#29 Summer 2001

Dharma Talk: Liberating Our Hearts - Practicing with the Paramita of Inclusiveness

By Thich Nhat Hanh Before our airplane takes off, we are told the way to use the oxygen mask. And we are always told that we have to put on the oxygen mask for ourselves first, and only then can we place the oxygen mask on our child, the young person sitting next to us. If we are not successful in placing the mask on ourselves first and afterwards on our child, then we will both die for lack of oxygen.

Thich Nhat Hanh

In Buddhism it's the same. We have to help ourselves before we can help others. The word we use to speak of this is the word meaning "to cross over to the other shore." The shore over here is the shore of suffering, the shore of anger, of anxi­ety, of pain. But the shore over there is the shore of peace, of freedom. To go from this shore to the other shore is called "paramita." There are six ways of doing that called the six paramitas, six ways of going to the other shore.

We may think that paramita is a very difficult practice, but if we learn how to do it, we can go to the other shore quite easily. Even in ten minutes or half an hour or an hour we can cross over to the other shore. When we are angry, when we are drowning in our anger, we suffer a great deal in our body and our mind. It is as if we are being burned, and if we don't know how to deal with the situation, we can drown in our suffering. Therefore, we have to practice going over to the other shore, the shore of no-anger, the shore of no-hatred. We have a raft to take us to the other shore and we have to use it every day. The six paramitas are the six ways of going to the other shore.

The Kshanti Paramita 

The third paramita is called Kshanti Paramita; it can be translated as inclusiveness. It means literally, "to forebear, to endure," but we could misunderstand that word. Kshanti re­ally means to accept and to embrace. For example, this glass — it can hold about twenty cubic centiliters and it can endure those twenty cubic centiliters, that is its capacity. If we pour twenty cubic centiliters into it, the glass will not suffer. But if we want it to hold more, it may suffer. If we force a lot of sand into it, it will break. And we are the same. Each of us has the capacity to endure, to accept a certain amount of injustice but if we are forced to accept more we shall crack or we will break. Somebody says something or does something which we do not like, they do something unjust to us, and we suffer. But whether we suffer a lot or a little, whether we suffer at all, depends on whether the capacity of our heart to accept and to endure is small or great. There are people who could hear those same words, be treated in that same way, but they would not be angry. They would smile. But we, when we hear those words, when we see that behavior, we suffer a lot because compared with their heart, our heart is very small.

The capacity of the bodhisattvas' hearts is very big, the ca­pacity to receive, to embrace and to include. The reason why we suffer is because the capacity of our heart is very small. We hear the same words, we have the same treatment and some people can accept it, but we cannot. We suffer a great deal. Therefore we have to practice the capacity to include, to em­brace. If we practice, if we train, the capacity of our heart will grow and we will suffer much less. We will hear the same words, we will be treated in the same way, and we will smile and we will not suffer.

To practice inclusiveness, or patience, does not mean that we have to suffer. When we suppress our suffering sooner or later we will crack, we will break, Therefore, the paramita of patience does not mean to suppress. If you practice suppress­ing, if you grit your teeth and bear it and think that that is the practice of patience, it is not. Soon you will crack, you will break. That is not what the Buddha taught. The Buddha taught that we have to practice, we have to train in order to open up our own hearts.

And when our understanding is great, our love is great, our heart will become great. We often say in Viemamese that it is our heart which is small, not our house. When our heart is wide, our house can receive many guests. If our heart is small, even if our house is very large, we will not receive any guests.

Every morning on the fifteenth or the first of the lunar month in the traditional temples, we organize a ceremony called "Com­mending the Virtues of the Buddha." It is to praise the Buddha and the bodhisattvas and our ancestral teachers. There is a sen­tence praising the Buddha which goes something Like this: "The Awakened One who is fully awakened, arose in India. His heart is able to embrace the whole of space, his capacity includes all the three chiliocosms." It means the capacity of his heart is very great. These are also four lines which are offered as praise to the Buddha. "The capacity of his heart can include all the worlds even though they are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges."

And why does the Buddha have such a great capacity of compassion and understanding? Because he has practiced. We can do the same. If we prac­tice the paramita of patience, if we practice the Four Immeasurable Minds of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, our heart will grow. And we will have the capacity to accept everything people say, however people treat us, even if we suffer injustice, we can still smile, we can still be happy.

A fistful of salt 

In the sutras there was a time when the Buddha taught like this: "Imagine there is someone who is holding a fistful of salt. They place it in a small bowl of water and stir it around with their finger. Monks, do you think people could drink that wa­ter?" And the monks said, "Such water would be far too salty to drink. How could you drink it? You'd have to throw it away." The Buddha said, "That is correct." Then the Buddha said, "But if, for example, you were to throw that fistful of salt in the river, then would the people who lived in the villages alongside of the river continue to drink the water of the river?" And the monks said, "Yes." "Why?" "Because the river is vast and the fistful of salt cannot possibly make the water of the river salty."

It is the same for us. If our heart is small, then those words, that action, that injustice will make us angry. A small injustice will cause us many sleepless nights and we may not even be able to eat for a week. If our heart is great, like the river, then those words will not have any effect on us, that behavior and that injustice will not have any meaning. We can continue to smile, we can continue to be free, peaceful, and joyful as we were before. Therefore, the practice of the paramita of inclu­siveness helps us to look deeply and to be able to see clearly the truth and to allow the heart of understanding and love in us to grow. Then our heart will become like a river and people may come and throw twenty or thirty kilos of salt into it, but we will not suffer.

Be like the earth 

Rahula became a novice when he was only eight years old. When he was eighteen years old the Buddha taught him about the practice of inclusiveness. He said, "Rahula, you have to practice to be like the earth." "Why?" "Because the earth has the great capacity to receive, to accept, to embrace, and to trans­form. If people pour fragrant milk, perfumes, and sweet things on the earth, or if they pour on the earth filthy things like spittle, mucous, excrement and garbage, the earth does not crave or is not greedy for the sweet things and is not angry with the filthy things. It receives everything equally. The earth has the capac­ity to include them all and to transform them all. It is not attached to the clean or angry with the dirty. You have to practice to be able to behave like the earth."

The Buddha continued to teach Rahula that not only the earth, but also the water, the fire and the air have the great ca­pacity to accept all forms of offerings, wonderful and fragrant as well as polluted and dirty. It means the capacity of these four elements is very great and our heart has to be as great as that and then we will not suffer. In this way the Buddha shared the paramita of inclusiveness with Rahula.

I remember one day I was leading the children on walking meditation in the Upper Hamlet. We went along a beautiful path, seeing so many beautiful leaves, flowers, and butterflies, bees, and dragonflies, and all these beautiful things made us feel we were in paradise. Then we came to a place where we saw on the lawn the excrement of a dog and the children held their noses and stood to one side. I took their hands and I said, "Look deeply, my children. I have a lot of faith in the earth because the earth has received this excrement of the dog, but in a week's time the earth will have transformed it, and it will be­come nourishment for the flowers and the trees which we are seeing today. The earth has the capacity to accept, to embrace and to transform and is never angry with what is thrown upon it."

The method which helps our heart to grow bigger is the Four Immeasurable Minds. The Four Minds have become so great, the mind of loving kindness, the mind of compassion, the mind of joy, and the mind of equanimity. Maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksa are the four elements of true love. If you cultivate them every day, then they become boundless. You are capable of embracing everything, everyone, then the larger your heart becomes, the happier you become. You don't have to suffer because of all the small things, the inconveniences that make you suffer every day. So the practice is not to be a bowl of water but to be a river and after that to be the ocean. What makes other people suffer cannot make you suffer any more because your heart is large. That is what it means by "bound­less states."

Maitri — the capacity to offer well-being 

In Sanskrit, loving kindness is maitri; it is the capacity to offer well-being and happiness. And you cannot offer some­thing that you do not have. Therefore, practice in order for you yourself to have maitri , the energy of loving kindness, and you will be the first to profit from that energy. With the practice of looking deeply, the practice of calming, of understanding, you make the energy of loving kindness grow within yourself. You experience bliss, solidity, freedom, and well-being, and your presence will naturally offer the person you are with that same kind of energy. You only need to just be there. Before you do anything, before you say anything, your presence can already make him or her happy, because in you there is the energy of maitri.

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There are people who are very pleasant to be with and children like to come and sit close to them. Just sit­ting close to them, the children feel good in themselves. There are people whom we want to sit close to. We don't need to talk to them. We don't even need them to look at us, just sit near them and you can feel that wonderful energy of love, of well-being. When you come and sit close to the linden tree, then the linden tree has the ca­pacity of calming you down. The lin­den flower also helps you to calm down; the linden tree has something like maitri within herself. So a person who cultivates maitri is someone whose presence is wonderful, refresh­ing and healing, and you would like to stay close to him or to her.

If you want to practice loving kindness, you have to look deeply to see and to understand. And when you see and understand you can offer joy and happiness to the other person. That person, what do they need and what do they not need? When we can see their real needs, we can offer the thing that they need. That person may be very afraid of the color red and we force her to wear a red dress; that will make her suffer. When we were a child, we really wanted to wear a red dress, but our mother would not allow us to wear red. When we have our own daughter, we want our daughter to wear a red dress in order to satisfy the desire we had when we were young. But our daughter hates red. To force our daughter to wear a red dress is to make her suffer.

When we were young, we wanted to be a doctor, but we did not have the chance to learn to be a doctor and therefore our desire has become an unsatisfied wound in us. When we have our own children we force them to train as doctors in order to satisfy the desire that we once had. But our daughter has a different skill or talent and does not want to be a doctor. To force our children to be doctors is to make them suffer. We think that to be a doctor will bring a lot of money and bring a position in society. We have an idea of happiness and we want to force that idea onto our children. That comes from our love, but this kind of love is not produced by understanding. There­fore, the more we love, the more we make our children suffer. To understand is the element that brings about true love. If we want to love, if we want to understand, we have to look deeply. If we want to practice maitri, we have to learn to look deeply.

Karuna — the capacity to reduce suffering in the other person 

The second immeasurable mind is the mind of compassion. Compas­sion is the capacity to reduce and to transform the suffering in the other person. If we want to remove the suf­fering from the other person, we have to have a right perception of the na­ture of their suffering. What is the cause of the suffering? What gave rise to the suffering in the other person? We have to practice looking deeply; that is, we have to practice another of the paramitas, called the paramita of meditative concentration. When we have time, when we have the ability to open our heart, when we don't have prejudice, we can look into the other person and see the suffering that that person has been through. We can see the nature of their suffering and when we know that, we know what we should do and what we should not do in order for that wound to heal in the other person. If we don't have that understanding then we will not have the insight which is another paramita, the paramita of understanding, and we will just make the other person suffer more. Compassion is the heart which has understanding and wisdom in it.

Mudita — the capacity to offer joy 

The third immeasurable mind is that of joy. In our relation­ship with our loved one the element of joy is very important. If we love each other, we have to love each other in such a way that both of us have happiness every day, then it is real love. If every day we weep, we are sad, we suffer, then that is not real love, In the morning, were we able to smile and be happy to­gether in our love? Were we able to say good-bye to each other and go to work with the energy of joy and love? But if, in the morning, we weep, in the midday we weep, and in the after­noon we weep, then the element of joy is not there. Therefore, the element of joy is very important in our love. First of all, there is the element of loving kindness, which is to offer happi­ness; the element of compassion, to remove suffering; and then the element of joy, the happiness which comes from our love.

Upeksa — the capacity to love with equanimity 

And finally, there is the element of equanimity. Equanim­ity means to love in such a way that we can preserve the free­dom of the other person and our own freedom. If we lose our freedom and we take away the other person's freedom, that is not yet real love. When we love with the aim of possessing the other, we take away our loved one's freedom. We have to love in such a way that we have a lot of space and the other person has a lot of space. If we see there is a little bit of loving kind­ness, of compassion, of joy, and of equanimity in our love we should try to practice so that every day the loving kindness, the compassion, the joy, and the equanimity grow a little bit more. After a couple of weeks, we shall see that gradually our love is becoming true love and our happiness is growing all the time.

We have learned that understanding leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to forgiveness and love. It makes our heart grow up. The love and the understanding help us to mature, and when our heart is mature, we can easily accept these words, this unskillful behav­ior, this injustice, and we continue to be happy.

Dear Sangha, in the Vietnamese war nearly all of us were the victims of unin­telligent policies. And in our suffering we condemned each other, looked on each other as enemies. But in fact we were all the victims of the government which did not really act with clarity. Southerners were victims and so were Northerners. If we'd seen that, we would have been no longer angry, we would have been able to embrace everyone. The Northerners would have been able to embrace the Southerners and the Southerners embrace the Northerners. The Vietnamese would have been able to embrace the North Americans and the North Americans would have been able to embrace the Vietnamese. We see that our enemy is our inability to see the situation as it really is. It is our ignorance, it is the darkness of our mind which cannot see the real situation and therefore gives rise to wrong observation and brings about a war where we kill each other and create a Iot of suffering for ourselves and for the people around us too.

The Bodhisattva Thi Kinh 

Quan Am Thi Kinh is the bodhisattva of compassion of Viet­nam, with a great, large heart. At that time in Vietnam there were no temples for nuns, and Thi Kinh very much wanted to devote her life to nunhood. So she had to pretend to be a boy in order to be able to lead the monastic life. She entered the temple as a novice monk; she was very happy. There are, among us. people who feel they have to become a monk or a nun to be happy. So they are willing to do anything to become a monk or a nun, and Thi Kinh was one of those people. There are people in Plum Village, monks and nuns, who feel like that. People have said to me, "If I could not be a nun, I could not bear it."

At one point there was a woman who was a great admirer of the "monk" Thi Kinh, who was really a young woman. But Thi Kinh paid her no attention. The woman became pregnant and accused Thi Kinh of being the father. Of course as she was a woman this was not possible, yet she did not defend herself because she cherished the monastic life so much. When ar­rested and accused she remained silent. She was beaten and abused and still she remained silent. The woman who accused her left the child at the gates of the temple to further aggravate the situation. Instead of being angry, Thi Kinh embraced the child and raised her as a daughter of the Buddha. She was so full of compassion. Only when the "monk" Thi Kinh passed away did people discover that she was really a woman and they realized the great forebearance and love she had to have with­stood such accusation and abuse. Her heart was so great. They saw she was truly an em­bodiment of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.

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If we have great happiness, we do not mind wrong accusations which come from ignorance and hatred. We hear them and yet we do not suffer. We just feel sorry for the person who says them. The reason we can bear it is because our heart is great and there­fore the paramita of inclusiveness is very im­portant. If you are still suffering a lot, it's not only because of the other person who's mak­ing you suffer. If you are still suffering a lot, it's because the capacity of your heart is not very great. Cultivating the great, boundless minds of love - loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity - help us to grow our inclusiveness, so that we too may embrace and forgive, forbear and overcome obstacles in our lives, and become refreshing sources of compassion and happiness for ail beings like the bodhisattva Thi Kinh.

Excerpted from Dharma talks in Vietnanamese and English from Spring 1991 and Summer 2000. The Vietnamese talk was translated by Sister True Virtue. The talks were transcribed by Barbara Casey and edited by Sister Steadiness. 

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To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at editor@mindfulnessbell.org.

From the Editors

We warmly invite you to enjoy this issue of The Mindfulness Bell. For the first time a "Sangha" of editors has worked together in all aspects of the magazine's production, from editing to designing and printing. As a four-fold Sangha we have greatly enjoyed this opportunity to realize the theme of this issue "inclusiveness" in the process of putting the magazine together. Our team for this issue consists of Sister Annabel, Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center, as senior editor; Peggy Rowe and Barbara Casey of Clear View Practice Center as managing editors; Sister Steadiness of Deer Park as design editor; Brother Phap Tue of Maple Forest Monastery as poetry editor. Brother Phap Kham and volunteers of Deer Park have provided production and subscription management.

We are grateful for the support of Leslie Rawls, the previous editor, and the staff of Parallax Press who provided expertise and support as we move into this new era with The Mindfulness Bell.

It is the richness of the contributions of Sangha members that fulfills the mission of The Mindfulness Bell: offering the fruits of mindfulness practice as inspiration to build a strong and beautiful Sangha that supports us all. To this end, we would like to invite you to offer expressions of your practice through prose, poetry, drawings, photographs, and songs. You can send something which speaks to the issue's theme, or any topic that expresses the transformation and joy of mindfulness. Please include your Dharma name, your Sangha's name and locale, a  biographical sentence, and a photo of yourself or your Sangha. In this way, we can all practice generosity, sharing the gifts we have received from the Dharma for the benefit of us all.

We would also ask you to Begin Anew with us. The Mindfulness Bell has been in transition for several months, and at times communication has been incomplete. If you have submitted work to The Mindfulness Bell that has not been acknowledged, please let us know. We will make every effort to be clear and timely in our responses.

Upcoming issues will include new regular columns, such as, "Ask the Dharmacarya," which will feature guest teachers answering questions on mindfulness practice. There will also be design and fonnat changes. We ask that you dialogue with us about what is most important to you in The Mindfulness Bell, and what would give you support as a member of the mindfulness practice community.

We welcome your contributions and comments. We, in turn, will do our best to become skilled at developing challenging and inspiring themes, at offering clean design and lovely illustrations, and at choosing a deep and diverse voice from the heart of the greater Sangha. We are also committed to meeting a consistent publication schedule.

Thank you for your interest in and commitment to the practice of mindfulness. We look forward to hearing from you.

A Blooming Lotus to you!

The editorial Sangha of The Mindfulness Bell.

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Gathas

mb29-Gatha1 Inviting the Bell

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness, I send my heart along with the sound of the bell. May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.

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Listening to the Bell

Listening to the bell, I feel my afflictions begin to dissolve. My mind is calm, my body relaxed, a smile is born on my lips. Following the sound of the bell, my breathing guides me back to the safe island of mindfulness. In the garden of my heart, the flower of peace blooms beautifully.

Gathas for " In viting the Bell" and "Listening to the Bell" from Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom: An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training. (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997)

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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The Tasty Fruit of Inclusiveness

By Jack Lawlor Every day, the Buddha and his Sangha made a morning alms round to beg for food . Each doorstep was approached, and  each householder was greeted with a request for food. The householder may have been a king, queen, wealthy merchant, warrior, farmer, laborer, or outcast. As part of each visit, the Buddha and the monastic Sangha would offer a teaching, addressed to the many and varied people encountered in their daily rounds.

The body of teaching we know today as Buddhism - and its wondrous fruits of both wisdom and compassion - is in no small part the result of this inclusive interaction with society. The Buddha ordained people from every portion of society into the monastic Sangha, including the feared criminal , Angulimala. In an equally revolutionary way (for his time), after a period of hesitancy, the Buddha included women into the monastic Sangha.

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As the result of this interaction with society, the Buddha and his Sangha learned that suffering is inclusive - every member of society knows the experience of suffering. Early in his teaching career, while pondering how to address the needs of so many different people, the Buddha noticed how the lotus plants in a nearby pond were at such different levels of development. Some were in full bloom, some just below the surface of the water, some still barely more than root systems, and some white, some yellow. Observing this, the Buddha reflected on how people are in different situations, and at different stages of growth and that, as a result, his teachings would have to be many and varied in order to address different backgrounds and circumstances. Today, we call the art of crafting inclusive, responsive teachings "skillful means" - or upaya.

The spiritual inheritance of those who study with Yen. Thich Nhat Hanh includes the wisdom of inclusiveness. The Charter of the Order of Interbeing states that, "To protect and respect the freedom  and responsibility of each member of the community, monks, nuns, and laypeople enjoy equality in the Order of Interbeing." The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing provide us with a great deal of guidance regarding the importance of letting go of our prejudices and rigid ideologies that thwart our Sangha's ability to embrace others in an inclusive manner. The Second Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing urges us "to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to resent views," including our views of other people. The Third Mindfulness Training suggests that we " respect the rights of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide." The Fourth Training invites us to look deeply and observe how our acts of discrimination cause suffering. We are urged to be committed "to finding ways, including personal contact ... to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy." All the Trainings urge us to develop compassion, reconciliation, and ways to enhance the ability of others to have a chance to live peacefully and happily.

While the wisdom of inclusiveness is soundly included in our spiritual inheritance, each generation of practitioners needs to look deeply into his or her personal practice and into the life of the Sangha to be sure that we are practicing inclusiveness. In The Raft Is Not the Shore, Thay underscores the importance of this deep looking in the context of Sangha when he observes that, "What is important is that you find yourself in a situation where nobody discriminates."

There have been efforts to encourage family practice and to welcome children in our retreats with Thay. A spirit of warmth and tolerance is enjoyed by many who attend Thay's retreats and Sangha Days of Mindfulness. Yet we can continue to use the calm and equanimity afforded by our daily practice of sitting and walking meditation to consider whether there is more we can do to encourage the spirit of inclusiveness in our Sanghas. Do our retreats attract the same wide variety of people encountered each day by the Buddha and the monastic Sangha? The way we conduct ourselves and organize our events and activities may inadvertently hinder our ability to skillfully offer the teachings to others.

For example, we may sometimes lack in understanding the needs of others when structuring our activities. Many people in North America are compelled for economic reasons to work long hours in return for modest pay and limited vacation time. In structuring our national, regional and local Sangha calendars, are we careful to provide retreats and other mindfulness practice opportunities that are accessible and affordable? Do we select places for our local Sanghas to convene where parents can find facilities for childrens' programs? Are we tak ing steps which will lead to the Sangha becoming more multigenerational and multiracial?

Everyone benefits from the practice of inclusiveness. Our Sangha took modest steps to make our presence known on university campuses, and we are now graced by the presence of students from three different schools, one of whose students organ ized their own group practicing in tandem with Lakeside Buddha Sangha. Another Sangha of students has inspired us with its tradition of community service. The freshness and enthusiasm of the students has been a gift to our Sangha. We are now attracting more members from varied racial and ethnic heritages and economic backgrounds.

A key ingredient to long-term success at being inclusive is the quality of our mindfulness practice. If we practice wholeheartedly, others will become curious about the teachings we share and the skillful means we employ. If our practice is not genuine, no amount of advertising will attract others on a sustained basis. I recently received a communication from someone who did not feel included at a large retreat because the person did not observe other people smiling or making eye contact. When our practice is genuine, we are peace and happiness, and no one fails to catch our eye or experience our smile. The next time your smile reflects your joy and peace, you are invited to remember that it is a fruit of centuries of inclusiveness. Please, share this fruit with others.

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Jack Lawlor, True Direction, was ordained by Thay as a Dharma Teacher in 1992, and facilitates Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois.

Photos courtesy of Plum Village

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A Sacred Wound

By Barbara Casey mb29-ASacred1One Valentine's Day I was able to deeply touch the pain of not feeling included. It was a warm, blue sky February day and I was extraordinarily happy to be with my beloved. I think it was because I was feeling so happy and safe that when a small interaction touched in me the feeling of being excluded, a core childhood belief that there was no place for me, I was able to be fully present with it. Instead of putting on the armor of pretending not to care or reacting in anger as a defense against the pain, I allowed myself to honor the message, to say "hello" to it, and to hold it with awareness. I went off by myself and began to cry as I felt the pain still in me from childhood, and at the same time I was able to hold my unhappy child with tenderness. As the sadness passed and I felt completed with this process, instead of coming to place of peace I began to cry even harder, but with a kind of detached awareness. As T allowed myself to stay with the pain, I began to understand that I was experiencing the universal pain of fee ling excluded, of feeling uncared for. It was Valentine's Day and I was swimming in the ocean of the sadness of all of us who have felt excluded from being loved. I felt an enormous gratitude that I was able to be both a witness to this sadness and to be pali of its transformation.

It seems to me that all human beings must carry this issue of fee ling left out to some degree. It is a messy business to uncover because we've each created our own complex pattern of defenses to keep ourselves safe from its exposure. The heart of my Sangha carries this sacred wound and it is a big challenge to recognize it beneath our protective devices. It shows its face in these examples: One person sees someone in a brown jacket and feels excluded, while the next person sees the same brown jacketed person and feels honored to be part of the group. In planning a Day of Mindfulness, one person doesn't want to split into small groups because she feels excluded from hearing what everyone has to say; another person wants to split into small groups so that even the most shy of us will feel included to speak his heart. The same wound, the same loving intention; different filters of perception based on each of our past experiences. When these differences come up, we sit down together with an open mindful intention and practice deep listening to hear and understand the perceptions of the other. Though we may continue to hold different opinions, this sharing allows enough space for each of us to glimpse into the roots of the other's view, and to fee l the love and sincerity in the intentions of our brothers and sisters. It opens us to new ways of doing things, and shows us the value that each of our differing views brings to the who e.

I used to fee l that these differences hampered the growth of our Sangha. Now I begin to see that the opportunity to practice that comes with these differences and conflicts is our growth, that we are sharing in the healing and transformation of this deeply human sacred wound. Slowly we are learning to expose our hurt to the fresh air and sunshine that will foster its healing. We must learn to touch one another so lightly, with such tenderness and without judgment. We must rely on our moment-to-moment practice to expand our capacity to be present with our fee lings without reacting or withdrawing. As we practice mindfulness together the love grows in the midst of the suffering and we find the courage and tenacity we need to grow a strong Sangha, a Sangha with the potential to love without limits.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, has recently moved with her husband, Robert Sorrell, and her dog, Mac, to the Clear View Lay Practice Center in Santa Barbara, CA.

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Inclusiveness and Acceptance

By Svein Myreng I had mixed feelings when Thay introduced a new translation of the third paramita as "inclusiveness." This paramita had previously been translated as "patience" or "forebearance." I could relate to patience. I could meet a difficult experience in my life, such as illness or painful feelings, and then I could stay with the feelings without trying to push them away. My patient waiting was rewarded when the feelings - sooner or later - would change into something else. With this practice I often was rewarded by learning something about myself. I knew the value of patience as I had frequent practice through illness.

Thay's way of seeing the third paramita is more radical. I think he's saying: "Live your life fully even when it's not pleasant." I remember a practitioner at Plum Village saying to Thay, "You say present moment, wonderful moment, but sometimes the present moment isn't wonderful at all. It's very painful." Thay replied something like this: "It's not necessarily pleasant, but it is still wonderful." This is a deeply non-dualistic attitude. Thay often reminds us that the pleasant experiences depend on the unpleasant ones. If we don't know hunger, we can't really enjoy eating. If we don't know illness, we can't appreciate our health. By including the difficulties, we open our hearts. There is no separation between what is and what we would wish to be. In contrast, patience implies that I accept the difficulties but hope things will change. This creates separation between our present experience and our desired experience. We are still not at peace.

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After having major heart surgery in 1997, I had a period with intense pain and frequent moments of depression and fear. I cried frequently when I was depressed. When fear was in my mind, I was really afraid. I was almost like a child, physically helpless and direct and in the moment with my emotions. Only to the smallest degree was I burdened with thoughts of how I, as an experienced practitioner ought to react. Looking back, I realize this is the practice of inclusiveness. I experienced life vividly, and in the moments when I was not depressed or afraid, I experienced fully the joy of being alive. I savored each small accomplishment. It was a rich time.

The contrast is clear between this situation and experiences where I search for ways to blame myself or others. Ironically, I find myself falling into blame more frequently with smaller difficulties. When I judge a situation as unpleasant or difficult, I start looking for ways to change it, or make sure it will never happen again. Judging a situation in this way, and then finding someone to lay the blame on, I harden myself and remove myself from a direct experience of life.

Married life has provided me with insights about this pattern in myself. I have seen how  mixed ideas of how something "should be done" easily leads to blaming. When two people come together with different ways of looking at what it means to live as a family, how to do household work, and raise children, there are ample opportunities for blaming. It can be very hard even to see that my way of doing something isn't the only one, let alone actually letting go of my preference. When something goes wrong - the toddler throws a temper tantrum, dinner is delayed or burned - it's so easy to think that it must be because my partner handled the situation in a different, less skillful way than I would have done.

People who are married within our tradition receive "The Five Awarenesses" to read together at every full moon. The Fifth Awareness is a strong reminder that blaming and arguing are destructive: "We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us." The point about the wider gap is important. Judging and blaming creates separation, preventing us from seeing both the situation and the other person(s) involved with clear, compassionate eyes. Reading the Awarenesses makes me more aware of the patterns which lead to this way of being. I can observe myself more clearly, apologize when I see that I am unfair, and rejoice in the times when I act responsibly without blaming.

Inclusiveness is easy when life is pleasant. It is including the things we don ~ like that is the challenge. When we don't accept a trying situation, again we create separation and conflict. Acceptance doesn't mean being passive or condoning injustice. Acceptance is to calm down inside, and see the situation clearly. Sometimes, this leads to change quite naturally. At other times, we see that we have to just be with the situation as it is. We may find we can have space in our hearts for difficult situations or people, or we may find this just too difficult. Our limits vary according to our well-being at a given moment. Sometimes, we have to accept the fact that we aren't accepting of the present moment.

We often judge a difficult situation by making a fixed image of it and comparing this image to an ideal. This is too simple. Even a difficult situation contains elements that are joyful, but the fixed image makes it impossible for us to see them. Thay's poem about the tree that's dying in his garden is about this. Even if one tree is dying, there are other trees that are alive and beautiful. By looking only at the dying tree, we make the situation much worse than it needs to be. By changing our perspective a little, it is easier to have an open, inclusive attitude. We can develop our ability to change perspectives through practice.

We also blame ourselves. When something goes wrong, it must be because someone made a mistake - perhaps it was me? Often, we are quick to blame ourselves before others blame us. Blaming can be a very intricate business. Behind the tendency to blame, there are fixed opinions of what is the "Right Way" and behind the fixed opinions, we often can find fear. The little child within us who was afraid of being blamed, the self-image that we keep on gluing together, these are the fearful ones. Can we meet them - in ourselves and in others - with acceptance and tenderness?

When we don't accept ourselves, we create a separation between the way we are right now and the way we think we ought to be. I've been surprised to see how harshly I can judge myself. However, when I am able to embrace my humanness fully, I experience real peace, because the conflict between reality and ideal disappears. I can also be the garden with many beautiful trees even if one of them is dying.

Many spiritual teachings, including teachings of Buddhism, are focused on helping people change themselves, which support our tendencies to not accept ourselves as we are. Thay's teaching is revolutionary as it deals with living in a good way right now and not trying to change into someone else. Instead of striving to reach a future promise of self-improvement or even enlightenment, Thay's teaching deals with no striving at all. The beautiful paradox is that precisely when we don't strive, a real change can come about quite naturally.

Svein Myreng, True Door, is a Dharma Teacher who lives in Oslo, Norway, with his wife, Eevi Beck, and their two-year-old son, Kyrre.

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Poem: You Are My Garden

A tree is dying in my garden.You see it, but you also see other trees that are still vigorous and joyful.

And I am thankful.

I know a tree is dying in my garden, but I do not see it as the whole of my garden.

And I need you to remind me of that.

I am told to take care of the garden left to me by my ancestors. A garden always has beautiful trees and others that are not so healthy. That is the reason why we have to take good care of it.

You are my garden, and I know that I should practice as a gardener.

I have seen an old, untended garden, where the cherry and peach trees still bloom wonderfully and always in time.

Thich Nhat Hanh

from Thich Nhal Hanh, Call Me By My True Names (Berkeley: Parallax Press. 1999)

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Walking in Buddha's Footsteps

By Kathleen Braza On December 8, 2000 thirty-four individuals began a life transforming pilgrimage to ancient Buddhist sites in India and Nepal. The trip was organized by Jerry and Kathleen Braza and led by Shantum Seth.

The pilgrims included people from Oregon, Massachusetts, Arizona and Norway. This particular Sangha, however was unique in that it also included young college students from Western Oregon University, ages 19-25 , many of whom had never left their home state.

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Our journey began in New Delhi where Shantum blessed us with a visit to his own home where we met his family, including his beautiful wife, Gitu. After a moving visit to the Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi and a side trip to Agra to meditate at the site of the magnificent Taj Mahal, we began our journey by bus and plane, through India and Nepal.

Like Siddhartha in the early years, most pilgrims quickly became aware of the fact that they had indeed been sheltered from the suffering of life and the challenge became one of breaking through our "comfort zones" and opening to the sights, sounds, smell s, tastes and experiences that were India. Even greater challenges awaited us as we daily faced the countless, nameless beggars of all ages, many with unimaginable maladies. How does one begin to respond with an open heart? When do you give and how can you not give? David , one of our students, shared an excerpt from his journal. . . " We shared lunch in the Bamboo Grove today - a place where Buddha used to teach, meditate, and bathe. After lunch, on our way to the bus, I saw an old beggar woman sitting on the ground with a small bowl in front of her. Our eyes connected fo r a moment. Her hands reached out to me and her fingers pulled toward her mouth. I pulled my eyes away and looked to the ground. We had seen so many beggars on the trip. Yet later, I don't think I have ever felt such a sense of shame more deeply in my life . It is not often I worry what others think of me, but I later wondered what that woman thought of me as I walked away fro m her. At that moment, I let myself feel something I had tried to hide from most of my trip ." After a time, most pilgrims learned that looking at someone with the eyes of  compassion, bowing gently with "Namaste," and giving when moved to do so, was a place to begin.

One of the blessings of the trip was our visits to several medical clinics which gave us a marvelous opportunity to see the healing effects of many individuals in providing health care for so many. One clinic specialized in providing quality eye care for the poor. Another offered rehabilitatio n to children with polio. It was at these clinics that we interacted with patients , learned from their caregivers, and were able to make donations that we knew would be used for continued care of more people.

Our journey took us to the main sites where Buddha was born, where he taught, walked, meditated, was enlightened and died. We also had the privilege of visiting a school in Bodh Gaya for " untouchable" children. We came armed with books, school supplies, inflatable globes and donations, all of which were received with deep gratitude and love. The children danced and sang for us, their words transcending language barriers. Our hearts were full.

We sang and chanted, ate curried dahl and many other Indian dishes, walked mindfully, and shared our life stories as we traveled long and bumpy roads throughout the countryside of India and Nepal. We marveled at the simplicity of life we observed and the smiles and open-hearted warmth of the many people we connected with, however brief our meeting. We located candles from our boat on the Ganges in memory of loved ones and sang Hindu chants during our endless wait at the Nepal border. We moved as one from place to place, always aware of our "second body," a system Shantum set up at the beginning of the journey to watch over each other. And every evening, we came together to share. We gathered to debrief, to support, to encourage, and to savor the safety and trust that built as each day unfolded and ended.

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We shopped too, and not only came home with indelible memories, but singing bowls and bell s, silk from our visit to the silk factory in Varanasi, Buddhist tonkas, malas, Buddha statues and end less rolls of film to be developed and later shared at numerous post-trip gatherings. Ken, a guitar player and our only Indian student, began the trip searching for a "sitar" and finally found it in Kathmandu on the last day of our trip. Ken writes, "I am enjoying my sitar a lot. It seems my mom is playing it more that me. Her father used to play when she was little, so when she plays the sitar, she reflects back when her father was alive. Her father wanted her to learn how to play the sitar, but she didn't want to learn an "old world instrument" back then. Now she is teaching me to play." Ken went on the journey, yet his mother's life was also forever changed.

To this day, the Oregon pilgrims continue to meet in large and small groups to share their thoughts and feelings. The pilgrims from other places have found deeper connections with their Sanghas back home. Many express the feeling of still "walking in India" and are actively involved in fundraising efforts for the school in Bodh Gaya and for oral surgery for a severely deformed beggar child, Munni , "adopted" by the heart of the group. Munni was just one of many beggar ch ildren who gathered around our bus whenever we stopped. However, this seven-year-old-child bad her hand over her mouth and when she briefly removed it, the pilgrims on that side of the bus were horrified and deeply moved at the severe oral disfigurement that made it not only impossible for her to smile, but we later discovered that just eating was a monumental task. Several pilgrims decided to find where this child lived and see ifher fam ily could be connected to the various clinics we visited. The teacher at the school we visited helped us make the connection and Munni may soon be getting an opportunity for high-tech medical care and may smile for the first time in her short life. As Shantum expressed, "It may seem like just drops in the ocean, but we all know the ocean is made of many drops."

The spirit of this pilgrimage lives in each individual in unique and healing ways. As time moves on, it is easy to slip into old habit energies, but the expanded awareness and memories of India are forever etched somewhere in our hearts and minds and we can never be the same again.

Kathleen Braza and her husband, Jerry, True Great Response, live in Salem, Oregon and practice with the River Sangha.


 

Meditate ... Educate

Out of this pilgrimage to India a fundraising effort was developed, called "Meditate . . . Educate - Change the life of an Indian child forever! Give the gift of Education." The group is offering meditation cushions, covers made in Bodh Gaya and filled with buckwheat hulls. The sale of the cushions will go towards educating children at the Pragya Vihar School serving 350 chi ldren aged 5-12. These ch ildren are selected from the poorest fam ili es in which both parents do not have literacy skills. The cost of educating one child per year is around $40. Contact Jerry Braza, Great True Response, at 503-391-1284 or jbraza3629@aol.com for more details and to contribute to this project.

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Everyone's Tears Are Salty

Excerpt from Old Path White Clouds By Thich Nhat Hanh

One day, as the Buddha and bhikkhus were begging in a village near the banks of the Ganga, the Buddha spotted a man carrying nightsoil. The man was an untouchable named Sunita. Sunita had heard about the Buddha and bhikkhus, but this was the first time he had ever seen them. He was alarmed, knowing how dirty his clothes were and how foul he smelled from carrying nightsoil. ... He hastily put the buckets of nightsoil down and looked for a place to hide. Above him stood the bhikkhus in their saffron robes, whiIe before him approached the Buddha and two other bhikkhus. Not knowing what else to do, Sunita waded up to his knees in water and stood with his palms joined.

Curious villagers came out of their homes and lined the shore to watch what was happening. Sunita had veered off the path because he was afraid he would pollute the bhikkhus. He could not have guessed the Buddha would follow him. Sunita knew that the Sangha included many men from noble castes. He was sure that polluting a bhikkhu was an unforgivable act. He hoped the Buddha and bhikkhus would leave him and return to the road. But the Buddha did not leave. He walked right up to the water's edge and said, "My friend, please come closer so we may talk."

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Sunita, his palms still joined, protested, "Lord, I don't dare!"

"Why not?" asked the Buddha.

"I am an untouchable. I don't want to pollute you and your monks."

The Buddha replied, "On our path, we no longer distinguish between castes. You are a human being like the rest of us. We are not afraid we will be polluted. Only greed, hatred, and delusion can pollute us. A person as pleasant as yourself brings us nothing but happiness. What is yom name?"

"Lord, my name is Sunita."

"Sunita, would you like to become a bhikkhu like the rest of us?"

"I couldn 't!"

"Why not?"

''I'm an untouchable!"

"Sunita, I have already explained that on our path there is no caste. In the Way of Awakening, caste no longer exists. It is like the Ganga, Yamuno, Aciravati, Sarabhu, Mahi and Rohini rivers. Once they empty into the sea, they no longer retain their separate identities. A person who leaves home to follow the way leaves caste behind whether he was born a brahman, ksatriya, sudra or untouchable.(1) Sunita, if you like, you can become a bhikkhu like the rest of us." ...

The Buddha handed his bowl to Meghiya and reached his hand out to Sunita. He said, "Sariputta! Help me bathe Sunita. We will ordain him a bhikkhu right here on the bank of the river." .. .

Never in the history of Kosala had an untouchable been accepted into a spiritual community. Many condemned the Buddha for violating sacred tradition. Others went so far as to suggest that the Buddha was plotting to overthrow the existing order and wreak havoc in the country.

The Buddha said, "Accepting untouchables into the sangha was simply a matter of time. Our way is a way of equality. We do not recognize caste. Though we may encounter difficulties over Sunita's ordination now, we will have opened a door for the first time in history that future generations will thank us for. We must have courage." ...

Before long, the uproar over Sunita's ordination reached the ears of King Pasenadi. A group of religious leaders requested a private audience with him and expressed their grave concerns over the matter. Their convincing arguments disturbed the king, and although he was a devoted follower of the Buddha, be promised the leaders that he would look into the matter. Some days later he paid a visit to Jetavana.

He climbed down from his carriage and walked into the monastery grounds alone. Bhikkhus passed him on the path beneath the cool shade of trees. The king followed the path that led to the Buddha's hut. He bowed to each bhikkhu he passed. As always, the serene and composed manner of the bhikkhus reinforced his faith in the Buddha. Halfway to the hut, he encountered a bhikkhu sitting on a large rock beneath a great pine tree teaching a small group of bhikkhus and lay disciples. It was a most appealing sight. The bhikkhu offering the teaching looked less than forty years old, yet his face radiated great peace and wisdom. His li steners were clearly absorbed by what he had to say. The king paused to listen and was moved by what he heard . But suddenly he remembered the purpose of his visit, and he continued on his way . . ..

The Buddha welcomed the king outside his hut, inviting him to sit on a bamboo chair. After they exchanged formal greetings, the king asked the Buddha who the bhikkhu sitting on the rock was. The Buddha smiled and answered, "That is Bhikkhu Sunita. He was once an untouchable who carried nightsoil. What do you think of his teachings?"

The king felt embarrassed. The bhikkhu with so radiant a bearing was none other than the nightsoil carrier Sunita! He would never have guessed such was possible. Before he knew how to respond, the Buddha said, "Bhikkhu Sunita has devoted himself wholeheartedly to his practice from the day of hi s ordination. He is a man of great sincerity, intelligence, and resolve. Though he was ordained only three months ago, he has already earned a reputation for great virtue and purity of heart. Would you like to meet him and make an offering to this most worthy bhikkhu?"

The king replied with frankness, "I would indeed like to meet Bhikkhu Sunita and make an offering to him. Master, your teaching is deep and wondrous! I have never met any other spiritual teacher with so open a heart and mind. I do not think there is a person, animal or plant that does not benefit from the presence of your understanding. I must tell you that I came here today with the intention of asking how you could accept an untouchable into your sangha. But I have seen, heard, and understood why. I no longer dare ask such a question. Instead allow me to prostrate myself before you."

1. In traditional Indian society brahman refers to the caste of priests, ksatriya the caste of warriors and such·a the caste of ordinary people. The untouchables are people of the lowest caste who traditionally are not allowed to physically touch people of other castes.

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200 Eggrolls

By Tatian Greenleaf On Saturday, I started cooking 200 eggrolls at 9 p.m. planned to drop them off at the soup kitchen that would serve the homeless on Skid Row the next Friday. I finished , tired, at 3 a.m. I then drove to Von's to buy some aluminum foil trays to hold the eggrolls. When I got to the supennarket, it was dark and wet outside from the recent rain s. I saw a homeless man in a wheelchair by the front door and figured I'd give him a buck.

I parked about 100 feet from the entrance and opened my car door. As I got out, I heard the man yell, "IT'S ABOUT TIME YOU SHOWED UP!" Fear struck me.  I walked towards the front door trying to remain firm and calm. When I got about 15 feet from the man, I said "Hi" as friendly as I could (considering my fear). He changed tone s lightly and asked if I could help him out. I dug for $2 and handed it to him. He said thank you and added "But I 'm trying to get a room." I offered to buy him some food from Von's . He answered, "Some fruit" and nodded. I told him I would get some fruit, "Maybe some oranges and bananas" and be back in 10 minutes. He thanked me and I walked into Von's.

In side, I headed for the oranges, selected three, and then made my way to the bakery section. I picked up some blueberry muffins and then some string cheese - a balanced meal of sorts. I thought about water or another cold drink, but figured it was cold enough outside. I wished I could bring him some coffee, but I couldn't. As I turned to head to the cashier, I saw the man wheeling his way around the bakery. I approached him, smiled, and held up the blueberry muffins for his inspection. He said, "Nah, I was hoping for some cheesecake." We looked together but couldn't find any. I told him I could get him the muffins, but he said that was okay and that he would just Iike some oranges, some bananas and some grapes. We looked at fruit together and he picked out some grapes, holding the plastic bag open for me to drop them in. He said he was very thankful and introduced himself as "Willie." I shook hands and told him my name. Then he wheeled to the back of the store and I went up front to pay for the food and trays.

When I walked outside, he was by the front door again. I said, "Here you go, Willie" and handed him the bag of fruit. He said, "God bless you." I replied, "God bless you too ." And he said, "He just did." We wished each other a good day and good night shook hands and then I walked to my car with a sense of humbleness and a little sadness, but with a smile on my face.

Talian Greenleaf is from Costa Mesa, California.

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Developing a Big Heart

By Terry Mastersmb29-DevelopingLast year the grasshoppers ate every thing green and most things brown. They ate figs and flowers and killed my plum tree. The solution, the neighboring ranchers said, was guineas.

So we built a chicken coop. My plan was for the guineas to live in the coop for a few weeks, then run lose and eat grasshoppers all day, roosting safe from raccoons and other wild critters in the coop at night. From Skeeter at the feed store I bought a fifty pound sack of chicken feed and a watering jug. The planning and building and gathering took three months. During that time the grasshoppers finished off every living thing except the rosemary, cedar trees and sage.

No one around here had guineas for sale, so my neighbor and I drove his pickup to a flea market an hour and a half away where a fellow sometimes sold guineas. We were in luck. Pull ing out a hundred dollar bill, we bought all he had: five cocks and ten hens.

We put seven of the guineas in my neighbor's pen and eight in mine. I drove him home. When I got back- it took maybe three minutes-my Big Dog Ben was in my chicken coop surrounded by dead guineas.

I cried. I cried about the Unfairness of Life and I cried about the Desperate Situation of Little Chickens and I cried about the Power of Big Dogs. I cried until my throat hurt. I sobbed until my eyes stung.

Finally, exhausted, I remembered to breathe. I slowly breathed in my sorrow, sadness, grief, and disillusionment. I breathed out slowly, giving myself the gift of clear, clean stillness. I just sat on the front porch, Ben sitting sadly behind me, and I breathed. In. Out. I thought of others who were fee ling like I was feeling. I thought of the sad dads in Israel and Palestine whose children were killing each other. I thought of the mamas of sons who were being executed for having killed other mama's sons. I just kept slowly breathing in all of our pain, breathing out stillness for us all. Just stillness. Just isness. In. Out. At last, to get a little perspective on my dog-guinea suffering, on the world wide suffering, I breathed in and out a little of the beauty and wonder-full bigness of the cosmos.

Now I have a Big Sad Dog, eight dead guineas, and a heart that is a little bit more compassionate. I also have some very happy grasshoppers.

Terry, True Action and Virtue, practices, with The Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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Poem: The heart has more chambers

The heart has morechambers than we think we know it has. Its cavities extend beyond the boundaries of where we think they are.

Hundreds of ventricles fill the lungs alone and entwine and permeate each rib.

A series of runs up the they weave themselves into the brain, through the muscles, unfurling, even, into the digits and beyond.

The question is how to open them? How to set the beating when so much of our flesh is still dense with forgetfulness?

Let things open them: the sound of a bell, certain fruits, certain gusts of wind, the weight of your own breathing, the lullaby of other bodies in the room with yours.

Collect these like bunches of grapes, and feel the opening, the new pulse.

Feel how, when all the chambers of your heart are open, the heart's true blood pours forth , milk and honey, sweet white light.

mb29-TheHeartBeth Taylor Schott

Beth, Ancient Ease of the Heart, teaches writing at University of California at Santa Barbara. She and her husband David practice with the Still Water Sangha in Santa Barbara, California.

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Come Out and Play!

By Sister Thuc Nghiem I was brought back to my Father dying today, to something about it I had not thought of in awhile -- how he had pneumonia and it was very difficult for him to breathe and the moment he died his face suddenly became very calm, with the utmost dignity and peace. It was an expression that I knew very well and it brought me much happiness.

I have been remembering lately my Father when he came home from work. He would drive up our driveway, get slowly out of the car and slowly begin walking up to the house. When  he was just out of Annapolis, stationed on his first ship, he got polio, one of the first cases in New England. Although he recovered, he could not run, and always walked slowly. As he walked to our house he would often see my open window on the second story of our house and he would always call out, "Susan, come out and play!" in a special gentle, playful voice. I don't remember how many times I did go out. As I got to be a teenager, even if his play seemed annoyingly childish, it never ceased to make me smile. It has remained a vivid, poignant sign of my Father's love for me -- that after a busy day of being a lawyer he  would let his work go, and day after day, reach out playfully to his youngest daughter.

Now as I sit day after day in the morning outside the Green Mt. Dharma Center watching the hay grasses grow and bend, I can play with my Father wonderfully as he teaches me and the gentle earth teaches me and my Teacher teaches me as well -the non-fear of dying, to feel the playfulness and the beauty of all that is around us and in us, that all these things come together and flow apart over and over -- to play. One of the things I have learned from sitting outside every morning watching the earth and sky is that I don't have anything to be afraid of with socalled dying. Remembering my Father 's calm face and his sweet wish to play brought him back to me newly born in a lotus flower of no-birth and no-death.

Sister Thue Nghiem (Sister Susan) is a nun at Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Order of Interbeing Aspirant Training

Walking Meditation By Peggy Rowe Ward

The Education and Training Committee of the Order of lnterbeing developed a four-stage Education and Training Program in 1997. As a regular feature in The Mindfitlness Bell we will offer some of the suggested practice exercises and study work outlined in The Mindfulness Bell #21. We invite Order Aspirant Training programs throughout the world to share in future editions.

Practice Exercise: Sharing the Practice of Walking Meditation

Objective: To experience expressing the Dharma practice of walking meditation and to discuss skillful ways to share the  practice with others.

Estimated Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour (15 minutes writing, 30-45 minutes discussion)

Supplies: Pen and Paper

1. Write a letter to a friend who does not know about our practice of walking meditation. Write to him or her in a way that will help him or her understand the practice and describe the benefits of this practice. Take 15 minutes for this exercise. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or editing. Just let your words keep flowing.

2. Invite some of the participants to read their letters.

3. Discuss the exercise in the whole group. The goal is not to do a perfect teaching in 15 minutes. A fast writing practice helps us get in touch with essence. Rather than critique individual practice writings, discuss what inspired you, what touched you, what was clear. What have you learned from doing the practice of walking meditation? What did you learn about teaching the practice of walking meditation? Discuss how the teaching can change based on who is the audience or student. Discuss the value of teaching from personal experience.

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Here is an excerpt from our practice session at the Santa Barbara Order Aspirant Training. We had a great Dharma discussion from this exercise. Remember, this was written in 15 minutes!

Dear Aunt Bea,

It was great talking with you yesterday-happy 94! I think it's wonderful that you're the only person at Beth Shalom who walks daily. .. not that the other residents choose not to walk, but that you've been walking every day without fail, rain or shine, for the past sixty-some years. You probably have more to tell me about walking than 1 could ever tell you, but I want to share with you a kind of walking I do every day. It's part of my Buddhist practice, and it's called Kinh Hanh, or walking meditation. Usually I do it very slowly, but you can do it faster; too. I learned this technique from my teacher; Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Zen monk living in France.

When I do Kinh Hanh, I 'm very conscious of my breathing. I take a step as I breathe in, and another step when I breathe out, and I walk with graceful balance and a subtly joyful presence. Upright and happy, like dancing the hora, but more slowly: that's how I imagine I'm carrying myself sometimes. I will alien attach special words to the in-breaths and out-breaths. These are called gathas, and my favorite one is: I have arrived/I am home. There's something about the combination of those words and the slow-walking that makes me feel at once safe, awake, filled with gratitude and childlike wonder; as though every cloud, every oak leaf, every cigarette butt, every bird, and every person is a miracle. You can also walk faster; taking several breaths with every step, while still saying the gatha. That's frequently how I gel around the world: step, step, step, I have arrived/step, step, step, I am home.

It would begin to walk in Philadelphia with you some time. You could try this practice, although I think you've been doing it all along in your own way. You call it "schlepping around the block, " and I call it Kinh Hanh.

Love, Michael

Peggy Rowe Ward, True Original Source, practices with The Still Water Sangha.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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Snake Medicine

By Sister Thuong Nghiem Note: Calling something medicine in the Native American traditions is a way of emphasizing the special qualities of that thing. All elements in the cosmos have the potential to heal us and to teach us when our hearts and minds are open.

One foot follows the other, making a path. My foot follows Thay. My eyes travel the ground, take in the sky, always aware of Thay. Today I am Thay's attendant. Each monk and nun has a chance to attend Thay, spending the whole day from before sunrise until bedtime following Thay and being present in each of his activities of that day. We feel we are the luckiest person on earth on that day. We record every moment of that day in our journal or in our heart, because those moments are very rich organic matter that we can always draw upon to nourish us and to guide us at any time.

Several times today Thay walks outdoors, from Cypress house to the dining hall and around the Solidity hamlet, and up the mountain. Walking, Thay occasionally stops to look at a flower, to touch a leaf. I fee l the great tenderness of Thay's connection with the plants. Thay offers his attention to a tree and the tree offers her presence, her vitality and her freshness to Thay. I observe these interactions and I am so happy to receive these teachings. Earlier today a film crew came to tape Thay for a film about the history of Buddhism. After setting up an elaborate array of lights and carefully arranging objects around the room they were ready to begin. They asked Thay to have a seat. Thay invited the entire film crew to enjoy a short walk outdoors before beginning the filming. We walked in a circular path. Fresh air, green plants, deep blue sky, bright yellow wildflowers, and slow swooping hawks called to us, bringing us to awareness. The film interview went well, as we were all refreshed by our walk, infused with the living energy of mindfulness.

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Now in the late afternoon Thay invites me to go on another walk. We slowly make our way up the mountain to the flat clearing where the bell tower will be built. We are heading towards the green hammock suspended between two trees. I am focused on Thay. Thay is sitting down in the hammock, Thay is removing hi s shoes. I am aware of each action. I look to see where I might sit to be able to swing the hammock and still be able to see Thay's face. I look down at the ground around the hammock and I see a snake. Oh!

The snake's body is stretched out in a straight line right alongside the hammock. He or she is obviously at ease, resting. I pick up a small stick and scratch it on the earth, hoping that the snake will be alerted and will move away. The snake makes no movement. I touch the tip of the snake's taiI end with the stick and still no movement. I say, "She does not want to go away. She seems to like Thay's presence." Thay replies, "Don't try to scare her away anymore. Allow her to be there for the moment." So I sit down on a rock to one side of Thay. We sit for many minutes like that, Thay, the snake and I.

I look at the snake. He is patterned brown and green and beige like a rattlesnake. But his head is small, unlike the triangular head I know is the indicator of a poisonous snake. Later I am told he is probably a bull snake. He stretches maybe four feet or so long. In the past I have been very fearful of snakes. Now I have this opportunity to be present with a snake. In this moment I do not feel any fear.

Thay is resting. I feel his great peace and I feel embraced. I ask if I may offer Thay a small song. Thay accepts.

rivers flow through me sunshine is my morning tea body ~ harmony feelings ~ clouds in the sky perceptions ~ stones on the road mental formations ~ birds are singing, singing songs of freedom consciousness ~ deep blue sea wash over me rivers flow through me sunshine is my morning tea ...

The head of the snake moves slightly back and forth , his black tongue flicks in and out. Maybe the snake is hearing the song also. We gaze into the atmosphere, rocks and air, clouds and light soothing my eyes, smoothing my mind.

After another twenty minutes or so the snake begins to move very slowly. His body remains stretched out and every part of him moves at the same time. Over a long time he continues to move ever so slowly. We watch him. He is aware of us also. Thay invites me to sing another song, "No Coming, No Going?"

No coming, no going, no after, no before, I hold you close to me, I release you to be so free because I am in you and you are in me, because I am in you and you are in me.

We hear the sound of the brother's dinner bell. It is 6 p.m. Shall we walk down the mountain? The snake is just beginning to enter the brush covering the sloping earth nearby.

I feel something so lovely inside, a peaceful, deep, grounded feeling. The land has accepted us as her stewards. The animals have welcomed us.

The local San Diego Sangha of thirty or so members, who organized a public lecture in San Diego for over 2,000 people, arrive in the evening to have tea with Thay. Thay tells them about our encounter with the snake. The snake was not afraid of us and he or she moved so slowly in the style of walking meditation or rather moving meditation. Thay says, perhaps the snake was a representative of all the beings living on this mountain, coming to greet Thay.

Thay also recalls the story of when the Mexican workers came across a snake lying under a rock. The workers prepared to kill the snake and Brother Phap Dung intervened. The workers only wished to protect us from this snake, but Brother Phap Dung said, there are so many snakes, we cannot possibly kill them all, let us just scare him away from here instead. Thay said, perhaps the snake we met today was that same snake coming to thank Thay or maybe a good friend of his.

Thay says there are so many beings here, residing all over this mountainous land, seen and unseen. All these beings are becoming aware of our presence. They can feel the peaceful energy of our practice. When we are aware we can also feel their presence. With careful attention we shall learn to live harmoniously together.

Sister Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness) is a novice nun at Deer Park Monastery.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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Tasting the Earth with My Feet

By Sister Chau Nghiem mb29-Tasting

In slow walking, after sitting meditation, I was aware of nearly every step. It was so beautiful. I began by being aware that as I was stepping with my left foot, I was at the same time stepping with my right, because my left foot cannot be without my right. And vice versa. Then I saw that my arms were also contained in my feet, so I was also stepping with my arms. Then my hands, my stomach, brain, sense organs, heart, lungs. I was 100% with my body. So I was tasting the earth with my feet, listening to it, looking at it, feeling it, knowing it, smelling it with my feet. My heart was loving it, my lungs breathing it in and out.

Then I turned my attention more towards the earth and knew I was also walking on cool streams of water flowing under me, and hot, fiery liquid, deep below, in the center of the earth. I imagined walking on the feet of those directly opposite us on the other side of the planet. The soles of my feet touched the soles of a little baby, taking tentative steps, and a pregnant woman, and an old grandpa. My feet touched the feet of a lonely isolated person, and someone carried away by hatred and anger. I was also walking on the feet of someone who was right then doing walking meditation and enjoying the present moment. I was one with those walking the earth whose hearts are filled with love and peace. I love walking meditation like this!

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Sister Chau Nghiem, Adorned with Jewels, is a novice nun in Plum Village.

Photos courtesy of Plum Village

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