#24 Spring 1999

Dharma Talk: Taking Care of Each Other

By Thich Nhat Hanh

One day, Ananda and the Buddha came to a retreat center where there was only one monk. The monk was very sick with diarrhea. When the Buddha and Ananda came to his room, they noticed a very bad smell. The Buddha asked the sick monk, "Did nobody take care of you?" He answered, "I have been sick for a long time and many monks took care of me. But I do not want to disturb them anymore. Now I can take care of myself." But the Buddha said, "No. You should not do it that way."

Photo of Thay courtesy of Plum Village

Photo of Thay courtesy of Plum Village

The Buddha told Ananda, "Go and get a bucket of water and a rag." The Buddha cleaned and washed the sick monk, while Ananda cleaned his room. The Buddha and Ananda cleaned the room for three hours. Then Ananda offered one of his three robes to the monk. He washed the monk's robe and dried it outside. After that, the Buddha and Ananda sat outside. Soon they saw all the monks coming home.

When the other monks saw the Buddha and Ananda, they were very happy. But the Buddha said to them, "Dear friends, we are all away from our families. Our blood sisters and brothers and our parents do not take care of us. If we don't take care of each other, who will take care of us? If you want to take care of the Buddha, then you have to take care of your brothers. When you take care of your brothers, you are taking care of me, and when you take care of the Buddha, you are taking care of your brothers."

Today, we too must support each other in the practice and take care of each other. Our practice is not an individual practice. We practice with other people, we practice with our Sangha. The Sangha is also our body, and all our brothers and sisters are a part of this Sangha body. Sangha bodies have eyes, noses, and ears. Our Sangha body can hear and understand.

The practice of the second body is one way we take care of each other in the Sangha. Each member of the Sangha needs a second body. When you go to sitting meditation, you invite your second body. If your second body is sick, you have to know that your second body is sick, and look for a doctor or someone to help. The second body doesn't need to be younger, the second body can be older. The second person also has his or her second body, that third person also has a second body, and so forth.

We have to be responsible for the mindful manners and the practice of our second body. If the manners and the mindfulness of the second body are not very high, you are responsible. If you cannot do that, if you need help, you can ask help from Thay or from other brothers or sisters. If your second body's manners and mindfulness are not very good, you have to remind him or her. If you feel that you cannot, then you should ask brothers or sisters to help you. This practice is not just for monks and nuns, but for all of us.

When each Sangha member takes care of his or her second body, the whole Sangha is taken care of. When your second body has some happiness, you share that happiness. If your second body has difficulties, you need to understand these difficulties. And if alone you cannot help your second body, you need to ask for help from somebody else. You don't have to be better than your second body, you need to help your second body.

Practicing like this, you will see a miraculous result. You are responsible for everything that happens to your second body. When you take care of your second body, your third, fourth, and fifth bodies are also taken care of. Taking care of your second body, you take care of everybody else.

We may have a second body who feels difficult to look after. Perhaps the people we think would be easy to look after have already been taken. The method of getting a second body is this: everybody in turn says the name of the person they want to be their second body. At first, there are many people to choose from, but as we go along perhaps there is only one person left, and we have to choose that person. We may feel that this person is very difficult to look after, but you should know that this is a wonderful opportu­nity. The person who you think would be difficult can bring you a great deal of benefit and joy in your practice. Some fruits have thorns and are hard, but when we break them open, they taste very good. The monkeys know that—they break open these hard-skinned fruits. There are people we see who from the outside are not very sweet, but if we know how to open them up, the fruit is wonderful. Don't be deceived by the outside. Don't think that the second body is very difficult to look after. Bring all your ability to look after that person and he will become a sweet spring of water.

The practice of the second body is a wonderful Dharma door and we need to succeed in its practice. We should not practice according to the outer form, just saying I have a second body. We should not practice only half-heartedly. With sincere practice, we will have a direct experience of the benefits of the practice.

Another very important practice is Shining Light, offering guidance in the principle of Sangha eyes. The Sangha eyes can see thoroughly. Many people think that the Sangha does not know, but the Sangha knows. It can see much better than you can. This practice comes directly from the tradition that on the last day of the winter retreat (or the rainy season retreat) a monk should bow down in front of his brothers and ask, "Please, with compassion, shine light on me so that I can see my strengths and my weakness during the past three months of this retreat." He must prostrate deeply to receive this guidance. In Plum Village, we have developed this into a practice that is not only used at the end of the winter retreat, but also from time to time, when any of us needs the guidance of the Sangha. We can come forward, make deep prostrations, and ask for guidance. Even a senior teacher, like Sister Annabel Laity, comes to the Sangha from time to time, prostrates, and asks her younger sisters to shine light on her practice. Most of the people who are there, whom she bows before, are her students.

Shining Light practice is a Dharma door which we offer to the Three Jewels and which we will hand on to future generations. We have to do what we can. We have to shine the light with all our compassion and lovingkindness, all our respect and love. We should see the person we are shining light on as ourselves. We haven't the right to hide what we have seen. We have to be sincere in saying what we have seen. This is a method of deep looking. We may need to take time from sitting meditation to look deeply, because sitting meditation and looking deeply are the same. In a session of shining light, we need the same seriousness as we have in meditation. We should sit, body and mind as one, our backs straight, not in a sloppy way. We should shine light, sitting as straight as we do in sitting meditation and with all our heart.

The collective insight of the Sangha is offered in the form of a letter. The letter always begins by mentioning the positive qualities of the person who has asked for guidance to help him or her strengthen his or her self-esteem. The weaknesses of the person concerned will be mentioned after, with details, and then the suggestions to help him or her to practice. All are written with the language of lovingkindness and compassion.

One beautiful autumn day during a retreat at Omega, we were happy to walk in the forest beside trees with all their leaves of different colors. I came to a maple tree and looked deeply at the leaves. I realized that no leaf was perfect. Many leaves had holes or ragged edges. But when I looked at the whole tree, the maple tree was so beautiful. Each leaf has its own position, its own integrity. There are small leaves and big leaves, and the tree is beautiful because of the harmony of all leaves. The leaves on the top were not proud that they were the top leaves, and the leaves at the bottom were not sad that they were at the bottom. All the leaves were very happy with their own positions. The whole tree forms a miracle, and that is the harmony of the tree. Like the leaves, we don't need to be perfect, but when we live together in harmony, our Sangha is beautiful and we don't need to feel bad about ourselves.

Harmony is the practice of the Sangha. If we have harmony, we have happiness. We don't need to be perfect. I myself am not perfect and you too, you don't need to be perfect. But in your own position, if you can express your harmony in the Sangha, this is your beauty. The Sangha of the Buddha is called the Sangha of six harmonies. When the Sangha makes a decision, we first ask, "Has the community assembled in sufficient number?" Then we ask, "Do we have harmony in our community?" If the answer is no, then the decisions are not valid. If you want to build a Sangha, you have to remember that harmony is the basic ingredient.

We need to practice in such a way that there is harmony in our Sangha. Each of us is a younger brother or a big brother, a younger sister or a big sister; each of us has our own position. We are happy in that position, like the maple leaves. When the maple leaves are in their own position, they make the harmony of the whole tree, and when we look at the tree, the tree is so beautiful.


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Dharma Talk: Unified Buddhist Church - Community of Mindful Living Merger

 Transcription of a Dharma Talk Given by Thich Nhat Hanh on March 2, 1999 at Plum Village Monastery, Dieulivol, France Dear Friends, it is now the beginning of March 1999, and we are in Floating Clouds Meditation Hall, New Hamlet, Plum Village. We have just completed the Transmission of the Lamp ceremony for twelve monastics. Their training has been very steady, including a three month retreat each year. Of the twelve Dharma teachers that we ordained yesterday, many of them are very young. Most of them began practicing at the age of 22 or 23 as a monk or nun, and they have spent six or seven years practicing as monastics. Last year, the Sangha appointed 17 apprentice Dharma teachers. Out of this 17, the Sangha selected ten here in Plum Village and two in America to become this year's ordained Dharma teachers.

Each year we will be able to produce new Dharma teachers. The plum trees are beginning to yield fruit. The procedure used to select Dharma teachers is that, rather than being nominated by Thay, they are now selected by the Sangha. It is the Sangha who has decided who will be  a Dharma teacher this year. Every year, the Sangha will appoint new apprentice Dharma teachers, and each year we will give the Lamp Transmission to a number of new Dharma teachers. We do it by way of voting. We have applied democracy to the foundation of our Sangha. One week before the Transmission of the Lamp, no one knew who would be selected to be this year's new Dharma teachers. We prepared the ordination ceremony for the Transmission not knowing who would actually receive the Lamp and become Dharma teachers this year.

Each hamlet and each temple received instructions on how to select the Dharma teachers. I only suggested to the community how Dharma teachers should be selected using two criteria. The first is that future Dharma teachers must be people who can teach with their own life as an example and not just with words. The second criteria is that the Dharma teacher should demonstrate his or her ability to live in harmony with the Sangha and be able to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.

Everyone in the community considered these two criteria, and they were given time to meditate, to think about, and then to vote to select which apprentices met these qualifications and criteria. Thay did not have anything to do except to add up the votes and to announce the names to the community of the new Dharma teachers. All of these votes and records are in our files here. Anyone can consult them. This has been a wonderful experience, especially to see that a few Dharma teachers got a unanimous vote of the Sangha, to see that everyone thought that this person or that person is a good candidate to be a Dharma teacher. We are very happy, because of this new democratic development. We are very happy that we are now able to combine the principles of democracy and the principle of seniorship.

The training here at Plum Village and at the Green Mountain Dharma Center is very steady. It is training not just of retreats from time to time, but a training 24 hours a day for many, many years. Living together 24 hours a day, we understand and know each other very well. Therefore our judgment and our selection of Dharma teachers is based upon direct experience of each person. Living in the Sangha, we have the opportunity to try out things we have learned and to succeed or to fail. And everyone knows of and can see our success or failure.

The Transmission of the Lamp was not a big ceremony this time. We only had in attendance people who were here for our retreat. There are over 100 monastics living here and in the Green Mountain and Maple Forest Monasteries. We also have a number of laypeople who practice with us during the winter retreat.

The night of the vote and the selection of the Dharma teachers, I stayed up very late. Of course, I had my own ideas about who I thought should be the Dharma teachers and be selected this year. But I chose to practice taking refuge in the Sangha. We all have to rely on our Sangha, because we believe that the Sangha eyes are always brighter than the eyes of anyone individual, including the teacher. So I stayed up very late that night in order to count the votes. I told Sister Chan Khong that we were like being in the U.S. Congress or in the French Parliament-staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning in order to attend a meeting and make an historic vote.

You know we have three temples here, three hamlets here, and there were temples that replied very quickly and brought us their votes very quickly. But, there were also temples which took a long time to send me the results of the vote. In particular, Maple Forest Monastery took a long time. The first time, they did not understand the instructions properly. That is why they did not select according to the kind of criteria that I suggested, and we had to ask them to do it again. So it was 2:00 in the morning before I knew the names of the new Dharma teachers that had been selected. But even at that late hour, I immediately sent the names to the three temples here and the temple in Vermont at the Green Mountain Dharma Center, and I asked the abbots and abbesses to please release the results in the early morning. Of course, there were some people who were disappointed because they were not selected this year. They know that they have to begin to practice again with the Sangha in such a way that next year they will be accepted. So there will be great efforts on the part of these candidates.

I feel wonderful that this is the way we are now choosing our Dharma teachers, and this takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders. It is not Thay who decides, but the Sangha who decides. Thay of course has the right to veto, but I very rarely do. So, the community chooses, and they inform Thay of the names of the new novices and the names of the new Dharma teachers, and then Thay informs them of the date of ordination.

If the community of monks and nuns judges that a monk or nun is ripe, then they will decide and send the nomination to Thay. For the Dharma teachers, we will do it in the same way. Dharma teachers are selected and nominated by the Sangha.

Offering Guidance

I would like to talk about a very important practice here at Plum Village, the practice of offering guidance and in the principle of Sangha eyes. The Sangha eyes can see thoroughly. Many people think that the Sangha does not know, but the Sangha knows. It can see much better than you can. This practice comes directly from the tradition that on the last day of the winter retreat, the rainy season retreat, a monk should bow down in front of his brother and ask him, "Please with compassion shine light on me so that I can see my strength and my weakness during the past three months of this retreat." He must prostrate deeply in order to receive this guidance. Here at Plum Village, we have developed it into a practice that is not only used at the end of the winter season retreat, but also, from time to time, when any of us needs the guidance of the Sangha. We can come forward and make deep prostrations and ask for guidance. Even senior teachers, like Sister Annabel Laity, come from time to time to the Sangha and prostrate, and she asks her younger sisters to shine light on her practice. Most of the people who were there, whom she bows before, are her students.

Before anyone receives full ordination, they receive guidance so they can prepare themselves for ordination, and we have seen that in only a few days, a person can make a lot of progress and undergo considerable transformation. In the beginning many people are afraid of guidance because they do not like to see their weaknesses. But everyone, after having received their guidance, has realized that this is the voice of the Buddha telling him or her how to practice, how to advance.

In the newsletter that we recently published, we printed a few letters about guidance and the experience of those who received guidance and how they practiced in order to overcome their difficulties. In Plum Village, I think we have a laboratory to try out new methods. After we have succeeded in the methods of practice, we share it with the communities outside.

One of the things we have done is to deal with attachment. For instance, when someone in the community falls in love with someone else in the community, especially in the case of a monk or nun, in the past, if the teacher and the board of teachers realized that there was this attachment on the part of a monk or nun, then that person would be expelled. They would not be allowed to stay in the monastery any more. When I was a novice, one of my fellow monks wrote two lines of poetry and gave it to a young girl down the hill from the temple. When the faculty learned about it, he was expelled from the monastery, and he went back to his lay life. I thought this was much, much too strict. He was not given the chance to begin anew and to learn. I was only 18 years old, and I saw that as a kind of injustice.

So I have been thinking about it for many years, and at Plum Village we have found many methods to help people who have gotten themselves into situations of attachment. Because we think that falling in love is an accident, you should help this person who had this accident and not kill him. It is like when a friend is struck with malaria, you have to help the person to kill the bacteria in the blood and not to kill the person.

We have been successful in dealing with this in some circumstances, and we are confident that later on we can share the method with other communities. Without the support of the Sangha, you cannot solve these problems. If I did not have a loving Sangha, I would have been expelled also. You may have read my book Cultivating the Mind of Love. In it, I tell the story of when I was a young monk, and I fell in love with a nun. It is surprising that now the mainland Chinese have chosen to translate this very book. I will be very famous in China!


Here in Plum Village, we have three temples: the temple we are sitting in is called "Adornment with Loving Kindness." Each of the three temples has its autonomy. Each temple has an abbot or abbess. The office of an abbot is like being an accountant-handling accounting and bookkeeping-and each temple is free to make projects or building more dormitories, Buddha Halls, etc., and if they are short of funds and need help they can get the help from the other temples.

But, there are things that concern the whole Sangha, that need the whole Sangha to decide, and there are other things that can be resolved just in one's own temple. Like the temple of Thay Nguyen Hai; we call it the Dharma Cloud Temple or the Upper Hamlet. They select their own head of community, they select their own treasurer, they select their own registrar, they do everything. They can decide about all these activities within the temple. But when it comes to a major decision-one that has to do with and effects the other temples-the Upper Hamlet Abbot, of course, will consult with the other abbots and abbesses.

There is only an intervention by me or by the greater Sangha of monks and nuns only when things are not going in the right direction of practice. Otherwise, each of the temples has its own autonomy, and its own independence. The schedule of the Winter Retreat is very much the same in each Hamlet, because we need to have it so in order for the three temples to join together in activities that necessitate the presence of everyone. Therefore, these decisions are made collectively. As you know, twice a week there is a Dharma talk from Thay, and everyone from every temple has to arrange it so that everyone can be present at the same time. Even the cook has the opportunity to sit in the Dharma talk, and this is possible because we work together. Here at Plum Village we do not have a special cook because everyone has the opportunity to practice mindful cooking. We always arrange our cooking in such a way that everyone has an opportunity to participate in all the activities of the Sangha.

Transfer to UBC

I would like to tell you about a night recently I had at the Hermitage. I received a fax from our lawyer, he was working on my estate plan and the tax-exemption documents for our organization in the United States. He sent me a transfer document to sign that would transfer my copyrights to the UBC, the Unified Buddhist Church. In it, he was talking about my death. He was talking in the same way that the Sutra says that death comes without warning. So, he suggested that it was better for me to sign this right away, because legally, under French law, one of my nephews or one of my nieces or some other relative could come in and claim the copyrights to my books. Instead of my copyrights being owned by the Unified Buddhist Church, which is my intention, my relatives could claim the copyrights, and that would be a pity. I would not want one of my nieces or my nephews to come in and make such a claim.

So, at 11 :00 p.m., I stayed up and signed the document and faxed it back to my attorney. It's funny that the Dharma comes to me from lawyers, that lawyers can teach us about impermanence. Although the document was not perfect, and we have made some later revisions, the document could have been used in case that very night I passed away.

A Bell of Mindfulness

As you know, I am, in principle, a lazy monk. If you do not force me to look deeply into matters, I may not do it because there are many other things I would like to do. The day after I signed my Will, I received another document from my attorney to sign. This, as you know, was a contract that he proposed between Thay and Parallax Press so that Parallax would pay royalties to UBC for my books. I signed this document upon the urging of my estate attorney.

The following day, I received a letter from CML/Parallax Press's attorney, Mr. Bunnin, making a counterproposal to my attorney's contract. Reading the letter from Mr. Bunnin and reviewing the contract that I had signed, I could not sleep. Mr. Bonnin's letter was to me a bell of mindfulness. I could not believe the tone of Mr. Bunnin' s letter and that things could turn out this way-that I had to ask an attorney to help me, that Arnie and Therese of CML had to ask an attorney to help them; that I had to negotiate with Parallax Press and CML and Arnie, my student, and that Arnie would have to sign a contract with me.

I thought, This is so stupid. How had I allowed things to go this far. What if the younger generation looked back upon my time here and thought, What kind of teacher was Thay? He signs contracts with his disciples; he has a lawyer on his side; and his disciple has a lawyer on his side.

I could not accept this. So that night, I did not sleep. I said to myself, I must practice looking deeply into this matter. In the morning I knew what I was going to do. I realized that I was not going to sign any contract with Arnie because he and I are teacher and student; we are one. From my point of view, it is fine for me, in the name of the UBC, to sign a contract with an outside publishing house, such as Riverhead Press, Broadway Books, etc., but I knew that I could not sign a contract with Arnie or with Parallax Press.

I asked Sister Chiln Khong to please withdraw the proposal that my lawyer had written up and that I had actually signed. I felt shameful to have signed that document. I realized this was the wrong thing to do. My practice is the practice of inclusiveness. When the left hand gets hurt, the right hand comes and takes care of the wound. The left hand does not say, "I am helping you, you are the person that is getting help from me. You have to be kind to me." No, there is no negotiation between the two hands.

If I sign a contract with my student, with my own Press and my own Community of Mindful Living, this is not in the spirit of Buddhism. We have to look in such a way to see that Arnie is Thay and Thay is Arnie and that whatever Thay does, Arnie does, and whatever Arnie does, Thay does. That is what today we beg you to understand and to help us to work with. We should do this in such a way that we can reflect a spirit of inclusiveness and nondiscrimination, so there is only continuation. This is our tradition.

We cannot say to Thay Nguyen Hai, the abbot of Upper Hamlet, we will sign a contract with you. He is the abbot, he has the right of an abbot, and he has daily work, but I do not have to sign anything with him. The Sangha does not have to sign anything with him, because the Vinaya is there, the precepts are there, the teaching is there, and there is no need of signing any contract.

As far as Thay Nguyen Hai is concerned, he practices well as a monk, as an abbot, and he does not violate any precepts. If he does not sleep with any of his female disciples, if he does not break any of the precepts, then no one can evict him from the position of the abbot. I believe we would never allow him to be evicted by anyone if he practices well as a monk and as an abbot and all other monks are helping him to do that and protecting him. So there is no need to fear anything in terms of expulsion.

The same thing is true with Sister Jina. She is not afraid of losing her abbesship. She is abbess of the Dharma Nectar Temple in the Lower Hamlet. She is actually hoping that someone can replace her so that she can travel more. She knows the Vinaya, the Mindfulness Trainings, and the daily practice is formed and created for a nun like her. We do not feel that we have to sign any agreements with Sister Jina.

The same is true with Sister Trung Chinh here, the abbess of "Adornment with Loving Kindness" and also with Sister Annabel. You have met Sister Annabel Laity in the Green Mountain Dharma Center. She is a scholar. She knows Sanskrit and Pali, and she is a scholar on Buddhism. She has been director of practice and a teacher in Plum Village for many years. She was ordained on the holy Gridakuta Mountain at the same time as Sister Chan Khong.

Between Thay and Sister Chan Duc there is something that you cannot describe; it is a perfect trust. I do not think that Sister Chan Duc has to protect herself, has to sign any agreements or contracts with me, and I think that this is thanks to the Dharma, to the Vinaya.

We are together here as a river and not as a drop of water. As a drop of water, we cannot go far, we cannot arrive at the ocean. But, as a river, we will always arrive. So, our practice is to be a river and not a drop of water.

Here every monk, every nun, every layperson does the same and everyone contributes to the collective work to help our entire community. I cherish the presence of everyone here, even a very young novice. A novice, even if she is a novice only for three days, can already make many people happy by the way she walks, the way she sits, the way she smiles, the way she takes care of her sisters. I do not underestimate the value or contribution of even the newest person who comes to our Sangha. Our happiness comes from this, and not from any particular achievement or of such and such work.

I think that if we follow that same kind of practice and behavior, then we will be able to prevent misunderstanding and the kind of suffering that is completely useless. Then we will be able to take at least 90 percent of the burden of worrying from our shoulders.

Unification and Inclusiveness 

Who is the UBC? The UBC is all of us. The UBC is not monastics alone, because the UBC is also for the Order of Interbeing and laypeople. The UBC is for the entire Fourfold Sangha. The UBC is for every one of us.

That is why I propose that every organization, every institution that we and our friends have set up, that we all come together and adopt the same kind of attitude and procedure as are used in Maple Forest, Lotus Bud Village, Maple Village, Green Mountain Dharma Center, and the three hamlets and temples of Plum Village. That we come together as one organization, but within that organization, each one of us can keep our autonomy, just as we do here in Plum Village. We can go on as we have before, but now we can join together and gain the support of everyone in the Sangha.

Suppose this circle represents UBC (Figure 1). Before we set up the UBC in America last year, we had already set up the UBC here in France in 1969, during the war in Vietnam. Then we set up Sweet Potatoes in 1975 and then Plum Village in 1982 in France. Then, we added the  Dharma Cloud Temple and the Dharma Nectar Temple in 1988 and the Adornment with Loving Kindness Temple in 1995. And now, in 1998, we have added the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.


Each endeavor has its own authority and autonomy, but each is linked intricately to the UBC. Within the Unified Buddhist Church, we have a monastery for monks and a monastery for nuns. I drew these monastic institutions inside to show that they are monasteries only for monastics. I would like to see the Community of Mindful Living become one of the institutions that is part of ourselves, and that Parallax Press also becomes one of these institutions within the UBC.

It is my hope to transform The Mindfulness Bell into a magazine, and we may ask Leslie Rawls to continue to be editor. We can then add the support of all of us so that we can make this into a real magazine. We can send articles for it; we can invest a lot of energy in this new magazine because it can play a very important role in North America; it can help many people. In Europe, we have lntersein magazine which serves the German-speaking world. It is a beautiful magazine and lci & Maintenant, a French-language magazine, very professionally designed by a good artist in Belgium who is also a member of the Order of Interbeing. With the help of every temple, we can make The Mindfulness Bell into a real magazine, and we can ask Leslie to continue to be editor. But, we also could create an advisory board to help her, to get more news, more articles, more input. That is something that is very easy to do.

The role of Parallax Press, as in the past, remains very important. We want Parallax Press to continue and to grow. In my mind, although Arnie may have to take care of the new Great Island Center, we would wish that he also continue to be the director of Parallax Press. As the director of Parallax Press within UBC, he will be able to sign contracts not only with the United States and the English-speaking world, but also with Germany, France, Italy, everywhere, because now he will be signing in the name of the Unified Buddhist Church.

Together with other friends and advisors in the Sangha who will collaborate with him, he will publish books by Parallax Press, and he also can work together with these friends to determine which books should be published by mainstream publishing houses, such as Riverhead, Ballentine, Doubleday, and Dell and which should be published by Parallax. In this task, Arnie will be supported financially, spiritually, and technically by laypeople and monastics.

I would like to repeat what I said at the beginning, that here we try to combine the principle of seniorship and democracy. I would like to see this principle implemented at all levels of the Sangha. Because in the lay Sangha, there are many people who are very experienced in practice and in Sangha building, they should be given special status in decision-making. Because there are people who just come to practice, and they know very little about Sangha building and about the Dharma, they will not be given the same vote as a very senior member of the Sangha.

In the spirit of seniorship, each level of our Sangha will have its own boards of advisors. We will have democracy, but we would like to respect seniorship. If we can incorporate the spirit of democracy that would be a plus to the Sangha. I would like to see the same kind of practice realized in the circle of the lay Sangha as is practiced by the monastic Sangha. In the monastic community, every monk or nun is supposed to attend the Rainy Season Retreat which lasts three months. Here in Plum Village, we make the Winter Retreat the equivalent to the Rainy Season Retreat. Without participating for three months in this retreat, we would not be able to count the particular monk's or nun's year in assessing seniority.

In the tradition, it is written like this: five Rainy Season Retreats allow you to be a teacher; your position is equivalent to the position of a teacher; you have the right to share the Dharma after five Rainy Season Retreats. After the tenth Rainy Season Retreat, your position will be equivalent to Upadhyaya. This term refers to someone who can transmit the precepts. It was written in the Vinaya like that. But, you cannot count any year alone. A year without a three month retreat is an empty year. If you are a monk, you should be able to tell us how many Rainy Season Retreats you have done and so what your position might be. Even if you are ordained before another monk, you cannot sit on the right because we count in terms of retreats. We do not count in terms of years.

I think that the same type of practice could be applied to laypeople. You may have someone who has been ordained as an Order of Interbeing member for ten years, but during those ten years she does not recite her precepts and she does not attend any of the mindfulness retreats, and so those ten years are considered as empty. She cannot count those years in terms of seniority. That principle is already there in the tradition. You only need to apply it to your daily life. In the time of the Buddha, decision-making was only done by fully ordained monks and nuns, by the procedure called Sanghakarma.

In Plum Village, the novices and those who have been accepted into the family of monastics but are not fully ordained are consulted for every decision. We allow them to speak out and to share their insight. Then the fully ordained monastics will meet in private to make the decision. Last month, when we decided who would be nominated to receive the Dharma Lamp Transmission, we allowed the novices to vote, but after the voting, only the fully ordained monastics met in private to review and qualify the votes, because they have the ultimate right to make such decisions.

Because monastics and laypeople have to be together in order to serve the Dharma, that is why it is called the Fourfold Sangha. Although the UBC has two monasteries here, which contain only monks and nuns, we still need laypeople as friends, advisors, and practitioners. So the Fourfold Sangha is present everywhere. If we organize our entire community like this, Thay, the UBC, does not have to sign anything with Thay Nguyen Hai, and with Sister Jina and with Sister Trung Chinh, or with Arnie. We are all together as one river.

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From Sister Chan Khong

Editor's Note: In the following two letters, Sister Chan Khong shares some ideas about implementing Thay's vision of a unified Sangha and invites the input of the larger Sangha to help determine how this vision might be realized. Some of the advisory boards have already begun their work, but many other ideas-such as widespread use of the CML name and the establishment of a group tax exemption-have not been implemented, pending input from the Sangha and consideration of applicable law. We welcome input from the entire Sangha about these proposals. March 31, 1999

Dear Friends,

In his Dharma Talk, Thay sets forth his vision for an inclusive and unified community. In 1974, while the war raged in Vietnam and Thay and I were exiled and living in Paris, Thay wrote his book, Zen Keys. In this book, Thay asked the question, "Is Awakening Possible?" He answered it as follows:

The problem that faces us is the problem of awakening. What we lack is not an ideology or a doctrine that will save the world. What we lack is mindfulness of what we are, of what our situation really is. We need to wake up in order to rediscover our human sovereignty. We are riding a horse that is running out of control. The way of salvation is a new culture in which human beings are encouraged to rediscover their deepest nature.

The first phase of this civilization must be to establish social conditions in which life can be lived in a human way. "Awakened" people are certainly going to form small communities where their material life will be simple and healthy, and time and energy will be devoted to spiritual concerns. These communities of mindful living will be like Zen monasteries with no dogma. In them, the sickness of the times will be cured and spiritual health will be renewed. Great art and thought will be produced.

The day following Thay's Dharma Talk at Plum Village, a transcription of which is enclosed, the then-board of Community of Mindful Living, inspired by Thay's vision of community inclusiveness, voted to add four monastic members to the CML Board. Thereafter, all of the nine board members of CML voted to merge CML into the Unified Buddhist Church, creating one inclusive, unified organization for our community. There were some difficulties in the process of merging, but with efforts made by everyone the good decision was ftnally achieved. The vote was unanimous.

Innovations--Inspired by the successes and innovations of numerous members of our community in bringing mindfulness practice to our society and in response to many suggestions of the Sangha, the following organizational modifications to our community are being proposed. The overall goal is to create a mindful organization that is integrated, easily understood by its members, an organization that encourages and realizes broad-based participation and a feeling of welcome, that defines the different roles and functions in the organization, and that applies consistent procedures and standards throughout all levels of our community.

Plum Village Example--It has been proposed by the Sangha that we all apply the practices used in Plum Village to all parts of the community. For example, we may consider, as Thay explains in his talk, that seniority in the monastic community is not a matter of number of years, but in time spent in defined practice sessions, for monastics, the winter retreat. Thay suggests that seniority in the lay community be viewed in this light also. Another practice used in Plum Village, which has been suggested be used in the lay community, is the use of guidance and Sangha Eyes. This is an important part of the community life here in Plum Village, and all of the Sanghas can beneftt from this practice. There are many other practices and innovations developed here at Plum Village that we would like to encourage members of all parts of the community to explore and use.

Different Elements of the Community

Sanghas or Local CML Chapters. As early as 1974, in Zen Keys, Thay was using the name Community of Mindful Living to describe the future practice communities he envisioned. It has been suggested that all local Sanghas could add the name Community of Mindful Living (CML) to their existing names. As an example, the existing Lotus Bud Sangha of Sydney Australia could now be called the Community of Mindful Living-Lotus Bud Sangha. If all Sanghas use the name, Community of Mindful Living, we become a family sharing a common name. By using the same name, CML, all Sanghas could be easily identifted, and anyone searching in the phone book, on the Internet, or in a Dharma directory, could ftnd the local CML Sangha chapter easily.

The name Community of Mindful Living is now available for all of our Sanghas to use. Also, we are applying through the Unifted Buddhist Church for recognition of an IRS taxdeductible group exemption. Each CML Sangha may beneftt from being able to receive tax-deductible donations, making sales-tax-free purchases, etc., using UBC's tax exempt status.

It has been suggested that we encourage the creation of regional counsels of CML Sanghas so that we can have more participation and support each other. It is also suggested that a board of advisors be established to encourage and assist the growth of CML Sanghas. It is proposed that the initial board of advisors be: Therese Fitzgerald-USA, Anh Huong Nguyen-USA, Br. Phap An-Plum Village, Lyn Fine-USA, Chan Huy-Canada, and LeVan Khanh Chan Truyen-Australia.

Order of Interbeing. It has been suggested that the Order of Interbeing also have a board of advisors. The Order of Interbeing board of advisors, among other responsibilities, would deal with membership applications, review membership in good standing, and consider ways to nurture the growth of the Order of Interbeing. The Order of Interbeing board of advisors suggested for the first year is: Jack Lawlor-USA, Mitchell Ratner-USA, Larry Ward-USA, Terry Barber-USA, Sister Thoai Nghiem-Plum Village, Karl Riedl-Germany, Francoise Pottier-The Netherlands, Ha Vinh Tho-Switzerland, Elisabeth Ollagnier-France, and Chan Luong-Australia.

Dharma Teachers. It has been suggested that a board of advisors be established to assist Dharma teachers. This advisory board would support Dharma teachers in their quality of practice, Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and practice retreats. The board of advisors suggested for the ftrst year is: Sister Annabel-(GMDC) USA, Chan Hoi-Canada, Thay Giac Thanh-(MFM) USA, and Karl Schmied-Germany.

Mindfulness Bell. Thay envisions this publication becoming a worldwide Buddhist magazine with all parts of the community, Dharma centers, monasteries, CML Sanghas, mindfulness practice centers, mindfulness training institutions, laypeople, and monastics all contributing their insight and understanding. It is envisioned as an edited collection of articles written by and about all the different parts of the community and the Dharma and being a catalyst to create great art and thought, as Thay discussed in Zen Keys.

This publication, now edited by Leslie Rawls, could become an even more vibrant aspect of our community, and all members are encouraged to write and their submitted work is welcome. The board of advisors for the ftrst year is suggested to be: Richard Brady-USA, Jerry Braza-USA, Helga Riedl-Germany, Sister Jina-Plum Village, Ann Johnston-USA, Hoang Khoi-Australia, Mai Chan My-United Kingdom, and Eveline Beumkes-Holland.

Parallax Press. Headed by Arnie Kotler, Parallax Press will now have all our book publishing operations, both national and international, under its direction. It will also be expanded to include not only publishing but also all marketing of the intellectual property rights to Thay's works recently transferred to the ownership of the UBC. We envision this Press as a strong, growing institution of our community. Its board of advisors, suggested for the fIrst year, is: Michael Rosenbush-France, Sister Huong Nghiem-GMDC, Sister Thuc Nghiem-GMDC, and Nguyen Ba Thu Chan Tri-USA.

Central Communication System. Using the existing CML webpage and a new 1-800 number, we would like to establish a comprehensive directory system for all CML Sanghas, Green Mountain Dharma Center, Mindfulness Practice Centers, the UnifIed Buddhist Church, Parallax Press, Plum Village, Maple Forest Monastery, Maple Village, The Mindfulness Bell, etc.

Future Years

The members of these advisory boards are unpaid volunteers. Of course, the paid staff employees of the various parts of the community, such as Parallax Press, The Mindfulness Bell, and the Order of Interbeing will have significant input into the decision-making process.

The above advisory board members are to be nominated for the fIrst year only. After the fIrst year, the community itself will decide whom to have on its boards of advisors. The entire community will be consulted by using the combination of democracy and seniorship outlined by Thay.

These proposed organizational innovations are inspired by Thay's recent Dharma Talk and will bring in many new voices to the decision-making processes of our community. All of us, as individual drops of water, are joining together as one river flowing to the sea.

Yours in the Dharma, Sister Chan Khong

Plum Village, the 250th day before the year 2000. April26, 1999

Dear friends,

Thay is very happy that the invitation of more participants and input contained in my letter of April 4, 1999 to all of you has borne fruit. We welcome and are grateful for your suggestions made over the past few weeks. The receipt of these contributions has encouraged us improve even more energetically on the path of broad based community decision making.

Thay is a generous teacher who has offered his guidance on how our community should be organized so that everyone may feel included and that his or her contribution is valued. Thay always listens to his Sangha. Together, we can carefully consider matters and our collective insight will bring forth well being of the entire Sangha.

We have proposed thirty members to be advisors. Initially. these advisors were chosen to give the broadest representation geographically from many continents and countries. speaking many languages and including laymen, laywomen, nuns, and monks. We are looking forward to expanding this core group over the next twelve months as the community determines. We wish that the various boards of advisors for The Mindfulness Bell, the Order Of Interbeing, Parallax Press, and CML will soon start to make plans to meet and discuss how to give more inspiration and encouragement to each part of the Sangha Body.Please do not wait, go ahead as a Sangha to discuss and to give new fresh air to that part of the Sangha where we suggested you put your energy. Even if your name is not on the board of advisors of that branch of the Sangha body, just contact those on the board and give your insight. We are listening carefully to the advice of our Sangha members who are attorneys about tax exemption at the local level, and will consider with you again before acting. Thank you.

We are pleased to inform you that as I write this letter, the board of advisors for Parallax Press has traveled to and has already spent many days in Berkeley, to work with Arnie and the staff of Parallax Press. Thay is very happy that so many members of the community are now contributing and that his students feel encouraged to contribute even more. With the maturity of practice and spiritual growth of so many of his lay students, Thay has decided that soon he will transmit the Lamp to many new lay Dharma teachers.

We need your input and help to make a True Sangha Body. We write to you with love and trust in the deep insights of the stream of our spiritual teachers existing in each of you and we wait to hear from you.

We believe strongly that this merger of two arms of Thay in the United States of America (UBC and CML) and the enlarging of the Sangha Body is the will of our spiritual ancestors but not from Thay only.When conditions are sufficient, where the merits of those who have received and who will receive this teaching are sufficient, deep energies push and things should be realized have been realized without premeditating. It comes out finally and helps everyone go in the direction of beauty.

Please continue to share your wisdom with us.

A wonderful green spring to you, a renewed fresh Sangha member,

Chan Khong True Emptiness Bare Feet

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From the Editor

It seemed ironic that as I began editing this issue on Sangha Dynamics, discord began to surface in my own Sangha. As we worked together to reach harmony and understanding, the writings and practices explored in this issue helped tremendously-from Shining Light as discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh in his Dharma talk, "Taking Care of Each Other," to simple awareness that difficulties are part of any Sangha and can be opportunities to deepen our practice, as discussed by Jack Lawlor, Richard Brady, and Rowan Conrad. In other articles-Karl and Helga Riedl, who lived in Plum Village for many years, share their insights about the elements necessary for a healthy residential Sangha. Vinh Nguyen explores the beauty of sharing experiences with his Sangha, and Wendy Johnson, Lyn Fine, and Larry Ward offer readers specific suggestions grown from the seeds of their experiences.

No issue on Sangha Dynamics would be complete without those dynamos of our Sanghas-the young people. The entire Family Practice Section in this issue is the work of children and teens. And Thay offers a treat for both children and adults in "The Story of the Red Tree."

Changes are also unfolding within the larger Sangha.  The Community of Mindful Living merged into the Unified Buddhist Church in March. In a second Dharma talk, Thay shares his vision of the unified community. And in letters written earlier this spring, Sister Chan Khong shares the history of the merger and explores ideas about how we might work with the unfolding vision, asking for feedback regarding possible implementation of these ideas.

For over thirty years, Thich Nhat Hanh has lived in exile from Vietnam. During the past few years, friends have tried to help Thay return home. In "When Will Thay Return to Vietnam?" Dharma teacher Phap An explains the problems encountered in the ongoing efforts to facilitate Thay's trip to Vietnam.

I would also like to welcome the new Advisory Board established this spring, whose efforts will shine forth in future issues.

Please remember that The Mindfulness Bell welcomes your submissions about the experience of mindfulness practice in daily life. Topics for upcoming issues, deadlines, and guidelines for submission always appear on this page. Each issue also presents many articles not specifically focused on the issue theme.

In gratitude,





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The Story of the Red Tree

Told by Thich Nhat Hanh to the Children During a Dharma Talk in Plum Village In every Buddhist temple, there is a big bell. Early each morning, a young monk invites the bell to sound. When people hear the bell, they practice mindfulness-not only the monks in the temple, but also people in the village. At one time, most families did not have a clock. So householders used the temple bell to be mindful and also to know the time. Imagine a village where everyone practices mindful breathing at the sound of the bell. Very peaceful.

There was once a village butcher who did not practice mindfulness of breathing when he heard the temple bell. At 4:30 every morning, he woke to the sound of the bell, ready to kill one or two pigs. He had to earn a living. So he used the bell that way, very different from other people. It was a small village and he was the only butcher. Of course he was not the only person responsible for the death of the pigs, because although they did not kill, other people ate the pigs.

One morning the butcher planned to kill a big pig instead of two middle-sized ones, but the bell did not sound at 4:30, so he overslept. When he woke up late, he blamed the monks. He crossed the street and climbed the hill to the temple to ask why the bell did not sound. He was angry. When you kill a lot of living beings, you water the seeds of violence in yourself and you become easily angry. He blamed the novice for not waking him up on time, and he was also angry with the high monk of the temple. The butcher found the high monk and demanded, "Why did the novice not invite the bell to wake me this morning?" And the, monk told him the truth.


That night, about two o'clock in the morning. the high monk dreamed that a lady and her twelve children came to him, crying and crying. The lady prostrated in front of him and begged, "Teacher, please save our lives. If you don't, we will die." The monk asked, "What should I do to help you?" The lady answered, "It's easy. Just don't let the novice invite the bell this morning and we'll be safe." The monk told the butcher, "When I woke up at three o'clock this morning, I remembered the dream. So I went down to the novice center and asked the novice in charge not to invite the bell this morning."

The butcher did not consider the dream important. He said, "'You are silly. Because you believe in these things, I missed the opportunity to perform my job." Then he left the temple and went home. Although it was late, he decided he could still go on with his work. Later in the day, the villagers would come to buy his meat, and it was better to be late than to have no meat to sell. So he sharpened his long butcher's knife, and brought it to the pigpen. There he saw that the pig he planned to kill had given birth to twelve baby pigs in the night!

The monk's story came back to him. He saw the mommy pig with the twelve baby pigs as a family, and understood that if the bell had waked him up at 4:30, he would have killed both the mommy and the twelve children. The realization struck him like lightning and he began to shiver all over. He ran back to the temple, looking for the monk. His hand still held the big, brilliant knife. You know, he did not practice mindfulness. He didn't know that he was holding a very big knife and racing into the temple as though he was going to kill the monks.

He met the high monk in the front yard outside the Buddha Hall. He wanted to make a prostration in front of the monk and a prostration in the direction of the Buddha who sat in that Buddha Hall, but he had the big knife. You don't come to the temple to make prostrations with,a knife. His enlightenment was so powerful that he had great strength in him. So with all his might, he plunged the knife deep into the ground before the monk and also before the temple. Most of the knife went deep into the soil, but the handle was left showing. He was so strong. He had a lot of energy, that energy of repentance, that energy of enlightenment. And then he began to make prostrations in front of the monk and the Buddha Hall, and he vowed that he would quit killing animals for meat.

The monk invited him in, offered him tea, and asked what he would do. He helped him with the ideas of practicing beginning anew, and they discussed transforming his slaughterhouse into a vegetarian restaurant. So the butcher became a student of the high monk. He took the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. He made a vegetable garden in the backyard, and learned how to make delicious vegetarian dishes.

But the most wonderful thing that happened is that a beautiful tree grew from the spot where the butcher plunged the knife into the ground. The tree is all red the bark, the roots, the branches, die leaves, even the flowers that bloom all over it in spring are red. It's a wonderful transformation. A knife that was used to kill became a beautiful tree offering us oxygen, offering us peace and joy.

I do not know the name of that tree in English. If any of you find out the name of the tree that is red from the .. roots up to the flowers, please write and tell me what it is called in the West.

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Walking on Ice

 By Jack Lawlor Even the Buddha's Sangha experienced difficulties. His cousin, Devadatta, once attempted to divide the Sangha and lead it himself. And the Buddha himself could not mediate the dispute over etiquette between the Precept master and the Sutra master at Kosambi-at least, not initially. The Upakkilesa Sutta describes how the bhikkhus at Kosambi were "quarreling and brawling and deep in dispute, stabbing each other with verbal daggers." The Buddha's verse on this dispute reveals how keenly he observed what was happening:

When many voices shout at once None considers himself a fool; Though this Sangha is being split None thinks himself to be at fault.

They have forgotten thoughtful speech, They talk obsessed by words alone. Uncurbed their mouths, they bawl at will; None knows what will lead him to so act.

"He abused me, he struck me, He defeated me, he robbed me"- In those who harbor thoughts like these Hatred will never be allayed.

For in this world, hatred is never Allayed by further acts of hate. It is allayed by non-hatred: That is the fixed and ageless law. Those others do not recognize That here we should restrain ourselves. But those wise ones who realize this At once end all their enmity.

Many Western Sanghas have also experienced difficulty. Ordained teachers in various traditions have engaged in sexual misconduct and selfish financial practices, and disputes have arisen out of personality differences and opinions on how the Sangha should be "led." In response, we often want to reach beyond basic mindfulness practices to resources from other venues, such as conflict resolution techniques used by businesses or other spiritual traditions. If carefully modified to address the people involved, these can sometimes help lessen difficulty in a Sangha, but there are limitations on how much relief we can reasonably expect from organizational solutions, except with respect to extreme behavior and abuses. A healthy, happy Sangha ultimately depends less on structures than on consistent mindfulness practice.

Simple practice helps us penetrate the limits of conceptual thought by deepening our insight into our own and others' motivations and needs, thus enabling us to transform our behavior and nourish the Sangha. Practicing in a Sangha that concentrates wholeheartedly on basic practice, it becomes easier to let go of some of our favorite baggage our ideology and concepts, including our concepts of what Sangha should be like. The Diamond Sutra boldly asserts that "Buddhas are called Buddhas because they are free from ideas."

We are invited to participate in a Sangha with an open mind and heart. We should not leave a Sangha merely because it occasionally uses practices that do not appeal to us. A practice that does not appeal to us today may be of great help in the future. Practicing as a healthy Sangha involves a collective decision to practice wholeherutedly each time the Sangha convenes. As Thay reminds us, happiness is not an individual matter.


The calm and peace produced by our mindfulness practice provides insight when uncertainty, impatience, or anger arise in us. With mindfulness, we are better equipped to watch these states arise and fall within us. We are able to respond to the actual circumstances we are in, rather than react as if compelled by habit energy. From this space, this freedom, the practice of Right Speech-so critical to any healthy Sangha-becomes possible. We find little use for gossipy or sarcastic speech, which causes so much suffering in a Sangha.

During last fall's tele-Dharma talk to North American members of the Order of Interbeing, Thay reflected:

Causing division, juggling for power, juggling for influence, opposing each other are just the symptoms of lack of practice. You can apply mindfulness in every moment of your daily life. We should not put a lot of energy into how to organize or structure or how to settle things, as in politics. The main thing is the practice. The practice is the first thing. We should set up organizations on the basis of our practice, not the other way around. If we use our intelligence to organize our daily practice, we can get nourishment, healing, and transformation every day, and we can help our brothers and sisters do the same.

Following this advice can be difficult. It is more entertaining to play with ideas about how to graft Western organizational models onto Buddhist life. This type of integration will indeed happen. Buddhism and Western culture already interpenetrate and inform each other. But successful integration will happen more as the result of our collective experimentation with living mindfully and practicing in small local Sanghas, than as the result of structure imposed by hierarchy. We must not get lost in concepts as we work with our precious local Sanghas. Some folks get so caught up in ideas and concepts, that they slowly abandon their own daily mindfulness practices due to all the time-pressure and excitement. Even veteran practitioners cannot bargain with the essentials of mindfulness practice. We cannot cheat on our daily practice and hope to remain mindful--even in the name of Sanghabuilding, or spreading the Dharma in the West.

Balancing mindfulness practices and the desire to help is like walking on ice. Sometimes the ice is hidden or even invisible-in the Midwest, we call this "black ice." In some places it is safe to walk, but inches away it is extremely slippery. If you fall, you learn the true meaning of dispersion! But, despite the difficulty, I recommend walking on ice as a mindfulness practice. It teaches us something about life as a layperson, as an organizer and facilitator of a local Sangha. Sometimes conditions are ideal, sometimes they are not. Sometimes we can see the obstacles and difficulties, sometimes--even if we try to look with our Sangha eyes they are hidden. When the going is slippery, it is best to slow down and return to the basics of breathing and walking. When we do, those with us are much safer, and we become less dangerous and less frustrated with the slippery, uncontrollable conditions of daily life.

When a lake freezes before a snowfall, you can sometimes look deeply into it, through the ice, and see the lily pads and roots of last summer smiling at you from below the frozen surface. When we slow down and face our difficulties, illuminating them with mindfulness before we speak or act, we may also find that much below the surface is revealed.


The Buddha never lost faith in Sangha practice. Not long after his enlightenment, he built his first Sangha, and he continued Sangha building for forty-five years. His life reads like a Tolstoy novel. He interacted with Sangha members from every stratum of society: kings, princes, princesses, wealthy men and women and their overprivileged children, paupers, outcasts, and criminals. But, he learned from all of them, and this learning is evident in the deepening of his teachings as his Sangha practice continued. The wisdom body we share today as "Buddhism" is a result of this collective interaction.

In the wake of the difficulties of the Sangha at Kosambi, the Buddha found three monks practicing as a small Sangha in the Eastern Bamboo Park. He was favorably impressed with how considerate they were of each other, and asked how they succeeded in "living in concord, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes." The monks' response, recorded in the Upakkilesa Sutra, inspires us even today:

Venerable sir, as to that, I think thus: "It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me that I am living with such companions in the holy life." I maintain bodily acts of lovingkindness towards them both openly and privately. I consider: "Why should I not set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do?" Then I set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do. We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind. Whichever of us returns first from the village with almsfood prepares the seats, sets out the water for drinking and for washing, and puts the refuse bucket in its place. Whichever of us returns last eats any food left over, if he wishes. He puts away the seats and the water for drinking and washing. He puts away the refuse bucket after washing it, and he sweeps out the refectory. Whoever notices that the pots of water for drinking, washing, or the latrines are low and empty, takes care of them. If they are too heavy for him, he calls someone else by a signal of the hand and they move it by joining hands, but because of this we do not break out in speech. But, every fIve days, we sit together all night discussing the Dharma. This is how we abide diligent, ardent, mindful, and resolute.

The living Dharma is in the details of living mindfully and attentively, aware of the needs of others and allowing our understanding to bloom into direct manifestations of wisdom and compassion. In the classic Mahaya text, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva advises:

Those desiring speedily to be A refuge for themselves and other beings, Should interchange the terms "I" and "other," And thus embrace a sacred mystery.

When we practice this way, and recognize that others share our spiritual aspirations, it is easy to truly be present with others and to regard them as our kalyanamitra, our spiritual friends. Ananda once remarked to the Buddha, "Half of this holy life, Lord, is good and noble friends, companionship with the good, association with the good." The Buddha reflected for a moment and then responded, "Do not say that, Ananda. Do not say that. It is the whole of this holy life." When faced with disputes within our Sanghas, we must return to the basic practices of mindful breathing and walking, and ask ourselves the question the Buddha posed to the bhikkhus at Kosambi:

Breakers of bones and murderers, Those who steal cattle, horses, and wealth, Those who pillage the entire realm-- When even these can act together Why can you not do so too?

Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, has practiced law for twenty-three years and is the author of the book, Sangha Building. The book is available directly from Jack, c/o Lakeside Buddha Sangha, P.O. Box 7077, Evanston, IL 60201.

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Sangha Bumps, Dharma Doors

By Rowan Conrad Teachers say things and sometimes, a light comes on. Sister Annabel, quoting Thay, recently said, "Being in Sangha is like washing potatoes by putting them all in a pot of water and shaking them around. As they bump into each other, they are cleaned." When she spoke, the light went on in me. And I fInally got it. Sangha isn't just to sit and love and support. It is also to bump and learn.

In Sangha, we allow ourselves to come close together. Our closeness naturally generates some bumps. Bumps can hurt. Bumps can spotlight sore spots and aggressive projections. But, bumps don't mean we are dancing wrong with the Sangha. All of us are out of rhythm with ourselves and others in some places and some ways. So bumps come. Our "up close and personal" interactions with each other can bring out what Tbay calls our "diffIcult seeds." We can see our bumps as "bad" or as "necessary educational means." But, if we were not close, we could not bump. Sangha is not about "no bumps." It is about learning and growing from our bumping and continuing to support each other in the process.

Sister Annabel also observed that it is very difficult to progress past a certain point in the practice without living in a residential Sangha. And another light went on in me. It is entirely too easy to run away when bumped outside a residential setting. After all, we just have to stay home. If we don't go-to Sangha events, we do not encounter either our bumper or the consequences of our own bumping.

When we take refuge in the Sangha, we say, "I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness." This beautiful defInition of Sangha may lead us to miss an important point: harmony and awareness are an aspiration, but not a continuous reality, at least for our lay Sanghas. Sister Annabel has suggested that we say, "the community that strives to live in harmony and awareness," because if we already lived in harmony and awareness, maybe we wouldn't even need the community of practice.

The process of bumping or getting bumped, and then facing, working, looking deeply, growing, and transforming is a gem of our practice. Assuredly it is less welcome than the harmony Sangha gem, but it is a true jewel, one of great importance and one with its own beauty.

Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, contributes Right Livelihood perspectives to his work in the Career Services office of the University of Montana, where he also teaches classes on workplace attitudes and organizational psychology.

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Building a Sangha Is a Team Effort

By Nguyen Duy Vinh When we receive the Mindfulness Trainings and vow to take refuge in the Three Jewels, we commit to take care of ourselves and bring joy and happiness to others. The precepts constitute our ideals and the basis of our mindfulness practice. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels-the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha-we know that these commitments cannot be accomplished without a good teacher, a true teaching, and supportive friends-a Sangha. The Sangha is essential, for without it, our practice will slowly fade away. Thay has compared nuns and monks who leave their Sangha to tigers that abandon the forest and are soon caught by hunters. Without a Sangha, lay practitioners too will be caught by the traps of our environment and our habit energy. But, building and maintaining a Sangha can be challenging. To succeed, you need committed people and, in the long run, companionship, camaraderie, and solidarity.


Throughout the years, I have had many memorable encounters with the members of our Sangha, which strengthened our relationships. In November 1997, several brothers and sisters from Ottawa and Montreal traveled to Vermont to meet Thay and attend the inauguration ceremony of Green Mountain Dharma Center. Before we left Ottawa, we listened carefully to weather forecasts of snow and wind, but it didn't sound too bad. By the time we were out of Montreal, however, a blizzard had started and driving became very difficult. It took a tiring five-and-a-half hours to reach Woodstock, Vermont, normally a two hour trip. When we arrived, we discovered that Thay's talk had been canceled due to the storm. Fortunately, we had a cellular phone and called for directions to Green Mountain Dharma Center. But, driving up the steep, slippery road, we were forced to abandon our cars and walk. After 45 minutes, we were lost and exhausted. We phoned again, and learned we were almost there. Ten minutes later, we saw a huge barn with light inside. We aITived very late and tired, but joyful. We also found that through our hardship, our solidarity and friendship was strengthened.

Small things can serve to bind us together as well. I recall when our sister Brenda Carr invited the Sangha to a formal recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings at her home. After a very difficult childbirth, Brenda had been ill for some time. That evening, I was particularly moved to see Brenda put on her brown Order of Interbeing coat for the first time. (The coat was a kind gift from the Toronto Vietnamese Sangha.) The recitation that night was vibrant with sincelity and commitment. And we eleven practitioners were honored by Andre and Brenda's beautiful six-month-old daughter, Karuna.

I recall also the sorrow our Sangha experienced late last December, when our sister Annette Pypops passed away after two years of fierce struggle against breast cancer. Strengthened by Montreal's Maple Village Sangha, we organized a chanting and prayer ceremony for Annette, answering the wish she expressed before she died.

All these moments of joy, hardship, and sadness bring us together, allow us to know each other a bit more, and enhance the solidarity and friendship within the Sangha. The Buddha himself taught that such friendship and solidarity is very important. Once, the Buddha found a sick monk, who was left alone while the other monks went on almsrounds. After caring for the unwell monk, the Buddha instructed the returning monks: "Friends, if we do not look after each other, who will look after us? When you look after each other, you are looking after the Tathagata."

In applying the Buddha's teaching to Sangha building, we often find our primary difficulty in enhancing Sangha relationships is tied to how each of us organizes his or her own life. We are busy with professional and family life. Most of us spend eight to ten hours a day working to earn our bread and butter. In current Western society, it is not easy to work part-time, unless we have a liberal profession or our needs allow us to live simply. The struggle is even more difficult when we have a family to support, especially with young adults of university age. But, we must fmd time to take care of our Sangha friends who are in difficult moments- illness, accident, lost of beloved ones, job loss, etc. A Sangha's success depends on its members sharing time, energy, and material resources with each other. The well-being of our Sangha affects our own well-being and vice-versa.

Dharma teacher Nguyen Duy Vinh, True Awakening (Chan Ngo), practices with the Ottawa Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario and with Maple Village in Quebec.


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Sangha Vows

developed by Lyn Fine and Community of Mindfulness NY Metro

In the midst of conflict and confusion in the world and in ourselves, the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to us. In addition, we are finding that these Sangha Vows are helpful reminders for opening and deepening our Sangha friendships.

The form of the vows is modeled after the four Bodhisattva vows in the Japanese Zen traditions. The vows may be chanted or spoken, individually or as a Sangha.

I vow to water the seeds of joy, understanding, and inclusiveness in myself and all beings.

Some modifications have been suggested. For example, after "kindness" in the first vow, add "and use them as opportunities to deepen understanding." You may replace "vow" with aspire to, undertake, commit to, determine to, or a simple statement of affirmation such as "I greet... ." You might replace "I" with "we" or "let us." The first verse might be repeated at the end or after each of the other verses.

Please adapt the language to your Sangha. They were originally developed in the fall of 1998, and are "in process." We would enjoy hearing your experience of practicing with them.

1. Sangha well-being nourishes my well-being. My well-being nourishes Sangha well-being. Anchored in conscious breathing, I vow to water the seeds of joy, understanding, and inclusiveness in myself and all beings.

2. Conflicts are inevitable. Anchored in conscious breathing, I vow to greet them with love and kindness.

3. Unwholesome mental formations - resentment, disappointment, fear, jealousy, anger, depression, despair, discouragement, doubt - are unavoidable. Anchored in conscious breathing, I vow to recognize and transform them.

4. Attachment and aversion are inescapable. Anchored in conscious breathing, I vow to see them, smile to them, and let them go.

Dharma teacher Lyn Fine has taught resolving conflict creatively in schools. Community of Mindfulness NY includes Sanghas in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, New York as well as Morristown, New Jersey.

Coming Together to Realize Our True Home

By Karl and Helga Riedl Sangha is some times defined as "the community that lives in harmony and awareness." Community is one important aspect of a Sangha. Sangha can be a beautiful way to live with like-minded people, to share our responsibilities, happiness, and pains with friends in the Dharma. A Sangha supports our endeavor to live in awareness. We feel at home. We are nourished, and given the space and help to heal our wounds and transform our suffering.


But when we look deeper into Sangha, when we are living in it for a longer time, we realize that the real aim of a Sangha is much more. It is the process-at times, quite demanding and challenging-of transforming our whole being. What looks like a lifestyle is actually the expression of a spiritual life. True Sangha offers an environment for spiritual growth-relaxed and gentle, but deep and thorough!

To build such a Sangha-and not just a community one needs to understand which "building blocks" are needed, look deeply into the ways a Sangha works, and be very aware which motivations the members ought to have. Out of our experience of living in the Plum Village Sangha for six years, we would like to share what we have found to be the main principles of a residential Sangha.


True commitment reflects our deep aspiration to walk on the path of transformation and liberation, and to question the life we have led-with all our ideas, concepts, and desires- and the ways we secure our ego through wealth, fame, knowledge, and position. It is the heartfelt desire to submit ourselves to a life where "being" is more important than "having," where the loneliness of egoism and its restrictive ways of seeing and experiencing are opened up to others and to life as it presents itself. Commitment is the joyful willingness to let go of our concepts, to expose ourselves in the process of dissolving our existential ignorance and coming back to our true home.

Commitment means to being involved, not holding back anything. This is often seen as "giving up oneself' and accompanied with hesitation and fear. So it is safer, more familiar to us, to be a participant only, to basically keep our concepts and ideas and just add to that whatever feels "good" to us. Living in a Sangha is then seen as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge, to receive a training, and solve some personal psychological problems. We need to be aware of this pseudo-commitment.


To let the process of transformation happen, we need to "surrender to the Sangha," as Thay has often emphasized. This is to surrender to the practice-wholeheartedly, with all our conviction and joy-and to surrender to the activities of the Sangha. Surrender is easily misunderstood as obeying or letting other people run our life. It is amazing to watch the Hydra of the ego come up at every possible occasion! Angels turn into rebels. "I do it my way!" "I need ... " Soon the first enthusiasm fades and we are looking for every possibility to take a leave from the practice. Even minor details and changes on the schedule evoke angry discussion. Surrender is the spiritual practice of setting aside our ideas and goals, and opening to new experiences, to all aspects of life, to the unknown-without opposing them. Its religious form is the prostration: bowing down, opening our hands, not holding back anything.


Another expression of surrender is serving the Sangha. Serving means doing what needs to be done- setting aside likes and dislikes, me and you. To serve is to overcome our habitual attitudes towards work and responsibilities and develop our concern, care, and love for others.

Serving happens when our initial idea "I am living in a Sangha" has changed into "I am living for the Sangha." But even then, there might be some selfish motivation; some personal hidden agendas may be the driving force for our actions. Serving then is misunderstood as taking on responsibilities.

Some people feel that they alone are able to do certain things, that they must take up the burden of a specific task or even of the whole community. In due time, they get burned-out and bitter. To rely on the Sangha, to step down from self-importance and accept one's own limits does not come easily for "the doer." When serving is misunderstood as assisting the Sangha with our skills, knowledge, and energy, then positions become fixed, and members of the community are judged by their "usefulness." True serving is to experience the reality of interbeing. Everybody actually supports everybody; there is neither dependence nor independence. It is then that we realize, "I am the Sangha."

Acceptance and Harmony

Another aspect of building a true Sangha is the willingness, even the heartfelt longing, to live in harmony with others. By cultivating our abilities to accept each other just as we are, we break through our spontaneous likes and dislikes, judgments and categorizing. We create an atmosphere of trust. Supported by the practice of deep listening and sharing, we develop a spirit of openness, where understanding grows into loving acceptance.

In our Western societies, where competition, jealousy, mistrust, and separateness prevail, their opposites-trust, acceptance, openness, and love-are deeply longed for, but it can be difficult to open to them. So it is easier to create a "pseudo-harmony"-where we are just "nice" to each other, where everybody seems to accept and love everybody-by not coming too close to each other, not touching anything that could disturb the peace and by closing off to those who do not "fit."

Humility and Respect

To greet the Buddha in each other is possible only when we have dissolved separateness and tackled the threefold complex of comparing ourselves with others-"I am better-equal-lower." Only then do we glimpse true humility-not putting ourselves down, but gracefully accepting that we need not be "somebody" or extraordinary. Ordinary is sufficient! We need not hold onto an image of ourselves or be caught in social status. If we give a Dharma talk, we sit on a platform, and if a driver is needed, we carry the luggage of a guest.

Now, from the depth of our being, we can show respect to ourselves and others. This respect is the foundation of a peaceful life. But, respect is not imposed on us as social hierarchy. We do not pay respect to a social position, but to a human being. We learn from others, follow their example, and listen to their advice, because we deeply honor and respect their having matured on the path. We accept others as "elders."

mb24-Coming2 Again, in a society where competition and mistrust prevail, where everybody makes sure that nobody is  "higher," even respect and trust are suspect. The "elder principle"-found in almost all spiritual traditions and at the core, a "maturity principle"-is rejected without any consideration. And that is an obstacle for building a spiritual community-a Sangha. Either a "pseudo-community" is created and maintained, or power games and "boss-hierarchy" consume all energy. Especially in Western societies we need to look deeply into this situation, and with the help of the Sangha, find ways to restore respect and based on that respect-the "elder-maturity-principle."

Each of these principles is in itself a door for entering the Sangha. As all these principles are interrelated, if one is practiced deeply, the others are strengthened. But if a Sangha member has a problem or a misunderstanding in  even one area, the whole process of spiritual growth for the person-and to some extent for the whole Sangha-is disturbed, maybe even blocked. So it is important to be very clear about the working of a Sangha, to avoid disappointments and suffering and to build a harmonious and happy Sangha.

Dharma teachers Karl and Helga Riedl, True Communion and True Loving Kindness, recently moved to the newly established Intersein Zentrum in Germany. Please don't hesitate to contact them. Please write to receive an Intersein Zentrum schedule. Intersein Zentrum fur Leben in Achtsamkeit, Haus Maitreya, Unterkashof 2 1/3, 94545 Hohenau, Germany. They are very happy to share their experiences and insight.

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Refuge in the Sangha

By Richard Brady The Washington Mindfulness Community will be ten years old this summer. Our weekly meditations, which drew two to eight people during the early years, now draw thirty to forty. As it has grown, the Sangha's needs have become more complex and the need for more formal organization greater. Two years ago we decided to incorporate as a nonprofit, and subsequently as a church. The process thus set in motion brought out our diverse views about the nature of our Sangha, whether and how Sangha membership should be defined, how financial, legal, and practice decisions should be made, and what the Sangha's relationship is to the Order of Interbeing.


A year ago, after months of difficult business meetings, impatience, hurt feelings, and Sangha disharmony, I went to Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont for a weeklong personal retreat. The snow-covered hills, the still surroundings, and the strong practice of the resident nuns and monks made a profound impression on me. In a couple of days, I succeeded in slowing down my agitated mind and achieved a very welcome sense of peace. Soon enough, however, I would return home.

Before I left Green Mountain, it was my good fortune to have an interview with Sister Annabel. I told her how beneficial my time there had been. Past visits to Plum Village had had similar effect, and I had returned home feeling I had much to share with my family and my Sangha. Each time, however, it was as though I was a tire with a slow leak. Within days, my Plum Village practice leaked away, and I was caught up in my old patterns. As I prepared to leave Green Mountain, I was afraid that the same fate awaited me.

Sister Annabel smiled. "Richard, you know that this is the practice of the present moment. When you are at Green Mountain, you are doing Green Mountain practice, conditioned by all the things you find here and many others including what you bring with you. When you go home, you will be doing the practice that is there for you. Don't expect to continue doing Green Mountain practice at home. The conditions at home are perfect for the practice there."

At home a few days later, I sat on my zafu for the first time. Almost immediately self-doubt, self-criticism, and other negative feelings and thoughts arose. "This is practice at home," I thought. I smiled and watched without getting hooked by it.

Sister Annabel's words apply to practice in the Sangha as well. Sangha practice is made of many elements. Whatever comes up for us in Sangha practice is important. If we are open, our Sanghas will teach us. The lessons for "oldtimers" tend to be different from those for the newcomers. The former often tend to be about living in community, and responding compassionately to hurt, impatience, and disharmony.

In reply to my concerns about Sangha difficulties, Svein Myreng recently said, "It seems to happen everywhere, or almost everywhere, when people get to know each other better. Perhaps it is a sign of maturation rather than a problem, although it can be quite painful. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to be patient and humbly accept the lesson. Though we can try to change situations, mainly through communication, we can't really try to change people. Our main duty is to deepen our own practice as much as possible, and see what comes out of that."

One thing that came from deepening my own practice over the years was the revelation that I didn't know most of my Sangha brothers and sisters very well. Two years ago, I started inviting different people to lunch. Typically, we began talking about our practices and our relationships to the Sangha. Eventually, we brought up personal histories that shaped who we are. We were also able to share and listen to our differing perceptions of the Sangha in a more sensitive way than seemed possible in Sangha business meetings. These opportunities have deepened my understanding and appreciation of many Sangha members, which, in turn, has helped me weather Sangha tensions with more equanimity.

In our Sangha, questions related to practice have been a particular source of tension. The WMC meets from 7:00 to 9:15 Sunday evenings. For years, with a few exceptions, we have done the same thing in these hours. Some sisters and brothers returned from Plum Village and Thay's United States retreats feeling that practice like Touching the Emth and guided meditation would enhance our Sangha experience. Their suggestions met resistance from others who felt things were fine as they were. Using our consensus decision-making process, the Sangha could not agree on any specific changes in Sangha practice or on the creation of a proposed Practice Committee of senior Mindfulness practitioners. However, the practice question was brought to two Sunday meditation evenings, where those present reflected on what they appreciated and desired in Sangha practice.

Recently, we began bimonthly practice forums-meetings open to anyone concerned about Sangha practice issues. They provide an oppOltunity to look deeply together at the needs of the Sangha. The first meeting was small, but productive. It had become clear that many experienced Sangha members wanted more opportunity to deepen their practice with the Sangha. So the forum agreed to recommend to the next business meeting that the Sangha sponsor an eight-session mindfulness practice course, using Andrew Weiss' recently printed text. The recommendation was approved. The class, composed of five Order of Interbeing members and several other experienced practitioners, has just started, but already seems likely to make an important contribution to Sangha practice. The WMC has faced a number of other difficult issues over the last couple of years. As we tried to absorb the painful leave-taking of a mainstay of our community, and wrote and rewrote om by-laws and articles of incorporation, our personal histories and relationships with other Sangha members sometimes fueled feelings of mistrust and defensiveness, and fears of authority and exclusion. Some Sangha members confided in me about their difficulties with others, but my role as a supportive listener was not lessening tensions. People needed to speak directly with each other from their hearts, if harmony was ever to be achieved.


At our December business meeting, the Sangha invited Ted Cmarada, a mindfulness practitioner and therapist from a neighboring Sangha, to facilitate. Ted quickly saw that bottled-up feelings blocked our really hearing each other, and asked us to share whatever we were holding. Many people spoke straightforwrdly about their problems with the Sangha and with individuals. The meeting was simultaneously painful and inspiring. At its conclusion, the primary criticism of the process was that it had lacked balance. Affirmations had been too few and far between.

Will the Sangha move on to flower watering? Will we develop new by-laws and articles of incorporation which all our members can embrace? Will practice forums become an integral part of Sangha decision making? I don't know. However, I feel some hope. On the door of my refrigerator, I keep a quotation by Vaclav Havel, sent to me by a Sangha member.

Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

The way our Sanghas are turning out does make sense when we look deeply at the conditions that give rise to them, the people who participate in them, the nutrients our Sanghas ingest, and the seeds they water. The love born of this understanding and nourished by our practice is the greatest contribution we can make to our Sanghas' futures.

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, teaches mathematics at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

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May Sangha Relations Become Complete

By Wendy Johnson When I first began to practice Zen meditation in 1971, I sat with a small Sangha on the Mount of Olives, east of the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Dead Sea. Every morning after sitting, we chanted a simple verse of dedication that ended with this evocation:

Past, present, future, all Buddhas Bodhisattvas, teachers and friends Let true Dharma continue, Sangha relations become complete!

This evocation has stayed with me over the years. I remembered it vividly one evening at our Fragrant Earth Mindfulness Sangha when Dharma teacher Caitriona Reed joined us. We spent the evening talking about Sangha relations becoming complete, or whole. "Please embody the teachings," Caitriona urged us.

Complete embodiment of the teachings is the source of healthy Sangha relations. Dynamic practice, practice that is energetic and that welcomes change, also depends on embodying the teachings, giving them life through the life of your body and mind and through your daily, moment-bymoment, step-by-step practice of mindfulness.

Please listen to your body and believe your experience. A dynamic, truthful Sangha, one that continues to practice mindfulness even in the midst of fIre and loss is made up of dynamic, truthful Sangha members. When we stay very close to our experience of life in the present moment and fInd a way to share and offer this experience to our Sangha, then Sangha relations become complete. So ...

  • Anchor yourself in the practice of mindfulness.
  • Don't be afraid to speak truthfully, even though doing so may endanger your safety and your sweet reputation. Remember, as one of our Sangha members reminded me, saccharine is made up of non-saccharine elements.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Play with the teachings. Tickle them from behind.
  • Be earnest and bold. Don't rely on anyone, even the Buddha, to tell you how to practice.
  • Be kind to yourself and others.
  • Face the world and insist that practice respond to the cries of the world. Remember the Buddha's message: "One thing do I teach: suffering and the end of suffering."
  • Pay attention to children. Look them in the eye and listen to them.
  • Give up the struggle and cultivate the practice of patience.
  • Listen to the still place inside. Be open.
  • And once a day, forget everything you know and begin anew. Follow your heart. When you do, you embody the Dharma, and Sangha relations become complete.

Dharma teacher Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment, prepared this piece with input and support from the Fragrant Earth Sangha in Berkeley, California.

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Tending a Sangha

By Cherry Zimmer Not long ago I'd never heard the word "Sangha." I now know that I had built myself one with animals, plants, and minerals, though I did not know that this is what I had done until I was with a Sangha of people.

Sanghas are built because people-and animals, plants, and minerals-need one. If one does not exist, we form one. People Sanghas come to be when enough like-minded people come to know each other and realize that they need a Sangha. So, with much dedication, they bind together.

When we use the word ''build,'' we may expect that "built" will follow. This is not true of my nature Sangha. I must constantly tend to the needs of the animals, plants, and minerals. The annual flowers must be planted in the spring. The perennials which did not return must be replaced. All must be watered and fed. The plants grow in the spring and summer, but become compost in winter. Even the minerals require tending. We have clay, not soil, where I live and I must amend it so the plants can send out roots and worms fInd their way through. In a similar fashion, I think that a people Sangha is never "built." For a Sangha to flourish, it must be conscientiously tended.

Having just started to join with a mindfulness people Sangha (and one which is quite young), I see the many ways its members tend it. I believe, however, that the most important Sangha tending is the way I fInd myself and other newcomers treated. It reminds me of discovering a new variety of bird at my feeder or the fIrst daffodil of spring. Although I am unable to attend meetings often, when I come I am greeted with honest joy and excitement by all. When they say "It's nice to meet you" or "It's nice to see you again," I know that they mean it.

From my experience, I deduce that the most important task in Sangha tending is reaching out and loving people who need a Sangha, but perhaps don't even know what a Sangha is (just as I add plants and amendments to the soil). It is easy to give love and attention to those you already know; it is so much harder with new people. But this is the way to build, tend, nourish, grow, and stay alive.

Cherry Zimmer practices with the Breathing Heart Sangha in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia.

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Poem: We Sit Still

we sitstill on cushions, pillows, or pads.

we hear stomachs grumble, crows call, heaters switch on, heaters switch off, clocks tick, trees grow.

while a soft voice reminds us who we really are our minds romp about the day, or long to curl up on our cushions and sleep.

but we smile at our minds as at children tumbling off a sled or oil dancing in a scorching pan

still we sit one year later none of us quite sure, then, of what is this Sangha.

we still sit relearning who we are when we are not our personalities.

we sit still searching this shore with blinking eyes,

knowing we need a kindred circle to touch this sparkling moment.

- Sally Ann Sims

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Sangha Building

By Larry Ward mb24-Sangha

He or she who would build Sangha realizes that the blessings of Sangha are available only in the present moment.

He or she respects and celebrates the honorable lineage that is the deep root of their Sangha.

He loves the ripening understanding of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha that comes from contact with monks and nuns, the gift of Dharma teachers, weekly Sangha practice, regular days of mindfulness, and retreats.

She acts in all matters of leadership with inspiration, clarity, and helpfulness as worthy goals.

He remembers that the Sangha is fully empty of a separate self and is not the whole world or centered around one individual among many.

She practices saying "yes" deeply, before saying "no" while participating in the Sangha's life of human interactions.

He walks the Noble Eightfold Path with humility, gratitude, and compassion toward all beings including himself.

Watering seeds of unconditional forgiveness wherever she goes, he rides the Sangha waves of birth and death with a calm smile and an open heart.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, lives in Boise, Idaho, where he practices with Beginner's Mind Sangha.

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Dharma Discussions

By Svein Myreng Ten people sit facing each other in a circle. The room is silent. A pleasant silence-or is it beginning to feel uncomfortable? Then, one person joins her palms and bows slightly. The others answer her greeting and she begins to speak-slowly and with many pauses at first, then more confidently.

Dharma discussion, one of the most important practices in our tradition, provides an opportunity to explore our understanding of the teachings, and share personal experiences and deep feelings. It is also an exercise in speaking and listening attentively. A good Dharma discussion is a meditative experience in itself.

For the sharing to be open and everyone to feel included, certain conditions need to be fulfilled. The group should not be too big-in my experience, eight to twelve people is optimal. If there are more, each will have less time, and the more shy participants will find it difficult to speak. Sometimes, it's possible to split a larger group into smaller ones.


Greeting each other with joined palms before and after speaking gives each speaker the time to pause, search for words, or calm herself without being interrupted. The listeners just listen, not needing to think of when they will speak or what they will say. They can really hear what the speaker says. Some of us may fear that people find the custom of joining palms too foreign, but I've rarely experienced that. It's more often the case that I, as facilitator, fear negative reactions to bowing, but the participants say they enjoyed it.

The discussion facilitator needs to be especially focused on listening. It's easy for a facilitator to speak too much. This can rob the other participants of the chance to express themselves. Often, the facilitator is a long-time practitioner, who may fall into the trap of thinking she knows the answer and needs to teach the other participants. The discussion then turns into a mini-Dharma talk instead of a place for open sharing. Even the newest practitioner has something to teach the most experienced one. We are all on our way, and we all have different life experiences and insights. In more conservative Buddhist circles, it's unthinkable that a monk or a Dharma teacher can learn something from laypeople or inexperienced practitioners. I think we are more enlightened than that.

Participating in a Dharma discussion group is a wonderful chance to learn. Facilitating a Dharma discussion group is also a wonderful chance to learn. Bodhisattvas always remember to listen and learn in order to develop their understanding and eloquence, says the Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings. Our task is to deepen our own understanding and love. By doing this, we help others.

Sometimes a facilitator may speak too much out of fear of silence. There may be long pauses when no one says anything, and these pauses may start to feel embarrassing.

Perhaps the facilitator feels that she must do something to keep the discussion going. Often, however, it's after a longer pause that shy participants speak. Or the pause gives someone the courage to bring up something important to them, but a bit scary to mention. So I try to stretch my own patience as much as I can. I have noticed that I tend to feel responsible to make the discussion a good one, and have less tolerance towards longer pauses. A somewhat humbling insight, but true.

Once, in Plum Village, our Dharma discussion group experimented with passing a flower around the circle to give everybody the chance to say something. This may be good occasionally, but can feel intrusive to someone who really doesn't want to speak. When there are enough pauses, most people find the opportunity to speak when they feel ready. It's also possible to ask toward the end if someone who hasn't said anything yet wants to speak. If someone still doesn't want to speak, we should not urge them. Many times after a Dharma discussion, people have told me that they were happy just listening. At times, people will also feel freer to express themselves privately after the group.

By being open about her own difficulties and mistakes, the facilitator makes it easier for others to be open. But the facilitator has to hold a fine balance between actively encouraging people to speak and quietly letting things unfold, between bringing in her own experience and letting others speak as much as possible. Remembering to breathe and listen is our great tool for keeping this balance.

Dharma teacher Svein Myreng, True Door, is the author of Plum Poems (Parallax Press, 1999).

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The Gift of Healing

One Woman's Experience By Julia Corbett

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: ''Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas .... Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain, and you can share your insight with others." In this spirit, I offer this reflection on how my Buddhist practice-in addition to a caring counselor and keeping a journal-has contributed to my healing from childhood sexual abuse.

My daily practice includes three basic elements: ritual, reading something spiritually-enriching, and meditation. For me, doing these things in the early morning quiet works best. I begin the day focused, my priorities in line.

Ritual can be beneficial in content, and comforting in its constancy. When everything else seems to be coming loose, the ritual remains a touchstone. Taking Refuge and using some of the Plum Village Chanting Book material link me to the larger community of the Order of Interbeing, and to people throughout history who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Two recitations from my daily practice deserve special mention. One is an affirmation of intention, by Thay: "I vow to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion, and practice joy and equanimity. I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon." This verse reminds me of the qualities I seek in my own life, and encourages me to reach out to other beings, to see past my own problems to the greater good. The other is a nontheistic revision of the serenity prayer: "I vow to cultivate the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." It is important not to let the energy we need for transformation be drained by a fruitless quest to change the past. We cannot change the fact of our abuse, but we can change its effect on us. It is meaningful to remind myself of this every day.

Several books by Buddhist authors have given me great hope and encouragement. Books that can be read a chapter a day have been most helpful. Often, I fmd insight or encouragement to take me through the day. Books I've found particularly encouraging include When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Hard Times, by Pema Chadron, Open Heart, Clear Mind, by Thubten Chadron, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and Old Path, White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and A Heart as Wide as the World, by Sharon Salzberg.

Meditation has been the most helpful practice for me. No aspect of our lives remains unchanged by recognizing that we were abused as children, and healing from it. Recovering memories that lay unrecognized in our unconscious is a central aspect of healing. It can also be difficult. For me, meditation, particularly walking meditation, facilitated remembering. I practice walking meditation on a treadmill-walking vigorously, synchronizing breathing and steps. Ten minutes into my hour's walk, a deeply meditative state comes about quite naturally. During the phase of healing in which recovering memories was central, walking meditation was especially useful. It provided an open emotional and mental space into which memories could come, and a safe container for even the hardest memory. During walking meditation, the most difficult memories-recollections of the most violent abuse-arose, along with feelings that had lain dormant nearly half a century. Because I was centered and grounded, I could be fully present with what was happening, and let the memories and feelings come as they would. I felt safe and open, even at the worst of times. Walking meditation was also helpful when I was simply too agitated to sit still. Meditating with my Sangha has often lifted my spirits. Even if you aren't comfortable sharing your journey, the energy developed in group meditation can be positive and healing. Never underestimate the healing power of simple friendship.

During all phases of healing, our emotions whirl like a stream racing over rocks. The daily practice of simply following your breath and letting the emotions come and go-neither fearing nor rejecting what comes-is fundamental. We need to balance many difficult emotions-pain, grief over a lost childhood, anger and rage at the perpetrator or perpetrators, and the shame and guilt that are the inevitable legacy of abuse. We need to experience those emotions fully, but not be engulfed by them. Meditation is an excellent way to achieve this balance.

In all phases of healing, it is important to water our seeds of joy and peace. Mindfulness encourages me to be aware of those seeds, nourish and celebrate them, and look for ways to pass them along to other people. Sometimes, it's easy to be overwhelmed by negative emotions and memories. Meditation helps me touch the positive in life as well. And, when my awareness from formal meditation extends into daily life, I am better able to work with the effects of the abuse.

Our pain, fears, anger, and shame are all part of us. If we don't handle them with kindness, we do violence to ourselves, thus perpetuating the violence that was done to us as children. Thay suggests that we look on whatever comes up as guests in our living room. Granted, we are dealing with some pretty unpleasant guests here, but we invite them all in, treat them with respect, and learn from them.

After working with the guided meditations in The Blooming of a Lotus, I developed the following meditation, focused on the particular negative emotions experienced by people healing from sexual or other abuse, and on the positive seeds we seek to cultivate. I encourage others to examine the feelings particular to their experience and use them with this meditation.

Aware of the feeling of shame in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of shame in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of guilt in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of regret in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of regret in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of sadness in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of grief in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of grief in meI breathe in. Releasing the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of anger in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of anger in me, I breathe in. Releasing the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of joy in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of joy in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of contentment in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of peace in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of peace in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of calm in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of calm in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of compassion in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out. 

Aware of the feeling of healing in me, I breathe in. Smiling to the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of healing in me, I breathe in. Welcoming the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Julia Corbett welcomes contact from others exploring these issues. 10072 West County Road 300 South, Parker City, IN 47368; (765)468-6019; JuICorbet@aol.com.

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Poem: The Ambivalent Nature of Healing

Report from Sonoma, April 1995 At the bank a week after the shooting it's business as usual; you couldn't tell any but daily life has ever gone on here. That night I heard about it: felt only shutting down, a muffled distant metal chung!, and nothing, not free to be impressed by death nor life, nothing; but in the next days, found I couldn't walk near: a force of sadness larger than two men I didn't know bound me like a spell. In time, my own dead made their ways through to say at last, ''Nothing you need do for us. Keep going."

I went to the woods where I grew up one last time too many. Last fall this was. The woOds are gone, completely gone. Once tweilty miles out, not changed in thirty years, sudclenly cedars and hucklebenies, beaver ponds, bo~ and deer trails, the riches of my first world, gone to housing tracts, middle-class streets, poles, wires, lawns, people from somewhere else having no idea what was there; all gone. They were babies; now they need a place to live.

In the winter I went back to Binh Dinh province, to my old AO, to the place where the sounds come from that;charge my ears with trouble out of time. I went to say goodbye to ghosts of men I'll always love, but can no longer carry. I found no trace, no ghosts, no floating memories of the spirit we lived in then; found everything above and below that ground under vigorous use of the ones who live there now. The fugitive past I went to meet is bqried and put to rest under twenty-five years of busy life. It's been that long.

The lesson keeps coming back, the hardest one: the locus of loss is my eyes, not the bystanders, not the land. Not those lost

Can't take nor bring any of it back, can only be in present tense must live, must continue living daily. It's alright.

-Ted Sexauer

Reprinted from What Book!? (Parallax Press, 1998). Ted Sexauer is a member of the Veteran Writer's Workshop, West Coast Group, which meets quarterly at Sebastopol, California.

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A Sangha-Ecovillage

by Bruce Kantner Ten years ago I founded the Gaia Education Outreach Institute around the question, "What would an education look like that helps people study, experience, and practice the highest ideals of humankind for love, peace, beauty, and compassionate service?" In September 1991 my wife and I took eleven young adults on our first Geocommons College Program, a six-month journey to intentional communities working on spiritual, sustainable lifeways in Europe and India. We spent eight days at the Plum Village Winter Retreat, where students were amazed, challenged, and enchanted by the nuns and monks and their mindful, happy way of life. We were all inspired by Thay. Our groups have returned every year.

Plum Village continues to be the most impressive community experience for students on these semester programs. It shows the possibility of another way of life and the power of Sangha. Students yearn for a heartfelt, "mindful community, though some are suspicious of forms and rituals. In many ways, Sangha is the heart of our Geocommons learning community. Each member works on selfrealization of one's highest capacities (Buddha), on learning from the wisdom traditions and finest examples of human Earth communities (Dharma), and on our community practices of attention, compassion, and service (Sangha).We don't call ourselves a Sangha or ask students to embrace any beliefs. We do not want misunderstandings with the university around the separation of church and state. Yet seven students from our 1991 group took the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

My work with GCP gave me an exquisite taste of how learning Sanghas could transform our educational process and society. Now I've handed on the leadership, and my next step is to join with other mindfulness practitioners to create a permanent, lay mindfulness and sustainability community that would demonstrate these lifestyles in our region. With help from an initiative group, I've written a prospectus for Monadnock Geocommons Village, an ecovillage of twelve initial households on our farm in the Monadnock region of southern New Hampshire.

On a recent visit to Green Mountain Dharma Center, I realized how strongly I want MGV to develop as a Sangha. What does this mean? A lay Sangha-Ecovillage? Can we attract enough people or will the word "Sangha" seem too narrow in its Buddhist forms? Will we have sufficient skills to nurture this Sangha seed into a full-flowering community? When I sit with these questions, I see I am already in the midst of Sangha and Sangha builds us as we build true community.

Bruce Kantner can be reached at (603)654-2523, email mgv@tellink.net.

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Where Is the Heart of Compassion in the Balkans?

By Fred Eppsteiner Once again, our country is at war. Once again, violence is the solution nations and peoples choose to settle conflict. Yet, one of the hallmarks of the Buddha's teaching is nonviolence. The first mindfulness training given by Shakyamuni Buddha was "Do not kill, do no harm, protect life." As students of the Buddha, we must turn our mindfulness to the violence and incredible suffering occurring in the Balkans today.

As a traditional meditation discipline, mindfulness is an "inner practice." We learn to be aware of the content of our minds-our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs. But this distinction between internal and external is false. This mind that is aware of its own suffering and happiness is no different than the mind that is aware of the suffering and happiness of the world. The same mind looks within and without. We must be mindful of what is going on inside ourselves, but we must also turn our mindfulness outward, to the world.

The Buddha said, "Do not be violent in thought, speech or action." He knew that mind is the initial mover. Mind, speech, action-that's how things flow. When we look at what's going on in Yugoslavia, we can see that the current destruction was preceded by aggressive words, and that these words came from minds clouded by intolerance, fanaticism, and wrong view.


Today in the Balkans, violent intolerance is creating great suffering, but the world's violent response to the situation is also creating suffering. The earliest teachings of the Buddha stated that anger can never be stopped by more anger; hatred can never be stopped by more hatred, aggression can never be stopped by more aggression. Only through understanding, tolerance, deep listening, compassion, and lovingkindness can these negative mind states that lead to violence be stopped.

This revolutionary message is at the opposite pole of the political ideologies dealing with the Balkan situation. NATO forces are trying to end violence with more violence

The great American pacifist, A. J. Mustie said, "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." But the NATO alliance is seeking peace through war. Buddhism teaches that only when we become peaceful and nonviolent in body, speech, and mind can we create a truly peaceful and nonviolent world. There is no other way.

We need to look in mindfulness at this situation and ask, "What's really going on here? What are the real causes?" The media and politicians urge that time is of the essence, we must act quickly. But, we have to be very careful. In our personal lives, we may feel strongly called upon to act out anger and hurt or to use angry and attacking words at times. If we don't bring mindfulness to the situation, if we don't step back to see what's really going on, we'll never break the cycle of violence in ourselves or in the world.

Aggression may have immediate effect, but that's not the issue. For example, one can't tell parents who physically abuse their children that violence doesn't work, because they know if they smack their child for doing something they don't want him to do, he' ll probably stop. The real issue is the long-term damage violence does to the child. Hitting may stop the behavior, but very likely, it will also breed resentment and anger, and lead to aggressive behavior in the future. In the same way, bombing may stop aggression in the shOJi run, but does it really change anything? Violence only begets more violence. When there are winners and losers, the winners exult in their victories, and the losers, brooding with resentment, wait for their turn to be on top.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are relevant to the situation in Yugoslavia. At its core, the violence in this dispute arises from fanaticism and intolerance. Serbs versus Albanians, Christians versus Moslems, Orthodox versus Non-Orthodox. Each group intolerant of the other. The first three Mindfulness Trainings clearly identify causes of suffering: fanaticism and intolerance create suffering, attachment to views and wrong perceptions create suffering, imposing our views on others creates suffering.

The third training also reminds us of our responsibility "to help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue." Is that what we've been doing in Yugoslavia for the past ten years? Have we poured our money and energy into Yugoslavia to help people learn to talk with one another or to develop programs to teach them how to understand each other? Now that there's a crisis, we spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to kill and destroy, which in no way touches the underlying problems. Yet, we never spent a penny to develop compassionate dialogue. We took no interest in teaching nonviolence, or helping people learn to get along with those who are different.

What is compassionate dialogue? It's what Thay calls deep listening. To walk in someone's shoes and really understand who they are, their fears and concerns. To be compassionate means to feel the suffering of others and to want to relieve it. If the Serbs were listening to the Albanians compassionately, they would have asked, "What is your problem? What are your concerns? What are your fears? What's making you angry? Tell me about your history." And the Albanians would listen to the Serbs and all of their concerns, fears, desires, and frustrations. They would listen to each other with a sense of understanding. With this understanding, I believe people would see their commonality instead of only differences. And out of seeing their shared humanness could come real peace.

We should also learn to practice compassionate dialogue within ourselves, to listen to those parts of ourselves that are angry or wounded, and to accept them. This practice is no different than learning to listen deeply to friends, family members, or work colleagues. When there is conflict and anger, we especially need to listen deeply to each other and enter into compassionate dialogue, so we can peacefully resolve all conflicts.

In the Tiep Hien Precepts, killing is not directly addressed until the Twelfth Mindfulness Training. The first eleven deal primarily with actions of mind and speech, because that's where killing begins. Intolerance, fanaticism, anger, and hatred are nurtured first by thoughts, then by violent speech, and finally, one acts.

Our Buddha nature is a nature of oneness, interdependence, and love. To get to the point of killing, we first have to dehumanize the enemy, to say they are unlike us and outside the pale of civilization. These thoughts and language do violence to another human being. We have to be very careful about language and thoughts, because only when we've dehumanized someone can we do violence to them and want to see them suffer. This is the very opposite of the heart of compassion. How could peace ever come out of this mind state?

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training says, "Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful meditation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world. We are determined not to kill and not to let others kill. We will diligently practice deep looking with our own Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war." This Mindfulness Training gives us a technology of nonviolence, very different from the technology of war. It shows us there are clear, nonviolent ways to settle disputes and resolve conflicts, ways that preserve the integrity and humanity of the person we disagree with. There are ways of resolving conflict in which both sides come out feeling respected.

The ability to understand that people are products of their conditions does not mean that one doesn't act, perhaps even forcibly, against violence and evil in the world. But, the key to nonviolence is that one always acts out of love and understanding, not out of hatred. It doesn't mean we allow those who do violence and aggression to have their way. It means that when we act, we act out of understanding.

The lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us how to act with understanding. They wisely taught us that hate deforms us and that nonviolent action is possible. The dualistic mind wants to say there are good people and there are bad, but in truth there is no good and bad, because those who are good today may be bad tomorrow. Today's victims are tomorrow's perpetrators. So it's often said that we must hate the crime, not the criminal, hate the deed, not the doer.

Only when we look deeply at the Balkan situation and identify with everybody, do we have the power to act wisely. When we act without seeing both sides, we get into trouble by seeking quick solutions. The ancient teaching of Buddhism calls us to the path of nonviolence, understanding, love, and peace. Our practice is not just about crossing our legs and turning within. We need to use our compassion to touch the suffering in the world.

This article was excerpted from a talk given by Dharma teacher Fred Eppsteiner, True Energy, at a Day of Mindfulness  in Naples, Florida.

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