#12 Autumn 1994

Dharma Talk: The Four Noble Truths

By Thich Nhat Hanh The first Dharma talk of the Buddha after his enlightenment was about the Four Noble Truths. They express the cream of his teachings and method of practice. The Buddha continued teaching the Four Noble Truths right up until his “great passing away” (mahaparinirvana). It is important for us to study and learn deeply the practice of the Four Noble Truths.


The first noble truth is dukkha, which means ill-being, uneasiness, pain, or suffering. All of us suffer to some extent: we have some malaise within our body and our psyche. We have to recognize and identify it, to acknowledge the presence of ill-being and to touch it. Sometimes we may need the help of a teacher.

The second noble truth is samudaya, the origination of ill-being: how our ill-being came to be, its roots. We suffer and we recognize that suffering is there, and then we look deeply to see its origins. Without first touching our ill-being, there is no way we can look deeply into it and understand the second noble truth of origination. “This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not.” It is very simple. There is no need to make it complicated.

The third truth is nirodha, cessation: the absence or extinction of ill-being. This is good news. IT means ill-being can be transformed or removed. If you think that Buddhism says that everything is suffering and that we cannot do anything about it, that is the opposite of the Buddha’s message. The Buddha taught us to recognize and acknowledge the presence of ill-being, but we must not forget that he also taught the third noble truth, the possibility of the cessation of ill-being. If there is no possibility of cessation, what is the use of learning and practicing Buddhism? When a doctor diagnoses an illness she also tells us how to remove that illness. That healing is possible is the third truth, and it makes both the patient and the doctor happy.

The fourth noble truth is the path, magga: Right Views, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Just as the second noble truth is the origination of ill-being, the fourth noble truth is the origination of well-being.

To summarize: (1) This is dukkha, ill-being. (2) This is samudaya, the origination of ill-being. (3) This is nirodha, the cessation or annihilation of suffering. 4) This is magga, the path or way. It is important for us to understand the interbeing nature of the Four Noble Truths. To understand dukkha, we have to understand origination, cessation, and path. If we don’t know the three other truths, we don’t understand dukkha. In Buddhism, dukkha has a specific meaning that can be understood only when we also understand the truths of origination, cessation, and path.

When we look deeply into the nature of ill-being, we see origination. But we also see the cessation of ill-being and the path. In fact, we need ill-being in order to see the path. The origination of ill-being, the cessation of ill-being, and the path for the cessation of ill-being are all found in the heart of ill-being. If we are too afraid to confront ill-being, we cannot realize the path. Don’t try to run away from your ill-being. Make peace with it, touch it. The Buddha said, “The moment you understand the nature of your ill-being, the moment you know how your ill-being has come to be, you are already on the path of release from it.” (Samyutta Nikay 247) If you know what has come to be and how it has come to be, you are already on the way to emancipation.

We have to understand the language the Buddha used. Ill-being means the absence of well-being. When ill-being is there, well-being is not there. Cessation means the absence of ill-being, which is the presence of well-being. When night is no longer there, something else must be, and that is day. In the West, when you want to teach someone mathematics, you say, “I will teach you mathematics.” But in Asia we sometimes say, “I will remove the lack of knowledge of mathematics from you.” The meaning is the same, but the expression is different. In Buddhism, we always encounter language like that. So we have to understand that the presence of ill-being means the absence of well-being, and the absence of ill-being means the presence of well-being. If we prefer, instead of saying “cessation,” we can use the word well-being. They mean exactly the same thing.

There are two pairs of cause and effect – ill-being and its origination, and well-being and its origination. There is a path leading to ill-being and there is also a path leading to well-being. If well-being is there, if happiness is there, if you are able to smile and enjoy the here and the now, there must be causes for your well-being, for the origination of your well-being. The fourth noble truth, the path leading to well-being is called by the Buddha the Noble Eightfold Path. In Chinese and Vietnamese, we call it the Path of Eight Right Practices. This path leads to the cessation of ill-being and to the presence of well-being.

The second noble truth, origination, is also a path. We can call it the Ignoble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Wrong Practices. So there are two pairs of cause and effect: (1) Ill-being and the path leading to ill-being, which the Buddha called origination (which we can also call the Ignoble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Wrong Practices) and (2) the cessation of ill-being, namely the presence of well-being, and the path leading to it, which is called the Noble Eightfold Path, or the Path of Eight Right Practices.

To share the teaching of the Buddha with the people of our time, we should be able to translate it into the kind of language that even young people can easily understand. This is why we have retranslated the Five Wonderful Precepts, using language capable of conveying the meaning of the Buddha to the people of our time. Each era needs a new kind of language that can convey fresh insight and understanding. We cannot renew our tradition without insight, and when we have true insight, we need language that is appropriate to convey it. This has happened throughout the history of Buddhism.


In our practice, we learn the way to transform ill-being and bring about well-being. It is important for us to learn the Noble Eightfold Path and put it into practice in our daily lives. We have to penetrate the interbeing nature of the eight elements. Each element contains the other seven. We cannot understand one if we do not also understand all eight. In geometry, to define line we use the notion of point, and to define point we use the notion of line. A point is the intersection between two lines. A line is a point that moves. The Eightfold Path is the same. The first element of the path is Right View, but we cannot understand Right View if we don’t understand the other seven rights.

Right View means right understanding, insight, and wisdom, which are both the fruits of the practice and the base of the practice, the cause and effect. By practicing, we improve the quality of our views. In fact, if we continue to practice, we find out that all our views are wrong views. But we have to make the effort to have views that are relatively free from errors. We all have the seeds of Right View in us: seeds of understanding, awakening, and wisdom, but they may be buried deep in our store consciousness. Our parents may have treated us badly, as if we were not capable of anything. Instead of inspiring self-confidence in us, they gave us low self-esteem. Our teachers, friends, and society also may have only watered the seeds of our low self-esteem, saying we were stupid and good for nothing. The Buddha taught that each of us has in us the seeds of Buddhahood, the capacity of waking up and understanding the nature of reality. That see of understanding in us is the baby Buddha herself.

When we stand before another person, we can place our hands together to form a lotus flower, bow, and say, “A lotus for you, a Buddha to be.” We can recognize and touch the seed of Buddhahood in that person. This is not just being polite. We really touch the seed of Buddhahood in the other person and help it grow. When we bow to a child in that way, we help her grow up beautifully, with self-confidence. If we allow the seed of Buddhahood in us to be watered, to be taken good care of, it will grow and flourish.

Right View has to do with perceptions. When we walk in the twilight, without a flashlight, we may perceive a piece of rope as a snake, and we might even scream. We suffer because of our fear, which is born from that wrong perception. The degree of Right View in us depends on our perceptions. That person has love for us. She really wishes us to be happy, but we don’t see it. We think she hates us and is trying to destroy our reputation. That person may be your mother, your lover, or your friend. It happens all the time. We are unable to see things clearly. We have wrong perceptions that prevent us from having Right View so our level of understanding and awakening is quite low.

In daily life, we have to look deeply at our perceptions and not believe so easily in them. We must always return to our perceptions and question whether we got it right or not. To do that, we have to practice mindfulness and concentration in daily life. Otherwise we might take this sound or that image in ways that are opposite of what they really are, of what was intended.

I know one young man who suffered terribly because of a wrong perception. His father had been away, and when he returned home, he learned that his wife was pregnant. His neighbor had been visiting regularly and been very helpful, and the father was sure that the child was not his but his neighbor’s, and this wrong perception settled in so deeply that he became icy and distant from his wife. She had no idea why he had become so cold, and she suffered a lot. And of course, the baby within her also suffered. All three of them suffered, as did other members of their family seeing them like that. One wrong perception made many people suffer for many years.

The child was born and grew in that atmosphere of suspicion and wrong perceptions. When he was twelve, his uncle, who was visiting, commented on how much the boy looked like his father and only then did the boy’s father accept him as a son. Much damage had been done in twelve years to the whole family, and now, many years later, the extent of the damage continues to reveal itself.

We have to be very careful about our perceptions. We may think that the other person hates us, and much suffering can come from just one wrong perception. The Buddha said that most of our suffering comes from wrong perceptions. That is why we have to listen and look carefully and avoid wrong perceptions as much as possible. We must always go to the person who said or did something and ask him if our perception was correct. We have to learn to see things more clearly in our daily lives and avoid wrong perceptions as much as possible. Our Right Views have very much to do with our perceptions.


Wrong Thinking also has to do with wrong perceptions and Wrong Views. Because all eight folds of the path are linked to each other, we cannot practice just one. To practice is to practice all eight. We have to remember the nature of interbeing of the eight elements of the path.

The poor father was so caught in his pride that he suffered enormously. Although he suspected that the child was not his, he did not have the courage to tell his wife. That is always a huge mistake. Don’t be so sure of your impressions. If you suspect something, go to the other person and ask. Pride has no place in true love. Do not let pride stand between you and that person. Always go to the other person and say, “I suffer. Please help me. Please tell me, why did you do that?” If you act like the father, you will cause suffering to yourself, to the one you love, and to many other people. The mantra I would like you to practice is, “Are you sure?” Are you sure of your perceptions? Don’t stick to that feeling, that perception, that belief, that impression. You will avoid a lot of suffering in the future if you are open to reexamine and explore each of your views.

In Buddhist literature, ditthi (Sanskrit: drsti, views) always means wrong views. Your view is from just one point. That is why it is called a point of view. If you go to another point, you will see other things. The first view was not complete and therefore not entirely a Right View. In the sutras the word “view” always means Wrong View. That is why we hear the expression, “All views are wrong views.” Our practice is to eliminate more and more the elements that are wrong from our views. If you have a view of something, be aware that if you look more deeply and practice more mindfulness, attention, and concentration, you will discover that the quality of your view can be improved.

Nuclear scientists have a view concerning electrons that they are pleased with, but they are careful. They continue to develop better accelerators, because they know that there is more to be discovered. They know that all views about the electrons are wrong views. We practitioners must do the same. We can never be sure of our views. Attachment to views is the greatest obstacle in the practice. We should be patient and careful, never too sure of our perceptions.

In each of us there is a river of perceptions flowing day and night. To meditate means to sit on the bank of the river and observe all perceptions. With the energy of mindfulness, we can see the nature of our perceptions and untie the knots that bind us to our wrong perceptions. All our suffering has its roots in our wrong perceptions, so please practice the mantra, “Are you sure?” Always refer to it, and try to look more and more deeply. Our views can be more or less wrong. When we have true understanding, we transcend all kinds of views, even our views of the Four Noble Truths. Looking deeply, we can appreciate the teaching of the Prajnaparamita: “no ill-being, no origination of ill-being, no cessation of ill-being, and no path.” It means we have to look again. Our view that the Buddha taught that life is suffering, that all existence is ill-being is not correct. If we practice the Ignoble Eightfold Path, ill-being will arise naturally, but if we practice the Noble Eightfold Path, our life will be filled with joy, ease and wonder. We will examine the other Right Practices later on.

This article on The Four Noble Truths is edited from a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in July 1994. It will be included in a book on Basic Buddhism, to be published by Parallax Press in 1995.

Photos: First photo by Tran Van Minh. Second photo by Lynn MacMichael. Third photo by Therese Fitzgerald.

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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

The Mindfulness Bell is always a community effort, beginning with submissions from readers describing their efforts to practice mindfulness in daily life. This issue is in remembrance of Charlie Malat, Hoang Phuoc, Sam Rose, and Anne Aitken, who passed from us in recent weeks. We begin with a Dharma talk by Thay on the transformation of suffering. Svein Myreng and Nora Houtman then illustrate practicing with Right Views, and Scott Mayer and Jim Fauss share insights on Right Livelihood. Jim Forest, Lisa Boken, and Father Mark Matthews explore mindfulness practice in light of Christian teachings, and others share practicing in relationships and other topics of personal interest. We are especially pleased to offer many photographs of the social work in Vietnam, thanks to the sisters from Hue, who hand-delivered them to us at Plum Village this summer. We hope you are nourished by this issue, and will share with us your own insights and experiences for our Fifth Anniversary issue, due out in February 1995. —Therese Fitzgerald, Arnie Kotler, and Carole Melkonian

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Mindfulness of the Body

By Svein Myreng Our bodies can bring us joy and pain, triumph and defeat, contentment and craving. We spend a lot of time getting our bodies "in shape"—through sports, health regimes, and beauty treatments, but somehow, they never seem to be enough. Living too fast and in unnatural environments, we become too easily estranged from just experiencing our bodies, and we become victims of the ideal of the perfect body as is marketed by the popular press, films, TV, and advertising.

Since real bodies aren't idealized, having this idea of perfection creates a split in us. We struggle to reach it and we push away our feelings of failure. Huge industries of cosmetics, fashion, and workout studios bear witness to this, as does the sinister increase in eating disorders and cosmetic surgery. We are in conflict with ourselves.

In the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers a different way. This discourse is the classic catalog of mindfulness exercises, and about half of them deal with awareness of breathing and the body, which is also a door to knowing feelings, mind, and world.

Through being aware of our breathing and the positions and movements of our bodies, we unite body and mind and return to the present moment. We learn to live in our bodies and become intimate with ourselves on a deep level. We can reach a greater stability and calm, because we no longer are at the mercy of speedily changing ideas and feelings. We leam to experience what it means to be, rather than only experience ideas about being. As Stephen Levine has said, having an in-the-body experience is much more valuable than having an out-of-body experience!

At times, this can be difficult, since we store many old feelings and judgments in our bodies and our breathing. By giving attention to our bodies, we get to know these feelings and "internal knots" as well—and they are not always pleasant! So we practice mindfulness of the body with utmost kindness. When meditating on the body, we may become aware of thoughts or feelings like, "My breathing is too shallow," "Who will ever love me when I'm so skinny (fat, tall, short, etc.)," or "I'll never get enlightened with this terrible posture!" But we don't practice mindfulness to change ourselves in accord with some preconceived idea, and we don't have to believe thoughts like these. We only want to know ourselves—body and soul—and we don't need to strive toward any specific idea. By being open, kind, and aware, slowly expanding our understanding, we open for transformation to take place at deeper levels than our surface consciousness.

Transformation is a process of nature. We just need to tend the garden of our body and soul, let in sun and fresh air, and give attention and affection to the many small creatures who live there. Then, nature itself will take care of our transformation. In fact, we are nature, much larger than our mind and body, and mindfulness of body can show us this. It shows that bodily sensations and impulses—as well as our thoughts, memories, and feelings—largely have their own life as natural beings. We need to spend a long time to befriend them and tame them (as Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, to tame is to befriend). Attention and kindness are more useful than opinions, force, or willpower.

There are specific exercises that can help us see our connection to nature. By being aware that the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth are in us and everywhere around us, we can transcend feelings and images of isolation. It is curious that images of the body, often at a semiconscious level, can feel much more isolated than the actual experience of body-in-surroundings. At certain times in life, contemplating our body as a rotting corpse can help us see that our body also has a part in nature's cycle of decay and new growth.


Mindfulness of body can be our great teacher in trusting nature—the nature of both body and soul. Trust, not because nature will never give us suffering, but because the ultimate, sacred dimension can be found right here. This offers deep healing on levels we may only be dimly aware of at the moment.

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

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Wrong Perceptions

By Nora Houtman-de Graaf Two brother monks were living in a mountain temple—a master and his disciple, known as "One-Eye." One night, a monk arrived at the temple asking for shelter. It was customary for a visiting monk to be challenged in Dharma combat, and if the visitor was successful, he would be given room and board. The master was tired and he asked Brother One-Eye to present the challenge.

Upon greeting the visiting monk, Brother One-Eye pointed one finger in the air. The visitor replied by holding up two fingers. One-Eye followed by holding up three, and after some hesitation, the visitor folded his fingers into a fist. Then One-Eye shoved the guest's arm to the ground.

The visiting monk went to the master's room. He told the master that since he lost the debate, he would be leaving. The master asked the visitor to tell him what happened, and the monk replied, "First your disciple held up one finger. I understood that to represent the Lord Buddha. I wanted to reply that the Buddha without the Dharma would be of no benefit, so I held up two fingers. Your disciple then held up three fingers, meaning that without the presence of the Sangha, the other two could not exist. I made a fist, meaning that the Three Jewels are one, but your disciple pushed me away, telling me that all such ideas are empty."

The master went to find his disciple. When he met One-Eye, the young monk was shouting, "Where is that scoundrel? He insulted me!" Then Brother One-Eye told the master, "You know how others taunt me because I have only one eye? I knew this guest would do the same, so I held up one finger to say that I have only one eye. But he chided me by holding up two fingers to say that he has two eyes. I held up three fingers to say that together we have three eyes, but he made a fist threatening to smash out my good eye. So I pushed his hand down to the ground."

This is a story about misunderstandings due to wrong perceptions.

Nora Houtman-de Graaf, True Fruition, is a Dharma teacher in Bilthoven, Holland.

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Listening to Nature

By Katla Hannibal The years that I have been visiting Plum Village have been very rewarding to me, in terms of taking refuge in nature. In my meditation practice I realize more and more that I am in a state where no habit energy is disturbing me. But it is amazing how easy the usual "tapes" can sneak into you. As soon as I become aware of it, I take refuge in nature. To me that means to look, hear, smell, and feel what is around me, to be present through all my senses. I often experience that nature itself contacts me and reveals to me what I am doing. It happened twice during my visit to Plum Village this summer.

One morning I was asked to lead a short morning meditation. A staff member had to come in to take out some tables for breakfast. To make the event useful, I said "Let the noises around you help you to make your meditation still deeper." The moment I said "noises" I knew that it had a negative connotation and I should have said "sounds."

Afterwards, I sat under the linden tree and the "tape" was going on and on, while I repeated the situation in my mind. Then I felt someone patting my shoulder. I turned and no one was there. Coming to my senses, I realized that a breeze had just shaken the tree and a branch had touched my shoulder. Nature was telling me to be aware of what I was doing. The branch was a dead branch, and I felt as if the tree were saying, "Katla, you are at a dead end." Later I apologized to the staff member for referring to him as "noise." He said he hadn't noticed and that what I did had been helpful to him. It was not easy for him to go in and get the tables during our meditation.

During walking meditation another time I was very much aware of the present, I thought. Suddenly I heard a big bee buzzing around me. My thoughts went like this: Why would it fly around me? What will it tell me? It said buzz, could it say "buzy." Why busy? What did I do when it came. Oh yes, I was unaware and into thinking habit energy. I often name this state: busymind. The "buzz-bug" was my mindfulness bell. And it spoke to me in English!

We interpret nature in our own way. The message we receive is us.

Katla Hannibal, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, is a nurse in Denmark.

Sometimes it can be difficult to practice mindfulness outside of a community. Where I live it is often very quiet. I now see an opportunity to enjoy the tiny sounds -- mice scurrying on a bookshelf, the sound of snow settling, or the first sounds of birds on a warmer day -- as bells of mindfulness.

Sue Austin Tetonia, Idaho

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Work Enlightenment

By Scott Mayer When I was 18, I was working hard in an Oregon sawmill factory. I was also ingesting hallucinogenic drugs with the incredible boredom of work, as I considered it "grave time," a sacrifice from life. This conditioning still lingers. The Puritan in me looks to work for self-esteem and, at the same time, considers work an obligation that requires me to miss the present moment, to miss my life. Neither of these attitudes towards work touches the deeper opportunities for happiness and freedom that work offers.

Two summers ago I was asked to be the work leader at the Plum Village Summer. I dreaded asking the other retreatants to work during their vacation days. I preferred my previous job as a guest manager, where I could welcome people and see to it that they were comfortable. So I decided to make this my summer for developing fearlessness. I would muster my courage and ask people to work, all the while breathing consciously and smiling.

I was trying to make the work sign-up board clear, truthful, and beautiful. I was praying that this might ease the pain for people of signing up. But when it came time to put the title on the top, I was stuck. "Job Sign-up" was honest but boring. "Community Effort" was true but vague. "Work Meditation" was the usual heading, but coming from me it felt too euphemistic. So I left the space empty. On the first evening of the retreat, when I was to introduce our work practice to the community, the sign-up board was still without a heading. Sitting in the audience waiting to speak, I saw how stuck I was in my attitude towards work. By the time I was handed the microphone, a muse somehow came forth and helped me speak. My negative understanding of work vanished and was replaced by a compassionate, positive view. I saw that work, rather than an obstacle, can be a door to liberation. Since so many of us carry strong seeds of the work ethic in us and need to earn a living, why not use this for our practice of transformation? I envisioned three levels on which work can help cultivate liberation—"Three Stepping Stones of Work."

First, I saw the "Mundane Stepping Stone," doing work simply because it needs to be done, and as a way to be in touch with our bodies, our breath, and the physical environment Work at this mundane level is a form of prostration, a physical participation in the reality of human life.

The second opportunity offered by work is the "Mindfulness Stepping Stone." With this stone, we can utilize our daily work as a field for awareness. Why limit meditation to sitting and walking? Why not include work also? But this is not easy. Today there are few jobs that offer the manual simplicity of chopping wood and carrying water. Late twentieth century work is characterized by time pressure and greatly varied conceptual demands. If we think that work meditation must be like wood splitting, work practice will be nearly impossible to integrate into our lives.

Mindfulness means simply coming back to the present moment. The practice is about awareness and acceptance of life as it is, in this moment, not about creating ideal situations. The practice of working calmly, quickly, and efficiently, while not rushing towards our goal, is fundamental to practice. Consciously following our breath and physical actions creates this awareness. I also try to stay in touch with the big picture while working on the little picture. When I find myself in a big hurry, I ask myself, "One hundred years from now, what will the important aspect of this moment be?" I often use a koan offered by Thay, "Where am I going?" Sometimes I just look up and see the perspective that the sky, the clouds, and the stars offer. When I have this larger perspective, even my work feels like play. Work becomes an end in itself, engaging and enjoyable. This present-centered-ness usually helps my efforts be effective. But even when it doesn't, I still feel more alive.

When writing, I try to be aware of my body's tensions, comforts, and posture, and to make the appropriate adjustments. At the same time, I periodically observe my mind to see if I am present with the task at hand, or dreaming, or getting nervous. Everytime I remember to return to the present moment, it feels as if a spring breeze is blowing over my mind and body, offering me a fresh start.

The third stone offered through work is the "Community Stepping Stone." Taking refuge in a community helps us let go of our small selves and realize our greater body. I have experienced no better way to let go of my painful sense of an isolated self than by my working with a community for the common good. Working with a community is a manifestation of interbeing. We give of ourselves and we receive the benefits. For this stone to be effective, we have to do our share of the work, and we must practice giving generously. For work addicts, this may be unskillful, but for most of us, generosity is the only way. I tried this first at Plum Village, and now in my hometown with a tree planting group and in efforts at helping form a practice Sangha.

I shared this "sudden enlightenment" on the opening night of our retreat. Now my challenge is what to do with this insight. How can I nurture it into a realization? Is it possible to form a work practice community that can serve as a vehicle to manifest this practice right in the marketplace? By myself, I will certainly fail. With others, it may be possible.

The work sign-up board remained all summer without a title, but the Sangha filled in this lack of words, with a generosity in their work efforts. This was due to the good spirit of the retreat, Thay's talks, Sister Jina's direction of the Upper Hamlet, and to many of the members tasting the fruits of mindfully helping out, doing what needs to be done.

Scott Mayer, True Nonduality, is a tree surgeon in Portland, Oregon.

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The Small Red Heart

By Lisa Boken Many times after driving from one place to another, I realize that I don't remember most of the trip. I often eat a plate of food so unconsciously that I wonder where the food has gone when I awaken to an empty plate.

Here's a "day-in-the-life" example: I have plenty of time and a friend and I are having lunch together. She is telling me about a movie she saw and how it relates to something that happened to her. She mentions something about a father in the movie and my mind wanders off thinking about my son's father and then to my father, oops, I missed the next part of what she is saying. Back to listening. Then I see out of the corner of my eye the local librarian walk by and I remember a book I have that is overdue. I start to think about how I should xerox the pages I need for my next sermon and return the book to the library. Thinking of the sermon makes me think of my work at the church and I try to remember if I turned off the heat when I left this morning. Right about then I pick up on the conversation my friend is trying to have with me as she is ending a sentence with the cadence of a question. Well, I blew it again. I happened to get caught not listening this time. Quite often this goes on in my daily life—sometimes I am caught and sometimes not.

One time I asked my son, Zac, to draw a picture of life on a blank piece of white paper. I left him alone to do this and when I returned, in the center of the paper was a splatter of black ink, on the top of which were splatters of metallic gold and silver paint. Coming off the sides were little wavy combs of green and yellow. When I told him how much I enjoyed his picture of life he said, "I bet you didn't even see the picture of life." I was confused and asked if it was not the one on the kitchen table. He said that on that paper up in the left-hand side there was a small red heart and that was the picture of life but no one ever notices it because there is so much going on all the time. Sure enough, I hadn't seen the small red heart of life. Once again, I was reminded of who I am and where I was at that very moment.

I have found that breathing helps me return to the present moment. When I feel ragged or disconnected, if I stop and take a deep breath and really let it go, I can relax my muscles and say to myself, "Lisa, Monday morning has not arrived yet," or "You are not at that meeting you were at yesterday, you are right here. Take a deep breath and come back to where you really are."

The seasons don't hurry. The Earth does not turn more quickly because someone is impatient for the dawn. We can't rush the seasons or the dawn of our understanding. The past is gone, the future is not yet here. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

I often wonder whether there is anything that corresponds to mindfulness in the Judeo-Christian religion. Much of the Bible is written with a view to the future, not encouraging us to look to the day we are in but to promised days and lands to come. Jesus' words, as recorded in the gospels, are probably the most present-moment oriented, with such messages as, "Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink or about your bodies, about what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body more than clothing? Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your lifespan? So never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties." It was also recorded that on many occasions, Jesus was very present with the people with whom he was in contact. He would notice small children and talk with them. He spotted Zacchaeus up in a tree trying to get a look at Jesus through the crowd and called him down to talk and listen. And when the Pharisees demanded of Jesus to tell when the Kingdom was coming, he answered them, "The Kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness. For look, the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Luke 17:20-21.

Perhaps Jesus taught more about being present than is recorded. The word "spirit" in the Bible is said to come from the Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma. Both have root meanings in "to breathe" or "to blow." Spirit is present in the breath. Life is in our breath and our breath is always in the present. We can think about yesterday or last year or next week, but we cannot breathe yesterday or tomorrow. Breath is always here and now. When it isn't, there is much anxiety.

When we find ourselves living out of the past and into the future, it is not too late to take a deep breath and experience the present moment. This is where life is. This is the only place where the sacred can be found.

Lisa Boken is a Unitarian minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.

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Change of Vocation

By Lisa Boken After the retreat at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, with Thich Nhat Hanh in September 1993,1 had a startling experience. The next day I returned to Harvard Divinity School to complete two more years of study. My experience at Harvard had been highly intellectual and for the most part, devoid of spirituality. I struggled daily with who I was and how to be a spiritual leader. During the retreat, I had felt much closer to who I really was, and the contrast was shocking. Despite the fact that I had spent six years working to become a credentialed Unitarian Universalis! minister, I decided to leave school. It was quite frightening but inside me was a sense of peace that I had not felt for a long time.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call from a church that was accepting applications for the position of minister and they requested that I apply. I told them I was not credentialed and I might not go back to school to get my degree, and they said they didn't care. They had heard about my work and wanted to talk. (This is unheard of in the denomination and against operating practices, although not against written policy.) Soon after, I was hired and began the work of helping this small and growing congregation.

What this experience shows me is that life is too short to spend lots of time and money ($21,000 in school loans) on unnecessary activities just because someone says you have to. I knew in my heart that I could do something as a minister in the world, drawing from the resources that were in my heart and mind. I also knew that I wasn't resistant to hard work, study, and learning if the learning was not in an ivory tower and dealt with the business of real life.

As expressed in her book Learning True Love, Sister Chan Khong's life and spirit has been solace for me in my struggle with this step outside the system. When Sister Chan Khong told Thay Thanh Tu that she wanted to be a nun, he said, "I do not think that becoming a nun would suit you. Nuns have to follow the traditional discipline. You might rebel against it."

I find the same problem with my friends at Harvard who will soon graduate and become ministers. They had so many ideals when they entered school. They wanted to be of real service to people, to confront poverty, classism, racism, and so on. Now they are more interested in not rocking the boat and getting a good job in a church so that they can pay back their school loans and relax. It saddens me. I am thankful I have learned to live on very little money and that I am free to act out of my conviction and with integrity.

Lisa Boken is a Unitarian Minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.

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The Eucharist

By Mark Matthews Today I celebrate the Eucharist at the corralon in south Texas. The corralon is the Immigration Detention Center, the equivalent of jail. Several women, representing various Latin American countries, celebrate with me. Behind every face there is sadness and worry. They have not seen their children in months and they suffer indignities  daily in the corralon. Many have been the victims of crime. These women bear a loneliness that is tangible.

Our makeshift altar is adorned with Guatemalan cloth and a Mexican crucifix. As we reflect on the bread and wine placed on it, we begin to see that this Communion wafer and wine are offered today in El Salvador, Honduras, and Argentina. If we look closely, we see our children, our parents, and our friends in the grains of the bread and in the drops of wine. We see our village church back home in Mexico where we went frequently as children with our mother. When we celebrate Eucharist, we are close to those we love, both living and dead. My friends cry tears of relief as they see their town, church, and families in our small plate of bread and cup of wine. Standing in a circle around our altar, holding hands, smiling, we nourish the best elements in each other. For the first time in a long time, my sisters feel connected to each other and to the world outside. The healing elements of mindfulness transform some of their sorrow.

I still carry these women in my heart. I know they are a part of me, as they were even before I met them. I am more conscious now of what my role must be in a country that bashes immigrants. It is easy to dismiss people when you sit behind a television or read the newspaper. Looking into the eyes of real people and hearing the stories of what they live through, it is harder to exclude them. People are not statistics.

When I taste mindfully of the Eucharist, I see the bombed churches, the murdered family members. When I feel the pain, I know I have a part to play. Christ is still being broken and poured out.

Mark Matthews is a Catholic priest who works developing Christian Base Communities in La Joya, Texas. He is interested in corresponding with others who practice mindfulness in the Christian tradition.

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Daily Prayer

By Jim Forest We live in what may be the busiest, noisiest, and most distracted society in human history, factors which make prayer much harder. Here are a few suggestions that come from my own experiences of coping with noise, busy-ness, and interruptions while trying to become more prayerful. Perhaps one or two may be helpful to you.

A less tidy life: "It's too much for me. I always feel at my wit's end, exhausted, irritable, and don't even want to pray." This is what a woman with a large family told Dorothy Day about her effort to maintain an immaculate, well-ordered house, meet everyone's needs, while at the same time taking in homeless people. She asked in desperation, "What can I do?" Dorothy's response was simple: "Lower your standards." We will not be asked at the Last Judgment how tidy we were. Not that it doesn't matter, but it matters less than we usually think. It may be that no one is more to blame than ourselves for our being exhausted and feeling we don't have enough time for really important things. Minimal rather than maximal tidiness might be good not only for our prayer life but for a more responsive, attentive life in general.

Move the TV: In this time of acute sensitivity to various addictions, among the addictions least mentioned is television watching. Many homes center on the TV. In our own home there have been years of stuggle about television—countless arguments with our kids about what they watch, and a more hidden struggle for Nancy and me about putting the brakes on our own watching. A corner was turned for us a year ago last Christmas when we moved the TV out of the living room. Now the kids, the main viewers, watch TV in our bedroom, and Nancy and I watch what we want to as well, but all of us watch much less than we did when the TV was in the living room. Our living room is a different place: quieter and more restful. All of us do more reading than we did a couple of years ago, and there is more conversation (and less argument) in the house. It has made the house easier to pray in.


Prayer during chores: Still there are dishes to wash, floors to clean, and many other repetitive chores. Experiment with simple prayers while doing what is often regarded as boring activity. I still treasure the advice I once got from Thay Nhat Hanh: "Wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus." Tacked to the window above our kitchen sink is this reminder from Brother Lawrence: "The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament."

The little way: Here is one of my favorite quotations from Dorothy Day: "Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience, and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens in these things, too, are the works of peace, and often seem like a very litde way." Prayerful people are capable of taking the present moment so much to heart that they don't even realize they have let go of those preoccupations that often make the people and objects around them seem ghostlike. Our prayer life has much to do with what we do with the details of life, the in-between moments. It has to do with the spirit in which we listen to others and see them, and the way we respond to interruptions and unexpected events.

Jim Forest, former General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, is Director of Peace News Service and author of books on Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and others. He lives in the Netherlands.


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Right Relationships

By Richard Brady The Third Precept: Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Teaching a ninth-grade course on sex and sexuality has given me an opportunity to learn more about the Third Precept and to experience the support of my Sangha in doing so. During the first part of the course, Joan, my teaching partner, and I engaged the class in a discussion of gender stereotyping, showed an episode of a TV program that dealt with retaining virginity, invited a victim of date rape to speak to the class, and gave the class an article on teen sex to read and discuss. The students kept a journal and later shared their reactions with the class.

The discussion was distressing. Students dismissed the video as simplistic and the article as preachy. Our guest was seen as genuine, but no one cared to comment on her message. Finally, one young man told us that we were missing the entire point of the topic, namely love. "Love is beautiful," he said, "and sexual relations are a natural expression of this beautiful connection." But most of the students did not participate in this discussion. Those who did were primarily boys who spoke but seemed uninterested in listening to others' points of view.

Joan and I were at a loss as to how to proceed. But before our next planning meeting, my Sangha met for its Sunday evening meditation and Dharma discussion, which always included an invitation to Sangha members to bring up problematic life situations for the Sangha's wisdom. When I did, Mitchell commented that in our hopes of getting the students to talk openly with each other, Joan and I had abdicated our role of sharing our own mature perspective and understanding with them. Pam related the rewarding experience of discussing Thay's commentary on the Third Precept with her own teenager. And Grace volunteered to speak to our class about the evolution of her own understanding of sexual relationships.

It was with a strong sense of support that I shared the Sangha's discussion with Joan. We went on to read the journal entries from the previous class: "We've already studied this and aren't learning anything," was a typical comment from the vocal boys. William, who felt differently than his peers, said he had decided to go along with them rather than be ridiculed. Several of the girls said that they would not participate in discussions because they did not feel respected by the boys. Mitchell was right. We needed to step in and give the class some overdue guidance, but we needed to avoid preaching. Thay always says that all of the precepts boil down to just one: "Be mindful!" Mindfulness in relationships and all that this implies felt like the right basis for a Dharma talk to the class the following day. I volunteered to give it. Before preparing my notes that evening, I read Thay's commentary on the Third Precept from For a Future to Be Possible and found in it the conclusion for my talk.

"Sometime in your life you will probably be involved in a sexual relationship," I began. "As your teacher, there is one message I want to give each of you—that, whatever the circumstances, in order to be successful, it will be vitally important for you to look deeply at your relationship, to really understand it so as to be able to act well in it. This means looking deeply at who you are, examining your values and attitudes. If you find yourself reacting negatively to a class presentation, don't dismiss it. Look inside and try to understand more about who it is that is reacting to it. Looking at a relationship also means looking at your partner. If you get involved in a heterosexual relationship, it will be with a person who has grown up receiving very different messages about sex and sexuality than you have. In any case, your partner will be different from you. Take advantage of the precious opportunity this class affords to really listen to how others, especially others who are really different from you, feel about this intimate subject" Finally, I underscored Alex's remark about the fundamental role of love by reading Thay's description of two kinds of love: tinh, passionate, self-absorbing love, and nghia, sustaining, solid, giving love. "Love is beautiful," I agreed, "but when you are in love, in order to handle your relationship well, it is necessary to look deeply to understand the nature of your love." This time the students really heard the message about mindfulness. Shennan, one of the least patient with our earlier efforts, expressed his special appreciation of Thay's comments on mindfulness and love.

A couple of months before the course began, Grace, the Sangha member who volunteered to talk to our class, had shared with the Sangha what a challenge it was for her as a single woman in our society to practice the Third Precept. She said that when she looked deeply at who she was, it was exactly that precept that she needed. Most teenagers do not yet have the experience or the ability to see why the Third Precept is so important, but they are clearly ready to accept the challenge of being more mindful about their relationships.

Richard Brady, a mathematics teacher who is on sabbatical this year, is one of the founders of the Washington Mindfulness Community

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Investing in Harmony

By Allan Hunt Badiner A commentary on the fifth of the Five Awarenesses that couples promise to practice upon being married: "We are aware that blaming and arguing never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow."

Looking deeply, it is easy to see that blaming and arguing do not help us. As soon as we hear the argumentative tone from anyone, the ego bristles, defenses tighten, and our reactive instinct kicks into high gear. The compassionate ear that one always expects from one's partner suddenly seems paralyzed and dysfunctional. Aggressive and critical speech puts our case, however just it may be, up against an impenetrable barrier of fear, separation, and defensiveness.

But blaming and arguing happen. It is inevitable that we will experience irritation at our partner, and there is a compelling instinct that wants to blame the other person for it. Expecting to forever leave behind blaming and arguing is unrealistic, and may set one up to become even angrier. The key is to prepare yourself for its eventuality, and train yourself to deal skillfully with the negative results. Practicing the art of listening and loving speech serves us better. When we are suffering, we often feel blocked and unable to express love and sympathy for our partner. We want to be taken care of, and when we aren't, it makes us feel unloved, unappreciated and angry. This is why it is so important to prepare for these times when communication is difficult, by practicing deep listening and loving speech daily, when everything is going well. Don't wait until you are having problems.

This is the practice: First, encourage your partner, or loved one, to grow and change by watering the seeds of their happiness and protecting their self-esteem. Express your appreciation for the helpful things your partner does, even if they seem second nature or routine. Don't wait for something unexpected to offer positive feedback. Every supportive and helpful thing should be acknowledged and appreciated. Take time to stop and listen to your partner. Be a loving pair of ears to hear the inevitable frustrations and difficulties that your partner will face. Loving someone in this way creates an environment of encouragement and stimulation to develop one's compassion and character.

Secondly, when you feel pain, anger, or suffering, don't try to express it right away. Breathing in, and breathing out, we can embrace our pain and suffering with mindfulness. Observe how these emotions make you feel, and what role you are playing in their creation. The base of suffering is within us, and it depends on our perceptions. We must recognize that our perceptions are colored by our unconscious desires and preconceptions. If we rush to tell our partner how we are feeling, we may miss the opportunity to examine the real cause of the suffering, and unjustly blame him or her for our pain.

At Plum Village, a practice has developed from this teaching called the peace treaty. We make a peace treaty by spending 24 hours with your suffering and angry feelings before trying to resolve the situation. This allows us time to reflect on and recognize our internal formations—old hurts and pains that have hardened into easily triggered patterns of reactivity—and contemplate creative solutions for whatever difficulties we face.

Thirdly, if the painful feelings persist, then we go to our partner and ask for their help. This is hard to do when we feel he/she is the cause of our suffering. When we are able to calmly tell our loved one that we are in pain and we need their help, it often destroys the obstacles to communication and creates the possibility of active compassion. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we practice these words like a mantra: "My dear, I am suffering, I need your help." The words summon the energy of love and invoke the sacredness of our mutual trust Fourth and finally, we practice breathing and smiling for ourselves and for our partner. People, like animals and even the insects, are part of communities of life. We need our communities in order to be happy and fulfilled. When we form a partnership with a loved one, we are creating a community of being. If our partner is not happy, there is no way we can be truly happy. Practice smiling to your partner at least once a day, not just for your partner, but for you too. When your partner practices walking mindfully, it isn't for herself alone, but for you too.

If our parents did not know how to create happiness and joy in a family, then we will not know how to either. We must take the time we need to learn and share it with our partner. Making people happy is an art we can learn by practicing in a community, even in a community of two. Like plants in a garden, we need each other's watering and care. We need to practice saying and doing things that make our partner happy, and not saying and doing the things that make him or her unhappy. As Thay often reminds us, "There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way."

When we practice the Five Awarenesses, like the Five Precepts, we bring protection, peace, joy, and happiness not only to ourselves, but to everyone. The happiness of one person or a couple is crucial to the happiness of the world, and by practicing the Five Awarenesses we cause the whole world to profit. When we recognize that our happiness is the happiness of those around us, and the birds, plants, and even rocks, we will do everything we can to make ourselves happy. It may well be that this experience of solidarity, of interbeing, of love and compassion, is itself happiness.

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

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Practice Back in the World

By Jim Fauss I had the good fortune to be at Plum Village this summer. But leaving Plum Village and the support of the community was a serious challenge to my equanimity. In Paris, I missed my flight to San Francisco, and spent an extra two days there waiting for another flight. I arrived home at 12:30 a.m. exhausted, and had to be at work at 6 a.m. the same day!

I often ask myself, "How can I practice at home as I did at Plum Village?" I often seem to be more in forgetfulness than mindfulness. I am a bus driver, and I let myself get irritated at my passengers and at other drivers. To get off the bus at the next stop, passengers pull a cord above their head and a chime sounds. The sound of the chime is very irritating to me. It means I have to stop, and that can get me behind schedule. I know that some passengers even pull the cord just to annoy me.

So now, I use the sound of the chime as a mindfulness bell. Each time I hear it, I return to my breathing, and the more I hear it the more pleasant it becomes. When a vehicle cuts in front of me I smile wide enough so that the other driver can see it I also try to know when I am becoming tense, so I can remember to breathe.

I am not always successful in bringing mindfulness into my daily work, but sometimes even whole days are great—as if I'm still in Plum Village!


Jim Fauss, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, lives in Modesto, California.

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Cherishing Each Day

By Howard Weamer In 1992 my wife and I began raising Yeti, our first Canine Companion puppy. These dogs assist physically challenged companions by learning specialized skills like turning lights on and off, fetchings objects by name, alerting the person to sounds in their home, etc. Our job was to present CCI with an 18-month-old puppy that was well loved and socialized, liked to learn, and had basic manners. Yeti was a dog bred for intelligence and a desire to serve. She learned so fast that we felt the anxieties of parents with a firstborn; we were sure we were not working with her enough.

Along with the puppy, you acquire some obligations. You pay for food and medical care, which cost us about $2,300. You are provided a manual of instructions which gives you a schedule for introducing about 60 commands and suggestions on how to teach them to the puppy. You also have telephone backup from a training center in Santa Rosa, California.

Yeti spent months in the Sierra Mountains of California, went backpacking, attended college classes, ran innumerable miles in the grasslands and on beaches, and went with enthusiasm wherever our lives took us. Because we knew the parting was inevitable, we cherished every day we had Yeti. We knew that our pup would bring love and joy into someone else's life as she had ours. Yet eight months after we let her go, the tears still fall. The devotion we had to the program during the months of training had to carry us through the graduation, when our pup entered her life of service to another. Before returning Yeti to CCI, we attended a graduation. It showed us the incredible challenge, opportunity, and independence these dogs now offer their new companions. We await our second adventure with another puppy and hope we can do even better next time. Yeti is now living with a ten-year-old autistic boy who is paralyzed.

Howard Weamer lives in Yosemite, California

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The War of Alcoholism

By Thich Duc Thien Thanks to mass media and historical research, everyone can know the death toll of troops and civilians killed during both World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf. But do we know how many people have been killed by alcoholism?

Andres Escobar, the well-known Columbian soccer player, was killed by a drunk driver on the night of July 1, 1994. If Humberto Mufioz Castro hadn't drunk alcohol that day, surely Escobar would not have died so tragically. The murder of Andres Escobar was widely publicized because of his fame. But countless other victims of alcoholic violence remain unknown.

Drinking alcohol is an established practice in both Eastern and Western countries. We drink to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, ancestors' day, farewell parties, welcome-home parties, and many other significant events. In North Vietnamese pagodas, alcohol is offered to Anathapindika, who wasn't a monk. Therefore, people believe he will accept offerings of alcohol.

A man who doesn't drink is considered to be a coward. "A man without alcohol is like a flag without wind," says a Vietnamese proverb. In the Chinese novel 108 Heroes of Liangshan Mountain, the medieval knights are described as superhuman: strong in the martial arts and able to drink heavily. Like Robin Hood and Jesse James, they plundered the rich to give to the poor. But after drinking, they also killed many innocent people, including women and children. Lucky Luke, "the poor lonesome cowboy who drew out his revolver quicker than his own shadow," was also a heavy whiskey drinker.


As Buddhists, we practice the Five Wonderful Precepts. The Fifth Precept states, "We are determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant." Alcohol is the cause of many accidents and crimes. If everyone all over the world practiced the Fifth Wonderful Precept, such crimes and accidents would surely decrease.

To initiate an international movement for mindful consumption in order to avoid the suffering caused by alcoholism, I urge the United Nations to declare July 1st as International Day against Alcoholism and Intoxication in memory of Andres Escobar. I hope you agree with my proposal.

Thich Due Thien was a captain of the Vietnamese (Communist) Army during the Second Indochina War 1965-1975. He became a monk in 1989 and now works for handicapped children in Hanoi.

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Finessing Anger

By Bill Clarke My most cherished memory of my father is in this picture: we are sitting on the green lawn in the sunshine in front of our military housing. Between us is a fawn-colored rabbit. My father is handsome, but it is his demeanor that is most striking. His whole face is a gentle smile. His body leans forward in affection and caring for me and the rabbit. It was 1946, and World War II must have seemed far behind him. I was three years old.

The rest of my memories of my father are quite different. When I was five, I filled his bourbon and Coke with pepper to try to convince him to stop drinking. He routinely stood me at attention so I could meekly and mutely receive the instructions and corrections he hammered at me like a drill sergeant. Insubordination was the unpardonable sin. My rewards came from being very good and acting as nice and grown-up as my father wanted me to. So I got good grades, shined his shoes and his brass, made up his uniforms every night, said "Yes, Sir," and "No, Sir." As a result, we got along. He could be charming while sober, but his sober moments came less and less frequently. When drinking, his rage at the world, two wars, and his depressed wife came boiling forth. Then, I was mercilessly criticized and belittled.

The night after Dad returned from the Korean War, I heard my mother screaming, "Help me! Help me!" I ran to their bedroom and threw open the door. My father was on top of my mother, holding her hands over her head. She yelled to me, "Help me!" and Dad raised his head, snarling, "Yeah, son, what are you gonna do about it?" When I was 14, my favorite aunt asked me, "Doesn't it bother you when your father yells at you like that?" The question was electrifying inside—You mean this stuff can bother me?! But mere knowledge didn't help me feel what I never had been allowed to, and I was too well trained to act differently. Even as an adult, my anger, while valued, has had a constricted feeling to it.

During a mindfulness retreat in Montana last spring, Therese Fitzgerald shared an experience about being attacked while riding her bike to work. Within a few blocks, she noticed two men walking on the bicycle path in front of her. They separated, forcing her to ride right between them. One of the men was carrying a long, wooden stake, the kind used to support saplings, that he swung violently at her. With horror and time only to grab hard to the handlebars, she was struck as she rode through them. The stake broke on her upper arm! Because of her determination, she wasn't knocked off the bike and escaped anything worse. She was glad she hadn't seen the man's face and wouldn't have to remember his look of violence. At the time of the retreat, Therese was still unable to use her left arm fully. What startled me most was that she said she had never been angry at the man, either at the moment of the attack or at any time since.

That night, after hearing Therese's account of the attack, my dreams were intense. In the last one I remember, I was in a riot. Everyone and everything were cruelly impinging on me, demanding and irritating. At one point, I had to traverse a narrow area between two boulders. It was going to be hard to get through it at all—it was going to take all my effort—and there was a person behind me pushing, shoving, and yelling at me!

I felt something rise in me that I had never felt before, like boiling water surging out of a seething interior. I was filled with hot energy and determination. I turned to my left, swinging my right fist for his face with all my might and I smashed my fist into my bedside light and stereo system, sending them crashing to the floor and waking me with a start. My right hand hurt.

I found my flashlight and looked at the mess on the floor. My hand was bleeding, and slowly I comprehended what had just happened. For the first time in my life I had been able to feel my anger fully and strike back! It even produced a physical release in the midst of a dream! I was glad that I had the days of the coming retreat to meditate on what had happened.

At the retreat, I recalled a time when I'd been run off the road in my car. The woman with me jumped out of the car and screamed at the two men in the other car, but I just sat there, immobilized. Most of my life I have hated myself for being a "chicken" in such moments—especially coming from a military family where cowardice is the worst dishonor. I realized from the dream that I wasn't a chicken. Not having the ability to express anger was what my father trained me to do. I had to "forget" such feelings to survive. I was just glad I came into my anger in a dream, so no one really got hit.

In addition to repressing anger and expressing anger, there is the Buddhist approach of transforming it. We can meditate on our experience to find what is needed to transform it. At the retreat one woman felt that we were not hearing enough from Therese and expressed this in an accusatory note that was read to all. Because of the anger it "threw" at us, I got angry as well. I wrestled with my anger, knowing I didn't necessarily want to respond from anger, but—coming from my past—I didn't want to discount it either. Finally, I was able to speak in the group about the event with as much Right Speech—true and helpful, in the spirit of the Dharma (loving and understanding}—as I could muster. It was very satisfying that during this retreat period, I had accomplished a complete cycle with anger from full expression to full transformation!

Bill Clarke is a writer in Missoula, Montana.

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Fragrant Mountain Ordination

By Sister Eleni Sarant In the midst of the Summer Opening at Plum Village from August 3-11,1994, there was a series of ordination ceremonies called Fragrant Mountain, named after a place of spiritual pilgrimage in northern Vietnam that is believed to be the home of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of Great Compassion. At the Opening Ceremony, we chanted her name to elicit support, protection, and strength.


The ceremony began at 7:00 a.m. Mindfully, with great respect, the Pratimoksa texts of precepts for monks and nuns were carried from Dharma Nectar Meditation Hall by two young members of the Order of Interbeing. Yellow and red parasols were held over the texts. The Sangha was led by high monks and nuns from many countries and followed by the monks and nuns of Plum Village wearing their yellow sanghati robes. Core members of the Order of Interbeing were seated around the bell tower, and the hundreds of retreatants were behind them. In the great silence, the sound of birds chirping joyfully and the Plum Village flag flapping gently filled the air. Thay Nhat Hanh invited the large temple bell to sound as he chanted gathas in Vietnamese to awaken us to the wonders of the present moment and officially inaugurate the ceremonies, during which more than 100 practitioners received the Five Wonderful Precepts, nearly 70 were ordained into the Order of Interbeing, and 35 bhiksus, bhiksunis, and novices were also ordained, including 12 visiting nuns who follow the Tibetan path of practice. Full ordination for bhiksunis in the Tibetan tradition has heretofore only been available in Taiwan and California. This was followed by four days of Dharma Lamp Transmission ceremonies. We were deeply moved and inspired by the Dharma talks given to us by the new Dharma teachers.

Sister Eleni is a nun resident of Plum Village.

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Deepest Aspiration with Regard to our Ancestors

We gather to practice lighting up the lamp of awareness of ancestors. We offer them our gratitude, and we feel our obligation to them and to our native land which lies deep in each of us. As we practice looking deeply, we see our ancestors and our grandparents within us. We see the truth that, wherever the children and grandchildren are, the parents and grandparents as well as the whole ancestral line are there. The seeds of love, understanding, the skills and capacities as well as the happiness of our ancestors have been handed down to us, and it is our deepest aspiration to water these seeds every day so that we and our children may grow in peace and joy. We also see the seeds of suffering, anger, grief, anxiety, and fear which are in us, and we are determined to practice to transform these seeds. We know that in this way we are being loyal to the expectations of our ancestors. There were wonderful things which our ancestors longed to do but were not able to do, and we want to do something towards accomplishing these things. The trees have their roots. Water has its source. Birds have their nests. And human beings have their ancestral lineage. We know that we are alive today because of our ancestors and that the foundations of our way of life were laid by our ancestors. Ancestors, please be witness to the sincerity with which we offer our gratitude. We shall never forget the source from which we come. We promise to maintain the treasure of our native culture whose foundations were laid by you. We promise to use the riches of our culture constructively and hand them on to our children.

This text is read during the Ancestors' Festival at Plum Village

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