#15 Winter 1995

Dharma Talk: True Presence

By Thich Nhat Hanh The Four Mantras 

When you love someone, you have to be truly present for him or for her. A ten-year-old boy I know was asked by his father what he wanted for his birthday, and he didn’t know how to answer. His father is quite wealthy and could afford to buy almost anything he might want. But the young man only said, “Daddy, I want you!” His father is too busy – he has no time for his wife or his children. To demonstrate true love, we have to make ourselves available. If that father learns to breathe in and out consciously and be present for his son, he can say, “My son, I am really here for you.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

The greatest gift we can make to others is out true presence. “I am here for you” is a mantra to be uttered in perfect concentration. When you are concentrated – mind and body together – you produce your true presence, and anything you say is a mantra. It does not have to be in Sanskrit or Tibetan. A mantra can be spoken in your own language: “Darling, I am here for you.” And if you are truly present, this mantra will produce a miracle. You become real, the other person becomes real, and life is real in that moment. You bring happiness to yourself and to the other person.

“I know you are there, and I am very happy” is the second mantra. When I look at the moon, I breathe in and out deeply and say, “Full moon, I know you are there, and I am very happy.” I do the same with the morning star. Last spring in Korea, walking mindfully among magnolia trees, I looked at the magnolia flowers and said, “I know you are there and I am very happy.” To be really present and know that the other is also there is a miracle. When you contemplate a beautiful sunset, if you are really there, you will recognize and appreciate it deeply. Looking at the sunset, you feel very happy. Whenever you are really there, you are able to recognize and appreciate the presence of the other – the full moon, the North Star, the magnolia flowers, or the person you love the most.

First you practice breathing in and out deeply to recover yourself, and then you sit close to the one you love and, in that state of deep concentration, pronounce the second mantra. You are happy, and the person you love is happy at the same time. These mantras can be practiced in our daily life. To be a true lover, you have to practice mindfulness of breathing, sitting, and walking in order to produce your true presence.

The third mantra is: “Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.” When you are mindful, you notice when the person you love suffers. If we suffer and if the person we love is not aware of our suffering, we will suffer even more. Just practice deep breathing, then sit close to the one you love and say, “Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.” Your presence alone will relieve a lot of his or her suffering. No matter how old or young you are, you can do it.

The fourth mantra is the most difficult. It is practiced when you yourself suffer and you believe that the person you love is the one who has caused you to suffer. The mantra is, “Darling, I suffer. Please help.” Only five words, but many people cannot say it because of the pride in their heart. If anyone else had said or done that to you, you would not suffer so much, but because it was the person you love, you feel deeply hurt. You want to go to your room and weep. But if you really love him or her, when you suffer like that you have to ask for help. You must overcome your pride.

There is a story that is well-known in my country about a husband who had to go off to war, and he left his wife behind, pregnant. Three years later, when he was released from the army, he returned home. His wife came to the village gate to welcome him, and she brought along their little boy. When husband and wife saw each other, they could not hold back their tears of joy. They were so thankful to their ancestors for protecting them that the young man asked his wife to go to the marketplace to buy some fruit, flowers, and other offerings to place on the ancestors’ altar.

While she was shopping, the young father asked his son to call him “daddy,” but the little boy refused. “Sir, you are not my daddy! My daddy used to come every night, and my mother would talk to him and cry. When mother sat down, daddy also sat down. When mother lay down, he also lay down.” Hearing these words, the young father’s heart turned to stone.

When his wife came home, he couldn’t even look at her. The young man offered fruit, flowers, and incense to the ancestors, made prostrations, and then rolled up the bowing mat and did not allow his wife to do the same. He believed that she was not worthy to present herself in front of the ancestors. His wife was deeply hurt. She could not understand why he was acting like that. He did not stay home. He spent his days at the liquor shop in the village and did not come back until very late at night. Finally, after three days, she could no longer bear it, and she jumped into the river and drowned.

That evening after the funeral, when the young father lit the kerosene lamp, his little boy shouted, “There is my daddy.” He pointed to his father’s shadow projected on the wall and said, “My daddy used to come every night like that and my mother would talk to him and cry a lot. When my mother sat down, he sat down. When my mother lay down, he lay down.” “Darling, you have been away for too long. How can I raise our child alone? She cried to her shadow.” One night the child asked her who and where his father was. She pointed to her shadow on the wall and said, “This is your father.” She missed him so much.

Suddenly, the young father understood, but it was too late. If he had gone to his wife even yesterday and asked, “Darling, I suffer so much. Our little boy said a man used to come every night and you would talk to him and cry with him, and every time you sat down, he also sat down. Who is that person?” she would have had an opportunity to explain and avert the tragedy. But he did not because of the pride in him.

The lady behaved the same. She was deeply hurt because of her husband’s behavior, but she did not ask for his help. She should have practiced the fourth mantra, “Darling, I suffer so much. Please help. I do not understand why you will not look at me or talk with me. Why didn’t you allow me to prostrate before the ancestors? Have I done anything wrong?” If she had done that, her husband could have told her what the little boy had said. But she did not, because she was also caught in pride.

In true love, there is no place for pride. Please do not fall into the same trap. When you are hurt by the person you love, when you suffer and believe that your suffering has been caused by the person you love the most, remember this story. Do not act like the father or the mother of the little boy. Do not let pride stand in the way. Practice the fourth mantra, “Darling, I suffer. Please help.” If you really consider her to be the one you love the most in this life, you have to do that. When the other person hears your words, she will come back to herself and practice looking deeply. Then the two of you will be able to sort things out, reconcile, and dissolve the wrong perception.

The Practice of Loving Kindness

In our daily lives, we are often caught by wrong perceptions. We are human, and we make mistakes. When we listen unmindfully, we misunderstand the other person. We have to be aware of that. The Buddha said that we are caught many times a day by our wrong perceptions. We have to be careful not to be too sure of our perceptions. You might like to calligraphy these three words and put them on your wall as a bell of mindfulness: “Are you sure?”

When we look deeply, we often discover that it is we who cause ourselves the most suffering. We think our suffering is brought about by others – our parents, our partner, our so-called enemy – but when we look deeply, we see that out of forgetfulness, anger, or jealousy, we have said or done things to create our own suffering and the suffering of those around us. Suppose in the past I said something unkind to someone and made him suffer. Now, touching deeply the present, I can breathe in and out, smile to that person, and say, “I am sorry. I will never do that again.” When I practice this, I see the other person smiling to me even if he is not there, even if he has already passed away, and my wound can be healed. Touching the present deeply, we can heal the past. The practice of dwelling in the present moment can help us calm ourselves and transform our pain. If you were abused by your parents or your society, it is important to learn how to transform the violence that is within you, so that violence will stop destroying you and those around you.

Whenever there is a fight between parents and children, both sides lose. Children who have been sexually abused by adults often feel helpless. They feel that violence will eventually destroy them. It is very important to learn the art of transforming the energy of violence in you into something more positive, like understanding or compassion. If you have suffered because of violence, you may tend to use that violence against yourself. That is why it is so important to practice looking deeply to take good care of the violence that is within you. Looking deeply, you will be able to see what could have caused the other person to act so violently towards you. You see the person who sexually abused you as someone who is sick and needs to be helped. Children who have been victims of that kind of sickness also need to be helped. If you are aware of their suffering, you will be able to generate the energy of compassion and bring about healing. In the past, you may have been animated by the energies of hatred, violence, and blaming, but through the practice of looking deeply, those energies can be gradually transformed into understanding and compassion. Compassion helps us understand others, even those who have caused our suffering. With compassion and loving kindness in us, we suffer much less.

Looking deeply, we can see the other person as our mother, father, or ourself. Then it is easy to act with compassion. The hatred and anger we have towards the other person prevent us from being happy or peaceful. But if we practice looking deeply into the other person, we see that she also suffers. She may be living in hell, and she needs help. Maybe you are the only one who can help. With that kind of insight, the stream of compassion suddenly begins to flow in your heart, and you suffer much less. Your insight is the fruit of your practice of looking deeply.


Just as there is no need to worry about the past, there is no need to worry about the future. The future is made only of the present. The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. If you walk deeply, drink deeply, and act deeply – in ways that bring real peace and joy to yourself and those around you – the future will be assured. When you have a fight with the person you love, try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself and the other person 200 years from now. After three breaths, open your eyes and I am sure you will see the other person differently. You will only want to take him or her into your arms and practice hugging meditation. Breathing deeply and holding the one you love, the energy of love, care, and mindfulness will penetrate her and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower. You will want to do everything you can to make her happy now. Don’t wait until tomorrow.

Taking care of the present moment, you recognize the presence of the sunset, the morning star, the magnolia blossoms, and the person in front of you. When you practice this way, you will not be lost in your worries or anxieties about the future, or caught by the suffering of the past. The teaching of the Buddha is clear. You only have to practice it. With the presence of a loving Sangha, it is easy.

Buddhist meditation is, first of all, living mindfully. We practice precepts (sila), concentration (Samadhi), and insight (prajna). Being present helps us touch and look deeply into whatever is there. When you live deeply each moment of your life, you will have insight into yourself and also the person you think is the cause of your suffering. When insight is present, it is easy to love and accept, and you will see that the other person is not your enemy. He is yourself, and he needs you in order to be transformed. With that insight, the nectar of compassion is born in your heat. That nectar is the Buddha, the Holy Spirit, God, and it is available to us twenty-four hours a day.

After practicing taking ourselves as the object of love, we change the word “I” into “he” or “she.” (See The Nine Prayers, below.) We can do that only when we have some understanding, peace, and solidity within ourselves. Self-love is the foundation for the love of others. We begin with love for someone we have sympathy with; then for someone we are fond of; and then for someone who has made us suffer. The children in Somalia, the victims of war in the former Yugoslavia, the children in my mother’s native village may be considered first as neutral, people we don’t really know. But if we touch them deeply, looking into them, they are no longer neutral to us. We see that they are ourselves, and suddenly compassion and loving kindness are born in us. They become true objects of our love. Finally, we come to the person we consider our enemy, the person who made us suffer. With the practice of deep looking and deep understanding, that person can also become the object of our love.

But first, we have to learn to look at ourselves with the eyes of understanding (prajna) and love (maître). Many of us cannot accept ourselves. We are at war with ourselves and want to run away from ourselves. Practicing looking deeply into ourselves and seeing the nature of the joy and pain within us, gradually we are able to accept, love, and take care of ourselves. “Know thyself” is the practice of love. If we look deeply into ourselves, we discover the conditions that have formed us and then we can accept ourselves – both our suffering and our happiness. So first of all, we accept ourselves as we are. Then we can accept the other person as she or he is. Looking deeply, we see how that person has been formed. Just as a flower is made only of non-flower elements, that person has been made of elements that are not him – his ancestors, his parents, his society, and so on. Once we see the causes and conditions that have made him, we are able to accept him and take good care of him.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, love is made of understanding. With understanding, you can love. To understand is to see all the difficulties, pain, and problems the other person is having. If you ignore the suffering and aspirations of the other person, how can you say you love him or her? But to love and understand is also to see the aspirations and hopes of the other person. To understand him more, you can go to him and ask, “I want to make you happy, but I do not understand you. Please help.” If you want to love someone you don’t understand, you might make him or her suffer more. A father has to go to his son and ask, “My son, do I understand you enough? Or is my love making you suffer?” Husbands have to ask wives the same question. Otherwise our love can suffocate the other person. It may be just a person for him or her. The practice of mindfulness helps us be there, look deeply, and understand the other person. We need to say to the other person, “I really want to love you and make you happy, but I need your help. Tell me what is in your heart. Tell me your difficulties. Tell me whether my way of loving is making you happy or unhappy.” That is the language of true love. We need the other person’s help to love properly and deeply.

All of us are subject to wrong perceptions. We have an idea of happiness and we want the people we love to follow that idea, but by forcing them to do so, we make them suffer. True love is always made of true understanding. That is in the teaching of the Buddha. “Looking with the eyes of compassion” is an expression from the Lotus Sutra, describing Avalokiteshvara. When you look at others with the eyes of compassion, not only do they feel pleasant but you also feel very pleasant, because understanding and love pervade your heart. The amount of happiness you have depends on the amount of compassion that is in your heart. Compassion always carries with it joy and freedom. If you love someone without understanding, you deprive her of her freedom.

In Buddhist psychology, we say that our consciousness is made of two levels. The lower level is called store consciousness (alayavijnana), like the basement. We keep all our seeds down there, and every time we or someone else waters a seed, that seed will sprout and manifest itself on the upper level of our consciousness, called mind consciousness (manovijnana). Mind consciousness is like the living room consciousness. Seeds in the storehouse consciousness manifest themselves in the living room consciousness. There are also mental formations. Mental formations are of 51 kinds, according to the Northern tradition of Buddhism. Mindfulness, loving kindness, hatred, violence, fear, equanimity, and faithfulness are mental formations. They manifest themselves on the upper level of our consciousness.

Our store consciousness is described as the soil, the earth, containing many positive and negative seeds. We have to be aware of all these seeds and their importance. We have seeds of suffering in us, but not only seeds of suffering. When we look deeply into ourselves, we may touch the suffering first, but we should know that there are other seeds present. Our ancestors have transmitted to us seeds of suffering, but also seeds of peace, freedom, joy, and happiness. Even if these seeds are buried deep in our consciousness, we can touch them and help them manifest.

To touch the seeds of joy, peace, and love within you is a very important practice. You can ask your friends to do the same for you. If you love someone, you acknowledge their positive seeds, and practice touching them every day. Touching and watering the seeds in one person is a very concrete practice of love. If you love me please refrain from watering only the seeds of anger, despair, and hatred in me. If you love me, recognize the seeds of joy, gladness, peace, and solidity in me also and touch them, several times a day. That will help me grow in the direction of health, joy, and happiness.

To practice mindfulness is to practice selective touching. Your happiness and suffering depend on you and the people around you. If they refrain from touching your negative seeds, if they know the art of touching the positive seeds in you, you become a happy person and your suffering will gradually be transformed by that kind of selective touching.

We learn how to touch the beauty of the sky and the autumn leaves even if pain and sorrow are still there. If it is difficult, we have to rely on the presence of a Dharma sister or brother ot help us do so. If one mindful person, capable of joy and happiness, sits close to us, her energy of mindfulness and joy will support us and help restore our balance. Suddenly, with her sitting close, we are able to touch the blue sky and the colors of autumn again. I think all of us have had that kind of experience. Alone it may be difficult. But with someone beside you, solid and free, it is less difficult. We profit very much from his or her presence. If you find yourself in a desperate situation and that person is far away, you go to her, because her presence can help you restore your balance and get in touch with the positive elements that are within and around you. That is why a Sangha and a practice center are so crucial.

You need a practice center where you can find brothers and sisters, so that in difficult moments you know where to go to get support. Even if you cannot come, just thinking about it can give you some relief. Building a practice center, building a small Sangha in your city so that you have the opportunity of meeting other brothers and sisters for the practice of walking meditation, mindful breathing, tea meditation, and recitation of the precepts is very important. It is a raft that can rescue us.

One young American who practiced during the Winter Retreat at Plum Village was asked to write down all the positive traits of his father and his mother. He found it easy to list positive things concerning his father, but he was having difficulty with his mother. He was able to write only two or three positive things about her. But when he began to look deeply, he was surprised to find that he could touch many positive things in his mother. He practiced walking meditation, sitting meditation, mindful breathing, and all the activities of the Sangha. Then when he sat down to write, the insight came very naturally. In a few days he discovered dozens of positive qualities in his mother. The more his discovered, the more his resentment toward his mother vanished, and he reestablished his deep connection with her. Compassion and love flowed in his heart. Then he sat down and wrote a love letter to her.

When his mother received the letter, she was very moved. Her son had never talked to her that way, in the language of true love. He recognized all her qualities and felt grateful for her presence. She rediscovered her son and her own happiness. She regretted that her mother was not still alive so she could write the same kind of letter to her. The son then wrote another letter, saying, “Mother, my grandmother is still alive in you. You think that she has passed away, but she is still alive in you. You can touch her deeply. So why don’t you write that letter now? I am sure Grandmother will read your letter, even as you are writing it.” That was the insight he got in the practice – that all our ancestors are still alive in us. Our parents, even if we hate them and do not want anything to do with them, are still inside us. We are only a continuation of them. The son wrote the second letter to his mother, and his mother practiced writing the same letter to her mother. One person practicing may help the whole family to practice.

The practice of Buddhist meditation is the practice of true love. True love has the power to liberate us and bring happiness to ourselves and to living beings around us. True love is the love that retains liberty and creates joy. We cannot be peaceful and happy if we do not have true love in us.

The Nine Prayers

  1. May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
  2. May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
  3. May I be free from disturbance, fear, and anxiety.
  4. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and of love.
  5. May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
  6. May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
  7. May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
  8. May I be able to live fresh, solid and free.
  9. May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

NOTE: After practicing “May I be…”, you can practice, “May he (or she) be…”, visualizing first someone you like, then the one you love the most, then someone who is neutral to you, and finally the person whom thinking of makes you suffer the most. Then you can practice, “May they be…’, beginning with the group, the people, the nation, or the species you like, then the one you love, then the one that is neutral to you, and finally the one you suffer the most when you think of.

Photos: First photo by Simon Chaput. Second photo by Debora Faust.

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Untitled Letter

Village des PruniersMeyrac, Loubes-Bernac 47120, France

Dear Friends,

With great pleasure, we send you this Mindfulness Bell, the newsletter of the Order of Interbeing. Many friends around the world will receive this issue, including subscribers, supporters, members of the core community of the Order, and the thousands of friends who attended retreats, days of mindfulness, and lectures with Thich Nhat Hanh this past fall in the U.S. We wanted all of you to receive this issue so you could be in touch with Thay's teaching and the wide community of those who practice the way of mindful living. Many Sanghas, groups of practice, would welcome your participation with them, and they are listed here. If you are not already a subscriber, I hope you will consider sending $5 to the Community of Mindful Living toward the cost of printing and mailing this issue to you or, better yet, $15 for a one-year subscription. The Mindfulness Bell is a valuable instrument to help us keep in touch, so that together we can minimize forgetfulness and dwell in peace and stability.

With a deep bow,

Sister Chan Khong

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Thich Nhat Hanh's Fall 1995 Visit to North America

Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and ten monks and nuns from Plum Village arrived in Los Angeles on September 10 to begin a month-long tour of North America. Their first week was in southern California, dedicated to the Vietnamese community—a four-day retreat near San Bernadino and a Sunday public lecture in Santa Ana. On Monday, September 18, Jim Fauss and Arnie Kotler met Thay and the Plum Village entourage at the San Francisco Airport. Jim drove the ten monks and nuns to Camp Swig, an hour away, while Arnie showed Thay and Sister Chan Khong to the Aiport Hotel, where, after a short rest, Thay met with Alix Madrigal of the San Francisco Chronicle for an interview about the just-published Living Buddha, Living Christ. The interview was warm and convivial, and Ms. Madrigal's report is reprinted in the pages that follow. mb15-ThichNhatHanh

Thay arrived at Camp Swig, a beautiful, rustic summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by redwoods and live oaks, in time for dinner, and then joined the 550 retreatants in the camp assembly hall to chant an invocation of Kwan Yin's name, joined by the Plum Village monks and nuns. Thay then lovingly introduced each monk and each nun, followed by an orientation talk by Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina, and Arnie on mindful breathing, walking, eating, and bowing. During the four-day retreat, Thay expounded on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, as well as teachings on the four mantras (see "True Presence," page one) and a beautiful story about a young man named David and an angel named Angelina. The retreat went seamlessly well thanks to the lovely presence of the monks and nuns and the gentle guidance of many members of the Order of Interbeing.

On Saturday, September 23, Thay led a Day of Mindfulness at Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco, for 2,200 people. From Sunday through Wednesday, Thay and the Plum Village disciples led a Day of Mindfulness and retreat for the Vietnamese community at Kim Son Monastery near San Jose. On Tuesday, September 26, Thay gave a public lecture to nearly 4,000 people at the Berkeley Community Theater. The evening began with Betsy Rose singing "Breathing In, Breathing Out" and "In My Two Hands," and, following Wes Nisker's joyful introduction, Thay and the monks and nuns again invoked the name of Kwan Yin. Thay offered the four mantras and the newly printed "mantra Tshirts" were made available to reinforce the practice.

On Wednesday, Thay and Sister Chan Khong went to the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco, where Thay was to participate in several panel discussions and give a keynote address for the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev. On September 17, USA Weekend reported, "Next week in San Francisco, when Margaret Thatcher, Vaclav Havel, and George Bush meet at the State of the World Forum, they'll be addressed by a diminutive Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has gained a large following among Americans. Official events include a half day of practicing 'mindfulness,' the heart of Buddhist meditation." In his opening remarks, President Gorbachev expressed particular appreciation "that Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual leaders are present at the Forum." Joan Halifax presents an account of the conference on the page that follows. Before leaving San Francisco, Thay was interviewed by Michael Toms of New Dimensions Radio, Jerry Brown on alive, callin radio broadcast, and Ram Dass, for future TV broadcast.

On Tuesday, October 3, Thay et al. flew to Newark and went by van to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, to lead a 4-day retreat for 800 people on "The Buddha's Teachings on Love." On Monday, October 9, Thay lectured to a standing room only crowd of 3,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City, organized by the New York Community of Mindfulness. Three days later he lectured at the Washington, D.C. Hebrew Congregation to 2,200 people, organized by the Washington Mindfulness Community. At both of these East Coast lectures, as in Berkeley, a palpable silence filled the room, where practitioners and non-practitioners alike basked in the Dharma, so beautifully presented by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

After a meeting with State Department officials, an interview by Pythia Peay of the Religion News Service, and a lecture in Vietnamese in Arlington, Virginia, Thay and his monks and nuns flew back to France on October 17, preparing for a well-deserved rest before beginning the winter practice period at Plum Village. On the pages that follow are accounts by a monk and a nun about the retreats, and tastes of the Gorbachev conference, the State Department visit, and other moments along the way.

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Introduction of Thay

Mrs. Raisa Gorbachev, President Gorbachev, and all the wonderful and distinguished people who are here. Rigoberta Menchu in her keynote address yesterday said that there is a lot of power for good in this room. I know of no conference in the last 35 years that has brought so many extraordinary and accomplished people from the social, political, scientific, academic, and spiritual worlds together—and especially in such an intimate and trusting atmosphere. I am very honored to introduce to you one of the most influential and empowering spiritual persons of today, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. I first met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982 at the "Reverence for Life Conference" in New York City. I immediately saw that he had that anticipated—but rare—trait of Zen masters that he not only was what he was teaching—is what he is teaching—but that he also has that even rarer power to produce a direct understanding in others of what he is teaching. It was deeply gratifying to see and know that this is possible. At that time, we decided to march together with six friends in the upcoming and, I believe, last great Peace March in the United States. Over one million persons marched, and it was immediately apparent that he was not in this parade simply to be counted as someone who was against the missiles installed in Western Europe aimed at the Soviet Union, he was acknowledging with each step the potential use of these missiles and the unimaginable destruction of which they are capable. His presence was so big that it carried to the eight of us walking together—very slowly and peacefully—and to the whole of the march, so that the six lanes' wide of people behind us simply did not pass us. The experience of this tangible power to move and be in a spiritual space that is not our ordinary social or psychological space, and the direct experience of this teacher changed my life.

There are many other things that can be said about him. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end the Vietnam War both in Vietnam and in the United States. And I could speak about his work in Vietnam as a young man before and then during the war—helping anyone needing help; his teaching in Europe and the United States—and recently in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan; his work bringing the plight of the boat people to the attention of the world; his presence at the Paris Peace talks in 1969; his monastic and lay retreat center called Plum Village in southern France; his scholarly and popular writings, poetry, and translations—but this would take a great deal of time. There are 1.5 million copies of his books in print in English, and these books are also in print in more than 20 other languages. He has taught Buddhism and his direct practice of mindful walking in 25 countries and on every continent. His most well-known books are Peace Is Every Step, Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and his new—just published book—Living Buddha, Living Christ. I give you one of the great teachers of this century, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

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State of the World Forum

By Joan Halifax In September, Thich Nhat Hanh quietly stood before nearly 1,000 people in San Francisco and asked the question, "How do we realize peace?" Gathered were world leaders, business leaders, religious teachers, and others. This meeting was initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and colleagues from around the world, including Nobel Laureates, Presidents and Prime Ministers, and other luminaries. The meeting began an initiative on the part of Mr. Gorbachev to create a global community of individuals committed to a deep inquiry into the challenges that will face us in the coming century.


In the midst of the Forum, Thay sat like a Buddha reminding us of what we were really looking for. As some raced to meetings, Thay and 100 others did a meditation walk through the halls and on the roof garden of the Fairmont Hotel. In the steady quietness of the walk, people who were hurrying slowed down, and many joined us. At his keynote address, Thay offered the precepts as guidelines, whether we are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim. He reminded us of the ravages of war and the gifts of peace. He encouraged us to slow down and to look deeply into the present moment.

As Thay has said, if we care for the planet, we care for ourselves. If we take care of hungry children, we feed all beings. This sensibility of compassion in action was the awakening bell throughout the gathering. In the closing plenary session, biologist Jane Goodall said, "For me, stewardship has come to mean caring as much as we can, not only for each other but for the creatures, the nonhuman beings with whom we share the planet. It is when every one of us has the empowerment to know that we have the stewardship of this amazing planet in our hands, then gradually we can move towards true human potential for compassion, for respect, and for love."

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

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Out of the Monastery, Into the World

By Alix Madrigal Though he spends more time with monks and nuns than politicians, Zen Buddhist monk and best-selling author Thich Nhat Hanh—Peace Is Every Step and the new Living Buddha, Living Christ—is no stranger to world affairs. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk forged his philosophy of "engaged Buddhism" during the war in Vietnam, and his subsequent efforts to end that war got him both exiled from his country and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, Nhat Hanh was surprised to receive a call from the Gorbachev Foundation asking him to speak in San Francisco at its State of the World Forum. His first instinct, Nhat Hanh said recently, was to refuse. "I don't feel comfortable with politicians. But friends suggested that I meet with the politicians and share something with them. So I sent a message that if the organizers made time for the politicians to practice a day of mindfulness, I'd be glad to talk. I thought they'd never accept that."

Much to Nhat Hanh's surprise, his offer was accepted. Except, as politicians were involved, there had to be a certain amount of compromise, which is how Nhat Hanh came to lead the likes of MargaretThatcher, George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, James Baker, George Shultz, Mario Cuomo, and Ted Turner in a half-day of walking meditation and mindful breathing. Mindfulness and meditation, central to Buddhism, may be new to politicians and unfamiliar to most Christians and Jews, but Nhat Hanh believes that, in spirit, the religions aren't really all that different—and that being the case, people are better off sticking with their own tradition.

Living Buddha, Living Christ began several years ago at a retreat in Munich in which fifty percent of the participants were Christians. Much of the book, which points out the similarities in the two great leaders and the two great religions, came from the transcripts of Nhat Hanh's talks at that retreat. "I think we should not be caught in words and concepts," he says. "All of us need love, and if you practice well as a Christian, you generate love and understanding. If you practice Buddhism well, you generate very much the same energy. And we can learn from each other."

While Nhat Hanh sees no conflict in embracing both religions—some of his students, he says, are ministers, and he has Christ on his altar alongside the Buddha—he strongly believes that what's important "is to get in touch with the true values of your spiritual tradition, to feel rooted in your culture. That is why," he says, "I never advise a person to abandon his or her roots, spiritual or cultural, and embrace something else. I always tell people to go back to their tradition, to discover its value and beauties and get their nourishment there."

At his community in France, Nhat Hanh says, every time they plant a tree they have a special meditation. "I entrust myself to earth, and earth entrusts herself to me. I entrust myself to the Buddha and the Buddha entrusts himself to me." Just as the tree needs the earth for life and the earth needs the tree to protect and enrich its soil, Nhat Hanh says he needs the Buddha for spiritual guidance and the Buddha needs him for his work to live in the world. "In the same way, Christians need Christ and Jesus needs Christians."

One Christian who Nhat Hanh chastises in the book is Pope John Paul II, who in his own book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, contends that Christ is "the one mediator between God and humanity."

That was not written in anger, Nhat Hanh says. "I myself and many of my friends have suffered a lot from war, and the deepest wounds of the war stem from the lack of tolerance. That is why I always oppose intolerance. I think my friends who are Christians understand and are for true dialogue and the effort to dissipate misunderstanding and prejudice. I count very much on their support."

Nhat Hanh practices "engaged" Buddhism, taking it out of the monastery and into the world. The practice began during the war in Vietnam, but even before that, Nhat Hanh felt the need to bring Buddhism into daily life. "The war compelled us to practice in the heart of society" to help alleviate suffering wherever he could, he said, even if it meant just filling body bags. But it was something else that first pulled him to become a monk.

"In every one of us, there is a baby monk or a baby nun," Nhat Hanh says. "I was able to touch the baby monk in me when I was very little. I was seven, and I saw a drawing of the Buddha sitting on the grass and looking very calm. Very, very calm. I said to myself, I want to be like that. So the seed of the baby monk in me was watered."

A few years later, Nhat Hanh went to the mountains on a class picnic. "I was very excited because a hermit lived up there, and I had been told that a hermit is someone who practices to become a Buddha. But when we arrived on the mountain, very thirsty and very tired, I was disappointed because the hermit wasn't there—I guessed that a hermit does not want to see so many people, so he must have been hiding." Believing he could find the holy man, Nhat Hanh went off into the forest on his own. "Suddenly," he says, "I heard the sound of water, like music," and he came upon a natural well, where he drank and slept. "I had never had anything as delicious as that water, and it satisfied all my desires. I did not even want to see the hermit anymore. In my little boy's brain I believed that the hermit had turned himself into the well so I could meet him privately."

After that, Nhat Hanh says, he was transformed, and determined to become a monk. But it took him a long time to convince his parents. "My parents thought that monks have hard lives. But in fact," he says with a wise smile, "as a monk, I have had a lot of happiness."

Alix Madrigal is on the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. This article is reprinted with permission from the Chronicle Book Review, Sunday, October 1, 1995.

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The Miracle of Being Happy

By Brother Phap Dang Many miracles happened during our recent North America trip such as being happy, smiling, breathing, seeing our families, comtemplating the full moon. The greatest miracle was the joyful and happy energy of the delegation of Plum Village's monks and nuns. We felt like a warm and intimate family. There were twelve of us in the delegation: Thay, Sisters Chan Khong, Jina, Trung Chinh, Quan Nghiem, Thoai Nghiem, Dinh Nghiem, Tue Nghiem, and Brothers Nguyen Hai, Phap Dung, Phap Ung, and I. We were very happy to have two great bodhisattvas, Arnie and Therese, joining us during the trip. They were the key people who organized the trip beautifully.

Being in a strong Sangha, I was embraced with the energy of love, joy, and happiness. I felt that I did not need to struggle at all to practice mindfulness though I felt strongly in mindfulness. My joy and happiness were extremely strong which radiated from within. My half-smile kept blooming on my lips all the time. My smile nourished my heart and touched other people in the retreats. My smile reflected and triggered their smile, and their smiles were my smile. This is the nature of interbeing. If you think that you have lost your smile, I still have it. Somewhere within your heart, your smile is still present. We, the Sangha, created a smiling atmosphere everywhere we went. I benefited so much in that atmosphere where my peace, joy, and happiness were watered. I had a lot of energy to be with people in the retreats. Everywhere I went, I offered my smile and my flower so easily. The more smiles and flowers my heart offered, the more I had to give. I participated in all activities of the retreats and always enjoyed the practice of breathing and smiling. With a joyful and happy heart, my thinking, perceptions, and feelings had a positive effect on my heart and on other people. Everything I touched became lights and wonders. I found that people were kind and friendly; I felt close to them. My heart had opened up so wide that I enjoyed the people and nature very much.

Every evening, I had about ten minutes before dinner for myself. I usually offered my self the practice of mindful breathing and hugging the tree in the redwood grove next to the dining hall. One day, I found a young woman sitting on a bench in the redwood grove. She was crying. I respected her feeling and silently went to the tree to practice hugging the tree. I have always been fond of the trees and nature, so being with beautiful redwoods gave me a lot of joy. Since the day I became a monk, I have been in love with every little thing in nature like trees, flowers, the air, and the sky. I practiced hugging the tree with my conscious breathing for a few minutes, and then turned to the young woman and asked her, "Would you like to hug the tree?" She had already stopped crying and looked at me. She nodded her head and hugged the other tree next to mine. However, she cried again after a few breaths. I continued the practice to sustain my calm, peace, and Many miracles happened during our recent North America trip such as being happy, smiling, breathing, seeing our families, comtemplating the full moon. The greatest miracle was the joyful and happy energy of the delegation of Plum Village's monks and nuns. We felt like a warm and intimate family. There were twelve of us in the delegation: Thay, Sisters Chan Khong, Jina, Trung Chinh, Quan Nghiem, Thoai Nghiem, Dinh Nghiem, Tue Nghiem, and Brothers Nguyen Hai, Phap Dung, Phap Ung, and I. We were very happy to have two great bodhisattvas, Arnie and Therese, joining us during the trip. They were the key people who organized the trip beautifully.

Being in a strong Sangha, I was embraced with the energy of love, joy, and happiness. I felt that I did not need to struggle at all to practice mindfulness though I felt strongly in mindfulness. My joy and happiness were extremely strong which radiated from within. My half-smile kept blooming on my lips all the time. My smile nourished my heart and touched other people in the retreats. My smile reflected and triggered their smile, and their smiles were my smile. This is the nature of interbeing. If you think that you have lost your smile, I still have it. Somewhere within your heart, your smile is still present. We, the Sangha, created a smiling atmosphere everywhere we went. I benefited so much in that atmosphere where my peace, joy, and happiness were watered. I had a lot of energy to be with people in the retreats. Everywhere I went, I offered my smile and my flower so easily. The more smiles and flowers my heart offered, the more I had to give. I participated in all activities of the retreats and always enjoyed the practice of breathing and smiling. With a joyful and happy heart, my thinking, perceptions, and feelings had a positive effect on my heart and on other people. Everything I touched became lights and wonders. I found that people were kind and friendly; I felt close to them. My heart had opened up so wide that I enjoyed the people and nature very much.

Every evening, I had about ten minutes before dinner for myself. I usually offered my self the practice of mindful breathing and hugging the tree in the redwood grove next to the dining hall. One day, I found a young woman sitting on a bench in the redwood grove. She was crying. I respected her feeling and silently went to the tree to practice hugging the tree. I have always been fond of the trees and nature, so being with beautiful redwoods gave me a lot of joy. Since the day I became a monk, I have been in love with every little thing in nature like trees, flowers, the air, and the sky. I practiced hugging the tree with my conscious breathing for a few minutes, and then turned to the young woman and asked her, "Would you like to hug the tree?" She had already stopped crying and looked at me. She nodded her head and hugged the other tree next to mine. However, she cried again after a few breaths. I continued the practice to sustain my calm, peace, and happiness. Suddenly, she began to talk to me. She told me that her brother was in big trouble. I asked her what happened to him. She cried and said, " I can't tell anybody." I continued practicing hugging the tree and shared the practice with her. I said, "When embracing the tree we breathe mindfully, focusing our attention on the contact between our abdomen and the bark of a tree, and we feel the freshness, coolness and calmness of the tree." After practicing like this for only a few minutes, she looked much happier. Her emotion had calmed down. At last I asked her to go to supper with me.

Thanks to the wonderful practice of mindful breathing and tree hugging meditation, my friend could embrace her pain and go through the most difficult moment of a strong emotion. From this incident, I have learned that healing a pain does not necessarily mean touching the pain. Practicing conscious breathing and hugging a tree is enough to heal. Many people believe that they have to express or to ventilate the pain in order to heal. But during the experience at the redwood grove, we did not have to do anything. We just enjoyed breathing, smiling, and being with the trees.

When we suffer, we usually get caught in it. Our mind keeps circulating and grasping the pain, and we are stuck with our suffering. The more we think about it, the more we suffer, because we add more energy to it. The practice at the redwood grove drew the young woman's mind out of her pain. She was struck by the energy of mindfulness, the trees, and my presence. With conscious breathing and embracing the trees, her attention had been channeled from her suffering to the freshness of the trees and the calmness of her conscious breathing. Eventually, she could smile again.


In Plum Village, we practice conscious breathing most of the day in all activities, and the breath becomes our very close friend. When we get caught in a strong emotion, we know that it is best to practice mindful breathing. But it is not so easy if we do not have a habit of mindful breathing.

Mindfulness is the energy of healing, calming, and transforming. The most basic practice of mindfulness is mindful breathing, which was the practice that nourished me so much during the trip. I would like to share it with you. "Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath." Please practice with me for a few breaths.

Brother Phap Dang is a monk at Plum Village.

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Touching Peace and Pain

By Sister Tue Nghiem Amid the blazing colors of autumn, a large group of people silently, slowly, and mindfully walked down the paved road covered with autumn leaves. Occasionally, the sound of a bell resonated through the sound of footsteps; everyone stopped and paused momentarily to breathe, smile, and enjoy the presence of each other and the beautiful, peaceful landscape around them. Then the group continued walking mindfully and slowly. This is the scene of walking meditation during the retreat at Omega Institute during Thay's autumn visit to the United States.

After a long trip in the airplane and a tiresome car ride, we were happy to set our feet on the earth of Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The red, brown, yellow, and orange colors of autumn, the woods around the institute, and the peacefulness and naturalness of the landscape welcomed us all. After a short rest, the brothers and sisters from Plum Village and our friends, the organizers for Thay' s visit, began welcoming a group of 800 people to attend the autumn retreat.

Each of us led a small group of people from a certain geographic area in an effort to cultivate peace and joy and to nourish our seeds of mindful living. Thay gave wonderful talks on mindfulness and on love that inspired everyone to go back to themselves in order to touch the seeds of mindfulness, peace, joy, and love in them. Together with Thay, the brothers and sisters from Plum Village and our friends, we created a peaceful, happy and mindful environment for everyone. All the retreatants integrated into the practice naturally, silently. Everyone participated in the retreat wholeheartedly—with 100% of their being—so they could fully benefit from the teachings and the community of practice, nourish peace and joy, cultivate an awareness and appreciation for life, and heal and transform the pain and suffering.

I was assigned as a practice leader to a group of people from New York City. I enjoyed practicing together with these friends. We created our meditation hall as a home where we came together for sitting meditation, Dharma discussion, total relaxation sessions, apple meditation, and Touching the Earth practice. It was the first time I was a practice leader, and I was full of anticipation to come to the home meditation hall and practice together with my new friends. I wanted to know everything, to hear everything about them.

I created opportunities for them to speak out their experiences in the practice of mindful living, of going back and touching the joy as well as the pain in them. Many people expressed their joy and deep insight as they practiced being present for themselves and for everything in the here and the now. Many people touched territories in themselves they had repressed and shut up for years since their childhood. These people revealed their pain and suffering from being sexually abused as children. The joyful atmosphere of the home meditation hall became heavy. I felt overwhelmed, sad, and incapacitated and was unable to help relieve and remove the suffering from these people who I came to love as brothers and sisters. After the session, I practiced walking meditation in the twilight, trying to embrace my sadness and find ways to help these people.

The next morning, two friends who had seen my sadness came up to me after the morning sitting meditation and suggested that we organize a discussion group for the incest survivors to talk out and learn from those who had healed themselves of childhood abuse with the practice. These two women were also sexually abused as children and healed themselves with the practice of mindfulness. They were strong, happy women who during the past few days practiced wholeheartedly and mindfully. The discussion group was announced. That afternoon, about 30 people attended the discussion group.

Two sisters from Plum Village and I came to support and practice deep listening. Many people were able to express their pain and hurt, perhaps for the very first time. Many spoke of the suffering without fear or shame, while others listened with tears rolling down their cheeks. The two women who facilitated the discussion shared their experiences and their success in accepting themselves and the people who hurt them, healing themselves, and transforming their anger, hatred, and shame into positive energy that allowed them to help other people who shared their same pain and suffering.

Everyone felt at ease in the discussion group and expressed their appreciation and desire for more meetings, more time to practice together with other incest survivors in order to learn from each other and to support each other in the healing process and in cultivating peace, acceptance, and happiness in themselves. Everyone left the room knowing they were accepted and feeling optimistic that they could heal their wounds with the practice of mindfulness. I left the room feeling lighter in my heart and mind.


I came to the retreat to help retreatants fully benefit from the teachings of Thay, from the practice of mindfulness, and from the presence of the Sangha. The retreatants, however, gave me a lot of joy and helped nourish the seeds of understanding and love in me. They helped me see my strengths and weaknesses. And, through being with them and listening to their suffering, I realized that the only way they could heal themselves, or I could help them, or transform my own suffering, is by living every moment mindfully, being aware of the joy and pain, and embracing and cradling the suffering with 100% presence. I left the retreat with a smile on my lips, with new strength, and with compassion warming my own heart.

Sister Tue Nghiem is a nun at Plum Village.

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Human Relations, Human Rights

I am more than Vietnamese. I am also a citizen of the world. We must be aware of the "interbeing" of all countries' happiness. Happiness is not an individual matter. The happiness of the United States is crucial for the happiness of others in the world. The happiness of the Vietnamese people is also the happiness of the American people. Human relations are very important. Economic growth is not the only way to be happy. Economic growth can cause the destruction of human values. If you think that investments in markets are more important, the Vietnamese people will not listen when you admonish them about human rights. I am also concerned about the ecosystem in Vietnam. International laws are necessary if we are to prevent Vietnam from being destroyed by greed and by the exploitation of human labor.

In 1968,1 met with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and spoke with him of our mutual destruction. I came as a friend and offered suggestions for lessening the suffering of the Vietnamese and the Americans. I come today not as a diplomat or a politician, or as a Buddhist alone. I come to encourage you to take the broadest possible view of international and all human affairs, so that a future will be possible for all of us.

Question: What in practical terms would advance communication that could contribute towards the release of political prisoners in Vietnam?

There are many avenues. Kwan Yin sometimes appears as a politician, sometimes as a beautiful woman, sometimes as a member of the State Department. Understanding between religions, ethnic groups, or any two parties is necessary to promote real understanding. Perhaps Western Buddhists could visit Buddhists in Vietnam. When we write protest letters, we should write them as "love letters." The State Department is made of non-State Department elements. Please speak to the Vietnamese officials, not as one government speaking to another, but as human being to human being. We have to speak to the Vietnam Buddhist Church about the nonthreatening aspects of the Unified Buddhist Church.

Question: Should human rights and democracy be conditions tied to economic relations?

We need a long-term commitment for the happiness of the U.S. and Vietnam. We have to ask the participation of nongovernmental organizations—humanitarian and cultural—not only for the success of diplomacy, but for the happiness of the American and the Vietnamese people.

Question: So the message is to proceed with sincerity, not as if human rights is a checklist from which to move on quickly to trade. We appreciate this kind of exchange of ideas to work together. Mutual happiness rather than national interest.

We wish you peace and happiness in your hearts so that many people can benefit.

Notes taken by Therese Fitzgerald from a "Dharma talk" given by Thich Nhat Hanh to a group of State Department officials in Washington, D. C. in October.

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Apples of Life

By Brenda Carr Many connections were resonating for me as I joined in apple meditation at the Omega retreat with Thay. As I crunched thoughtfully on my tart-sweet fall apple, lovingly delivered from the hands of local organic farmers, I recalled Thay's instruction to Westerners to look deeply into their spiritual traditions for new insights into their jewels. I also recalled his observation that when Jesus offered bread at the "first supper" and asked his disciples to reflect on how it embodied his life, he was asking them to undertake a practice of mindful attention to interbeing. As Thay says in Living Buddha, Living Christ, "The bread we eat is the whole cosmos."  This insight into Christian communion as an opportunity to eat mindfully and awaken from forgetfulness was embodied in the apple meditation practice. As someone else in the Sangha noted, the apple in the Judeo-Christian tradition is such a problem fruit—the sign of the fall from grace and paradise. Like the bread, we found the apple to contain all of life—earth, decayed leaf, root, water, sap, sky, sun, blossom, laboring hands. To look deeply into the apple is to see it renewed as the apple of life, to be restored to paradise.


Life was so evident in the sharp crunch and crack of the lusty and delicious bites we all enjoyed together. This brought me back to my earliest memories of the Christian Eucharist where I felt embarrassed by the necessity of chewing the bread and swallowing the juice of the vine. As a young girl, I tried very hard, often with awkward results, to chew and swallow without making a sound. I assumed that the quieter and less physical the experience was, the holier it was. I also tried not to meet the eyes of the person who handed me the bread. I am not sure where I got these ideas of disembodied and ethereal transcendence, but it strikes me that much of Western culture from Plato onwards associates the sacred, the ideal, and the beautiful with experience that transcends these bodies that gurgle, cough, snore, sneeze, chew, and swallow. What was so wonderfully healing forme was the revelation that the sacred is nowhere else but here—in the juicy apple of life passed lovingly from one warm pair of hands to the next, and crunched en masse.

Brenda Carr is an instructor of Canadian and twentieth-century literature at Carleton Universify in Ottawa, Ontario, and a new member of the Warm Snow Sangha

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The Virtue of Apples

By Ed Espe Brown Enjoyment is pivotal in our lives. Without enjoyment, it is hard to concentrate or be mindful. People often say, "I can't really enjoy my food, because if I did I'd be a blimp." Actually, it's the other way around. If you enjoy your food, you will be careful about what you eat, and it will give you great satisfaction and good health. Eating an apple is an intimate activity. You become one with the apple, and the apple becomes one with you.

A Ghanian friend once told me, "I don't understand how Americans can eat so much anonymous produce. Where I grew up, we knew where everything came from, who owned the farm, what side of the hill it grew on, what the light was there, whether there were trees, who grew it, and who harvested it." So I want to tell you about the apples, so that they won't be just anonymous.

Some are Golden Delicious and some are Jonagolds, which is a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathon. Jonagolds are large apples, with yellow skin and red stripes. Golden Delicious are golden, but more plain-colored. Golden Delicious apples are from a farm in Philo, at the headwaters of the Navarro River the ocean, which means there are sea breezes, salt air, cool evenings, and hot days. The farm is operated by Tim Bates and his family, and they themselves helped harvest the apples. Their orchards are very old, the first Golden Delicious to be planted in California. Some are almost 60 years old. The roots making these apples are very deep.

The Jonagolds are from a farm called Oz, which is near the ocean, off the Garcia River, one of the few rivers in California that still has salmon. A few days ago our friends there celebrated their daughter's birthday by inviting her and her friends to pick these apples for us.

Apple trees, miraculously enough, can make apples, which is not something that any of us can do. A famous photographer once said that the best photographer is only as good as the cheapest camera. In this case, the best cook is only as good as the apple. None of us have the capacity to make an apple, so we can only taste in awe how apples know how to make apples—how to turn earth, sun, light, sky, air, and water into apples. Thay has said that the leaves of 30 apples are needed to make one apple. We are like that too, making each other into apples.

Apples are sincere—not pretentious, chic, or stylish. The apples are not in pretty boxes lined up across supermarket shelves, saying, "Buy me, buy me. I'm quick and easy." Apples bring you what you bring them. If you let the apple enter your heart, you will taste it and know its virtue. Knowing its virtue, you will taste and know your own virtue, your own good-heartedness.

Apples are part of the rose family, and if we are attentive, we can actually taste the rose in them. To eat an apple intimately, we give it our full attention. To become intimate with anything or anyone takes time and attention. To receive the gift of the apple, we have to give it our full awareness. I would like to share one of Rilke's sonnets:

Round apple, smooth banana, melon, gooseberry, peach. How all this affluence speaks, death and life in the mouth. I sense, observe it in a child's transparent features while she tastes. This comes from far away. What miracle is happening in your mouth while you eat. Instead of words, discoveries flow out, astonished to be free. Dare to say what apple truly is, this sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first, then exquisitely lifted in your taste, grows clarified, awake, luminous, double meaninged, sunny, earthy, real. Oh knowledge, pleasure, joy inexhaustible.

Bon appetit.


Ed Brown is a Zen priest, photographer, and the author of The Tassajara Bread Book, The Tassajara Recipe Book, and the forthcoming Potato Fiascoes and Radish Teachings (Riverhead Books). This apple meditation was offered at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California during the October Day of Mindfulness. This version of the by Rilke is based on a translation by Stephen Mitchell.

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Being Present with Suffering

By Leslie Rawls One day I took on a very difficult appeal involving much suffering all around. I had designated the day a Day of Mindfulness and decided to keep it, even after I got the call asking me to review the new case. I am glad that I did, because I needed all my mindfulness to be present with the suffering.

My client and his neighbors had escalating hostilities, which led to my client—a one-armed, middle-aged man—firing a semiautomatic weapon into an apartment, killing a grandmother and wounding two young children. The victims were not the people with whom he had disagreed. As I read the witness statements, I stopped to breathe many times. Even before the shooting, there was so much pain in the relationships among the neighbors and family members. It struck me many times that even a small act of kindness might have defused the situation and avoided the ultimate tragedy that resulted. As you might expect, intoxicants played a part in the shooting.


It is a tough case. Before I had received the Fourteen Precepts, I think I would have turned this case down without a second thought. Somehow, though, I feel this is one way I can be present with suffering, and offer my wholehearted practice of mindfulness.

New Order member Leslie Rawls practices law in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she also organizes local Sangha activities.

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Two Magnolia Trees

By Dai-En Bennage One day when I was a child of eight or nine, my father brought home a young magnolia tree in blossom to plant in our garden of the many other trees, flowers, and vegetables that he loved so much. We planted the tree, enjoying its slender trunk and delicate petals.

It seemed that the less well my father did in business, the more beautiful our garden became. My younger brother and I had a secret, unspoken grudge against our father because, while there was always butter on our grandparents' table, there was only margarine on ours.

Years passed, and our house was sold. Later yet, my father died. Many years later, after practicing at Plum Village during the winter of 1990-1991,1 had the opportunity to teach walking meditation in a beautiful arboretum in Philadelphia. It was a bright spring day and I enjoyed touching the tree trunks and blades of grass. Upon rounding a corner, I came upon a very young magnolia tree in blossom. Without thinking, I reached out to the petals. Upon feeling the blossom against the palm of my hand, the ancient grudge against my father totally dissipated. I had come to realize that his talent lay not in raising money, but in raising trees, vegetables, and flowers.

A few days afterward, I visited my former home and found our majestic magnolia completely covered in blossoms, reaching over the garage and even half of the neighbor's yard! From one of the bowing branches that hung over the fence, I picked two blossoms. Bringing them home to my altar, I placed them in a vase beside the photograph of my father. I knew that both of us were very proud of the magnolia tree.

Patricia Dai-En Bennage is a Soto Zen priest in Muncy, Pennsylvania.

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Present Moments in China

By Jamie Burnett I read the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell with surprise and great joy. I had just visited many of the same places that Thay and others had traveled to in China. How small our planet is and how interrelated we all are! I visited China for the first time to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), in Huairou. Attending the meeting was an honor and a pleasure, allowing me to meet women from all over the world, learn about their lives, and share my life with them.

There were over 30,000 women at the NGO Conference, approximately 3,000 workshops, countless other presentations, and many opportunities to share experiences. Reports in the American press before the conference had me anticipating much physical discomfort there. While I did have some moments of discomfort, I also experienced much joy. For me, all of the moments were present moments filled with wonder. My practice enabled me to be present for so many of these moments. Every day, every hour, "breathing in, breathing out" calmed me and brought me fully into the present moment, enabling me to experience all of my emotions.

I would like to share two examples. My practice allowed me to be "with" a woman standing next to me as we waited in the rain for lunch for almost an hour. I was able to be in the moment with her—with the rain, the chill, and the discomfort—and open to learn about her life as a Palestinian woman, her struggles and her joys. I was also able to share my struggles and joys with her.

My practice also allowed me to be present for long bus rides on not very comfortable buses. One morning, I took a bus from Huairou to Beijing, and ended up in the back of the bus seated behind a Vietnamese woman and an American woman. The Vietnamese woman had not had an opportunity to rest since arriving at the conference, and the bus was very noisy and uncomfortable. Although I wanted very much to talk with the Vietnamese woman, between her fatigue and the noise level on the bus, it was clear that a conversation would not be possible.

I found myself breathing in and out, steadying myself, being with the moment—with the clanking open windows, the roar of the engine and the wind, the vibration through the thinly cushioned seat and even thinner floorboards, the thick dust mingling with the exhaust fumes in the air, the heavy damp heat of the morning, and the bright sun reflecting off the white metal interior of the bus. I was also aware of my own fatigue, the smell of so many bodies close together on a very hot, sunny day, and odors of different foods the women from Africa seated behind me were eating and offering to everyone on the bus. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. How many millions of times that gatha has centered me and brought me back to my true self in the last seven years!

The Vietnamese woman seated in front of me began to fall asleep and her head slowly, gently drifted toward the American woman sitting next to her until her head rested on the shoulder of the American. I breathed and remembered a generation ago when this woman's country and mine were locked in bloody battle. I wondered if she, too, had lost a beloved brother in that war; if she, too, had a mother whose heart was broken and a niece who never had the chance to know her father.

After a few minutes of sleep, the Vietnamese woman was awakened by ajolt from the bus. She looked startled and a little frightened as she realized she had laid her head on the American woman's shoulder. Then she laughed shyly and bowed very slightly to her seat mate. In my heart, I bowed back to her.

Jamie Burnett lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Embracing the Fourth Precept

By Eurydice Hirsey During the summer at Plum Village in 1994, my husband, Barry Roth, was ordained as a Dharma teacher; I took the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing; and our son, Matthew, took the Five Wonderful Precepts. After returning home, we all looked deeply into our family life with mindful discernment, and rededicated ourselves to cultivating a more engaged lifestyle. We felt a heightened awareness of the great need for social justice and, last June, we participated in a human rights delegation to Guatemala with six other peace activists.

Although Buddhism has not been widely cultivated in Central America, the spiritual practices of the indigenous Mayan culture are filled with a truth inherent in all spiritual traditions. We did not meet anyone who had not lost a family member either to disappearances, murder, or torture. While their pain was a constant companion, anger was not. Love, not anger, motivated them.

Seeing, hearing, and touching the very heart of suffering in Guatemala brought to vivid life the deep need for The Fourth Precept. You cannot close your eyes to the truth in Guatemala—the dismal effects of profound poverty and a long history of murder and repression are everywhere. You are forced to witness in the banal, a legacy of centuries of brutal human rights abuses. Yet, in the midst of this ocean of samsara, we felt a reservoir of hope, kindness, and deep resolve among the Mayan people—a resolve to end the suffering nonviolently; a resolve to bring out the truth in order to transform it; a resolve to create anew. In the steamy jungles and dense rain forests of Guatemala, the depth of mindful awareness shines a very steady light on compassion and determination.

Eurydice Hirsey, True Precious Light, is a chiropractic physician in the Greater Boston area.

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Peace Talking

By Kim Redemer I left my home in Thailand to come live in California 17 years ago. Although I consider myself to be quite Americanized, I still have plenty of cross-cultural clashes.

One afternoon I was browsing in a beautiful flower shop. The entire store was packed with freshly cut flowers, and it looked and smelled like paradise! Near the counter where the shop owner was arranging bouquets, there was a card stand. Like the flowers in the store, the selection of handmade cards displayed exquisite and expensive taste. The tiny hand-painted cards caught my eye.

Although she had to be aware of my presence because I was the only customer in the small store, the blonde, blue-eyed shop owner did not show any sign of acknowledging me. Maybe she was too busy with her flower arranging, or maybe she did not think that I was the type of customer to make a large purchase, so there was no need for her to waste her time being courteous. I chose to interpret her behavior as her way of giving customers privacy to wander about the shop until they could find something that caught their fancy. I found something that caught my fancy—the tiny cards!

"May I help you?" she asked in a businesslike voice as she saw me holding the cards in my hand. Fully aware of her attitude and tone of voice, I chose to answer her question directly with my heavy Thai accent. "I was wondering how much these cards are."

"One dollar and fifty cents each." Still no smile, same tone of voice. She must be an unhappy person, I thought. The beautiful environment that surrounded her did not seem to affect her.

"One dollar and fifty cents!" I raised my voice with shock. "These tiny cards are one dollar and fifty cents? I thought they were probably seventy-five cents or maybe a dollar. I would buy several of them if they were a dollar." My brown eyes met her blue eyes. I held my breath while waiting for her answer. Everyone likes to be a winner regardless of race and color.

"We do not bargain in this country, especially in this neighborhood. How long have you lived in this country?" Her voice was sharp and her words were harsh. Her big blue eyes stared at me like a winner!

Oh dear, I thought to myself. My therapist was wrong to encourage me to be so genuine. Look what happens. In that moment, there was complete silence before I made my move.

"Oh, I came from Thailand. I have been in this country for 17 years but, of course, it is not long enough for me to stop bargaining. I come from a culture where we bargain for everything, even when we think that the price is reasonable. We use bargaining as a way to connect with others, to develop some kind of relationship between the customer and the salesperson. It is not cut and dried like in America where you know the price of what you want to buy, you pay for it, and you go out the door. Bargaining allows us to linger longer and to have human contact. It is the beauty of exchange." Seeing the ice melt on her face, I felt encouraged to finish what I had wanted to say.

"I see," the shop owner responded. "That is an interesting idea. I have never thought about it in that way at all." I heard the smile in her voice and actually saw a smile on her face. With warmth and a smile, she seemed to be prettier.

"I should not have bargained with you like I did, because, according to your culture, you might have been insulted that I did not trust the way you price your merchandise," I said. "I want to apologize if I did offend you." It was easy for me to apologize when the shop owner was receptive.

"Oh, please don't worry about that," she responded. "You are welcome to come here and negotiate the price anytime. Of course, I will just say 'no' to you, but please do come back in again." Her gentle voice sounded soothing and reassuring. We exchanged friendly smiles as I left the store.

The shop owner and I barely escaped a cross-cultural war. I gave myself a purple heart medal for being able to defuse the explosion that could have shattered and damaged both of our spirits. Instead, I was able to promote peace and understanding—even to one single individual. It gave me hope for peace talking!

Kim Redemer is a family counselor in Berkeley, California.

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Awakened by an Accident

By Robert Reed I am not always mindful while driving the car, but on this particular morning when I cheated death, the radio was off and I was consciously following my breath, alert to the conditions of the road.

As I headed to work in rush hour traffic at 60 miles per hour, a large white car abruptly changed lanes and crashed into me. No warning and thankfully no time to panic. My car spun out of control and careened across two lanes of traffic (Relax, I said to myself). I was then perpendicular to oncoming traffic in the far left lane (the fastest one) and yards away from crashing headlong into a cement wall when I was hit again broadside directly at the driver's door. My Toyota flipped over and then there was complete silence. I wondered if there were going to be more crashes or if the amusement ride was over.

A cool, eerie pain on the top of my head made me feel as if I had just been scalped. I was afraid to touch. I remember seeing the shattered glass of the window scattered on the highway. I spit glass, wondered about the extent of my injuries, and watched my legs shake uncontrollably from cold and fright. I tilted my head back on the headrest, closed my eyes, followed my breathing, and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

That my seat belt saved my life was undisputed. What caused unanimous amazement to the State Troopers, ambulance drivers, and the Emergency Room doctor was that I escaped relatively unharmed. Six stitches for a laceration to the skull, a too-small-to-complain-about scrape on the left shoulder, and not one bruise. The car, however, was totalled.

Incredible luck, the gods' smiling graces, and maybe my relaxed body also helped prevent injuries. I've heard that drunks fare better than sober people in accidents due to the fact they do not tense up. Perhaps my meditation that morning just minutes before kissing my wife good-bye helped save me.

Impermanence is one of the articles of faith in Buddhism. That all things change and die is easy to accept philosophically, but when, at mid-life, you are thrown face-to-face with your own imminent death, it finally dawns on you—I too am impermanent! We delude ourselves by thinking that death occurs to others but for ourselves some time in the distant future. We want to forget that death can come to us unexpectedly—even today!

Life is precious and precarious. Accidents wake you to this. I overheard my wife tell friends the next day that, while she gave me a massage, she whispered a prayer of thanks as she touched each bone, muscle, and limb—she was so grateful I was all in one piece and alive.

For a week afterwards, we were especially close. Now the strain of everyday living threatens to dull our senses once again. Our inability to appreciate imminent impermanence is the cause of much suffering. If life is short, then the day-to-day details, such as how we talk to each other, matter the most. Moments of clarity and appreciation come through our practice Reserving a time for sitting meditation every day helps keep us from taking our own and each other's lives for granted and helps sustain us.

A second grade student of mine sent a get-well card, "Don't do that again!" That is sound advice. Yet, if I were able to practice the way of awareness more often and thus be more alive, I would like to think that when death does catch up with me, it will not be altogether unwelcome.

I escaped this mishap. Many are not so lucky. One of my closest friends died in a sailing accident 20 years ago. I've now lived twice as many years as he did. Miraculously, I was granted just a little more time on this earth. It is my hope that I will live less on automatic pilot, more attuned to the bare essentials, more loving and accepting, less critical and judgmental. Fortunately, major life traumas do not happen to us nor our loved ones every day. But when they do, I think we grow stronger if we listen deeply to what they have to say.

Life is a gift—not just for newborn babies and people who "pull through"—but for everyone. Continuously, we are given life anew. Our challenge is to awaken to and celebrate the everyday wonders.

Robert Reed teaches English as a Second Language to Hmong students in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and practices at Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.

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A Time for Healing

By Paul Dewey As a full-time practicing alcoholic, I put hundreds of thousands of highway miles behind me with little or no regard for who or what was in front of me. Despite four drunk driving arrests, I continued to endanger every living creature on or adjacent to the roadway.

Twenty years of drunk driving ended abruptly on May 21, 1988 when I crashed into a compact car, taking one life and nearly ending three others. I offer no excuses—I am 100% responsible and 100% remorseful. At that time, I made a solemn vow that I would never again intentionally or recklessly be the cause of another person's pain, anguish, or death. Since then, I have tried to become more compassionate each day. I have not used intoxicants in any form since the tragedy, and intoxicants will not be part of my future. It takes all my focus and energy just to try and stay on the path.

Whatever being in prison may deprive me of, it gives me one thing that is very rare and difficult for most people to come by in the modern world: time. I have time for introspection—for looking deeply— to search out the many causes that helped make me who I am. I have time to read, and time to develop compassion and mindfulness as best as I can.

Paul Dewey is an inmate in lone, California, who joins us in mindfulness practice with the help of books by Thay.

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