Second Mindfulness Training

Poem: Structure of Suchness

  Do not scold the little birds. We need their songs. Do not hate your own body. It is the altar for humanity's spirit.

Your eyes contain the trichiliocosm, and your ears have sovereignty over the birds, the springs, the rising tide, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, the cries of the baby, and the song that lulls her to sleep. Your hands are flowers oflove that need not be picked by anyone, and your forehead is the most beautiful morning of all mornings. Do not destroy the structure of suchness within you.

The corn, the grass, and the fragrance of the night have all spoken out for peace. I know a bullet may strike the heart of the little bird this morning, the bird that is celebrating life with all its might. The corn, the grass, the fragrance of the night, together with the stars and the moon - all of us are doing our best. We are doing everything we can to keep you alive.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Found in Call Me by My True Names.

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Be A Flower

Children's Questions to ThaySummer Retreat 2001

Child: Why do you shave your head?

Thay: This question is classic. Many children have asked why do you shave your head? The answer I usually give is that we want to save shampoo. But there are other answers as well. The Buddha said to the monks and nuns, every morning when you wake up you have to touch your head and remember that you are a monk or a nun, not a person who lives in the world. Remembering that you are a monk or a nun you will know that you shouldn't try to run after fame or profit, you should try to cultivate more compassion and understanding every day. That is one ofthe reasons why we shave our heads, in order to remember that we are monks and nuns.

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The other reason is that to shave one's head is a symbolic act we make in order to show our determination not to do as we did before. We really want to begin anew. We want to live a spiritual life. That is an expression of a determination. Shaving one's head is a kind of language saying I want to pursue the spiritual path of the Buddha.

Another reason is that we want to tell people that we are already monks or nuns and they should not try to run after us and to take us as their husband or their wife. It is an indirect message that I am already a monk, please don't try to seduce me. I am already a nun, please don't try to seduce me. Please leave me alone so I can follow the path of the Buddha. It is very clear. Don't run after me; I am already a monk; I am already a nun.

Child: Thay, mosquitos keep biting me and I want them to stop it. Can I kill a few everyday?

Thay: When I was a little boy I also had that question. Later on I learned that a mosquito needs to get some food in order to live. It is like us. When we are hungry we also look for something to eat, that's very natural. I think there are ways in which we can protect ourselves from being bitten by mosquitos. In Vietnam everyone has a mosquito net to sleep under at night. If they don ' t use a mosquito net they have to kiII mosquitos the whole night. Not only a few, because after you kill one another will come. So you  spend the whole night killing mosquitos. So killing mosquitos is not the best solution. One way we can protect ourselves is by using a mosquito net. I think there are a few mosquito nets in Plum Village. You may ask the brothers to let you borrow one so you can spare the life of little mosquitos.

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In my practice , from time to time I allow mosquitos to get a bite. Some of the brothers and sisters practice like that also. When a mosquito lands on us we just breathe in and out and we just allow the mosquito to get some food. We don 't do it very often. But from time to time we want to practice to nourish our compassion and understanding. Sometimes when I saw a mosquito land on me I produced a kind of storm to make the mosquito fly away. But we do it without any anger. Wejust prevent the mosquito from biting.

Child: How can we help our bad teachers?

Thay: What do you mean by bad?

Child: Teachers that like to blame others and give extra work for the children to do.

Thay: When we say that our teachers are bad, are we sure that we are good students? That is the first question, are we good school students? Helping our teacher is a very good thing to do. I think first of all we should show our sympathy and we should not show our anger to our teachers. We shou ld have an opportunity to s it down and talk to our teachers. Your teacher must have something good in him or her, although she may have some negative things also. So during the talk with your teacher you can mention what is good in him or her. After that you can say what is good in other teachers, especially the good things that you don't see in your teacher. You have to speak in such a way that it doesn't sound like you are blaming your teacher. You say what you appreciate in your teacher and then you say what you appreciate in other teachers. That is an indirect way to help your teacher to develop these positive things that she has not developed.

Also we can say that we students can be silly sometimes, we are difficult sometimes. So please help us so we can be less silly and less stubborn. If we talk to our teacher like that and we listen very deeply our teacher will appreciate us. We make an effort to please our teacher and our teacher will make an effort to be a better teacher.

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There are many ways in which we can come to our teacher. We can come to our teacher as one or two students and sometimes we can talk to another teacher and ask that teacher for help. Sometimes we can write a loving letter to our teacher, not blaming. If you don't have a chance to talk directly to him or to her, you can write a letter acknowledging all the goodness in her and you can ask her not to do the things that will make you suffer. Three or four of you can sign the letter together. If you write with loving speech your teacher will have a chance to read it. I hope these suggestions are helpful. Please try.

Child: Why do we have to die one day?

Thay: Imagine there is only birth, there is no death. One day there will be hardly any place to stand on earth. To die means to leave the place for our children . And who are our children? Our children are ourselves. Our children are our new man ifestat ions. The son is the continuat ion of the father. The father looking at his son has the feeling that he will not die because his son is there to continue him. Looki ng like that you see that you are not dying, you are continuing in your son . And your son is not dying because he is continued in the grandson and so on. Buddhist meditation helps us to look deeply to see that there is no real dying only continuation in different forms .

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Look at the c loud in the sky. The cloud may be afraid of dying. But there is a time when the cloud has to be transformed in to rain and to fall down. But that is not really dying. That is changing form. The cloud changes into the ra in and the cloud continues in the rain. If you look deeply into the ra in you can see the cloud. There is no real dying. You continue to be in many other forms. The cloud can continue in the form of snow, in the form of rain, in the form of a river, or in the form of ice. One day the cloud can become ice cream. If the cloud does not die how can we have ice cream to eat?

Thay is not afraid of dying because Thay sees himself in his disciples, in you. You have come to learn with Thay and there is a lot of Thay within yourself. Thay is giving himse lf to you. If you have received some understanding, some compassion and some awakening from Thay then Thay is continued in yo u. Later on if someone wants to look for Thay they just come to you and they see Thay. Thay is not onIy here [pointing to himself], Thay is here also [pointing to the children.] This is what I like best about Buddhist meditation. Buddhist meditation can help us to transcend death.

You know that death is very important for birth, for our continuation. In our body there are many cells that die every minute in order to leave space for new cells to be born. Birth and death take place every minute in our body. If there is no death it is impossible for us to continue in our body. That is why birth and death are linked to each other. Birth gives rise to death and death gives rise to birth . If we cry every time one of our cell s dies we will not have enough tears left. If every time one of our cells dies we organize a funeral then we will spend all our time organizing funerals. That is why we have to see that birth and death take place every moment in us. That is why the role of death is very important. That is about the first answer. But the second answer is better. Looking deeply you don 't see birth and death, you see that there is a continuation. If you study more deeply you will see more deeply.

Child: Dear Thay, how many hours of meditation do you practice daily and of which how many hours of sitting meditation and how many hours of walking meditation?

Thay: Every time I sit it is sitting meditation, whether in lotus position or half-lotus position or chrysanthemum position or any other kind of position that is sitting meditation. I am not a good mathematician so that is why I don 't count very well. My practice is to do like this. Any time that I sit down it is sitting meditation. I want to sit quietly and peacefully. During the time that I have to give a Dharma Talk, although I have to speak that is also sitting meditation. I sit with stability, with peace. You don't count the time of sitting in the sitting meditation hall only, you count the time of sitting everywhere. Sitting on the grass, sitting on the hill; any sitting is sitting meditation .

Any time you move your feet and touch the ground, any time you go from one place to another you can practice walking meditation. In Plum Village we are recommended to do like that. We do not do it just for one hour or one and a half hours a day, but all day long. Every time you walk it should be walking meditation because it brings you more happiness, more peace than the other kind of walking, in forgetfulness. Also we are not supposed to talk while we walk because we have to invest ourselves completely in the walking. In every step you give 100% of yourself so that you can produce the energy of stability and peace. If you talk then the energy is taken from the walking by the talking. Monks and nuns are always encouraged to walk like that. If you need to listen to someone you stop and listen with 100 % of yourself.

The practice in Plum Village is not to just have some time in the day for the practice. You try to practice the whole day. Whether you are cooking or washing you follow your breath. If you do things mindfully that is already meditation. In Plum Village we practice continuous meditation and we want to do everything in a relaxed way. Driving a car, talking on the telephone, washing our dishes - we want to do everything peacefully. We consider each activity as important as the time of sitting meditation . You can enjoy it. Now we are having a session of questions and answers. I do not think of it as hard labor. I think questions and answers can be a very joyful time. You ask a question and [put all my energy into listening to you and trying to understand you. I try my best to respond to your question with all my heart. We can have a lot of fun and happiness. We can have a lot of peace and calm doing that.

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Child: Dear Thay, what should we do when other children make fun of us?

Thay: There are many ways to practice. If you are a good practitioner, then you can go back to your mindful breathing and you just smile to the person who is making fun of you. That is the most beautiful response. You don't get angry, you just look at him and smile. It shows him that you are not affected by his attempt to make you angry. Although you don't say anything, even though you just look at him or her and smile, your message is very clear. I have peace in me. I am not going to get angry. You cannot provoke me to be angry. This is also a teaching for him or for her. You can do that only if you practice in advance. At home if someone says something or does something that is irritating, you go back to your breath. Breathing in, smiling. Breathing out, calming. You just look at him and say silently, why are you doing that? You don't say it out loud. You just look and smile and there is compassion in you. You see that the other person is not happy and that is why he is expressing his violence and irritation. Because you know that people who are happy don't do that. They don't make other people unhappy.

I wish all children who have come to Plum Village can practice this teaching. Every time there is an irritation in you, don 't say anything. Don't do anything. Just go back to yourself and practice mindful breathing. Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I am not going to get angry. Keep smiling like a flower and you will disarm everyone. They will not provoke you anymore. They will learn from you. Be a flower.

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When you provoke a flower, when you call a flower mean names, what will the flower do? The flower will continue to smi Ie to you. When someone comes and tries to make fun of you or provoke you, just practice "flower fresh." Breathing in, I am fresh as a flower. Breathing out, I am solid as a mountain. Thay has transmitted to you the flower and the mountain. Right? You have the flower and the mountain in yourself. Make good use of the flower and the mountain in you and you will not be affected by what other people say and what they do to you. If you begin to practice at your young age you will become a great practitioner in the future and you will be able to help so many people, including your children and your grandchildren .

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Heart to Heart

  Heart to Heart is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell — for you to express your thoughts and share your practice on a given topic. In this issue we focus on the Second Mindfulness Training (of the Five). For the Autumn 2007 issue, we invite you to write on the Third; please send your submissions, under 500 words, to editor@mindfulnessbell.org by July 1, 2007.

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The Second Mindfulness Training

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

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Aware of the realities of today’s global economy, I realize that as a U.S. citizen it is impossible for me to live without stealing from and exploiting someone else somewhere in the world. Though I try to live and consume mindfully, I know that my own lifestyle rests on the exploitation of others. It is, for instance, almost impossible to buy clothes not made in sweatshops, where the workers (mostly young women of color) are treated mercilessly — forced to work twelve-to sixteen-hour days, six to seven days a week; paid a pittance that is sometimes not even enough to live on; sometimes forced to work unpaid overtime; subject to sexual harassment by their bosses; and forbidden to form labor unions that might empower them to work for better conditions. Most likely, the computer on which I write this was also made under such conditions, as were many of the other things I use in my daily life. In order to cultivate mindfulness of these grim realities, when I put on my clothes in the morning, I look at the tags on my clothing to see where they were made. Then I try to visualize the workers, while reciting this gatha: “As I get dressed, I remember with gratitude those who made my clothes, and with compassion, the conditions under which they work.”

I do try to consume mindfully and ethically where I can--buying recycled paper goods, ecologically friendly cleaning products, cage-free eggs, leather-free shoes — but there are limits to what I can do as an individual. Understanding interbeing, I see that many of my choices are conditioned by the larger global society of which we are all a part. I cannot buy products that were not made in sweatshops if they are not available to me when I go shopping — unavailable, because our economy is built on the principle of maximizing profits ahead of human and ecological needs. It is a race to the bottom, where corporations compete with each other, scouring the world for ever cheaper labor, and thirdworld governments compete with each other to attract business by providing this ever cheaper labor. Even my ability to buy those ethically sound products that I can rests on my own economic privilege, the fact that I can afford to spend a little extra money and such economic privilege inevitably rests on a system where others lack such privilege, living lives of poverty and exploitation. Understanding interbeing, I see that however mindful my actions, I still participate in a society based on theft and exploitation.

Understanding interbeing, I see that if I wish to live a life where I and others do not steal from and exploit others, it is not enough to look at my own individual choices when I go shopping. We must work together, collectively, to change the shape of our global society — to create an economy where, at the very least, everyone has a job where they are paid a living wage, treated with dignity, and allowed to form unions that can give collective voice to their concerns. The public good must be given greater priority than private profit. Only then will we all be able to live in a way that we do not have to steal from and exploit others.

Matthew S. Williams Reverent Joy of the Heart Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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Thay often says that if you have never gone hungry, you won’t appreciate the value of food. You take your safety, your freedom to move around, for granted. When you live behind locked doors, and don’t feel safe on the streets or walking in the countryside alone, then you know how valuable is the freedom to move around safely. This is not a freedom that we enjoy in our country, South Africa.

I live in a country where it is not safe to leave your doors open. You normally lock your doors when you go out, but we have to keep them locked even when we are at home, because this is the best time for criminals — they don’t have to break and enter --they just enter. This is not a nice way to live — behind bars in a kind of private prison to keep you safe in your own home.

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We have one of the highest crime rates in the world, and much of it is violent crime. The situation in South Africa has come to be because of the past history and collective karma that we have created. Everybody knows the story of Apartheid. The past is past, but it is still with us in the present moment. We have to work very hard to change it and to create a better future. We have undergone major transformation in our country under the bodhisattva Nelson Mandela, but social change takes much longer than political change.

We live in a hard country, and it can make you a hard person, or it can soften you and make you more compassionate. I used to be hard and uncaring before I encountered the Dharma. Since then I am constantly trying to increase my compassion, open my heart wider, and become a bodhisattva. I think of the bodhisattvas who go to the darkest places in order to help, and sometimes it feels like this path was given to me by default. “Darkest Africa” is my home, and many bodhisattvas are needed on this continent, which is plagued by tribal wars, famine, AIDS, poverty, and crime.

As aspiring bodhisattvas, there are many teachings to help us cultivate our capacity to love:

  • The teaching on Buddha nature: All beings are the same, we all have the same potential, we all want happiness and don’t want suffering.
  • The teaching on cause and effect: We take responsibility for what we are experiencing without blaming others. It is our own karma; we are reaping what we sowed. Even if we personally did nothing in this particular lifetime, we may have contributed through our non-action, our apathy.
  • The teaching on dependent origination: Everything depends on causes and conditions. Nobody is inherently “bad” — people act in certain ways because of causes and conditions that are often beyond their control. This understanding helps us to cultivate compassion, to open the door of our heart so that we can love instead of hate. Thay’s poem “Please Call Me by My True Names” about the sea pirate, helped me a lot. Here is an excerpt:

I am the 12 year< old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving. Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one. Please call me by my true names so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open the door of compassion.

These wonderful teachings help us to transform our minds, our emotions, our ways of being. We do this for ourselves and for the world, to relieve ourselves of suffering and to create a better world in the future because happiness and suffering are universal. I know that if you suffer, you will make me suffer. We know that if we exploit people or take unfair advantage of them, oppress them, discriminate against them on grounds of race, culture, religion, gender, we are committing a kind of theft — we are stealing their dignity to be who they are. This will make them suffer and it will make us suffer, because one day their suffering will impact on our lives and become our suffering as well.

We are all creators. We are creating all the time. We are responsible for creating the kind of world that we live in, and this is why the Mindfulness Trainings are so important. We must learn from the mistakes of the past so that we can create a better future based on love not fear, on giving not getting, on helping not harming, on supporting not exploiting, on building up not breaking down, on creating the conditions for happiness not suffering. Then we can all live in the Pure Land. The Buddha said:

If you want to know your past lives, Look into your present condition. If you want to know your future, Look into your present actions.

Carol Leela Verity True Stream of Light Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

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