#37 Autumn 2004

Dharma Talk: Finding Our True Home

March 28, 2004 – Colors of Compassion Retreat By Thich Nhat Hanh

mb37-dharma1On March 28th, at the end of the three-month winter retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha offered a three-day retreat called Colors of Compassion, for people of color. Three hundred retreatants gathered to practice mindfulness, listen to teachings, and share with one another the experiences of joy and suffering that come from being a person of color.  

This section begins with a powerful talk by Thay, given on the last day of the retreat. Following is a story of a courageous couple who escaped Vietnam as boat people, exemplifying Thay’s famous poem, Call Me By My True Names. Also included is an interview with Sister Chau Nghiem, the organizer and registrar of the Colors of Compassion retreat, and a selection of stories and poems of insight offered by retreatants. 

mb37-dharma2There are white people who live in the United States but still do not feel that they have a home here. They want to leave because they don’t feel comfortable with the economic, political, and military policies of this country. In Vietnam it’s the same. There are those who have Vietnamese nationality but who do not feel that Vietnam is their true home They do not feel loved or understood, and they do not feel that they have a future there, so they want to leave their country.

Who amongst us has a true home? Who feels comfortable in their country? After posing this question to the retreatants for contemplation, I responded. I said: “I have a home, and I feel very comfortable in my home.” Some people were surprised at my response, because they know that for the last thirty-eight years I have not been allowed to return to Vietnam to visit, to teach, or to meet my old friends and disciples. But although I have not been able to go back to Vietnam, I am not in pain, I do not suffer, because I have found my true home.

My true home is not in France where Plum Village practice center is located. My true home is not in the United States. My true home cannot be described in terms of geographic location or in terms of culture. It is too simplistic to say I am Vietnamese. In terms of nationality and culture, I can see very clearly a number of national and cultural elements in me –– Indonesian, Malaysian, Mongolian, and others. There is no separate nationality called Vietnamese; the Vietnamese culture is made up of other cultural elements.


There are elements of Chinese, French, and Indian culture in me. You cannot take these out of me. If you remove them, I will not be the person who is sitting here. In me there are also cultural elements from Africa, and beautiful elements of Native American culture in me. In my room I hang a dream catcher so I can contemplate my dreams just for fun.

I have a home that no one can take away, and I feel very comfortable in that home. In my true home there is no discrimination, no hatred, because I have the desire and the capacity to embrace everybody, every race, and I have the aspiration, the dream to love and help all peoples and all species. I do not feel there is anyone who is my enemy. Even if they are pirates, terrorists, communists, or anti-communists, I do not have enemies. That is why in my true home I feel very comfortable.

I heard the story of a young Japanese American man who went into a café. While he was drinking his coffee he heard two young men talking in Vietnamese and crying. The young Japanese American man asked them in English: “Why are you crying?” The Vietnamese men said: “We cannot go back to our country, our homeland. The government there will not allow us to go back.” The Japanese American man got upset and said: “This is not worth crying over. Even though you are in exile and cannot go back to your country, you still have a country, a place where you belong. But I do not have a country to go back to.

“I was born and raised in the United States, and culturally I am American. But I feel uncomfortable because Americans do not truly accept me; they see me as foreigner. So I went to Japan and tried to make it my home. But when I arrived the Japanese people told me that the way I speak and behave are not Japanese and I was not accepted as a Japanese person. So, even though I have an American passport and even though I can go to Japan, I do not have a home. But you do have a home.”

Like the Japanese American in the story, there are many young Asian Americans who have been born and raised in the United States, who are American in their way of thinking and acting, and they want to be seen as true Americans, immersed in this culture. But other Americans do not accept them as Americans because their skin color is yellow. They feel sad and want to go back to Japan, Korea, or Vietnam to find their home. They think: If it’s not in America, my home has to be somewhere else. But they don’t fit in with the culture of their ancestral country either. Other Asians call them “Bananas” because though their skin is yellow, inside they are white, completely American. This also happens to African Americans who go to Africa but aren’t accepted there.

This is not to say that white people have found their home and feel comfortable in the United States. Just like Vietnamese people in Vietnam, many people do not feel comfortable in their own country and want to go elsewhere. Very few among us have found their true home. Even though we have nationality, we have citizenship, and a passport that allows us to go anywhere in the world, we still do not have a home.

Life Is Our True Home 

In the Colors of Compassion retreat we have learned and practiced to be in contact with our true home, the true home that cannot be described by geographical area, culture, or race.

Every time we listen to the sound of the bell in Deer Park or in Plum Village, we silently recite this poem: “I listen, I listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.” Where is our true home that we come back to? Our true home is life, our true home is the present moment, whatever is happening right here and right now. Our true home is the place without discrimination, the place without hatred. Our true home is the place where we no longer seek, no longer wish, no longer regret. Our true home is not the past; it is not the object of our regrets, our yearning, our longing, or remorse. Our true home is not the future; it is not the object of our worries or fear. Our true home lies right in the present moment. If we can practice according to the teaching of the Buddha and return to the here and now, then the energy of mindfulness will help us to establish our true home in the present moment.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, the Pure Land lies in the present moment; nirvana and liberation lie in the present moment. All of our spiritual and blood ancestors are here if we know how to come back to the present moment. My true home is the Pure Land, my true home is true life, so I do not suffer or seek, I do not run after anything anymore. I very much want all of you who have come here for the retreat, whether your color is black, white, brown, or yellow, to also be able to practice the teaching of the Buddha in order to come back to the present moment, penetrate that moment and discover your true home. I have found my true home. I do not seek, I do not worry, I do not suffer anymore. I have happiness, and I want all of my friends, students, and disciples to be able to reach your true home and stop trying to find it in space, time, culture, territory, nationality, or race.

The Buddha offers us wonderful practices so we can end our worries, our suffering, our seeking, our regrets, and so we can be in contact with the wonders of life right in the present moment. When we have the mind of nondiscrimination, we can open our arms to embrace all people and all species and everybody can become the object of our love. When we can do this, we have a true home that no one can take away from us. Even if they occupy our country or put us in prison, our true home is still ours, and they can never take it away. I speak these words to the young people, to those of you who feel that you have never had a home. I speak these words to the parents who feel that the old country is no longer your home but that the new country is not yet your home. Perhaps you can grasp this practice so you can find your true home and help your children find their true home. This is what I wish for you.

Civilization Is Openness and Tolerance 

If you have only one way of thinking, one way of behaving, then you are confined to the limits of your culture. With your habitual way of thinking, you imprison yourself and you cannot understand the suffering, the difficulties, the dreams of people of other races or other nationalities. You have a view about freedom, about happiness, about the future, and you want to force that view upon other cultures, other nations, other groups of people, and you create suffering for them. You think that everybody has to follow a certain economic model, a certain way of thinking, and only then are they civilized. When you think in this way, you have tied yourself up with a rope, and you cause danger and suffering for yourself and others.

We need to learn to let go and be open to other ways of thinking and behaving. We should not think of ourselves as superior in terms of race, science, or ideology. We have to practice to open our hearts, to learn about other cultures and other ways of thinking and behaving, so we can establish communication with people of other nations. If you were born and raised in the United States you should not let the American culture imprison you. Try to learn about the country your parents and ancestors came from. This will help you develop good communication with your parents and your ancestors; otherwise you may be cut off from the cultural stream that is one of your deepest roots.

Do not think that the culture and education you received growing up in the United States is superior; this is narrow-minded. We have to open our hearts to learn about the cultures of Asians, Africans, Europeans, and others. Europeans think and behave differently than Americans, even though many Americans have European ancestors. When we have a stubborn attitude, caught in the values, culture, and way of thinking of our own civilization, we are narrow-minded and isolated. The United States right now is isolated politically and militarily, and in the way Americans think and respond to violence and terrorism. It is not the same as the way Europeans think and respond. We need to listen to the Europeans and to people of other nations. We need to learn to let go of the view that our way of reacting and behaving is the best. When we are able to practice the Buddha’s teaching and come back to the present moment, we are in contact with our true home. Then we are not narrow-minded, we are not discriminating, and our hearts are open to embrace all races, all cultures.

Tomb37-dharma4 be civilized means to be open-minded, to offer space to others to live according to their views. Civilization is opening our arms to embrace all races, all people, all species; it is not thinking that our race or our culture is superior to all others. If young people can open their hearts wide to learn about their own and other cultures, they will begin to have rich insights. They can help those who are still isolated and caught in their own culture to come together with those from other cultures. This will allow understanding and acceptance to grow, remove boundaries, and heal conflicts.

Speaking to Young People 

If you have a great aspiration to learn about other cultures, to go to other countries and to help people accept and understand each other, you have a very great ideal. With that ideal you will not get stuck in despair, blaming others for your difficulties; instead your life will be very meaningful. I am sharing these words with the young people. Many young people have no path and don’t know what to do with their life each day. So they turn to drugs or alcohol and waste their lives. This is such a pity, because each young person can become a great bodhisattva, a great enlightened being whose deepest desire is to help people and bring together those who are separated by hatred or cultural difference.

Dear Sangha, I don’t want to be narrow-minded. I don’t say that Vietnamese culture is the best. Vietnam has many good things, but also many negative things. Buddhism has many good things, but also many negative things. One shortcoming of Buddhism is that we just talk, talk, talk about Buddhism but we do not practice. We can talk beautifully about nonself but we have a big sense of self, a huge ego.


I have the capacity to see the good and beautiful things in other cultures and spiritual traditions. My true home is vast, immense. And my two arms can embrace all nations and all religions. I do not hate, I do not have any enemies, even the terrorists and those who wage war on terrorism. I only love them. I just want the opportunity to come close to them, listen to them, and help them to let go of their wrong perceptions, hatred, and violence. I do not hate dictators, communists, or anti-communists. I want to come close to them, help them understand, and let go of the views they are caught in.

There is no hatred in my true home; therefore I have happiness. Even though there is discrimination, violence, and craving in life, I use these things as nourishment for my practice. It is just like a garden: wherever there are flowers there has to be garbage. If you leave flowers for five or ten days they will become garbage. An intelligent gardener will collect all the garbage to make compost and so bring forth an abundance of fruits and flowers. It is not a matter of not having garbage, it is a matter of knowing how to transform garbage into flowers.

Surrounding us are many wonders: the blue sky, the white clouds, the blossoming flowers, the singing birds, the majestic mountains, the flowing rivers, countless animals and birds, the sunlight, the fog, the snow; innumerable wonders of life. The Kingdom of God is here in the present moment, but because we have hatred and discrimination we are not able to be in touch with the wonders of life.

The Buddha teaches us not to be foolish, not to run after the objects of desire: riches, fame, power, sensual pleasure. There are people who have a lot of money, power, fame, and sex, but they suffer endlessly; some even commit suicide. When we listen to the Buddha and come back to the present moment to be in touch with the wonders of life, we become rich, we become free—free from objects of craving—and we have the opportunity to recognize our wonderful true home. If we have found our true home then we will have enough love and understanding to help transform and heal the wounds caused by violence, hatred, and discrimination.

No Enemies 

When I ask: “Do you have a home yet?” you might say: “Not yet. But with this teaching and this practice I can have my home.” It’s true. The teaching of the Buddha is the teaching of dwelling peacefully and joyfully in the present moment. If we know how to come back to the present moment and generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, then we will be in touch with the wonders of life. We will have happiness immediately. We will have insights. We will no longer discriminate, no longer be narrow-minded. And we can open our arms to embrace all species, all peoples, and we have no enemies. To have no enemies is a wonderful thing. When we have no enemy, no reproach, no blaming, then our mind is light like a cloud. I have no discrimination or hatred, so my mind is light and I have great happiness. I want you to be able to practice like that so that you have your true home, so that you do not accuse and judge the people who have caused you suffering. Do not look at them as your enemies, but see them as people who need understanding and compassion, so that you can help them. That is the bodhisattva’s way of looking.

We can all have this way of looking: when we are able to look in this way, we can call ourselves the children of the Buddha. To call ourselves children of the Buddha, we need to have the eyes of the Buddha, the eyes of compassion, the eyes of love. “Looking at life with the eyes of compassion” is a phrase from the Lotus Sutra. We use the eyes of compassion to look at all people and see that they are all our loved ones. We can help Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, anyone. Nobody is our enemy.

What Is Your True Name? 

Now I want to ask you a second question: “What is your true name?” Tell me. What name do you feel most comfortable with, most happy with? What are your true names? I have written a poem on this contemplation called “Please Call Me By My True Names.”

mb37-dharma6This poem was based on a real event. There was an eleven-year-old girl escaping from Vietnam with her family and other people. She was raped by a pirate, right on her boat. Her father tried to intervene, but the pirate threw her father into the sea. After the child was raped she jumped into the ocean to commit suicide. We received the news of this event one day in our Buddhist Association office in Paris. It was so upsetting to me that it kept me from sleeping; I felt anger, blame, despair. But if we are practitioners we cannot let blame and despair drown us; we have to practice walking meditation, sitting meditation, mindful breathing, and deep looking.

That evening in sitting meditation I saw myself being born as a baby boy into a very poor fishing family on the coast of Thailand. My father was a fisherman. He had never gone to the temple, he had never received any Buddhist teaching or any education. The politicians, educators, and social workers in Thailand never helped my father. My mother was also illiterate, and she did not know how to raise children. My father’s family had been poor fishermen for many generations —my great grandfather and my grandfather had been fishermen too. And when I turned thirteen I became a fisherman. I had never gone to school, I had never heard of the Buddhadharma, I had never felt loved or understood, and I lived in chronic poverty, persisting from one generation to the next.

Then one day another young fisherman said to me: “Let’s go out onto the ocean. There are boat people who pass near here and they often carry gold and jewelry, sometimes even money. Just one trip and we can be free from this poverty.” I accepted the invitation. I thought: We only need to take away a little bit of their jewelry, it won’t do any harm, and then we can be free from this poverty. So I became a pirate. The first time I went out I did not even know that I had become a pirate. But once out on the ocean, I saw the other pirates raping young women on the boats. I had never touched a young woman, I had never even thought about holding hands or going out with a young woman. But on the boat there was a very beautiful young woman, and there was no policeman to forbid me, and I saw other people doing it, and I asked myself: Why shouldn’t I try it too? This may be my chance to try the body of a young woman. So I did it.

If you were there on the boat and you had a gun, you could shoot me. But shooting me would not help me. Nobody ever taught me how to love, how to understand, how to see the suffering of others. My father and mother were not taught this either. I didn’t know what was wholesome and what was unwholesome, I didn’t understand cause and effect. I was living in the dark. If you had a gun, you could shoot me, and I would die. But you wouldn’t be able to help me at all.

As I continued sitting, I saw hundreds of babies being born that night along the coast of Thailand under the same circumstances, many of them baby boys. If the politicians and cultural ministers could look deeply, they would see that within twenty years those babies would become pirates. When I was able to see that, I understood. When I put myself in the situation of being born in a family that was uneducated and poor from one generation to the next, I saw that I would not be able to avoid becoming a pirate. When I saw that, my hatred, my resentment, my reproach vanished, and I felt that I could love that pirate.

When I saw those babies being born and growing up with no help, I knew that I had to do something so that they would not become pirates. The energy of a bodhisattva arose in my mind, the energy of love. I did not suffer anymore, but I had a lot of compassion and I could embrace not only the eleven-year-old child who was raped, but also the pirate.

When you address me as “Venerable Nhat Hanh,” I answer “yes,” but when you call the name of the child who was raped, I also answer “yes.” And if you call the name of the pirate, I would also answer “yes.” Because they are also me. If I had been born in that area under those circumstances I would also have become the pirate. I am the young girl who is raped by the pirate, but I am also the pirate that rapes the child. And so I could embrace both of them, in order to help not only that young girl but also the pirate. I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my two legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am also the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda. Those poor children in Uganda do not need bombs, they need food to eat. But here in America I live by producing bombs and guns. And if we want others to buy guns and bombs, then we have to create wars. If you call the name of the child in Uganda, I answer “yes.” And if you call the name of those who produce the bombs and guns I also answer “yes.” When I am able to see that I am those people, my hatred is no longer there, and I am determined to live in a way that I can help the victims, and I can also help those who create the wars and destruction.

So, when people call us African Americans, we answer, “yes.” When they call us Africans we answer,“yes.” When they call us Americans, we also answer “yes.” When people call the names of those who are discriminated against, we answer “yes.” And when they call the names of those who are discriminating, we also answer,“yes”—because all of them are us. Within us are the victims of discrimination as well as the perpetrators of discrimination. When we know that we are all victims of ignorance, violence, and hatred, then we can love ourselves and also love others. We have to practice in such a way that we free ourselves from thinking and feeling that injustice has been done to us, that we are inferior, that we are without value. The teaching of the Buddha can help us to attain the wisdom of nondiscrimination that can free us from our inferiority complex. Only when we are free can we help others in the same situation, as well as those who discriminate and exploit. We do not look at them as our enemies anymore, but we see that they need our help because they are also victims of ignorance and of the narrow-minded aspects of their traditions.

In 1966 I gave a Dharma talk at a church in Minneapolis, and afterward I was very tired. I walked slowly in meditation back to my room so I could enjoy the cold, fragrant night air and be nourished and healed. While I was walking, taking each step in freedom, a car came up from behind and, braking loudly, stopped very close to me. The driver opened the door, looked at me and shouted: This is America, this is not China. Then he drove away. Maybe he had thought, This is a Chinese person who dares to walk in freedom in America, and he could not bear it. This is America, only white people can live here. And Chinese people, how dare you come here and how dare you walk with such freedom? You have no right to walk in this way. This is America, this is not China. That is discrimination against nationality, against race. But I was not angry—that was the good thing about it—I thought it was funny. I thought: If he would just pause for a moment, I would tell him, “I agree with you one hundred percent, this is America, this is not China: why do you have to shout at me?”

We know that the seed of discrimination lies in all of us. Once in New York a black woman shouted at me, even though I am also a person of color—only a different color. But because I wore a brown robe and I walked in freedom, she could not bear it. So don’t say it is only white people who discriminate. The oppressed and the oppressors are inside all of us, and our practice is to attain the wisdom of nondiscrimination.

So when somebody calls me Nhat Hanh, I answer “yes”; when you call me Bush, I answer “yes”—because Bush is also my name. If you call me Saddam Hussein I will answer “yes”—because I am all of them. I don’t want Mr. Bush to suffer; I don’t want Saddam Hussein to suffer. I want everyone to be happy and free because they are my beloved ones. Right now, living the life of a bodhisattva, I have no enemies because I have no discrimination.

I want all the practitioners who come to Deer Park to practice so you can have this mind of nondiscrimination, so you can rebuild your life and become free. In this way you can help young people, whatever their color, to reach this freedom. Then they will be able to help build their community, and help everyone around them.

Please Call Me By My True Names 

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion.

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Poem: Please Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion.

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

Thich Nhat Hanh Returns to Vietnam!

And You Are Invited! mb37-ThichNhatHanh

The Vietnamese government has invited Thich Nhat Hanh to return after thirty-nine years in exile. Thay will be teaching in temples throughout the country over a four-month period. Practitioners are invited to join Thay and the Sangha for one or more segments of the trip.

“I want to go back to my root temple with my friends, my disciples, as an offering to the patriarchs. When you make an offering on the altar, you select the most beautiful fruit. You wash them carefully and arrange them on a plate. We are trying to do the same.

“The whole trip will be deep practice. Every step will be taken in mindfulness. The way we walk, the way we sit, the way we smile, the way we speak should be an offering, and we have to prepare ourselves in order to be a beautiful offering. I want those who join me to be at their best, in terms of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. This will have an impact on the land and on the people, especially the younger generation.

“This is the best thing I can offer to my ancestors, to my country, after thirty-nine years of absence.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, June 16, 2004

Join Thay for one or more segments of the journey

Segment 1 January 13 to February 4 Hanoi/Saigon
Segment 2 February 4 to February 28 Saigon/Hue
Segment 3 February 28 to March 23 Hue/Hanoi
Segment 4 March 23 to April 11 Hanoi/Binh Dinh

For more information and registration instructions, go to www.plumvillage.org, then follow the link to The Trip to Vietnam

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Letter from the Editor

mb38-LetterFromEditorTo Our Readers Our teacher has said that the Dharma seal of Plum Village is I have arrived, I am home.

Now, after thirty-nine years in exile, Thich Nhat Hanh has been invited to return to Vietnam. When I heard this news, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. I can only imagine what it must mean to be able to see the landscape, to smell the flowers, and to hear the birds of your native land after such a long time.

And yet, I know that our teacher goes in freedom, because he has found his true home. As he says, this journey is an offering to the ancestors, to the land and the people, given in generosity from an already full heart.

In a Dharma talk given at the Colors of Compassion retreat last March at Deer Park Monastery, Thay spoke about how so many of us have not been able to find a home in this world, reminding us that finding our true home depends on the simple practice of coming to rest in each breath.

Thay says: “Our true home is life, our true home is the present moment, whatever is happening right here and right now. Our true home is the place without discrimination, the place without hatred. Our true home is the place where we no longer seek, no longer wish, no longer regret.”


An article about a couple who escaped from Vietnam as boat people exemplifies how to live with courage and compassion. Also featured in this issue are stories and poems from participants at the Colors of Compassion retreat. Sr. Chau Nghiem, coordinator for the retreat, offers her understanding of the blessings and challenges growing up as a person of color in an interview with Larry Ward.

The section “Practice in the World” offers examples of committing to and offering the mindfulness trainings in a nonsectarian way. We hear wisdom from Thay on the roots of violence and abuse in times of war. Also included are stories and poems from monks who participated in an ancient, indigenous people’s ceremony.

In a rich variety of daily practice tips, Sangha members offer concrete teachings on eating, being in touch with the moon, making soymilk, and sweeping. The practice of mindfulness is for each moment of our lives, from bathroom activities in the morning to lying down to sleep at night. May we make each moment count, may we be fully alive to each precious breath.

In gratitude,


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Boat People

by Christine Dawkins mb37-Boat1

During the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh and the young members of the School of Youth for Social Service braved the mine-laden fields of the embattled countryside to bring food, clothing, building materials and medical supplies to the villagers whose homes and families had been destroyed. Later, Thay wrote in Lotus in a Sea of Fire that all that is beautiful contains suffering, and that all suffering can bring forth great beauty. The sea of fire that was the war in Vietnam brought forth the lotus of Plum Village, its sister monasteries in the United States, and the many practice centers and Sanghas that have grown all over the globe. It has also brought the Vietnamese and Western worlds together into a family that is beautiful and diverse.

My guilt, grief, and anger towards my government have been held in the arms of the forgiveness, faith, and resilience with which the Vietnamese people I met have embraced their lives. I can only hope my listening to their stories also brought them a small measure of the peace and healing they brought to me.


On January 27, 1972, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending the ten-year presence of the United States military in Vietnam and giving the U.S. sixty days to withdraw all troops and dismantle all military bases within South Vietnam. For most Americans, this ended the long and futile nightmare of a costly war. While there would be many social, political, and economic consequences, most of us in the U.S. breathed a sigh of relief and tried to put the war behind us.

Although the Paris Peace Accords provided for the reunification of Vietnam, it was common knowledge that the invasion of South Vietnam by Viet Cong military forces was now inevitable. The accords also provided that the unification was to be accomplished without foreign interference. But although the United States had withdrawn its support of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese still received support and arms from Russia and China. No longer fettered by U.S. presence in the South, and in direct violation of the accords, Communist soldiers marched southward through the devastated countryside, occupying town after town, until they reached their final destination, Saigon.

Saigon fell on April 30, 1975. Aware that their days of freedom were numbered, thousands of South Vietnamese attempted to flee the country in the weeks prior to the fall, but only a lucky few had the connections to obtain exit visas. Life under the Communists was intolerable for many, especially high-ranking South Vietnamese military officials. I met one man who had been told that he just needed to go to a few classes explaining the new regime’s rules, but ended up in a reeducation camp for five years. These so-called camps were really prisons, where the inmates were forced to perform hard labor under inhumane conditions.

Thus were the Boat People born, hundreds of thousands of courageous men, women, and children who entrusted themselves to the China Sea in the hope of finding a better future for themselves and their children. In 1986, it was estimated that one million Vietnamese refugees had taken to the China Sea in small boats. Many of these people relocated to the United States, Australia, Canada, France, and other European countries. There is no way to know how many never made it. Some believe another million died on the way by drowning, starvation, dehydration, or at the hands of Thai pirates who routinely attacked, robbed, tortured, abducted, raped, sold into prostitution, or murdered the refugees.

The Boat People began their exodus in 1975. By 1979, the number of people braving the China Sea had mounted significantly. Unfortunately, so did the number of pirates. These pirates were Thai fishermen who had learned that piracy was more lucrative than fishing. Because the Vietnamese had been forced to leave everything behind, many of them sold whatever they could to bring gold for their new start in life. In small boats that easily capsized, filled way beyond their capacity with passengers with little or no seafaring skills, the boat people were easy prey for the pirates.


Just getting a space on a boat was no small task. Vietnam was even more divided after the war than during it. Sometimes there were Communists and freedom fighters in the same family. Under the Communist regime, it was very important to keep up the appearance of a humble hard-working Communist. This meant knowing who could be safely approached to arrange for escape.

One couple, Cuc and Xe Dang, made several attempts before they managed to get on a boat. During one attempt, the family had to split up. Xe went with one group while Cuc was scheduled to take off with another. It was nighttime and the group Xe was going with was being ferried out to the fishing boat in a small rowboat. Xe insisted on going last, as three years in a re-education camp had taught him to listen to his instincts. Half the group had already been ferried out when the Communist police captured the escapees. Xe was able to intercept his wife and then had to hide for several months, having already been singled out by the Communists for the harsher treatment given to those who had worked for the Americans.

In the meantime, Cuc’s father was approached by someone who asked if his son-in-law might be interested in going in a boat with him and some others. This is the boat that finally carried them to freedom. The journey was not an easy one. They had a one-yearold and a four-year-old child and traveled with some young nieces and nephews. During the eight-day trip, their boat was attacked by pirates eight times.

The first time, the pirates took everything, including food, clothes, watches, and jewelry. Even their spare engine was stolen. They were made to strip and were searched. Other times they were left alone when the pirates saw they had nothing. But one time, the pirates took three young women onto their boat and raped them. “We were very scared,” Cuc said, “and thought we would be next. But then a friend, who knew a little English said, “Pray to Buddha.’” Cuc laughed, “I did not know who Buddha was. But I prayed with the others out loud. ‘Please, Buddha, help us, Buddha! Please help us, Buddha!’ over and over again. It turned out the pirates were Buddhist and they got scared when they heard us calling Buddha, so they left!” Cuc asked her friend, “Who is this Buddha we called to?” “It is But!” her friend answered. “I had no idea that Buddha was the English word for But. I thought I was praying to some strange God.,” Cuc said.

But their difficulties were not over. When they finally made it to Malaysia, they were told the refugee camp could not accept them. They stayed on shore during heavy rains in a place without a roof and only a pit dug into the ground for a toilet.

After several days, an official told them they were going to be taken somewhere in preparation of being sent to the United States. They were told to get into their boats, which were tied in a chain and attached to a Malaysian ship. Cuc and Xe’s boat was the last boat of eight. The ship took to sea, going too rapidly for the small fishing boats to withstand the ocean waves that poured in from the ship’s wake. Xe told the others in his boat, “We are going to sink unless we untie ourselves.”

It had become apparent their destination was not the United States, but the middle of the ocean. The boats were being watched by the Malaysian officials on the ship’s deck, but since it was dark and Xe’s boat was last in line, someone was able to crawl out to the prow and cut the line. Solemnly, they watched as the other boats were towed helplessly out to the open ocean, their hulls filling with water.

One of the first things Cuc did when she finally made it to the United States was commission a painting depicting the boat that carried Cuc, her husband and two children over the turbulent China Sea from Vietnam to freedom. “When we finally arrived in the United States, we had lost everything,” Cuc recalls. She glances over at the large oil painting above her fireplace. “The painting, done by a famous Vietnamese artist, was very expensive. But I did not care about the cost.” In the painting, the small fishing boat bobbing precariously in the foaming waves is emblazoned with the number of the boat they escaped on. “I bought it so we would never forget our escape, so that my children will always know: We are Boat People! When they do poorly at school, when some difficulty comes up for us, we stand in front of this painting, and I remind them. We are Boat People!”

Christine Dawkins, True Wonderful Mind, practices with her daughters, Siena and Chiara, at Deer Park, with the Still Water Sangha in Santa Barbara.

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Our Racism is a Crying Baby

Larry Ward Interviews Sister Chau Nghiem June 20, 2004 at the New Hamlet, Plum Village


Sr. Chau Nghiem, can you give us a glimpse into what it was like being a person of African American and European American descent, prior to coming to Buddhist practice and monastic life?

It’s been at the center of my searching all my life. I have always tried to understand who I am, because from a young age I felt that there were conflicting parts of me. My life has been very complex and very rich because of this.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in a large, Christian, lay residential community. My mother is African American and my father is European American. Tthere were other African Americans in the community, as well as Indians and Asians, but it was mainly European Americans. The neighborhood surrounding us on the north side of Chicago was very diverse.

When I was eight or nine, I would squeeze the bridge of my nose a lot, hoping it would become skinny like a white person’s, because somewhere I got the message that my nose was too flat. Also, my brother and I met my dad’s parents for the first time when I was nine, after my parents had divorced. It was only after my parents divorced that we were allowed to come visit them in Houston. And they had an African American maid. So that was a very stark message and it stuck with me.

But from age eight to twelve we also lived in Kenya. It was very good to live outside of the United States, which has unique racial practices. It was wonderful to live in an African country, to go to school with many African children, and to grow up in an environment where people lived simply and close to the land. Visiting the homes of my Kenyan friends, I learned some of their native language and culture. Near our home, there were always women in their beautiful, colorful kangas, selling things in the market. Something deep in me was nourished.

I went back to Chicago for junior high, and was bussed to a racially diverse school on the South Side. I had Latina, Polish, Asian, and black friends. But being different racially wasn’t something we talked about or were really aware of, I think because we hadn’t started dating yet. It all gets complicated when you think, Who am I going to date? Race wasn’t on my mind, and I didn’t see myself as a person of color or as a person of a certain race.

But when I started high school, we moved to Atlanta. I lived with my dad and his fiancée, who were both white, in an all-black neighborhood. I attended a mostly white school. So suddenly, I was out of the lay residential community that I’d grown up in all my life which had been a cushion between me and the world I now found myself in. It began to get really hard, with no other racial groups but whites and blacks, and all this Southern history embedded in the culture.

It became clear that I didn’t fit with the black folks. I’d grown up in different parts of the world, but mostly with white people, so I didn’t talk like a black person. I didn’t have the same mindset or family background. I could dance! I could always dance, but otherwise I didn’t fit in. There were other kids who were biracial: black and white, and we all had to try really hard to prove that we were black. It was very painful.


I think not growing up with my mom also made me feel like something was missing. My parents divorced when I was seven and my brother and I lived with my dad. We only visited my mom and her relatives for two weeks every summer so I never really lived with black people. I was hungry for something they had that I felt was my inheritance, but that was somehow foreign to me.

Around that time I started to read a lot of African American authors. My dad always had us listen to many kinds of music, but especially to soul music and R&B. This cultural connection to my ancestors spoke to me on a very deep level, and helped me make sense of things.

In high school it became clear that I did belong to a certain color, and that was black. I took that on, and said, “I have a white father, but I am black, because that’s what society says I am.” So I dated mostly black men and checked the African American box on official forms. But I knew that the boxes I checked and the messages I was receiving did not fully describe who I was.

In my junior year of high school, I wanted to spend a year abroad as an exchange student and I chose Brazil. I wanted to experience being in a society where the lines of racial discrimination were less rigidly drawn and where people interact with other races with more humanity and ease. The African Diaspora became the focus of my academic interests. I learned capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. My master’s thesis in university was on capoeira as emancipation practice for African American young people. A major concern of mine as a teenager and young adult was to understand and help to change the suffering caused by racism that I experienced and witnessed around me.

What was the purpose of the People of Color Retreat?

For me it was to embrace people of color, to reach out and say, “Hey, you! We want you to feel like this is your space, too.” It was motivated by a deep wish to help people feel at ease. Like our other retreats which focus on a group of people with a common life experience (i.e., police officers, congresspeople, children, artists, psychotherapists, etc.), we wanted to provided one more condition to help people feel safe and bring mindfulness into their lives. Sometimes you have to open lots of doors; this was just opening one more door. Also many of the monastic brothers and sisters felt that in order to be complete as a community, we needed to reach out to a wider group of people, to include a missing element in our Sangha.

Who attended the People of Color Retreat? What were we like and where were we from?

The first night in the front of the Dharma hall, looking at the sea of colored faces, I could have cried. It was so beautiful! Mainly we were from the United States, many of us coming for the first time to this practice, and many who were new to Buddhism. Many were also from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender communities. The two biggest racial groups were African American and Asian American,  although most people had quite a mixture in their backgrounds. There were also Latinos and Native Americans, and a few European Americans.

Why has it taken so long to introduce this practice to people of color?

Actually, I think a majority of Buddhists in the United States are people of color: they’re Korean Buddhists and Chinese Buddhists and Japanese Buddhists. They are mostly in insular communities that are preserving a tradition.

Another aspect of Buddhism is influencing mainstream American society. When we become Buddhist practitioners it’s difficult not to reflect in our Sanghas whatever racial blindness we carry. If we live in a white neighborhood with white schools and primarily white work environments, of course our Sanghas will reflect that. There are also economic obstacles. But the number of practitioners of color is definitely growing. A hundred people attended the African American Buddhist retreat at Spirit Rock in 2002. This year at Deer Park there were almost three hundred.

What was the biggest challenge in the organization and development of the retreat?

For me the biggest challenge was defining the terms of inclusiveness. How do you handle requests from people who aren’t of color but who want to come? How do you design a Dharma discussion where people of color feel at ease, and also include our forty white monastics? At first we felt the retreat should be for people of color only, but Thay suggested that while priority could be given to people of color, European Americans could still come if there was space.


When we began to reach our maximum capacity, I had to turn away white people. Some felt that they were being discriminated against and were hurt. The monastery is usually open to everyone, so being a person of color and having to explain to a white person that they can’t attend was quite painful. I told one person he couldn’t come because we had to save the last spaces for people of color and he said, “Well, white is a color!” I wrote him and said, “White is a color, but white is not the color that is undergoing racial oppression in this country.” I sent him some concrete statistics on the racial discrimination happening here. Several other cases were not easy to resolve. How do you determine who is white or of color anyway? Some people look white but have ancestors of color; who are we to say they are not people of color? These difficulties illustrate how people of color often spend so much time thinking and worrying about what white people feel and think. It’s not a helpful habit energy to always see ourselves through the eyes of white people. In the end, retreatants were happy that the majority of people were of color and asked that future retreats have the same ratio.


There was so much karma coming at me at the registration desk! It was difficult to feel like I was taking sides but at the same time trying to offer people of color the safe and supportive environment they needed. I don’t know how to be fair and compassionate all the time.

Next time there should be at least three people to help with registration, for greater collective insight into such situations.

For me just to talk about “them” and “us” and “white people” and “people of color” is painful. Since becoming a nun, I don’t think about my European and European American brothers and sisters as white, I just see them as my brothers and sisters. But in this retreat full of people of color, I felt an incredible joy and glory in myself being a person of color; it was profound and healing. I had never been around that many people of color practicing mindfulness.

How has the practice been helpful to people in dealing with their suffering?

It was so important for people to hear that Thay understood and shared their difficulties. In his orientation, he talked about his struggle for peace in Vietnam, his connection to Dr. King, and his own experience of being discriminated against. He told of being detained at the Seattle airport in the 1960s when he was on tour speaking out against the war in Vietnam. Because he did not have a transit visa, immigration officials seized his passport and locked him in a room with big “Wanted” posters on every wall. Thay was telling us, “I’ve been there. I’ve been through what you have experienced.” And people felt, Ah! Okay. I’m not going to be preached at by someone who doesn’t know where I’m coming from. Here’s someone who has been where I am and has reached a very beautiful place in spiritual life. So I don’t have to be stuck.

Usually when we have a transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Thay puts the incense on the Buddha altar and gives the second stick of incense to a monastic to put on the ancestor altar. But at this ceremony, Thay offered incense to both altars. I think people really felt embraced and honored by Thay.

People also felt moved by the sense of community. For many, there aren’t other people of color they can share these concerns with in their local communities. Here we nourished each other, shared our common ancestry, and our desire to transform. We invited everyone to put an object connecting them to their ancestors on the ancestors’ altar. Someone brought a bag of rice, someone brought a book about slavery. Someone brought a T-shirt, with a picture of Indian chiefs that said, “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492: the Department of Homeland

Security.” [Laughs.] There was a necklace, a bag of seeds, a doll. People brought pictures of their families, their ancestors, a drum. The last night retreatants shared a song or poem, or talked about their object on the altar. It was a highlight of the retreat: each sharing was so rich and nourishing. We were honoring and healing our blood family in the context of a spiritual family.

How can practitioners help increase access to Buddhist practice for people of color?

I think mainly it’s just to be open and not to feel like we’re doing anything wrong. When we bring up the idea of including more people of color in our Sangha, just to be aware of whatever feelings come up. It might be something comfortable, it might be uncomfortable. We have to be gentle with ourselves.

We need to talk about racism or discrimination like Thay talks about our painful mental formations: it’s a crying baby, and we need to take care of it. We need everybody’s mindfulness and insight because we’ve been running from it for a long time; we have to be careful not to be violent with ourselves, with our language; we need to have compassion for ourselves. Our attitudes about racism and discrimination are a transmission from our family and society. It’s thick, uncomfortable mud, but it can produce a lotus. We need to have a positive outlook.

Thay is so wonderful, setting the context of how we talk about racism in our practice of compassion and understanding. We also need to have curiosity and inquiry, not to assume that we know everything. We’ve been indoctrinated since birth, so we need a sense of spaciousness around our perceptions, being open to changing. We need to look into ourselves and to ask, “When did I start to identify as a person of a certain color, and how has that influenced my life? How do I act from that, in helpful and unhelpful ways?”

The history of racism in our society is so present, right under the surface; it doesn’t take much for it to come up. There’s little clarity or understanding about it. As a society, I see us going in the wrong direction; we’re becoming more stratified. We need a spiritual perspective on this collective suffering. Shining the light of mindfulness on this area of our lives will bring a lot of benefit. There are skilled people—you’re one of them, Larry—who know how to ask the right questions in a way that helps us to touch honestly the painful and scary feelings, and to see how to transform them.

For me this is totally about transformation and liberation, not about getting even or complaining or blaming.  And it’s collective––we have to heal all of us. My five-year-old nephew is already being affected by racism. Already! He’s five years old, and I can see it. And I don’t want kids to have to live with that reality. This is about healing all of us, being compassionate with ourselves, and being willing to go where it’s not easy or comfortable.

What is emerging as next steps?

There is a five-day retreat for people of color planned at Deer Park in September 2005. The exact dates will be on our Website soon. The folks at Spirit Rock have asked Thay to lead an event in the Bay Area. People are excited, saying, “Come over here! Do some of that for us!”

There is this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. Parallax Press is publishing a book this fall called, Dharma, Color, and Culture. There are plans to set up a self-sustaining endowment fund to help more people of color and other underrepresented groups to attend Thay’s retreats. We want to find ways to reach out to more young people of color. We are creating an group for people to dialogue about increasing diversity in our Sanghas (e-mail inclusivesangha-subscribe@yahoogroups.com to join in!). Trained people could come to local Sanghas or to our bigger retreats to lead us in how to unlearn racism and be more inclusive to people of color. I’d love to see our whole Sangha body engaged in a conversation about this.

I talked with a person of color from the UK who thinks it would be extremely helpful to have a similar retreat there. So this feels like a story I heard of an osprey who dove into the ocean for a fish, and picked up a whale. There is a lot of substance here to be worked with personally and collectively and globally. The inspiration of what’s already happened is starting to water positive seeds of healing and transformation in other places. Thank you for your interview.

Wonderful! Thank you, Larry. Thank you very much.


Larry Ward is a Dharma teacher living in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Finding Home

by Earthlyn Marselean Manuel mb37-Finding1

Enchanted are the souls of Africans whose bloody feet cracked the seashells that lay beneath the sand on the seashores of my beginnings. I call for the healing of those feet in me and in those around me, breathing wind a million years old, left in the thicket of trees and foul marshes. Come my ancestors to the table where I eat rice that you have given me. Come feel the cotton clothes I wear because of the crops you harvested. Come let me kiss your hands that swelled long after sunset each day. If only all that you loved and lost came back from the heavens, back from beneath the sea.

Walking sacred land where you withered and rose again despite the horror, I give honor, thanking you for surviving my beginnings, for the world that shares in the abundance created by you. We must remember you stained the sand that washes beneath our feet, pushing us deeper into it, turning us into purple sand dunes in your honor.

I lost sight of home, the trees planted in my name, ceremonies, sight of waterfalls; and I have lost the smell of certain flowers and fruits. Rage stays a memory of you on this planet, a memory that will not pain us forever.

And now I’m finding home, close to the sacred earth your bones have settled, nestled close to each breath. I climbed the heavens and saw you there; your face alights from resting. Where the sea delivered you to this land is where you are too. I move on in your honor, your stories unburied, your spirit alive in everything.

I go now speaking your names, finding home in the way I walk across the street. Being so close to home that one day, someone will yell out to me, “Hey this is not Africa.” And I will respond, “It certainly isn’t.”

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Poem: Roots

mb37-Roots1 At the end of the Civil War my great-grandfather walked four hundred miles back home to Georgia and gave up his gun. Said he’d seen enough dead men and beasts in those four years to cure a man of hunting, forever.

Not too long after that he stumbled in the night upon four men in sheets about to lynch a Negro. In those days one knew all one’s neighbors. He yelled, “What you plannin’ to do with that man?” They yelled, “Kill him!” He said, “You do, and I’ll turn your names in to the authorities, every last one of you!” They said, “You do, and we’ll shoot you, too!” They did. The next day, he did. And that night, as he sat with his family at supper, they did.

Emily Whittle


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Being Born a Person of Color

by Larry Ward mb37-Being1

It is a miracle to be born. It is also a miracle to be born as a person of color. While it is true that most of the people in the world are people of color, it has rarely been seen as a miracle but rather as an overwhelming burden and devastating curse. Attending the People of Color Retreat at Deer Park Monastery was a deep joy for me. It was healing to practice with such a multicultural Sangha.

It is a rainy day here in Asheville, North Carolina. The city is surrounded by fog; the air is thick and it is often difficult to see clearly. I catch only glimpses of the green trees through the large raindrops that are nourishing the earth. My journey with the spiritual aspects of being a person of color has been like today’s weather––a lot of fog interspersed with glimpses of clarity.

While growing up in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, my greatest resource on my journey as a person of color were my parents and the inspiring men and women of the civil rights movement. My parents taught me to be respectful of everyone regardless of their color. They taught me to love my African American roots. They taught me the value of living a spiritual life. Through their storytelling, they also taught me the pain of discrimination, prejudice, and racism.

The inspiring heroes of the civil rights movement taught me to find my own dreams and discover my own courage in fulfilling the task of social justice. They taught me to think globally, as discrimination and prejudice know no borders. They taught me to act with compassion on behalf of the whole society.

Discovering a path of practice, supported by my teacher and the Sangha, has and continues to bring me deep healing and transformation which penetrates every fiber of my being and brings me peace, freedom, and understanding. This has come about through the continuous practice of recognizing and embracing my suffering, my anger, and my fear as a person of color. I have come face to face with the self-esteem complex in the seeds of my psyche and the collective psyche of our society. I have become more intimate with the pain of being devalued, threatened, and harmed; in so doing I have become more connected with the despair of my ancestors.

Through the practice of looking deeply I was astonished to discover how much hurt there was in every cell of my body. When the tears come I know they are the tears of my ancestors that are my self. I have learned to practice recognizing and embracing the gifts and positive energies of my ancestors that reside in every cell of my body.  I am learning to heal the negative patterns and energies that I have inherited. When the sadness of the wounds of time rises up within me, I go to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as my refuge. I can truly say that through the practices the Buddha taught, my tears have become Dharma rain, nourishing my compassion for myself, my race, and all people.

I have discovered that my transformation and healing is the transformation and healing of my ancestors. I have learned that the roots of exercising bigotry towards others often mask a profound doubt in one’s own value, worth, and dignity. I have come to see that racism and discrimination at their roots are manifestations of the three poisons of which the Buddha spoke: hatred, greed, and ignorance. The practice of the mindfulness trainings are my raft over this ocean of disease. I am learning not to add to my suffering by caring for my body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

This does not mean that all of my habits of mind and body that cause me and those around me to suffer have been removed. Nor does it mean that our society is rid of the mind of violence, hatred, and ignorance. It does mean that I feel safe and unafraid with my practice, my teacher, my family, and my Sangha supporting me. I enjoy sitting, lying, and walking meditation as they refresh my body and my mind. I participate in days of mindfulness and retreats whenever possible. This nourishment keeps me from losing hope in myself and hope in humanity.

Yes, it is a miracle to be born. It is also a miracle to be born as a person of color. I am touched by the miracle of all peoples, all places, and all times as I come home to the miracle that is myself.

Larry Ward, True Great Sound, received lamp transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in 2001. Living in Asheville, North Carolina, he and his wife, Peggy Rowe, are co-directors of The Lotus Institute, which shares Thay’s teachings throughout the world. They live on four acres of land where they plan to build a lay practice center.

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An Open Letter from a Southern White Girl

by Trish Thompson mb37-AnOpen1 Eeanie, Meanie, Meinie, Mo Catch a Nigger By His Toe. If He Hollers, Let Him Go. Eeanie, Meanie, Meinie, Mo

Dear Brothers and Sisters of African American Ancestry,

If you grew up in the southern United States in the 1940s and 50s, you might be aware that white children and adults commonly recited this verse. To make a choice between two things, a person pointed a finger first at one thing and then at another, repeating the verse, word by word. The choice was determined on the last word, “Mo.”

I am that little white girl whose house you could not enter, except to work. You could never sit at my table, though I could sit at yours. Sometimes you helped your mama by bringing the freshly-picked vegetables or clean laundry, entering through the back door. The front of the house was off-limits to you. We shyly eyed each other, uncomfortable, never really talking. An only child, I wanted a playmate, but I do not remember wanting to play with you. Even the thought was unacceptable.

We lived in the country, my family in a comfortable house with most modern conveniences, yours across the dirt road in a brokendown, three-room shack. Your parents stuffed the cracks in the floors and walls with paper, when they could find some. You had no window screens, no plumbing, and no electricity. A wood-burning kitchen stove was a welcome source of heat in winter, but created misery in the hot, southern summers.

I loved your parents, but I never knew your family name. My parents were “Mr. Wattie”and “Miz Mamie” to you. I was aware that our way of addressing each other was odd. I knew the rules, but I didn’t understand the reasons for them. As the years passed my awareness grew, though I often ignored what I saw happening.

Whites generally ignored the presence of blacks, not easy in a county whose population was split fifty-fifty. We kept you “in your place,”separate from us. You sat in the back of the bus and in separate waiting rooms at the doctor and dentist; if there wasn’t one, you waited outside. You sat in the balcony at the movies, entering through a side door. You could not enter our restaurants or sit at our lunch counters. And, you were quiet, no trouble at all.

I used the “Whites Only” toilet at the theater and elsewhere. There were none for you. What did you do? I drank from the “Whites Only” water fountain. Yours said “Colored.” The “Only” was unnecessary, as whites, including me, would go thirsty before drinking from the fountain you used.

Your people stepped off the sidewalk, in deference, when mine walked by. It was expected. Some whites reacted violently at the hint of any attitude lacking “proper respect”, though I only heard about such incidents. In my experience, black people were always subservient, never making eye contact. Every black man knew to be very careful in the presence of a white woman.

Your people had no police protection. White families were also denied basic protection; the police never “interfered” in domestic issues, no matter how violent. When I was nine years old, I saw a long procession of cars drive slowly through our little town, each with several white-hooded figures inside. In broad daylight the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in the front yard of a white family who had been too friendly with “niggers.” I remember feeling curious and also afraid.

Racial jokes and demeaning language were the norm among whites of all ages and levels of education. And yet, individual white and black people had real affection for one another, working together and helping each other as neighbors. In the rural South, we truly felt ourselves to be one big extended family. It was all very confusing to me.

After I moved out of the South in the early 60s, I began to realize that a great injustice, a subjugation of an entire race of people, was continuing, and I had been part of it. All of us, black and white, had been caught in a life of fear and oppression. Not one of us had ever really been free.

How do I understand those years of my childhood, those unbelievably dark years? I have so much I want to say to you. As memories continue to surface, I breathe deeply. Some wounds seem to bleed forever.

Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace, practices with the Sea Island Sangha in Beaufort, South Carolina. Her letter is excerpted from a series of essays she is writing on her early life in the Deep South.

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The Culture of Violence in Boys and Men

by Terry Miller mb37-TheCulture1

I spent two weeks of the 2004 Winter Retreat at Deer Park Monastery as part of my personal and professional work, during a sabbatical from my college teaching job. I have been researching, contemplating, and writing about boys and violence. This topic is very much a part of my own personal practice, as I confront my maleness and the violence of my country.

Growing up as an American boy, I felt alienated from most of my American brothers, and extremely sensitive to the violence in the culture of boys. I turned eighteen in 1967 and was drafted into the army to fight in the war in Vietnam. I refused to serve and helped others to resist the war. As luck would have it, I did not have to fight or kill in a war that I did not support, nor did I have to serve time in prison, as I had expected.

I became an elementary school teacher, and thus continued to spend my days with boys and girls. I tried to integrate peace education and conflict resolution into my classroom, and I worked with other teachers and parents in this effort. Deep down, I still felt alienated from men and boys. I was repulsed by violence on the playground, in sports, in the media, and especially by the cruel physical and verbal bullying which seemed so common in the culture of boys.

In the early 1990s, and again in 2003, many Americans were in full support of the U.S. participation in the wars in the Middle East, believing that bombing and killing were necessary to maintain our safety. At the same time, from the 1990s on, the violence in the culture of boys took a terrible turn. Horrific incidents of shootings in schools began, and awareness grew of the prevalence of physical and verbal bullying among teens. Many of us felt increasing revulsion and despair at the violence of men and boys. We asked ourselves: What is wrong with this entire gender of human beings?

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, we are not separate from those boys and men. They are me, and I am the product of the same cultural experience. It was time for me to look deeply at the behavior of boys and at my own behavior. My time in Deer Park was a crucial part of that work.

So many of the stories I have read, both factual and fictional, confirm that beneath the inclination to violence lies deeply rooted fear. We fear the enemy; we fear violence and death caused by bad people or bad nations. Boys and men are raised with another, equally powerful fear—the fear of weakness, the fear of cowardice, the fear of being shamed.

Sports, “play fighting,” violent entertainment, and bullying are integral parts of this culture today—all serving as tests of a boy’s manliness. The largely unspoken, deeply disturbing truth is that we, the adult men and women of America as well as many other societies, feel that we need our boys to be ready to fight our enemies. When we ask why our boys become so violent and cruel, perhaps it is because we think we need them to be this way.

When we look at ourselves deeply, we confront our deepest fears. To look at violence in others, we must see the seeds of violence in ourselves. We must see that our children are acting out our fears, and that we and our enemies are interconnected. Only then can we begin to help our boys and girls find a better way to be.

We need to plant and nourish seeds of nonviolence and compassion in our boys and girls. Men and women need to model how to face our fears in a peaceful way. We need to show our children how to be empathetic to all beings ––how to see ourselves in other beings, even in the perceived enemy. We need to talk about our own mindfulness trainings practice, and demonstrate how we attempt to put peace and compassion into practice, moment to moment.

One concrete way to facilitate discussion of this topic is to read aloud novels with a peacemaking theme, and to discuss the feelings and actions of the characters with our children. Boys and girls can learn from the modeling of peaceful heroes in children’s literature, and the discussion of alternative responses to conflict situations is a concrete way to nurture peaceful behavior in us all.

For example, the hero of Kathe Koja’s novel, Buddha Boy, is tormented constantly by some of the football players in his high school because of his shaved head and Buddhist practices. His friends urge him to get even –– the traditional response to bullying. He refuses to do this, saying: “...if I tried to get even, I’d be worse than he is, I’d be more wrong than he is. Because he doesn’t know. But I do.” “Know what?” “That we’re all gods,” he said, “gods inside, all of us. Him too.”

Crash, by Jerry Spinelli, has two differing role models for how to be a boy. One is Crash, the football player who loves physical sports and the thrill of competition, and who uses some of his aggressiveness to torment his neighbor, Webb. Webb is a peace-loving boy, who has the courage to be different. It is Crash’s concern for his beloved grandfather after he suffers a stroke, which begins his “softening” and the development of his natural empathy. He begins to appreciate the strength and courage of Webb’s way of being a boy.

In the novel, Charlie Pippin, by Candace Dawson Boyd, the heroine, Charlie, becomes curious about her father’s experience in the Vietnam War, which he refuses to talk about. As part of a research project for school, Charlie attends peace rallies, reads books about the war, talks to veterans, and finally, visits the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. When she brings back rubbings from the Memorial with the names of two men who fought with her father and died in the war, her father is finally able to share his extreme grief and bitterness about the war.

In using these books for reading and discussion, some children immediately identify with the peacemaking heroes and heroines in these books. Others disagree with the actions of the characters, but still can consider and discuss the effectiveness of using nonviolent alternatives in these situations.

It is not enough to simply tell our children not to kill or act violently, and not to play at violence. We have to show them ways of being strong, brave, and heroic without hurting others. We have to offer them stories of peaceful and creative alternatives to violence. Most important, we have to be models of mindfulness, living our teachings in our daily relationships.

Terry Miller is a professor of education at St. Cloud State University. A member of the Compassionate Ocean Dharma Center Sangha in Minneapolis, Minnesota, his Dharma name is Lamp of True Joy in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition.

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Youth Transformation in Urban America

by Jina Jibrin I am currently working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, managing a youth leadership program for black and Latino youth from housing developments in the Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan communities. The Fuerza Leadership Program is a prevention-based, leadership development, and community-organizing program which allows young adults a space to voice their opinions, experiences, and concerns about pressing issues in their communities. The goal of the program is to promote healthy behaviors, and to prevent substance abuse and HIV in communities of color, by engaging youth to think critically about the roots of social, racial, and health inequities.

If you ask any of the youth how they view themselves, they will say, “I’m a thug,” or “I’m from the ghetto.” They come from extremely challenging personal backgrounds—single parent families, often accompanied by a lack of any familial support. Most of their family members are in jail, have been in jail, or are on the run from the police, and are actively using crack; and, all of them unfortunately attend lowperforming public schools where violence is much more rampant than academic performance.

When I started the group sessions with five young adults, I introduced passages from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Peace Is Every Step. I was unsure of how they would respond to the teachings. I asked them to read a passage a day and to come ready to discuss it. Many of them wanted to discuss the sections on anger, so we read these passages aloud in the group. One of the sixteen-year-old girls started crying as she was reading aloud—telling how her mother is using drugs and verbally abuses her, how her mother doesn’t work but makes her work to pay the bills. She said that she had a lot of anger towards her mother, and that she always screamed at her mother, calling her the same names that her mother called her. I was amazed by the visual transformation in her –– from urban hardness to openness and honestly displaying her emotions.

Another member who has been in the Department of Social Services (DSS) began talking about how angry she is all the time, and how she always gets in trouble in her group home because she lets anger control her. As she continued to speak about her anger, other group members began giving her suggestions on how to care for her anger, based on what we had just read. I asked them if they felt that what they had read was realistic and applicable to their lives, or whether they just saw it as something nice to read about. One of the guys spoke up saying that he definitely thought the words were relevant to urban people in America. He talked about how cold and unfriendly our daily interactions are in urban America and about the need to recognize our connections to each other. He told me that he’s started doing little things, like saying hi to a bus driver when he takes the bus to community college every day.

The words from that book have really touched these kids. I have noticed visible improvements in all five of the members in the past few months. Not only have they been reflecting on their own actions, they are also caring for one another––they are building community.

Our community college student almost made the dean’s list last semester with the assistance of some tutoring and support of Fuerza volunteers. Two other members will be applying to college next September. Another recently joined her school’s basketball team with more confidence in herself and her abilities, and our youngest member, who has been in the DSS system, recently brought me a copy of her report card—four As and three Bs, a marked improvement over her past efforts. Because of the empowering change they have experienced by being a part of Fuerza, they have begun to motivate and empower themselves outside the group. I am expanding the group to about twenty young adolescents and I intend on bringing more of Thay’s teachings to our overall work. I know that it will impact their sense of community and will allow them to begin exploring new levels of personal change and social activism. These young adults are hungry for mental spaces of peace, which they can use to strengthen themselves to better face the daily wars with which they continually battle.

Jina Jibrin runs the Fuerza Youth Leadership Program, working with urban youth in Boston addressing issues such as HIV, poverty, homelessness, violence, and substance abuse.

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Thich Nhat Hanh Responds to Young People

At the Colors of Compassion Retreat In March, 2004, at the Colors of Compassion retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh addressed questions from two participants who are part of the group described in the article on page 23.


My name is Aaron, I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, I’m seventeen. Where I’m from it’s a more urban setting, and a lot of us kids are faced with feeling like we’re hopeless because a lot of problems that we have seem to just badger us and don’t go away. Everywhere you turn there’s a negative. Your friends peer pressure you to smoke weed or they might ask you: “Hey, I got problems with somebody, can you help me beat ‘em up?” And where I’m from, due to the facts of the streets, it’s almost a responsibility you hold for your friends. But you got so many negatives coming at you from each side, how can you use mindfulness and Buddhism to turn those negatives into a positive?

I think the first thing you must do is to create a place where people can feel safe. This is the work of Sangha building. You create a community where people know how to practice mindful breathing, mindful sitting, mindful walking; where people know how to handle their emotions and feelings. When that Sangha meets regularly and practices together, then you can invite other people. And when they come they feel safe, they feel that there is something beautiful and peaceful. They calm down and begin to see more clearly. The Sangha must help us get a taste of peace, of joy, of brotherhood through the practice. Then we can choose to go in the direction of peace.

You use drugs when you don’t know how to handle the suffering inside you. When the despair, the anger, the anxiety comes up, you get some drugs or alcohol in order to forget. Instead we can offer a Sangha of practice, and teach people how to handle the blocks of suffering inside. In the practice center we learn how to take care of our body by the practice of mindful eating and mindful drinking. We learn how to take care of our feelings and emotions when they manifest.

In the Sangha there should be people who have really mastered the practice, like a Dharma teacher or a long-time practitioner. Then we invite people over for tea and for a discussion, and they will experience the atmosphere of peace and safety. In Boston the young people who know how to practice can start a Sangha for young people. My answer is Sangha-building.

I’m also from Boston, Massachusetts. I came here to learn more about Buddhism and how you live your life here. I see now that it’s so beautiful, everybody welcomes everybody. Where I come from there’s not a lot of that. There’s a lot of negativity and discrimination. I’m eighteen, and teenagers my age go through so much in Boston, and most don’t know about Buddhism. They don’t know how to deal with their suffering. Is there a way that I can talk to my friends and help them understand this practice?

The living Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, is a way of life that radiates peace, understanding, and compassion. That is why it is very important to show people the living Dharma and not just the Dharma in a book or a tape. People have made the teaching of the Buddha complicated, but in fact we can talk about it and we can show it to friends in a very simple way.

Thanks to the true practice, we can radiate the energy of gentleness, peace, and compassion, and others will feel it right away. That is the best way to introduce the Dharma to them. We have learned to touch the nobility in ourselves, the seed of understanding and compassion that exists in everyone. And when we talk to people, we can touch the seeds of compassion, joy, and understanding in them. Then these seeds will manifest as energies that help them feel much better. We need to train ourselves a little bit in order to do that.

In the teachings of the Buddha it is very clear that what is valuable in a person is not their race or caste, but their thought, speech, and action. You are noble not because of your race, but because of your way of thinking, your way of speaking, and your way of acting.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, everyone has the seed of equanimity within himself or herself. Equanimity means nondiscrimination. If we are able to touch our own seed of equanimity, the wisdom of nondiscrimination will manifest, and we will not suffer and make others suffer. Everyone has the seeds of joy and compassion in them, and if you know how to touch them you transform them into energies that make you feel happier, more joyful, more compassionate. The practice of watering seeds can bring such results right away.

You know the other person has the seed of joy and compassion in her. Suppose you talk to her in such a way that you touch those seeds, and half an hour later she becomes a different person. This is possible. You also know that she has the seeds of sorrow, despair, and jealousy in her. So you refrain from watering those seeds and you only recognize and water the positive seeds in her. In no time at all she becomes more pleasant, happier. This is not only for her sake but for our sake, and we call this the practice of selective watering.

I see young people who come home from a retreat transformed. Thanks to their true presence, which embodies the Dharma, the same aspiration and energy is born in their parents, and they embrace the practice and change themselves. Then the family is completely transformed. This is what I call the living Dharma. You can embody the living Dharma through this practice.

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Trainings of the Mind in Diversity

by Larry Yang from Friends on the Path, edited by Jack Lawlor and published by Parallax Press

The practice of these trainings is an opportunity to begin the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation. As humans, we all participate in the harmful behaviors that these trainings are addressing. We all have been the perpetrator and victim, at one time or another. These trainings are for all of us, not just for any particular group or community. And in our conjoint practice is the vision, hope, and possibility of both cultivating non-perpetration of oppression and increasing the compassion in how we live our lives and understand each other.

Entering into the trainings can be done in many ways. They can be used in contemplative meditation practice and as themes for inquiry in individual practice. If used in a Sangha, they can serve as guided meditations and intentions, or the beginning of mindful conversations. Related to this is the possibility to use one or more of these trainings as guiding principles during critical discussion, conflict resolution, mediation, or other sacred dialogue.

The Trainings

  1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way ––through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination ––to adopt my own belief I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of suffering of all beings.
  2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the training to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my I commit to being open-minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.
  3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the worth, integrity, and happiness of any human Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to treating each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.
  4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional and unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from relating to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.
  5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, economically, sexually, intellectually, or I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, age, physical, or economic differences.
  6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using argument to justify my sense of I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing Buddha nature within all beings.
  7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as “other,” and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.
  8. Aware of the suffering caused by the cumulative harm that a collective of people can impose on individuals and other groups, I undertake the training to refrain from consciously validating or participating in group processes, dynamics, activities, decisions, or actions which perpetuate the suffering that these trainings describe on a familial, social, institutional, governmental, societal, cultural, or global I commit to exploring, examining and eliminating the ways that I consciously and unconsciously ally myself with forces that cause harm and oppression, and commit myself to working for the benefit and peace of all.

(c) 2004 Larry Yang

Larry Yang is a psychotherapist and consultant in cultural competency living in northern California. He is a contributor to Dharma, Color, and Culture, a book being published by Parallax Press this month.

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The Dharma has Come to the West

mb37-TheDharmas During a cultural sharing night at the People of Color retreat, one Native American man stood up and, holding his large, round, shallow drum in his hand, offered a chant to the Four Directions. We sat on the floor looking up at him, with his long black hair and his beautiful, earth-toned, multi-colored vest. After a moment of silence, he began chanting to each of the directions. When he turned to the altar, drumming and chanting, a thought hit me: the Dharma has come to the West.

It was a confluence of the new temple with its soaring lines above us, the rapt attention of the group caught in the hypnotic sound, his invocation of the voice and heartbeat of the land’s ancestors, the full presence of meditators of all cultures and ethnicities in witness, and his uplifted face gazing at the altar, that made the moment what it was.

Canyon Sam, Bouquet of the Heart, lives in San Francisco. A student of Thay’s since 1987, she is a writer, activist, and performance artist.


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Poem: Fathers and Daughters

mb37-Fathers I traveled on a bridge to your creative side today after thinking you didn’t have one noticing the interwoven stitches that are you for a change giving attention to your brightly colored aura and your story telling hands finding meaning in the pauses between your speech and the comfort of now I didn’t travel alone this time as our ancestral footprints and the bridge were one and the same I asked for help for a change and found value in the awareness of bridge walking and the patience of bridge building embracing your inner child and mine we left the pain on the other side this time as we gave priority to the family for a change I found refuge in your subtleties and let go of expectations of what creativity looks like realizing that our potentials are one and the same we sat and created a painting as wide as the bridge that I traveled on

—Karla Broady, Awakened Honesty of the Heart

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Poem: Decline to State

mb37-Decline1 Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state What is your ethnicity? A little box in front of me fails To see the complexity of my identity

In the face of this bureaucracy The confusion of my whole life Follows me And it bothers me It really bothers me That only one category is acceptable

Anger, shame and sadness come up As the complexity of my identity stares me in the face Challenging me from behind the linear lines One box to represent the multiplicity of my history Check one and only one And it’s there’s only one right answer And you are not it “Half breed, mongrel, mixed girl” “You don’t exist You shouldn’t exist” There’s no room for you on this piece of paper

Decline to state Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian What is your race?

Well I was Conceived of colonization father India married his fate to Royal mother England Creating me Part British part Indian Wholly human Yet the ancestry of my motherland Claims I should not be born While in India I was the half hidden little secret My father kept from his family Were they ashamed of me?

His mother died on her way from India to Britain Coming to see me And I’ve held the guilt of responsibility for her death Believing my blood hold divisions she could not bear to see. So we moved to the United States The land of hope, equality & opportunity Seeking inclusion, prosperity And respite from firebombs little British boys were dropping in living rooms Of mixed raced families

What is your race? Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state

Well, I am Indian, and now I am an American, but Somehow, the American Indian box just isn’t quite right And Asian isn’t right Because Indians are barely Asians, And I being half Indian, well it’s just to far to stretch

And no way in a million years would I check the white box Submit under this form to the same Annihilation of my identity? You must be joking

Too many years of wishing Too many years of thinking White was what I desperately wanted to be Only

None of the other boxes apply And even if they give me an “other” option What kind of race is “other” anyway? And decline to state feels like a cop out Two minutes too late I know like you know that you have already locked me down & judged me based on what you think you see

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state

Pen shaking in my hand, angry; What’s your race? Declined to state Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian & the inadequacy of my identity is the reality of my privilege guilt comes rolling up like waves washing British ships upon Indian shores The story of my family tree bringing me Closest to the Asian category

Asian? How can I benefit from 400 years of oppression I barely feel the taste of? How can I claim a history my Indian father taught me to disown? What’s your race? Declined to state They’ll let you blend in if you Don’t state They’ll let you be a normal part of this state Of affairs

I am inclined now to think outside the box to redefine this narrow history and tell a different story on this piece of paper in front of me pull the box wide open ‘cos these racial categories intend to conveniently erase my identity perpetrate colonization on me again and again every time I

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Decline to state What’s your race? & I decline to submit to this state of affairs and proudly, as thee mixed girl I am I check off, quickly, Every single box on the page Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian I state ‘em all, even the “other” box Watch me & if there’s a space to write in my race I fill in “human” Declaring unity & equality for all to see

I leave no trace of my identity Make if harder to process me Into neat little categories Since love, life, family, my ancestry Are much deeper than the space One little box can afford me

It’s about time we set ourselves, humanity & the little boxes free about times we take the matter of the complexity of identity into our own hands

‘cos where I want to be it’s all about interconnection & unity all of us connected one blood one people one love humanity no distinctions necessary

‘cos the way I see it tho' we may mix like apples & oranges or appear to be different fruits totally, we all grown from the same family tree & that’s human, completely, you see?

—Susanna Barkataki

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“Mitakuye Oyasin”

Monks’ Experiences of the Ancient Stone People Lodge Ceremony mb37-Mitakuye1

Immediately after the Colors of Compassion retreat, on the first of April, fifteen monks participated in an ancient ceremony of the Indigenous Peoples of this land—a Stone People Lodge ceremony. It was a historic event, in that we had the opportunity to experience firsthand the joining of Buddhist and Native spiritual traditions, from Vietnamese and Lakota lineages. Plus, it was a sacred meeting of representatives from several cultures: Vietnamese, French, English, Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese, Swedish, Filipino, African American, Canadian, American, Chinese, and Lakota. Truly, a United Nations meeting of the heart, a meeting of spirit.

Built on Kumeyaay land on the Viejas Reservation (east of San Diego), the lodge is a simple structure made from willow saplings. The Inipi (from the Lakota language) / Stone People Lodge ceremony is a means for purifying and renewing our mind, body, and spirit. This sacred Indigenous spiritual practice allows us to shed manifestations of ego as we sit inside the lodge—the womb of our Earth Mother, Maka Tizi—and pray for all beings. The prayer “Mitakuye Oyasin”—To All Relations/We Are All Related—encompasses this understanding of inter-being, inter-dependence and inter-connectedness with all life. Through all the preparations––covering the lodge, selecting the stones, building the fire, making the prayer bundle offerings––every step, every action is part of the prayer of the ceremony.

The experience in the Stone People Lodge is an immersion into another realm of reality, into a realm beyond time and space, where our prayers for health, peace, and the planet have a particular potency. This ceremony feels as ancient as the red hot Stone People who are sitting with us in the center of the lodge. Sitting in the lodge, touching the Earth, we begin anew with our Earth Mother and with all our sisters and brothers of the Earth. The lodge ceremony reaffirms and strengthens our connection to the sacred hoop of life, to the Sacred Mystery, to all our ancestors, and to the ancestors of this land, Turtle Island (the American continents).

Once inside the lodge, embraced by the steam—the breath of Earth Mother—and enveloped in the sacred black light, we dissolve into the black light and the stillness, as ego, distinctions, definitions, discriminations, and thoughts fade. A shift from the visible to the invisible takes place. The sacredness all around us and within us, inter-connectedness, nondiscrimination, and non-separation are experienced very directly.

It was a great honor to facilitate this lodge ceremony for our brother monks. It was an amazing and deep experience which affected each of us profoundly, and sent ripples into the world and into the cosmos. In the days following the ceremony, the participants wrote about their experiences. With deep respect and gratitude we offer some of these writings to you.

Mitakuye Oyasin / To All Relations / We Are All Related, —Chan Tue Nang, Joseph Lam Medicine Robe


Hello to grandmother earth Hello to the stone people, my ancestors Hello to father sun Hello to the fire, my ancestor Hello to the air that I breathe Hello to the steam and water I drink All of you are my relations I bow to you We are one Sitting in the beginning Looking at the black light I am in the womb of the earth Mother’s breath penetrating into me Spirit radiating out into the cosmos —Chan Phap Ngo

Stone People Lodge

Four hours cooking in a willow branch hut. Too small to stand, sitting close, no room to move, next to each other, sixteen brothers, in a circle, around the red hot stone people, embraced by the steam, breath of the earth, grandmother earth, mother’s love in this womb. Together in the heat, in love, in water, with brotherhood and grandfather spirit, in blackness—there we sat to renew, to purify, rebirthing, allowing ourselves to burn, to die, but not to sleep, not to dream.

Touching the Earth, we sat on the ground—a circle of brothers, a circle of life, a cycle of ages—heritage passed down to keep us in touch with all our relations—Mitakuye Oyasin. Offering our prayers for peace, for transformation, for healing. In preparation we gathered wood and placed so mindfully the stones one by one—one to the west, one to the north, then east, then south, in line with the colors black, red, yellow, white on poles on this ceremonial site, this land within a land within a land. An expanse of flat land, with bare black burned trees, a circle of mountains made our horizon, and blue for above, green for below.

Lighting the fire, a line of energy now alive between the fire, altar and into the door through which we crouched to go inside a blacked out space—the willow branch lodge. In preparation we generated mindfulness, brotherhood, and more and more concentration. Aware, sensing, in touch with each other. Strings of prayer bundles for all beings in the entire cosmos and one for our own family and close ones. Circumambulating the lodge and the fire with my string of seven prayer bundles, I brought to mind all those who have made me, shaped me, nurtured me, neglected me, hurt me, loved and supported me, taught and guided me—with my breath I brought them into my body and those ancestors I do not know and children of cousins and children not yet born—I took them all with me into this so small space.

And so this lodge becomes a house with many mansions containing past, present, and future. We all shared deeply of our aspirations and fear and suffering—we gave thanks for this ceremony and expressed regret for past wrongs of peoples to peoples. I shared of being in touch with the suffering of my father and his brothers when one of them took his own life, and of a brother or sister who was lost before birth. We chanted in the intense heat and in the blackness. I saw a nothingness to my personality and life—what did my fear mean in that black?—and yet a sense of trust was also there.

In gratitude, Mitakuye Oyasin —Chan Phap Lai


Black Light Night

It was a night in which the sun disappeared and, then, reappeared in the blazing wood people who transmitted their red hot energy into the stone people so that the earth men could be purified.

It was a night in which mother earth embraced all her sons, collecting them into the half sphere lodge, all her sons from all around the globe.

It was a night in which brothers huddled together, bundled their prayers for all beings in the universe as well their own individual blood families, sharing their aspirations and gratitude.

It was a night in which brothers from all over mother earth gathered to chant and send energy of the Native American and Buddhist bodhisattvas to all beings.

It was a night in which the Lakota Shaman guided his young bald headed brothers, plus one not so young, through their anxiety, uncertainty, unknowing—in the Black Light Heat—to a deeper realization and consciousness of their oneness, their interbeing with each other and all beings.

It was a night that ended with the brothers being soaked with the blessings of the cosmos, sopping wet and dripping gratitude.

—Chan Phap De


A Hut

A hut made of willow branches, like a mother’s belly directed to each planet, in the center, a hole in the ground. An altar, made of soil and stones, the moon. The sun of fire embraced by a half-circle, a wall protecting from the winds. Simple blankets cover us up, the brothers sitting in the hut are listening to the fire, the air, the steam. In the belly of our Mother Earth, listening to the Mystery. Dear Grandfather, in gratitude for that love that surrounds us, for this opening and the little more abandoning, I thank you for teaching me the confidence of being in the here and in the now, enriched by love and at the same time even more poor. I thank you for being more conscious too. On the path of celebration in gratitude for our teacher Thay. Discovering the Eye who sees simple joy of being together. Time has disappeared. The rain is blessing the earth. The stars are joining us. Fire, master fire, Thay fire, who shows us how to love, how to respect the right distance, without fear. The red stones in the center of the earth filled with the light of the stars. The clear water perfumed with sage, the steam which envelopes us and penetrates us. A chant from the Buddhist tradition, A chant from the Native Indian tradition, one breath, one heart. A deeper and more subtle release. Joy of being here and now, in the Mother’s arms, in the Father’s arms. Mystery of an invisible Presence, Free hands offered, each cell offered as flowers. In gratitude —Chan Phap Tap The hot air brought me close to my fear, my panic of losing it totally. Let me meet with courage the most difficult state of mind, so I can live freely, without shadows of doubt and fear. May we all be free from our mind shadows. May we come out to the light and stand freely there. May compassion embrace the whole of our minds and hearts. —Chan Phap Son


Stone Presence Lodge

There is a grace to stone that weathers centuries. Infused with the heat of joy fire we offer this stone to the womb of the willow. Imbued with the tumult of sky we offer this grace to the womb of our body. The moon at the zenith, waxing our limbs we offer what is to the womb of the awakened. In time unborn we rest here Enfolded by vapors The sweat runs unchecked off the bulk of our baggage To flay bare the unspoken To fuel this still yearning To release the stuck remnants of past altercations For the call of the eagle, The caress of the soil, For the presence of stone heat enlodged in our membranes. For the space where all going and coming is done for and rest poised in vision subdues all desire. Mitakuye oyasin. For the current which guides us from known to unknowing and blesses the soil it carries with laughter. Mitakuye oyasin. For the clan of the spirit that moves us as one mind and perfumes our abode with fragrance of silence. Mitakuye oyasin. Let the oceans bring rain. Let the charred stems bear branches to bear witness to rumor, this fine simple offer. Let this kinship of blood, sweat and steam forge a vision of the exotic here, of unprecedented now Casting down what with measure would ream the unbroken And take him to the view we of old have forecasted. Let the holy find ground In the temple of the wishless. —Chan Phap Luu

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Finding the Sacred in the Secular

Revelations in a Secular Retreat by Lynette Monteiro


With the explosion in the use of mindfulness as a psychological intervention, questions are arising about the implications of using a secular mindfulness practice outside a sacred (religious) context. Against this background, the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic ventured with two Buddhist Sanghas to offer a secular retreat on mindfulness skills to the health care community. What transpired was a rare opportunity to observe the power of concepts and the resilience of practitioners.

The theme was “Why meditate? Three perspectives of Mindfulness Meditation.” Dharma teachers Chan Huy and Joseph Emet spoke on mindfulness and the growth of wisdom and creativity. In my role as psychologist, I was asked to explore “Healing Meditation.”

Defining the form of the retreat was a challenge. As a clinical organization, the issue of religious form was the central obstacle. As the planning developed, I found myself becoming obsessed with words: can we say “Buddha,” “Dharma,” “Sangha”? I became focused on the structure: can we have a statue, incense, an altar? Do we bow? Do we prostrate? Do we use the bells?

Slowly, the form of all the retreats I’d ever attended began to dissolve. Daily, I sat with the discomfort of deconstructing the familiar. Mountains were no longer mountains. Rivers ceased to flow in a way I had come to take for granted. The finger pointing to the moon was fully on the grid of my perceptions and I was about to dissect it. Paradoxically, the act of beginning the dismantling was firmly grounded in the faith (the first pillar of Zen) that my practice was resilient in such inquiries. In fact, my personal and professional practice demanded such openness to risk.

What emerged was recognition that my professional discomfort with signs and markers guided me, and protected me from attachment to external objects that can become obstacles to an engaged life. Great Doubt is the second pillar of Zen: the willingness to question every object, every action of body, speech, and mind.

No Dharma Teacher, No Dharma Talk

Designing the talk presented the next obstacle. For almost two decades of academic studies and ten years of professional practice, I have been over-trained in the presentation of data-based scientific papers. Charts, graphs, and Power Point presentations are the rituals of the religion of science. Once more, the sword of understanding sliced through these attachments and what remained was a determination (the third pillar of Zen) to throw myself off a 100-foot pole into the true nature of faith in myself.

The talk explored the skills of stopping, accepting, and taking responsibility. The Serenity Prayer formed the framework, with the story of Angulimala as the central parable of taking personal responsibility to stop. Buddhist mythology flowed easily into psychological theories of awareness, acceptance, and commitment to change. Not being a Dharma teacher, I found myself internally chuckling that I was giving a no-Dharma talk and thus fulfilling my aspiration to no-form.

The outcome was powerful. Participants shared their understanding that we suffer when we cannot accept what we cannot change. To accept the things we cannot change requires stopping; like Angulimala, it is a personal choice to stop one’s suffering. With the clarity of mindfulness, we can see what can be changed. Serenity grows out of allowing our concepts to be dissolved, sitting with the distress of no-form, and opening to the liberation of true emptiness.

Blessing the Sacred in the Secular

The retreat closed with a transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Though I would have preferred a secular ceremony, we agreed to conduct a Buddhist ceremony and invited the non-Buddhist participants to support those who had chosen to commit to a path of ethical, engaged living. During the ceremony I felt an intense, rising joy seeing my spouse take the vows again in community. He had received his transmission from Thay at a secular retreat in Wisconsin and wanted to express his commitment with his home Sangha as witnesses.

I had intense feelings of discomfort through the ceremony’s religious forms. But when I recognized that we are always vulnerable to our perceptions, sacred and secular became again the mountain and rivers in a blink of the mind’s eye. I may not be ready to merge the secular and religious in a single retreat. However, I have come to value the sacred in the secular as it focuses my attention on the moon, which at this moment shines brightly, fully, and wonderfully through my window.

Lynette Monteiro, True Wonderful Fulfillment, is a founder of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic.

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Making a Commitment with the Five Mindfulness Trainings

Text of the Nonsectarian Ceremony mb37-Making1

Mindful sitting in silence: twelve minutes. Those who wish to receive the trainings sit facing the brothers and sisters who have come to support them.

Spokesperson: Noble community, let us celebrate our togetherness by singing two times, “I have arrived, I am home.” Now let us practice the Opening Procedure.

Opening Procedure

Question: Has our whole community assembled? Response: Our whole community has gathered.

Question: Is there harmony in our community? Response: Yes, there is harmony.

Question: Why has the community gathered today? Response: The community has gathered today to give support to those who are making a commitment with the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Brothers and sisters, today, the _____   of _____ , has been chosen as the day when a commitment with the Five Mindfulness Trainings can be made. The community has gathered at the appointed time and is ready to make the commitment in an atmosphere of harmony and therefore the matter can proceed. Is that correct?

Everyone: Correct. (bell)

Today we have gathered to give support to our brothers and sisters who are going to make their commitment to keep the Two Promises and to live according to the Mindfulness Trainings. We shall all follow our breathing when we hear the sound of the bell to help us be truly present for each other. The sound of the bell is the voice of our true selves calling us back to our true home.

Optional: Those who are making the commitment can now stand and place a flower in a vase in front of them, and then return to their seats. The flower is a symbol of the newness and freshness of the mind of those who are making the commitment.

The brothers and sisters who are going to make the commitment to keep the Two Promises and to live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, please be mindful of your feeling of gratitude. After each sound of the bell, please dwell peacefully in the feeling of gratitude, following your breathing. Would the whole community please practice mindful breathing too, so that we may be fully present to support our brothers and sisters.

  • Being mindful of our parents who gave us birth, making our life possible, we breathe in and out three times in (Bell followed by silence for at least three in and out breaths).
  • Being mindful of our teachers who show us the way towards peace and happiness, we breathe in and out three times in (Bell followed by silence for at least three in and out breaths).
  • Being mindful of all beings in the animal, vegetable, and mineral worlds who support our life and make it beautiful, we breathe in and out three times in (Bell followed by silence for at least three in and out breaths).

Brothers and sisters, we have seen that everything is moving on, that nothing in life is permanent, and that safety, happiness, and well-being cannot be gained by money, fame, or possessions. Our practice of mindfulness has shown us that it is possible to live the present moment with peace and joy. Therefore we wish to declare our confidence in that which enables us to live the present moment in peace, joy, and contentment.

Brothers and sisters, this is the concrete expression of the Three Declarations:

  1. I have confidence in the capacity of all beings to attain great understanding, peace, and
  2. I have confidence in the practice, which helps us to walk on the path of great understanding, peace, and
  3. I have confidence in the community, which is committed to the practice of understanding, peace, and love.

Noble community, please join our brothers and sisters in expressing commitment to the confidences by repeating after me:

  • I have confidence in the capacity of all beings /to attain great understanding, peace, and (bell)
  • I have confidence in the practice/ which helps us to walk on the path/ of great understanding, peace, and love. (bell)
  • I have confidence in the community/ which is committed to the practice /of understanding, peace, and love. (bell)

Brothers and sisters, you have formally declared your confidence in the mindfulness practice. This will help you to discover mindfulness in your own heart and bring it constantly into your daily life. Beginning today, with the support of the whole community, you will apply your mind to learning about and practicing the way of understanding and love, which means to nourish the ability to love and understand within yourself. You will attend days and retreats of mindfulness and recitations of the Mindfulness Trainings in order to keep your practice of mindfulness alive.

Brothers and sisters, this is the time for the children to solemnly make the Two Promises in the presence of the great community.

Please, brothers and sisters, join the children in repeating after me the First Promise:

I vow to develop understanding/ in order to live peacefully with people/animals, plants, and minerals.

In the presence of all of us, do you want to make this promise with yourselves and with the community? Please say, “Yes, I do.” Please enjoy breathing two times. (bell)

This is the Second Promise:

I vow to develop my compassion/ in order to protect the lives of people/animals, plants, and minerals.

In the presence of all of us, do you want to make this promise with yourselves and with the community? Please say, “Yes, I do.” Young people, understanding and love are the most beautiful things in life. If we do not make an effort to be open to understand the suffering of other people, we will not be able to love them and to live in harmony

with them. We should try to understand and protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and to live in harmony with them. If we can’t understand, we cannot love. Understanding is love itself. Please do your best to keep the Two Promises to bring peace and happiness to yourselves, your family, school, and society. (bell)

Now is the time to make the commitment with the Mindfulness Trainings. These trainings have the capacity to protect life and make it beautiful. They encourage us in the direction of peace, joy, liberation, and awakening. They are the foundation for individual happiness and the happiness of the family and society. The Mindfulness Trainings help us avoid making mistakes which create suffering, fear, and despair. Practicing the Trainings, we are able to build peace and happiness in ourselves and in our family, and joy and peace in our society. The wholesome collective energy of the community will support you and bear witness in this moment for you to make the commitment to live your daily life in the direction shown by the Five Trainings.

Representing the community, I will now recite the Mindfulness Trainings one by one. Please listen carefully to each Training with a calm and clear mind. Please say, “Yes, I do.” every time you see you have the willingness and the capacity to receive, study and live according to the Mindfulness training read.

Sisters and brothers, are you ready?

Answer: Yes, we are ready.

The First Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined to try my very best to avoid killing, to prevent others from killing, and not to support any act of violence in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

This is the first of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Do you make a commitment to study and practice it? Answer: Yes, I do. (bell)

The Second Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am committed to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

This is the second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Do you make a commitment to study and practice i t? Answer: Yes, I do. (bell)

The Third Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a longterm commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

This is the third of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Do you make a commitment to study and practice it? Answer: Yes, I do. (bell)

The Fourth Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

This is the fourth of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Do you make a commitment to study and practice it? Answer: Yes, I do. (bell)

The Fifth Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am committed to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

This is the fifth of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Do you make a commitment to study and practice it? Answer: Yes, I do. (bell)

Brothers and sisters, you have made a commitment with the Mindfulness Trainings which are the foundation of happiness in the family and in society. By practicing them you will be able to help others. If you can recite the Trainings often, at least once a month, your understanding and practice of them can grow deeper every day. You can organize a recitation in the mindfulness practice center or at home with friends. You can recite them on your own but the effect is much stronger when you recite them with others.

Brothers and sisters, I will now read the certificate of commitment. (Hearing their name read, the brothers and sisters come up to receive their certificates.) Let us conclude our formal gathering by singing together, “Happiness is here and now.”


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