by running water since glacial time, served as a lovely stream-side terrace. I had not planned to do a tea meditation, but when I saw all the mugs sitting together in one place on the rock next to a pot of steaming hot cider and the women gathered around, I saw the opportunity and thought, "Why not? This is perfect." We poured the cider and passed it, using two frying pans as trays. The warm mugs felt good in our cold hands—easy to "hold mindfulness in my two hands" when it feels this good, I thought.

After a few minutes we shared songs and gathas that had helped us along the path (literally): "Breathing in, a lotus blooms in this step. Breathing out, I plant peace." This was shortened to "Lotus/Peaceful" and was used while climbing the steep sections, so we could enjoy the mountain instead of fighting it. We sang some songs and bowed deeply to each other. Then we washed our mugs, packed them away, and began to walk up the trail. So simple, I thought, and yet the cider meditation was a jewel in the middle of the trip.

Anne Dellenbaugh, newly ordained in the Order of Interbeing, leads wilderness trips for women and lives in Brunswick, Maine.

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Is This Heaven?

By Anne Jimenez

One night, I looked over at my husband who almost died of a heart attack a year ago. The thought of not having him there gripped my heart. Moving closer, I lay my head on his shoulder and became aware of his breathing and heartbeat. The two of us rested in quiet harmony. I wondered if this was heaven. There was a sense of wholeness within me and perfect harmony with another—a joyous peace.

I wondered what a community would be like if everyone appreciated their many different gifts and were aware of the one spirit of life uniting them. We are not perfect people. As individuals in the historical dimension we do not have all the gifts which the Spirit contains. Only in working together with others can we "have it all." Who has not seen the satisfactions of a couple who complement one another and accept the other's talents as a part of the wholeness of their relationship? Who has not seen the successes of parents who welcome each other's contributions to the raising of their children?

Anne Jimenez, a social worker and facilitator of small groups designed to increase spiritual awareness, lives in San Jose, California.

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Raspberries as Spiritual Guide

By Rose Kramer

The window of worldly function keeps inching downward as Parkinson's Disease follows its habitual path. "Progressing" is what it is called in the literature. Initially I often find myself hard put to apply the term "progress" to the slow but steady movement down a slippery slope. Like a refugee fleeing a war zone, I jettison one thing after another—driving, traveling, shopping, running, walking, attending classes. With each letting go, the wrench becomes more manageable. I know the pattern of shock, grief, jealousy, bargaining, hoping, raging, projecting blame, accepting shame, and finally a peace that is strangely better than O.K., an emptiness that makes space for new wonders. Instead of "getting over" this intense living, the process repeats itself, albeit with less force, from declining point to declining point. I have a physician with whom I can share my experiences. We tread the minefields together, advancing, retreating, always recognizing that it is all changing all the time, honoring the cosmic movement, respecting the earthquakes that are beyond our reach to prevent or correct.

Earlier this month I had been saying my painful goodbyes to what I felt was my last Spring, my last apple blossoms, and my pet and personal center—the raspberry bushes. During the last five years, I have carefully made my way to the raspberry bushes to put out my hand and pick the jewel-like fruit as I hang on to the wire that holds the bushes together. Little by little, I fold back each branch, hang on with one hand, ferret out the juicy dark ones, and watch with satisfaction as they accumulate in my collecting basket slung under my arm. Each time I go out to gather the raspberries, I gain confidence. I carry the crown jewels into the house—sometimes holding onto the side of the house, tired, often shuffling, yet feeling complete for the day. Sharing them with people I love is wonderful.

The raspberries on the thorny bushes are my spiritual guide. "Keep harvesting one more day, one more spring," I tell myself. I think of all the people who have helped prepare me and inspired me for the brief yet profound journey from first to last raspberry bush. I am surrounded by loving people, who hardly realize how their friendship makes life sweet, even at its most demeaning and difficult times. I quote a gift that appeared in a letter from a friend: "I am struck by the meaning of following awareness. Wherever my awareness needs to go, I am willing to follow. A deep trust has put down deep roots—I am less and less attached to 'happiness' and 'buoyancy.' The dark night's journey invests us with the ability to see in the dark."

Rose Kramer is the co-translator of The Dhammapada (available from Parallax Press) and editor of Dolphin's Voice, where this article first appeared. She lives in Santa Rosa, California.

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On "Learning True Love"

By Kathlene Biswas

My husband and I seem to be caught in the American lifestyle of pursuing money and sinking deeper and deeper into a mire of work and debt. We know this is pointless, but we have not been able to make changes that will give us more time to simply chop wood and carry water. Like so many, we are confused by the violence of life in our city and are struggling to find a way to educate our children and break this cycle of suffering. We have placed the boys in private schools to remove them from the immediate threat of guns and gangs, but we are in much conflict about devoting our lives to seeking money to try and escape the reality around us. We have been trying for several years to sell our house and find work that will allow my husband to use his talents and not commute four hours per day, but nothing has enabled this and so we are trying to look deeply into why we are where we are. We work in our community organizations trying to create community and new hope, but for each step forward, we see more and more decay around us. We are truly blessed with each other and two wonderful boys, as well as many wonderful friends around the world.

And here we come to the Mindfulness Community. So many times when I have felt despair, I have played old tapes from Thay's retreats or the music collections of Betsy Rose or Rashani. When I hear the laughs and breaths of friends, the voice of Sister Chan Khong, I am once again a flower, brought back to marvel at the joy of the present moment. Unable to participate in this year's retreats, I was sad, yet I also felt I could be sure I would have what I needed just because they existed. I am amazed at my good fortune to have met Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and the Sangha in this life, and I sometimes wonder how such a simple fool could be so blessed. I know we will not lose each other.

I have been immersed in a struggle of fear and wanting to run away because I cannot see how we will find peace in this world with all its hatred and jealousy. I fear even more the nameless violence in our cities which is not motivated by politics, but has just risen out of the meaninglessness of our life-style in this country. Even the Buddhist flag cannot help when raised before a world that cannot recognize itself. We are left with only our own actions with which to bear the standard of peace, and I am sometimes overcome with doubt that we are up to the task. I have often wondered how Sister Chan Khong ever survived all the pain and suffering she witnessed in Vietnam. I have pondered Thay's poems and wondered how his heart could bear such pain, and thought I could never be so strong. I am deeply grateful to them and to all their associates who have worked so steadily to plant seeds of compassion in this world, and I am grateful for the seed in me, and hope that I can care for it lovingly.

Mother Theresa has said that we Americans should stay in our own cities and help the suffering before us rather than go to help lepers in India. She also said that the poor in America are the most deprived in all the world because there is no spiritual life here to help them. Bearing this in mind, I know that I am very selfish to want to run away, because right here is where social change is so desperately needed. And still, I long to be in a place where I don't hear gunshots every evening, or find myself at work in the hospital where we are repairing gunshot and stab wounds on a beautiful Fall morning. And then I read more of Learning True Love, and I am ashamed at how spoiled and weak I am.

I have turned to Sister Chan Khong before, when I was overwhelmed with fear about my youngest son and his unhappiness on a retreat. I wrote her a letter, asking for advice, and I practiced listening to my breath when I could not sleep because of anxiety. By the time she approached me to answer, I was able to just smile and know that there had been no need for words to help me. But how kind of her to be willing, when there are so many greater things which occupy her. As I read her book, I know that she is here with me, and I am so inspired. I know that I have a very large Sangha that supports me as I make my way. I am deeply grateful in the knowledge of the existence of this wonderful web throughout the world, and I am thankful for Thay's teaching and the Fourteen Precepts which so clearly help to bring us back to the present moment. I can only hope to be worthy to have met all these dear and honored teachers.

Kathlene Biswas lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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The Anchor of Mindfulness

By Travis Masch

Without knowing what to expect, I dove into the sea of 450 retreatants at "The Greatest Relief” retreat at Camp Swig in Saratoga, California. There were times during the first hours and well into the next morning when I felt skeptical about the possibility of experiencing a meaningful personal retreat with such a large number of people. I had been going on non-guided silent retreats in the past surrounded by no more than fifteen people. No wonder that during those initial hours at Camp Swig I became an easy victim of my own preconceptions and ideas about what would and would not work. And even after those notions slowly started to dissolve, I still had my cynicism. I was secretly amused by the initial efforts of my fellow retreatants in practicing walking meditation, by the "freeze frame" motions of others during mealtimes who, whenever the bell was invited to sound, left bowls, cups, and plates suspended in mid-air. I became increasingly more uncomfortable with my role as observer which kept me isolated, evoking thoughts of early departure. One of the first effects of this retreat was that I began to realize that my own ego started to erect a wall inside of me, trying to separate "them" from "me." I used my cynicism to become my own prisoner. My "small self tried desperately to prevent the influences and changes I was seeking from actually penetrating me. I knew I had to find a way to break out of that enclosure.

What brought the turnaround? It may have started with Thay's first Dharma talk and the way his voice and mere presence poured oil on my stormy sea of emotion. His words, which I had only read before, floated across the gathering hall and touched me deeply, helping me focus on the moment instead of stumbling through the thicket of memories, conceptions, plans, and judgments. Without realizing it at first, I slowly opened up and the teachings, which before had always resided in my head, started to live and breathe deep inside of me. During that day, I had many more realizations. I understood that what I had felt inside was nothing other than my ego trying to hold on to its old ways of thinking and judging. Some place inside me was a deep fear of change, even if that change meant turning to something good or higher. Leaving behind what is familiar, even values and habits that had lost their meaning long ago, felt like a little death. Thay's words showed me, however, that this death had nothing sad or ugly about it. It revealed itself as a great transformer, helping me take off the dark and heavy coat of prejudices, habits, and expectations. It allowed me to continue my journey on the river of life lighter than ever before, longing to merge with other rivers of thought, experience, and love to create a pool of kindness and good intentions.

The final barrier was washed away during the first Dharma discussions, revealing that we all shared the same fears, despairs, and sorrows, but also had the same courage, hope, and ingenuity in striving to increase our mindfulness. I began to see myself more and more in those around me, reflecting not only the way I was now but also I saw the "me" of the past in some retreatants who were now wrestling with issues I had struggled with before, and I was able to offer advice. I saw the impatience and short-temper that I used to display when dealing with other people's problems only meant that I denied my own past, that I thought I had taken care of long ago. I had projected my own frustration and anger onto others. What wonderful revelations lay hidden in Thay's appeal to loving kindness, not only to others but to one's self—for how can we be gentle and understanding with others if we are harsh against ourselves?

The retreat continued to present countless opportunities to offer help and advice, sometimes just by being mindful. I was in turn, inspired by other retreatants' efforts in mindfulness, which encouraged me to deepen my own practice. At times I just stood still and enjoyed the beauty of seeing others shine in their practice.

As the retreat drew to an end, one question became more and more pressing: "How will I be able to bring this atmosphere of peace, understanding, and mindfulness into my everyday life?" Thay's suggestions of remaining mindful at all times, during sitting, walking, eating, or lying down were the tools we needed to create a wave of mindfulness and become skillful enough to ride on it long after the five days were over.

I am still riding that wave: I meditate each morning and evening, eat one or two meals in silent mindfulness, invite the bell to sound, make use of the gathas, and practice walking meditation on my way to the corner store or mailbox. My Christian roots offered themselves in declaring Sundays as a mindfulness day. And even though my little boat of mindfulness gets tossed around in the wild sea of daily living at times, these practices are my anchor firmly fastened in the ground of spiritual awareness. Sometimes when the "sea" is really calm, the tiny diamond-like sparkling bubbles of the "Avatamsaka realm" break to the surface as gentle, friendly reminders of what lies hidden behind the ordinary.

Travis Masch has been a student of the Dharma for nearly twenty years. He lives in San Francisco, where he owns the "One World Cafe."

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Invite the Dragon to Tea

By Eveline Beumkes

I have always felt an intense dread of being responsible and have wished to hide from that role. I run away in fear and feel chased by responsibilities. But lately another attitude has opened up in me, a willingness to turn around and face what is chasing me, saying to responsibility, "Here I am." Recently I began therapy with a woman a little older than myself who is a big sister and friend to me as well. In her presence, I am not ashamed or afraid of the difficult, hidden feelings that arise in me. Recently, I found myself asking, "What am I doing here?" I thought I was done with this question a long time ago, that its bones had turned to dust already, that the despair it brought up belonged to the past. Since meeting Thay, his teachings have given me more and more ground to stand on, dissolving the problem about the meaning of life. I thought this question had become irrelevant.

But the question was still alive in the dark alaya-Earth and it became unearthed during one session with my therapist. She started the session as usual by playing some soft music to bring me in closer touch with my feelings. This time, the music brought me back to the time I nearly always felt depressed, when I wondered intensely and relentlessly what my purpose was in life. The emptiness I felt was breathtaking.

I realized that the question, "What am I doing here," presents an overwhelming emptiness that has been a seven-headed dragon swallowing all my joy. I had assumed that this dragon had starved to death because I had not given him anything to eat for a long time. But I discovered that he has his secret food reserves that I don't know about. I decided to "invite him to tea."

My therapist joined me at this tea, asking me, "How do you answer the question, 'What am I doing here?' in this moment?" I could not answer. With all the Sangha-building activities that bring me joy and give me the feeling I am doing meaningful work, I could not answer the question. Then one answer surfaced: "I am waiting for 'X' to happen." "X" is what I consider to be "my beloved" whom I haven't seen for years. There is still the dream of having someone to whom I can hand over the heavy burden of being responsible for my life. It is a dream that shines light on my desire to hide away from responsibility.

'"What am I doing here,' seems to be a very important question in your life," my therapist said, "It belongs to you just as much as your heart or your liver docs. The question is very much Eveline, irrespective of the answer."

I felt soothed by these words. This question has lived in me since I was a child. I have always treated it as an unwanted guest because it scared me. I was looking for life, and death grinned at me when I allowed this question to come up. Suddenly, I saw this question as a mere question. After years of hearing it in dreadful awe and pushing it away, I could receive the question as it is—a question, a ' peer, and not an oppressive and fear-inducing dragon. I even regret that I have treated it so badly. And, I began to feel proud of it, respecting it as an important part of me.

During the week since that session, I bring it to mind often with a smile. There is no chasing after any answer, just an invitation to the question to sit there, with space around it, and to give attention to it. I just smile at the question and experience the moment as it is.

Eveline Beumkes, True Peace, assists in bringing many teachers of mindfulness to Holland for retreats and lectures. She lives in Amsterdam.

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Slowing Down

By Melinda Burns

My four-year-old daughter calls to me from the Cinderella video she's watching and I call back in the voice of the wicked stepmother, "Not now. I'm busy." I'm making her a special dress that I'm determined to finish in one hour while the pics are baking before we rush to Grandma and Grandpa's for a family celebration. My husband phones to say he'll be a little late getting home and I heap guilt on him like meringue on the lemon pie I'm making. As I rush us all into the car to leave, one eye on the clock, oven timers still ringing in my head, I notice my shallow breathing and a brittleness in my bones as if to not be on time would break me in bits.

Some days later, I was seated on a meditation cushion in a large room on the first day of a meditation retreat. I had stopped rushing for the first time in days (weeks? years?). It was surprising to me that a mother could go away. A friend told me about the retreat two days earlier, and my frenzied life told me I needed to go. I looked around the meditation hall and felt a quiet excitement moving through me. I noticed that the signs in the hall were all in Vietnamese. As the room filled with more and more Vietnamese people of all ages, from children to gray-haired elders, I began to realize that I was one of only four Westerners among over 100 participants at this retreat that would be conducted entirely in Vietnamese.

I came for the silence and the chance to sit quietly and see who's here when I'm not constantly rushing from one place to the next, not constantly being a mother. Now, with a foreign language all around me, I sensed a double silence where even the words couldn't reach or distract me. A brown-robed monk at the front of the room gave an introductory talk. As the soft cadences of the unfamiliar words flowed by me, I felt my breathing slow down, moving me into this meditative atmosphere. I looked again at the schedule which contained not one word of English and I laughed inside at how it confounded my time-obsessed self. A young Vietnamese woman volunteered to translate the presentation for the four of us. During the talks and ceremonies, I heard her quiet voice through my earphones, like a spirit whispering instruction and wisdom to me.

In the afternoon of the first day, there was a tea ceremony to help us learn to be present while drinking and eating. The woman monk leading the ceremony explained that when you are in the present moment, "You can see your parents, your children, your cup of tea." I thought of myself racing to complete the dress and how blurry my daughter's face was for me then. I remembered my hurry to get to my parents on time and how little I could see their faces once I got there. "If you aren't aware of your family, they will become ghosts to you and one day they will slip away because they can't live like that." The teachings were so penetrating and so gentle. I began to see the interconnectedness of what we do and how we feel, of what we give and what we receive.

All the meals were silent. I had looked forward to the particular joy of having three meals a day prepared for me, of not having to think of what to make, what to buy. I ate, not sitting on the edge of my chair, half-turned to my child's next need or spill, not involved in teaching manners or answering questions, just lasting, noticing, appreciating food.

As the retreat moved into the second and third day, the difference in language mattered less and less as we found a common language of gesture and intention. It was the slowing down that affected me most of all. I wrote in my journal, "Some part of my soul is rejoicing in this...I notice how my feet want to race everywhere, lake me straight to wherever my thought has me already. It was hard to slow down but I was so glad of the chance." I began to realize how addicted I was to hurry, and hurrying my child. I saw that to protect my child I would have to protect my own inner child as well, to slow down so that she could appreciate the moment.

Life with children was a constant theme during the talks. "A child of four is so fragile, so vulnerable, easily and deeply wounded by inattention. You must encourage children to speak out, slowly, with love and kindness. Show them 'I will listen to you with all my heart.'" Thay spoke of the loneliness of the young child. "The parents are so busy, lost in the past, lost in the future. The child comes for affection. They see they are disturbing the parents from their worries. The child is very disappointed, very wounded." I thought of my little girl, "disturbing me from my worries," her voice calling me from my time-obsessed, completion-focused self to play, to laugh, to dwell in the moment.

"Breathing in, I am holding my daughter in my arms. Breathing out, I am so glad she is alive." That cuts through to the essence of what we feel for our children. "Being happy yourself is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones." My husband and child picked me up on the fourth day and I was filled with joy to see them. My daughter clung to me and I held her little body with renewed appreciation and awareness.

I would like to end here and say we lived happily ever after and that I was truly and permanently enlightened, but such was not the case. Re-entry was difficult. There were two days of feeling mostly calm, riding on the waves of love and support I felt at the retreat. On the third day I began to feel some strain. Old shreds of impatience showed through as I rushed us out the door for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. And the struggle to be always calm, understanding, and patient began to wear on me, as if I was saying to myself, "You know how to do this now, it's so simple, there's no reason you can't be perfect."

At the retreat everything supported my calm, centered self—the beautiful natural surroundings, the quiet, the daily talks, the silent meals and slow movement, the mindfulness bell. I wanted a mindfulness bell with me now to make me pause and remember. And I wanted it to stop everyone around me too. I wanted traffic to stop.

I knew I was in trouble when I made a mistake using the bank machine and swore under my breath and my daughter wanted to pick up a dead bug and cried her eyes out when I said no and threatened to take her straight home if she cried more. All along, I was aware that I was mostly mad at her because I was blowing it. I hadn't changed at all.

But this time at least I recognized myself and my folly sooner. I so much wanted to hold onto the wonderful calm I felt at the retreat that I encased myself in rigid rules for proper breathing and correct response, erasing all sense of humor, spontaneity, and spark. I realized I had to integrate this new learning with who I was, not replace me with it. The next day, when I lost patience with Em's stream of questions and games while I was trying to get her dressed to go grocery shopping. I gave a pretend scream and to my surprise and relief she laughed and I laughed and we went on. I remembered Thay saying that we are not supposed to be saints, only mindful, only aware.

At the retreat I learned so much that was valuable to me as a mother—the possibility of not hurrying, not rushing from start to finish, but enjoying the middle steps along the way; the release from worrying and constant thinking and planning; the enjoyment of just breathing, of just being alive. How could I incorporate this into my daily life, full of schedules and appointments, noise and chaos, demands and needs?

The clue came from a friend when I described my terrible re-entry day to her. "Cherish the moment," she said. "We can visit but we don't live there." In a way, at the retreat I lived there for four days, and I didn't want to leave. Now, back in the real world, I remembered some moments in my "terrible" day that were actually wonderful—sitting on the balcony with my daughter, our cheeks pressed close together, watching the traffic below; having lunch together in the sun on the bench by the post office, my little girl in her polka-dot dress and pink socks across from me, drinking her juice from a bottle with a straw, so beautiful, so grown up, so infinitely precious and separate from me. And I knew a way to feel that more, to be aware of those moments, and breathe them in, breathe in my child. "Breathing in, I am seeing my child. Breathing out, I'm so glad she is alive."

Melinda Burns is a writer and counselor living in Guelph, Canada.

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Losing An Old Friend

By Dewain Belgard

I read somewhere that cedar trees can live to be a thousand years old. The cedar in my neighbor's yard was not nearly so old as that, but it was one of the largest and oldest trees in our neighborhood. My neighbor, Miss Lou, never liked the tree because it shaded her backyard. My partner and dear friend of many years, who died several years ago, never liked the tree either. I once asked him why. He said, "Because it hides my view of the sunset."

As for me—I loved the old cedar tree. We had became close friends through the years. I was always concerned about it. When there was a storm, I checked on it afterwards to see that it survived. For twenty years I've known that tree. It has shown me how to live with patience; accepting summer and winter, storm and calm, sheltering a flock of mourning doves and other birds who make their homes in it. Today it showed me how to die.

The young men Miss Lou hired to cut it down were experts at their trade. They sawed off each lovely limb, starting at the bottom and proceeding to the top of each of its three trunks. Then they cut the trunks off piece by piece until there was nothing left but empty sky. As each limb of the old tree was cut away, the remaining limbs continued to sway gracefully in the breeze until there were no limbs remaining.

I could see the old tree in my neighbor's yard through the glass doors of the room where I sit in meditation. I lit three sticks of incense on the altar and sat on my cushion watching until the last limb dropped. My roommate walked by while I was watching. I thought aloud, "I wonder where the doves will sleep tonight." He said, "Oh, I'm sure they'll find another tree." I waited until he left for work, and then I cried. While sitting in meditation, I used to watch the doves go to roost in the cedar tree at night, and at sunrise I would watch them shoot out of the tree like darts. But this night the doves were confused. They circled around and around looking for their tree home. Some settled into a little cherry tree nearby. Some lit on neighboring rooftops. A few cooed mournfully as they do every night. But most of them flew around twittering in alarm until darkness fell.

Where I grew up in rural Louisiana, there was a saying that anyone who cut down a cedar tree would die before a year was past. Needless to say, not many cedar trees were cut down in that area. I never put much stock in such old sayings. Nevertheless I lit incense for the young tree-cutters and for old Miss Lou who hired them.

Through this experience, I realized that killing another living being deliberately and unnecessarily kills a part of ourselves.

Dewain Belgard is a social worker living in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Happy Rooting!

By Jina van Hengel

For some of us Christmas brings up happy memories, for others it brings up either painful ones or no memories at all. Christmas, in and of itself, is neither pleasant nor painful. If we can really see that our perception of Christmas is often based on how we've experienced it in the past, we can be free to turn Christmas into whatever we like. We can continue nourishing it as a happy event or change it from an unpleasant event to a joyful and meaningful one.

Christmas can be a time to look at our cultural roots and strengthen them. If there are unpleasant or difficult elements in our culture or tradition and we try to cut ourselves off from them, we are not going to change them. If we want things to be different we have to continue looking into the elements of our culture or tradition to see what they are made of. If we truly want to find our home, we have to look into the one place we call our home. We must embrace and look deeply into all we find there to really see what this home is like. Only then can we change it. If we reject any element in our culture, we cannot be truly happy. We will feel lost and without roots.

When a tree is planted in the earth, it is connected to the earth by its roots. The whole of the tree is nourished and supported by the earth, and the earth is nourished and supported by the whole of the tree. Roots are the connection where interactions and transformations take place. They are the energy that flows out of the trunk and into the earth, as well as into the sky, interacting with the sun, the clouds, and everything in the cosmos. When we cut ourselves off from something, we suppress the flow of energy. This blocked energy builds up inside us, the force of which makes us restless. We feel cut off from our culture. We don't feel at home, and we desire to be rooted somewhere.

We may go to a new country or find a new tradition to root ourselves in. Once in a new environment, we may accept what we like about our new "home" and consider irrelevant what we do not like: "This doesn't really pertain to me." This is another form of rejection, and it means that not all of the rooting energy is flowing freely. Although we call it our new home, we do not really feel "at home." Sooner or later our blocked rooting energy will need to be released. Only when this energy is flowing freely can we find a resting place, our true home.

The rooting energy and the means to release the obstacles that block it, are available right here and now. Many practices have been offered to help us tap this energy and let it flow freely, including conscious breathing and smiling, walking meditation, the Beginning Anew Ceremony, the Peace Treaty, and others. Through these practices, we take root in each other and everything around us. We grow together as a brother, a sister, or a family. Connected with everything, we can feel "at home" anywhere. There is a place to rest right inside us. When find our home we become like the tree, with interactions and transformations taking place through our roots. We are as firmly planted in our home as the tree is firmly planted in the earth and sky.

In the discourse on "Plucking out the Poisonous Arrow," the Buddha, while smiling and sitting beautifully, was shot by Mara with poisonous arrows. But as soon as the arrows touched him, they turned into flowers. Commenting on this, Thay advised us to practice diligently so that we could create a body like that. I didn't understand what kind of body Thay was referring to, so the following morning I decided to do a meditation based on this story. Sitting quietly and following my breathing, I imagined having a strong body that did not allow any arrows to enter. Sitting with stability, I saw that, indeed, the arrows did not enter my body. But I also saw that I was surrounded by heaps of broken and bent arrows. This was a rather different picture from the Buddha surrounded by flowers. Looking deeply I saw that the Buddha's body is the body of insight, which does not receive the arrows because as soon as they touch it, they are transformed into flowers. The "insight body" recognizes the true nature of the arrows, sees what they are made of and thus transforms them immediately. Arrows cannot enter the body because they no longer exist.

To develop or strengthen our "insight body" we have to practice. When this body becomes strong, our rooting energy flows freely. We stand like trees with our roots dug down into the earth and our branches stretched out connecting and interacting with all that is. Looking deeply, we see clearly what needs to be transformed for the benefit of all. When we look deeply into one place (country, tradition), we see all other places, and we can embrace them all.

Sister Jina van Hengel, True Wonder Adornment, leads mindfulness retreats worldwide and lives in Plum Village

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Loving Deeply

By Allan Hunter Badiner

A commentary on the fourth of the Five Awareness: "We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love."

While the foundation of love may be understanding, it is equally true that confusion and misunderstanding often surround love. The key to the Five Awarenesses is to understand ourselves as a link in a chain of being. A being is seen less as an individual person, and more as a range of behaviors, a composite of conditioning that asserts itself through many lives over time.

When we say we love someone and that we understand them, it is to say that we see them in the context of a lineage. It is a full recognition and acceptance of all the qualities found in the person we love, not just those that are endearing.

Understanding the one we love is understanding the pattern of conditions that brought him or her into this state of being. The inherited seeds of joy and pain, the treatment received by parents, how they treated each other, and even the way they walked, and took their breath, as well as friends, education, and society—all conspired to create our loved one, and continues to condition her state of being.

Many of us suffered greatly as children. Expectations of a harmonious family and an abundance of love were unfulfilled. Internal formations of pain and fear that have been left within us find their own expression. Looking deeply, we see that suffering conditions us in such a way that we say and do things that make others suffer. We know we are loved when someone sees the bondage within our own consciousness and accepts us in full view of it. This is loving kindness: loving the unlovable too, and bringing the light of love and understanding to it.

Love, in the light of true understanding, manifests less as a result of our own desire, then as a response to the needs of others. Loving someone because they need you is a higher form of love than loving someone because you need them. Cultivating this higher form of love is an opportunity to practice loving kindness and compassion. It is also an opportunity to grow and change. By accepting and reciprocating your unconditional love, your partner works together with you to transform the pain, fear, and anger that conditions both of your lives.

Aware, and in the present moment, we can observe the deep roots of another's weaknesses, accept them, and balance that view with the truth that they also have Buddha nature. To be awake is to smile and to understand the negative and positive life within us in a kind of perpetual interplay. Choosing to nurture the positive in our partner makes it more real for them, and helps manifest more of it. Accepting the negative with understanding allows our partner to stop being dominated by it and accept it as well.

To achieve love with understanding, a couple must develop the skills of loving speech and the ability to listen carefully to each other. Love and understanding live in the communication between partners, and in the way experiences of suffering and joy are shared. Sometimes, when we suffer or become angry, it is better to keep it to ourselves for a while and study it carefully for what it can teach us about ourselves. We may discover one good insight that will liberate us, or that our perception was faulty.

When we have love and understanding, we are not repelled by the darkness found in our loved one. Responding honestly to circumstances and telling the truth doesn't need to be painful, even when our partner is blinded by past conditioning. We can assert the truth, but in a kind and loving way. Whatever truth is there will be rendered more true, and more easily understood, when communicated in this way.

Sometimes the pain is too great and we feel the need to be supported by our partner. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a few hours of conscious breathing or walking meditation. To follow that, he offers us "magic" words that, when recited calmly to our loved one, destroy the obstacles to communication and create the possibility of active compassion. "Darling, I suffer. Please help me. I need you."

At times, irritation gets hold of me and my words can become dangerous and destructive. The challenge for me has been to breathe into that moment, filling my body with space and my mind with awareness, feeling the pain and remembering the disappointed joy from which it often springs. Sometimes I walk outside amongst trees or by the sea. Aware of where I am and what I am in contact with, such as the beauty and perfection of nature, I am calmed. When understanding is there, love is there. When the suffering of others touches your heart and provokes you to act, it is love with wisdom. It allows us to suffer with the stranger in pain and know the need to be liberated. In some Buddhist temples, this wise love is depicted by the image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, her eyes bright with understanding, while her hands untie the knots of suffering, or a bodhisattva image with one thousand arms, and eyes embedded in each hand, representing mindfulness in every movement.

Practicing love with our partners and cultivating understanding in each other, and of each other, do more than bring joy and harmony to our lives—they also bring happiness to the whole Earth. The vast net of interconnected people and events is impacted and transformed by the smallest ray of love. Love grounded in understanding may be our only chance to make peace with each other, our families, the world, and ourselves. It has the power at all times to reach all hearts, and all minds.

Allan Hunt Badiner, editor of the book Dharma Gaia, lives in Big Sur, California. This is the fourth in a series of five articles.

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Ethnic Diversity

Picture the person sitting next to you in class asking you about your ethnicity. You tell this person that your ethnic background is Chinese. Now picture this person proceeding to make almond eyes, speaking in an "Asian" voice, and making references to Ninjas. Hold on a minute. Ninjas are Japanese warriors, not Chinese. This is yet another common example of racial, ethnic, or cultural stereotyping. When it happens to you, you realize that it is not something to be overlooked. I consider myself Eurasian. This is a rather broad term, but within it are individual, unique ethnic groups. Cultures differ greatly, and it is wrong to assume they are the same just because they happen to be in the same continent. Where does this tendency to clump groups of people together come from? Perhaps it is time for each one of us to learn not only about our own background, but about the unique aspects of other cultures, as well. To be aware of the diversity and respect the differences which make our lives so much more interesting. Native American oral historian Paula Underwood says that by moving from unity through diversity, one moves towards an enhanced unity. Recognizing differences between our cultures does not divide us but creates a greater awareness and appreciation of the whole. When we learn to respect different cultures, including our own, for what they are, we can see how each beautifies and enriches our lives.

Emily Ho, age 15, is managing editor of her high school newspaper The Statesman, where this essay first appeared, and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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Joshua Speaks

By Mushim Ikeda

Everyone who attended our wedding has remarked at what a happy, intimate, relaxed, and welcoming atmosphere it was. I think this was because so many friends helped make it happen— the feeling of community was very strong. We chanted a Metta Meditation near the end of the ceremony, and even people for whom this was a first exposure to Buddhism were chanting vigorously!

A week before the ceremony, my son Joshua, who had been apprehensive about "losing" me, said, "Mom, I want you to get married. Getting married is interbeing." After making this spontaneous announcement, he seemed happy and accepting from then on. I was interested in how he had reached this conclusion on his own, at the age of four. It's another example of how Thay's teachings really do make sense to children, and help all of us in our everyday lives.

I have been proofreading for Parallax Press for five years now. It's been wonderful watching the line of books grow and expand into new areas, and the work has provided a Buddhist education for me which I could not have received otherwise. Integrating the work with taking care of a household and young child is a challenge for which my monastic experience was excellent preparation. Making peanut butter toast and picking up Legos may have replaced scraping wax off the altar and morning prostrations, but it is only the next step in the adventure.

Mushim Ikeda, a former nun in the Korean Buddhist tradition, is an editor, proofreader, and mom living in Oakland, California.

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The Perfection of Energy

By Jack Lawlor

A bodhisattva strives to cultivate wisdom and compassion simultaneously in order to liberate all beings. Let us examine a very important characteristic of the Bodhisattva Way, the Perfection of Energy.

There are many words and phrases we commonly use to describe a perceived lack of energy: tired, weary, exhausted, burnt-out, fatigued, etc. We are all familiar with these feelings. Since there often seems to be too little time, we try to work very fast, but in doing so, we become alienated from the work itself, from the person we are trying to help, and from the present moment.

We should examine whether our weariness is a kind of "false" fatigue— false in the sense that it is not the work which physically tires us, but the fact that we are so alienated from it that the present moment ceases to nourish us. What can mindfulness practice offer us in this circumstance? Can it provide energy and enable us to "bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon"?

The Seventh Precept of the Order of Interbeing urges us to practice conscious breathing not only in the meditation hall, but in our daily lives, where tiredness is most likely to overtake us. We can maintain harmony between body and mind through the practice of following our breath. Aware of each moment, we touch life, like the hand of God touching the hand of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistinc Chapel. When we touch life in this way, we are one with great energy. Living in this way can transform tasks that used to seem tedious into an experience of centeredncss, and peace, and become liberated from "false fatigue."

My father, a retired Chicago fireman, suffered from emphysema, and was hospitalized frequently during the past three years. Over Labor Day weekend, while Thay was in Chicago, he died peacefully.

I visited him almost every day he was in the hospital. Because it was over an hour away, each trip took about four hours. Unaccustomed to so much driving and so many rush hours, I often came home feeling very tense, tired, and dispersed.

At first, I frequently failed to practice sitting meditation because there was so little time after working downtown and then visiting the hospital. But I came to realize that I needed to practice consistently to transform the dispersion and fatigue into mindfulness and energy. If I allowed myself to become too fatigued, I would not be a very good visitor at the hospital. I would not be able to help anyone.

So, I became more steady and constant in my practice during the long period of my Dad's hospitalization, and the practice described in the Seventh Precept became my best friend. When daily circumstances did not allow a time or place for sitting meditation, I found a means to practice walking meditation, in a nearby park, on sidewalks, or down the long hospital corridors.

Buddhist teachings frequently address the subjects of energy and sustained effort. On his death bed, the Buddha urged his followers to work out their salvation "with diligence." The Dhammapada describes how the Master meditates "with great perseverance," how "it is sweet to live arduously, and to master yourself," and how "it is you who must make the effort; the masters only point the way." In Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition, we find the following beautiful verse of The Refuge Chant in the Plum Village Chanting Book: "I vow to practice wholeheartedly, so that understanding and compassion will flower."

In religious practice, energy and inspiration can, however, become too intense. We might choose to become Buddhist with a capital "B," or perhaps Zen Buddhist with a capital "Z," and in the process, sever our ties with anyone who is not Buddhist. We hurry about to organized Buddhist talks and retreats without regard to responsibilities we owe our families or friends. If we do not carefully integrate Buddhist practice into our daily lives, the practice may lead to bitterness and frustration. So we need to know the warning signals, to find a gauge that will tell us if our zeal is excessive, or our practice out of balance. Warning signals might include harsh judgments toward those who either don't practice or who don't meet our standards, intolerance toward non-practicing family members, or perhaps a dualistic feeling that only organized "religious" activities are worth our time and attention. If we sense this happening, we may wish to take a fresh, detached look at our practice and determine if we have set too many "spiritual" goals or projects for ourselves.

What is the right path between sloth or fatigue, on the one hand, and excessive zeal on the other? In one sutra, the Buddha encounters a monk named Sona who practices with energy, yet is unable to find liberation. The Buddha knew that Sona had once been a musician, so he asked him, "If the strings of a lute are too taut, is it tuneful and easy to play?" "No, Lord," was Sona's response. "And if the strings of the lute arc loo loose, is it tuneful and easy to play?" Again, Sona replied, "No, Lord." So the Buddha asked, "What if the strings are neither too taut nor too loose, but adjusted to an even pitch. Does your lute then have a wonderful sound and be easily played?" Sona replied, "Certainly, Lord. Then the most beautiful music can be made." The Buddha concluded, "It is the same with our practice. If energy is applied too strongly, it will lead to restlessness, and if it is loo lax it will lead to lassitude. Therefore, Sona, keep your energy in balance, and in this way focus your attention." This is the "middle way."

Our challenge is to find a practice we are comfortable with. If the practice is too "madcap" or grim, we will abandon it before it becomes our good friend. But if we wait until Thay or another prominent teacher visits our city for a retreat, the practice will not become a part of our lives. We can practice conscious breathing and mindfulness at any time, supported by a Sangha. If we practice buddhism with a small "b," buddhism without excessive form, we will not alienate our family and friends. I hope you will forgive this metaphor, but I sometimes think of it as "stealth" Buddhism—real, effective, and hard to detect.

All of us experience exhaustion and fatigue—physical and spiritual, from time to time. But in a healthy Sangha, there is always someone strong when you tire, someone calm when you panic. In turn, you can be strong for others when they are weary or overwhelmed.

This Sangha is not limited to those who practice together weekly. We are the direct beneficiaries of the wisdom of many who have gone before, who practiced in times of similar or worse difficulties. When we practice mindfulness, we are the continuation of our spiritual ancestors, and we also draw on the strength of the teachers in our family's bloodline. It is easy to do this at any time, by just looking in the mirror or at the palm of your hand. When my father died, my mother gave me his Chicago Fire Department ring, given to him after 35 years of service. To my surprise, engraved on the ring was a kind of Dharma talk my father had been quietly giving me throughout my entire life: "Dedication, Discipline, Integrity."

Our spiritual and bloodline teachers nourish us like roots: they are sometimes difficult to see or detect, but they are there, providing sustenance and support. In the presence of the greater Sangha, there will always be one who is not tired, whose practice and stability will help protect us from excessive weariness or zeal, and keep us on the middle way, the wonderful path of practice.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, is a Dharma teacher and an attorney, living in Evanston, Illinois.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1

I dropped something. I picked it up
and praised it that it made me stop.

When I get busy I stop a while
enjoy my breath and find my smile

Don't waste your time—find happiness
in being mindful in your breath.

I breathe the air as sweet caress
and help myself to mindfulness.

I drink my tea with tasteful tongue
and breathe the scent which comes along.

With gentle steps I kiss the ground
so mindfully I get around.

The present moment ends your stress
makes vitamins of mindfulness.

Mariane Eriksen
Gilleleje, Denmark

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