#16 Spring 1996

Dharma Talk: Loving the Unlovable

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Sangha, today is the 28th of January, 1996. We are in the Lower Hamlet (of Plum Village). It is the Winter Retreat. With us today are friends from the Lotus Bud Sangha in Australia. In France we are in the middle of winter. In Australia it is the middle of summer. Time and space have been brought together.

At the beginning of 1996, Plum Village invented the Telecom Dharma talk. The first was directed to Vietnam. The Vietnamese monks and nuns here were very happy and moved to be able to “go back” to our ancestral temple. This is the second Telecom Dharma talk, directed to the Australian continent.

Do you have someone to love? If you do not love anyone, your heart may dry up. Love brings happiness to ourselves and to those we love. We may want to love children who are hungry, disabled, or abused, to relieve them of their suffering. We carry that love in our heart and hope that someday we will be able to realize it. But when we actually contact these children, they may appear to be difficult to love. They may be rude, they may lie, they may steal. After a short time, our love for them may fade. We had the idea that loving children who need our help would be wonderful, but when confronted with the reality, we cannot sustain our love. When we discover that the object of our love is not lovable, we feel deep disappointment, shame, and regret, as though we have failed. If we cannot love a poor or disabled child, who can we love?

Everyone has an image of the Buddha. We think that if we meet the Buddha, he will be easy to love. He has so much compassion and understanding. But what if scientists were to find a way for us to see the faces of those who lived in the past? We see stars that perished thousands of light-years ago. Perhaps images do not travel in straight lines. When you fly from Paris to Los Angeles, the plane goes in a circular route. Maybe the image of the Buddha is also traveling in a circle. The sight of the Buddha teaching his disciples on Gridhrakuta Peak, the sound of his voice, those images went into space 2,500 years ago. With the right instruments, perhaps we could capture those images and sounds and see and hear the Buddha. Then we would be able to compare the Buddha’s teachings with the recorded sutras and discover mistakes that were made when the sutras were written down after being transmitted orally for several centuries.

A monk at Plum Village said to me, “My image of the Buddha is so beautiful. If I could see the real Buddha, I am afraid he might not be as beautiful. What do you think the Buddha looked like?”

I said, “He may have looked like Mahatma Gandhi.” The monk was disappointed. To him, Gandhi is not as handsome as his image of the Buddha. I have visited families in Lumbini and Kapilavasu, belonging to the same Shakya clan as the Buddha, and I got an idea what the Buddha may have looked like.

We have beautiful images of Buddha and Jesus. We love our images and hold them in our store consciousness. But if we were to meet the Buddha at the Sainte Foy la Grande station (near Plum Village), I am not sure if we would love him. If we met Jesus in the Leclerc Supermarket, I am not sure we would love him as much as our image. Our images of the Buddha and Jesus may be quite different from the real Buddha and the real Jesus.

There were people at the time of the Buddha who did not love him. Some of his own monks left the Buddha’s Sangha to start an opposing Sangha. Some people tried to murder the Buddha. Others brought the body of a young woman to the Jeta Grove and accused the monks of violating and killing her. Love is not merely about enjoyment. It has to do with understanding. If we don’t truly understand, our love will vanish.

We think we love disabled and hungry children, but the truth might turn out to be different. A number of monks, nuns, and laypeople from Plum Village want to go back to Vietnam to help the children there and to bring about unity and faith among people. They want their country to have a future. The war created much division, hatred, suspicion and destruction in the hearts of people. These monks, nuns, and laypeople want to go home and walk on their native land. They want to embrace the people, relieve them of their suffering, and help them taste joy and peace.

But before they go back, they must prepare themselves. The people they want to help may not be easy to love. Real love must include those who are difficult, those who have been unkind. If we go back to Vietnam without first learning to love, when we find the people being unpleasant, we will suffer and we may even come to hate them.

When you lose your ability to love, you lose your life. We think we can change the world, but we should not be naïve. Don’t think that the moment you arrive in Vietnam, you will sit down with all the conflicting factions and establish communication immediately. You may be able to give beautiful talks about harmony, but if you are not prepared, you will not be able to put your words into practice.

In Plum Village, we live together 24 hours a day. Do we cooperate to bring each other happiness? Do we work together in harmony? Are we able to overcome our individual views in order to bring together the views of everyone? Or do we maintain our own view and think that it alone is correct? If you cannot practice “harmony of views,” bringing your views together with the views of others to arrive at a collective view that everyone can accept, if you cannot love and accept each other, if you do not use loving speech every day, what will you be able to offer our countrymen when you return to Vietnam?

In Vietnam there are people who can give very good Dharma talks, who can explain how to reconcile and live in harmony, but not everyone can do it. We should not only talk about it. If we do not actually practice what we preach, what can we offer anyone? If older sisters do not hold each other’s hands like children of the same mother, how can the younger children have faith in the future?

We must practice harmony of views and harmony of speech. We bring our views together to have a deeper understanding, and we use loving speech to inspire others and not hurt anyone. We practice walking together, eating together, discussing together, so we can realize love and understanding. If you are able to breathe and smile when your sister says something unkind, that is the beginning of love. You do not have to go someplace else to serve. You can serve right here by practicing walking meditation, smiling, and shining your eyes of love on others.

We want to go out and share what we have learned. But if we do not practice breathing to untie the knots of pain in ourselves – the knots of anger, sadness, jealousy, and irritation – what can we teach others? We must understand and practice the teachings in our daily lives. We can only teach from our experience. People need to hear how we have to be able to overcome our own suffering and the irritations in our own heart. When we talk about the Dharma, our words need to have energy. That is not possible if our words come only from ideas, theories, or even sutras. We can only teach what we have done ourselves.

When we practice the First Prostration, we have to be able to see our blood ancestors and our spiritual ancestors at the same time. Some of our ancestors have done beautiful things, and others have made big mistakes. But all of them are our ancestors, and we have to accept them all, those only 20 years older than us and those 2,000 years older, those who are wonderful, and those who are very difficult. Our parents and some of our ancestors may have made us suffer, but they are still our parents and our ancestors. Until we accept them, we cannot feel at peace. If we say, “That person is not worthy of being my ancestor,” we will suffer our whole life.

After that, we get in touch with our descendants – our younger sisters and brothers, our disciples, our grandchildren, and our students. Some of them are beautiful. Some may argue with us. Some may be rude to us. When we practice the First Prostration, we have to accept all our children, those who are good and those who are difficult. That is the only way to find peace. The Three Prostrations are not just a devotional practice. They are a practice of insight, of looking deeply. We see that we are part of a stream of life comprised of all our spiritual and blood ancestors. We transcend our personal self, which is a basic Buddhist practice, and see what is meant by “no self.” When we realize that we are our ancestors and our descendants, our “self” dissolves and we accept everyone, however wicked or wonderful they have been. If we do not have that insight when we prostrate, we are still caught in the individual self, a self apart from the Sangha. We think we are not our brother, our sister, or our teacher. If we think like that, we are not ready to go out and teach other people. We have a theory about no-self, but we do not yet have the insight.

At Plum Village we practice dwelling peacefully in the present moment. By abiding peacefully in the present moment, we avoid running around in circles and we begin to have happiness. When we breathe and walk on the meditation path, when we eat a meal together in mindfulness, we see that we have the capacity for happiness every day. If we do not know how to make use of these practices and enjoy them, if we look for happiness somewhere else, we will never find it.

In Vietnam we say, “Standing on the top of one mountain, you look with envy at the top of another mountain.” We don’t realize how beautiful our mountain is. We look at the other mountain and think, It is much more beautiful over there. If only I could go over there, I would be happy. We have a husband, but we look at another family and think, Her husband is much kinder than mine. We are a child and we say, His mother is much sweeter than my mother. I wish I could exchange mothers. If we stand on this mountain peak and want to be on the other, that is because we do not know how to have happiness in the present moment in this very place. We do not have the capacity to accept the conditions for happiness that are already within us and all around us. In our Sangha, there are people who have the capacity to live happily in the present moment. They do not have the attitude of standing on the top of one mountain wanting to be on the other. They can sit very still, without feeling as though they are sitting on hot coals, wanting to be somewhere else, anywhere else.

Those who cannot be happy may think, If I could be a Dharma teacher, or a monk or a nun, I would be happy. But those who have the capacity to dwell peacefully in the present moment say, I am not a Dharma teacher or a monk or a nun, but I am just as happy. If you are not happy, becoming a Dharma teacher, a monk, or a nun will not make you happier.

How high is this peak? It represents the year 2050. We have only four more years to get to the 21st century. I am advanced in years, and I don’t know if I am going to arrive at the foot of the 21st century hill. But I think about that hill every day. I think about my descendants who are going to climb it. I don’t know whether I am going to live two years. Some things we cannot know. But one thing is certain. I am going to climb this hill with my descendants. I don’t agree with being a teacher for just three or four more years. I want to be a teacher and a companion for thousands of years.

You may think that Brother Phap Canh will get to the top of the mountain in the year 2050. He is 20 now, so he will be 74 years old. When he stands there, what will he see? He will look down and see the Sangha climbing up together. At 74, he will probably have many disciples, both lay and monastic. They will call him “Grandfather Teacher.” What I want to say is we have to climb this hill together. We cannot go up as individuals. Our practice lies in doing it together. We cannot go up as individuals. If we go as a Sangha, we will reach our goal. If we go as individuals, we will never get anywhere. We must go up the hill of the 21st century together. That is how we will transcend our individual selves.

Your grandfather teacher is called Thanh Guy. He is present with us today in this Dharma Hall. He gave me the Dharma Lamp Transmission. He sent me out on the path with all his love and care. Now he is carrying me in his passing. I am carrying him in my passing, and I am transmitting him to you so you can carry him with you. If it were not for my teacher, how could I be here? We are just a stream called “life.” When we give Dharma Transmission, we are not giving it just to one person. We give it to many people at the same time. When your receive Dharma Transmission, you also receive it for many.

The Sangha body of the Buddha has never ceased to be. Today we bear in our heart the Sangha of the Buddha, which is more than 2,500 years old. We may still be young, but we are also very, very old. Our Sangha body is sitting in the Dharma Nectar Hall in France and in the Lotus Bud Sangha in Australia. But the Sangha is much greater and wider than this.

You have seen me teach the Dharma a little bit everywhere, and you have experienced the Sangha in many different parts of the world. Each part of the Sangha nourishes itself using different methods and different teachings, yet we are present in all these Sanghas, and our descendants will be present in them, also. To see this is the realization of no-self. You need this insight to be able to take stable steps on the path of life. We are not individuals suffering in isolation. When one horse in the stable is sick, none of the horses will eat hay. Our suffering is the suffering of others. Our smile is the smile of others. Our joy is the joy of others. Only when we live this way is the Buddha’s teaching of no-self a reality.

If you think you are standing outside, that is an illusion. You are standing on this mountain thinking you should be standing on that one. Everything depends on your way of looking. To have a cup of tea with Thay may be happiness. But not drinking tea with Thay is also happiness. Can you be at peace in the present moment? Can you accept the elements of happiness that are already here? If you don’t have happiness, it doesn’t matter whether you are a monk, a nun, a Dharma teacher, or a layperson.

During this winter retreat, we have been studying “The Living Tradition of Buddhist Meditation.” Today we are going to learn a little more about the poem by Nhan Tong, the Bamboo Forest Master, called “Living in the World of the Dust, but Enjoying the Path of Practice.”

If you understand, All wrongdoings from the past are wiped away. If you are able to understand, Past wrongdoings will not be repeated. Practicing in daily life, Keep your true nature shining. Realizing that Buddha is you mind, You don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. When you are mindful, here and now, When your light is shining, Why ask about the methods of Ma Tsu? Don’t even think about his methods.When you realize that Buddha is your mind, You will never ask again about Ma Tsu’s methods.

If you understand, all wrongdoings from the past are wiped away. We misbehave because we do not really understand what we are doing. Once we understand, we will stop. How can we understand what we are doing? By looking deeply. That is called the “shining nature” in us.

At times we have to prostrate before six other people and ask them to shine light on our practice. When we do this, we will receive great benefit. We have wrong perceptions that imprison us. We need at least six people to shine their light on us. They will do this only if we prostrate before them, and, with all our sincerity, ask for their help. The Sangha’s wisdom is greater than that of any individual. I always take refuge in the Sangha. Six is the minimum. You can ask sixty people if you like. When you ask them to shine light on your practice, it can reveal the darkest places in yourself, the things that bring about your suffering.

If you are able to understand, past wrongdoings will not be repeated. Practicing in daily life, keep your true nature shining. You perfect yourself in the Three Trainings of precepts, concentration, and insight. Gin means protect, maintain, look after. Tinh sang means the essential nature that is shining and clear and resides in all of us. The energy of mindfulness is light. With mindfulness, we know what is happening. When we are angry and we know we are angry, we can transform it, because mindfulness is there. If we nourish our mindfulness for ten or fifteen minutes, our anger will be transformed. Keep your true nature shining. The shining nature is not a vague idea. It is mindfulness itself, and it helps us have concentration. With concentration, we look deeply, see, and understand. That is called prajna, wisdom or insight.

Keep your true nature shining so you do not enter the path of wrong practice. Ta is wrong or crooked. Dao is path. This is the path of suffering and self pity, the path that leads away from our teacher and our Sangha. The Sangha is a precious jewel, even with its weaknesses. It is essential for our practice. There are things you cannot accomplish without a Sangha. To lose your Sangha is like falling into the ocean without a life jacket. You might die. Keep your true nature shining so you do not venture onto the path of wrong practice. Keep the light of mindfulness shining so you develop the power of concentration and see the truth in your heart, in the environment, and in the Sangha. That will prevent you from falling into the path of suffering.

Always improve yourself by true practice. The word tu, “practice” in Vietnamese means, literally, “to make more beautiful or correct” or “to repair.” If you have a leaky roof, you repair it. If you have some jealousy, you have to transform it. To better yourself, to cultivate happiness, all these things are included in the Vietnamese word for “practice.”

Always improve yourself by true learning. Always follow the “right tradition,” which is the true teaching of the Buddha, not the things people added to the teachings later. The teaching of the Buddha is very clear, but there has always been a tendency to bring in other teachings that are more complicated. We have to be careful not to travel down paths of wrong teaching, or we will lose our way. The way of practice in the right tradition is the tradition of precepts, mindfulness, and living with the Sangha. To say that we can take drugs or drink alcohol while practicing meditation is an example of wrong teaching. To practice meditation without also practicing precepts, concentration, and insight is not following the right tradition. When Zen Buddhism first came to the West, people thought it had something to do with drugs, and they did not practice the precepts. That kind of practice always brings about suffering. Please follow the right tradition.

Realizing that Buddha is your mind, you don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. Mind is Buddha. Buddha is your mind. Buddha is not some statue made of wood or jade. Buddha is not a god. Buddha cannot be found in heaven. The Buddha is in your heart and mind. When your mind has precepts, concentration, and wisdom, Buddha is present. The Buddha is not the mind of forgetfulness. He is the mind of mindfulness.

When you are mindful, here and now, when your light is shining, why ask about the methods of Ma Tsu? Don’t even think about his methods. You don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu, such as kung an, questioning, shouting, or using the stick. Yelling and hitting are tools that can help meditation students untie the knots of suffering in themselves. These kung an, questions and answers, are used by the Dhyana masters to undo the knots of the students. I prefer simpler methods, like asking “What are you doing?” Sometimes when Sr. Chan Khong is looking through her files, I ask her, “What are you doing?” Sometimes she says, “You’ve caught me. I wasn’t practicing mindfulness.”

When you are cooking, sweeping, or working in the garden, practice mindfulness. If not, it is a waste of time. When I ask, “What are you doing?” if you are present, you can just look at me and smile. But if you are not practicing, you have to say, “Thay, you’ve caught me. I’m not practicing.”

When you realize that Buddha is your mind, you will never ask again about Ma Tsu’s methods. Ma Tsu was a very famous Dhyana master from China. He was born in 707 and he lived to be 81 years old. There is a story about a conversation between Ma Tsu and one of his students. One day, the student was sitting diligently practicing sitting meditation. The teacher asked, “What are you doing?” and the monk answered, proudly, “I am practicing sitting meditation.” The teacher said, “Why are you doing that?” and the student replied, “To become Buddha.” Ma Tsu began polishing a tile, and the student asked, “Master, why are you doing that?” Ma Tsu replied, “To make a mirror.” The student said, “Polishing the tile will not make a mirror.” Ma Tsu replied, “Sitting in meditation will not make a Buddha.”

To become a Buddha, you have to know how to smile, how to speak, how to stand, how to walk, how to work, how to wash pots, and do all those things while you look deeply in the state of Samadhi (concentration). Meditation is not just sitting. Once a student came to Master Ma Tsu and asked, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” Ma Tsu said nothing. He just beat him. You see how kind the teacher of Plum Village is.

The great Bamboo Forest Master, realizing that Buddha is mind, said that you do not have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. If you are free from attachments, you will be happy. Wealth and sex, for example, are like worms on the end of a hook. If you don’t look deeply, you will get caught, and suffer a lot. If you see the dangers of wealth and sex, you can behave according to the precepts and keep your freedom. Without inner freedom, you can never be happy.

Thoi means the behavior or way of life that is pure. Layman P’ang lived at the time of Ma Tsu in 8th century China. He had a wife, a daughter, and a son, and the four of them practiced together. Although they came from a wealthy family, they gave up their luxurious ways when they tasted the Dharma. They were very pleased to live simple lives.

One day Layman P’ang’s daughter came to Master Ta Dao and asked, “If I don’t want to be friends with all dharmas, objects of mind, what can I do?” Master Ta Dao just put his hand over his mouth. The next time Layman P’ang met Master Ma Tsu, he asked the same question, “If I don’t want to be friends with all dharmas, how should I act?” Ma Tsu said, “Layman, if you can drink all the water in the Han River, I will answer your question.” Upon hearing that, he was awakened.

Layman P’ang and his family symbolize happiness with a simple life. This is the opposite of thinking you have to buy a lot of things to be happy. If you are not attached to wealth, it is because you have realized your shining nature of enlightenment.

You don’t have to go to a mountain to practice. If you follow the precepts, you will not be carried away by sounds and appearances. Some appearances infatuate us and we get carried away by them. Some sounds make us angry, others make us afraid. We practice mindfulness in order to stop – to stop our wrong perceptions, to stop being carried away by sounds and appearances, to stop our mind from running from place to place, unable to settle anywhere. We can do this because we have learned the art of mindful living.

The First Prostration

The Stream of Life

Contemplate while touching the earth with your knees and forehead:

Touching the earth, I connect with ancestors and descendants of both my spiritual and blood families. My spiritual ancestors include the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, the noble Sangha of Buddha’s disciples, and my own spiritual teachers still alive or already passed away. They are present in me, because they have transmitted to me seeds of peace, wisdom, love, and happiness. They have awakened in me my resource of understanding, and compassion. When I look at my spiritual ancestors, I see those who are perfect in the practice of the precepts, understanding, and compassion, and those who are still imperfect. I accept them all, because I also see shortcomings and weaknesses within myself. Aware that my practice of the precepts is not always perfect, that I am not always understanding and compassionate, I open my heart and accept all my spiritual descendants. Some of my descendants practice the precepts, understanding, and compassion in ways that invite confidence and respect, but there are others who come across many difficulties and are constantly subject to ups and downs in their practice.

In the same way, I accept all my blood ancestors on my mother’s and father’s sides. I accept their good qualities and virtuous actions, and also their weaknesses. I open my heart and accept all my blood descendants with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses.

My spiritual ancestors and my blood ancestors, my spiritual descendants and my blood descendants are all part of me. I am them and they are me. I do not have a separate self. All of us are part of a wonderful stream of life.

The Second Prostration

The Wonderful Pattern of Life

Touching the earth, I connect with all people and species that are alive at this moment. I am one with the wonderful pattern of life that radiates out in all directions. I see the close connection between myself and others – how we share our happiness and our suffering. I am one with those who were born disabled or who become disabled because of war, accident, or illness. I am one with those who are caught in war or oppression. I am one with those who find no happiness in their families, who have no roots or peace of mind, who are hungry for understanding and love and who are looking for something beautiful, wholesome, and true to embrace and believe in. I am someone at the point of death who is very afraid, not knowing what will happen. I am a child who lives in poverty and disease, whose arms and legs are like sticks. I am the manufacturer of bombs that are sold to poor countries. I am the frog swimming in the pond, and I am also the snake that needs the body of the frog to nourish itself. I am the caterpillar or the ant that the bird is looking for to eat, but I am also the bird that is looking for the caterpillar or the ant. I am the forest that is being cut down. I am the river and air that are being polluted, and I am also the one who cuts down the forest and pollutes the river and the air. I see myself in all species, and I see all species in me. 

The Third Prostration

Limitless Time and Space

Touching the earth, I let go of my idea that I am this body with a limited life span. I see that this body, made up of the four elements, is not me, and I am not limited by this body. I am part of a stream of life of spiritual and blood ancestors that for thousands of years has been flowing into the present and flows on for thousands of years into the future. I am one with my ancestors. I am one with all people and all species, whether they are peaceful and fearless or suffering and afraid. At this very moment, I am present everywhere on this planet. I am also present in the past and in the future. The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls, it is not the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. I am in all the other waves, and all the other waves are in me. My nature is water. The appearance and disappearance of my form as a wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death. I see myself before my body manifested and after my body disintegrates. I see how I exist everywhere. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like that of a leaf or a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.

Photos: First photo by Sr. Jina van Hengel. Second photo by Joseph Lam.

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Retreat Center Update

The property in West Virginia we have been negotiating for to establish a residential retreat center is not available after all. Our property search is continuing. If you know of a suitable place or would like to contribute to this effort, please contact Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, or Ellen Peskin at the Community of Mindful Living. Thank you. PDF of this article

Gratitude for Our Enemies

By Christopher Reed During retreats, we practice "Touching the Earth," bowing deeply and honoring parents, friends, the religious traditions we were born into, teachers, and the land itself. We also honor our enemies and adversaries.

Someone wrote to me after attending a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh because she was finding it hard to practice "Touching the Earth" in honor of the developers she was actively engaged in opposing. She found it difficult to feel any loving kindness toward the people who are destroying the community and the local environment in the part of Canada where she lives. She said that by looking deeply she could easily find forgiveness for people who may have hurt her, but to do the same for these developers was impossible.

At first I thought she was being too idealistic, trying to be perfect. Did she think she could eliminate her anger and despair altogether and that by doing so, love could emerge? Is it by opening to the pain of our anger and fear and seeing them as the outcome of a mutual process that loving kindness and compassion emerge?

Trying to eliminate grief and anger in ourselves can create the greatest violence, cutting us off from important feedback in very real situations. The anger itself is a starting point. If we imagine that to be loving we always have to be nice, we create a shadow within ourselves that eats away at our energy. Then, when we resist others, we do so only with fear and anger.

To love someone does not mean to accept and condone everything he or she does. To act out of love, you do not need to first eliminate your anger. To wait for your anger to disappear might be to wait forever. It would be better to act, honoring your anger, aware that you are not merely reacting from it.

In the last prostration of the "Touching the Earth" ceremony, we bow to reconcile with those who have made us suffer. We can say something like this: "To the enemies and adversaries who oppose us, we bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"You, who by deception deliberately engage in the destruction of the environment for your own profit and show me how much I value what is honest, what is generous, what has been clearly thought through, what is expressive of love for this planet home, for our fellow beings, human and other, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"You bring forth in me the passion and love I feel for this land, this soil, the passion I feel for strong community, sustainability, integrity. Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I have seen how strong my love and passion really are. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"Because the pain I feel when I allow myself to witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain, you, who perpetuate destruction, who wreck this Earth, who have cut yourselves off from the generations of the future, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear are no less than the pain of sorrow and mourning for what is lost, I bow to you in gratitude and I touch the Earth.

"For the power of my anger, transforming into love for what I see and hear, the bright energy of my passion, my love of all that lives, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"Because we all want to be happy, to feel ourselves intact and part of a single whole, for that shared longing, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"Because you challenge me by your actions, demanding that I release my attachment to the view that my perspective is the correct one, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.


"For you who teach me that the mind is a limitless source, a miracle capable of manifesting as love, greed, fear, capable of clarity or delusion, blind to the consequence of action or open to the boundless coherence of all that I do and experience in life. For you who show me what I myself am capable of when I let my life be governed by fear and greed, great awesome teachers, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"In awe at the mind's capacity for delusion and alienation that calls me so insistently to understanding and joy, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.

"With the understanding that all this will pass and with all the love in my heart, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth."

Christopher Reed, True Jewel, is the cofounder of Ordinary Dharma and Manzanita Village, a retreat center in Southern California.

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Sister Dog

By Dewain Belgard I was driving home from work when I first saw Sister Dog. She appeared thin and hungry. Her collar was too tight, and she was dragging a broken leash. I suspected she had been homeless for some time.

The neighborhood where I saw her has a reputation for danger and violence. Yet despite my fear, I found myself stopping the car. I got out and called to her softly, "Sister Dog, could you use some help?" But evidently her experience with human beings had not left her with any basis for trust. She disappeared under a nearby abandoned house.

I tried for a few minutes to coax her out, but it was getting dark. And with darkness, the danger of the area increased. An obviously intoxicated man approached me and put his hand in his pocket. I expected him to produce a gun or knife, but he just stooped down with me and said, "That your dog?" "No," I told him, "I'm just trying to get her to come out so I can remove the collar. I'm afraid it's choking her." He nodded in agreement. It occurred to me that he also was probably hungry and homeless. "I guess she's not coming out," I said. I got up and walked to my car, wondering with every step if he would try to stop me.

The next day I went back to the same place at noon, but Sister Dog wasn't there. I drove by again after work, and this time she was standing on the sidewalk where I had first seen her. I had brought food with me. I offered it to her, but she ran under the abandoned house again. I left the food in the alley nearby and returned to the car to watch. In a few seconds, she came out cautiously and ate the food. The next day I returned and put out more food and some water. That evening when I drove by, the food and water were still there untouched. I checked several times after that, but never saw her again.

For some time afterwards I couldn't get the image of Sister Dog out of my mind. It was difficult to sit down at the table to eat or to lie down in the comfort of my bed at night without thinking of her. It seemed to me that the suffering of millions of sisters and brothers, both human and nonhuman, had rolled itself into one little mass of flesh and had confronted me in Sister Dog. I felt overwhelmed by feelings of sorrow and pity.

In observing these feelings of sorrow and pity, I noticed how different they were from the spontaneous and unselfconscious feeling of compassion that had appeared when I first saw Sister Dog. That feeling of compassion was not overwhelming at all, but the subsequent feelings of sorrow and pity were draining me of energy.

I realized then that pity is not a wholesome feeling. Pity is demeaning. It doesn't see the nobility of the one who is suffering. Compassion, on the other hand, is never separated from the noble and miraculous nature of awareness that shines through even the deepest misery. Compassion doesn't drain us because it connects us to the infinite energy of our true self.

I am grateful to Sister Dog for this insight. I no longer see her as a poor helpless victim to be pitied, but as a Mahasattva Bodhisattva — a Great Being, a Being of Light. I feel honored and privileged to have met her.

Dewain Belgard, True Good Vows, is a social worker and practices with the Blue Iris Sangha in New Orleans.

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Poem: Upon Your Death

mb16-Upon There is a pain which never stops hurting which cannot be healed; and dignity will carry it. There is a wound which never closes and cannot be touched but by the love of a bleeding heart. There is a fear which never leaves— no place to hide— and cannot be embraced but by empty hands. There is a loneliness beyond abandonment and it will not vanish nor be filled, but the patience of my solitude makes me smile.

Nel Houtman, True Marvelous Shining Zurich, Switzerland

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Secrets and Silence

By Claude An Shin Thomas Susan Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for drowning her two children. She is eligible for parole in what, thirty years? Susan's father committed suicide when she was a child. Susan's mother remarried and her husband, Susan's stepfather, sexually abused her when she was a teenager. Susan has several documented suicide attempts and I wonder how many that were undocumented. She has a history of abusing alcohol and, more likely than not, other drugs as well, and a history of promiscuity.

Could no one really see her, see where she was headed? Or the question might also be asked: why did no one intervene in a life so out of control?

None of her sexual partners, all people close to her, responsible and powerful people in their community, some parents themselves, ever said no or questioned her actions. They used her and fed her suffering. To my knowledge she was not involved with any type of program, group, or organization that could help her to recognize and touch her deep powerful suffering and encourage and support her healing.

Where was her community? Where was her support? When I sit with the reality of her action, the drowning of her two children, I am neither shocked nor surprised. It makes absolute sense, a direct result of her deep; abiding and unaddressed suffering. There was nothing else to do but act out. For suffering, left unaddressed, pulls the strings, dictates lifestyles and life choices. It leads us around like a water buffalo with those metal rings through their noses.

That's true not just for Susan Smith but for her whole community, her church, her school, her society and culture. And now, faced with the reality of this deep suffering and the consequences of not addressing it, the community wants to push her out of their consciousness, reinforcing a collective denial.

They wish to believe that Susan Smith's drowning of her children is only about her, not about them. That no one but her is capable of such acts. She has been berated, made evil, condemned, and gotten rid of.

I understand this dynamic. It has touched me because I also have killed. Killed far more people—men, women, children, adolescents—than Susan Smith. But my killing was "justifiable," or so I was told many times, because it was in the service of my country in a time of war. Yes, my killing was justifiable until it came too close to those Americans who were not fighting, who thought themselves different.

When I came home, I, like many other combat veterans, experienced the same thing now happening to Susan. We were sacrificed and continue to be sacrificed to protect the collective denial and the illusions that support it. Because to sit with us, to listen to us, to enter into our skin, means that one has to touch the reality of one's own responsibility and one's own suffering, deep and powerful suffering.

Responsibility is not something external. We are responsible for our actions and the impact that those actions have on others. It is written that the Buddha taught that the only way to enlightenment is directly through our suffering. There is no other way.

Since the cessation of military involvement in Vietnam in 1975, more than 58,000 veterans have died as a result of suicide. At one time 66% of the prison population were vets. Yes, war is violent and the acts committed by combatants would be unfathomable in circumstances other than war. Yes, Susan Smith's actions were both criminal and violent. But there is no cessation to the cycle of suffering if there is no acceptance of our collective responsibility.

The creation of illusions to mask our denial is a more powerful form of violence than the killing. More powerful because these illusions are not visible, because they are the seeds that spawn the acting out.

Must Susan be held responsible for her acts? Yes, without a doubt. But so must her community, her society, and culture. As she is guilty, so are they. Call me by my true names.

I have no idea how to deal with Susan Smith, or for that matter, with society. But I do know that when we stop attempting to avoid the reality of deep and powerful suffering, when we challenge the illusions that keep us trapped in denial, the answers come.

In the summer of 19941 was introduced by Michael Daigu O'Keefe to Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, abbot of the Zen Community of New York. I was preparing to join an Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace and Life, walking from Auschwitz to Hiroshima.

On our second meeting Roshi Glassman invited me to ordain in a new order that he had created, a Peacemaker order. At first I was surprised, distrusting. I tentatively agreed and was given jukai in Auschwitz.

While on this pilgrimage, the more I walked, the more suffering I witnessed, the clearer I became about becoming a Peacemaker Priest. I said before that I have no idea how to work with a Susan Smith or with society. That is only partly true. By becoming ordained as a Peacemaker Priest, I have committed my life in the most powerful and tangible way that I know to the action of healing and transformation, with a deeper understanding that as I heal my family heals, as my family heals my community heals, as my community heals my society heals. I am not them but I am not separate!

Claude Thomas is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who has gone to Plum Village to practice since 1991. In 1995, he was ordained a Peacemaker Priest by Roshi Bernard Glassman. Claude has two books forthcoming from Parallax Press.

Reprinted with permission from the Shambhala Sun.

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Winter Retreat at Plum Village

By Fred Allendorf I spent two weeks at Plum Village during this year's Winter Retreat. My first days in Plum Village were difficult in ways I had not anticipated. Twenty-nine years ago I went to Vietnam as a nineteen-year-old soldier. I spent most of my time at the southern tip of Cam Ranh Peninsula in the Army company responsible for constructing port facilities in central South Vietnam. Living in a community consisting of approximately half Vietnamese men and women in Plum Village and looking at the smiling faces around me brought many suppressed "mental formations" to my consciousness. American soldiers in Vietnam were taught, and quickly learned, to be suspicious of all Vietnamese people.

I had no knowledge of Buddhism while I was in Vietnam. However, I remember going to the PX at the Cam Ranh Air Force Base many times and resisting the strong urge to buy a large jade Buddha. There was something about it that attracted me and held my fascination. I also have a clear memory of looking up at the large white Buddha statue above the city of Nha Trang. My wife and I now have a picture of that Buddha hanging on our bedroom wall.

I was in Vietnam for only one year and it was a long time ago. But certain experiences trigger old memories that are as fresh as yesterday. The sound of a helicopter inevitably yanks me back to 1967. Many smells have a similar effect. The sight of Plum Village residents walking around during the rain in their traditional Vietnamese round pyramidal hats turned the French countryside into rice in my mind's eye.

Thay and Sister Chan Khong led the Plum Village Sangha to the Pyrenees Mountains during my visit. The Vietnamese monks and nuns had a joyful time throwing snowballs and sledding in the mountains. Thay Nghuen, Head of Practice in the Upper Hamlet, sat next to me on our four hour bus trip to the Pyrenees. I learned that he is a monk visiting Plum Village for two years. His home monastery is in Ninh Hoa, just across the bay from where I had lived in Vietnam. He was just four years old while I was in Vietnam; I imagined him as one of the many small children I saw in Vietnam.

The mental knots that had held me captive for 29 years began to melt during my conversations with Thay Nghuen and the other Vietnamese residents of Plum Village. Their smiling faces quickly brought much joy, rather than caution, to my heart. I especially came to love and enjoy being with the monks I worked with on the working meditation crew to help construct the Lotus Pond in the Lower Hamlet.

My last breakfast in Plum Village was deeply emotional. I held back tears as I looked around at my new brothers. It is traditional for people who are leaving the Upper Hamlet during the winter retreat to do hugging meditation with one person after saying goodbye to the Sangha. I had requested that Thay Nghuen join me in hugging meditation. I felt the fear and caution that I had carried with me for almost 30 years melt away as we breathed together three times.

Order member Fred Allendorf is a biologist and an active member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Calmly Speaking the Truth

 By Lee Swenson When Maxine Hong Kingston asked me to join the Vietnam War Veterans Writing Group, I hesitated for a few months. The group was a real mix—Vietnam combat vets, stateside draftees, nurses, widows, medics. All wanted to write out their stories. It was hard to imagine reliving those intense days and walking back into those battlefields, terrain laden with buried mines, ready to explode in heart and mind. I also feel tender about my old moralizing voice coming back, a voice with an edge I wanted to keep at rest. I was not sure I could keep calm while speaking my truth about nonviolent anarchism, and I was not sure I wanted to go back into the endless debate between those who went to war and those who chose not to. Yet, how could I resist?

As I went to the monthly meetings, I began to know individuals—a medic, a pilot, a widow, a river patrol point man, a vet coming in from 20 years of living on the streets. Each of us had a separate reality, and now we were all tied together. I saw how hard it was, and is, for the vets to see differences within the antiwar movement, to see individuals making a choice, willing to suffer, to do prison time, to be written out of their families for refusing to kill.

Every month for three years, the Veterans Writing Workshop met for a Day of Mindfulness facilitated by Maxine Hong Kingston and members of the Community of Mindful Living. We began with a bell, heard again and again throughout the day, to calm, to still, to breathe. When we read our day's writing to the group, we found that by remembering to breathe we could do and say nearly anything. After the opening bell and meditation, we went around the circle and added a voice to the community. We were breaking the ice of twenty-five-year-old thoughts and feelings.


At the center of the day, we wrote in community. Maxine suggested an idea, and after discussion, we went to different parts of the room or outside. We wrote for the next few hours, side by side, separate, yet together. Like meeting a grizzly bear on the trail, the electricity of producing together got our undivided attention. After lunch, we read aloud what we had written.

At moments, hardly anyone could breathe as the stories spilled out: buddies killed, body bags zipped up, sheer fear in battle still deep in the bone, coming Stateside, survivor's guilt, rehab drudgery, going to the Wall and finding the name of a platoon mate or husband, leaving a widow's letter and a daughter's baptism gown, never to see her father. There have been few stories from draft resisters and nonviolent activists, and we had many to tell. I wrote about the virtues of nonviolence and why "we" resisted the war. I wrote about a small boy milking the family cow in an Indian village, who meets Gandhi on his way to the sea to commit civil disobedience by gathering his own salt during the Great Salt March. The boy dreams of joining the Freedom Movement. I wrote and read aloud about being in Santa Rita Jail over Christmas 1967, and how Martin Luther King, Jr. came to visit Joan Baez and the rest of us the day after we "offenders" were released. King was assassinated just three months later. In January 1968, we heard on the jail radio that Dr. Spock and six others were arrested for aiding and abetting draft resistance. It was a conspiracy not to kill.


Great veteran writers and National Book Award winners Tim O'Brien and Larry Heineman spent a day with us. One of America's truly great short story writers and peace activist Grace Paley came for an afternoon. We also had a day with Vietnamese soldiers (the "enemy"). Le Minh Khue had spent her youth on the Ho Chi Minh (Song My) Trail. Her greatest fear on the Trail was of American pilots just hundreds of feet overhead, releasing napalm or fragmentational percussion bombs. She could almost see their faces and look into their eyes. Now they were face-to-face, pilot and foot soldier. They met, touched, and hugged.

We edited together. We brought copies of stories, lay them on a table, and gave and received criticism. It was scary and very moving. Grace Paley said, "Editing is taking out the lies!" This group was a great lie detector.

We did bookstore readings and a public radio show on Veteran's Day. Some of us were men who had lived on the streets for years. At Black Oak Bookstore, Tom, blinking, twitching, and agitated bellowed out, "I useta get kicked outa Black Oak, now I'm reading here!" Maxine held steady through all this, month after month—encouraging, criticizing, and firmly prodding us. Now Maxine is taking a rest from group organizing to finish her own peace novel.

An anthology is in the works. Our task is to keep writing, to find the stories in this great flow of memory, and to bring them to the surface. There are many more stories to come.


Lee Swenson, a longtime peace activist and community organizer, lives in Berkeley, California.

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Writing Breakthrough

By Richard Gilman From the age of six, I knew that I would design computers. My whole life has been about science, math, and statistics. I only wrote to put a few words between the formulas, postulates, and theorems, so they would flow better. Arts and literature were not for me.

But, something happened last year that allowed me to begin to focus on what had been bothering me deep in the recesses of my being. I found myself at a writing workshop, sitting in a semicircle, surrounded by an eclectic group of people, listening to a tiny grey-haired woman whose strong, yet gentle, voice commanded my attention. I had been hot, scared, uncomfortable, and ready to exit at the first opportunity, but the melodiousness of her tone said stay for a while, listen to us, and feel welcome here.

At that introductory session, we paired off and talked with the person next to us for a few minutes, and then listened to them for a few more minutes. Meeting Jim Janko was the most powerful, overwhelming, and bonding experience of my life. Somehow this person knew my fears, trepidations, and issues even better than I did—and in only a couple of minutes. Very powerful stuff.

I was still too uptight to participate for very long though, and left before the end of the session. I felt intimidated by all these people who seemed like professional writers looking to just get a few pointers from the master writer. But as I rode my motorcycle out the long driveway from Green Gulch Farm, instead of turning right to go home, I turned left toward the ocean. I stopped at this magnificent spot with all of the Pacific in front of me, and wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. When I stopped, seven hours had passed! Nothing in my life had ever fueled me that swiftly and with such passion. I wrote about people I had met in Vietnam, about many of the events that I had been part of there, and about some of my feelings of what went on during the war.

At the second gathering I attended, thoughts flowed out faster than I could write them. I had said to myself that I needed some experience from Vietnam to write about. Ten minutes later, I had 36 major events listed, at least 30 of which I hadn't thought about in 20 years!

The Veterans Writing Workshop opened a new path for me. The thought that I would leave engineering to write and listen to new ideas, and experience literature—wow!

Richard Gilman, a Vietnam war veteran, lives in San Francisco, and now writes full-time.

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Being Present in Prison

By Mark French I just finished reading Chan Khong's book, Learning True Love. It is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. As a combat veteran of Vietnam in 1968, I was particularly touched by her book. I felt a certain connection to past experiences after reading about the struggles of Chan Khong, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others, and how they overcame obstacles to bring help to the Vietnamese people.

I just recently became involved in a meditation group here in prison. Our meditation began with only three to five inmates, as well as a staff sponsor. In the last month, two new people joined our group. We meet every Friday and sit in meditation for 20 minutes, then our staff sponsor leads us in a discussion. We just finished reading and discussing Zen Keys, and now we are reading a book called Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. I have a lot more time to do here in prison and I now face each day with a much better outlook, thanks to the meditation and mindfulness I have allowed into my life.

My dad was a Baptist minister and I was the typical rebellious "preacher's kid." Isn't it ironic that while most would think I had the ideal religious environment to grow up in, I am now 45 and in prison, and finally I have some spiritual peace and wholeness in my life? I try to sit twice a day, for 20 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. I live and work on the prison dairy farm, so there is plenty of opportunity for mindful working. As far as I am concerned, the only way to do prison time is simply by being in the moment.

I have been in contact with Open Way Sangha in Missoula, and they have expressed an interest in coming to the prison periodically to help us out with establishing a meditation group. The prison chaplain is not the most cooperative person when it comes to something like this. Nevertheless, since our building at the Religious Activities Center is intended for all religious activities, I have hopes that the administration will allow the people from Open Way to come in and help us out. I have also written to the Engaged Zen Foundation that has successfully started Zen meditation groups at other prisons, and perhaps they will have some helpful information.

It amazes me how people in the Buddhist community seem to care so much, unconditionally, for those of us who are incarcerated. I also belong to a veteran's group here at the prison. Our group has some funds to spend on worthwhile service projects, and I suggested we send a small donation each month to help the children of Vietnam. I will share the information I have about Sr. Chan Khong's work in Vietnam. Other Vietnam war veterans are also planning to send a small donation each month. Perhaps someone reading this might feel that if someone in prison can afford to donate $10 a month, then just about anyone can.

At times it makes me think how much I wish I could get out of here and really get involved in a Buddhist Sangha. I recently read about a Vietnam vet who suffered greatly from PTSD. His search for answers and treatment took him to France, and of course, Plum Village. There, his treatment program was to live in the Vietnamese village and overcome his fears. It was a tremendous account of changing his life. I often wish I could do the same thing. But when those thoughts of freedom come up, I just get into my breathing: "Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I think about my personal mission, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sr. Chan Khong, and how lucky I am to be here this moment, to be able to share Buddhism with others, and how meditation can make 'doing time' so much easier."


Mark French is an inmate in Deer Lodge Correctional Facility, Montana.

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Prison Bells

By Sam Dubois I have a single cell—a semi-quiet, smoke-free, private environment with a window onto a grassy area often serving as a dining room for many birds. I am also working in the kitchen half-time as an assistant in the diet department, so I am able to eat well. There is still no tofu or other soy products, but there is rice, raw vegetables, fruit, oatmeal, and a few dried spices. I am very fortunate.

I work rinsing off the metal serving trays (around 600 trays twice a day). This is a challenge. I enjoy washing them, just as I enjoy chopping vegetables, but the trays are noisy. The racks I put the trays into send them through the washer hold eight wonderful clean trays. Loud, very loud, but I clean each one of them for you and so many others that I love, as I try to contemplate the eight rightful steps along our path.

I have read about individuals who overcame distractions by meditating in caves with demons, or by a creek with a brass band playing nearby. I think I may have found an ideal place for sitting meditation just outside of the practice room of a Salvation Army Youth beginner's band. I have some concern that I may not be able to practice later without engaging someone to bang on a strip of sheet metal while I'm sitting, but I know there are many different kinds of bells.

Sam Dubois is an inmate in prison in North Carolina.

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Mindful Lunch

By Lorena Monda As a psychotherapist for 18 years, I have encountered many people—including myself—who need to heal their relationship with food. Though I have studied and practiced many ways to help this healing come about, I discovered that mindful eating is one of the simplest and most powerful.

At Plum Village, I found eating in mindfulness quite difficult. So when I returned home, I started a "Mindful Lunch Group." Every Thursday, we gather and eat our lunch together slowly and mindfully, for 45 minutes. It is an opportunity to slow down and just eat. Though we do not talk to each other, we are mindful that we are eating as a community, and we acknowledge each other's presence. We are aware of our food—how beautiful it is, how it was alive, how it has come from the earth to support our being. We are aware of how much we have in quantity and variety, and of people less fortunate than we, for whom a small portion of what is on our plates would seem like a feast. We are aware of all the elements involved in getting the food from the earth to our plates—sun, rain, soil, farmers, pickers, truckers, grocers, and our own efforts preparing the food.

Members of the group have become aware that Mindful Lunch does not begin at noon Thursday, but in the grocery store while selecting the food, and in the kitchen preparing the meal. Slowing down and paying attention while eating has made some of us aware of how uncomfortable we are to let others see us eat and take time to taste our food and chew slowly. We practice returning to our breathing when we feel uncomfortable and allow ourselves to be fully present.

Afterwards, group members often gather outside to share their experiences. One chronic overeater noticed that she needs less food to feel satisfied when she slows down and is present with herself during the meal. Another member is able to taste his food and feel its effects on his body. He has begun to choose foods that are more supportive of how he wants to feel. Another described the panic she feels while eating, related to stressful times with her family at the dinner table, when she avoided eating or ate very rapidly to keep herself from feeling this panic. She has learned to eat quietly with others who are practicing the same way, and that has left her feeling peaceful.

In the course of our practice, eating has become a sacred, healing act. By eating what is good for us, and eating it in a way that is conscious and supportive, we affirm life. And we are not alone. The earth, the heavens, the farmers, our loved ones with us at the table, and everyone in our Sangha who practices mindful eating are supporting us in our affirmation of being alive.

Lorena Monda, True Perfect Way, lives in Placitas, New Mexico.

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Keep Your Eye on the Bagel— And on the (Whole)

By Gary Gach Nearly every day I eat a bagel at my local deli. This particular deli has a menu of so many exotic-sounding edibles it boggles the mind! Thus my regular menu selection initially earned me the attention of the staff. Just a bagel. Toasted. Period. No hummus, thank you. No butter, thank you. Just a bagel, sliced, toasted in the oven. (One clerk decided to call it "Virgin," which caused heated debate between her and a coworker, reminding me how my deeds affect others, and others in turn.) Once or twice a month, I'll break form and order a tamale. To drink: a glass of water, with lemon. Self-service. I tray my own dishes, and sometimes those of others.

One day when the clerk asked, "What can I get you?" I looked 'em right in the eye, smiled, and said, "365 days of peace and serenity across the entire planet—but that may be impossible today, and I know that's not your immediate department. So, just a bagel for now."

Sometimes it comes to me with a sprig of greens on the side, with a shaving of carrot, artfully arranged. No big deal. But when that happens, it means everything to me, and really makes my whole week.

Maybe you might find yourself making a Sangha out of your own lunch table. I'd love to join you.


Gary Gach, a writer and Sangha member in San Francisco, is the author of Pocket Guide to the Internet.

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Peace to Your Heart

By Karl and Helga Riedl Last August we were invited to visit Moscow and offer a public talk and three-day retreat for Russians. A young Russian named Michael Sherbakov, who was in Plum Village attending the Summer Opening, offered to organize our activities in Moscow. Michael runs a "New Age Institute." He trained in the United States to lead psychological growth seminars. He did a perfect job with his group so we could be totally focused on teaching and being available for people.

Though we initially felt insecure about going to Russia as this would be our first teaching trip, we felt deeply welcomed by the people and nourished by their warmth and hospitality, and we really enjoyed our stay. Thay's and Arnie and Therese's visits had prepared the ground so thoroughly that we did not have to do much. It was like inheriting a big bank account. We hope we have not spent much of it, and maybe even added a bit.

During his 1994 visit to Russia, Thay had the first contact with a Vietnamese group in Moscow. This Br. Phap Ong, Boris Labkovsky year, the group grew strong enough to host visiting teachers and rent a flat that serves as a temple. Boris and Olga Orion invited us to stay at their place and took care of us with all their hearts, as if we had been old friends or relatives.


We found the 60 Russian retreatants to be extremely committed, cooperative, and open-minded. They were obviously touched by our general message of giving life more dignity, depth, meaning, and joy. After three days, there was a very warm, light, and joyous atmosphere in the group. In the beginning, it was difficult. Several "Beginning Anew" sessions between group members helped establish some harmony. In the end, people were able to let go of old anger and grudges, and expressed a deeper understanding and compassion for each other.

One evening we invited all of those who had taken the Five Precepts during the retreat to receive their precept certificates and share tea with us. This group of about 18 is basically connected with Boris Labkovsky and his work. Everyone expressed enthusiasm about meeting regularly to share the practice. We then spent two wonderful days with Boris Labkovsky in St. Petersburg. His friend, Ludmilla, organized a two-day retreat which was a very special experience.

Although we did not meet any of the people who had practiced with Thay in St. Petersburg in 1994, we shared our practice with a group of about 50 people, mainly from helping and healing professions. Their sharing and insights were deep and touching. At the end of the retreat, this group was also very enthusiastic to meet regularly and share their experiences.

It was a beautiful experience to be in Russia. We immediately established a very warm and deep connection and people expressed their affection spontaneously. They are a deeply spiritual people and, with guidance, can easily use the practice of mindfulness to touch the deeper parts of their beings.

Several young people shared with us that they felt lost in their meditative absorption. They not only need more specific teachings, but also a "spiritual friend," someone who can be a model for them, inviting them into the ordinary magic of everyday life. It is difficult to appreciate a glass of clear water once you are used to strong coffee! I think that a yearly three to five-day retreat is not much help for these precious ones.

Two children participated in the retreat—Ivan, 12 years old, and Any a, 10 years old. Anya was the first one to come for the morning meditation at 7:00 a.m., listened quietly and deeply to the Dharma talk, did not miss any activity, and was the last one to say goodnight after Dharma discussion and guided meditation at 9:30 p.m. In our last Dharma discussion sharing, I asked Anya how she felt about the retreat. After a brief, thoughtful moment, she replied, "It was a happy, quiet time." Then I asked her, "How do you feel now, Anya?" The answer came out of the depth of her being, "I have peace in my soul."

In our search for touching the Russian heritage, we discovered a traditional Russian greeting. In former times when people met, they would greet each other with the words, "Peace to your home." When we shared that in St. Petersburg, someone offered an even older way, and with that we closed our group: You place your right hand on your  heart and, while bowing to each other, say, "Peace to your heart."

Karl Riedl, True Communion, and Helga Riedl, True Wonderful Loving Kindness, are Dharma teachers from Germany who live in Plum Village.

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Mindfulness in Milano

By Alberto Annicchiarico A small group of mindfulness practitioners in Milan is trying to create an association, Essere Pace (Being Peace), to awaken society with Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. The association's activities will be closely connected with the practice of the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing, and will also open to the Italian spiritual (i.e., Christian) and social-caring tradition. Our aspiration is to nourish individuals and society. Some people in our Sangha do not feel it is necessary to create a formal association, believing that we could do the same things we are doing now as a simple Sangha. We already did things like that, but there were many problems. In order to publish books and newsletters and organize public talks and other initiatives in Italy, it is necessary to be an association. We would appreciate hearing from other Sanghas who may have struggled with similar issues.

Alberto Annicchiarico is the contact person for the Milan Sangha in Italy.

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Sangha Delight

By Jo-ann Rosen Last September eight of us from Ukiah, California attended the Northern California retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. While we were friends in varying combinations, it was the first time we'd come together spiritually. By the last day, we were all feeling joy and excitement at the new ways in which we felt connected.

Sitting down together for lunch the last day, we could barely contain our energies. There was one other diner at our table, who, after great patience, asked us to please slow down. The request fell on my shoulders like a Zen master's stick. All of a sudden, what I had been perceiving as joyful fun I saw through more mindful eyes. After meditating on this sudden shift in perception, I realized that my body was not accustomed to containing so much joy. It was as though I needed to ease the sensations in my body by letting out some of the joy in the form of muted rowdiness. Previous to this I would have held that the rowdiness was joyous connection. Now I see that it is a poor substitute for the deeper, richer joy I am capable of feeling during a more mindful calm. My deepest appreciation for the Dharma sister who was brave enough to speak up.

Jo-ann Rosen lives in Ukiah, California.

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Opening Our Hearts

By Marcel Geisser On the weekend of March 29-31, we had the first meeting of German-speaking Order of Interbeing members. Fourteen of us met at Haus Tao, a meditation center in Switzerland (See p. 30)—Iris Nowak, Uli Scharpf, Irmgard and Richard Buck, Steffi Holtje, Margret de Beckere, Loriana Pauli, Nel Houtman, Barbara Croci, Marcel Geisser, Bettina Schneider, Annette and Rainer Landgraf, and, on Saturday Karl Schmied and Claudia Wieland. We were very pleased to also have Sr. Jina with us, as she is Chief Executive of the Order of Interbeing and also serves as a bridge to the monastic Sangha.

Most of the participants came from southern Germany and Switzerland, however some traveled from as far as Berlin and Plum Village. From the first gathering on Friday evening, we realized what immense potential this community has. There are many interesting people walking this path, experiencing the same fruits of practice, and similar difficulties in life.

After our sitting and walking practice, we gathered the questions, expectations, and ideas we brought with us. Many of us wondered if the Order of Interbeing was more than a personal dedication to practice the Fourteen Precepts. During the discussions that followed, a shift of perspective happened. We started with the question, "What do I expect from the Order?" but it became, "What can I do to make the Order more alive?"

We realized how little we know each other and, therefore, have not yet come to a deeper, more personal level of communication. Some spoke about feeling they had to behave in a "correct" way, as is common in religious orders, out of fear of what other members might think if they knew certain things about them. Many expressed their wish that our group begin communicating openly and authentically like real sisters and brothers, with mindfulness and loving care for one another. Then it just happened, we opened our hearts and spoke and listened from a place of great trust.

By the end of the weekend we expressed our wish to meet once or twice a year in a way that gives us time to look deeply into a subject of our choice. Most of us will also meet at Thay's retreats in Germany in June and again in Plum Village in September. We scheduled the next meeting of German-speaking Order members for November, possibly at Zen Klausen in der Eifel in Germany, and another meeting in April 1997 at Haus Tao.

Marcel Geisser, True Realisation, is the founder of Haus Tao in Wolfhalden, Switzerland. For more information about the Order of Interbeing, see the book Interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA).

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Beginning Anew

By Penelope Thompson & Lee Lipp It has been more than six months since our Sangha "got a divorce," and it has been a time of suffering and broken-heartedness for everyone. It has also been a time of looking inward, learning to take responsibility for ways we have caused each other pain.

For seven years, we met weekly for meditation and Dharma discussion and monthly for a Day of Mindfulness. There was much joy among us and a shared love of the Dharma. As 14 individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, it is not surprising or unusual that there were also many issues and causes for conflict in the Sangha.

Our failing as a group is that we did not openly confront these shadows. We did not speak about problems that we did not wish to acknowledge. Furthermore, we did not practice Thay's recommendations for conflict resolution and peacemaking.

Looking backward, it is easy to talk about how we failed to create peaceful means and safe structures in which we could speak truthfully to one another. There were unaddressed issues of power and control, leadership, direction of the group, and strong differences of opinion about rituals, perceptions of boundaries, and privacy concerns. We may have felt afraid of what would happen if we addressed these issues directly. But by failing to shine a bright light on the shadows, they grew larger and festered in the dark, until they exploded.

In the wake of this catastrophic community breakdown, the remaining members of the Santa Monica Sangha have worked over the past months to establish processes of peacemaking, conflict resolution, and Beginning Anew, based on Thay's teachings. We are still fine-tuning and modifying the forms as we try them out.

Each month we have a new moon ceremony. We begin with "watering each other's flowers." Slowly and joyfully, we express our appreciation of one or more Sangha members for something they have done or an aspect of their way of being. In the second phase of the ceremony, each of us takes responsibility for our behavior that may have caused suffering to a member of the group or to the Sangha. This is received in silence, as other Sangha members practice deep listening. In the third phase, we each invite feedback from the others. Perhaps we have been unaware of a behavior in ourselves that has caused problems for someone. After some silence, other members of the Sangha may give feedback, which is received in silence, unless further clarification is needed.

This new moon ceremony is based on two prior steps of conflict resolution. Whenever there is some difficulty between members of the Sangha, the first step is for them to meet alone together, to speak and listen deeply to each other. If they are not able to complete the reconciliation process, the second step is for them to request a fair witness

from the Sangha to meet with them. The role of the witness is to hold loving energy for them and, where necessary, to intervene to assist them in listening to each other with open hearts. If the conflict is still not resolved, it is brought to the new moon ceremony and addressed by the whole group. At this time, both persons describe, without blaming the other, their perceptions of the problem. We meditate on the issue as a group, and then we make suggestions for reconciliation that the two conflicting members can agree upon. If the conflict begins to pervade the Sangha at large, a friend of the Sangha, a fair witness from another Sangha, might be invited to facilitate open dialogue, but we have not had to try this yet.

All of these procedures depend on the goodwill of everyone in the group. The forms alone are not enough to ensure stability and reconciliation. They are only a skeleton that must be fleshed out with loving compassion, right intention, and skillful speech. The new moon ceremony has helped us feel safer and more trusting. We have begun anew as a Sangha to heal ourselves from the wounds of separation and loss, so that we may grow and be strengthened as a community of practice.

Penelope Thompson, True Dharma Source, and Lee Lipp, True Opening of the Dharma, are psychologists practicing in Santa Monica and members of the Santa Monica Sangha.

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