Sangha

Untitled Letter

Dear Friends of Plum Village, I am writing to you as I return from my most recent visit to Plum Village. Just before Thay left for his trip to Italy, on March 14, he gave a talk about the importance of the extended Sangha to Plum Village. Later that day in an unrelated way, he spoke about the local French authorities' demand that buildings in the Lower Hamlet undergo extensive renovations to meet building and sanitary codes. It occurred to me that this is a good time to bring more awareness to the extended Sangha of their importance to Plum Village. Since I was one of the few extended Sangha members present at this talk, I have taken the initiative to share my reaction to Thay's message. In his talk, Thay mentioned the importance of leadership within the Plum Village Sangha. It seems that it is also important to cultivate leadership in the extended Sangha.

It would be very helpful to have a list of the people who have visited Plum Village. The registration forms and guest books need to be computerized, to make mailings with updates from Plum Village, notices of retreats and schedules, as well as to hear when needs emerge for financial assistance. It seems that many people who have been at Plum Village do not even know about The Mindfulness Bettor that there are practice groups throughout the world. Since I can't support Plum Village by living nearby, I would like to help in other ways. I would like to help activate those people who have been touched by Plum Village to form some kind of association which could support the work of Plum Village.

Plum Village is a unique Buddhist community. The monks, nuns, and lay residents open their doors to people from around the world who wish to deepen their practice of mindfulness in retreats of a week or longer. In addition to the residential community, at least three other communities constitute the extended Sangha of Plum Village. One is the practitioners who live near Plum Village and regularly participate in the community's life. The second consists of all those whose lives have been enriched by directly touching Plum Village during the summer or winter retreats or other programs. The third and widest community includes all those who enjoy Thay's wonderful books, since the Sangha of Plum Village offers important support for Thay to be able to continue his teaching. This wide community includes all the individuals and Sanghas throughout the world who benefit from the monks, nuns, and lay teachers that Plum Village has helped to nurture.

In his teaching on community, Thay described the extended Sangha as the water that makes it possible for the fish, the residents of Plum Village, to live. In turn, the monks, nuns, and long-term lay residents offer the greater community the many benefits that arise from a community of mindfulness that is open for retreats. Plum Village offers us a place of practice so we can return to our true home, and so that when we go back to our everyday home, we can truly arrive. In many ways, Thay and Plum Village are the heart of Our mindfulness practice: Those who come for retreats at Plum Village are the arteries and veins, carrying nourishment to the mindfulness communities around the world. We need to insure that nourishment in this circulatory system flows back to the heart itself.

To start strengthening the Sangha, we need to share information. At present there is a difficult sitvation at Plum Village, and they need our support. To be open to receiving guests this summer, they will need to upgrade their facilities considerably in order to meet the health and safety standards required by the local government. They need to do a major renovation on several buildings and extensive work in the kitchens. This work will be costly—around $ 120,000 for the work on the Plum Hill dormitory; and $200,000 for the work on the kitchens.

If you can help at this time, please keep Plum Village in your mindfulness practice, and if you can, send financial support as well. This will also help us build our extended Sangha, through networking with our local Sanghas or staying in touch with each other about our efforts.

Many of us wish when we are not at Plum Village that there would be a way we could arrange our lives so that we could be of more support to the Plum Village community. Most of us cannot do that, but we can increase our presence at Plum Village by helping in the ways we can. Money is a form of energy and by making a contribution, we transfer some of our energy to support the community that supports our practice of mindful living. Your contribution now can help support the framework of Plum Village which supports the mindfulness of us all.

Donations can be made directly to Plum Village, Meyrac, 47120, Loubes-Bernac, 47120 France. In the U.S., tax-deductible donations can be made to Plum Village through the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA, 94707. All donations received by the Community of Mindful Living for Plum Village are passed on in full to Plum Village. Contributions to help cover the operating expenses of the Community of Mindful Living are also greatly appreciated.

A contribution of any size will let the Plum Village community know that you value their  continuation.

A lotus for you, Tom Holmes

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Dharma Teachers' Retreat

By Jack Lawlor Shortly after dawn on January 25,1998, seven of Thay's Dharma children serving as lay Dharmacharya in North America concluded their first Dharma teachers' weekend retreat by enjoying outdoor walking meditation among the silent grove of coastal redwoods known as Muir Woods.

We don't understand why it took so long for us to come together in this way, but it was worth the wait! In our time together, we learned how helpful it is to share one another's presence, experience, and perspectives in a retreat format which provides time for sitting meditation, walking meditation, and silent meals. Sharing and listening deeply, we also learned:

-how vibrant local Sanghas are throughout this continent; how they are meeting regularly and evolving to address local needs;

-how members help Sanghas grow by inviting friends and relatives to join Sangha events in the long intervals between retreats;

-how Sanghas are helping transform suffering through the practice-by helping transform the loneliness and alienation of individuals into greater openness and tolerance, by helping an individual become a more loving member of his or her blood family, or by collective work in hospices or prisons;

-how interest in the historic roots of Buddhism is growing, in efforts to better understand its flowering in the West;

-how the nascent programs for Order of Interbeing aspirants are helping both potential and current Order members understand the value of local Sangha practice and of mentoring friendships.

Lay North Americans aspire to deepen our engaged practice in ways which help others. Many Sangha members were attracted to Thay's teaching because he acknowledged these aspirations.

We look forward to continuing these explorations with the Sangha, "practicing wholeheartedly so that understanding and compassion will flower ... practicing all aspects of the path with energy, so that our practice will bear fruit."

We look forward to working with the Sangha to enhance the success of recent efforts in Vermont, and the other efforts of the Order and local Sanghas to deepen our collective practice in ways intended to help all beings. We are sustained by Thliy's wonderful teachings, which have the capacity to keep us all peaceful and happy, fresh and resourceful throughout these efforts and throughout our lives.

It was suggested that Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, try to summarize the three-day retreat in a few short paragraphs. With the support of those in attendance, Jack offers this effort to describe the ineffable.

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Haus Maitreya

I n the tradition and under the direction of Thich Nhat Hanh, Haus Maitreya will open May 22 in lower Bavaria. The new center will offer retreats for the general public, as well as specific retreats for Sangha leaders and Order of Interbeing members. Spiritual and organizational guidance at the center will be provided by three Dharmacharyas: Helga and Dr. Karl Riedl, and Karl Schmied. The center has a residential Sangha that models its daily schedule after Plum Village, and practices in harmony and mindfulness. The center offers the opportunity to live with its resident Sangha for periods of three months to one year, to deepen the practice of mindful living. Friends who would like to share the life of the community can apply directly to Karl and Helga Riedl. People who would like to become residents and are able to commit to at least one year should also apply in writing to Karl and Helga.

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Please write for a schedule of 1999 events. Intersein Zentrum fur Leben in Achtsamkeit, Haus Maitreya, Unterkashof 2 1/3, 94545 Hohenau, Germany.

Reprinted with permission from Intersein.

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Coming Home to Brasil

The time to go home arrived after the three-week, Eye of the Buddha retreat in Plum Village—eighteen hours of flying, four airports, and for some of us, a strong feeling that part of us was lost forever while some things had come to stay. Our commitment to meditate and strengthen our Sangha and our own practices was enhanced by this opportunity to practice with the nuns and monks, listening and meditating with Thich Nhat Hanh, and sharing experiences, communal works, and spiritual activities with so many people. It was the first retreat in Plum Village for all of us Brasilians, and our first opportunity to hear Thich Nhat Hanh. We feel deeply privileged we could go. But, the retreat has ended, and life goes on, with the struggles of jobs and wages, and the struggles of community life as well. In Brasil, we must work to decrease poverty and violence, including violence against children. We must find more jobs for parents, increase education, lessen pollution, and help build and sustain spiritual life.

Among all the countries represented at the retreat, Brasil may resemble Vietnam most closely. When Thay speaks about war and the present situation in his motherland, Brasil is there, a big country, very beautiful, with plenty of natural resources but with enormous disaster—so much poverty and violence, it is like a civil war. The underdeveloped world is now experiencing the problems of the developed countries—pollution, stress, over-consumption by some—as well as the problems of violence, poverty, and disease. Causes must be embraced—and what wonderful words, "to embrace"! But to do that, it is necessary to understand ourselves, to understand the contemporary world, to see the well of history, and to see the well of samsara.

Even a small Sangha like ours can do a lot for ourselves, our friends, and even for the surrounding environment. But it is more difficult to affect the physical and social environment as a whole. Brasil is like a continent—bigger than western Europe. We need some help to do what must be done. First, we need internal strength of our own practice with Sangha support. Secondly, we need to share mindfulness practice with those who are able to listen. It is important to help people attend retreats in Plum Village, despite the difficulties in doing so; to organise retreats in Brasil, if possible with a presence of a monk or nun; to build a strong Sangha, a community of mindful living; and to meditate a lot.

We are the same people who were in Plum Village. But there, it was easier to keep our minds more attentive, to eat good food in mindfulness, to feel close to all people and to be inclusive, not to feel superior, inferior, or even equal to each other. The feelings that were possible there, must also be possible here in Brasil. That seems to be the way.

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Sergio Gomes wrote this article with the Brasilian Sangha, ten of whom went to the June retreat in Plum Village.

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Buddha Eyes

Our dear Thay has done his very best over many years, transmitting the Buddha Eyes to us. The June retreat in Plum Village was a profound experience of this continued Buddha Eyes transmission. We learned of many types of eyes—Heavenly Eyes, Wisdom Eyes, Dharma Eyes, Sangha Eyes, and Buddha Eyes. The beginning of our retreat was spent developing our Sangha Eyes. Sangha Eyes call us beyond our ego eyes, which would have us believe we are substantially separate selves, with individual sensibilities and destinies, concerned only with what matters to us.

During the retreat, we touched the suchness of Sangha, and it healed our pain and transformed the fear in us. The more we were able to surrender to Sangha energy, the more joy we found in each breath and each step. We realized that the practice of the Sangha is the practice of deep interbeing or emptiness. Touching true emptiness, we reclaimed our solidity and freedom and our Buddha Eyes grew bright.

Buddha Eyes allow us to look deeply into the wonders of life, and as we touch these wonders, our peace and happiness are restored. But Buddha Eyes also allow us to see and touch the Sangha everywhere, within us and around us. It is said that upon awakening, the Buddha could see 48,000 beings in a cup of water. Buddha Eyes give us the gift of courage to come home to the present moment and see reality as it is, in its connectedness and wholeness. Buddha Eyes made our Dharma Eyes shine with the light of mindfulness. As the Dharma rain of the retreat fell on us, our understanding of the Four Noble Truths came, like the full moon into the darkness of our times. We dared to look into ourselves and into our new millennium, and we saw alienation, violence, and fear at the root of suffering.

After the retreat, I added a new daily practice. After sitting and walking meditation, I now read our local newspaper, noticing stories of suffering, alienation, violence, and fear. I have found that my heart and mind are open to new levels of identification, loving kindness, and compassion. We learn to practice the Noble Truth of suffering not for its own sake, but to find ways out of suffering. Thay charged us to practice this way during our retreat. We met in Dharma Discussion groups on education, health, and business, non-profit, youth, and others, in order to bring the Four Noble Truth to life.

With Buddha Eyes, we also saw clearly the great temptations of our millennium. We are tempted to believe that genetic and electronic invention and manipulation are our way out of suffering. While genetic manipulation promises new health and longer life spans, it also carries the shadow of seeking perfection disconnected from the reality of Interbeing, and from the causes and conditions that are a powerful part of who we are and who we become. Through insights into the ten realms, we realized that there is no genetic escape from the totality of our store consciousness, which contains all the seeds, both positive and negative, found in the depths of our cells.

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Our only hope is to create causes and conditions that water our positive seeds until they bloom as beautiful flowers, and to wrap our negative seeds within the arms of loving kindness until they fall asleep. The conditions that support healing and transformation must be created within us, in our Sanghas, and in our societies.

To transform and heal our alienation, violence, and fear, Thay encouraged us to create lay residential practice communities. He said that there are not enough monks and nuns, or enough time to provide the refuge needed to create the conditions for the healing and transformation of our suffering. Lay residential centers are crucial to transmit the field of energy, environment of safety, and presence of Dharma and Sangha that our times so desperately need. With our monastic centers, locals Sanghas, Mindfulness Practice Centers, and lay residential centers, we have a powerful way out of our suffering.

I am grateful for the Eyes of the Buddha retreat. I am grateful for the monks and nuns of Plum Village whose efforts made it possible. I am grateful for our dear teacher and his unselfish transmission of the Buddha Eyes.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, heads Community of Mindful Living and Parallax Press in Berkeley, California. He practices with the Stillwater Sangha in Santa Barbara, California, whose members have begun to look for property to establish a residential lay practice community.

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Happiness Is a Dry Tea Towel

By Terri West I am writing on a Plum Village-ish morning. I was up before 5:00 a.m., though it was my partner's snoring that woke me, rather than the celestial sound of the great bell in Lower Hamlet. I tried to practice "Listen, Listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home," which often works with even the least wonderful sounds. But since the birds were singing and the sky was light, I picked some apple mint, made a cup of tea, tried to drink it mindfully, and sat for twenty minutes, just as we did each morning on The Eye of the Buddha Retreat in Plum Village in June 2000.

It always takes me a while, sometimes years, to properly digest such an experience, and here I offer deep thanks to the noble trustees of the U.K. Community of Interbeing for enabling me to take part by generously providing a large chunk of the necessary funding.

I have, however, come away with firm intentions. I plan to work to heal the many deep wounds that are causing suffering in my family, and find ways to bring mindfulness into the one-day-a-week class where, as a Classroom Assistant, I help young teens with various behavioural and learning difficulties. I am also offering an evening class through our local Adult Education Department. I am calling the class "Happiness Is Here and Now," and describing it as a way to overcome stress and anxiety, to make it as user-friendly as possible in this very conservative community. I shall be paid for this, but once my travel costs are met, I shall donate the rest to help the work of the Order of Interbeing in some way.

During the retreat, you see, I was accepted into the Order of Interbeing. And at the ordination ceremony, Thay informed us that for those joining the Order, the path of the bodhisattva is now our "highest career." Thank you for letting me know that, Thay. It gives me courage to undertake such work in the world. For, from the first day's Dharma talk, and throughout the retreat, I felt that the most important message Thay was sending us was that we must become truly engaged in working to manifest the Dharma in this world. My feeling seemed confirmed by the poem inscribed on my Ordination Certificate in Vietnamese and English, particularly the last two lines.

The great Way of Reality Is our true nature's pure ocean. The source of Mind penetrates everywhere. From the roots of virtue springs the practice of compassion. Precepts, concentration, and insight— The nature and function of all three are one. The fruit of transcendent wisdom Can be realised by being wonderfully together. Maintain and transmit the wonderful principle, In order to reveal the true teaching! For the realisation of True Emptiness to be possible, Wisdom and Action must go together.

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Then there was the practice of Ant-ness. Thay compared Sangha to an ant community—a superorganism that functions in harmony for the good of the whole rather than the individual. He proposed that human society should model itself on the ants or bees, by living in communities. Thay gave guidelines for how such communities should function: members should live together; they should follow the same spiritual path (the Mindfulness Trainings); there should be regular opportunities for sharing feelings (Beginning Anew); members should be especially mindful of using right speech; and community members should share all material resources and "joyful ideas."

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During an informal session with Tiep Hien (Order of Interbeing) members, Thay proposed that a lay community be set up near Plum Village, and he suggested two members to lead it. This is a wonderful suggestion. I had already suggested this to several friends here in Devon as a way to ease our path into old age. We would become a support for each other and live more cheaply—none of us has pensions. But so far, none of my friends has found the courage to take the first step of putting houses on the market and looking for larger properties. There is such a community in Germany, founded by Karl and Helga Riedl, Order of Interbeing Dharma teachers who lived in Plum Village for several years. So, there is a model to learn from, and we must hope that more will follow, creating refuges of peace and harmony in this difficult world.

And then this little Ant had a Big Idea—to organize a Worldwide Day of Mindfulness. A day that would be sanctioned by UNESCO, when Sanghas or members of the Order of Interbeing and anyone else who wishes to join in, would practice walking meditation to a site of their choice: a military base, a supermarket, a school, a prison ... someplace that needed transformation, or simply a spot of loving kindness. It should be a visible, well-publicised event, to attract more people from the community, and to promote the art of mindful living, peace and harmony. So far, all I have is the idea. Dear friends, please contact me if you believe this is a good idea and wish to help get it off the ground.

There is, of course, so much more from the retreat that I could write about—the relief, for example, of learning that we may hand our suffering over to the Sangha, that all we really need to realise is no-birth, no-death, and that happiness may truly be found in the simple things in life, such as finding a dry tea towel, despite being last in the queue for washing up! Theresa (Teri) West, True Door of Virtue, is a Storyteller. Please write Teri at 1 Sloo Cottages, Horns Cross, Bideford, Devon EX39 5EA, England.

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A Sacred Wound

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

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

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

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

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Practicing as a Couple

By Brendan Sillifant My search

I have had a deep affinity with the practice of mindfulness since I was a teenager. I had come across it in a variety of forms from different sources. From the Buddhist traditions of Thailand, Japan and Tibet, and from modern self-help psychology also. As a young man I wanted to learn to live my life fully, and I set out to travel for two years visiting different practice communities in North America looking for a teacher and a Sangha. That is where I first attended a retreat with Thay. I was drawn to his teaching which seemed so appropriate for modem society, deep and yet simple. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on joyful and continuous practice.

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Not being caught in dualistic thinking

I then came to practice with the Plum Village Sangha for six months in 1991. The Sangha was a small community made up of both monastic and lay practitioners. When I first came to Plum Village it was my love of mindfulness practice that brought me here, I had never had the thought to ordain. But after a time that wish grew in me, although that wish in me was still quite innocent, even naive. My teacher was a monk and I wanted to be like him. Nevertheless I made the determination to return to New Zealand, to sell all my worldly possessions, spend some precious time with my family, and then return to Plum Village to ordain.

Whilst in New Zealand I attended a Chinese Chan retreat in order to keep my practice strong. The retreat was held each weekend for almost two months. During this time I grew quite close to a young woman who was also practicing at the retreat. The blossoming of this relationship created a lot of confusion in me, it seemed like a conflict, to ordain or to marry. I wanted both, I wanted to be with the young woman I was growing to love, and I also wanted to practice wholeheartedly. I spent many months trying to make a decision between these two alternatives, trying to look into my real aspirations and yearnings.

Eventually I came to see that there was no conflict between these two things. When I looked deeply into my concept of monkhood, I found that what was actually important was to see what were the elements present in monastic life which would be supportive to my practice, and to find ways to bring these elements into my life and the life of my partner. With this understanding, there was no longer a decision or a choice that I needed to make. In my daily life I tried to blend my two loves, and I learned not to be caught in dualistic thinking between monastic life and lay life, but to seek to create a life with all the positive conditions present. I found I could have both a loving marriage and a strong committed practice, and there was no contradiction between the two. I experienced my relationship as a support to my practice, not a hindrance, even sexuality. My relationship supported my practice and my practice supported my relationship. I experienced these two things as a wonderful support for each other.

Relationship supports practice

My wife and I live closely together, and as a result we have grown to know each other quite intimately. This intimate understanding enables us to offer support and guidance to each other, helping each other not to fall into habit energies. An intimate relationship also provides comfort, soul sustenance, and nurturance, which can give one strength to overcome difficulties in one's life and practice. I experience my relationship as a kind of Sangha, it supports me in the same ways as the greater Sangha does, yet very intimately. I feel very fortunate to have a small Sangha within the big Sangha. As practicing partners we also help balance each other. When one person feels sad or anxious, the other can help him or her to feel bright or relaxed again. When overcome by wrong perceptions about someone or some situation, the other can provide alternative ways of looking. When we need to nourish the five-year-old boy or girl within us but are unable to do so, the other can provide that loving embrace. When we need the firm words of a teacher or Dharma sister or brother to put us back in the practice, the other can provide those words to set us straight. We practice in some ways as a single body, being aware of our own mental formations and also the mental formations of the other. So we have both our own mindfulness to rely upon and when that is weak we also have the practice of the other to rely upon. We practice to transform our own afflictions and also the afflictions of the other.

Practice supports relationship

The practice of mindfulness is a wonderful support in cultivating a loving relationship. It deepens our ability to speak lovingly, listen deeply, and understand each other. Mindfulness practice keeps our relationship fresh and helps us not to fall into negative habits. It gives each person more self-understanding and stability so we are more secure in ourselves, as a result we become much less prone to reading into the relationship what is not there. In addition to this the presence of the greater Sangha helps not to be isolated in our couple-ness. Sometimes two people become so much alike in character and view, that they cannot offer the other a new or different way of looking when needed. Dharma and Sangha can be a great support in offering clarity in situations that are usually dominated by habit energies. So when one person in a couple is lost in confusion, the other does not also become lost but can offer new clarity and fresh ways of looking into a situation.

Conscious watering of positive seeds is one of the tools of the practice that can be a tremendous support to a couple. Many couples we see around us are fresh and loving in the beginning, but after many years the habit of blaming, arguing, and criticizing each other begins to give the relationship a sour flavor. And at one point it seems the relationship is so infused with negativity that the path to recreating a positive healthy love is such a difficult task that many couples give up, thinking its easier to start over with another person. The practice of mindfulness, of being present to each other and for each other, already increases an awareness of the preciousness of each other. The practice of watering the flowers in each other helps us to be aware of the positive qualities of each other, and to express our appreciation and gratitude towards each other. If over time we are able to water the positive seeds more than the negative seeds in each other, then the ability to appreciate and acknowledge the wonder and beauty of the other will always be present, even in the midst of difficulty. As a result, when there is disharmony, the motivation will be not to hurt the other, but to heal the relationship and to reestablish harmony between us.

From Attachment to Freedom

I have spoken about how I see that an intimate relationship can be a wonderful support to one's practice. And now I would like to say something about the obstacles to meditation practice that can sometimes arise in a relationship.

We hear a lot about attachment in Buddhist teaching, and we may be involved in an intimate relationship and ask ourselves, "Well, what does attachment mean to me in my situation?" We need to look deeply into this area of our lives, because the practice of non-attachment can greatly enhance our relationship. Developing non-attachment does not need to go against our relationship. We need to look at our relationships clearly, not just follow an ideal we have heard about. What is our real experience of attachment, in what ways does it truly sustain us and in what ways does it make us suffer?

In our life we do take refuge in many things, we rely on many things. As children, and still as adults, we rely on our parents, we rely on our teachers, and on our friends. We rely on certain colleagues at work, we rely on our community of practice, and we rely on the three jewels. If suddenly one of these refuges is not there, we feel its lack, we suffer. This shows us the presence of attachment. Nevertheless we have been enriched by the presence of these people in our lives. Their presence has given great beauty to our lives and we would not wish to have been without them. We are attached to these people and situations because they have contributed so much to us. So the question is not to abandon these things, because we know that without them our life will be less rich, less nourishing. The question is, rather, how to bring the spirit of non-attachment into our relationships, so we can profit fully from the presence of the other whilst also maintaining our freedom and our sovereignty. The practice of non-attachment can lessen any unhealthy dependence that exists in our relationships and can allow our love to be light and joyful.

It is interesting to look deeply and to see in what way dependence is a wholesome and necessary part of our human and spiritual life, and in what way does it limit us? Does our dependence support us in becoming whole and complete or do we rely on the other person to complete us? We take refuge because we need support on our path to wholeness. But if our object of refuge or our way of taking refuge becomes a barrier to becoming whole, whether it is refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, or in our partner, we need to re-examine our way of taking refuge. A true teacher does not want us to only depend on him or her for stability, he or she wants to strengthen the teacher within us and will direct us to rely on that teacher more and more over time. The disciples of the Buddha took refuge in the Buddha, their teacher. Yet near the end of his life the Buddha instructed them to take refuge in the island within themselves, because that island is the teacher within which will always be with them, it is a stable and reliable refuge. The Buddha knew that it is this island which is the real object of refuge.

I will give an example: My wife Fei-fei is someone who is very confident, she enjoys being in front of groups of people, and can be her best on stage. But me, well its something which makes me a bit nervous, something which I would prefer to avoid if possible. So I could say to her, "Fei can you talk tomorrow for me, I don't want to speak in public." I can rely on her in any situation where I have to speak in front of the community, and thus avoid ever having to challenge myself and grow. In did this she would become more and more confident, with all the practice she would get, and I would become more and more shy. And an imbalance would result in our relationship and also in me. I would become incomplete without her. So this would be a way of taking refuge which would prevent my becoming whole. Alternatively I can learn to see Fei-fei as a teacher and can learn from her strength in this area. I can try to emulate her confident presence, thus her presence can be a source of strength for me that supports me becoming more whole and less dependent.

This is something to be aware of in a relationship, because we may have been attracted to our partner because they have certain qualities that we lack, to complement and complete us. But we can rely on our partner in a constructive way that helps us develop and transform our weaknesses, thus overcoming our initial dependence and becoming more free. In this way our relationship can take us in the direction of greater dependence or greater freedom and wholeness, depending on our way of taking refuge.

From attached love to boundless love

Our relationships can lead us into a narrow isolated love or a broad inclusive love, and this also depends on our way of taking refuge in each other. Sometimes our way of loving, our way of taking refuge in each other is a way of hiding from the world around us. And the more deeply we invest in each other the more deeply we cut ourselves off from others. So our way of taking refuge in each other becomes a prison for us. Even taking refuge in the Sangha can be like this. Perhaps we mix only amongst our close brothers and sisters in the Sangha, and we hide from the people who come to the community to practice, we may even hide from certain people in our own community. This is a form of attachment which may imprison us and keep us from opening our hearts to all those who cross our path in life.

Our love, to be deep and fulfilling, cannot be limited to only one person. If we love one person yet are alienated from others then our love will grow in on itself, it will not flower. It seems natural for a relationship to want to express itself in service of something greater. Perhaps that is why it seems so natural for couples to want to have children, so that the love that is cultivated between two people can seek a greater expression and flowering. When we can love one person we can love others also, love needn't be limited to one person. For this we need to be able to see the deep nature of the one we love. To see that that person contains her mother, father, grandparents, a whole lineage and culture. Our love then becomes embracing and we can learn to accept the things in the other person which are the most difficult for us to accept. Mindfulness and looking deeply helps us to see beyond the appearance of the one we love, so our small love becomes a door to great love. The relationship becomes a labaratory or testing ground for our love, allowing us to cultivate a mature love which then extends to the many people we come into contact with. In loving one person we do learn to love many people, because the person we love contains multitudes.

Over the years I have been together with my wife I see more and more how deeply she is.the continuation of her parents and ancestors. That in marrying and making the vow to love her, I have married and made the vow to love also her parents, siblings, grandparents, society, and indeed all beings. A couple relationship is really the coming together of two streams, not just two people, so there is a lot of potential there, potential for strife and for strength. And for certain our love will be cultured and matured over the years, like a good cheese.

Sexuality

Sexuality is another area that can easily become an obstacle to our practice if we are not skillful. But my experience tells me that sexuality can be an integral part of an intimate relationship, and also an integral part of a spiritual life and practice. We sometimes make too much out of sexuality by either being preoccupied by it or by not wanting to have anything to do with it. But sexuality can be a beautiful and nourishing part of a committed relationship. We try to bring the practice of mindfulness to every area of our lives and sexuality is an area of our life that also profits from the practice of mindfulness.

With the practice of mindfulness the sexual act can be no less than a sacred and beautiful ritual that is performed in deep concentration and joy, a deep expression of love and care for each other. With mindfulness present we are able to maintain a peaceful and relaxed presence, without becoming lost in sensual desire. Desire is an obstacle to peace, and it can also be an obstacle to deep communion, because the other becomes an object of desire, and we lose the deep love and intimacy that is present. Sexuality is a form of expression between two people that can nourish joy in being together, and helps establish closeness   and love. But this is only possible in the context of a committed relationship where attention is also given to other forms of communication. Sometimes sexuality is sought outside of a committed relationship, because we yearn for intimacy but we do not know how to establish real intimacy. Perhaps in our relationship there is so much misunderstanding and so many small unresolved hurts that there is no longer intimacy between us. So we naively seek intimacy elsewhere, in new relationships which do not have the same baggage of suffering. We need to remember that intimacy comes from the meeting of hearts not bodies, the meeting of bodies is only an expression. And for the meeting of hearts to be deep and present even after many years together we need to practice constantly.

How do we maintain our love over many years?

In the early days of a relationship there can be a lot of excitement, passion and romance. These feelings can be very compelling and attractive, they set our heart pumping and make us feel very alive. Our love is fresh and new, filled with hope and expectation. We do not know the other deeply and we imagine how wonderful they are. After sometime of being together, we begin to get used to one another more. We think we know pretty well everything there is to know about them. We quickly settle into a routine; our relationship becomes mundane, ho-hum, perhaps even boring. Th\ngs are ok, but not very alive. We think back to the early days and remember how fresh and wonderful it was to be with each other. But we don't know how to return to that freshness again. We think we need to do something spectacular to get the vitality back into the relationship, like taking a romantic holiday on a deserted island in the Bahamas.

But it is much simplier than that. We just need to be more attentive to maintaining our full presence for our loved one, and not fall into the habit of taking each other for granted. Fei-fei said that when we first met, she thought I was very romantic. For my part, I do not really feel I am a romantic person, neither do I aspire to be. But I think what gave this impression, was that I practiced really being there for her, giving her my full attention when we were together, and perhaps she had not experienced this kind of attention very often before. This kind of mindfulness is the tofu and potatoes of our love, it is the daily food of our relationship. And with this steady loving presence our relationship stays fresh and vital, even if our life appears very routine.

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Personal Time versus time for each other

Another way in which we might consider a relationship as an obstacle to a solid practice is that we may feel we have less space in our lives. I sometimes hear people say that they need more space in their relationship. They need time away from their partners. I have had this feeling occasionally in my relationship, although I feel lucky that this feeling comes up very seldom. For me this is a signal to look deeply, of course I can honor that feeling and take the opportunity to go for a walk by myself. But I need to ask myself, why do I not experience enough space in being together at the moment? I cannot just say that I need space and that's normal , and take my space. Perhaps our way of being together has settled into a habit of being too talkative. We may have been spending excessive time gossiping about others. Or maybe there is some tension in our relationship that makes it difficult for us to be at peace in the presence of the other. All these things are signals to us to pay more attention to the quality of our time together, and the quality of our practice together. Just as the Sangha is a support for our practice so to can be our couple re lationship. And when we retum there we find a refuge of warmth, space, acceptance, ease, and peace. If these things are not present in our relationship, it is because we have not cultivated our relationship in a skillful enough way.

Oneness - from individual to couple

Life as a couple has a certain vitality and richness which takes us beyond our individual desires and aspirations. We are two but we are one, and we really need to leam to think, feel , and see as one, or there will be conflict. If we continue to follow our own wants and needs and the other continues to follow their own wants and needs, we will not find a deep harmony and unity in our relationship.

For our love to return to us a deep sustenance for our soul, for there to be a deep intimacy between the two of us, we really need to learn to see the happiness of the other as our own happiness, and our happiness as the happiness of the other. This is not an attitude of sacrifice, because in sacrifice there is still duality, there is still "I" give up my needs to satisfy "your" needs. Where there is sacrifice there is still the unconsciolls debt of the other that we hold in our hearts and expect to be paid back sometime. To see that our happiness is one is to see that giver, gift, and receiver are one. We don't want to sacrifice because we know that deep down, for the other person to be happy, we also need to be happy. How can the other be bright and cheerful when we are moping around, feeling tired all the time having given beyond our capacity. So to give to ourselves, to nurture ourselves and our own deep peace and joy, is to make an offering to the person we love.

Recently Thay has said that practicing as a Sangha is like practicing as a couple. It can be a true practice of non-self to see that we are one body, and that we can no longer seek only for our own happiness without considering the happiness ofthe other. As a couple we become so interconnected, that this way of thinking no longer functions well. We simply have to learn to think in a new way, a way that really acknowledges our true interconnectedness, our interconnectedness as a couple, as a Sangha, and as a world.

Brendan, True Virtue of Loving Kindness, lives in the Upper Hamlet with his wife, Fei-Fei.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Sowing Sangha Seeds

By Judith Toy mb46-Sowing1

A Sangha Sprout

My husband Philip Toy and I first began inviting folks to sit with us in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in 1999, in a room in our cottage that could barely hold four cushions. Today, eight years later, our sangha’s twenty-by-thirty-foot Dharma hall has been finished for several years, Cloud Cottage Sangha has an e-mail list of 250 and an aspirant class of eight. We sponsor an annual mindfulness healing fair and we offer monthly days of mindfulness and retreats with visiting teachers.

Sister sanghas have sprouted: A Mountain Mindfulness Sangha in Asheville and Joyful Mountain Sangha in Waynesville. We attend each other’s Dharma events and support each other behind the scenes in many ways.

Ours is an active practice center. We meet four times a week: Tuesday and Thursday mornings for meditation and chanting with the monks and nuns of Plum Village on CD; Wednesday evenings for our regular wonderful sangha gathering; and Sunday mornings for a Zen service. From this solid base, we take our practice to a women’s prison and serve an Appalachian daycare center for the disadvantaged.

As we cultivate our sangha garden, we’ve discovered an amazing organic fertilizer that promotes growth like no other — a deep and abiding gratitude for the Buddha, for Thay’s teachings, for our friends and families and sisters and brothers in the Dharma, and for the diversity of blooms we enjoy.

The Cloud Cottage Council

Tea is part of our practice. On Sunday mornings, our service is followed by a mindful tea with treats, served at a large round table at one end of the Dharma hall. As more people joined our sangha, we started the Cloud Cottage council. The council meets annually and includes everybody. Interim decisions are made by a more casual council that gathers at the tea table on Sunday mornings. We decided to move the tea table downstairs and convert the unfinished downstairs to a tearoom and classroom. There, talented sangha members plan to teach courses to support the sangha and our engaged practices. To that end, we held a sangha work practice day, to silently climb ladders and insulate the big room. For the new bathroom, a sangha member has donated the toilet, sink, and some lighting fixtures.

Impermanence

A difficult aspect of sangha practice for me is changeability — the number of people who come and go. We keep a welcome book, now in several editions, and frankly, I can’t even remember the names and faces of most folks who come by, because there are so many.

More difficult for Philip and me has been dealing with our emotions when people who have been active with the sangha drift away. Sometimes I question myself. Did I do something to offend this person? Did I not give her my full presence? Philip says he practices with the people who are absent, and they manifest and remain in that way for him. In time, I, too, have learned to hold each person in my heart, to let them go and wish them well. I see how our sangha has been enriched by each presence in turn.

Sangha life is impermanent, a beautiful garden of animals, plants, and minerals who breathe and weave together. Coming and going, no coming, no going, we bloom where we are!

Raising Goodwill and Funds

Because the Dharma hall was unheated, we would sweat in summer and shiver in winter. With many healers in our midst, it seemed natural to raise funds for a heating system by sponsoring a mindfulness healing fair. However, we are Buddhists in the Bible belt. One night a bullet was shot through the window of the Black Mountain Wellness Center where Cloud Cottage met for over a year. So we felt that in addition to raising funds, this project would be a way to demystify our practice in the community-at-large. We would gather a group of healers to demonstrate alternative healing methods and introduce the healing aspects of mindfulness practice to children and adults.

Along came a veteran events planner looking for a way to serve the sangha. We rubbed our palms together and said, “Maggie, have a seat!” What a splendid job of organizing she did, pulling in talented healers and workers, tracking hundreds of details. Philip and I once owned a public relations firm, so we were called on for the simple art of writing press releases. Local news editors enthusiastically promoted our event. A member of our sangha who owns a marketing firm designed the fliers and posters. We paid for only one small display ad. Most of our promotion was free through the press.

Never before had we felt such closeness, not only to one another in the sangha, but to the wider community. Planning these events bonded and transformed us all. The night before the fair, twenty of us met and shared a meal to set up the rooms. We made the event free to the public, placing donation bowls around the rooms and encouraging folks to donate. Nothing was for sale.

Our first event was amazingly successful — drawing 400 people to an atmosphere of quiet music, flowers, hushed voices, healing and mindfulness — all during a snow and ice storm! We raised $1000 after expenses and spread much goodwill. The following year we doubled the size of the fair, with 600 attendees. We doubled our funds, too, sharing the proceeds with a local daycare center that serves needy families. And our new heat pump was installed in the fall of 2006!

A Dharma Comedy

Still, we needed to finish the tea room. Playwright and actor Barbara Bates Smith from Joyful Mountain Sangha volunteered to perform her one-woman play as a fundraiser. Confessions of a Deacon’s Wife is a funny and compelling original monologue in which Barbara questions her Episcopal priest, her husband, and her therapist, quoting Thich Nhat Hanh and Joseph Campbell. At the same time I happened to be working on writing a “Dharma comedy” that I called Mountain Karma. Barbara encouraged me to produce my piece along with hers.

Mountain Karma is a troublesome play to produce, since each character is portrayed by three people who move and speak simultaneously — speaking of “sangha body”! Our rehearsals were hilarious. Most of us are amateurs. Just then, along came another sangha member, a dancer and choreographer who ultimately, miraculously, pulled us all together.

One of the beauties of cultivating these events is that the right person arrives at just the right time to do whatever job is needed. Maggie came as fundraiser. Tebbe came as marketer. Barbara came as playwright. Lara came as director. Anna came to donate the rent for the venue. Our play was standing room only! We ran out of chairs.

New Blooms in Our Garden

Our schedule has blossomed like a June garden.

Our days of mindfulness, at first sporadic, are now precious and regular — including topics such as “Mindfulness in Motion,” with a five-mile hike to honor our Cherokee land ancestors; and “Flowing Into the New Year,” a day of mindfulness and yoga, as well as “Beginning Anew,” held New Year’s Day at a Trappist Monastery. We take turns leading, and have spread our days of mindfulness and weekend retreats into several new locations this year, including the homes of aspirants.

Even though we’re located in the deep South, Asheville is a cosmopolitan town, a Buddhist magnet, with twenty-four sanghas. Our parade-sized puppets created with children are used to celebrate our mahasangha event of Wesak each May, commemorating Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana. Founded fourteen years ago by Robert Wootten, in recent years Asheville’s Wesak event is another way we have found to bring our practice into the mainstream.

Last summer we found we had too few cushions. Those we did own — donated years ago by Rinzai Zen monk Genro Lee Milton, Sensei, to our original Old Path Sangha in Pennsylvania

— were faded and in need of new covers. We needed a cushion drive! All we had to do was ask — in our monthly e-newsletter, cloud water. Cushion money began trickling in. Carolina Morning Designs generously offered to donate one cushion for each one we purchased! Today, with gratitude, we’re expecting the arrival of ten new sets of square cushions, ten sets of round cushions, and seven pairs of cushion covers!

Some of us could live together, we thought. A few months ago, we put out a short message to our e-mail list: “Is anyone interested in starting a mindfulness cohousing community?” Word of mouth traveled fast, and we began a list. There are about twenty of us from various sanghas already on the list, and soon we will enjoy our fourth monthly meeting. As Thay has suggested, community is the paradigm for the new millennium. Our vision is a central Dharma hall and central dining room and kitchen, with a cluster of simple dwellings scattered about. We’re thinking green housing, renewable energy, organic gardens, service to the larger community, visiting monks and nuns. We can, and should, experiment with the joys and pitfalls of building sangha and even living together harmoniously.

A Sangha Harvest

A senior OI member recently told me she doesn’t call herself a mentor. Instead, she says she’s a gardener. I like that image. In Sangha building we till the soil, sow the seeds, water, and wait. We joyfully abide in one place. We learn patience. We weed out our own unskillful thoughts and actions. Fertilize with gratitude. Allow the garden to mature on its own — not always at the pace of our neighbor’s. Bask in the beauty of the flowers of dana — no distinction between giving and receiving. Make room for surprises — like volunteers!  Grow our own.

Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, is a writer and co-founder with her husband Philip Toy of Old Path Sangha in Pennsylvania, Fragrant Lotus Petal Sangha in Bucks County Prison in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Cloud Cottage Sangha in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is associate editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Compassion Is the Energy that Protects

By Brother Chan Phap Lai mb54-Compassion1

Thay’s offering, Bat Nha: A Koan, is intended to nourish our collective bodhicitta—the mind of love. Thay has contributed his deep insight and invites us all to read, contemplate and practice in order to come to our own insight—the kind of insight that can show a way out.

The situation, as it has developed, is certainly sad in many ways. The Vietnamese Communist Party’s aggressive policy remains steadfast. We continue to pursue our request of France to allow some of the brothers and sisters to take refuge in Plum Village. Still, there is a greater happiness to celebrate. From a spiritual point of view, Bat Nha is a huge success. Here, I want to share a few anecdotes that for me personally gave a more intimate connection to this success.

mb54-Compassion2Recently, a number of Most Venerable monks and nuns from Vietnam were able to come to Plum Village and, along with Thay, preside over our annual ordination ceremonies. Some stayed after the week of ceremonies and shared about their monastic life in Vietnam. I asked Ven. Minh Nghia if he would mind my writing articles about his involvement with our Sangha. I understood the Venerables were likely to be given some trouble on their return from Plum Village. Although Ven. Minh Nghia has already been outspoken in his actions to support the Bat Nha Sangha within Vietnam, I wanted to be sensitive. I was most impressed by his response: “You can write what is true—the truth is good.”

There are, of course, many aspects to the truth. One aspect is that the conduct and spirit of the Bat Nha Sangha was admired by the elder monastic community, and they truly wanted to help us. They risked their peaceful coexistence with the government and put their elderly bodies in harm’s way. Ven. Minh Nghia said, “When we saw how bravely the young brothers and sisters were acting, exemplifying the precepts and enduring immense difficulties, we had to act. How could we call ourselves elders of these young monastics if we did nothing but stand by and watch?”

One beautiful aspect of the truth is that the poor townspeople of Bao Loc and neighboring villages loved us. They demonstrated their love in many ways, including secretly bringing food in the middle of the night to the 400 young monastics. This proved a lifeline during the last three months in Bat Nha monastery when electricity and running water had been purposefully cut off. After the forcible eviction from Bat Nha in September, the community took refuge in Phuoc Hue temple in the town of Bao Loc. Here, the government, try as they might, using blackmail, bribes, and relentless propaganda, found it was impossible to enlist locals against the community. Even if the local people could not intercede directly, gaining their respect and love was a spiritual success that made staying in Bat Nha and Phuoc Hue Temple possible and left the local community changed forever.

In an interview concerning the September eviction, Chan Phap Si described how a sister, during a lull in the unpleasantness of the day, handed him a moon cake. (The monastics had, in effect, been starved during the months leading up to the eviction, and were very hungry on the day of eviction.) Phap Si, having noticed a lone policeman standing in the courtyard and knowing the other police had taken time for a lunch break, walked over and offered to share the moon cake. The policeman looked at Phap Si strangely, then politely declined, saying, “You will need it; you have a long journey ahead.” Phap Si was later forcibly driven to his home town and placed under house arrest. In the months that followed, police came around on spot visits to interrogate him. When they came into his house, he skillfully had them partake in a silent tea meditation before answering their questions. As a result, trust developed, and Phap Si found himself listening to the policemen’s personal suffering. They shared their pain concerning the fact that, as police, they often had to do things they felt were wrong.

On the day of eviction from Bat Nha, both Phap Si and Phap Lam placed themselves under a taxi in an effort to prevent their younger brothers from being driven off. They had accepted they were being forced out of their home but were determined not to be dispersed. Phap Lam described his state of mind: “I was not angry with the violent actions of the police and the hired thugs. I was only conscious of my deep love for the brothers.” This desire to protect them led him to place himself under the taxi. His action did not come from an idea to demonstrate non-violently, but was the natural response of a monk who had cultivated no-harm as a way of being, yet wanted to prevent the community from being dispersed.

In Phap Si’s account we heard how a heavy-set policeman tried to drag him away from the taxi wheel he had clasped. The policeman drew back his fist to hit Phap Si. The punch would have been injurious, given the large studded ring Phap Si observed on the policeman’s index finger. At this moment Phap Si said he looked into the eyes of the policeman about to hit him. “I was completely concentrated on compassion, having no fear or resentment, focused only on protecting my younger brothers. I believe the policeman was affected by this because as his fist bore down it seems he lost the heart to follow through and his fist only glanced my face.” Phap Si is convinced it was his concentration on compassion that protected him. “In truth we had nothing and no one to protect us from the ill-will and violence of that day— it was only the energy of compassion generated among us that protected.” There are so many elating anecdotes like this—small triumphs of love over hate.

We are all sad for the country of Vietnam and the dispersion of the Sangha. The Abbot of Phuoc Hue, the Venerable Thai Thuan, cried and cried. Thay says these tears of love shall go down in the history books. Thay also shared that the Sangha has been more united by this experience than divided by the government’s actions. “The Bat Nha Sangha is already a legend in the history of Buddhism in Vietnam,” one which, I believe, we can allow to inspire and instruct for years to come.

Dear friends, it would be remiss of me to ask you to share your personal insight on the koan without sharing my own. So I will end with my reflections on this never-ending koan:

Compassion is the energy that protects. With compassion and nonviolence as our way of being, we discover non-fear and need not act from anger. Bat Nha is not a distant event, remote from our lives in the West, but a collective experience of our international community. We are in this together. As individuals and as countries we should protect our integrity so that we have the moral right to speak out and are free (from vested interest) to act. The brothers and sisters of Bat Nha used their time to prepare mentally and spiritually for what they knew would come. They made the very best of the present moment, enjoying every day of practice. We might do the same.

May your koan practice benefit all living beings. May all be well, peaceful, safe, and happy. May all attain enlightenment. No discrimination.

Thay suggests we offer our insight in written form to be published on www.helpbatnha.org. Please send your personal insights on Bat Nha: A Koan to batnhakoan@gmail.com.

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Continuing the Path of the Buddha

By Brother Chan Phap Nguyen  mb64-Continuing1

The Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Center was established in 1982. Over the years, practice centers have been founded around the world in response to an increasing need from practitioners in many countries. These centers include Deer Park Monastery in California, Blue Cliff Monastery in New York, Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi, Entering the Stream Meditation Center in Australia, Plum Village International Meditation Center in Thailand, the Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism in Hong Kong, and the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany. All practice meditation according to the Plum Village tradition.

Challenging Times 

In its infancy, Plum Village encountered many infrastructure difficulties. Most of the hamlets were purchased from farmers who raised cattle and sheep, and they lacked electricity and heating systems. Winter at Plum Village was extremely cold, and brothers and sisters had to bring their own blankets to cover themselves during sitting meditation. When Thay wrote his books, one hand held the pen while the other hand warmed over the fire. Water, equipment, utensils, and food were limited. As the number of practitioners at Plum Village increased, it became apparent the infrastructure needed to expand. When Lower Hamlet could not meet the requirements for operating a public center, it was closed down. This has also happened to Upper Hamlet and New Hamlet.

During these years, there were many times when Thay fell ill, and it was uncertain he would recover. Thanks to the support of the Buddha and patriarchs, Thay pulled through. In addition to the physical difficulties, the Sangha also experienced spiritual challenges. The 2009 tragedy at Prajna Monastery in Vietnam was a period of deep difficulty for Plum Village. So much suffering and fear poured on those young, innocent monks and nuns who no longer could take refuge in their own motherland and had to seek refuge across the globe. Fortunately, with the support of the Buddha and ancestors, brothers and sisters adhered to the practice of nonviolence and were able to overcome that painful time.

Plum Village Anniversary 

At the start of the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat, during a monastic day at the Hermitage, Thay and his students sat together around a glowing fire. Thay said, “Next year is the thirtieth anniversary of Plum Village and we will celebrate the whole year. We can organize in such a way that we celebrate in every retreat. If we practice to generate happiness in every day, we don’t need to celebrate in a grand and luxurious fashion in order to be happy. We only need to be happy with what we are doing in our daily life, right in this present moment. That is truly to celebrate.”

Following Thay’s suggestion, we organized six working groups to focus on celebrating this anniversary. The groups presented the history of Plum Village, set up an exhibition of Thay’s calligraphy, exhibited the Dharma tools Thay often uses while teaching, prepared an exhibition of Thay’s books, worked on Plum Village’s annual Vietnamese magazine, and organized performances. The hamlets were filled with enthusiastic and joyful discussions, which were enough to bring us happiness each day.

Over the next three months, we prepared to celebrate thirty years of Plum Village. The first exhibition took place at the end of March 2012, during the French retreat. We organized in a way that allowed everyone to fully participate in each Day of Mindfulness, as well as in two daily sessions of sitting meditation and chanting. Our free time was used to renovate, repair, and clean the hamlet. Nearly all the tasks were completed by the brothers and sisters on the organizing team. A few brothers and sisters volunteered to sing and play the guitar while we worked, adding an atmosphere of lightness and joy to our tasks. I prepared sweet soup for all the brothers to enjoy during break, and we would sit around the pot, enjoying the soup and stories that brought much laughter. One brother said, “People can earn a lot of money in their jobs, but do they have such light and happy moments like we are enjoying now?” At Plum Village, our salary is the happiness of lay friends who come to practice with us, and our nourishment is the brotherhood and sisterhood.

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The thirty-year anniversary ceremony was celebrated twice during the Summer Opening. After a Dharma talk at Upper Hamlet, Thay lead the Sangha in walking meditation to Son Ha (Foot of the Mountain Temple), where we held the first ceremony. The path from Upper Hamlet to Son Ha passes through a valley of pine trees, which became more beautiful when decorated with pots of flowers to welcome Thay and the Sangha. Thay’s calligraphy—“I have arrived, I am home”—was displayed below the pots in eight different languages. One venerable from China said, “I really like the way brothers and sisters decorate. It is simple, but I can feel there is much love. It is very beautiful and Zen.”

On the grass lawn in front of Son Ha Temple, the Sangha enjoyed classical music performed by our Western brothers and sisters, as well as the lion dance performed by our Vietnamese brothers with the beat of the drums. After the lion dance and a few introductory words about Plum Village and the calligraphy exhibition, Thay was invited to cut the inauguration banner and lead the Sangha into the exhibition.

The second exhibition was organized at New Hamlet. The lion dance also welcomed the Sangha, and the sisters from both New Hamlet and Lower Hamlet gave a musical/dance performance. Everyone then enjoyed some anniversary cake, and Thay opened the exhibition on his Dharma tools and books.

In an opening speech for the calligraphy exhibition, we shared that it has taken us thirty years to come this far. Some people were very touched by this, because thirty years is a relatively long time for such humble development in terms of infrastructure. They could begin to understand how much simpler and more difficult life at Plum Village must have been years ago. Yet Plum Village does not aim to develop monumental buildings, but focuses on the practices so that it can benefit people all around the world.

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The year 2012 marked thirty years of Plum Village, which is neither a short nor a long time. Confucius said, “By the age of thirty, one can be independent.” In other words, when he reached the age of thirty, he was able to stand on his own two feet. Looking back at our history, we dare not be so self-assured, as Plum Village is still very young. As children of the Buddha, we are aware that we should not just work and neglect our practice. We have to make full use of our time to develop our bodhicitta, so that we can grow and turn the Dharma wheel further. This is truly to repay the four debts of gratitude and grow up on our path of practice.

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Integrating Buddhism into Daily Life 

To organize and lead retreats with the intention of integrating Buddhism into daily life is part of our service. Plum Village is open year-round to welcome retreatants from all over the world to practice. Each year, Plum Village offers three or four large retreats, with seven hundred to one thousand participants. Additionally, Thay and Plum Village Dharma teachers lead teaching tours in many countries. In odd-numbered years, Thay and the Plum Village delegation go on a three-month teaching tour in North America and/or Asia. In even-numbered years, Thay goes on a teaching tour in Europe. The Dharma teachers also lead retreats in the spring and autumn. Over the past thirty years, Plum Village has helped people around the world heal their wounds, transform their suffering, reconcile and re-establish communication with loved ones.

At a retreat in Rome, Italy, last autumn, a blind lady shared, “In the 1990s I discovered there was something wrong with my eyes and I could no longer see clearly. I was told that I would become blind within a few years. When I returned home and told my mother, she said it was a hereditary condition. I was very sad knowing I would be blind without a cure. Within the next few years, the state of my eyesight progressively worsened until I was considered blind. I suffered greatly with my condition, and wanted to return to a more spiritual life in order to learn how to live peacefully and harmoniously with this disability. In 1992, I was told that a Vietnamese Buddhist monk was visiting Rome to teach. I found my way to the teaching venue of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh. The first time I heard Thay’s voice I knew he would be my teacher. Thay’s voice is gentle, expressive, and full of compassion. I was so happy! At the retreat I learned how to practice mindfulness and was guided in living mindfully every moment. I learned to breathe and walk in mindfulness, learned ways to reduce tension in my body and calm my mind. Thanks to the practices of mindfulness, I was able to take care of myself in the basic things of my daily life. Even though I can no longer see Thay’s face, I recognize my teacher when I hear that gentle and compassionate voice. I am ever so grateful because he helped me to find myself in a period of life that was full of darkness.” Everyone was very moved by her sharing.

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Transporting Buddhism into the Future 

Today, globalization has brought people more tension, pressure, worries, competition, and violence. In this world, people need a spiritual dimension to their lives more than ever. At Plum Village, we are always enthusiastic about creating fresh, joyful, and gentle methods of practice that will encourage young people to come and practice. Young people are open-minded and creative, with a high capacity to learn. They have strong life energy, a revolutionary spirit, and a huge “fire” of love and aspiration to serve (bodhicitta).

Thay and the Sangha always encourage and support the young monastic brothers and sisters to discover their talents and potential skills. These young monastics practice to transform themselves as well as to be role models and help lay friends to overcome their difficulties. Young monastics are the future and the continuation of the Buddha, of our teacher and spiritual ancestors. They transport Buddhism into the future. Thay has ordained more than eight hundred monastic disciples. Aside from these brothers and sisters, Plum Village also has “golden eggs,” commonly referred to at Plum Village as the “Fragrant Tea Tree” ordination family, with monastics from other Buddhist traditions or temples who have joined the Sangha. The number of monastics in this family has grown to one hundred brothers and sisters, and their presence has enriched Plum Village. Within our Sangha of nine hundred monastics practicing at Plum Village centers (in France and other countries), we have brothers and sisters of twenty-eight different nationalities.

In 2008, many young people attended the retreat in Italy. Aside from the retreat, we also organized a presentation and activities for about five hundred high school students near Rome. During Dharma discussion, we listened deeply to the young people as they shared the difficulties and blockages in their lives. Many felt lonely and alienated with no sense of life direction. Others carried deep wounds and suffering from their family and society. They didn’t believe in themselves and were unable to trust others around them. They were carried away by feelings and emotions, and consequently, their speech and actions were not wholesome.

Thay suggested we initiate a movement especially for young people. The Wake Up movement builds a healthy and compassionate society based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings. It is a source of spiritual nourishment, a playing field especially for young people who seek to direct themselves towards a globalized spiritual ethic.

The Wake Up movement has become very popular, and each year Plum Village organizes several retreats specifically for this movement. Led by young Dharma teachers, these retreats take place around the world. At Trafalgar Square in London in 2012, nearly five thousand young people gathered to sit in meditation and listen to a Dharma talk given by Thay. This movement transcends all religious and national boundaries, inviting everyone to participate in activities that are refreshing, joyful, wholesome, and relevant to the youth of today. In many of the world’s major cities, Sanghas of young people participate in Wake Up activities. As a result, we have created a Wake Up website (www.wkup. org) where people can follow the latest news, practice together, share, and contact each other. The Wake Up movement not only encourages activities that are meaningful and create happiness, but also offers a wholesome context that connects young people from all over the world.

Plum Village has continued to develop methods for practicing mindfulness in ways that are most relevant and useful to modern people. Our Applied Ethics Program aims to integrate mindfulness practices into the education sector. Based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, this program would be taught as part of the regular curriculum, with mindfulness being the method to put it into practice. Teachers of this subject must know how to practice mindfulness with happiness in order to be able to teach it to students. At Plum Village, we have a new program to train such teachers, and we have organized training programs for educators in many countries, including India, the U.S., Thailand, Bhutan, France, and Germany. At a retreat for American congressmen/women in Washington, D.C., in 2011, and at a lecture in the House of Lords in England in 2012, Thay addressed the issue of how to integrate the Applied Ethics Program into the education sector.

During the 2011 U.S. teaching tour, Thay and a number of brothers and sisters met with Jerry Brown, the governor of California. During that meeting, we addressed how to integrate the Applied Ethics program into California’s education system. Governor Brown welcomed the proposal, saying, “Currently, I manage two private schools, and we can try and apply this program in my two schools first.” During the U.S. tour, Thay also met with Senator Tim Ryan from Ohio and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to discuss the program.

Monastic Life at Plum Village

Individuals with the aspiration to serve and to practice a monastic life of chastity may enter the five-year monastic program at Plum Village. After five years, these individuals may take monastic vows for the rest of their lives, or they can return to lay life and continue to practice as lay Dharma teachers. To join this program, individuals must be under thirty-five years old and have the aspiration to serve and to practice the life of a monastic. The program allows young people to serve in ways that are similar to serving in the army. Yet our true enemies are the “ghosts” of afflictions, like anger, hatred, violence, craving, jealousy, and discrimination. Young people learn the practices of mindfulness in order to recognize, embrace, and transform these ghosts. When we can embrace and transform these ghosts, we experience happiness and freedom. If we practice with good results, we can help our loved ones, society, country, and world become more peaceful and wholesome.

The “brown robe” family, our fourfold Sangha, is comprised of monastic brothers and sisters in brown robes, and laymen and laywomen in the Order of Interbeing. We are all active in teaching and in social aid/relief programs around the world. Created by Thay in 1966, the Order of Interbeing has grown from six to more than one thousand members who practice according to the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. These disguised bodhisattvas go into the world to rescue beings. The Understanding and Love Program in Vietnam and India includes more than three hundred kindergartens, operated by these Order of Interbeing bodhisattvas who invest much of their time and energy in developing and serving. Without these bodhisattvas, we cannot give poor children a glass of milk and a meal for lunch.

The brown-robed bodhisattvas of the Order of Interbeing in countries like France, England, Holland, Italy, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Brazil, and Canada, all use skillful means to help Plum Village in its work to rescue all beings. Some translate Thay’s books; others help to print and publish his books or translate audio Dharma talks. Some compose music; others teach mindfulness in prisons; still others help to organize retreats. Additionally, some help with financial and administrative work, while others assist with fundraising or provide legal assistance. Each person is a precious jewel of the Sangha, and we are always grateful for each person’s dedication and presence.

Today there are many active Sanghas practicing according to the tradition of Plum Village, with most located in major cities around the world. Among the one thousand practicing Sanghas, eighty are in the UK, seventy are located in Germany, and more than five hundred are in the U.S. As the scope of our spiritual work is very expansive and not limited to France or Vietnam, we have always done the important work of a gardener (a monastic), to help people tend to the “garden of their heart” and to sow wholesome seeds. Through the rise of so many Sanghas, we see that those seeds have germinated and are now sprouting up everywhere.

The Continuation of Buddha

Over the past thirty years, the Plum Village Sangha boat has weathered many storms and challenges and has delivered many people to the shores of freedom, peace, and happiness. Thay is a solid captain, directing us in navigating the Sangha boat. His wisdom is like a great, ancient tree that continues to flower and produce fruits—an ancient tree in whom we can all take refuge.

We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to creating Plum Village, and to our predecessors who built and developed the Sangha. Stepping onto Upper Hamlet, we can see the shadows and the continuation of Brother Nguyen Hai in Brother Phap Huu, Brother Phap Trien, and many others. Arriving at Deer Park Monastery, we can see the continuation of Brother Giac Thanh in Brother Phap Dung, Brother Phap Hai, Brother Phap Ho, and many other brothers and sisters. When we think of the social relief program, we can also see the continuation of Brother Thanh Van and Sister Chan Khong through Ms. Xuan, Mr. Nghiem, Mr. Dinh, and many other people in the world.

As the younger generation, we are always indebted to our respected Thay, who has given his whole life for the benefit of all beings. Although advancing in age, he never ceases to renew the practices so that they remain relevant and appropriate to the times, especially for future generations seeking to take refuge.

Each of us is a cell in the Sangha body, a member of the Sangha boat. In a body, there are millions of cells. Each cell has its own function. Similarly, with the Sangha boat, we are the wooden planks, the nails, the boat captain. We are the boat. The planks have the function of keeping the water out of the boat, the nails keep the planks together, the captain navigates the boat to its destination, and the boat delivers people across the river. Thanks to the combination of these components working together, we have a solid boat to bring people to the other shore. In the same way, to continue the path of the Buddha is the duty and the collective expedition of the ancestors, of Thay and the Sangha, of all of us together. Each person gives a hand to the career of the Buddha, like one hand carries on from another hand.

Reviewing the past thirty years, we are ever so grateful for the support of the Buddha and ancestors. We are clearly aware that life is impermanent. Any doctrine, any country, any tradition will one day decline because waxing and waning is a never-ending process. But we vow to continue learning and practicing, to take more steps in freedom and solidity in order to offer another thirty years. Thay teaches us, “The first thirty years can go by slowly, but the next thirty years will pass very quickly.” Together, hand in hand with Thay, we can go as a river to climb the hill of the century. It is not a matter of time, be it thirty years or three hundred years, but we have to go in such a way that every minute can bring happiness, peace, and benefit for ourselves and for others. In doing so we can enjoy the inheritance and truly continue the career of the Buddha.

mb64-Continuing6Brother Chan Phap Nguyen, born and raised in Vietnam, immigrated to the U.S. 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.

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