#13 Spring 1995

Dharma Talk: The Eightfold Path

By Thich Nhat Hanh The Noble Eightfold Path is made up of Right View, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Thought, Right Action and Right Effort. Right View is the insight that we have within us of the reality of life. Our insight, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, happiness, and the happiness of those around us depend very much on the degree of Right View that we have. That is why Buddhist practice always aims at helping us develop a deeper understanding of what is going on within us and around us.


Right View can be termed prajna. It can also be described as enlightenment, understanding, or wisdom. There are people who practice hard, but instead of developing Right View, they become more narrow-minded. By looking at their insight, their capacity of understanding, their ways of loving others, we can know whether their practice is correct or not. It is not a problem of the mind or the heart. It is a problem of right practice. Right practice is always pleasant and joyful in this very moment and always leads to dissolving notions and developing Right View.

Can Right View be transmitted to another person? This is an important question. Sometimes parents have a deep understanding of life, but they are unable to transmit their insight to their children. There are many reasons for this. One is communication. If the line of communication is broken, no matter how much insight you have, you cannot transmit it. Another is that you do not speak the same language. A third is that your insight might be too personalized. It works for you, but it must be practiced and presented in another way to others.

Wisdom insight is the kind of energy that makes us happy, alive, and loving. Sometimes we try to express it in words, as in the sutras or the Abhidharma, the treatise on the Dharma. When the Buddha was fully enlightened under the Bodhi tree, he had that kind of energy in him, prajna. It made him very happy and loving. He wanted to share that insight with others; that is why he thought of the five ascetics who had practiced with him in the past. But before he set off for the Deer Park in Sarnath, the Buddha remained near the Bodhi tree to enjoy his enlightenment. Enlightenment is enjoyable. The Buddha practiced sitting, walking, smiling to the trees, and playing with children from the village of Uruvela.

One day he went to a nearby lotus pond and sat for a long time, contemplating the lotus flowers and leaves. It was at that moment he discovered a way to communicate his insight to others. Insight is not made of concepts, but if you want to share your insight, you must use concepts, words, and notions. As the Buddha was looking at the lotus pond, he realized that people are of many different psychologies. Like the lotuses, some have roots deep in the mud, some have leaves still curled and underwater, some have buds partially exposed to the air, and some have leaves entirely above the water. That is why we need different means to share the Dharma with various kinds of people. The intention to create different Dharma doors was born at that time. One Dharma door is not enough.

During his 49 days of enjoying himself – sitting and walking around the Bodhi tree – the Buddha continued to translate his insight into notions and words. Then, during his first Dharma to the five ascetics, he spoke about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are the eight right practices. A sutra, or a Dharma talk, is a translation of the insight that has been achieved. Dharma talks are not insight in and of themselves. Sutras are just means of presenting insight in terms of concepts and notions. Even if it is a good description of the insight in terms of notions and words, there may be some difficulty. When you buy a map of New York City, you know that the map is not the city. You just use it to enjoy the city. It is important not to mistake the map for the city itself. Many people get caught by notions and words and miss the real insight. The Buddha said, “My teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.” Do not get caught by the words and the notions, or you will never touch the real insight.

The Buddha also said, “My teaching is like a raft that can help you get to the other shore. Don’t grasp at the raft and think that the raft is the shore.” Another day he said, “It is dangerous to misunderstand my teaching. If you don’t learn and practice with intelligence, you will spread more harm than good. It is like a person who does not know the better way to catch a snake. He may get bitten by it. A clever person will use a forked stick to catch the snake by the back of the neck, so he can pick it up safely. If you catch a snake by the tail, you may be bitten. Learning and practicing the Dharma is the same. You need intelligence, you need a teacher, you need sisters and brothers in the Dharma to help you learn and practice.”

Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path. Right View is living insight that fills a person with understanding, love, and peace. It is quite different from Dharma talks, sutras, or books. We must use words and notions and the understanding behind them. Imagine someone who has never eaten a kiwifruit. When he hears the word “kiwi,” many concepts or notions are created in his mind. If you try to explain a kiwi to him, you might describe it as a fruit of such and such size, a certain color, feel, and taste. But no matter how well you do the job, you cannot give the other person the direct experience of the kiwi. It must be tasted. That is the only way. No matter how intelligent the other person is, kiwi cannot be understood until he places a slice of kiwi into his mouth. The same difficulty confronts anyone trying to convey insight or enlightenment. You must have direct experience. We practice mindfulness, concentration, and looking, touching, and understanding deeply, so that insight might be possible.

Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right View are the basis of the practice. The practice of Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are easy and natural when the practice of Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right View have become solid. The Venerable Nyanaponika, a German-born bhikkhu, has described mindfulness as the heart of Buddhist meditation. I fully agree. Right Thinking is a practice, and its essence lies in mindfulness. If you are not mindful, your thinking cannot be right. If you are not mindful, how can you practice Right Speech? You can make a lot of people unhappy and create a war within your community or family. That is why mindfulness in speaking is the heart of right speech. Right Action – not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, etc. – cannot be practiced properly unless mindfulness is the foundation of your being. The same applies to Right Livelihood; if you are mindful of the ecosystem and the suffering of other species, your attempt to practice Right Livelihood has a chance to succeed. If you are not mindful about what is happening to the earth, the water, the air, the suffering of humans and animals, how can you practice Right Livelihood? Mindfulness must be the basis of your practice. If your efforts are not mindful, those efforts will not bring about the good result you hope for. Without mindfulness, the more effort you make, the more you can create suffering and disorder. That is why Right Effort, too, should be based on mindfulness.

When you practice Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration is easy. The energy of mindfulness already contains the energy of concentration, and with mindfulness and concentration, you practice looking, listening, and touching deeply, and out of that deep looking, listening, and touching, Right View is the fruit. Understanding and insight grow. As Right View continues to grow, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort will become stronger. When you sit correctly, your thinking is clear, and you act accordingly and practice Right Livelihood. Everything depends on Right View, and Right View depends on Right Mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness, concentration, and Right View are the essence of Buddhist practice. They are called the Threefold Training – sila (precepts), samadhi (concentration), and prajna (insight). Mindfulness is the foundation of all precepts. When you practice the Five Precepts, you see that they are not imposed on you by someone else. They are the insight that comes out of mindfulness: “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to protect all life. I vow not to kill.” That First Precept is born from mindfulness of the suffering caused by the destruction of life. Precepts are a concrete expression of mindfulness. I you don’t practice the precepts, you cannot say that you are practicing mindfulness. To practice mindfulness means to practice the precepts in your daily life.

“Aware of the destruction of families and couples, aware of the suffering of the children who are sexually molested by others, I promise to practice protecting the integrity of the individual and the family. I vow to protect children from abuse. I vow to refrain from any act that creates a disintegration of families or couples. I vow to do my best to protect children.” This Third Precept is born from our mindfulness of what happens when we practice sexual misbehavior. All precepts, whether they number 5, 10, 14, 250, or 380, are born from the practice of mindfulness. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are all practices of the precepts. When you live your daily life this way, your mindfulness will grow. The energy of mindfulness brings about concentration. You are concentrated in your daily life. You are concentrated in your sitting and walking meditation, and you look deeply and touch deeply, which brings about more and more insight. More insight helps you practice mindfulness in your daily life more easily.

If we look into any one of the eight branches of the path, we see that the other seven are present in it. If we look at Right Speech, insight is present because correct speech is born from insight. We can see that we have concentration. If we are speaking mindfully about something, we know what we are saying. Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort are also found in Right Speech. We can see the nature of interbeing in all elements of the path.


Mindfulness practice must be applied to our daily life in order to be true practice. At Plum Village, we practice not only in the meditation hall, but in the kitchen, the garden, and the bathroom as well. It is helpful to slow down. We enjoy walking, reading, bending down, and all that we do in mindfulness. When you drive, hold your baby, wash your dishes, or work at the office, you can practice mindfulness. But for that to be possible, you need the support of a Sangha. You must create a Sangha where you live, because you need the support of brothers and sisters in the practice. The Buddha was quite clear that the Noble Eightfold Path is the practice of our daily lives, not of intensive retreats alone. The Noble Eightfold Path is the practice of an engaged Buddhist. Right Action – not to kill but to protect all life, not to steal but to be generous in giving time and energy for the people who suffer, not to break up families and couples, not to harm children but to protect them – all these things are meant to be practiced in real life.

To say “engaged Buddhism” is redundant. How can it be Buddhism if it is not “engaged?” To communicate, we must use words, and hopefully our words will be heard and understood. In his first Dharma talk to the five ascetics at Deer park, the Buddha offered the Noble Eightfold Path, and in his last Dharma talk, spoken to the monk Sudhana, the Buddha also offered the Noble Eightfold Path. He said that where there is the Noble Path, there is insight. We must use our intelligence to apply the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path to our daily lives.

The practice of Right View helps us develop a deep understanding of the Four Noble Truths. If you have deep insight into the truth of the suffering of beings, the truth of origination, the truth of cessation, and the truth of the path, you have Right View. In fact, if you have a deep insight into any of these Four Noble Truths, you have deep insight into all four. Each truth contains all the others. This is the teaching of the Buddha about Right View from the historical dimension.

From the ultimate dimension, nothing can be said about Right View. There is a Zen story about two monks walking together. One sees a beautiful bird fly by. It is so beautiful that he wants to share the sight with the other monk. But the other monk has a pebble in his shoe and he is bending down to remove it. When the other monk looks up, there is no bird at all. So he asks, “What is it you want me to see?” But the bird is no longer there. All the first monk can say is, “A beautiful bird has just passed by.” It is not the same as showing him the bird. It is impossible for him to share his wonderful feeling. Sometimes we must just be quiet, when it is impossible to convey the insight.

A philosopher came to the Buddha and asked, “Is there a self? Is there a world?” Bombarded with questions like these, the Buddha said nothing. The philosopher became frustrated and left. Finally Ananda asked the Buddha, “You always say there is no self. Why didn’t you tell him?” The Buddha replied, “Anything I would have said would have done him more harm than good. I said nothing at all, to protect him from wrong views.”

Another time, an ascetic asked the Buddha to explain ultimate reality without using the terms being and nonbeing. The Buddha maintained silence for a long time, and the ascetic bowed three times and left. Ananda marveled and stated, “Lord, you did not say anything, yet he seemed to understand you.” The Buddha replied, “For a good horse, you don’t need a whip.”

Sometimes in Zen circles, they use language that is difficult to understand. This language is not made of concepts. It is a language to help us drop our concepts. From time to time, I try to use that kind of language myself. In 1968, when I was in Philadelphia for a peace demonstration, a reporter asked me, “Are you from the north or the south?” He wanted to put me in a box. If I said I am from the north, he would think I was anti-American. If I said I am from the south, he would think I was either with the National Liberation Front or pro-American. So I smiled and said, “I am from the center.” I hoped that would help him find a way to transcend the conflict. To understand the speech used in Zen circles, you must become familiar with this kind of language.

One Zen student said to his teacher, “I have been at the monastery for three years, and you have never told me about the true way of ultimate reality.” The teacher pointed his finger and said, “Monk, do you see the cypress in the front yard?” It is very important to notice the trees in the front yard. That monk had been living in the monastery for several years and he passed that cypress tree thousands of times, yet he never became aware of its presence. If he had been mindful, he could have touched the ultimate reality directly. How could he expect to touch ultimate reality if he had not even touched the tree in the front yard?

The story of that cypress tree became very well known throughout China. Another monk who heard the story of the cypress tree traveled very far to visit that teacher to ask him about it. But by the time the monk arrived, the teacher had already passed away. He was distraught as he now had no chance to ask his question. Another monk pointed him in the direction of the former teacher’s head disciple and suggested he direct his questions to him. The visiting monk went through many formalities to obtain an audience with this disciple, who was now senior monk. After listening to the visitor’s inquiry about the famous cypress tree, the senior monk answered, “Cypress tree? There is no cypress tree here.” The visitor could not believe it; the entire country had heard about that cypress tree. It had become an important topic of debate. Yet the head of the very temple where it originated did not seem to know anything about it? He tried to explain to the head monk that it was a very deep subject of meditation. He asked him if he was really the disciple of the master. The senior monk replied, “I am.”

When I first heard this story, I understood the senior monk’s intention to “kill” the cypress. Too many people were caught by it. If the visiting monk is intelligent enough, he can be enlightened by this “new” cypress. The cypress is a Dharma door. When you understand this type of exchange, you change your way of looking and understanding, and that can help lead you to enlightenment.

Another teacher when asked a philosophical question, replied, “Have you eaten breakfast?” When the disciple said, “Yes,” the teacher said, “Then please go and wash your dishes.” Washing the dishes mindfully is the door to the ultimate reality, the key to Right View and the whole Noble Eightfold Path. In the ultimate dimension, nothing can be said. In the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra it is said, “no ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path; no understanding, no attainment” – no Right View, no Right Thinking. These are all notions, and you must free yourself from notions and words. The Buddha said, “My teaching is just a raft to help you get to the other shore. Don’t be caught by the raft.” We do our best practice this way.

This lecture was given in Plum Village during the 1994 Summer Opening. A book on Basic Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh will be published later this year.

Photos: First photo by Gaetano Kazuo Maida. Second photo by Tran Van Minh

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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 share with you the wonderful news that Thich Nhat Hanh will be visiting the United States this fall. We hope this gives you enough time to plan to spend time with him and Sister Chan Khong. Thay's Dharma talk on the Eightfold Path is a continuation of his teachings on the Four Noble Truths begun in the last issue, emphasizing Right Mindfulness, Concentration, and View as the foundations of practice that allow for the realization of the other "folds." Dorota's response to the Pope's new book reflects the global consequences of practicing Right View (or not).

Mindfulness of breath and feelings informs Elana Rosenbaum's article and the anonymous poem. Svein Myreng introduces the idea of "Sangha honeymoon," and several practitioners share their experiences of mindfulness in nature. Greg Marton continues the theme of "returning to our roots." Jonathan Maxson speaks for people in their twenties and we hear from young people in Gaia's poem and Sam's article.

As it becomes easier to know about life in Vietnam firsthand, we have vivid accounts and photographs. The work with veterans is developing now, as we begin editing the veterans' writings for a forthcoming book.

Letters from practitioners in various situations help us know each other's joys, struggles, insights, and needs. We invite you to respond to the pieces presented in this issue. Please let us know if we are succeeding in "bringing us back to our true selves" the way a real mindfulness bell can.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our dear friend and all-round bodhisattva Carole Melkonian for her great energy and tireless commitment to the development of The Mindfulness Bell. Carole gave this publication its name and helped produce every issue up to this one, before moving to Mendocino, California, to cultivate her bodhicitta through nursing work in a hospital there. Carole's love of mindfulness practice and joyous familiarity with the international Sangha (not to mention her lightning-speed as a typist) have shined all these years.

We have been fortunate to have the bright help of Michael Gardner with Sangha news and subscriptions for the past two years. His steady presence in the CML office has nourished all of us here and the many people he was in contact with throughout Thay's visit in 1993 and since. Michael is now offering courses on the Enneagram "and beyond"in the Bay Area, California.


We are blessed to have Ellen Peskin, True Full Fruition, as the new Associate Director of CML and coeditor of The Mindfulness Bell. Offering incense, bowing, and reciting a gatha every morning together, we carry on through the day in support of each other's efforts to practice mindfulness as we take care of all we can.

—Therese Fitzgerald, Arnie Kotler, and Ellen Peskin

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Poem: Untitled Poem 1

mb13-Poem1 In the mirror I am water— reflecting, changing, sometimes rough, sometimes calm. I reflect reality, truthfulness.

You cannot tell my age. It is not known. That is part of the magic. Reflecting, changing, I am shown in different forms.

You see me as a dragon, a flower, a stone, a tree blowing in the wind, reflecting, changing. And now I am just a girl writing a poem about reflections.

Gaia Thurston-Shaine, age 13 McCarthy, Alaska

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Right View for the World

By Dorota Golebiewska Editor's note: This article appeared in the Polish newspaper Zycie Warszawy (Life of Warsaw). The author (friend and co-practitioner) was asked to explain the background of the conflict between the Pope and Sri Lankan Buddhists. Dorota writes, "I felt reluctant at first. I had a feeling that the harm had already been done. The Pope's book is being widely read, and I felt the best answer to it would be to show what is really beautiful about Buddhism instead of joining the chorus of critics on either side. I tried to deal with it without igniting even more conflict, distrust, and confusion. Some people later called me to say that they felt very good about the text; that it seemed to bring about some harmony. I was really happy to hear that."

The Pope's conflict with Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka, based on his statements in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, cast a shadow on his recent Asian pilgrimage. Distressed by the Pope's "spreading of distorted views of their religion," the Sri Lankan patriarchs rejected an invitation to join prayers with the Pope and decided to boycott his visit. A few days before the Pope's arrival to Sri Lanka where Buddhists form 70 percent of the population of 18 million, antipapal gatherings became an everyday event. A church and a Buddhist temple were set on fire. Sri Lankan priests warned of undefined "acts of religious protest."

The Pope's repeated words of "profound respect and highest esteem" for Buddhism were rejected by Sri Lanka's spiritual leaders as insufficient and unsatisfactory. They demanded an official apology and withdrawal from the Pope's book certain remarks that they found "false, insulting, and degrading"—remarks calling Buddhism "a largely atheistic system," and "a doctrine of negative salvation," offering liberation from the world's evils only through rejection of the world and withdrawal from society. Sri Lanka's Buddhist Federation also called the Pope's identification of Buddhist enlightenment with "indifference to the world" and his critical remarks on Buddhism's "ascetic methods and meditation" derogatory. The Pope writes, "Enlightenment achieved by the Buddha is limited to a belief that the world is bad. It is the source of evil and suffering. To liberate oneself from this evil, one has to turn away from the world.. .the source of evil. That is the point where the spiritual growth comes to an end."

This Pope's vision strengthens the stereotype of Buddhists as "crazy folk," spending their days sitting crosslegged because of pervasive embitterment. However, if this were the whole truth about the Buddha, it would be hard to understand how this figure of 2,600 years ago continues to move the hearts and minds of millions of people. Unfortunately, the Pope's understanding is not uncommon and stems from the typical difficulties that the Western mind encounters when trying to understand the Eastern mind.


The Pope's Buddha resembles more the Christian ascetics of the Middle Ages who condemned the body and the worldly life as sinful by nature than the Hindu Prince Siddhartha Gautama. The spiritual revolution started by Gautama in ancient India was based largely on his rejection of ascetic practices sanctified in those days, such as rejecting one's body. For a Buddhist, the world cannot be the source of evil because he rejects the idea of evil as such and believes that anything that exists is good, just by the fact of its existence. The source of suffering is not the world itself but the distorted way in which we tend to see it based on greed, hatred, and delusion. According to his teachings, these "curtains" can fall off our eyes through the practice of open up to the presence of God's Kingdom and find it truly available in the here and now," says one of the most famous contemporary Buddhist teachers, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. It is really difficult to call these words "spreading atheism," even as they come from a practitioner of a religion that prefers to speak of God as "the absolute" or "ultimate reality."

When talking about the meaning of Buddhist enlightenment, Thay brings in the figure of St. Francis as the son of a rich merchant, throwing his father's gold at his feet and leaving home to spread "the Good News" and live only on what is offered to him, not in any way an ascetic aimed at degrading himself, but rather expressing his joyful faith and perfect inner freedom. In times when the faithful question the Church's accumulation of worldly wealth, this young man of Assisi stands as someone trying to realize Jesus' teachings of life as the lilies live, without worry, lacking nothing, because the Lord takes care of their needs and makes them the most beautiful of flowers. When St. Francis asks a tree to spread the word of God's glory, the tree blossoms in midwinter. "This is one of the most beautiful tales of the nature of enlightenment," comments Thay. "Meditation is not an escape from reality. When you silence your mind, and the curtains of fear and anger fall off your eyes, you start to see more clearly the beauty of the sun and the flowers, the smile of those you love, and the suffering of those who have made you suffer. This gives birth to true love and compassion, and you are capable of feeling deep unity with all the universe." The fruits of meditation defined this way seem a long way from " indifference to the world as the source of all evil."

The chapter of the Pope's book entitled "Buddha?" cannot be considered an objective review of the main ideas of Buddhism. The Pope is openly addressing all those Christians who perceive Eastern spirituality as an alternative or supplement to Catholicism. The Pope concentrates on the differences between the teachings of the Buddha and those of Christ. He does not conceal his aim of discouraging Christians from turning to Buddhism. Finally, the Pope says quite clearly, "In this moment, it seems necessary to warn Christians who are enthusiastically open to diverse propositions deriving from religious traditions of the East regarding methods of meditation and ascetics. It seems to me it would be much better if these young people would get a profound knowledge of their own spiritual heritage first and reconsider if it is appropriate for them to deny it without regret."

In this point, we can note a similar statement by one of the highest authorities in contemporary Buddhism, exiled Tibetan leader, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. "Buddhism is the best way for Buddhists. Westerners should reconsider before they turn away from their original traditions. If you have been born Christian, it is quite probable that Christianity is your way. If it is Buddhism, there is a fair chance you would have been born a Buddhist. So maybe before you change your religion, you better try to meet the challenge there for you in your original tradition," says the Dalai Lama to enthusiastic European crowds.

Living in exile in France, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his Western students—and there are thousands of them—to use Buddhist practice to help them come to terms with their religious heritage. To this end, for example, he modified the practice of "the Five Prostrations" aimed at cultivating forgiveness: "Now I see Jesus and Mary, as my spiritual teachers and guides. I know that I have lost touch with them due to human imperfection of those who tried unsuccessfully to transfer the true treasure of religion to me. Now I go back to my spiritual roots and rediscover the jewels hidden in Christianity, and I bow down before Jesus."

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to take what is the true heart of his teachings and practice it within their own spiritual traditions. In his opinion, the real problem lies not in questions about Buddhist doctrine being more or less attractive, or higher or lower than Christianity. The true problem lies in a kind of vacuum created by unaddressed spiritual needs, especially among young people. In this vacuum, it seems the role of spiritual leaders falls into the hands of rock stars, actors, and self-declared gurus of unknown origins. Rather than waste their time on issues of control and the strengthening of Church authority, Catholic priests should make all efforts to find authentic Catholic teachings, based on true understanding and love, to reach these young people's hearts and minds.

"I consider myself a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I take his teachings seriously," says Alison, an American psychotherapist. "After returning home from a retreat with Thay, I visited my local parish church. I explained to the pastor that I was a Buddhist and I told him what had brought me to the church. I started to attend services and read the Bible, and he started quoting Buddhist teachings in his sermons. But why did I have to become a Buddhist to discover Christ?"

A serious attempt to answer this question seems a much more creative approach to these young Christians whom the Pope would like to save from getting overenthusiastic about Eastern spirituality, rather than discussing which religion is "better." After all, as the Vatican II Sobor, quoted by the Pope in his book, said, "The Holy Spirit can act effectively even outside of the visible Church through semina verbi (seeds of the Word) sown throughout the great religions of the world. Practicing the great religions, one can also experience the glory of revelation."

As for Buddhism, like any great religion, it also has many faces—the one of loving understanding as presented here by Thich Nhat Hanh, and the other one of the angry and insulted, declaring "war at the top" to the Pope for his wrong understanding of ideas deriving from a culture different from his own.

Dorota Golebiewska is a journalist and an active member of the Sangha in Warsaw, Poland.

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A Long Enduring Mind

By Svein Myreng When we take up the practice of mindfulness, it feels wonderful. We enjoy a new calm and serenity, see trees and the sky more vividly, and find pleasure in a community that values friendliness and equanimity. This is the "honeymoon" of mindfulness practice, to be enjoyed fully. But it doesn't last in this way. After a while, there usually comes a time when we are assailed by the strangest thoughts and emotions. We wonder where the precious calm of our earlier meditation periods went, and our formerly lovable Sangha friends suddenly show the most unpleasant habits. Something feels rotten in this state of Dharma.

This is a common phase in the practice, and, believe it or not, a very useful one. As mindfulness helps our mind and body relax more deeply, long repressed "internal knots" start to dissolve and surface. We become aware of subtle thoughts, impulses, and feelings that we simply didn't notice earlier. Sometimes, our practice lets us get in touch with these "hidden" aspects, while our mindfulness is not yet strong enough for us to digest them fully. We easily project feelings or character traits onto others. Also, inevitable differences in temperament and conflicting interests become visible as we get more in touch with both ourselves and our Sangha sisters and brothers. Together, these factors can create turbulence in any Sangha, and usually, we cannot reduce them to simple questions of being right or wrong. At such times, many practitioners become deeply worried; after all, we sought peace, not a new place of conflict. Some may leave the Sangha and the practice altogether.

Three years ago, I stayed in Plum Village for a few months. There were various difficulties and tensions among members of the Sangha (including me), but we knew that we had to live with each other and find ways to solve our difficulties. (Happily, there are tools, like the "Beginning Anew" ceremony.) In this process, we got to know each other and ourselves more as real people, not just on the surface, and some true friendships developed from this.

C.G. Jung coined two useful terms: The persona is basically our self-image, the image we present to society. The shadow is the hidden aspects of ourselves, the parts that we don't want to see, are unable to see, and have never really been allowed to express. It takes a great (unconscious) effort to keep the shadow in the shadow, and liberating this energy makes life a lot richer.

When we accept the difficulties of the practice and stay with our Sangha and ourselves, we shed the light of mindfulness on the shadow. We get to know our Sangha friends on a deeper level than the persona, learning to appreciate them as real, multifaceted people. This helps us appreciate the multitude of mental factors that exist in the depths of ourselves as well. Fearless in relation to the unpleasant, we make peace within our Sangha and within ourselves. This is real maturation: moving from the concept of how we should be, to understanding how we are—changing all the time. If we leave when the Sangha honeymoon is over and search for another Sangha instead, we will never know this maturation, friendship, and deeper peace that comes through understanding and transforming difficulties. (In certain cases, though, we may have to acknowledge that a situation is really too harmful to stay in.)

As mindfulness deepens, we get more truly in touch with joy, peace, and life as a whole. I doubt that this will ever remove our difficulties completely, but it will give us a larger perspective and a deeper equanimity. I'm fond of Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun's expression, "a long enduring mind." He lived to be 120, so he should know! Even with less longevity, a long enduring mind, a passion to go more deeply, is a real gift.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is an adult education teacher in Oslo, Norway.

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Planting Seeds

By Deb Soule I have been gardening and studying the medicinal uses of herbs for 20 years. The process of gathering seeds, planting them the following spring, and watching them grow and flower and produce seed is truly a miracle. I feel deeply grateful that my life is centered around gardening and making and dispensing herbal medicines.

The practice of planting seeds, tending seedlings, and nourishing soil has become more meaningful for me because of mindfulness practice. Chimes and bells hanging from a maple tree and hops trellis have become the mindfulness bells in my one-acre garden. Beginning my 12-hour work days in the summer months with walking and sitting meditation in the garden has helped me be more present and enjoy the many tasks a garden asks of the gardener. Bowing to newly planted seedlings and to herbs and vegetables I am about to harvest has become part of my daily practice. The myriad colors, fragrances, and shapes in the garden intertwined with practice are what offer me hope in these times of great suffering. Each time I plant a seed and watch it sprout, I know this is also possible as I cultivate my practice.

Deb Soule lives in Rockland, Maine. She is author of The Roots of Healing: A Woman's Book of Herbs.

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Settling In

By Sue Austin Since the retreat at Omega last October, I see that I have not been peaceful. It is as though I have not wanted to surrender to all this whiteness. I fought it coming, but it comes anyway, and not gently. Even the wind blows white. I know that with winter comes bear spirit, hibernation—days up here alone with my thoughts, chores, reading, and the struggle to face myself in writing. When I left the veterans' retreat, an experience bathed in so much color and heart, it was hard for me to settle down.

I've given myself Mondays as a Day of Mindfulness. Today I see the snow has laid a soft blanket that coats the roof and settles into the leaky gaps at the foundation, all to help make the cabin warmer. I stand nearly eye to eye with the white ermine tunneling in and out, happy to have this soft blanket to play in. So I begin to be like the ermine. I wear this whiteness like a coat and head out soon for some skiing meditation.

Sue Austin lives in Tetonia, Idaho.


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Space Free

By Fred Allendorf My wife and I recently went backpacking into the wilderness on the Montana-Idaho border. Sitting in meditation, I began to contemplate how much more enjoyable my meditations were in the forest, away from the clutter of everyday life. Mindfulness of everyday actions was greatly enhanced in the wilderness. It really was possible to feel that every step caressed the earth.

I was struck by an analogy between the campfire and the television. My wife and I spent each night staring into the light of the campfire, talking and sharing thoughts and feelings. Millions of people across America gather each night to spend hours staring into the light of the TV. Campfires are a place where people share thoughts, feelings, and their experience of the day. "Television families" share a window in which they watch the lives of others.

We are numbed by modern life. TV, radios, and walkmen lead us to avoid being with our own thoughts and feelings, even in those moments when others are not around. But there is more than just escape from distraction in the forest. Morning meditations at home are peaceful, but they lack the intensity of my meditations in the forest. In the wilderness we rejoin our ancestors of thousand of generations who lived their lives in touch with all living beings.

Fred Allendorf, a biology professor and an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, is a member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Facing Our Demons

By Elana Rosenbaum "Stay present! Keep your feet on the ground. Face your opponent...move towards the assailant...breathe!" These instructions come from a course in self-defense I recently took in Boston with fifteen other women. The training consisted of five sessions in which we were attacked by men with padded suits and helmets looking like tough giants. The training was to help us learn to protect ourselves from muggers or rapists, but what we also learned was to face our own demons, fears, and anxiety, and to breathe through these debilitating, painful feelings. It was a challenge to transform the garbage of past conditioning into the flowers of action and release.

We learned that being present in the moment is crucial. In order to transform rage, pain, and fear, one had to be fully present to confront the attacker. We had to be fully aware in our bodies, or it would be too late, and we could be hurt. After each of us had her turn, we'd rejoin the line, put our arms around each other, and cheer the next person on. The instructor would ask, "How are you?"

My personal breakthrough came after I admitted out loud that I didn't feel very good. I realized that I used my breath to disassociate from my fear. Rather than embrace, acknowledge, and use my negative energy, I would breathe and freeze. Numbing the feeling would take me away from what was happening and delay my reaction, which was dangerous. What I wanted to avoid was nausea and revulsion; that terrified little girl inside me, here again. And I felt so stupid, ugly, and powerless. "Breathe." How often have I said that to myself and to others. Now it was, "Breathe and feel, breathe and face the feelings, breathe and be present, breathe and act, breathe and forgive." Love that scared little girl and feel the love all around.

The course ended and we all graduated. I knocked out my attacker without any hesitation, staying focused in my body, using my voice, heart, and mind. Success? Yes. But it doesn't end. I still must care for my garden and tend to the seeds, work the soil and nourish the flowers with proper care and attention.

Elana Rosenbaum, True Dharma Taste, lives in Worchester, Massachusetts, where she practices as a psychotherapist and is a senior instructor in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program.

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Poem: Untitled Poem 2

mb13-Poem2 When you feel anger and are drowning in a sea of fire, remember to follow your breath. Your breath will become a beautiful lotus boat, that will carry you away from confusion, hatred, and desire.

Hold onto your breath with mindfulness as both the sail and the anchor. With diligence, you will soon discover the waves of suffering have been stilled. We are together as a Sangha on a beautiful lake of lotuses.


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Buddhists: Virtual Vegetarians

By Allan Hunt Badiner The debate about vegetarianism in Buddhism is as old as Buddhism itself. It is told in the Vinaya that Devadatta, in his struggle to steal control of the Sangha, tried to turn the pious against the Buddha for his refusal to legislate on the question. It is useful to consider that not even the precept to abstain from killing is a Buddhist commandment or "law." The Buddha held that the key to our salvation is within us. We are ultimately accountable to the karmic consequences of our actions, not to some religious authority.

Today's demand for animal products wastes resources, degrades the global ecosystem, and disrupts indigenous cultures. It also has devastating effects on human health. Students of the Dharma who are aware of the realities of a meat-centered diet are likely to be inclined against choosing animal foods. However, there is a subtle yet important distinction between the Buddhist and vegetarian perspectives.

Being a formal "vegetarian" can polarize people, setting vegetarians apart from non-vegetarians. The Buddha taught that identifying oneself with a dogma of any kind is unwholesome. The Buddha and his followers ate like vegetarians and most people knew it. But occasionally, when offered nonvegetarian food (from an animal that was not, to their knowledge, killed just for them), the monks were warned against declining it, at the risk of offending donors, and thus turning their hosts away from the Dharma. The vegetarian who judges another person by virtue of what he or she eats may be more deluded than the naive but well-intentioned omnivore. Concurrently, the carnivore can be deluded by the failure to look deeply into the ethical, ecological, and cardiovascular consequences of eating meat.

The Dharma suggests the same ethical constraints on eating practices that vegetarians adopt for themselves. But there also is a measure of flexibility. I can imagine the Buddha giving advice on this matter, smiling and commending the questioner's vegetarian diet as wholesome, but cautioning them to remember that what comes out of a person's mouth is a more significant factor in their enlightenment.

When a Buddhist shuns meat, it is not out of identification with being vegetarian, but because it is the only appropriate behavior given their compassion for all living beings of the Earth. When one looks before taking action, one comes to a clear choice of what not to buy at the market.

Thay, when asked about this issue during a tea ceremony at Plum Village, smiled and would say only that "in the Mahayana tradition, vegetarian food is enjoyed." So while there may be no Buddhist imperative to become vegetarian, Buddhist practice and the cultivation of awareness lead one to eat like one.

Allan Hunt Badiner, editor of Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays and Buddhism in Ecology, lives in Big Sur, California.

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The Gifts of Our Ancestors

By Greg Marton Not long after my great aunt died, I was looking through some of her things and came across a very old copy of the King James Bible with the following inscription written in the ornate hand of a bygone era: "Presented to our Grandma by Lulu and Maud, 12-25-1876." The name Lulu sounded familiar: my great-grandmother, who had died when I was a toddler. The owner of the book had been Lulu's grandmother, and my great-great-great grandmother. So in December of 1876, two little girls gave their grandmother a Christmas present. What they had no way of knowing was that near the end of the century to follow, one of their descendants, a Buddhist, would read their inscription and be nurtured by their grace and devotion.

As I held the book in my hands, I could see that it had sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. I also realized that, in a sense, the religious spirit within my family had been dormant for almost as long. For example, my grandfather, Lulu's son, had dropped out of divinity school as a young man, forsaking not only his plans to enter the ministry but his Christian faith as well. I had first met him many years later and remember him with great affection. He was a charming old man, a "free spirit" who viewed religious faith with contempt and cynicism.

It is impossible for me to say how my grandfather acquired such an attitude; I can only speculate. Perhaps religion had been presented to him in a sanctimonious or coercive way. At any rate, regardless of the alienation he apparently experienced, I am certain that my grandfather carried within him a gift of grace and strength, inherited from his ancestors, which he passed on to his daughter, my mother, and thus to myself. In my mother, this gift found expression in a loving spirituality further enriched by her respect and tolerance for the faith of others. We all carry the legacy of our ancestors within us. In a sense, it is their blood that flows through our veins, their hearts that beat inside us, their tears that fall when we suffer. Each of us receives this legacy, this gift of life, and adds something to it before we pass it on. And therefore our lives are not only an opportunity but a responsibility to future generations.

Often the legacy we have inherited is clouded by unhappiness. The challenge we face is to acknowledge the strengths, the gifts of grace, that our ancestors have passed on to us, and to use these to transform ourselves. I am certain that these strengths are always there, no matter how well-camouflaged.

When we look within ourselves, we may find anger, fear, even hatred. But at the same time we will surely find gifts of faith, wisdom, and compassion, precious beyond measure. Greg Marton lives in Medford, Oregon, and works as a children's therapist in nearby Grants Pass.

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By Sam Peskin Friendship comes in many forms—the one we know best is when two people have a relationship together. Friendship is good because without friends it would be a crazy world. Friends help each other and do favors for each other when the other one needs help. Friends are good because you always have someone to talk to, to do things with and play with.

Friends aren't always people. They can be animals, plants, or even rocks. A friend isn't always someone you go to the movies or do things with. It could also be a pet who licks your face and always is nice to you even though sometimes they chew up your things. Or it could be a plant that you found in a special place that makes you feel better, or just a pretty stone that you found.

I make my friends by being nice, doing favors they need, giving them support, listening to what they have to say, and not interrupting them. I try never to treat my friends with disrespect. By the way, nobody's perfect. Friends might do something that you don't like once in a while, and you might also. It's okay to get your anger out and fight (not physically) with each other, but you should always forgive each other later. You always have to remember to treat your friends how you want to be treated.

Sam Peskin, age 12, lives in Oakland, California.


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Family Practice

By Diane Roome Our Family Day of Mindfulness at Green Gulch Farm is still with us, and will always remain as a little pool of clarity in our memories.


Despite his initial uncertainty, our son Alex warmed to some of the ideas we encountered. I read him a little allegory about one-pointedness last night, and he got it! For Ben, everything seemed rather natural, I think. He told me some time ago he wanted to learn to meditate, and our day definitely helped him on his way. My husband and I both feel much better as a result of our visit. The potato planting, the carpenteria californica, the discussion, the quiet sitting, the delicious carrot soup, the songs—all gave us a lovely sense of harmony.

Diane Roome lives in Mountain View, California.

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Practice As a Young Person

By Jonathan Maxson I will be starting a new semester of college this September, and I feel the best way for me to keep in touch with the Sangha is through regular correspondence with more experienced members of the Sangha. They can support and encourage me as one of the younger practitioners whose life circumstances and schedules prohibit closer involvement. I hope others will undertake something similar.

In particular, I would like to see mindfulness retreats held especially for younger people. At these retreats, three or four young persons of the same age could be "adopted" by a stable member of the Order of Interbeing. Throughout the year, they could write to each other—as brothers and sisters in the practice—and to their adopted spiritual parent, to share thoughts, feelings, and encouragement. Perhaps once or twice a year this small family could reunite, either as part of an individual retreat or in the context of a larger one.

I think this kind of practice could help many young people develop a sense of community and shared responsibility. It would also help older Sangha members become more skillful in the transmission of the teachings.

Jonathan Maxson, age 23, lives in Albany, New York.

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Growing in Mindfulness

By Sandro M. DuBois For the last five weeks, I have tried to be mindful of one of the precepts daily for one week, trying to keep the broad idea in my mind and to realize how it might affect everything that I was doing throughout that day. I wish I could say that I was measurably successful. In truth, it has shown me how unmindful I can consistently be and it often makes me more judgmental. But the good news is that I have found, with practice, I can look for the Buddha becoming in myself, as well as in others, and I can become more mindful even if it is only for a few moments each day.

Since receiving the first books from Parallax Press last summer, there have been many changes in my life. Unfortunately, I am still too fat, half bald, and what little hair I still have is still grey. But I am more aware. And I am aware that it is possible and profitable to be mindful.

I was sitting before last summer, but since that time my sitting has become more productive, if less comfortable in some ways. You may consider adding to the preface of Thich Nhat Hanh's books: "Warning: mindfulness directly affects your quality of life and the quality of being for all those you come in contact with, but honest mindfulness can be less than comfortable at times."

I realize the precepts are not a promise that I will never, or always, do something, but they are not something I want to take without some understanding on my part as to what they really signify to me. Sometimes when one begins to look, begins to see new potential and avenues, there is a tendency to jump from one new idea to the next, wanting to take advantage of all of them. Additionally, often there is a fear of leaning on an idea and being hurt because it fails to bring a desired conclusion or effect. Trying to understand this, over the last several months I have developed a deep desire to practice one philosophy for the remainder of my life; to reach a better understanding of myself, my world and my role in that world.

My practice gives me great calm. It is alright for me to be where I am. It is alright to feel the pain and suffering in others and myself. It is often uncomfortable but this is acceptable because it leads to my being real in the present moment. I think, in many ways, it is hard to practice here, but it may be easier here than where you are. I bow deeply to the community for choosing daily to be who you are in the midst of so much distraction, challenge and opportunity. There is much violence here, most of it from fear and insecurity, from lack of understanding, and lack of an observable demonstration of a viable alternative. Which is very sad. At the same time, I believe there is much desire here to be more than we are. There is no one answer. There are only individuals practicing.

Sandro M. Dubois is a prison inmate in North Carolina.

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Manzanita Village Magic

By Richard Eaton Living at Manzanita Village nourishes me deeply. There is no duality between daily life and daily practice. They are the same. When I cook, it is practice. When I do carpentry, it is practice. When I walk to the shed to get a tool, it is practice. Being mindful as often as possible in all activities—truly mindful, completely aware of what I am doing with focused, relaxed attention—that is the practice. The other part of practice is learning how to be gentle with myself when I forget. Compassion and metta.

Every day, I fall in love with the beauty of Manzanita Village. Its diversity is amazing. As the seasons change, the colors are astounding. The shades of colors in the trees and shrubs create a rainbow of earth tones. Wildlife abounds. A variety of birds sing throughout the day and night. Night songs are different from day songs. The birds' songs are nature's mindfulness music. Rabbits are everywhere and so are woodrats and a few much larger Norwegian rats. We hear coyotes at night occasionally and I have seen a few in the daytime out in the open ranch fields a mile away from here. We have heard that mountain lions are around, but I haven't seen any sign of them, yet.

The skies here are just incredible—at sunrise and sunset, and all day long. The clouds shift and change constantly, and the blueness of the sky is so pure and clear that it is almost unbelievable. Even when there is cloud cover, the patterns that are created are something to behold. At night, when there is no cloud cover, you can't miss the Milky Way. It just jumps out at you. Plus the sky has been painted with ten billion more stars than any city sky.

It's been some time since I have had the opportunity to experience the remarkable openness of land space and sky space. How wonderful it is and how sad that it keeps being destroyed in the name of progress and technology. Will the human animal ever learn to stop defiling his nest—the planet earth? The ecology practice work that Christopher and Michele integrate into the meditation practice is helpful for finding ways to hold the sadness and grief around planet issues, both physical and social.

It is so easy to run out of adjectives when talking about the beauty of this land and its transforming and healing nature. I know that is true for any land when one takes enough time to truly be there, to be quiet enough, and stand still long enough to see and hear what the land has to show and teach. When people arrive here for retreats, filled with the energy of city life, I marvel at how Manzanita Village and the land work their magic. And I know that the healing will happen.

Richard Eaton is a resident of Manzanita Village, a retreat center in San Diego County, California. For further information about Manzanita Village, see Sangha News.

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Finding a Place

By Arnie Kotler Inspired by our Dharma brothers and sisters at Maple Village, Manzanita Village, Upaya House, and Houston Zen Community, the Community of Mindful Living has been making efforts for ten years to find a place where a small residential community can develop a life of mindfulness practice together and share it with others. We envision a place large enough to offer meditation retreats for people of all faiths, as well as for young people and families, helping professionals, veterans, artists, environmentalists, and many others. We see, more clearly than ever, the importance of having a place as a center for the continuation and deepening of mindfulness practice.

In the Summer of 1984 at Plum Village, Thay suggested that we begin a "pilot community" for the practice of mindful living in the U.S. Since that time, we have been looking for land, but no property has seemed quite suitable yet. Over the last five years, with the help of friends and Sangha members in the Washington D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia areas, we have looked at many properties in Virginia, but we still have not yet found "it." Our vision is for a place where about twelve permanent residents, to begin with, and a limited number of short-term residents can practice mindfulness together in each activity of daily life, including a regular schedule of sitting and walking meditation, communal meals, classes, precept recitations, and Dharma discussions. We also hope to set up a Dharma Teacher training program in the setting of a retreat.

We plan to continue doing the work that CML and Parallax Press have been doing to support mindfulness practice worldwide—publishing The Mindfulness Bell, and books on engaged Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, serving as a resource for those interested in learning about the Order of Interbeing, "Working Together for the Rejuvenation of Vietnam," and writing workshops and retreats for veterans. Plans also include an agricultural program—flower, herb, and vegetable gardening—as well as the large task of maintaining the buildings and property. The programs will relate the practice to daily life and foster better relationships among families, partners, children, and community.


At the San Francisco Airport before returning to France in November 1993, Thay told several of us, "I hope you find a place. It is important to have a place where people know they can go for the practice. The Buddha said, 'It is like the ocean. You always know that the ocean is there. You always know you can go there and be refreshed and strengthened by the ocean.'"

While looking for land, we have had a number of criteria in mind: that the land be peaceful, serene, inspiring, and have the feeling of solitude (that seems to require about 100-125 acres, but it depends on the parcel); that most of the structures be already in place so we don't have to wait to begin; that the seller appreciate what we are doing; that the land be within two hours of a major metropolitan area and within 90 minutes of a large airport, so retreatants from far away could come; that there be some open space and some forested area; that there be housing for twelve or so residents, 50-100 retreatants, a Dharma Hall for 250 or more, a large kitchen, a large dining hall, the possibility of tenting, and office space for Parallax Press and the Community of Mindful Living offices.


Most of the properties we have seen list for $ 1 million and upwards, many three and four times that. Our hope is to find a property for $ 1 million and to raise the entire purchase price, as well as all of the funds needed for the first two years of operations: for (1) the work needed to complete the purchase (architectural, legal, etc.), (2) operating expenses, including property maintenance, food, supplies, and (3) capital purchases and structural improvements. This will bring the total needed to be raised during the next year to about $1.5 million.

Revenue sources will include retreats, workshops, and other programs; residents' paying room, board, and tuition; some revenue from Parallax Press; and agricultural sales. To date, $150,000 has been raised or pledged to the CML Property Fund. Over the past ten years, other potential donors have expressed an interest in helping, and we will begin our fund raising efforts soon.


If you know of a suitable property, would like to receive more information about our search, or would like to contribute towards our funding needs, please let us know. Tax-deductible checks earmarked "Property Fund" can be sent to Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707. Many, many thanks.


We need to establish retreat centers where we can go to from time to time to renew ourselves. The features of the landscape, the buildings, even the sound of the bell can be designed to remind us to return to awareness. The residential community there does not need to be large. Ten or fifteen people who emanate freshness and peace, the fruits of living in awareness, are enough. When we are there, they care for us, console us, support us, and help us heal our wounds. Even when we cannot actually go there, just thinking of the center makes us smile and feel more at peace.

The residents can organize larger retreats occasionally to teach the art of enjoying life and taking care of each other. Mindful living is an art, and a retreat center can be a place where joy and happiness are authentic. The community can also offer Days of Mindfulness for people to come and live happily together for one day, and they can organize study courses on mindfulness, conscious breathing, Buddhist psychology, and transformation. We must work together with everyone in peace and harmony. Using each person's talents and ideas, we can organize retreats and Days of Mindfulness that children and adults love and want to practice more.

Most of the retreats can be for preventive practice, developing the habit of practicing mindfulness before things get too bad. But some retreats should be for those who are undergoing extreme suffering, although even then two-thirds of the retreatants should be healthy and stable for the practice to succeed. The depth and substance of the practice are the most important. The forms can be adapted. 

At the retreat center, we can enjoy doing everything in mindfulness, and our friends will see the value of the practice through us—not through what we say, but through our being. We can also enjoy the practice at home, at work, or at school. For the practice to succeed, we have to find ways to incorporate it into our daily lives. Going to a retreat center from time to time can help a lot....

Two thousand, five hundred years ago, the Buddha Shakyamuni predicted that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the 'Buddha of Love.' I think the Buddha of Love may be bom as a community and not just as an individual. Communities of mindful living are crucial for our survival and the survival of our planet. A good Sangha can help us resist the speed, violence, and unwholesome ways of our time. Mindfulness protects us and keeps us going in the direction of harmony and awareness. We need the support of friends in the practice.

—Thich Nhat Hanh from A Joyful Path: Community, Transformation & Peace

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Vietnam: From Notion to Reality

By Therese Fitzgerald As soon as Arnie and I joined Thay for a retreat in St. Petersburg, Russia, he encouraged us to join Sister Annabel for two weeks, visiting temples and other Buddhist Pilgrimage sights around Hanoi and Hue. We were hesitant at first to make such a long trip for such a short stay, but Sister Chan Khong encouraged us strongly, "You know Plum Village, but you know nothing of the real Vietnam." So off we went November 5 to Hanoi via Hong Kong after a Day of Mindfulness in (snowy!) Portland, Oregon.

Hong Kong served as a helpful way-station between the West and the East. Walking around the city for a few hours between flights, we began to adjust the sounds of a tonal language, the physicality of massive crowds, and the sensation of a tropical climate.


We arrived in Hanoi terrified of being searched or interrogated because of our affiliation with Thich Nhat Hanh. We had 30 books and tapes by Thay but, fortunately, none of our luggage was inspected. The ride from the airport past the rice fields at dusk was very calming before we entered the amazing chaos of Hanoi proper. Chuckles among the Westerners aboard turned into screams as the traffic thickened with cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists (transporting mattresses, bales of hay, whole slaughtered pigs, or baskets full of live chickens) swerved around each other in breathtakingly close shaves. Our driver remained unfazed as he leaned on his horn all the way to our hotel.

Arriving a day late, I had missed the visit to the leper colony that Sister Doan Nghiem of Plum Village had made with former School of Youth for Social Service worker and Order of Interbeing member Chan Phuong. Our group of eight Westerners and three Vietnamese from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe were joined by several nuns the next day to see two Buddhist temples in Hanoi and the famous Confucian Temple of Literature.

The following day, we traveled 160 kilometers southwest to Fragrant Mountain (Huong Tich) in Hoa Binh Province. In My Due, we boarded metal rowboats and drifted quietly through deliciously fertile waters while villagers gathered plants, snails, fish, reeds, and clods of mud for bricks. For the first time, I saw boats full of manioc roots—a food I had heard of so many times from letters about life for the poor in Vietnam. Later I would see fields of manioc growing on hillsides and marvel at the peasants who hiked far into the mountains to cultivate these roots. The steep, green-covered mountains beckoned us further until we docked our boats and started the short walk up the mountain to the Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong Tich) nestled there. Right away, I was aware of so many fragrances, the most prevalent and powerful being that of plumeria flowers on the trees and all over the path. "How sweet!" became the refrain.

We sat on beautifully carved Chinese-style wooden chairs having tea in tiny French-style demitasse cups with saucers with the 32-year-old head monk of the temple in the greeting room. Although jet lagged, I felt our good fortune to be in such an idyllic practice place. After three in the afternoon when all tourists departed by boat, a great quiet came over the mountain that was pierced by bird calls and the rumblings of very lively inhabitants rebuilding temples, creating makeshift shops along the main walking paths, and blasting caves. Early each morning and in the evening we enjoyed the penetrating sound of the monks chanting, "Namu Amida Buddha." The head monk, however, alerted us to the fact that "although it may seem so easy and beautiful, life at the temple has been very hard. After so much destruction from the war," he said, referring to the American bombing of the temple during the Japanese occupation around World War II, "it has been very hard to maintain this place, and Buddhist practice has not had much support over the last many years."


The next day after meditation and breakfast, we hiked up past several caves, temples, and shrines, including the Spring of Resolving Resentments shrine, to a fruit stand where we sipped fresh coconut juice out of the shell before walking down into the cave where it is believed that a princess, forbidden by her insensitive father to become a nun, took refuge in the cave for nine years and manifested as Avalokitesvara, anonymously giving her own arms and eyes to help her estranged father heal.

The next afternoon we hiked up to a temple that was being reconstructed and sat by the gate enjoying the vista of steep, lush mountains and valleys of rice fields and listened to Sister Annabel give a beautiful Dharma talk on love, including a detailed metta meditation practice.

Upon leaving Fragrant Mountain, we met again with the head monk as well as an 80-year-old venerable, whose curly fingernails were over an inch long, and the young monk expressed his delight that we had come to visit. He also asked us to come again, "Next time, perhaps you could join in the practices of the temple." "That  would be wonderful, and we hope that you and your students could join us in our sitting and walking meditation," Arnie responded with a smile.

Our pilgrimage also included a visit to Yen Tu Mountain, southeast of Hanoi, where True Lam Dai, the founding master of the Bamboo Forest Zen School and the former King Tran Nhan Tong of the late thirteenth century, lived and practiced. After a lengthy drive through crowded, bustling towns and long stretches of rice fields being harvested, we came to a dirt road that took us into the coal mining regions of the mountains near Yen Tu. Huge trucks tumbled past us loaded with coal and topped with workers, including young girls covered with soot wearing scarves over their faces that revealed only a twinkling smile from their delicate eyes. When I sighed with sympathy for these young girls working in the coal mines, Sister Doan Nghiem responded, "You want to help. It's not so easy," referring to the complicated economic reality of life in Vietnam. Young men completely blackened with coal washed themselves in the nearby stream.

Several times we bailed out of the vans to cross streams and deep ravines on foot. Once our van got stuck in the mud and only got out by the help of a big coal truck's winch. Finally we reached the first temple of nuns, and we stayed at their nearby guest house during our two nights on the mountain. After a sumptuous meal of noodles and vegetables, we had a Dharma discussion and then walked to our rooms accompanied by the sound of the stream and the light of the ripening moon.


Once back in Hanoi, Khanh and I made a visit to the temple of Sisters Dam Nguyen and Hanh Chau to see nearby schools and to visit families who cannot afford to send their children to school. This was my first time of finally touching the people with whom I have been in contact only through other people's letters. I was very happy to sit on the tiny school chairs inside simple dirt-floor classrooms while the youngsters sang, including Thay's song of the Two Promises of understanding and compassion. We held the babies and watched them play together. I remember seeing one mother lying with two infants in a hammock in a one-room thatched hut with a dirt floor which housed four, or seeing tattered clothing hung out on the line to dry. I knew we in the First World have so much to learn about "being content with just a few possessions," and that we have something we can give to alleviate the widespread hunger and disease our Third World friends have to endure.

We took an all-night train from Hanoi to Hue, during which time the train jostled and stopped at stations where a high-pitched female voice "sang" out directions for what seemed to be a very long time. At sunrise, we looked out our windows to see gorgeous rice fields, lush mountains, and very red, wet earth. In Hue, we were met by our host, Anh Quan, a longtime worker in the School of Youth for Social Service, and we were taken immediately to Tu Hieu Temple where Thay Nhat Hanh studied as a novice.

The ride through Hue was surprisingly quiet and uncongested after cacophonous Hanoi. As we approached the area of Tu Hieu Temple, we were greeted by a colony of ancient steles on a hill before we reached the pine grove at Tu Hieu. I had seen these pines in a video, but now with fresh rain glistening on the black bark and soft green pine needles and soaking the rich red earth, I was awestruck by the gentle beauty. Our driver drove right through the curved stone gate and parked alongside the magical half-moon pond inside. Several of us got out and walked back outside the gate to enter on foot. Total peace and calm enveloped us as we walked up the path to the temple. The beauty of the cared-for floors, furniture, artwork, and courtyard was striking. We bowed before the main altar and the ancestral altar to show our respect and acknowledge our ancestral roots with this temple through our teacher, Thay or Su Ong, grandfather teacher, as he is known there. Every surface and object shone with caring attention. We walked in the courtyard full of bonsai plants in colorful pots and admired the 300-year-old starfruit tree and the ripe persimmons hanging over the delicately carved corner pieces of the roof. Everywhere we felt gratitude for such a lovely temple that supported our teacher's practice as a young monk.

We were invited to a feast of wonderful tofu dishes, soup with lotus seeds, rice, special pickled leaves and olives, and "Vietnamese spinach" dipped in soy sauce. Afterwards, we walked slowly to Deep Listening Hermitage, built for Su Ong past a "garden" of steles through pine trees. Here we did sitting meditation and shared a few songs in Vietnamese and English. Two young monks walked slowly back to the main temple with me. One stopped and looked at me deeply, and asked, "Do you ever see Thich Nhat Hanh?" I felt his sincerity and answered softly, "Yes, I do." "Do you ever speak with him?" Even more humbly, I answered, "I do." There was a long pause, and I could see the tears in his eyes. He so longed to be near Thay.


Later we went nearby (through torrential rain!) to visit the temple of Su Ba, Thay's Dharma sister, who is very active in organizing schools for needy children in the area. The feeling at Su Ba's temple, less richly furnished than Tu Hieu Temple but beaming with joyful nuns working together, was heartwarming. Su Ba's direct, alert, and loving manner permeated everywhere. We sat down to another bountiful meal attended by the quiet, knowing hands of young nuns all around us.

The next day we set out early (but not early enough to bypass a mild interrogation about our activities by two local officials who "happened" to show up) to visit several social work projects in villages outside of Hue. After driving an hour, we parked the van and began walking down sandy paths towards some wetlands where we took bamboo boats to the village of Vinh Tai to see two kindergartens. This area had lost its rice crops two years in a row, once because of a flood and once because of drought, so the people were very poor. The children, earnest and sweet, had runny noses and their skin looked pallid. They seemed to have no school supplies whatsoever. Nevertheless, they sang their hearts out when their teacher asked them to do so for us. Each room had a drawing hung on the wall of "Uncle Ho" embracing children.

We then did an hour-long walking meditation along the mounds between rice fields, past dignified water buffaloes bathing in the water, to another village temple where people had gathered for a Morning of Mindfulness. Here Arnie gave brief breathing and walking meditation instruction translated by Khanh, and then, hand in hand, we all circumambulated the temple in walking meditation. We ended this enjoyable visit in a circle singing "Bong, Bong" in Vietnamese and "Breathing

In, Breathing Out" in English. After a visit to another temple where the villagers were also having a Day of Mindfulness, we did prostrations and had lunch to the sound of the Buddhist Youth Group playing some very exciting games outside.


The team of four social workers who have been working with Thich Nhat Hanh and Sr. Chan Khong since the 1960s were eager to have us also see the Bridges of Love and Understanding that allow children access to nearby schools. So we were off in the van onto a very muddy road and up a mountain. After fortifying parts of the road with rocks, we finally came to a completely impassable section, at which time Anh Vinh, the social worker who had primary responsibility for the bridge project, leapt out of the van and began running up the road with Gerhard, the most able-bodied member of our group. It took a while before we caught up with them to say we could not all make the three-hour excursion, as it was already getting dark. After one more push to get the van out of a muddy ditch, we headed back to Hue to have dinner in the temple of the former abbot of Tu Hieu.

On our last day in Hue, Khanh and I ventured off to Quang Tri Province to visit Thay's mother's village, Ha Trung. As we rode down the long, flat road from Hue to the town of Quang Tri, our social worker friends quietly commented, "There has been much misery and death along this road during the war," and the many graveyards along the way bore testimony.

When we approached the rice fields where Thay's maternal grandfather's grave was, an elderly man in traditional black attire, a relative of Thay, greeted us. I told him that Thay was "very well and helping many people." As we passed buffalo boys and other children, I thought of Thay as a young boy, and I also thought of young Bao Tich, Thay's one-year-old grandnephew, whose bright face I saw reflected in the toddlers at the makeshift school we visited. The teacher expressed a desire to have crayons for the children.

The social workers told us about the possibility of buying the plot of land across from the thatched hut schoolhouse to build a sturdy school. Anh Vinh said that it is important to have the local people contribute at least part of the funds, labor, or materials for such a project, and that that had not come through yet. "Maybe it is not even necessary to have a school building where no one will actually live. In this remote an area, there might be vandalism in an unoccupied building. It might be better to make use of an existing village center building, and think about constructing a simple temple where someone could live and take care of the place." It was agreed that more meetings with the villagers were needed before a decision could be made. The social workers also described a plan for a statue of a Vietnamese Madonna to be sculpted and erected in Ha Trung.

On the way back to Hue, Anh Dinh suggested we visit the village of Linh Mai, where villagers have established self-support projects, such as embroidery work to be sold through an agent. We rode through villages and countryside until we came to a flooded road, and, not having enough time to make the trip on foot, we turned back.


That afternoon, we had a wonderful Half-Day of Mindfulness at Tu Hieu Temple. Twenty young novices and monks and that many laypeople gathered with us as the abbot and former abbot offered incense. Arnie gave brief meditation instruction, and, after some sitting together, Arnie gave a Dharma talk translated into Vietnamese by Khanh, sharing many of Thay's basic teachings—the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, stopping and calming, love and understanding, the Four Noble Truths—and describing Thay's role in bringing Buddhism to the West. After the talk, walking meditation outdoors was enjoyable on the fresh, rain-soaked temple grounds. Our steps and breathing were accompanied by the rhythmical sound of novices chanting "Namu Amida Buddha." Then we joined them in the main hall for walking meditation and chanting. Afterwards, we sat down to yet another sumptuous feast. Afterwards, the English-speaking monks gathered around us and shared their deep desire to study with Thay.

After dinner, we went to the Deep Listening Hut to recite the Five Precepts together in Vietnamese and English. I looked at the photo of Thay smiling under the "teaching tree" at Ojai, and I felt him smiling with us also. Among the many farewell statements was one by Anh Tri, who said that he was a little nervous when we set out for Vinh Tai, but the way we were quiet and walked so mindfully put the villagers at ease and helped the social workers' relations with them. Arnie said that Vietnam had seemed very far away until this visit, and that "now it seems very close." One of the monks, whose visa application to go to Plum Village was recently turned down by the government, interjected, in English, "Are you sure?" reflecting Arnie's Dharma talk about confirming one's perceptions and sharing the multifaceted nature of the reality of life in Vietnam. We parted from these dear monks and went across the road to bid farewell to Su Ba and the nuns there.

Arnie, Khanh, and I stayed up until midnight with the social workers discussing everything from their need for a xerox machine to how to do social work in mindfulness. We were deeply impressed with the social workers' Sangha's thorough communication and real concern about always coming back to the practice of mindfulness. I offered them the small bell from Plum Village we had been using along our journey, and we wished each other well.


The drive the next morning to Danang Airport was one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. The road wound along the sea with vast expanses of rice fields and reached high into lush mountains and down again. I marveled at the breathtaking beauty and also mourned at the sight of mass graveyards along the way. "How could we have thought to come to this country in that way!" was a continuing refrain, one that is all the more vivid now that Vietnam has become a reality for me and not just a notion or image in my consciousness. I had known many details about the police-state nature of life in Vietnam, the religious and economic oppression, and so on, and that was not contradicted by my firsthand experience. But I also saw how hardy and resilient the people are and how their deepest desire is to continue to live close to the land, with familial and ancestral relationships intact. I began to feel all the sadder for our government's and many government's ignorance in sending troops to "destroy Vietnam in order to save it." Arnie and I wished for the various presidents of the U.S. who had escalated the war could have traveled to Vietnam as we did and really seen the people and their beautiful country.

The image of Su Ba and her nunnery stays in my mind as a strong reminder of the capacity to realize one's love of practice for the liberation of all beings in the midst of adversity. I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to have come in to contact with Thay's fellow Dharma practitioners and the places that nurtured him as a child and a young monk. When one young monk said to us, "I am sad you are leaving, but I look forward to your coming again so I can practice with you," my heart swelled with gratitude and awe that life can offer so much. So much given, so much received, so much to be given back.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is the Director of the Community of Mindful Living.

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