#66 Summer 2014

Dharma Talk: The Horse Is Technology

By Thich Nhat Hanh November 10, 2013 Plum Village

mb66-Dharma1

Good morning, dear Sangha. Today is the 10th of November, 2013, and we are in the Still Water Meditation Hall of the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. The Winter Retreat will start in five days and will last ninety days. The Winter Retreat is the most beautiful retreat in Plum Village because we can go deep into the teaching, and we have plenty of time to build brotherhood and sisterhood and transform ourselves.

mb66-Dharma2

During this Winter Retreat we should stay in the compound of Plum Village, in the Sangha. We do not have permission to go out, even with the Internet. So there will be no individual email addresses and no Facebook. Facebook is neither good nor evil, but how you use it can bring more negative things than positive and can waste a lot of time. With Facebook, we are looking for something outside of us, and we do not have time to go back to ourselves and to take care of ourselves. So there will be absolutely no Facebook during this retreat. If you have anything that is not the Dharma, including iPod, iTouch, iTablet, films, and music, you have to throw it out.

Teaching at Google

On the 23rd of October, we spent the day at Google. We were in three groups at different locations, with Thay in one group and sixty monastics spread through the groups. Thay’s talk was seen and heard by everyone simultaneously.

We began with breakfast, and then at 8:30 we gave instructions on walking meditation. The people in the Google complex––they call it Googleplex––did walking meditation very seriously. At one point during the walking, we sat down, and Thay invited the small bell three times and had a cup of tea. Those who came late saw the calm atmosphere; it was very rare.

Then a Google representative delivered a welcome speech, and Thay gave a talk followed by a session of questions and answers. Thay offered a guided meditation that was used the next day at a plenary session broadcast worldwide. There were gifts exchanged, and at noon after sharing instructions on how to eat mindfully, Thay ate lunch with everyone. At 1:45, Sister Chan Khong led a session of total relaxation. At 3:00, Thay and some of the monastics met with senior Google executives, including a number of engineers. We had a long and deep discussion on how to make good use of technology in order to help people suffer less.

Google offered the theme, “Intention, Innovation, and Insight.” They wanted to know the interplay between intention, insight, and innovation, not only in terms of work, but also in all aspects of life. The basic question was: How can technology become a force for integration rather than destruction? Because so far, it is a force of destruction; it’s pulling us away from each other.

Before we went to Google, a number of monastics wrote to Thay, describing the situation there and suggesting some questions to address. The first question was, “How can we innovate in order to take good care of ourselves?” Second, “How can we take care of the health of our workforce and take care of Mother Earth?” There is enlightenment in this question: it shows that they see the negative aspects of technology. They have found that emotional health is decreasing and distress is increasing in the Google workforce. They want some teaching and practice to deal with that situation.

Another question was, “Given the high rate of burnout, is there a way that we as a corporation can assist employees to create a better work-life balance?” Many Googlers are addicted to their work, they have a hard time detaching from it, and it can take over their lives. Maybe each of us feels that way also. We are being taken over by our work, and we do not have the time and the capacity to live our life deeply. Life is a gift, and we are not able to enjoy it, to make the best of that gift.

Strangely, there is an eagerness to find a technological solution to technology addiction. There is a disease called technology addiction, and yet you want to use technology to heal. Can we heal drug addiction with drugs? Can we heal anger with anger? Can we heal violence with violence? That is a contradiction.

So that is the First Noble Truth, not only for Buddhists, but for everyone. We have to contemplate the First Noble Truth of ill-being. Technology is destructive. Technology is taking our time away. We do not have the time to take care of ourselves, our families, and nature. Our civilization is going in a wrong direction.

This question is the beginning of a kind of awakening. We recognize the ill-being, and we want to transform it. We are looking for the way, the path, to heal that ill-being. That is the Fourth Noble Truth: the noble path leading to the transformation of ill-being.

mb66-Dharma3

Where Are We Going?

There is a Zen story about a person sitting on a horse, galloping very quickly. At a crossroads, a friend of his shouts, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I don’t know, ask the horse!”

This is our situation. The horse is technology. It carries us and we cannot control it. So we have to begin with intention, asking ourselves, what do we want? The unofficial slogan of Google is “Don’t be evil.” Can you make a lot of money without being evil? That’s what they try to do, but so far, not very successfully. You want to be wealthy. You want to be Number One, but that costs you your life, because you are carried away by work.

Searching for information on your computer becomes a way to distract you from your problems. In this way we run away from ourselves, from our family, from our Mother Earth. As a civilization, we are going in the wrong direction. Even if you don’t kill or rob anyone, you are losing your life. If you do not have time to take care of your family and nature, making money that way costs you your life, your happiness, and the life and happiness of your beloved ones and Mother Earth. So that way of making money is evil. But is there a way to make money without being evil?

People have suffering within themselves: loneliness, despair, anger, fear. Most people are afraid of going home to take care of themselves, because they think they will be overwhelmed by the suffering inside. Instead, we try to run away from ourselves or to cover up the suffering inside by consuming. Technology is helping us to do this, so in this way technology is evil.

The horse is supposed to carry us to a good destination, as is technology. But, so far, technology has mostly helped us to run away from ourselves at the cost of our own life and happiness, and the happiness of our beloved ones and the beauty of Mother Earth. So you cannot say that we are not evil, because while realizing your dream of being wealthy, you sacrifice your life, you sacrifice the happiness of your beloved ones, and you cause damage to Mother Earth. So it’s not so easy not to be evil.

But if technology can help you to go home to yourself and take care of your anger, take care of your despair, take care of your loneliness, if technology helps you to create joyful feelings, happy feelings for yourself and for your beloved ones, it’s going in a good way and you can make good use of technology. When you are happy, when you have time for yourself and your beloved ones, maybe you can be more successful in your business. Perhaps you will make more money if you are really happy, if you have good emotional health, if you reduce the amount of stress and despair within yourself.

The Four Nutriments

During his talk at Google, Thay spoke about the four nutriments. In Buddhist psychology there are five universal mental formations: contact, sparsa; attention, manaskara; feelings, vedana; perception, samjna; volition, cetana. They are always present, expressing themselves in our consciousness. The first one is contact, and the last one is volition. These two mental formations are considered to be the kind of food we don’t consume with our mouth.

Some of us use technology to consume in order to forget the suffering in us, in the same way that we sometimes use edible food. When we are lonely or fearful, we search in the refrigerator for something to eat, not because we need it, but we want to forget the suffering in us. Many of us are addicted to eating and become fat and suffer from many kinds of diseases, just because of this kind of consuming. Edible food is the first of the four nutriments.

The second nutriment the Buddha taught was sensory impressions. We pick up a book to read, hoping to have a sensation. We go to the Internet, looking for pictures and songs and music to have a certain feeling. When you listen to music or read a book or newspaper out of routine, you are doing it so you won’t encounter yourself. Many of us are afraid of going home to ourselves, because we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside of us. So we look for sensory impressions to consume. Technology, the Internet, is helping us to do this.

Many young people do this. A teenager confessed to us in a retreat that he spends at least eight hours each day with electronic games, and he cannot stop. At first he was playing games to forget, and now he’s addicted to it. In real life he does not feel any love or understanding in his family, school, or society. Many young people are trying to fill up the loneliness, the emptiness inside, by looking for sensory impressions. That is the second source of nutriment.

Now, as a Buddhist monk or nun, are we doing the same? If you go to the Internet and download a film and a song to enjoy, then you are doing the same. You have to do what the Buddha taught you to do: learn to go home to yourself without fear. Breathe and walk to generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration and insight, and go home and take care of the loneliness inside. We do not have time to look for sensory impressions to fill up the vacuum in us. If we do that, we are not really monastics, we are acting just like the people in the world. That is why in this Winter Retreat, we have to practice letting go from our own choice, not because Thay tells us to do it. We do it because there is an enlightenment, there is an awakening in this way of living, and you can help people in the world by choosing to live differently. We have to learn to go home to ourselves and take care of the suffering inside and get the peace, the joy that we need, so that we can help people.

That is why having no email address, no Internet, no Facebook, is not something that makes you suffer, but helps you to become a real practitioner. If you do it, if you wake up to that kind of truth, you will do it with joy, not with a sense of deprivation. There are many people who check their email several times a day and find nothing new. Because you are empty inside, you are looking for something new. You have to learn to generate something really new: a feeling of joy, a feeling of happiness. That is possible with the practice of mindfulness.

What Is Your Intention?

Volition is the third nutriment, another source of food. Volition is intention. What do you want to do with your life? That is the question. Of course, you have the right to look for material and affective comforts, but that is not your deepest desire. Do you have an ultimate concern? Do you know the meaning of your life? That can be a tremendous source of energy.

If your volition is only to make money, to become the number one corporation, that’s not enough, because there are those who have a lot of money, a lot of power, and yet they are not happy. They feel quite lonely and they don’t have time to live their life. Nobody understands them and they don’t understand anyone. Happiness is not there because there is no understanding or love.

So your volition is not to have a lot of money, to have social recognition, to have a lot of power or fame. What you really want may be something more. Maybe you want to reverse the direction of civilization. You want to help people know how to handle the suffering in themselves, how to heal and transform, how to generate joy and happiness, how to live deeply every moment of their life, so that they can help their beloved ones to do the same and help the Earth to restore her beauty. That is a good desire, a good nutriment. As a corporate leader, if you have that kind of energy, you will become very strong. That is the first item they wanted Thay to speak about at Google: the intention, the motivation that pushes us to do what we are doing.

The Buddha had a strong desire to transform himself, to have the freedom and compassion to help people suffer less. That is a good desire; that is good food. Animated by that kind of energy, he spent forty-five years teaching and helping all kinds of people. He had very strong energy.

So those of us who have a good source of the nutriment of volition can be very happy. To generate understanding and compassion, to be truly happy and to be able to help many people: that is good volition, good intention. If a corporate leader has that kind of bodhicitta, he can reverse the trend of civilization. He can be himself, he can control the horse, and he can make good use of technology.

mb66-Dharma4

mb66-Dharma5

With a knife, you can chop vegetables and peel potatoes. The knife is a helpful tool. But a terrorist can use a knife to kill people also. Technology is like that. If you have compassion and insight, you can come up with innovations that make good use of technology, that will help you and others go home to themselves, take care of themselves and their beloved ones.

The fourth nutriment is consciousness. Your individual consciousness is a source of food. There are many good things in your consciousness: you have the capacity to love, to forgive, to understand, to be compassionate. You need to know how to cultivate these elements in your consciousness. We all have the seed of compassion in us. If we know how to water the seed of compassion every day, it will grow. Every time we touch the seed of compassion, it becomes a mental formation, and with compassion alive in you, you don’t suffer anymore. That is good food.

But compassion is not the only good food you have. You have the seeds of joy, of happiness, of tenderness, of forgiveness, of nondiscrimination––many good things in yourself. You have to learn to cultivate more of these elements so that you have good food to nourish you and make the people you love happy. In you, there are also negative seeds, like a seed of anger, a seed of despair, a seed of loneliness. If you consume in a way that waters these negative seeds, then when you read a newspaper or play an electronic game or have a conversation, anger, despair, jealousy may arise in you, and you cultivate food that is not healthy for you.

As a gardener, you grow things that are good for you to consume. We know that there are plants that can make us sick, like poison oak, so we don’t cultivate those. That is true with anger, despair, violence, discrimination. These are not good food.

All of us have the seeds of these negative things in us. The collective consciousness is also food. There are neighborhoods now full of violence, fear, anger, and despair. If you happen to live in that neighborhood, you consume the collective energy of anger and fear. You don’t want to be angry and fearful and violent like them, but if you continue to stay there for a few years, you consume that collective energy and you become like them. That is not good food.

When you come to a retreat, you see hundreds of people who know how to breathe, how to concentrate, how to release tension, how to generate compassion. They generate a powerful collective energy of mindfulness and compassion, and you consume it. You feel the peace, you feel the joy, you feel brotherhood, and you consume it. That is good food. Collective consciousness can be good food or can be poisonous. The collective consciousness nutriment is very important.

But at Google, we spoke more about volition, because understanding volition was the most direct response to their inquiry about intention. A corporate leader should have a clear volition, a desire to help people suffer less. If you have that kind of good food, you become a happy person and you can be a good leader. A corporate leader needs to learn how to go home to himself first, to listen and understand his own suffering, to have compassion and take care of himself. Then he can help people in his family to do that and his family will be his support. And then he can try to help his associates do the same, and they will practice helping all employees in the workforce to go home and take care of themselves and their families. You can inspire them to have that kind of volition, that kind of intention, that kind of motivation. You give them the third nutriment. As leader, you might say, “Dear friends, you come here not just to have a job and to feed your family. You come here to join us in helping people to suffer less. We work in a way that helps people go back to themselves and take care of themselves. In order to do that, we have to do it for ourselves.”

Making Good Use of Technology

Some of our brothers have proposed to Facebook and Google to create a website where people can come and learn how to breathe, how to walk, how to handle a strong emotion, how to generate a feeling of joy and happiness for themselves and for other people. Facebook has promised to help make that happen. If Google has a mindfulness website, all the employees of Google can go there and learn how to take care of themselves and their families. Then they will have insight into what kind of electronic gadget or device will help us to go in that direction.

Suppose you talk to your smartphone. “Dear friend, I suffer. What shall I do?” And your smartphone says, “Oh! The first thing you have to do is to breathe in mindfully and go back to yourself.” This is the advice of a good teacher. An electronic device can tell you, “Dear friend, you are not in a good situation to do something. You have anger in you. You have to go home and take care of your anger.” When you are driving a car while falling asleep, a sensor would detect that. It might invite the bell to sound and say, “Dear friend, you are sleepy. Wake up! It’s dangerous to drive in this condition.” That is the practice of mindfulness.

The electronic devices that you invent can do that kind of work. iReminder; iReminding; iReturning. Returning to yourself. We spent two hours consulting with Google executives and engineers to find ways to make good use of technology to help people take care of themselves and suffer less.

There are many new functions they can put in telephones to help us, like the bell of mindfulness every quarter of an hour so that you remember to go back to yourself and to take care of yourself. In Plum Village, every time we hear the bell, we stop our thinking, we stop our talking, we stop our action, bringing our mind back to our body, and having the insight, “Ah, we are alive! We are present, sitting, walking on this planet, how wonderful.” You enjoy breathing in and out three times in mindfulness in order to celebrate the fact that you are still alive. When you are confused, when you are angry, you can talk to your phone, and your phone can remind you what to do and what not to do.

There was a young engineer who said, “But if we do these things, it’s like we are imposing on others what they don’t need.” Thay said that there are real needs, and there are needs that are not real. When you look for something to eat when you are not hungry, but are trying to forget the suffering in yourself, that is not a real need. If technology is trying to satisfy these kinds of needs, you are not helping people, you are only giving them the kind of sense impressions that cover up their suffering. But they have real needs, like going home to themselves and taking care of themselves, taking care of their families. That is why you have to help people to identify the real needs, and needs that are not real.

I think we planted a lot of good seeds in the minds of these Googlers. Let us see what will come after a few months.

Enjoyment Is the Practice

Thinking that work is one thing and life is another thing is dualistic thinking. For example, after you park your car in the parking lot and begin to walk to your office, you can choose between mindful walking or walking just to arrive at your office. If you know how to walk mindfully, then every step from the parking lot to your office can bring you joy and happiness. You can release the tension in your body and touch the wonders of life with every step. Walking this way is a pleasure. On the one hand, you see walking as life; on the other hand, you see walking as labor, as work.

When you wash the dishes, there’s a way to do it that helps you to enjoy every moment of dishwashing, so washing the dishes is not work, it is life. If you want to know how to wash dishes, read my book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. If you know how to mop the floor and cook your breakfast in mindfulness, it becomes life, not work. When a doctor receives a patient, it is work. But with compassion, with joy, you can transform the meeting between you, the doctor, and the patient, into a beautiful relationship, and that’s life. So life and work are not two different things.

When Thay does calligraphy, he begins every session with a cup of tea. Tea was invented by monastics in the Zen tradition who found that by drinking it, they were more awake for sitting meditation. So tea and meditation have been together for thousands of years.

Then Thay mixes some of the tea with the ink, and when he draws half a circle, he follows his in-breath. When he draws the second half of the circle, he breathes out. So there is the breathing in the circle, there’s mindfulness in the circle. From time to time he invites his own teacher to do the circle with him. In his hand is the hand of the mother, of the father, of the ancestor, of the teacher, of the Buddha. To do the circle in mindfulness, there must be the hand of the Buddha in his hand. So during that practice of drawing the circle, there is mindfulness, there is concentration and insight. This insight is made not by a self, but by a collective of selves. The Buddha is there and helps to make the circle in mindfulness.

So if you say that Thay is working hard, you are not right, because he enjoys making the circle. That is also his life and his practice. Meditation, working, and practicing become one.

In the monastic life of Plum Village, we do four things in our daily life. We study the Dharma and we practice the Dharma. Third, we work: cleaning, cooking, organizing a retreat. And fourth, we play: having tea with each other, playing basketball, and things like that. These are the four aspects of monastic life.

These four aspects inter-are. You do not enjoy only the time of playing, because the time of playing is also learning, is also building brotherhood, sisterhood, and cultivating health. Enjoyment is the practice. So within the playing is the studying, the practice, and the work.

We learn and practice in a way that cultivates joy. We can do walking meditation and sitting meditation the same way we play a game. It can be very joyful, just sitting together and doing nothing, or walking together. When you listen to a Dharma talk, allow the seeds of joy in you to be watered. It’s not good practice if you suffer.

When we organize a retreat or a Day of Mindfulness, we do it with compassion. We have a chance to serve, and that gives us a lot of joy. That’s not work, that is practice. When people come and practice, we practice with them. So there is no distinction between working and living and practicing.

That is the meaning of monastic life. The four aspects of life: learning, practicing, working, and playing. Each of the four has the three others inside it. As a lay practitioner, you can do the same. That is why you have to transcend dualistic thinking about work and life. We have to train ourselves to do our work in such a way that every moment of work is a moment of life.

Edited by Barbara Casey and Sister Annabel, True Virtue

PDF of this article

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

Letter from the Editor

Editor-NBDear Thay, dear Sangha, One of the threads connecting the articles in this issue is the concept of volition. Our volition is our deepest desire. According to the Buddha, it is one of the four nutriments––sources of energy, or food. Our volition fuels us to do what we most want to do. Thay says, “To generate understanding and compassion, to be truly happy and to be able to help many people: that is good volition, good intention.” When it’s rooted in loving kindness, our wholesome volition can be a wonderful agent of change.

Thay’s Dharma talk teaches about volition as a framework for understanding our use of technology. This talk raises deep questions: Are we turning to email or Facebook to fill a void, to tune out our suffering? Are we at the mercy of our habit of going after pleasure? Thay urges us to examine our motivations and volition. Because of our unwholesome intentions and dangerous use of technology, he says, civilization is heading in the wrong direction. But he explains that if someone has bodhicitta, or the mind of love, nourishing his volition, then “he can reverse the trend of civilization.”

Sister Annabel, senior editor of the Mindfulness Bell, kindly shared her insights after reading the articles in this issue: “Our volition in the form of bodhicitta is always there in every one of us. It only needs to be uncovered and kept alive by the practice. Suffering is very important in helping us learn to uncover our mind of love. If we know how to handle our suffering, it will lead to the feeling of compassion for our self and others.”

The connection between bodhicitta and suffering is very alive in this issue’s stories by war veterans and their loved ones. These writers have been to some of the darkest places. They show how awakening into a volition of loving kindness has taken their lives in a whole new direction, one of awareness and commitment to service. For example, Jeff Nielsen’s article describes his harrowing times in war and his tireless work to reverse the legacy of war. In an email about it, he emphasized, “Again, my article is not about me. But, about the consequences of war, all war.” A volition that arises from compassion and inspires service is intensely personal and inseparable from the collective.

Contributor Beth Howard tells how she has been deepening her practice of peace as her sons have been deployed in military service. Sister Annabel observes, “The practice of Howard is also to see that her sons’ engagement in war is what keeps alive her compassion and peace work. Her sons’ being in the army does not bring about the desire to destroy those who want to go to war, because that is a kind of war in itself. As a mother she has a deep desire that no son will ever go to war and she does everything she can to make that possible and trusts that it will be possible. That is the most nourishing kind of volition food.”

May these offerings open our hearts and inspire us to nourish our true nature of compassion, our mind of love.

With love and gratitude,

Editor-NBsig

Natascha Bruckner True Ocean of Jewels

PDF of this article

Letters

May I suggest that if the Mindfulness Bell had an electronic format too, people like me would be able to read its content in developing countries through less pollution of worldwide transportation and less environmental costs, and it also would lower the price for us.Ana Cristina Atanes Brazil (via Facebook)

Dear Ana Cristina,

Thank you for your input. We would very much like to develop an online format for the Mindfulness Bell, and we are looking for Sangha friends who have the right skills and experience to help us move in that direction. Meanwhile, we are happy to be building an online archive of past issues, available at www.mindfulnessbell.org/wp. We hope this will nourish your practice.

mb66-Letters

Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

Every time it is a joy to find the Mindfulness Bell on the doormat. The first thing I look for is the Dharma talk from Thay. But I do wonder—why is there never a Dharma talk from one of the other masters? Going two times a year to the EAIB in Germany, I am thankful to receive the beautiful Dharma talks from Thay Phap An. And I’m sure that in the other monasteries, also, rich talks are given during the retreats. Wouldn’t it be lovely to share these talks also?

A lotus for you all, Els Prins The Netherlands

Dear Els,

Thank you for your message. It is heartwarming to know that you enjoy the Dharma talks from Thay. The Mindfulness Bell does publish Dharma talks by monastics, such as Sister Dang Nghiem’s talk, “Scorpion Nature,” in the Autumn 2013 issue. This was transcribed and edited from a talk she gave in 2011, and she generously shared the transcript with the MB. It would be wonderful to publish more talks like this, and we will gladly take your suggestion and invite monastic Dharma teachers to share transcripts of their talks.

mb66-Letters

My dear editor,

I have so much appreciation for the questions and Thay’s answers about suffering in the last Mindfulness Bell––in particular, the questions asked by bereaved mothers. Not quite fifteen years ago, that could have been me asking those same questions. My son was killed by another person when he was twenty-one years old. The grief of bereaved parents goes deep to the core of one’s being. It is a long hard road to travel. I have so much gratitude for people who helped me. Someone gave me tapes on loving kindness and compassion, which I listened to over and over. All I could do at first was tonglen, taking in suffering and breathing out space...at first for myself, and then it spread to others and got bigger and bigger. Someone asked me to join one of Thay’s Sanghas, and I practiced with them for many years until they disbanded. Now I practice with another Sangha.

To the mother who asked if she could ever be happy again: positively, YES! At first it is very hard, but slowly, you work through the grief and can see that the love you had for your child will never leave. And if you relax in this love, you will be able to see your child in many forms. I feel Jake in the cool summer breezes that caress my face. I see him in the orange juice he used to drink. I hear the chirp, chirp of the robins and I know he is near. I find “heart rocks” and I know he is cheering me on. One time I even saw where someone had written the name, JAKE, with rocks, very big and bold, on the side of the road. That made me smile from ear to ear, and I said, “Thanks, Jake.”

To the parent whose sweet son died by violence: I wondered for many years what could be done to lessen the violence in this world. How can Jake’s death and so many other deaths by violence not be in vain? Then I read an article about teaching mindfulness in schools. I thought about how mindfulness has helped me to take good care of my anger. I took a curriculum class in Northern California, mindfulschools.org, and have been teaching mindfulness in our school district’s grades 1-3 for the past three years. Now two other Sangha friends are teaching with me. The children love to practice mindfulness. They know that it can help them calm down and focus right away.

My life is full of blessings. I never thought at first this would be possible. Thank you to all who helped me along this path, which leaves no one out.

Sincerely, Robin Correll Garberville, California

mb66-Letters

Errata

In the Winter/Spring 2014 issue (#65), the article “Calligraphic Meditation” incorrectly stated that Sister Dedication was the exhibition curator. Brother Phap Nguyen was the exhibition curator as well as Thay’s calligraphy assistant.

PDF of this article

Intention, Innovation, Insight

A Day of Mindfulness at Google

By Sister Chan Hien Nghiem

mb66-Intention1

The Google campus is an interesting place. Called the “Googleplex” by Silicon Valley, it is a sprawling mass of buildings of unusual shapes and sizes, with earnest-faced, intelligent-looking young people darting between them. Some of them are riding free “Google bikes,” which––like the buildings––are branded with Google’s signature tones of red, yellow, green, and blue. There is a plastic pink flamingo perched on a dinosaur skeleton in the main courtyard, as well as a mini-pool, a sandy volleyball court, deck chairs, and exotic desert plants native to the Valley. Right away, you know that this is a place full of creative people, playful people––people who are dedicated to their work and their company’s mission of “making the world’s information accessible and useful.” Google is known as one of the most innovative companies in the world––an exciting, challenging, and fun, if sometimes chaotic, place to work. Yet it is also known as a place where its young (average age twenty-nine), talented employees burn out and leave after just a few years.

As a result, Google has invested a huge amount in “employee well-being.” All the food, the eighteen cafes, gyms, child care, and other onsite services are offered to its ten thousand employees completely free of charge. If you complete a project well, you can gain free “massage credits” to redeem on campus, or take some time out in a “napping pod.” And yet, none of these “perks” can ever be enough to balance the intense workaholic culture. Google’s CEO said that they have “a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Employees may work up to sixteen hours a day, mostly in front of a screen. No matter how much high-quality food and services they have access to, they suffer greatly. They are so busy that they experience acute stress and pressure, struggle to sustain healthy relationships with their partners, and have little time for family life. And so “Googlers” were delighted when, in 2011, Thich Nhat Hanh agreed to lead a half-day of mindfulness for employees during his US tour. Google was proud to announce on its website that it was the very first corporate headquarters in America to host the world-famous Zen Master. As of this writing, Thay’s Dharma talk Q&A has been viewed over 230,000 times since Google posted it on YouTube.

Thay’s visit on October 23, 2013, was his second time on the Google campus. This time, Google asked for a full Day of Mindfulness, not just a half-day, on the theme “Intention, Innovation, and Insight.” More than seven hundred employees signed up, so they needed to open two “satellite” locations where Thay’s Dharma talk was live-streamed on big screens, with monastics assigned to each location. There was a lot of excitement in the bus as we headed to the Googleplex to start the day with an early morning walking meditation. Some of us had been there in 2011 and remembered the joyful, relaxed atmosphere, the openness of the employees, and the fun campus. There is one entrance hall where Google search terms (being submitted by users around the world in “real time”) are projected flowing down a wall like a waterfall. There is another lobby with a giant swirling slide for engineers to slide down from the first floor to the ground floor.

Much of our excitement was not just to go to the Googleplex as a place, but to connect with the Googlers themselves––people in our own generation who share many of our aspirations. Software engineers (or “geeks” as they like to call themselves) are a creative, collaborative, experimental bunch of people, and meditation naturally appeals to their science-based curiosity. If they want to master technology, they also want to master their minds. Many of them have a deep faith that technology can serve the world and bring positive change, creating opportunities for all people across boundaries of nationality, race, and culture. So although we did not have green or blue hair or luminous sneakers like some of the Googlers, as Buddhist monastics we fit right in to Silicon Valley’s “Zen vibe.”

Our Deepest Desire

Google’s unofficial company motto is “Don’t be evil.” Their intention is to make the world’s information available––without being evil. But is information the same as insight? If we had to describe our aspiration as Plum Village monks and nuns, perhaps it would be to do good (water positive seeds and help people suffer less) by making humankind’s deepest insights available to all those who are suffering. It may be that the world has a lot of information, but we may lack the tools, training, and insight to help us suffer less. Information (or too much of it) may even be a cause of our suffering.

mb66-Intention2

Our Day of Mindfulness began with stopping. Thay was very joyful and relaxed as he explained walking meditation and led the hundreds of employees (many of whom had arrived early) on walking meditation around the courtyard. It was a very quiet morning, and the buildings were shrouded in mist. Everyone was perfectly silent as they took one mindful step at a time, eventually joining Thay to sit on the paving stones silently together. Absolutely nothing happened, and yet everything was happening. There was true stopping. And there was a sense of magic. Here in the pulsing heart of the Internet, there was stopping. There was peace. There was mist, and smiles, and quiet breathing. Nothing was going on, and yet everything was going on. We could feel that the Googlers were 100% engaged, 100% present. They were curious. They were tired. They knew that Thay had something they wanted, and they were eager to learn and taste for themselves what it was. Was it wisdom? Was it happiness? Was it freedom?

In a Dharma Talk back in Plum Village, Thay described how the Googlers had practiced walking meditation that morning so wholeheartedly. “They practiced very well,” said Thay, unaware that one of those Googlers was sitting right there in the Lower Hamlet meditation hall, having decided to come and “check out” Plum Village for herself. She was very proud and happy to hear Thay’s praise for their wholehearted practice. “But,” Thay then continued, “the reason they practiced so wholeheartedly was because they suffer.” And sitting there in the audience, she thought, “Yes, Thay is right. Thay has understood. We do suffer a lot. And this practice does help, a lot.”

After the walking meditation, Thay offered a Dharma talk. “Each of us has a desire, an intention, which we nourish every day,” he began. “Is our desire, our intention, just to run after fame, power, success, and wealth? Or is it something else? Every one of us should take the time to sit down and ask ourselves, ‘What is my deepest desire? What do I want to do with my life?’ It’s not just a question of ‘work-life balance.’ It goes much deeper.

“If our deepest desire is to suffer less and be happier; if our deepest desire is to come back to ourselves, to create joy and happiness, and nourish ourselves, and help others do the same; if our deepest desire is to learn how to suffer, how to come back to ourselves and embrace and look deeply into our suffering, so we suffer much less, and can help others do the same; then that is good.

“Many of us are consuming technology to cover up our suffering and run away from ourselves, but surely we can design the kind of technology that can help us do the opposite? This is a question of innovation: we have to invent new ways of practice to suit our present situation. If we do not renew our teaching, our practice, then we cannot serve society. All of us have insight, we just need something or someone to help us bring it to life so that we can know which direction to go in––and which direction not to go in.”

Thay went on to speak about the Four Nutriments, and how to nourish body and mind with mindful consumption. He also spoke about how the practice of deep listening and loving speech can be applied in corporations, and about his own experience of nourishing himself with the very simple practices of walking and breathing with mindfulness and compassion. There was then plenty of time for questions and answers. Every question came from the heart. They were the questions of “seekers,” of young minds seeking to make sense of their busy, stressful lives and seeking to bring deep meaning to them. We could feel their openness and their deep trust and respect for Thay. We could also hear their suffering.

mb66-Intention3

Sharing Aspirations

Many of us were sitting on stage behind Thay, as representatives from a different world. We may go for days or weeks without even opening a computer or listening to a track of worldly music. Unless we have worked in the registration office before Summer Retreat, we may have never known what it’s like to receive several hundred emails a day. We have a chance to stop, not just for a few minutes every day, but for hour after concentrated hour, contemplating our body, our breathing, the food or the miracles of nature around our practice centers. We can take a shower without Radio NST (Non-Stop Thinking) blaring through our mind’s ear.

When I worked in news journalism before I ordained, every day I would have to read six newspapers cover to cover and listen to two hour-long news radio shows, while following the waterfall of live “news wires” cascading down my screen. I feel it has taken me years to slowly quiet my mind and enjoy the silence of nothing happening, except life in all its wonders. Sitting there on the stage, I wondered if any of the Googlers would ever taste the deep peace and relief of being “free from information” which has refreshed my spirit in the monastery. We can’t give them that kind of peace and silence, but we can demonstrate that it is possible––in our smiles and in our steps––and we can show them how to create the conditions to generate tiny, life-changing glimpses of it in their day.

Soon we were all enjoying a delicious, vegan, mindful meal together. Google is a pioneer of corporate mindful eating, and since Thay’s first visit, the company runs a monthly “mindful meal” session in its cafes. During these lunches, Googlers have a chance to listen to the Five Contemplations, eat in silence, and share about their experience together. After Thay’s second visit, they plan to make a permanent “mindful eating zone” on campus, where employees can come to nourish themselves peacefully during their lunch break.

As well as supporting and nourishing their mindfulness practice on campus, some of us also had our own secret aspirations as we stepped into the world of Google that day. One or two of us were looking for GoogleMap employees, hoping we could inspire them to code a live, editable, browsable map of all our Sanghas and mindfulness events around the world. Brothers Phap Luu and Phap Khoi had a giant hard drive stashed in a backpack, hoping to inspire a Googler to import a decade of Thay’s Dharma talks into the back end of YouTube and publish them on our channel. (It would take perhaps a year’s constant uploading to do it from rural France). I was looking for someone who would design a really elegant, simple, flexible, free mindfulness bell app. And Thay, never one to think small, was looking for soul mates who would design the kind of technology that would help people suffer less and stop our civilization going in the wrong direction.

In the afternoon, Thay, his attendants, and a few other monastics met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could do just that. While several hundred employees enjoyed total relaxation in the auditorium with Sister Chan Khong (surely much more healing and restful than the many massage chairs strategically placed throughout the offices), and others played volleyball with monks and nuns, a dozen of us sat around a giant boardroom table to have a Dharma discussion with Thay on the future of information technology.

Is it possible to create the kind of technology that can help people come back to themselves, embrace and handle the suffering inside? One chic and elegant employee was wearing the new “Google Glass”––the cutting-edge technology that enables you to send messages, run web searches, take photos, and record video without even lifting a finger. But was it helping her be truly present for herself or for the discussion?

The world watches 450,000 years’ worth of Google YouTube videos each month. That’s more than twice as long as modern humans have existed. But is this helping us suffer less? Is it possible to create, and make available on a global scale, the kind of content on the web that helps people to take care of themselves, their loved ones, and the planet? Google may know that someone is checking her Gmail one hundred times in one evening. That person is, at the same time, running Google searches for “causes of depression.” She makes orders through her Chrome browser for large quantities of junk food. Are the Google “algorithms” intelligent enough to offer some constructive ways to help this person? Google wants significant profits, that is true. But they also want to be good, to not be evil. Is there more they can do?

This was no ordinary business meeting, and the two hours we spent together flew by. It was amazing to contribute as part of the Sangha––as though we were the voices of one body, offering a new energy or idea in each moment, with Thay guiding us all the way. It was extraordinary to see our beloved teacher––a Zen Master from another generation, who was already over seventy by the time the 21st Century started––engaging so wholeheartedly with these young technology leaders, with such a quick and sharp mind, and with so much love and joy. The Googlers were delighted. And one of them, as Thay explained the deep meaning of why the bell and stopping are so important, was even moved to tears.

It was hard to bring the meeting to a close, and even harder to leave the room. We did so as friends, perhaps even as soul mates. The next time we meet will be for a retreat.

We didn’t take the slide down to the ground floor. We enjoyed every step.

mb66-Intention4Sister True Dedication (Chan Hien Nghiem) was born and raised in England and currently lives in the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village. She has been practising with the Sangha since 2002 and ordained as a nun in 2008.

PDF of this article

I Love Technology

By Kenley Neufeld mb66-ILove1

I love technology. I value technology. I embrace technology.

These three statements may have been the first step to my finding more equanimity in my relationship to technology. To name it, say what it means to me, and see clearly the central role technology plays in my profession and how it enhances my Sangha experiences.

As a technologist, I’ve been an active user of the Internet since the early nineties. In grad school in 1993, I wrote my master’s thesis on the benefits of email communication. For the past twenty years, technology has been one of the core functions of my job. I bought the game-changer iPhone on the day it was released in 2007; it transformed both my work and personal life. I have a history of being an early adopter and appreciate the uncertainty of new technologies.

mb66-ILove2

When a Dharma friend asked me recently how I manage to not feel overwhelmed by technology, it was a perfect opportunity to look at my relationship to technology more closely. His second question, “How can technology serve us in alleviating our suffering, add to the depth of our connections, and allow us to live a more mindful life?,” provided the ground for me to reflect on the positive aspects of technology.

The ubiquitous nature of technology can definitely be overwhelming––being constantly connected, exposure to the endless marketing, the trendy and sexy elements––but how different is that from other things in life that cause me to feel overwhelmed? If I’m not grounded in practice and connection with myself and with others, overwhelm will arrive. And feeling overwhelmed can lead to despair. I ask myself: How well am I taking care of myself? How well am I taking care of my family? If I can do these things honestly, then I don’t feel overwhelmed. I can easily come back to my happiness through my breathing and my walking and build connections with others, even with technology.

Sometimes I think my challenges with technology are reflections of what other people experience and feel about technology––fear, frustration, isolation, and loneliness. These things are real, but ultimately we must look at technology like anything else in our lives: we can apply mindfulness to using technology, create beauty and support with technology, and let go of it when it’s not the appropriate time or place to use it. With awareness and mindfulness, technology can be a friend, not a foe. With awareness and mindfulness, we will also know how to put it down when we need a break. Just as we do with other things that we might love but that may not always serve us well, we can recognize our love of technology and then let it go.

Technology has opened many doors for Sangha building and sharing the Dharma in the last decade. I feel grateful for all the wonderful tools that help us to connect and to learn. Through technology, people all over the world can watch Thich Nhat Hanh give a Dharma talk from the south of France. Technology can bring a moment of happiness to almost a million people who follow Thay on Facebook when a special quote or image is shared. Technology enables people to gather online where no local Sangha exists. The Sangha-building possibilities of technology are all around us.

How can we use technology as a mindfulness bell for coming home to ourselves? If you use a mobile device, I urge you to turn off as many phone notifications as possible so that you can choose the appropriate time and place to connect. In my personal practice, I usually don’t turn on Internet connections for one or two hours after getting up in the morning. I don’t need to be connected first thing in the morning. Some people find a weekly “technology Sabbath”––a lazy day or Day of Mindfulness––to be very valuable. I typically take extended technology breaks several times a year.

In my work environment, I’m on my computer most of the day. I use an application to remind me to stop and breathe. My favorite app for this is Stillness Buddy (www.stillnessbuddy.com)

because it includes quotes from Thay and also invites me to stop at regular intervals. For my commute to work, I enjoy listening to the “Buddhist Geeks” podcast (www.buddhistgeeks.com), which explores the question, “How can we serve the convergence of Buddhism with rapidly evolving technology and an increasingly global culture?” And with the recent popularization of mindfulness, there’s a proliferation of mobile apps. Two that you may want to explore are “Stop, Breathe, & Think” (www.stopbreathethink.org) and “Buddhify” (www.buddhify.com).

Our mindfulness trainings are our guide to awareness, transformation of suffering, and touching happiness. When we practice and keep the mindfulness trainings alive, technology doesn’t have to be a hindrance; it can be a friend.

mb66-ILove3Dharmacharya Chan Niem Hy (Kenley Neufeld) received the Lamp of Wisdom in 2012 and supports Sangha work from his home in Ojai, California.

PDF of this article

Why I Chose the Monastic Path

By Brother Chan Phap Nguyen mb66-Why1

During last spring’s Francophone retreat, Thay gave Dharma talks on the theme of “recognizing the conditions of happiness in and around us,” a subject that is very important and helpful for today’s living. Thay taught that to be able to hear the birds or see the sun rays in the morning, or to recognize that life has lovingly offered us our good eyes and strong heart, is already a source of happiness. So many people are not so fortunate with their poor faculties, and still countless others are suffering from serious illnesses.

mb66-Why2

One day, we had a formal lunch, a solemn and powerful event well attended by the fourfold community. Yet during the afternoon’s Dharma discussion, one practitioner shared that while the meal was something very special, she gained from it neither any sense of happiness nor any understanding of its purpose. Further, she felt pity that monastics could be made so happy by something as insignificant as an ice cream bar while a few cartons would be what she herself would buy. Monastics would derive happiness just from watching simple things like a cloud, a ray of sunshine, or a flower; she felt sorry for them.

mb66-Why3

I was not surprised by this sharing because I’ve known many other people with similar thinking. The sharing made me reflect more deeply on the sources of happiness in my life before and after I became a monastic.

Never Really Satisfied

I am Vietnamese American. In high school, I studied diligently for admission to a good university. That done, I continued to work hard for a good degree so I could get a decent job to help my family in America and in Vietnam. After four years of hard work, I graduated with degrees in international business and finance. I had wanted to go further for Master’s degrees in international law and international relations, but after much thinking, I decided to defer additional schooling in favor of work to help my family financially, and also to get real work experience. Just before graduation, I was fortunate to be hired by a stock brokerage company, with the work to begin one week after graduation. Everything appeared to progress as I had wished.

But my ambition did not stop there. Once employed, my next desire was to buy a house and a good car. These goals were achieved after three years of high-intensity and high-pressure work. In my job, dealing with many of the clients, especially wealthy ones, was difficult. There were days I left work with a headache. In seven years, I moved through two houses and was into my second car. I had a job, money, a good dwelling and means of transportation, but I was never really satisfied with my life. I always felt that I was missing something. The help I gave my family was never enough. The situation was the same with everyone around me.

I found instances of joy in being with my family, in material things, and travels. Every time I felt boredom, excessive work pressure, or the need to resolve some personal issue, I would travel. I visited many places, some of them with rather luxurious and elegant accommodations. I felt happy during those travels, but upon returning home to face the busy and tense life, and especially my own dissatisfaction, I began to feel the boring repetitiveness of my life. I wanted to change it.

Waking Up

When I was little, my mother used to take me to the temple to worship the Buddha and chant the sutras. I remember the lightness I felt on those occasions. Although I was too young to understand myself, I liked the quiet, serene atmosphere of the temples. Growing older, I continued to like those visits, but I only went to the temples when I felt my mind was unbalanced. Many people go to the temple to pray for favors, but I went just to chant a sutra or to do some temple work to find peace; that was it! Every day after work, I would stop by the temple for sutra recitation. Gradually the wonderful words of the sutras began to penetrate my mind. I became more familiar with the way life was lived at the temple. What I most valued was the peace that I felt there. Suddenly I began to see the beauty of monastic life. Images of the brown and saffron-yellow robes quietly entered my store consciousness. From there the seed of a monastic life began to sprout in me.

One day while doing research on Buddhism on the Internet, I found Thay’s name and the Plum Village (PV) website. Out of curiosity, I studied the information and became very interested in what I found. I began to read Thay’s books, and the more I read, the deeper I was moved. I decided to travel to PV once to check things out; sometimes, reality might not be the same as what we’ve read on the Internet or in books. I arranged my schedule to allow a one-week visit to PV. During that week, I had the opportunity to be in direct contact with the practice of mindfulness in the PV tradition. I learned to walk, sit, and breathe. In a few days, I felt there was already transformation in me: I felt light and peaceful. I liked PV’s natural settings. Thay’s Dharma talks moved me very much. I felt like a person just waking up from a deep sleep. After the week, I returned home with the vow to come back and ask to be Thay’s disciple. And true to that vow, I returned one year later and was permitted to join the monastic community.

While back in the US to rearrange my personal affairs, I continued mindfulness practice at Deer Park Monastery, another PV center in America. There I was given much guidance and help by Sister Dang Nghiem. One time, I was having dinner with her and another practitioner. That simple meal turned out to be an unforgettable experience. We were eating leisurely while the sun was setting in the distance. No one said a word: it was enough to simply enjoy the meal and value one another’s presence. It was wonderful. I felt the energy of peace enter my body and a sense of happiness I had never experienced before—one of peace, freedom, and contentment, so gentle and soothing.

The Joy of Non-Desire

Before getting to know the practice in the PV tradition, I was confused between the happiness derived from sensual pleasures and that derived from real peace. I had thought that happiness meant having one’s desires satisfied. But desires can never be satisfied because by nature, they are bottomless. Once a desire is satisfied, another one, even larger, appears. Eventually we become enslaved by our own desires.

mb66-Why4

On the other hand, there is the happiness born from mental stillness, a joy that comes from the non-desire within us. Looking closely, we can see that the process of going after desires until they are satisfied brings not so much joy but a lot of suffering. Our greater joy actually comes from the moment of non-desire, which happens between the end of one desire and the beginning of the next. For example, from the very first few months of my first job, I worked hard to save for a modern car. Once I got the car, I was quite proud and happy for a few weeks, and then my next goal was a house. The joy of having a new car gradually disappeared, and in its place were new efforts, new worries, and new plans to gather enough money for the new house.

When we look for externally generated pleasures such as travels, good food, and luxurious dwellings, we are really looking to satisfy just our physical needs. In the depth of our consciousness, our difficulties, sadness, loneliness, etc., are being suppressed. While sensual pleasures can bring us short moments of joy, they make our desires stronger in the long run. I had thought that graduating from a good university, having a good job, big house, beautiful car, much money in the bank, etc., would bring me happiness. But no! Looking back, I now realized I was a slave to my own desires.

Like many other young men, I was drawn to fame and fortune. Chasing after fame and fortune and never satisfied with what I had, I was like a person drinking seawater: the more you drink, the thirstier you become. In those days, I had worked hard to prepare for the future and lost sight of the wonderful present. Now a monastic, I’ve discovered that happiness is something that’s already in myself; there is no need to search elsewhere. But it takes mindfulness to recognize this. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of what is happening in the present moment and to more clearly see our emotions and mental formations.

A New Ideal

Is what I am saying familiar to you? Does anything here resemble what’s inside of you? I hope you will agree from reading my story that not recognizing correctly our sources of happiness is a common sickness of our time. I was a youth living a worldly life. Having experienced suffering, psychological complexes, sadness, and attachments, I can identify to some extent with the feelings of many young people. Nowadays, youth are facing many kinds of pressures from society, family, school, friends, and sexual tendencies. From puberty into young adulthood, sexual needs can develop so quickly and strongly that they are difficult to control. And if we do not know how to channel them, we can end up being controlled by them. Therefore, we have to deal not only with external issues, but internal ones, too.

Our society is very modern today, but the more modern the world is (with computers and other electronic gadgets, for example), the more lonely and lost people can become since there are now fewer opportunities for personal contacts between individuals. Such feelings of loneliness and emptiness could take us very far in the wrong direction. I think my earlier feelings of unease, worry, and loneliness came from my original ideals, which were based on the ambition for fame, wealth, and sensual pleasures. That’s why I was not very happy. Now I feel very happy: Thay has opened my eyes to a new life ideal, the development of understanding and love.

Dear friends! Young people like us need an ideal in life. A wholesome ideal is useful to ourselves and others. It will bring the fruit of love and happiness. The life of a young person is very beautiful, like a full moon, clear and undefiled. Let’s value it and keep it well. In order to do so, we have to practice stopping, deep looking and listening, recognizing and transforming, like Thay has taught. Our breaths and steps are the very beginning of this practice. I am walking this path of practice with much joy.

I hope you can live your lives so you can be like proud and solid pine trees. If you know how to take good care of your garden of the heart and your ideal, you too will experience the taste of peace and happiness. If you are happy, your loved ones and others will benefit. You will be like one of those blue pine trees: if it knows how to send its roots deep into the earth and stand straight with solidity and dignity, its trunk and foliage will bring much refreshing shade to life.

Translated from Vietnamese by Dat Nguyen.

mb66-Why5Brother Chan Phap Nguyen, born and raised in Vietnam, immigrated to the US with his family at age thirteen. He became a monk in February 2008 and has lived in Plum Village ever since. He enjoys drinking tea and lying on a hammock.

PDF of this article

From Warriors to Peaceful Warriors

Veterans Lighting the Way

Brother Phap Uyen and Paul Davis in Conversation

Brother Phap Uyen (Brother Michael) served in the military during Desert Storm, Desert Shield. He was ordained as a monastic by Thich Nhat Hanh on May 26, 2002, with the Nimba Family. Paul Davis served in the US Marines from 1964 to 1968. In 1966, he was in Vietnam when Thich Nhat Hanh started the Order of Interbeing. He took the Five Mindfulness Trainings in the mid-1990s and was ordained into the Order of Interbeing in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2008. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and facilitates the Being Peace Sangha.

Brother Phap Uyen and Paul Davis are part of a group planning a Veterans Retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery this November. To share with the Sangha their experiences and insights as veterans within the Sangha, they met by phone for a Dharma discussion on February 25, 2014.

Roots of Personal Suffering: Family, Military, and War

Brother Phap Uyen: You and I have had numerous conversations because we were both in the military—you during the Vietnam War and me during Desert Storm, Desert Shield.

Paul Davis: I went into the Marine Corps three weeks after I graduated from high school. I grew up in a rural part of northeastern Ohio. I went into the Marine Corps not out of patriotism, but because I didn’t have anything better to do at the time, and two of my friends were going into the Marine Corps. I turned eighteen when I was in boot camp at Paris Island in 1964. About a year later, I got orders to go to Vietnam. By then I was nineteen. I didn’t really know much about life, and I knew nothing about Vietnam or the Vietnamese people. I was a field radio operator, which meant I carried a radio and I kept communications with headquarters. When I went to Vietnam I had no opinions, I was just there. It was probably different for people who went later, when they knew more about the war and formed opinions about whether it was good or bad. But I grew up in the fifties and early sixties with John Wayne and America being right, so those were the filters that I took to Vietnam with me.

I had been in Vietnam for about ten months when I was wounded and evacuated. I spent three months in the hospital. And still I had not really thought about my experience in Vietnam. That came about a year later, in 1967. The brother of a friend of mine asked me to participate in a presentation at Ohio State University. It was about the cultural aspects of Vietnam, not about the war. A speech teacher was coordinating the event, and he asked the three of us if we felt that the people of Vietnam wanted us in Vietnam. I volunteered to answer the question, and I gave a long answer. At the end, he looked at me and said, “You didn’t answer my question.” I just sat there. I was numb, almost. I still get emotional thinking about that moment in my life, because it changed me in so many fundamental ways. I’m grateful for that question because it started my process of rebuilding who I was.

I came across Thay and his teachings much later, sometime around 1991 or ’92. I had just experienced a deep loss—it was a period of reflection and questioning. I left Vietnam in 1966 just two or three months after Thay left. I know you left Vietnam when you were two. Is that right?

Brother Phap Uyen: Yes. I was born in June 1973, in Saigon. In 1975, my family left Vietnam. We were in the last plane to leave Tan Son Nhut Airport before the communist government took it over. Our plane was up in the air already when the soldiers stormed the airport. My aunt had married a person that worked for Air America, the CIA’s covert flying group. He was able to help us get out of Vietnam. We stayed in a refugee camp in the Philippines for about two weeks, and then we ended up in Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in California. After that, we went to Arizona to live with my aunt and uncle who had sponsored us. I was in the US by ’75. For my parents it was a huge adjustment. In 1979-80, my grandmother and my aunts and uncles started coming over from Vietnam.

My dad had served in the South Vietnamese military. He had traumatic experiences from the war, as well as being a heavy drinker, so it was quite challenging for the family. He and my mom separated when I was nine and a half. They divorced and I lived with my mom for a while. Then there was the battle between my mom and my dad. I was pushed back and forth between my parents, and they were kind of using me against each other.

Paul: I do know that the journey that took me to the Marine Corps was because of issues growing up. When I was in the service, I wasn’t angry. I was more mentally unconscious. When I got out of the service, I enrolled in college at Kent State University and began classes in 1968. During an anti-war demonstration in 1970, the National Guard came on campus and killed four students and shot more. I got involved in the anti-war movement, not a peace movement. I was a lot angrier as a war protestor than I was as a Marine. I had a lot of energy as an angry person. I know that part of your story is issues of anger as well.

Brother Phap Uyen: My mom remarried, and I didn’t feel a sense of security in that relationship either. I hung out with the wrong elements and joined a gang. We got into a lot of trouble. After high school, I didn’t have plans to go to college, so I joined the military. I wanted to try a challenge, so I tried out for the Navy SEALS. I went through the training program but I didn’t graduate from the program. Later on, I was an executive bodyguard for a four-star admiral.

Practicing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

After coming out of the military, I ended up with what we now call PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Even though I had known Thay since 1989 and I had received the Five Mindfulness Trainings from him, I didn’t really practice because I was still very young. I didn’t know how to handle the anger and frustration. I had nightmares at night. I didn’t want to be alone, so I was married when I was twenty-three. My ex-wife and I divorced about a year and a half into our marriage because I couldn’t handle my anger and my emotions. That also led to a disconnection between my daughter and me for a while. My daughter is now eighteen years old.

There were moments when I was in a really dark place, thinking about killing myself because I was hurting the people I loved and cared about. My mom was quite scared for me because of the lifestyle that I was living—in and out of relationships, not being able to focus and go to school or handle a job. I didn’t like conflict. I would just up and leave my job and move to a different job if I didn’t feel the workplace was harmonious enough. I couldn’t really be around a lot of people at that time. Both of my marriages ended within a year and a half because I couldn’t communicate. There was always a part of me that was trying to hide the things inside of me, not being able to share openly or intimately. A lot of times, my anger would do the talking. After leaving the military, there was a time where within three months I moved six times. That’s partly because I couldn’t accept myself and I didn’t know how to be my own best friend. I wasn’t happy with myself. You can run away from a lot of things, but the one thing you can’t run away from is yourself. Around 2001-2002, my mom suggested for me to go to Plum Village and possibly take a break, because I hadn’t had a break since I left the military.

Connecting with Thay and the Plum Village Tradition

Paul: I ultimately found Thay and his teachings in the early nineties, after my youngest son, Nathan, was killed in a car accident. The two things that led me to Thay’s teachings were the war in Vietnam and Nathan’s death. I always looked at spirituality or religion from more of an intellectual standpoint, but at that point I had to face some very serious issues of life and death. I first found an article that this Vietnamese monk had written, and I couldn’t even pronounce his name! And then I read Peace Is Every Step. I found out Thay actually did retreats here in the United States.

I went on my first retreat about 1995, at Omega Institute in New York. Being in Thay’s presence was supportive. I hesitate to use the word “healing,” but it was very supportive. When I got there, I found a veterans’ discussion group within the retreat. It was a combination of war protestors and veterans who had been to war, and their families. It was a good opportunity for families to come together and sit and heal. I kept going to Thay’s retreats every two years, and I kept sitting with the veterans’ group and getting to know other veterans and their stories.

The people who came to those groups weren’t always veterans. The woman who became known as the Central Park jogger, who was assaulted in Central Park and had been in a coma, came to one of Thay’s retreats and joined the veterans’ group because she felt it was one place where people could understand the trauma that she had gone through. So the veterans’ group was, in many ways, a safe place for others who had gone through serious trauma.

The initial group I attended at Thay’s retreat was co-facilitated by Claude AnShin Thomas, who was one of the early vets that got connected to Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s since left our tradition, and he was ordained in the Zen Peacemaker Order. The other was Roberta Wall, an OI member from New York. The two of them, the peace activist and the war veteran, co-facilitated that group, which I think made everybody feel welcome. A lot of people lost their youth to the war even though they weren’t there because they got so angry about it.

Brother Phap Uyen: In 2002, I was getting ready to come back to the US from Plum Village. I had already completed 1500 hours of massage therapy, and then I was going to go to school for Oriental medicine. I went in to see Thay and pay my respects. Thay said, “So, I hear you want to be an Oriental medicine doctor.”

“Yes, Thay.”

Thay asked, “So, why do you want to be an Oriental medicine doctor?”

“So I can help people heal, because the military has trained me to do things and use my skills to hurt other people, and I want to change that energy inside of me.”

But Thay said something to me that really made me stop and think: “If you want to help them heal, the only way you can do that is by helping them go to the root of their problem. And the root of their problem is in their mind. But in order for you to do that, you need training. So you need to become a monk.”

I thought, “I’m not sure if I want to commit to being a monk yet.” In the Asian culture, when you become a monk, it is for the rest of your life. I decided to do it anyway, because I saw the effect that being around the Sangha had on me.

Healing Power of Sangha

The more I practiced with the Sangha, the more I could slowly start opening up. I slowly started being more gentle, friendly, happy. I smiled a lot more! My mom shared that seeing me grow within the Sangha has been a really great thing for her, because she saw me during the worst of my time, when I didn’t really smile.

Now that I look back at it, I see that when I was in the military, with my friends on the base, all those things that we have as part of PTSD were normal to us because everyone else around us was doing the exact same thing. They were drinking; they were not being faithful to their partners. There was anger, violence, hostility. While we’re in that environment, everything seems normal until we transition out of the military; then you realize you can’t just solve that problem by shooting that person. You can’t just blow up at that person anymore. You have to find a more civilized way. Fortunately for me, I came in contact with the Sangha.

When I was in Plum Village in 2002, the US was going to war with Iraq; later on, I got news that seven of the friends I had served with had died. Thay was in Italy at the time, and when he came back I was working in the registration office. Thay came in and asked me how I was doing. Thay said, “I’m sorry to hear that one of your friends passed away.”

“Dear Thay, it wasn’t one. It was seven of them. Right now, it hasn’t really sunk in yet, because I just received the news.”

Thay asked, “How are you going to practice for them? What are you going to do for them?”

I was looking at Thay and said, “They’re already dead. There’s not much I can do for them.”

“No,” Thay said. “They’re dead, but how are you going to practice so that you can help your other brothers and sisters that are not dead yet, or that are going to come back from the war zones?”

That really got me thinking about what I needed to do to practice—doing walking meditation and bringing the images of the soldiers up with me while I’m walking, or the images of my friends that are now dead and don’t have an opportunity to walk anymore, and to take those mindful steps for them.

But at that time I was still very young and fragile in the practice. It’s taken twelve years for me to work on my practice, to hopefully offer something to our brothers and sisters in the military. Granted, all my symptoms from PTSD are not completely gone, because they’ll never go away. But I can handle them in a more appropriate way instead of letting those emotions control me like they used to.

Paul: What stands out for me in listening to you is the importance of the Sangha, not only the monastic Sangha but the lay Sangha as well. For me, I could not do this without the fourfold Sangha. I know that if I wander off the path, once a week I have a gentle reminder with my local Sangha to return to the path. It’s the same when I’m able to spend time with the monks and nuns. It’s like meditation—when our mind wanders away from our breath, we return—and returning to the practice and the Sangha helps me maintain my practice.

Brother Phap Uyen: The way I’ve been practicing is using mindfulness like a bullet-proof vest. During your time, you had flak jackets; now they use Kevlar. Without the mindfulness practice, it’s like walking into battle without a flak jacket or a Kevlar vest on. I’m not about to walk into battle without my Kevlar vest on!

Helping Other Veterans Heal

Paul: I’m glad to be one of the threads in that jacket. You remind me of the importance of what can happen after the Veterans Retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery in November. I know that the veterans who have benefitted most from Thay’s retreats are the ones who found the Sangha and stayed with it. Maybe that’s one of the areas where local Sanghas could really help out—to reach out to the veterans who come to the retreat, to make sure that they’re welcome without judgment into Sanghas that continue to support them in the practice.

Brother Phap Uyen: I think it’s really important, because the veterans often feel a disconnection between themselves and the rest of society. If we can get the local Sanghas to help with that, as well as having veterans’ Sanghas in different geographical locations, and possibly get together once a year, or have a big veterans’ retreat—something that they can pencil in every year on their calendar.

In Sister Chan Khong and Thay’s Love and Understanding program, when I sponsored a child for a school year, I would receive a thank-you letter and the child would share a little bit about what’s going on with their life and how school is going. We can connect veterans and local Sanghas by asking local Sanghas to sponsor a veteran for the Veterans Retreat. If we do that, the veterans will see that people do love them and care about them. It allows the veteran to send a thank-you letter, and the Sangha sees concretely that this is a person that they’re supporting.

When I was living in Plum Village recently, Thay was talking about wanting Sanghas to have service projects—not just practicing and gathering at one person’s house, that’s good, but also to reach out to different aspects of our community to help. This is a way that we can do both things. A lot of the veterans have trouble finding jobs because people won’t hire somebody from the military, especially if they have PTS or PTSD on their record. There are financial difficulties for a lot of the veterans. That’s why we’re trying to do anything we can to get them to the retreat.

Paul: I was very upset when we decided to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was one of the people speaking at a public gathering against going to war. I was also doing volunteer work with the VA [Veterans’Administration], meeting with families whose children had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was torn between the idea of providing support for the families and honoring their loss, and at the same time speaking out against the war.

Veterans all react differently. There are veterans like me, who quickly realized that what they had been participating in was not right. There are other veterans who strongly feel they were doing the right thing, but they’re still experiencing strong emotion from those actions, whether it’s post-traumatic stress, or depression, or other things that can come from war.

Brother Phap Uyen: I understand where you’re coming from. Some people have come up to me and said, “Being a Buddhist monastic, how can you support the war?” I don’t support the war. I don’t want to ever support any act of killing or hurting people. But I support the healing of the individual. Everybody understands a human being needs to be able to heal. We see the strong power of the Sangha in being able to help us heal. The war has already happened. There’s nothing we can do about that right now. But what we can do is help them heal.

Paul: I’ve always liked Thay’s poem, “Call Me by My True Names.” I am the marine who went to war and I am the veteran who protested the war. Those are all part of who I am.

Brother Phap Uyen: Yeah, I see that in myself too. A big part of it is the environment. I think because we’ve been through the war, we want to stand up and not have our future generations go through what we went through.

Edited by Janelle Combelic, Brother Phap Uyen, and Paul Davis

Fierce Bodhisattvas

By Daryne Rockett mb66-Fierce1

If you ask my ninety-six-year-old grandfather about his participation in World War II, he might tell you that he was disqualified from service because of his flat feet. His wife, Laura Blackwood, is another story. Fit enough for the typing pool, my grandmother served as a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in the United States Navy during the war. She died two summers ago. My grandfather will tell you that he gave the Navy the “best years of my wife.”

If you ask my dad about his participation in the Vietnam War, he might tell you that he would rather not discuss it. It was thirty-five years after his service when I learned he had been awarded a Purple Heart, because he does not believe that he should be in the same company as those who lost a limb or lost their life in that war. He served in the “brown water” Navy (a term used for a Naval force carrying out military operations in a river) in Vietnam. The very little information that I have about my dad’s service I learned from my mother. I am respectful of his preference for privacy. His is not my story to tell.

If you ask my first husband about his service in several modern wars, there will be very little that he is able to say. He was a pilot of the U-2 Reconnaissance Aircraft, and most of what he did prior to his retirement, and in the years since as a contractor, is highly classified. He and I met in South Korea during my service in the Air Force. The nation was still legally at war with its neighbor to the north, functioning under a cease-fire since 1953. We were there together in 1994, on the first of many occasions that North Korea announced it would no longer abide by the armistice agreement. I was a Korean linguist, and there is very little that I am permitted to say about my service in the Air Intelligence Agency or the Air Force Information Warfare Center. We both might say that we have lost a number of close friends in U-2 crashes.

If you ask my clients about their service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iraq, or Afghanistan, they may tell you painful stories of loss. They may describe horrible memories from their service––memories of suffering, shame, or death. They might tell you about the losses of relationships, connection, and peace of mind that result from fighting. The losses that bring them to our Vet Center are the ones that hurt the deepest. What many of them will say is that they wish that the military, which taught them so effectively how to fight, had also trained them how not to fight. I had been longing for something similar when I first became familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching.

I had learned from my father how to fight to win, because he loved me and wanted me to be safe and successful. There was much arguing in my home as I was growing up, and the seeds of aggression were watered. During my military service I learned many wonderful skills, including how to speak Korean, but I was also taught with fear and intimidation, and I was encouraged to see a separation between “us” and “them.” The seeds of disconnection and enmity were watered. By the time I began my studies as a clinical social worker at the age of thirty-four, there was a wake of angry tirades and broken relationships behind me. A beginning meditation class introduced me to the practice of mindfulness, and my studies told me to find a teacher and a community of practice.

It Is Not in Our Nature to Fight

Without being trained, our first impulse is to freeze when we perceive ourselves to be in danger. Something in the most primitive part of our brain knows that predators see their prey as movement against a background. This is very likely the reason that a deer will freeze in the road as a car speeds toward it. Believing the car to be a predator, the deer stays still to avoid being seen, sometimes until it is too late. The second option that we will choose when in peril is to flee. That same ancient part of our brain understands that when we are no longer invisible to the predator, we should hurry away in order to avoid harm. Our last choice is to fight, and without training we will naturally avoid aggression because it is very risky. Our survival instincts tell us that if we stay to fight and sustain even a minor injury, there exists a very real possibility of infection, sepsis, and death.

So, in order to overcome our nonviolent nature and survival instincts, the military has developed very specific training techniques for fighting and surviving in a war. For instance, because weapons have been developed to kill, sicken, or incapacitate people with airborne chemicals, military members are trained to be able to retrieve a gas mask from its carrying pouch, place it over the head, clear it, and seal it completely to the edge of the face within nine seconds. This is not a process that we innately know how to do. It must be practiced repeatedly and under duress in order to be learned in such a way that the gas mask will be properly used even if the soldier is waking from a deep sleep, or disoriented by an explosion, or otherwise in a situation where clear reasoning is less likely to occur.

One of the methods used to teach these military skills is called an “Immediate Action Drill.” In the case of the gas mask, soldiers are taught how to use the equipment, and then the process is repeated a number of times in the classroom. Once it has been practiced formally in this way, trainees are warned to be ready for unexpected tests of their skill with the gas mask. At random times, a drill instructor will enter a room and yell, “Gas! Gas! Gas!” If the trainee does not don the mask within nine seconds, he or she is punished. Fear becomes a very compelling motivator to learn. These Immediate Action Drills are used to teach soldiers how to throw a grenade, fire guns, launch mortars, and bayonet an enemy.

In my own life and in my social work practice with war veterans, I sought a way to undo my conditioning to fight. I found guidance from Thich Nhat Hanh on retreats, in his books, and through my home Sangha, Stillwater Sangha in Maine. I found other teachers who were integrating mindfulness practice with psychotherapy, and I attended workshops and seminars and read more books. I received training in Non-Violent Communication from Peggy Smith, a member of the Order of Interbeing. And I practiced. I discovered that the best of my social work practice occurred when it was also a mindfulness practice.

A mindfulness bell is a kind of immediate action drill. First, in our formal sitting meditation, we learn to return to the present moment and bring awareness to what we are experiencing right now. Then, we have the informal practice of stopping and spending time with the breath in the present moment whenever a bell rings. In the treatment groups that I facilitate for post-traumatic stress disorder, we practice mindfulness of the breath formally in periods of sitting meditation. Then, I set a timer with random bells that sound during the ninety-minute group session. Regardless of where the discussion is going, when the bell sounds, we all stop for two mindful breaths. Only now, instead of being motivated by fear of punishment, we are guided by a desire to live freely in the present moment.

Only This Breath Now

Post-traumatic stress disorder is driven by experiences from the past imposing on the here and now, often triggering anxiety about how things might go badly in the future. In our groups, we practice mindfulness of the breath as a way to return from painful,

unplanned trips into the past or future and resume present moment awareness. I cannot breathe a breath in the future or re-breathe a breath from the past. I may only breathe this breath now.

In my practice with my clients, if a veteran comes in feeling angry and argumentative, I may be reminded of my father’s anger and get caught up in my habit of debating. And when this happens, I am no longer able to be compassionate with my client because I am no longer present. I am anticipating what my client will say next and how to counter the argument. After a decade of practice, I am usually able to notice when this habit energy is rising and stop to take a breath. I remind myself that this veteran is in pain and trusts me enough to let me see that she or he is hurting. When I am once again aware, I am able to be compassionate again, and deeply listen in a way that helps to relieve that veteran’s suffering. Because I am no longer fighting an old battle with my father, over and over again, I am also able to heal old hurts and hold both myself and my father with care and gentleness. When this happens, I think of Thay’s teaching about holding your anger like a baby and taking care of it.

My clients are happy to have a new kind of boot camp, where they learn skills to reverse the military’s programming to fight. We practice sitting, eating, breathing, and walking mindfully. We practice mindful speaking and deep listening. We practice empathy and courageous communication (another term for Non-Violent Communication). Over the past decade, as my mindfulness practice has deepened, my therapy practice has also deepened.

“I am aware that I owe so much to my parents, teachers, friends, and all beings. I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly, so that understanding and compassion will flower, helping living beings be free from their suffering.” These words from the Refuge Chant are a loving map, reminding me to recognize the fierce bodhisattvas who courageously put down their weapons and remove their armor in my presence. Though we never call it the Dharma in our sessions, it is undoubtedly the way of joy and freedom from suffering, and I am grateful for my many beautiful teachers.

mb66-Fierce2Daryne Rockett, Blossoming Music of the Heart, plays the harp and practices with Stillwater Sangha in Orono, Maine. She is a clinical social worker at the Bangor Vet Center, where she has enjoyed working with veterans and their families for nearly ten years.

PDF of this article

Reversing the Legacy of War

A Veteran’s Story

By Jeff Nielsen

mb66-Reversin1

I first went to Vietnam as a nineteen-year-old Marine in late 1965. It was a big adventure. I was greeted by many children, lush green countryside, and happy people harvesting rice and fishing. It seemed the people always had smiles upon their faces and a playful curious attitude toward us Marines. It was fun to engage with the children and villagers as we conducted morning patrols outside the barbed wire of our artillery post in Da Nang. I had no real fears on these patrols. On one occasion, I used a blasting cap from a disassembled hand grenade to assist children with their fishing. The blasting cap stunned the fish, and the children eagerly collected them up. They were amazed. I was amazed.

Many positive seeds were nourished during my first trip to Vietnam, as I interacted with a new culture. The hard-core stories of the war were on the edges. But, what began as an adventure in a strange, foreign land would later transform my life.

I volunteered to go back to Vietnam in the summer of 1967. That was the Summer of Love in the United States, but in Vietnam there was no Summer of Love. The war had escalated. I was assigned as a field radio operator with a Marine Infantry unit on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), much further north than where I had previously been stationed. The war was real here. There was a tremendous amount of suffering, pain, and fear.

mb66-Reversin2

Our unit was under siege from the communist North at Con Tien, or “hill of angels.” I was witness to a brutal and vicious war. In the two weeks prior to and after my arrival, our unit suffered one thousand casualties and seventy dead at Con Tien. The DMZ was a battle of artillery duels, and the Marines were sitting targets inside their wire perimeter. Communist 122-millimeter rockets arrived regularly with howling screeches, creating mass scrambles for cover in red clay trenches. I was scared. There were no more smiling children. This was no longer an adventure. It was war with victims. Suffering and death were everywhere.

Marines lived in primitive, often muddy, unsanitary conditions. We bathed in rivers contaminated with the dioxin Agent Orange. Agent Orange was used to defoliate the jungle and deny the communists cover. The jungle countryside was also hostile. At night, we stood guard duty inside our wire, and rock apes, or monkeys, roamed outside the wire in the jungle. These monkeys can weigh over one hundred pounds, and at night they can resemble a person. Occasionally they, too, would throw rocks at our defensive perimeter. Everyone outside the wire was a potential enemy. Whatever moved was a potential rifle target. We were prisoners within our own barbed wire.

My job as a trained field radio operator was to maintain communications among the small units within our battalion, the individual line companies, and the battalion headquarters. This meant I had to go into the field or bush on a regular basis with fighting units. It was my duty to carry a twenty-five-pound field radio on my back, along with my own equipment: food (Crations), a shovel for digging in at night, two canteens, a pistol, and an M-16 assault rifle with 175 rounds of ammunition. Many Marines got heat exhaustion walking all day in the one-hundred-degree tropical jungle.

One of my assignments was to work as a relay operator on a prominent hilltop outpost called the Rockpile. There were ten of us up there. The Rockpile was accessible from the ground only by helicopter. It was the highest peak along the DMZ. There I provided clearance for aircraft and ground resupply convoys. I could observe and listen to most major military action from my nine-hundred-foot perch on a crag of rock.

From the Rockpile I was able to witness our weapons of mass destruction: the B-52 bombers with their two-thousand-pound bombs. These bombs would relentlessly pound the earth into submission. Fires erupted on the horizon, and the ground shook with enormous rumblings. Other aircraft also attacked the earth with Agent Orange. Agent Orange not only destroyed the jungle, but it also produced many major agricultural problems for the local farm people who lived off the bounty of the Earth. It also destroyed the farmers’ health. It was an evil tool of war that continues to create a lot of suffering.

mb66-Reversin3

One time I was giving radio clearance for a CH-46 cargo helicopter to pass over the Rockpile. I gave the signal. I looked up a second later and there was only a wisp of smoke where the helicopter had been in the sky. A communist gunner had fired a fifty-caliber machine gun accurately. The CH-46 had been flying low because of visibility and low ceiling in the early morning humidity. Eighteen marines perished. I was on the recovery team. We found one survivor, barely alive, and it looked as if all the bones in his body were broken.

I volunteered toward the end of my tour to accompany a resupply convoy to Khe Sanh. I was standing in the lead vehicle. On this occasion the communists must have been only a few feet away, hiding in the thick elephant grass that lined the narrow one-track highway, when I passed. Minutes later we heard their distinctive AK fire, four or five vehicles back. They had waited to open fire until they had more numerous targets. Sixteen Marines died on flatbed trucks that day. The next day we revisited the area. The dead lay where they had been killed.

My friend Arthur and I drew straws after that attack to see who would accompany the new lieutenant. I won the draw and accompanied the more experienced captain. Arthur was killed accompanying the less experienced lieutenant, with a few days left in his tour of duty. I visited with the captain not long ago, in 2006. He was dying of Agent Orange-related cancer. I attended his funeral at Arlington National Cemetary.

I was unhappy in Vietnam. There was so much suffering all around, daily. The only escape was booze during the intermittent R&Rs.* I wanted to go home to the USA. I wanted to begin a new life. But I now know that home is where you are; it is up to us to create the conditions for our own happiness.

mb66-Reversin4

A Difficult Journey

I survived Vietnam. I was lucky. But it was a difficult journey home. There was guilt leaving Vietnam, as our brothers were still there facing the suffering. In Okinawa, my friend Norm and I received word that our medic had been killed. Norm and I drank beer to excess every night during our transition back to the United States. We always ordered three beers––one for Norm, one for me, and one for the doc who was killed.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, I was admitted to the Oakland Naval Hospital. My “jungle rot” skin disease was severely infected from cuts and constant humidity. I was bandaged in gauze, like a mummy. I could not get discharged from the Marines in my condition, but my friend Norm was okay to go. It was a difficult farewell. I felt alone. I had lost the doc and now Norm.

In July 1968, I was discharged and left for home in Connecticut. There were many hurdles to face. I had to finish where I’d left off in high school. There were very few job prospects, as I had little training other than with a field radio and an M-16 rifle. Additionally, I had drinking and emotional problems: anger, resentment of my peers that didn’t go to war, and poor family relationships. The American culture was in a political turmoil. I felt the troops coming home were blamed for this war. This made me even angrier and more resentful.

My wife and I experienced many of the residual effects of the Vietnam War, and our marriage ended after eighteen years. In my thirties, I had a heart attack and two types of cancer, all related to Agent Orange. My wife had five miscarriages, also related to Agent Orange. My doctor advised us to stop trying to conceive a child. Later, we were denied adoption due to my past heart condition and limited family support.

In 1982, I went with a friend to the opening ceremony of “the Wall” in Washington, D.C. Of the fifty-eight-thousand-plus names on the Wall of American Soldiers Killed in Vietnam, most were in their early twenties––all with so much more to live. On the other side of the world, in Vietnam, many, many more were killed in this senseless war. Some Vietnamese people have told me that the hills in northwest Quang Tri Province cry at night with the hungry ghosts of the war.

Many Conditions for Happiness

My story gets better. Although there are many seeds of suffering in me, there are more than enough conditions for happiness.

I was first introduced to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh at a Veterans Retreat at Omega Institute in New York in the 1990s. I attended on scholarship. During this retreat, the seeds were planted; I began to look more deeply into the roots of my own trauma and guilt. I began to rethink my Vietnam experience.

I struggled with my education, hindered by my drinking. However, I completed college and earned three masters’ degrees, in counseling, educational psychology, and clinical social work. I began the course of study in social work, with a focus on international issues, in the late nineties after taking the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The seeds for my aspiration for the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings were planted. I feel fortunate to have had such wonderful teachers as Lyn Fine, Helen Hunt-Perry, and Roberta Wall on my path.

My studies took me to Vietnam. Since 1999, I have been to Vietnam six, soon to be seven times:

1999: I did an independent study on post-war issues as a graduate social work student. I fell in love with the country and people again, as I had in 1965 with the children of Da Nang. I learned to sing songs.

2000: I completed an internship with Asian Family Services in Hartford, Connecticut. I returned to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam with a group of ex-refugee Southeast Asian staff to explore orphan issues.

2003: I returned to Vietnam with the non-governmental organization PeaceTrees Vietnam.** Its mission is to reverse the legacy of war by clearing unexploded war bombs and planting trees in their place. I was told last year that eighty-two percent of Quang Tri Province is contaminated by these unexploded bombs. Children and farmers continue to die.

2005: I returned with Thay and friends and became acquainted with the root temple in Hue. My practice deepened. I took a small group to visit PeaceTrees Vietnam. On my return, I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing by Thay in Massachusetts. I received the name True Pure Peace.

2008: I attended Vesak in Hanoi with Thay and the Sangha.

2013: Now retired from work, I took a course, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I went to Vietnam for three months with my wife, June, and taught English part time as a volunteer. I taught young children in a primary school in Hue. We sang many songs. Following that, I went on the Roots of Buddhism in Vietnam Retreat with Trish Thompson.

2014: I leave in a few weeks for our second mindfulness retreat in Vietnam with Ms. Thompson. Following this retreat, I will tour Vietnam with Veterans of Peace. We plan to raise money and create awareness about issues of unexploded bombs and Agent Orange.

mb66-Reversin6

I am now remarried and have three wonderful stepchildren. I retired after twelve years as a psychiatric social worker on a mental health unit within a maximum-security prison, and five years as a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapist, counseling returning war veterans with the Veterans Administration.

I am writing this in Southeast Asia, where the warm breeze flows, the air is fresh, the sun is out, birds chirp, local fruit is succulent, orchids are in blossom, and there is an absence of war. I look around at many smiling faces and say to myself, “Thank you.” I have gratitude for my many conditions for happiness.

Our practice continues to transform my life. I take my refuge with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings continue to be my liberation from suffering. I write this for all my friends on the path of understanding. May I be free from suffering. May you be free from suffering. May I be happy and well. May you also be happy and well.

*“R&R” is military slang for rest and recuperation, rest and relaxation, or rest and

** For information or to support PeaceTrees Vietnam, visit www.peacetreesvietnam.org. To support efforts to restore the environment and neutralize the effects of the war, visit www.landmines.org.vn.

Jeff Nielsen, True Pure Peace, practices with the Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center in Norwich, Vermont. He lives with his wife, June, and Jack Russell terrier, Mr. Watson. He is willing to accept any donations towards resolution of the issues of unexploded bombs and Agent Orange in the name of Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Chapter. He can be reached at jeffreyrnielsen@msn.com.

PDF of this article

Anchored in Awareness

Transforming Wounds of War

By Alexa Singer-Telles

mb66-Anchor1

Over the last several years, I have been working on facing deep-seated fear from my historical and cultural roots. My Jewish roots hold many stories of persecution, but until recently, I didn’t feel they affected me personally. Through the deep looking of meditation and Touching the Earth practices, I realized what my father brought home from his WWII military experience in Germany—fear and a silent anger at G-d that penetrated my sense of being Jewish. I was also changed by a powerful conversation with a loving German woman who spoke for her country, describing the shame and guilt she and her people still carry for what happened during the war. Our interaction opened up a river of compassion for her people and for all who silently suffer from the impact of war.

Knowing that many of us carry invisible wounds, I was moved to take action to bring attention to the unspoken, unseen wounds that veterans bring home to their families. I wanted to confront my own fears of persecution as a Jew, honor my father and his experience, and share my realization with others. As a leader in a local organization for marriage and family therapists, I organized a community-wide conference to help mental health professionals increase their understanding of the needs of returning war veterans and their families. The conference focused on the invisible wounds of war, particularly the self-imposed silence of soldiers upon their return from combat—the mental and emotional anguish of men, and now women, who have seen and done horrific things in war that are unspeakable to anyone at home.

At the conference, to give participants a way to manage intense emotions, I introduced the use of the mindfulness bell and shared some of Thay’s teachings on breathing and embracing difficult emotions. When a presenting psychologist shared how people in the military are trained to ignore the sensations and feelings of their own physical and emotional needs to focus solely on their mission, the group began to understand how veterans can be both unaware of their own bodies and hyper-vigilant to their surroundings. Family members, both wives and mothers, described the impact of combat on their loved ones and themselves—a sense of separation, fear, trauma, violence, and addiction.

The realities of war and its aftereffects on veterans and their loved ones are so painful that therapists can feel our interventions are inadequate. Our mindfulness practice of being able to stay present and offer compassion can be an anchor for ourselves and those we serve. At the conference, the bell was used as this anchor. At first, I invited the bell judiciously, but through the day participants began to request the bell to be rung in response to particularly powerful stories that were impacting their hearts and minds. One therapist shared, “Having the opportunity to stop and breathe gave me the capacity to stay present with the suffering described by the speakers. I was surprised I didn’t feel exhausted at the end of the day.”

This day gave tribute and voice to the silent suffering of my father and all veterans, increased therapists’ awareness of what might not be spoken but can be felt in working with veterans, and offered the practice of mindfulness and the bell as ways to sit with the strong emotions associated with war. The conference participants reported a deepening of their understanding of the invisibility and challenges of the wounds of war, increased their capacity for compassionate listening, and vocalized a willingness to reach out to work with veterans and their families.

After the conference, I shared with my dad how meditation, creative art, and Sangha support had helped me to work through my emotions and to understand how his history and my religious fears lived inside of me. I shared how, through practice, I was able to come to compassion and action. At ninety years of age, he understood and expressed his happiness and gratitude for seeing his unexpressed anger transformed in me, his seed bearing good fruit. I see that my healing is his healing as well.

mb66-Anchor2Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action, co-founded the River Oak Sangha in Redding, California, in 1991 and was ordained as an OI member in 2004. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, offering the practices of mindfulness and the expressive arts to deepen one’s experience and enliven the creative process.

PDF of this article

Basket by Basket

By Ron Landsel mb66-Basket1

It has been said that bomb craters in post-American-War Vietnam were not always filled in by gathering earth from outside the craters, but by the painstaking work of loosening up the densely compacted soil from within the crater itself, basket by basket. Heard years ago, this story has been a light for my path.

I attended my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997, at Omega Institute in upstate New York, in a veterans group gathered in a little building called Cabin by the Field––a safe haven apart from the several hundred general retreatants. In tears and joy, our group was gently supported by Lyn Fine and Roberta Wall, and for the first time since my combat experiences in Vietnam, I sat and shared with several Vietnamese monastics, including Sister Chan Khong––veterans of our same war. Their sharing offered first-time glimpses of interbeing and deep listening. Doors to my heart were opened to understand my own suffering as only a part of the suffering of many. For the first time, I felt the courage within me to share openly with soldiers, spouses, children, and protesters suffering from the American War in Vietnam. Now, some seventeen years after our wonderful new beginning together, my volition continues to transform my suffering enough––basket by basket––in order to try to help others who suffer the wounds of war.

Thay heartens veterans to understand that we are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. He encourages us to achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, to be able to break our silent suffering and share with all of society the roots and the legacies of war. May veterans, youth, parents, educators, and governments join in breaking this long silence of wars and lend voice to our prayerful chant, “May there be no place at war.”

Ron Landsel, True West Garden, served in Vietnam in 1968-69 as a radio operator with 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion. He lives and practices in Oceanside, California, with his wife, Margaret, and the sisters and brothers of the Rising Tide Sangha.

PDF of this article

Running at Night

By Dave Kenneally mb66-Running1

I have been practicing in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition for eight years and living at Blue Cliff Monastery in upstate NewYork since November of 2012. I am the inaugural intern in a one-year program for laypeople who want a longer and more intensive retreat at the monastery. My position is called “Sangha Outreach,” and I work to keep the monastery connected to lay practitioners all over the world. Last summer I was invited to join Thay and about one hundred monks and nuns on their biennial tour of North America. At one stop on the tour, Thay recounted a dream he had about twenty years ago. (Full disclosure: I’m going to leave out some fascinating parts; this is the dream life of a Zen Master, after all.*)

Thay dreamt he was still in university, in his body as a young man. The school secretary informed him that he had been admitted into a very selective honors course that was starting immediately. Thay hurried up the stairs, thrilled because this course was taught by a highly renowned and much-loved professor. When Thay walked into the classroom he was startled by what he saw. Rather than the small room with just a few students that he was expecting, he saw thousands of students in the grandest of halls. The windows all around him framed the impossibly beautiful view of snow-capped mountains, the sun, moon, and stars. While they waited for the esteemed instructor, Thay asked what the subject of the class would be, as he had neglected to ask the secretary in his excitement. “Music, of course,” was his classmates’ response. They went on to tell him that he would be giving the first presentation as soon as the teacher arrived. Music? Thay was not a student of music! He felt very embarrassed and was not sure how he could possibly give a presentation on the subject. In his nervousness, Thay fumbled around in his pockets, as if something hidden there could save the situation. Sure enough, he found a small meditation bell. Thay had been using the bell to bring himself and others back to the present moment since he ordained as a novice monk. He had been studying a musical instrument after all! With this realization, all of Thay’s confidence came flooding back, and just as the instructor was about to walk in, Thay woke up.

For me, the standout detail in the dream is the symbol of the bell. The bell is at the center of our mindfulness practice. Its sound is often referred to as the voice of the Buddha, and listening deeply to it has the power to bring us back to ourselves, back to our true home. Thich Nhat Hanh is a bell. The depth of his mindfulness ensures that his sound is very beautiful and pure. It radiates in a way that penetrates everyone and everything around him. I could feel how all of us on the tour were harmonizing ourselves to the sound of Thay’s practice. Not just trying to mimic it, but using it to gently guide us back to the sound of our own lives. Only in that place of deep and compassionate listening do we have a chance to realign with our deepest intentions. I felt powerfully embraced by the collective energy of thousands of people practicing like this during the tour. The safety and support of it enabled me to listen more closely to the sound of my own bell than I ever have. I was able to hear both its burgeoning harmonies and its lingering discords. This process made the three-month tour simultaneously very joyful and quite painful. Thay spoke again and again about the inseparable nature of happiness and suffering. He instructed us to learn how to “suffer well, so that we can suffer much less.” But what does that really mean?

Twenty years ago, while Thay was visiting nirvana in his dreams, I was a newly minted United States Marine, waking at dawn every morning to run with my platoon. We ran behind our commanding officer, following his pace and his silently chosen route each day. Some days it was three miles on the road, others it was five miles over hill and dale. The pain of not knowing was a practiced torture, meant to bend the iron wills of a hundred young men to an idea of discipline. Among the toughest ores ever to be pulled across that anvil was my childhood best friend, Christian Regenhard. Early on in our training, he started running alone at night. After watching him return home from another punishing session through the hills that surrounded our barracks, I asked him what he was doing. Wasn’t it enough to be dragged around the base each morning? He answered plainly and without hesitation, saying that he couldn’t take the pain of those morning runs. He shared openly, without shame, that he couldn’t bear starting every day at the mercy of another man’s whim. He had decided to train himself hard enough at night to bravely face even the worst of our morning circuits. When the sun rose, Christian was ready and could greet it with a smile. By embracing his vulnerability, he saw that happiness lay in training himself to be with his suffering, so that he could suffer less.

Like anyone, I know the seemingly senseless suffering that any given morning can bring. I remember and carry the pain of many such mornings. The grey day in childhood that I realized my father was an alcoholic. The spring morning of young adulthood, when my brother told me over the phone that our father was dead. The dawn in the South Pacific, when I clearly saw that I had spent three years of my life training to be a blunt instrument in another man’s hand. The fall night in a bar threatened by sunrise, when no amount of drinking or lying or crying could change the fact that Christian, now a firefighter, had died running up into the World Trade Center. In spite of all this and more, happiness is possible.

I can no longer endure the pain of being unprepared for the inevitable. I know that the tender spaces deep within my heart cannot be defended. It is time for me to throw open the doors behind which I have hidden my weakness and shame. Time to be open and vulnerable, so that I can learn how to suffer well. Listening deeply to the sound of Thich Nhat Hanh’s bell, I’ve heard its call. I have asked the brothers of the Blue Cliff Monastery to accept me as a monk. I have decided to train for happiness.

This article was originally published on Dave’s blog, davekenneally.wordpress.com. It also was included in the Blue Cliff Monastery Newsletter.

Dave Kenneally, True Precious Mindfulness, is a native New Yorker and a child of the Rock Blossom Sangha in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He has been living and practicing at Blue Cliff Monastery since November of 2012.

PDF of this article

The Path of Tears

By Kate Evans mb66-ThePath1

For years now I have seen in the Mindfulness Bell fruits of work with prisoners. I have longed to hear of peoples’ work in mental hospitals and hostels. I have longed to tell my story of healing from years of abuse, and how Thay’s teachings have helped. In the last issue, two people wrote bravely and movingly of healing from and living with psychological problems in conjunction with the teachings. It was excellent to see this included. However, there is another way for many seriously damaged people to heal, with psychotherapy and the teachings and practices.

mb66-ThePath2

When I was preparing to visit Plum Village, my therapist asked, “What will you do in the meditation sessions?” because I could not meditate, but did practice psychological healing work. She suggested I practice my healing work in the sessions. After I arrived at Plum Village, I discussed this with Sister Chan Khong.

I told her, “I am healing from multiple personality, or dissociative identity, disorder. In my mind and consciousness are many, many personalities. They are from my childhood and youth, when each trauma was so severe it became detached from my conscious memory. These traumatic memories stayed bottled up as bits of raw emotion, which surface when triggered, together with my personality at that age. I heal by letting them surface, one by one, sharing their painful memories and welcoming them into a shared  consciousness.

“Because I am lots of pieces that have not all yet come together, ordinary meditation is hard for me. Please can I devote the meditation sessions to my healing work?”

To my delight, Sister Chan Khong said it made complete sense to do this. So during my visits to Plum Village, I spent the lovely meditation and other meditative times loving and nurturing my inner personalities, letting them surface their pain until they were able to let it go. In the years since then, practicing healing work for many hours a day, I have felt part of a wider Sangha.

I have also been helped by two other Plum Village practices. One I learned when Thay came to London last year and taught a huge, packed concert hall the first eight breathing practices of Buddha. The second of these was to breathe in all the way in, and breathe out all the way out. In a very challenging time this was a lifesaver. It was physical, easy enough for all my parts to do, especially the small inner children. It transformed panic into energy.

The other practice was Touching the Earth––getting in touch with ancestors. My ancestors were not good people. To heal, I had had to sever contact with my family of origin, and I had not wanted to get at all in touch with ancestors. When I heard of Thay’s Prayer Ceremonies in Vietnam to heal the wounds of the terrible war, I wondered if I could do an Atonement Prayer Ceremony for my ancestors. I was encouraged in this by the main teacher in a US practice centre. So I wrote prayers and reflections and took spiritual writings from many religions as well as two of Thay’s poems, and, with my therapist, I did an Atonement Ceremony for the misdeeds of my ancestors.

This completely changed my life. Suddenly, I had ancestors, I came from somewhere. Soon afterwards, I was able to look at childhood photos I had previously found too upsetting. Understanding flooded me as I looked at some very odd family photos and realised that my father and grandfather had been put in a terrible situation. With this understanding came the possibility of forgiveness. And with it came a fuller understanding of evil as sickness, with a cause and cure.

Although my healing during these past twelve years has been a “path of tears,” it has been quite different from any other approaches to the chronic psychological pain from my past. Drugs can be terrible as well as helpful, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other therapies I tried were a continual battle. These years of inner healing based on memory work have been radiant and transformative––a healing into love, deeper friendship, unstressed creativity, and so much more. I want to share with the wider Sangha the effectiveness of the psychotherapeutic remembering approach to the dissociation that lies behind so many severe psychological problems suffered by many individuals.*

At present, only some lucky people can afford this therapy, and even then it can mean sacrificing almost everything else. But the more it becomes known, the more likely it is to gain acceptance from health insurance companies and become part of standard health services. It also seems to parallel Thay’s teachings––only towards a group of consciousnesses that slowly merge into the more usual one.

I offer this to the Sangha.

Kate Evans is a writer for children and adults, living in London. Her Sangha is her therapist, her healing work, her breathing practice, and daily listening to the CD of Plum Village chanting.

PDF of this article

Alive Again

Walking a Path of Forgiveness and Healing

By Vanessa Meade

mb66-Alive1

When I first  began to meditate, there were many times when images of things I had seen in the military and in my job as a state trooper would surface while I was sitting. I don’t call them flashbacks, as it didn’t feel like I was actually there; they were more like “flashups,” where the images appeared, kind of like on a projector screen.

Prior to starting a meditation practice, I had avoided the images for years. I saw a lot of death and destruction in my jobs, and the images of those deaths were a source of my own disconnection from myself. In order to do my job, I disconnected emotionally. The problems arose when I disconnected off the job, too, in my personal life and relationships. I couldn’t find a way to reconnect with people and have feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them, so instead I tried not to feel anything.

Although I had never thought about how disconnected I was from myself and others through “turning off ” these experiences, they still affected my everyday life in many ways. Over time, I had built up layers of armor to protect myself from feeling what had happened, and this armor guarded me from the world and shut me off from feeling and connection. Learning meditation and a sensory awareness practice helped me to identify where this armor was and how I held it in my body.

Reconnecting with Life

I began to explore how to work with the horrible images I carry, and to honor them as important and needing care and attention. As I began allowing them instead of pushing them away or trying to forget them, I started to be able to look at them rather than run from them. When one came up, I stayed with the image as long as it felt safe for me to do so. If I began to feel overwhelmed, I came back to my breath and gently touched my hand to my chest or felt my hands on my knees as I sat—being gentle with myself, not forcing or thinking I had to deal with the image in a certain way or time frame. I went back and forth between the memories and images, and the experience of sitting and connecting with my breath and body. This helped me be with the emotions and touch what was going on without becoming overwhelmed. I would allow the tears to flow and not resist the emotions.

At times, some of the images would appear again and again. Each time, they were a little easier to see and sit with. The ones that were most difficult to see and feel took more time and showed up more often than the others. The important part was not trying to focus on them—neither keeping them in my mind nor pushing them away—but just to see them for as long as they were there before my thoughts continued on to something else or another image. At one point, I actually made a list of every death I remembered and witnessed as a trooper or in the military. I began to work through these images, not by the list, but as they arose in meditation. I believe the list helped me discover what was there to be seen and helped me understand how much there was to work with.

mb66-Alive2

As I was able to see and stay with the different images, I then was able to start feeling whatever the image brought up. I met deeply hidden feelings of fear, anger, grief, and many other emotions. As I accepted these emotions, I started to reconnect with my own life and with other people in different ways. I began to feel things again for the first time in years—to feel connected and alive again, instead of numb and closed off. I also began to reconnect with my own body and grieve about all of the deaths I had witnessed and indirectly or directly participated in as a soldier. While the process was difficult at times, it was a way for me to open up to the experiences I shared with the people whose deaths I had witnessed.

In this process, I found a way to release an image when it no longer felt charged in the same way, or when I felt as though I had seen it fully. I would imagine the person or people in the image surrounded in white light and then they would gently fade away into that light. I’m still not sure how I discovered this way to release the images, but it allowed me to feel that, through my process of accepting what happened, I was honoring the images I had been holding, and the people in them were being seen—witnessed.

Meeting What Is There

Sensory Awareness is a mindfulness-based practice brought to the United States by Charlotte Selver and introduced to me by Lee Klinger Lesser, from Honoring the Path of the Warrior (HPW), a mindfulness-based program for veterans. Practicing with Sensory Awareness has helped me to be able to sit in meditation and be present with what arrives in images, thoughts, and feelings. It

continues to help me learn to trust myself and the natural supports that are always available to me, through breath and contact, when difficulties arise. Sensory awareness experiments help me explore what is there, with awareness, instead of rejecting it or feeling like I have to change it. The change occurs naturally. It allows my own true nature to be, just as it is, with breath, body, and movement. This practice of noticing and being aware of what is needed in the moment is a big change from the ingrained reactions that my military and law enforcement training taught me. It allows me to explore and feel how I am, right now, and meet what is there, instead of continuing the habits of the past.

As I began to work with forgiveness and self-compassion, Lee also introduced me to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and particularly his poem, “Call Me by My True Names.” That poem helps me look at what I experienced as a soldier working with Iraqi prisoners of war and in other situations in the military. It shows me a path of forgiveness for myself and others. Reading it continually reminds me that we are all things, all of the time, and interconnected.

These practices allow me to connect with my life in so many meaningful ways and also help me continue to walk the path of my own healing and to work with other veterans to honor their experiences and explore their own healing. The images and memories still surface at times in meditation, although not nearly as often as when I started. As I connect with my life, moment to moment, and practice mindfulness, I experience new ways of living with joy, peace, and compassion for myself and others.

mb66-Alive3Vanessa Meade is a US Army/Gulf War Veteran and founder of  the Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (A.V.O.W.). She is also a former Alaska state trooper and works as a mental health clinician with youth at a juvenile detention and treatment facility in Anchorage, Alaska. She practices with Fireweed Sangha, and Thay’s teachings guide her practice in many ways.

PDF of this article

True Peace Is Always Possible

By Beth Howard mb66-True1

“True peace is always possible,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in the opening sentence of his book, Creating True Peace. His words have been both a guide and an anchor for me through our sons’ multiple deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thay continues, “Practicing peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.”

On September 11, 2001, my husband Paul was driving our son, Andy, to Central High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, when they heard on the car radio that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City had been struck by planes. In that instant, Andy, a sixteen-year-old junior in high school, made a silent promise to himself that if the country went to war, he would join the Marines after graduation. He did not tell anyone.

mb66-True2

On October 7, 2001, the United States of America invaded Afghanistan.

In the summer of 2002, I went to my first retreat with Thay at the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center in Colorado. Upon hearing the teachings and witnessing Thay’s gentle presence, I felt deep in my heart that this was a true path of peace and that this practice offered the best possibility for peace on Earth. I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Dharma name “Living Dharma of the Heart.”

On March 20, 2003, the US invaded Iraq and in May, Andy graduated from high school, honoring his promise to join the Marines. He left for boot camp in the fall, expecting to deploy to war, but the Marines had a different plan. He was trained in supply and sent to Iwakuni, Japan. After a year, Andy completed training in security, joined the Marine Security Guard, and served in US embassies and consulates in Russia, Tajikistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Before he left for boot camp, I gave Andy a small family photo, writing these Plum Village song lyrics on the back:

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

In August, I attended a retreat with Thay in Estes Park, Colorado. I signed up for a consultation with Sister Anna, and just before it ended, I told her that my son had joined the Marines. I began to cry and could not stop. She sat quietly with me, breathing. She reached out and touched my hand. She said, “It is hard for mothers. It was hard for my mother when I left California to be with my teacher in Plum Village, but I had to go. Your son loves his country like I love my teacher. He had to go.” Her words lightened my heart. Sister Anna suggested that I look at my own fear of death and recommended using the meditations in Thay’s book The Blooming of a Lotus.

mb66-True3

I retook the Five Mindfulness Trainings, requesting a new name in line with my aspiration to work for peace, and received the Dharma name “Peaceful Source of the Heart.” Before leaving the retreat, I found a flier for Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was my first Sangha and became my true refuge.

In 2005, after finishing his sophomore year of college, Andy’s twin brother, Peter, joined the army during the deadliest time of the Iraq War. Peter wrote in a letter to family, “I began weighing my own life, as blessed as it has been; and it seems there is something missing when there are soldiers fighting for a way of life that has not benefitted them nearly as much as it has me.” He thought he should take a turn.

I knew my sons went through rigorous training for war, and I began to ask myself how I might train and strengthen my practice of peace. Deep in my heart, I knew that if my sons were to die at war, I could not live with myself if I was not working for peace. I began to write for peace and to study writing practice with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico.

At my next retreat with Thay, I had a consultation with Brother Phap Don. I asked, “How might I best support my sons in the military?” He recommended writing to them in order to nourish my practice and to share it with them. He said, “How lucky your sons are to have a mother who practices.” I knew how lucky I was to have such fine sons.

In 2006, Peter deployed to Iraq for a year. Many mornings, I woke up in tears, hearing another dead soldier story on National Public Radio. The newspapers and magazines were filled with the photos of dead “troops,” photos looking exactly like the ones of our sons on the piano in the living room. I began to withdraw from media consumption and to increase the time spent practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, and seated meditation. I drove forty-five miles to attend Sangha and begin studying with an OI aspirant group.

In August 2007, I again joined Thay and the Sangha on retreat in Estes Park. I met Dharma teacher Rowan Conrad, who agreed to mentor me as an OI aspirant. During the next two years, he would give me much support and advice, but I especially remember what he wrote to me in August 2008: “I would like to see you create space in your life,” repeating “space in your life” two more times, so I might really take it in. Shortly thereafter, I fell off a deck while trimming a tree and fractured my back. My first email was to Rowan. In the subject line, I wrote, “Creating space … the hard way.”

Peter returned from Iraq, a decorated, wounded combat veteran. After completing his three years of service, he was discharged and returned to college.

In 2008, Andy reenlisted in the Marines, choosing to train for a job in counterintelligence, beginning his journey towards war.

In August 2009, I returned to Estes Park to attend the “One Buddha Is Not Enough” retreat. Thay was in the hospital on the East Coast, receiving treatment, but he sent us a letter. It felt like Thay was with us. We could feel how Thay lives IN the Sangha. I was ordained into the Order of Interbeing on my birthday and was gifted the Dharma name “True Land of Mindfulness.”

In the fall, after seven years in the Marines, Andy deployed to Afghanistan for a seven-month tour of duty. We started a Sangha in Cheyenne called Mindful Monday Meditation. I now take refuge in both the local Sangha and the OI and aspirant group in Colorado.

In 2011, I again went on retreat with Thay in Estes Park, and Andy deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. It is difficult to feel progress as a peacemaker when the war never ends, but I am nurtured by our growing Mindful Monday Sangha and by the genuine seeds of love, peace, and joy that are watered there. The Sangha provides clear evidence that there is true peace in the world, even though there is still war. One does not cancel out the other, but it is my deepest aspiration that peace shall prevail.

In 2013, I attended a retreat with Thay at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi. Over and over, I return to practice peace and my son returns to war.

In April 2014, Andy deployed to Afghanistan for his third seven-month tour of duty, our family’s fourth deployment to war. While on retreat in February, I had a consultation with Dharma teacher Al Lingo. He advised, “You must continue to live your life. Though you may move forward with fear and trembling, THAT is a dignified posture.”

Thay wrote, “I am offering this … to help us realize that violence is not inevitable. Peace is there for us in every moment. It is our choice.”

Beth Howard, True Land of Mindfulness, is a writer and peacemaker living with her husband, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She practices with Mindful Monday Meditation in Cheyenne and with the OI and aspirant group in Colorado. Her son, Peter, is married and completing his third year of law school.

Andy is engaged and planning to marry in March 2015. Her oldest son, Sam, is a musician in Portland, Oregon.

PDF of this article

The Paramitas

as the Path to True Love

By Joanne Friday

mb66-TheParamitas1I was recently invited by the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation to share my experience of our practice here in the Mindfulness Bell. I feel that the Dharma is the greatest gift I have ever been given, so it is always a joy to share it.

During Winter Retreat, I have been practicing the paramitas with a group of Order of Interbeing members and aspirants. The paramitas are the qualities that we need to cultivate in order to go from the shore of suffering to the shore of freedom. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay tells us that the Buddha said, “Don’t just hope for the other shore to come to you. If you want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of safety, well-being, non-fear, and non-anger, you have to swim or row across. You have to make an effort.” So I decided to to follow directions and make the effort.

Once again, I find myself in awe and deeply moved by the transformative power of the way in which Thich Nhat Hanh has transmitted the Dharma to us. I have always known the paramitas as a path to freedom, and now I have also experienced them as a beautiful path to unconditional, true love.

mb66-TheParamitas2

In the paramita on diligence, we are invited to be mindful of our minds, to nurture all of the wholesome seeds that arise in our consciousness and replace the unwholesome ones. If there is a person with whom we have difficulties, our habits often lead us to become angry, judge, or criticize and blame that person. When we berate, belittle, and blame the other person, we nourish their most unwholesome seeds, the ones that upset us in the first place. Instead, we are invited to look deeply in order to understand that person’s suffering, and to see how we can water all of the wholesome seeds in them so they will suffer less and their highest and best selves will manifest. This practice of taking responsibility for co-creating my relationships, and taking good care of those with whom I am inter-being, has been revolutionary for me. When I practice this with people toward whom I once hardened my heart, it breaks my heart wide open and I am in love.

The paramita on patience or inclusiveness is a deep teaching on love. Thay tells us that when we practice inclusiveness, we accept a difficult person exactly as he is, without any expectation that he will ever change. This can create enough spaciousness for him to change if he chooses. We can use this practice with ourselves, as we are frequently our most difficult person. When we can accept ourselves, without stories about who we should be or regrets about what we have not done, we are suddenly free to simply experience life in the moment and respond to life as it is and as we are. This makes it easier for us to do the same for others. The energy of acceptance is deeply felt. If in the past I held on to a judgment or opinion about another person, it was felt and she was defensive.

When I can truly accept someone, wholeheartedly, just as she is, it is also felt. There is no need for defensiveness to arise, and real intimacy is possible. What a wonderful gift!

The first of the paramitas is generosity. Thay invites us to look deeply at all we have to offer. I have been moved to consider all that he has offered. He has suffered tremendously and practiced to transform that suffering and become the embodiment of true love. He is living proof that the practice works. He has devoted more than seventy years of his life to understanding the ways we can cut through the illusions and misperceptions that keep us trapped. He has looked deeply into the Buddha’s teachings and has distilled them into precious gems that are totally accessible and usable, and offered them to anyone who wants to be free. All of these ways to untie our knots, to take down the barriers we have built in our hearts, are gifts to us from Thay.

I always say that I feel there should be a seventh paramita of gratitude. Gratitude immediately takes me from the shore of suffering to the shore of freedom. I feel deep gratitude to have received such wonderful gifts that have allowed me to experience true love in this lifetime. It has also been a joy to see the transformation and healing that has taken place in so many others who have followed Thay’s teachings. The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation came into being because some of Thay’s students felt that same gratitude. They wanted to use their gifts to create conditions to ensure that Thay’s teachings could continue and help countless future generations. I hope that our gratitude will motivate all of us to become a part of this effort in every way we can. There is no better way to thank someone who has given us the keys to happiness and freedom than to pass them on.

Joanne Friday, Chan Lac Thi (True Joy of Giving), is a Dharma teacher in the Order of Interbeing. In 2003, she received authority to teach from Thich Nhat Hanh, her teacher for twenty years. Joanne leads meditation retreats for Sanghas and groups throughout the US. She lives in Rhode Island, where she is the guiding teacher for the six Sanghas that comprise the Rhode Island Community of Mindfulness.

PDF of this article

Cultivating Beloved Community

mb66-Cultivating1As this issue of the Mindfulness Bell comes to you in June 2014, Thich Nhat Hanh is giving a twenty-one-day retreat in Plum Village, exploring “What Happens When We Die.” Twenty-one-day retreats are a very special opportunity to receive the Dharma and put it into practice in the context of Sangha as we live and work together, create new habits in a family-like setting, and cultivate seeds of a beloved community. Even if we don’t travel to Plum Village for a retreat, we can create opportunities for deep practice with our local Sanghas. A group of West Coast US Sanghas has organized a twenty-one-day residential retreat in Ukiah, California, to coincide with the Plum Village retreat. Their intention is to be inviting to a diverse cross section of the Plum Village community. The Ukiah retreat will be offered by core community members and Dharma teachers in the Plum Village tradition. This retreat will begin on June 13, and it is open to three-week, two-week, and one-week participation. Participants will practice the Dharma with a similar format, schedule, and Dharma talks as the Plum Village retreat. For more information, go to: www.21daystogether.wordpress.com.

If you can’t travel or devote twenty-one days to a retreat, we encourage you to be inventive in your local community. Organize your Sangha around talks streamed from Plum Village (www.tnhaudio. org); form study groups, Days of Mindfulness, or weekend retreats; pair with buddies; organize telephone conference Dharma sharings.

PDF of this article

Sowing Seeds of Kindness and Compassion

mb66-Sowing1Monastic Trust Fund By Sister Chan Khong and Sister Chan Thoai Nghiem

This year, thanks to our spiritual ancestors, we are blessed to still have Thay. At the age of eighty-seven, he is still able to give a Dharma talk each day! In 2013, not only did he lead multiple retreats wherever he went, but also he gave additional talks to influential leaders and his monastic spiritual children at Plum Village Thailand, the Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism in Hong Kong, the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany, Plum Village in France, and all three monasteries in the United States. Thay offered teachings to audiences as big as eight thousand in Thailand, twelve thousand in Hong Kong, and even thirteen thousand in Korea. He led a Day of Mindfulness for staff of the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and spent a whole day with administrators of Google, who directly transmitted his teachings to hundreds of their centers all around the world.

Wherever he goes, Thay always brings a community of monastic brothers and sisters with him to help produce a strong collective energy of mindfulness and joy that is able to address all manner of difficult or complicated situations. All Thay’s audiences, large or small, appreciate the presence of Thay’s disciples who are really a good continuation of him.

Currently, there are over 750 Plum Village monks and nuns practising, under the guidance of Thay, in the various practice centers mentioned above, as well as in Australia and Vietnam. By offering retreats and sharing the Dharma and practices of mindfulness with many people, the monastic Sangha has helped many people to transform and bring positive and beneficial practices into their lives. Even without the physical presence of Thay, these Sanghas have been able to bring the teachings of mindfulness to many more countries, including Italy, Spain, Israel, Palestine, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, mainland China, India, Bhutan, Japan, Brazil, Botswana, and Liberia. Every year, the monks and nuns travel (without Thay) and reach out to more than 200,000 people all over the world.

The Plum Village brothers and sisters across the globe humbly request you to support them by contributing to the Monastic Trust Fund, which was set up to ensure long-term provision of the monastic community’s most basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, health care, training, and other fundamental necessities. Only the interest generated by this fund is used, which means that support for the Sangha will endure for a very long time. In years to come, Thay will have at least 750 disciples to continue him, and the disciples of his disciples will continue to benefit from this kind support.

In 2013, a lay donor in the United States promised to contribute an extra two dollars for every one dollar given to this trust fund by any other donor that year. This means that a donation of $50 generated $150 in the trust fund. Thanks to the generosity of this donor, in 2013, donations to the Monastic Trust Fund of $61,683 became $185,049.

In 2012, the Monastic Trust Fund disbursed its $67,600 in interest to support 175 monks and nuns at the International Plum Village Centre in Thailand for four months in 2013. Hopefully, the interest generated from 2013 will be enough to support them for six months of 2014. For the remaining six months, they will have to rely on funds collected from the sales of Thay’s calligraphies and donations from lay practitioners attending retreats. But this year there are no big tours like in 2013. We hope that our US donor will continue to be successful in his business and so be able to continue his very generous two-for-one match.

Supporting the monastic Sangha is a way to express deep gratitude to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, our beloved and respected teacher, for his continuation in the world. The security of the worldwide monastic Sangha’s continuation is Thay’s dearest personal wish. Please be assured that you have made a good investment in the future generations of monks and nuns by contributing from your heart whatever you can to the Monastic Trust Fund.


All donations may be sent to: Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation 2499 Melru Lane Escondido, CA 92026, USA Memo: Monastic Trust

For more details or to make a donation online, please visit our website: ThichNhatHanhFoundation.org

For more information: Telephone (US): 760-291-1003 Ext. 104


mb66-Sowing2With sincere gratitude, Bhikshuni Chan Khong

Bhikshuni Chan Thoai Nghiem

PDF of this article

Book Reviews

mb66-BookReviews1Zen BattlesModern Commentary on the Teachings of Master Linji

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2013 Softcover, 266 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

This re-issue of Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go: Waking Up to Who You Are, originally published in 2007 by the Unified Buddhist Church, is lightly edited, re-titled, re-designed, and refreshed. It is curious that the publishers chose the title Zen Battles, as Thay and all of his students in the Order of Interbeing are well known for gentleness, peace, and reconciliation. So the word “Battle” in the title is not meant in the usual sense. While in Master Linji’s teachings, the master often strikes his students and sometimes shouts at them, we can absorb these teachings as a metaphor, much like the sword-wielding bodhisattva Manjushri who has the capacity to cut through our bonds of delusion. Thay tells us that the spirit of our Zen ancestor, Master Linji, is in everything we are taught and everything we do.

Born during the Tang dynasty in ninth-century China during a time of political unrest and repression of Buddhism, Linji studied with a recluse master and gradually developed his signature direct and dramatic teaching style: “If something has arisen, do not try to make it continue. If something has not arisen, do not try to make it arise. This action is more valuable than ten years’ pilgrimage.”

Reading these cases is like cracking a code. Yet it cannot be done with the mind. Each case presented by the author is a koan. First, we encounter Thay’s translation of twenty-three of Linji’s teachings, known as the Record of Linji, followed by the bulk of the book, Thay’s commentary on each of the cases. The author suggests we first read through Linji’s teachings completely, then repair to the commentaries.

Master Linji emphasizes that his insight was not with him from the time he took birth, “...but came about through polishing, refining, training, experience and investigation, and then one day I broke through to the truth.” Eventually, Master Linji let go of his studies in order to follow true Zen practice. The wonderful irony is that we read the book so we can throw the book away.

There is one paragraph in this book that is the only Dharma talk you’ll ever need. I leave it to the reader to find that paragraph for herself.

mb66-BookReviews2The Mindfulness Survival Kit Five Essential Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2014 Softcover, 160 pages

Reviewed by Leslie Rawls, True Realm of Awakening

Kits contain tools useful to a particular purpose. So too, The Mindfulness Survival Kit is filled with tools to help us practice with the Five Mindfulness Trainings and explore how they can be meaningful and useful in our lives.

The book first examines the historical background of the Five Mindfulness Trainings—the Plum Village version of the five precepts given by the Buddha. Having rooted readers historically, Thich Nhat Hanh then invites us to let go of any attachment to these practices as Buddhist concepts or dogma. Instead, he encourages readers to five ways to practice with the trainings that transcend divisive labels. “One of the deepest causes of our suffering,” he writes, “is our insistence on seeing reality in a dualistic way and our attachment to our beliefs.” Throughout the book, he invites the reader to use these trainings diligently, mindfully, and openly, “with an awareness of your capacity and of what is possible.”

The book examines each training individually, including commentary from Thay’s experience, as well as specific practices for the reader. Each commentary examines the training’s purpose, reminding us that practice is more than memorization and that we engage these practices for our own healing and for healing the world. Thay show us ways that he envisions such healing, and invites us to be open to new ways of practicing with each training and to explore these ways individually and within community. His commentaries show the interweaving of the trainings and the interbeing nature of all life.

The second part of the book is a study of comparative ethics and the mindfulness trainings. Here, Thay offers details about different ethics structures as a way of exploring how the Five Mindfulness Trainings fit with other structures and how we might practice with them. Again, he invites us to connect with others, not to set ourselves apart by labels and dogma.

Thay’s earlier commentary on the trainings, For a Future to Be Possible, included commentaries from many practitioners. I had found a great deal of meaning and support in this material and thought I’d miss it here. When I finished this rich book, however, I rejoiced that Thay repeatedly encouraged us to explore these practices, individually and as communities. And I recognized that the earlier commentaries were just one method of such collective sharing.

It is easy to lose oneself in a book, to think all the “answers” lie between its covers, that all we need do is read and understand the wisdom there. In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, Thay doesn’t let us off so easily. Instead, this toolkit offers guidance as a map might, and holds a light up for us to find our own ways to make these trainings come to life.

mb66-BookReviews3In the Garden of Our Minds and Other Buddhist Stories

By Michelle L. Johnson-Weider (White Lotus of the Source) Softcover, 108 pages Blue Moon Aurora, LLC, 2013

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

In the Garden of Our Minds and Other Buddhist Stories is a collection of children’s stories that bring traditional Buddhist teachings into the context of modern life through the lens of a western Buddhist family of four.

Five of the seven stories introduce classic tales from the Buddha’s life and teachings in a way that illuminates modern-day issues. When Mama tells the story “Prince Siddhartha Renounces the Throne,” the children, Briana and Alex, have a chance to explore what constitutes true happiness.

In “Fighting the Demon Mara,” the story of how the Buddha overcame doubt is transformed into a lesson about dealing with difficult emotions. “Mara is a name we give to the emotions that make it hard for us to do the right thing,” Mama explains.

“The Value of Persistence, the Story of Mahaprajapati” demonstrates perseverance and creative problem solving. Mahaprajapati, a follower of the Dharma, successfully convinced the Buddha to ordain women as nuns despite his original resistance to the idea. This story helps Briana to discover that “Persistence, determination, and allies can help you succeed in almost any situation if you have a worthy goal.”

“The Doorway of Death” tells the story of Kisagotami, a mother who begged the Buddha to bring her dead son back to life. The story brings valuable perspective to the topic of grieving and fear of death by encouraging us to fully appreciate this life while we have it.

“Lessons in Stopping” is the story of Angulimala, a murderer who renounced violence to become a monk and follow the Buddha’s teachings. Mama tells this story to demonstrate to Briana, who gets in trouble for talking in class, that “we can stop doing any bad action, even really really bad actions, once we make the decision to start acting correctly.”

The title piece, “In the Garden of Our Minds,” takes us through a Thich Nhat Hanh-inspired guided meditation in which children think of good qualities they have cultivated and imagine them as fl wers in a garden.

In the final story, “A Visit with Rinpoche,” the family goes to hear a Dharma talk by a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. The children’s questions provide an opportunity to explore the complexities of being Buddhist in a mostly non-Buddhist society. Briana and Alex are inspired by the teacher’s description of a bodhisattva as “a great hero who lives with a heart of love for all sentient beings.”

In the Garden of Our Minds includes a glossary of Buddhist terms, as well as a section called “Conversations with Children,” which offers questions designed to spur discussion. This book is a simple but entertaining way to teach children about the Dharma in a home or classroom setting. Colorful illustrations by Brian Chen show an interesting mix of scenes of modern family life as well as from the time of the Buddha. Even though the book is designed for children, adults will find it an enjoyable way to learn about the Buddha’s teachings.

mb66-BookReviews4Teaching Clients to Use Mindfulness Skills A Practical Guide

By Christine Dunkley and Maggie Stanton Routledge, 2014 Softcover, 104 pages

Reviewed by Miriam Goldberg

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is a gem of mindfulness practice for everyone. Consistent with engaged Buddhism, it demonstrates deep listening, mindful speech, and right diligence, foundations of healthy Sangha practice.

For readers interested in teaching mindfulness, the book offers an organized sequence with “key tasks” and “stylistic factors” noted at the end of each chapter. For experienced practitioners, the five exercises on sensation and perception may be a review, but their variety and explanations support fresh eyes and the more complex practices that follow. Therapists and anyone interested in the intrapsychic value and effects of mindfulness will find concise descriptions and applications to some challenging habits of mind. Everyone can benefit from the authors’ focus on mindfulness in daily life to experience present moment, wonderful moment.

The book begins with definitions of mindfulness, a psychological context, and resources—from books and TV shows to recent research. All the practices suggested in the book address mindfulness as an experience of purposeful, present-moment, nonjudgmental awareness that helps us choose where we focus our attention and how we relate to experience while cultivating acceptance, compassion, and open inquiry in our thoughts, speech, and actions. With many examples of therapist-client interactions and commentaries that show kind and respectful inquiry, presence, and reflection, the authors demonstrate deep listening and mindful speech.

Buddhist instruction includes mindfulness of thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and breath. The authors here succinctly address the seldom-mentioned problems of teaching mindfulness of the breath to people who have a history of trauma or anxiety. Step by step, they show us how to bring clarity and compassion— rather than blame, shame, defensiveness, and/or denial—to our mental logjams and emotional upheavals. Their approach to habit-driven thoughts and emotions focuses on the thoughts that fuel the emotions. This is one effective way to cool down heated responses. Its success, however, is rooted in the underlying equanimity, compassion, and understanding consistent with Thay’s teachings to hold in mindfulness those parts of ourselves that get activated and need our steadiness.

In later chapters, the authors help us move from habit to choice and pick the best modality for a given moment. We can water mindfulness with emotion mind or reason mind, doing mode or being mode, internal or external focus, thoughts or feelings or sensations, and by recognizing effectiveness and using wise mind.

This book is not a quick read. Whether it is taken a chapter at a time, example by example, or straight through, one can absorb an approach to mindful awareness that can open transformation at the base, bring compassionate eyes to oneself and others, cultivate inclusiveness—rather than divisiveness, comparison, or isolation—and nourish communities with understanding and love.

PDF of this article