Washington

Thich Nhat Hanh's Fall 1995 Visit to North America

Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and ten monks and nuns from Plum Village arrived in Los Angeles on September 10 to begin a month-long tour of North America. Their first week was in southern California, dedicated to the Vietnamese community—a four-day retreat near San Bernadino and a Sunday public lecture in Santa Ana. On Monday, September 18, Jim Fauss and Arnie Kotler met Thay and the Plum Village entourage at the San Francisco Airport. Jim drove the ten monks and nuns to Camp Swig, an hour away, while Arnie showed Thay and Sister Chan Khong to the Aiport Hotel, where, after a short rest, Thay met with Alix Madrigal of the San Francisco Chronicle for an interview about the just-published Living Buddha, Living Christ. The interview was warm and convivial, and Ms. Madrigal's report is reprinted in the pages that follow. mb15-ThichNhatHanh

Thay arrived at Camp Swig, a beautiful, rustic summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by redwoods and live oaks, in time for dinner, and then joined the 550 retreatants in the camp assembly hall to chant an invocation of Kwan Yin's name, joined by the Plum Village monks and nuns. Thay then lovingly introduced each monk and each nun, followed by an orientation talk by Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina, and Arnie on mindful breathing, walking, eating, and bowing. During the four-day retreat, Thay expounded on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, as well as teachings on the four mantras (see "True Presence," page one) and a beautiful story about a young man named David and an angel named Angelina. The retreat went seamlessly well thanks to the lovely presence of the monks and nuns and the gentle guidance of many members of the Order of Interbeing.

On Saturday, September 23, Thay led a Day of Mindfulness at Spirit Rock Meditation Center north of San Francisco, for 2,200 people. From Sunday through Wednesday, Thay and the Plum Village disciples led a Day of Mindfulness and retreat for the Vietnamese community at Kim Son Monastery near San Jose. On Tuesday, September 26, Thay gave a public lecture to nearly 4,000 people at the Berkeley Community Theater. The evening began with Betsy Rose singing "Breathing In, Breathing Out" and "In My Two Hands," and, following Wes Nisker's joyful introduction, Thay and the monks and nuns again invoked the name of Kwan Yin. Thay offered the four mantras and the newly printed "mantra Tshirts" were made available to reinforce the practice.

On Wednesday, Thay and Sister Chan Khong went to the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco, where Thay was to participate in several panel discussions and give a keynote address for the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev. On September 17, USA Weekend reported, "Next week in San Francisco, when Margaret Thatcher, Vaclav Havel, and George Bush meet at the State of the World Forum, they'll be addressed by a diminutive Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has gained a large following among Americans. Official events include a half day of practicing 'mindfulness,' the heart of Buddhist meditation." In his opening remarks, President Gorbachev expressed particular appreciation "that Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual leaders are present at the Forum." Joan Halifax presents an account of the conference on the page that follows. Before leaving San Francisco, Thay was interviewed by Michael Toms of New Dimensions Radio, Jerry Brown on alive, callin radio broadcast, and Ram Dass, for future TV broadcast.

On Tuesday, October 3, Thay et al. flew to Newark and went by van to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, to lead a 4-day retreat for 800 people on "The Buddha's Teachings on Love." On Monday, October 9, Thay lectured to a standing room only crowd of 3,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City, organized by the New York Community of Mindfulness. Three days later he lectured at the Washington, D.C. Hebrew Congregation to 2,200 people, organized by the Washington Mindfulness Community. At both of these East Coast lectures, as in Berkeley, a palpable silence filled the room, where practitioners and non-practitioners alike basked in the Dharma, so beautifully presented by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

After a meeting with State Department officials, an interview by Pythia Peay of the Religion News Service, and a lecture in Vietnamese in Arlington, Virginia, Thay and his monks and nuns flew back to France on October 17, preparing for a well-deserved rest before beginning the winter practice period at Plum Village. On the pages that follow are accounts by a monk and a nun about the retreats, and tastes of the Gorbachev conference, the State Department visit, and other moments along the way.

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Peace, Salaam, Shalom

By Susan Hadler mb41-PeaceSalaam1

On September 24, 2005, approximately 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the war in Iraq. People clustered into various affinity groups including the Buddhist one that Sangha member Susan Hadler joined.

We sang as we walked down Sixteenth Street towards the White House, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.” I sang to Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon, wearing his name on a tag around my neck, given to me at the church where we gathered before the march. Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon was twenty-six years old when he died on April 22, 2003. A beloved son, a brother, a friend, maybe a father. I also sang to my father who was twentyfive when he died in April 1945 in World War II when I was an infant. I sang with the mothers and fathers walking with us whose children were killed recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We walked together with our knowledge of war and our message of peace: clergy and laypeople of all faiths, Code Pink women, anarchists dressed in black, Buddhist monks accompanying our steps with drums, brothers and sisters coming from Alaska to Florida. I walked with the Buddhist affinity group, thankful to be part of a community practicing walking, singing, sitting, and breathing peace. We walked with the larger Sangha, gathered to hold in mind and heart the names of all the dead in the war on Iraq and to present those names with a letter to President Bush as a plea to end the killing and to use our resources for helping people live.

We sat in front of the White House, peacefully and joyfully sharing food and water. We did not move when the police told us to leave. The police picked up Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, and carried her to a paddy wagon. She was smiling. They arrested people in batches, handcuffed them, put them into paddy wagons, and drove off. We sat on the curb and sang peace songs to Mr. Bush and the White House and Congress and to each other. Walking. Sitting. Singing. Smiling. Our practice nourished us and gave us strength. The atmosphere within and around us was peaceful, dedicated, generous.

Prisoner 5-168

Our turn came. Our Buddhist affinity group stood in a row, each with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. When it was my turn I smiled and bowed to the young police officer, turning as he attached the handcuffs. As prisoner 5-168, I entered a DC Metro bus borrowed from the city due to the unexpectedly large number of people being arrested, 374 in all. A police escort led the bus to the park police headquarters in Anacostia.

Our bus was our jail cell for about ten hours. We were a joyful group of forty-eight women of all ages and colors, singing, talking, sharing stories. Those who could scratched the noses of those who couldn’t, as we worked to wriggle out of our handcuffs. The young police officer assigned to us tried to be tough but ended up becoming our friend. As time went on my slight headache worsened and I lay down on the back seat, a woman sharing her pillow with me. I followed my breath in and out, and I felt Thay’s presence, reminding us to keep breathing. He knew where we were and I felt his prayers and energy. I began to relax.

About one p.m., we were led inside a garage split into two rooms by a chainlink fence, women on one side, men on the other. Sangha sister Roberta and I began doing mindful movements and a circle formed. As the outside doors closed, we knew we were locked up in a filthy, greasy place, but our minds were free and we were able to help each other stay calm. Often during that night and since then I have sent love and courage to those who are imprisoned.

We Are Free

Finally the police called our numbers to be processed. Inside the police headquarters more information was taken and for a short time we were put into tiny dirty cells, about seven to a cell. Called by number for fingerprinting and photographing, we were then given back our names and our property.

I looked out the door into the four a.m. night and saw a taxi waiting, and Maia and Bob of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship welcoming us. Our taxi driver was a South African who had been arrested many times in his country’s efforts toward liberation.

Because we were a Sangha and because we practiced, we were peace and we were free and we were home every step of the way.

Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, lives in Alexandria, Virginia. This was her first arrest.

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