Sangha Solstice Celebration

By Michel Colville & Fred Allendorf

Open Way Sangha in Montana has celebrated the Winter Solstice together for the last four years. Winter Solstice is the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It has been an important ceremonial time for humans since the dawn of our species. Our celebration was initiated by Rolly Meinholtz to celebrate the beginning of the return of the sun in the midst of the snow—short days and long nights of a Montana winter. Solstice gives us a wonderful opportunity to give gifts of the spirit: retelling a seasonal memory, a song or instrumental music, a poem, a painting, a dance or mime, or sharing a special story; all to help celebrate the advent of winter and the return of light.

Our celebration begins Saturday night closest to the solstice with a sitting period and precept recitation. Last year our celebration fell upon the full moon. Sunday morning begins with a welcome to newcomers who did not spend the night at the lodge and a sitting period while waiting for the winter sun to rise. Our walking meditation that follows this early morning meditation is perhaps the most moving part of our solstice festival. We walk through the woods to an evergreen tree that has been selected by Rolly. The snow is deep and we often have to struggle to get to the tree. Once at the site, one of us talks of the hardships that wild animals face in the winter: the cold, the lack of food, and the many accidents that can befall them. We sing in celebration of these animals and each other. Each person then places a gift to the animals on the tree to help them survive until spring, and says a few words about what this giving means for them. Then we return to the lodge to share in a potluck that mirrors the giving of food to the animals.

In the afternoon, we come together for a formal tea ceremony and a sharing of gifts of the heart. The ceremony that Rolly has developed for this is beautiful and moving. The room is dark except for the candles on the altar. As each person comes forward to give their intangible gift, they light a candle to symbolize the return of the light that heralds the coming of spring. They then share a song, a poem, or whatever they wish that has special meaning to them.

As each person comes forward the light in the room becomes stronger, just as each day adds a small amount of light to bring us to the Spring Equinox. By the end of the ceremony, the room is quite bright as the altar blazes with many candles. We end with songs of jubilation for the wonderful season and the beautiful friends we are able to share it with.

Michel Colville and Fred Allendorf, members of the Order of Interbeing, live in Missoula, Montana.

Planting a Sunflower Paradise

By Wendy Johnson mb19-PlantingLast summer in the Green Gulch garden, we planted a glorious  "house" of sunflowers on our Family Day. We chose sunflowers from all over the world and started them in early March in our greenhouse. By the beginning of May they were ready to transplant. We asked the young people to design a secret garden house made of flowers where they could play all summer. The house was a great success! The children chose to plant in a circle. First we dug the earth and added compost. Then the children drew the blueprint for the house, spreading garden sweet-lime on the soil so they knew where to plant. The house was 12 feet in diameter with four pathways leading in. Two wider paths might be better since the sunflowers eventually closed them off. The center was left unplanted so the children could play games and have tea parties. We staggered the sunflowers, one foot apart.

You can also plant a rectangular house with one gateway. Plant two rows, also with staggered spacing, and sow heavenly blue morning glory seeds in between. The morning glory will twine up the sunflower stems and make a beautiful flower wall for the playhouse. Once the sunflowers grow tall, climb a stepladder with a friend on the opposite "wall" of the house. Tie a string around the upper neck of the sunflowers and send it back and forth to your friend, weaving a web ceiling. The morning glory vines will soon climb across the string and create a woven flower roof.

Sunflowers and morning glories do not love to be transplanted. We did it because of the ravenous, seed-eating birds of our farm. If you prepare your ground with good, aged compost or manure, you can plant directly in a small trench. Water every day and once your seeds sprout, keep them well-weeded. We recommend Russian Mammoth (the old-fashioned, huge-headed), Tarahumara White Seeded (single disc head with pure white seed), Prado Red (dark mahogany red, multi-headed), Gloriosa polyheaded sunflowers (multi-headed golden), and Mexican Sunflower Tithonia (bright orange). The best commercial seed sources are: Cook's Garden Seeds, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148, (802) 824-3400; Bountiful Garden Seed Co. , 5798 Ridgewood Rd. , Willits, CA 95490, (707) 459-6410; Seeds of Change, P.O. Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87506, (505) 438-8080; Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 30 Irene Street, Torrington, CT 06790, (860) 482-3638 .

After we planted our house, we found a book full of wonderful ideas, Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages by Sharon Lovejoy, 1993, Interweave Press (800-272-2193). Instructions for planting a sunflower sanctuary are also available from Vaughn Lovejoy , 364 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT 841 11 . Happy gardening!

Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment. is a Dharma teacher and a gardener living at Green Gulch Zen Center in Northern California.

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Maple Forest Blooms

By Sister Annabel Laity The young banana plant has two small leaves. They are the first to arrive, and nourish the plant's early stages. Then, they wither and fall, giving way to larger leaves which allow the tree to develop and bear fruit. The budding practice in Maple Forest Monastery is like those first small leaves. If we succeed in our practice, Maple Forest will blossom and bear fruit. If we take root, Maple Forest will grow into a monastery where monks and nuns live and a Dharma Center where lay practitioners live.

We first residents are ten monks and nuns, living in two borrowed houses and supported by a local lay Sangha. We are awestruck by the exceptional beauty of the countryside near Woodstock, Vermont. We wish to live happily and in harmony in order to be worthy of the natural beauty, our ancestral teachers, and the laypeople who support us. We know that this is the best foundation we can lay for the Buddhist Sangha here.

As much as possible, Maple Forest follows the schedule of Plum Village. Formal daily training begins at 5:30 a.m. and continues through 10:00 p.m. During the day, we train in sitting meditation, reciting the sutras, discussing and studying the novice and bhiksuni precepts and fine manners, working mindfully (mostly housekeeping at this time of year), eating and drinking with full awareness, walking mindfully in the snow (we hope someone will introduce skiing meditation in the future), listening to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh recorded a week earlier in Plum Village, and organizing weekly Days of Mindfulness for the local people.

As monks and nuns, we are learning to live as free persons in order to help others. We do our best to live simply and devote ourselves to daily training in the practice of mindfulness. Our training nurtures our abilities to live awake and present to the moment as well as to be happy and to develop the Six Harmonies.

Practicing harmony of the body, we live together and act in harmony with those around us. If someone has not tidied up after themselves, rather than say, "Who left that terrible mess?", we tidy up for them. Practicing harmony of sharing, we share material things as well as experience of the practice. If someone in the community receives clothes and already has enough, she hands the new clothes on to a sister or brother who does not. If someone in the community receives food, he shares it with the whole community.

Practicing harmony of speech, we reflect on the effect of our words before speaking. When correcting a sister or brother, we do not use harsh words. We do not cause division between our sisters and brothers by our speech. Practicing harmony of precepts, we recite our precepts and fine manners regularly. If we see that we have infringed the precepts or fine manners, we repent before the Sangha.

When we see someone else infringe the precepts, we correct them with love and understanding. We know that the precepts and fme manners are a concrete manifestation of mindfulness. We give our whole heart to the practice of mindfulness. Practicing harmony of mind, we think about each other in order to understand each other. When someone is suffering, we think about how we can best help them. Practicing harmony of view, we know that the understanding of one person can never be as complete as the combined understanding of many. We use the collective wisdom of the Sangha, which we call "looking with Sangha eyes." We reach decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote. Practicing the Six Harmonies, we learn to live together as milk mixes with water. If we are a drop of oil, we will find it difficult to mix with water, but if we are milk, we will become one with the water. It means that your suffering and your happiness are my suffering and my happiness.

Such warmth and joy as this, generated by the practice, bear witness to the fact that the heart of Thay Nhat Hanh's teaching is beating in North America. For this the monks and nuns have to thank the core and extended Order of Interbeing, whose members come and give wholehearted spiritual support.

Maple Forest is particularly fortunate to have many children participate in the weekend Dharma talks, walking meditation, and mindful meals. The children are practicing well: listening to the bell, being mindful of the words "yes" and "thank you" as they walk, eating in silence for fifteen minutes, and listening to the teachings. They play indoors and also out in the snow, and bring much happiness and freshness to everyone. Many children are interested in the monastic life, and we answer their questions.

The monks and nuns want to be available to lead the Buddhist practice for laypeople several times a week. In the future, we will lead retreats in the Dharma Center. In the nearby town of Woodstock is the Mindfulness Practice Center. The monks and nuns will sometimes give nonsectarian teachings on mindfulness here. Presently we are in touch with the Correction Services to find out how monks, nuns, and laypeople from this Sangha can help in the correction facilities in Vermont.

mb21-MapleWe hope that before too long you can join us for walking meditation in this beautiful part of the world. Whenever we walk in the sunshine on the snow-covered hill near our home, we feel we are in a pure land. The forest in which the nuns' house is found is very still. Each pine tree stands straight and tall, holding the snow on its branches without complaint. When the snow melts and the sun shines, the air is fragrant with pine. We hope that all practitioners, monastic and lay, who come to Maple Forest will grow strong in the practice of being themselves as these trees practice being trees.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, has been a nun in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh since 1988 and has translated many of Thay's books into English.

Illustration by Anneke Brinkerink.

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A Happy Guinea Pig

By Beverly Alexander I have had the pleasure both of owning a guinea pig and of being one. Greg Ascue, Jim Needles, and I were among the first to participate in a formal, year-long Order of Interbeing aspirant training program.

As part of our commitment, we all trained and acted as Doans (meditation hall caretakers). We set up the meditation hall, greeted guests, and tidied up afterwards. We were also part of the Mindfulness Trainings recitation ceremony team-Sangha Karman, Assistant, Head of Ceremony (reader), or Bellmaster.

Therese Fitzgerald and Arnie Kotler set aside time to have a series of meetings with us. We wrote about why we wanted to join the Order of Interbeing. We prepared and presented talks on the Three Jewels. The practice of giving talks on Buddhist subjects was very valuable. It helped us to examine these ideas deeply. We received the advice and encouragement of Arnie and Therese.

I think an aspirant training program is wonderful. So wonderful that there should be more of it! I know this is difficult to pull off with everyone's busy schedules. If possible, aspirants should have occasional day retreats together, or even a weekend! Our group shared a weekend together which, sadly, I missed.

Perhaps aspirants could write essays on practicing with the essential teachings of Buddhism, such as the Four Noble Truths, and some of the sutras. A practice journal would help reinforce our practice and help us see where we have come from and how we are growing.

We could have a community service component too. It could be very flexible, taking into account the fact that some practitioners might have young families or other responsibilities. Other skills to be learned might be those useful for facilitating meetings and general skills for establishing and/or maintaining a Sangha.

This was a nourishing experience and I recommend it to all who love Thay's teachings enough to make a deep commitment to nourish the teachings not only in ourselves, but others.

New Order member Beverly Alexander, True Holy Insight, practices with the Community of Mindful Living in Berkeley, California.

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Poem: Ascutney Retreat 2000

The mountaintop with her autumn
trees, A silent ski lift, 2250 feet to the top.
Laborious steps to the summit then down.
The warm sun, green grass, wild flowers.
A monk slowly eating alone at a picnic table.
Small children playing with a ball.
My eyes with glasses to see them all.

A mindful silent meal,
Dharma talk, sitting meditation,
Practitioners slowly walking to and fro.
Not clinging to the past,
Not pursuing the future.
It's wonderful to be alive.

Bill Menza

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Generation Present Moment

Mindfulness Camp for Teenagers at Deer Park By Annie Tran

It was once said that, "This generation, will be generation X," that there is no hope for the future, that we as teenagers both will and have failed to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, our parents, and our teachers.


Deer Park's Teenage Mindfulness Camp has defied everything that has been said above. We the teenagers have proven not only to ourselves but also to the world (as a community, as a Sangha) that we have the capacity to continue on the path  of understanding and love instead of consumption and ignorance. Deer Park has truly created, a "Pure Land" for teenagers to take refuge in and to be a part of.

On the first night of the Mindfulness camp, we had the opportunity to sit down together in groups of 3-4 people to get to know each other. To me, such a simple act, to sit down and talk to each other with open ears and open minds despite the fact that we didn't know a thing about one other, was incredible. In that very meditation hall, were the people who share the same aspiration as I do; to carry out the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, of ourselves, and of our future.

The following day, we were awakened at 6:30 a.m. by numerous sounds of the bell, which was what I thought, a great way to wake up! We gathered together in the Oak Grove to do morning exercises. After that, we were off to conquer the mountains of Deer Park (in other words we went hiking). About an hour into the hike we all took a break on the rocks to have breakfast with one another. After having breakfast together, we hiked to a vast field where we heard what we thought were a lot of Rattle Snakes. We sat together on the rocks and listened to Sr. Ha Nghiem. She fust shared with us a story from the book Old Path White Clouds, then a very simple but powerful dharma talk. She spoke about our minds, how they could be compared to gardens, and that everything inside our minds are like seeds and everyday we water them unknowingly. I think after that talk, we were a lot less fearful of the rattle snakes (watching movies watered our seeds of being scared of these slithery beings).

I consider the hike, the peak of the camp, because in many ways we had to work together to get through the natural obstacles of the trail. Holding each other's hands, sharing our water bottles, and warning each other about the trail ahead, eager to accomplish this bike together as one. I remember at the midst of the hike, everyone was anticipating 3:00, because at that time we were scheduled for Total Relaxation! Everyone was looking forward to that! When it was time for total relaxation we all gathered in the meditation hall and laid down. Two minutes after Sr. Thang Nghiem invited the bell, about half the room fell  dead asleep! That's what I call total relaxation!

That same night we had a bonfire at the site of the bell tower. It was time for us just to be together; knowing it was our last night. We sat arund the fire, heard stories, sang songs, Listening to a Dharma talk under the trees and cracked a few jokes! After all the excitement simmered down, the full moon happened to rise over the mountains. It was then, that we all learned the true beauty of the moon. I had never truly enjoyed the moon. Before that night, it was just another occurrence that I saw every month, but that I was not much aware of. I took it for granted. I realized that night, to see things without being aware is a great shame.

For many people, that night was their first session of Moon Meditation. It was very quiet. All that was heard were the sounds of everyone following their breathing and the flickering of the fire. The moon was especially bright and the atmosphere of a community was present. As an adolescent having these feelings (feelings of peace, happiness and harmony) and this type of atmosphere, is very rare. We cherished these moments together so much.

The camp was very authentic. It gave us the opportunity to sit together and share our hopes and dreams, our fears and sufferings. We had the ability to speak freely and to know that we weren't going to be judged. Everyone was sincerely nomished, if not by the brothers and sisters, or their fellow peers, then simply by the environment. I have seen so clearly that we will NOT be generation X, but generation NOW. Someone once said, "A single star can light the dark, a single smile can warm a heart, a single hand can lift a life, a single voice can speak the truth, and a single life can make a difference." If one single person can do this, imagine what a SANGHA of teenagers can do?! Deer Park has cultivated seeds of compassion, seeds of love, and seeds of understanding in us, and has watered them so skillfully. Each teenager who was a part of this camp has left with a new garden, full of beautiful blooming flowers . There is only one thing that I would change about this camp . . .. The length! I wish it were a bit longer. I am glad to know that Deer Park will continue being here for everyone young or old to be a part of. To feel such feelings of peace and joy is a great gift, and everyday that I am at Deer Park, I am offered that gift! The present moment is a gift! That is why it is called the "present" moment! Thank you for being present!

Annie Tran, Clear Water of the Heart, is 15 years old.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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Apple Meditation

Adam  Bernstein I lead a jazz department at a private school in Brooklyn, New York.  Our school is very overcrowded and the atmosphere is often tense. The students and faculty often speak of the tension and when an opportunity to slow down occurs, we all    benefit.

I have just begun my fifth year at the school and have always used mindfulness practice as a part of my teaching. Every year I’ve led meditation workshops for the students (grades 7 - 12) and many of them claim to enjoy it. They have interesting questions about spiritual life and they seem to be searching for a way to be more at home within themselves.

Recently I’ve begun to sound the bell in almost all my classes. I explain that this is a time to come back to ourselves, to relax and focus. I tell the students it is a time to enjoy doing nothing. That is a real surprise to them — I want them to do nothing! We breathe together for a few breaths and it never fails to settle all of us down. It’s very helpful to the spirit of the class and often there is a light humorous feeling. Many of the students think I’m a bit loony but I don’t mind. It’s true, I am.

Our school decided to have a Peace One Day assembly in solidarity with the program endorsed by the United Nations. I was asked to lead a short meditation so I decided to offer an apple eating meditation. We bought 600 organic Gala apples from the local food co-op. We really enjoyed washing them! We passed them out at the assembly and I spoke about mindful eating. The students and faculty were happy to be doing something so unusual and were very attentive to their apple. When I told them to take the first bite, a loud crunch sounded and all 600 of us began laughing. Everyone remembers that assembly to this day.


I have much gratitude for the practice and feel genuine happiness sharing it with my students and co-workers.

Adam Bernstein, Radiant Joy of the Heart.

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My Mind is a Stage

Introducing Mindfulness to High School Students and Teachers Richard  Brady

I grew up on Chicago’s Northshore, the area which, I later learned, had the highest teenage suicide rate in the country at the time. My own high school years were uneventful, but my younger brother’s were very troubled. I suspect that this was a major reason why I chose to devote my life to working with teenagers. After teaching high school mathematics for thirty years, I realized that there was something more I needed to do with my life. I took a year off to discover what that might be. Only a few weeks after receiving a leave of absence I found out what it was. My friend Sue Anne called to tell me about the tensions the students and teachers were experiencing in the schools in her area. “Someone should teach them meditation,” I heard myself reply. It immediately dawned on me, I was that someone.


The following is an account of this teaching and some of its outcomes.

Whether or not you are a teacher, if you would like to share mindfulness practice with others, you may be able to use some of my ideas. Perhaps you can share them with teachers you know.

During the last three years I have been given a number of opportunities to introduce mindfulness practice to students and teachers in my Quaker high school as well as to student and faculty groups in other private and public high schools. I usually advertise my presentations under the banner of stress reduction, since this is a fairly widespread issue for both high school students and faculty. Underlying these presentations are the following premises: high school students and their teachers are seldom aware of how their minds work. When given the opportunity to examine their minds, they enjoy doing so. The experience will in many cases reveal sources of stress which meditation can alleviate.

An Experiment in Awareness

I have presented a forty-five minute assembly to my entire high school and a workshop of similar length to high school faculty members in two other schools. In each case I have begun by suggesting that our minds play a significant role in our wellbeing. I then lead an exercise to give people an understanding of how this may be. “When I talk about mind,” I say, “I am talking about awareness.” It helps people to think of their awareness as a stage. On that stage a variety of things make an appearance: thoughts, feelings, perceptions, physical sensations. I tell the group that we will conduct a short experiment and watch what is playing on our personal stages. After the group gets comfortable, I ask them to close their eyes and tune in to whatever may be on their stage of awareness. I ask them simply to try to watch whatever thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations arise during the next few minutes, observing them, but not getting carried away by them.

After five minutes I invite a bell and ask people to slowly open their eyes. Then I ask for a show of hands to a series of questions. How many of you were aware of physical sensations: sounds, smells, tastes, your contact with your seat, your heartbeat, your breathing, your feet, your mouth, you hair? How many of you were aware of emotions or thoughts? More than one thought? More than five? More than ten? How many of you saw a thought arise, a thought end? These are very intriguing questions for many of the participants. Returning to feelings, I ask how many people experienced negative feelings, neutral feelings, positive feelings, then negative thoughts, neutral ones, positive ones. Focusing on the negative feelings and thoughts, I ask how many had to do with things that have already happened, things we are upset or guilty about. Usually quite a few relate to this. I then ask how many negative thoughts and feelings had to do with the future, things we are anxious about. This also gets a good response. Finally, I ask how many negative thoughts and feelings had to do with the present. As a teacher, I want to be open to the discomfort some may be having with this experience.

What our minds do during this particular five minute interval of our waking life is repeated about 70,000 times each year. If we multiply the number of negative thoughts and feelings we observed by 70,000, we might understand why the mind plays such a significant role in creating stress. However, if we are able to become more aware of the negative thoughts and feelings that enter our minds and develop ways to replace them with positive ones, we will be able to live happier, less stressful lives.

I explain that meditation is one way to help our minds turn more readily to healthy thoughts.

Math  Meditation

At this point in the presentation, in order to make a connection between meditation and the high school experience, I speak about how I came to do meditation. I tell the audience the following story. When I started reading The Miracle of Mindfulness fifteen years ago, I found Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings so compelling that I began starting each math class with a short reading from the book. The students greatly appreciated these readings, so I went on to read them The Sun My Heart. It all sounded great. However, the way of living portrayed by Thay in these books felt so different from my own that it seemed to me that I could not begin living this way just through reading.

At the end of the school year when the seniors returned from three weeks off campus working on senior projects, one of them offered a presentation on his three-week project at the Zen Center of Washington, DC. Here, I thought, is someone who is actually doing meditation. Perhaps I can learn something about how it works from him. The student, named Chris, began his presentation by telling us that a classmate and he had been reading Eastern religion and philosophy books since seventh grade. Recently Chris had discovered the local Zen center, and “decided to put my body where my mind was.” I felt Chris talking directly to me.

Chris spoke of his experience with tremendous enthusiasm. He showed pictures and recounted some dramatic experiences during a three day intensive meditation retreat he attended as part of his project. At the conclusion of his talk, another student, noting Chris’ enthusiasm, asked him whether, besides doing a lot of sitting on cushions now, his life was different in other ways. Chris first responded by saying that meditation had affected him in many ways. However, most were so subtle he couldn’t put them into words. After a pause, he went on, “I can tell you that I am less angry.” Chris’ presentation, especially this last statement, was very moving to me. As I thanked him, I made a promise to him and to myself that I would try to meditate. Thus Chris became my first meditation teacher.

During the following six years I met Thay, helped establish the Washington Mindfulness Community and attended two Plum Village retreats. On returning from the second, I was invited to give an assembly about my experiences there. This assembly featured a slide show and stories about Plum Village life. I concluded my presentation with a brief meditation focused on the breath.

I conclude the personal part of my presentation by reading from an article which Audrey, a senior, and I wrote for The Mindfulness Bell. In the article we described how a few days after the Plum Village assembly, as our high school sat in its weekly Quaker meeting for worship, Audrey spontaneously rose and spoke

out of the silence. She told the students how closing her eyes and focusing on her breath had dispelled her feelings of stress late the previous night. She concluded, “The action is so little, but the reward is tremendous.”

This last story provides a good opportunity for me to invite the participants to move, as I did, from learning about meditation to practicing it. I then lead the group in a ten minute guided meditation, meditation, using Thich Nhat Hanh’s gatha:

In/Out Deep/Slow Calm/Ease Smile/Release Present Moment/Wonderful Moment

I prepare the group for the meditation by having them sit erect, shoulders relaxed, both feet on the floor. Then I ask them to focus on their breath and to coordinate their in and out breaths with the phrases of the meditation verse. I use a bell to begin and end the meditation and to signal each transition. At the conclusion of the meditation, I ask the participants to turn to a neighbor and share their experience.

I have found this short introduction to be effective in emphasizing the importance of awareness of the mind and using this awareness to tune the mind to healthy channels. I’ve encountered a variety of reactions. In one faculty workshop, a teacher told me he could not even begin to focus on his breath and the words I gave him because he was so riled up about an interaction he had just had with a student. This verse is one of many possible meditations, I replied. The breath can also assist us in being with strong emotions, helping us hold them in our awareness without getting lost in them. However, our meditation practice needs to be strong in order to do this. If we are able to embrace our emotions with our breath, we may learn some valuable things about ourselves and relate to our emotions in a less stressful way in the process.

Basketball  Meditation

The members of the Physical Education Department at my school were not able to come to my meditation assembly, so they invited me to do a special workshop for them. I started in a similar fashion, inviting them to observe their minds. Then, since the group was interested in developing concentration and it was lunch time, I invited them to do eating meditation with raisins. Later, the boys’ varsity basketball coach asked if there might be something I could do with his team members to help them improve their foul shooting. A week later I was with the team as they stood in a row facing a basket, each with a basketball in his hands. I asked the players to assume a comfortable position with eyes closed. When I blew the coach’s whistle, they began watching whatever was passing through their awareness and continued doing this until I blew the whistle a second time, five minutes later. Although they never repeated this meditation during subsequent practices, the coach told me the team’s foul shooting did improve.

Encountering  Suffering

Several years ago an invitation to share mindfulness practice with her twelfth grade class came to me from a religion teacher at another Quaker school. The class had been studying the events leading up to the Holocaust and would soon be reading disturbing, graphic accounts of the Holocaust. To help prepare the students to be open to the suffering they would be encountering, I told them that mindfulness practice could provide them a way to be with suffering without being overwhelmed by it. I described the process of holding emotions in one’s awareness like a mother cradling a crying infant, holding the emotions with great tenderness.  Class members then chose personal experiences of suffering, perhaps an argument with a friend, or receiving a low test grade,. After establishing themselves firmly in their awareness of their breath, they got in touch with their suffering and held it gently for five minutes. Afterwards, some students chose to share their experiences with the class.

I took a different approach in working with two other classes. The eleventh/twelfth grade Peace Studies class students had gotten advance word that I would be coming to teach meditation. I was a surprise guest in ninth grade English class. I began both classes by telling the students that I taught high school math and also taught meditation to students and teachers. I wondered what reasons their teacher might have had for inviting me to teach meditation to their class. In both classes a number of hands immediately shot up. I took notes on all the students had to say. When they finished, I used the students’ comments to shape my remarks and, to some extent, my choice of meditations. One student in the English class suggested that I had been invited by his teacher because the class tended to be restless. This gave me a great opportunity to invite the class to do a short meditation on restlessness.


Following my meditation assembly I offered a twelve week introductory mindfulness course, which a ninth grader from my school and two faculty members took. Like Chris fourteen years before, this ninth grader is a young man who needs to deal with his anger. Mindfulness practice has provided him a much-needed tool for doing so. My two teacher friends reported that meditation, when they take the time to do it, gives them relief from stress they experience at work and at home. A few other students, who have not pursued meditation in a formal way, have mentioned using it to reduce their anxiety before tests. All of the students and teachers have experienced meditation as an inner resource which they might recall and draw upon at some future time when their lives signal to them a need for change.

Over the last few years my own understanding and practice of mindfulness has been affected by my teaching experiences. I began using the stage metaphor for consciousness as a way of helping my students be more able to step back and observe their minds. The more often I use this image, the more real it becomes for me. These days I find it easier to get some distance from the goings-on on my own stage.

My teaching has also developed. I first approached my students with the notion that negative thoughts and feelings not only lead to stress but are intrinsically bad. Watching their negativity was part of a sales pitch I was making for the guided meditation to follow, a means of changing the mind’s channel. Now I find sitting back and just watching whatever is on stage tremendously important in and of itself. I continue to call it an experiment in my presentations, though I see it as a valuable skill to develop and employ. To the extent that I am able to watch without engaging, I have less need to tune in to a different show. I can see both negative and positive scenes on my stage as transitory products of my mind, whose primary significance lies in what I make of them. I no longer present the guided meditation as a means of escaping negative mind states. Rather, it is a form of enrichment, a pick-me-up, which my students and I might use at any time.

My foremost goal in teaching meditation and mathematics is the same, to offer my students opportunities to be mindful – mindful of their minds, of their breath, of mathematics and math problems, of other students. If I am successful, students will find their own personal meaning and values in their experiences. The effects will mostly be subtle and evident only over time, just as they have been for me.


Dear fellow teachers and educators you may be interested in joining the Mindfulness in Education Network (MiEN) listserv by sending a message to

Richard Brady, True Dharma Bridge, is a member of the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Mindfulness in Education Network. He teaches high school math in Wash, D.C.

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Watering Seeds: An Exercise for Children

By Terry Masters

This is an exercise I have done with the children I teach. Please adapt it to work in your situation. The teacher’s comments are in bold, the children’s responses are in italics.

Here is what each child will need to do this experiment:
2 clear wide mouth jars or plastic cups or cut the top off a clear plastic water bottle
2 paper towels
8 lima or pinto beans
1 permanent marker (for everyone to use)

We’re going to plant some bean seeds.

Note: Demonstrate and help the children as you give them the following directions: Wrap the inside of one of your cups with a paper towel. Carefully put soil inside the cup, behind the paper towel. Fill it about 3/4 full. Place 4 beans between the paper towel and the side of the cup. Make a lot of space between the beans. Like us, beans like freedom! Please do the same with the other cup.

Note: We use clear cups and paper towels so that children can watch as the beans grow roots and stems.

Let’s name your bean seeds. One cup will be the home for your Happiness Beans; you will name your beans after ways that make you truly happy. For example, does it make you happy when others smile at you? Does it make you happy when you smile at others? If so, you might like to name one of your beans “Smile”! Other names for your Happiness Beans might be mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, hope, sharing. What makes you truly happy? Playing with my dog, being with my friends, sharing, irises.

With the permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Your other cup will be the home for your Unhappiness Beans; you will name yourbeans afterways that do not make you happy. For example, does it make you unhappy when you or someone you know is angry? If anger makes you unhappy, you might like to name one of your beans, “Anger.” Other names for the Unhappiness Beans might be stinginess, fear, sadness, impatience, hurrying, jealousy. What makes you unhappy? Fights, war, stealing, not sharing.

With our permanent marker write the names of your beans on your cup.

Discussion: These beans are seeds. If the causes and conditions are right, they will grow into bean plants. What causes and conditions do you think need to happen to make the bean seeds grow into bean plants? Soil, air, light, and water. You have Happiness and Unhappiness bean seeds. Which bean seeds do you want to grow? Only the Happiness seeds. How can you help the Happiness bean seeds grow? Give them what they need: soil, air, water, and light. How can you keep the Unhappiness bean seeds from growing? Do not give them soil, air, water, and/or light.

Help the children water their Happiness Beans. They should not water the Unhappiness Beans.

We people have things like seeds inside us, just like your bean cups. We all have the seeds of smiling, mindfulness, generosity, freedom, safety, love, playing, and sharing (and lots of other happy seeds!) inside of us. Note: Be sure to include the ways to be happy which children offered earlier.

We all also have the seeds of anger, stinginess, fear, impatience, hurrying, fighting, stealing, not sharing, and jealousy (and lots of other unhappy seeds!) inside of us. Note: Be sure to include the “unhappy seeds “ which children offered earlier.

When the causes and conditions are right, our seeds grow, too. Just like with our bean seeds, if we give our happy seeds soil, air, light, and water, they will grow. Of course, if we give the unhappy seeds in us the things they need, they will grow, too!

Just like with our bean seeds, we are the ones who get to decide which seeds will grow and which will not grow inside us.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us air?Freedom, space, time.

What does it mean to give the seeds inside us light?To notice our seeds; to shine the light on them.

What are some ways we can water (and not water) the seeds inside ourselves? With some guidance, these are some ways our children thought of to water/not water the seeds of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves: Practice:“One way to water the seed of smiling is to smile a lot.” Awareness: “I water the seed of generosity when I notice that I am being generous.” Don’t concentrate: “One way to not water the seed of anger is to notice it but to not keep concentrating on it.” Check my perceptions: “I can ask, ‘Am I sure?’ when I start to get jealous of a friend. Am I sure what my friend has is what I want?” Act nice: “One way to water the seed of love is to tell our friends that we love them.” Say a Gatha: “One way to water the seed of appreciation, is to say the Five Contemplations gatha.” Breathe in and out: “One way to not water the seed of fear is to pay attention to our breathing.” Don’t watch mean TV or videos or listen to mean songs on the radio: “One way to not water the seed of meanness is to watch only shows that are friendly and kind.” Understand: “When I start to get irritated at my dad or mom, I can try to understand why they did the thing that made me irritated.” Take Three Steps: “One way to not water the seed of sadness is to take Three Steps.

  1. Enjoy things that make me happy.

  2. Notice when I am sad.

  3. Later, when I am not sad anymore, think about what had made me sad and try to understand it and change it.

Invite the children to take their happiness and unhappiness seeds home to care for.

Two sources for grown-ups: Transformation at the Base and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, both by Thich Nhat Hanh, available from Parallax Press.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue.

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Budding Lotuses

Children’s Program at Deer Park MonasteryJuly 3—July 7, 2003

By I-Lynn Teh

mb35-Budding1Forty  children ages twelve and younger and four monks and nuns swarmed into the dining hall of Clarity Hamlet on orientation night of the Family Retreat at Deer Park Monastery on July third. What had been a room filled with tables and chairs was converted into a welcoming space covered with straw mats.

The children sat together in a circle on the floor for the orientation. Their eyes were shimmering with enthusiasm as they tried to remember each other’s names while playing rhythmic name games and “Hot Potato.” They were invited by one of the brothers to listen intently to a sound of the bell and to describe it afterward. A little girl commented on how long the sound of the bell lasted, and a boy timing the duration, exclaimed excitedly that it took forty seconds! In a simple way, the brothers and sisters at Deer Park offered a means of practicing the art of mindfulness to the children.

On the second day of the retreat, Brother Phap Ung offered a Dharma talk directed to the children. He shared the teaching of interbeing, that we are not separate from our parents, that we can find our parents in ourselves if we look deeply enough. Some children were then invited to come to the front of the room with their parents and to share what their deepest wish for their parents was. One girl shared that her deepest wish is for her mother to trust her. The mother shared in turn that her deepest wish is for her daughter to be safe and happy, and that she will try her best to trust her daughter more in the future.

Later in the day, the children learned to make boxes out of popsicle sticks to help raise funds for the construction of the new meditation hall. Everyone put their creativity to work; some made boxes with covers, others made houses, and still others made decorative items for display.

The children continued to practice working together in harmony as they made cookies for a tea meditation ceremony on the third day of the retreat. They were given the choice to join the oatmeal, raisin, sugar, or peanut butter cookie team. Many loved mixing the cookie dough with their hands. In the spirit of deep observation often taught in meditation, they described vividly how the texture of the dough felt on their fingers. Later they made cards for their parents, expressing their appreciation and love.


Parents were invited to the dining hall at Clarity Hamlet for the tea meditation ceremony. Kids volunteered to stand by the door, greeting parents by bowing deeply as they entered. One of the girls was bell-master, breathing deeply before inviting the bell to sound, and being mindful of her breaths while she made three sounds of the bell to initiate the ceremony. Other children served drinks and cookies. Everyone enjoyed eating the snacks in silence for the first few minutes.

Then the children were invited to present the cards they had made to their parents, offering thanks to the wonderful people who brought them up. Parents too were invited to bring little gifts and to offer their gratitude and appreciation to their children.

A pair of parents sat in front of their son and thanked him for always showing patience when things they promised seem slow in coming. A mother shared with her two daughters how much she appreciated their sticking with her when she underwent many ups and downs after separating from their father and moving many times. Her courage to admit her suffering to her daughters of six and twelve was admirable, and her expression of appreciation was deep and sincere. These sharings showed how capable children are of understanding adults when loving speech and patience are employed.

One of the last activities was the Rose Festival, a ceremony celebrating children’s appreciation of parents. Everyone entered the meditation hall with two roses pinned to their shirts, a red rose symbolizing a parent that is still alive, and a white one for a parent that had passed away. Children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents, monks, and nuns sat together and enjoyed a violin performance and a beautiful flower dance put on by the children and a nun. As we watched and listened, we contemplated the love our parents have showered on us. The ceremony concluded with hugging meditation.

I-Lynn Teh is from Singapore. She graduated from Northwestern University in June. Photography by Jan Mieszczanek. Illustration by Nguyen Thi Hop.

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Parenting, Children, and Mindfulness

A Wonderfully Rich Practice

By Bud Reiter-Lavery

Few of the local Sangha members have young children. I have two neighbors with children under the age of three who used to do formal sitting meditation alone or in groups, but haven’t done so since the birth of their children.  Similarly, I didn’t go on a retreat for six years—the time from the birth of my first child until my second child was age three. Perhaps the formal structures of practice that we have created, such as weekly two-hour meditation meetings, five day retreats, etc., just don’t work well for parents with young children.

My two girls are now ages five and eight, and I am discovering that I have more energy to engage them and others in mindfulness practice. I am also a lot less concerned about whether I lead a group or go on retreats. It is clearer to me now that my whole life is my practice, which means that for me, parenting is a salient part of my mindfulness practice, every day. My wife and kids are great Dharma teachers, both in how they can pull out the compassionate parts of me and when they unintentionally show me all the seeds I still need to transform. Frankly, when my girls are tired and prone to crying, I often find myself at the edge of my practice—and sometimes a bit beyond it.

I considered starting a monthly mindfulness morning for folks like me with kids, but I have made it much simpler and with fewer expectations. Once a month my girls and I have a mindfulness morning while my wife, Lisa, goes to church. This gives Lisa a chance to be more focused at church, and it gives the girls and me a wonderful chance to gently and simply practice. They love reading stories about the Buddha’s life. We also do a juice and cookie ceremony, color in a coloring book of scenes of the Buddha’s life, sing, and sometimes do outdoor walking meditation. We go with the flow and do whatever seems refreshing and enjoyable. I have invited the neighbors with children to join us, but I don’t really care if they come or not. The time is for the girls and me to enjoy being, to enjoy our mindfulness. It is a very relaxing time for me. I think it would drain me if I carried expectations about providing this as a service to the community.

Being married and having children mean that I have several other people’s needs to consider. We inter-are. So we’ve worked out a schedule that includes time for me to go to retreats and weekly Sangha meetings, making sure that I still have lots of time to be with my family. Last fall was the first time I took them on a retreat with Thay, so we are integrating family mindfulness in formal ways, but mostly in very informal ways. While I still periodically sing Dharma songs to them each night when I put them to bed, most of my practice involves just being present with them.

One of my favorite quotes about mindful parenting is from Dharma Family Treasures.  It goes as follows:

Master: I have no tolerance for those who use their children as an excuse for not practicing.

Hermit: I have no tolerance for those who use their practice as an excuse for not parenting.

Beggar: When we fully immerse ourselves in parenting as our practice, we answer the question, Of what use is it merely to enjoy this fleeting world?

O sincere trainees, create no Dharma orphans. Quickly is dew gone from the grass.  Quicker still are children grown.

Bud Reiter-Lavery, True Wonderful Awakening, lives with his daughters Katie, age eight, and Theresea, age five, and wife Lisa. He practices with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Durham, North Carolina.

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Teens, Yoga, and Nature

An Interview with Holiday Johnson

By Terry Masters

Holiday, tell us about your yoga classes for teenagers.

I know that some people are hesitant to work with teens; they regard them with suspicion, or fear. But my experience with teens has been wonderful. I’m encouraged by their enthusiasm, creativity, and their delight in life. I really love them!

What kind of work do you do with teens?

Thirteen years ago I started a non-profit program for teens which we named Standing on Your Own Two Feet. The purpose of the program is to use yoga to develop skills in teenagers that produce a sense of well-being. In my experience, yoga helps youngsters become strong, centered, and healthy.

Teens can come to any class at our yoga studio seven days a week. But I offer two yoga classes that are designed specifically for youngsters eleven to seventeen years old. Because teens often don’t have much money, the classes are half price, and I offer free classes for two months each year. During those months teenagers can attend classes every day if they want at no charge.

You also sponsor a teen retreat, don’t you? What is that like?

It is so inspiring! This past August, nine girls, ages thirteen to seventeen years old, and two adults gathered at a retreat center in an organic apple orchard in the mountains near Parkdale, Oregon for three days and two nights.

Each girl brought her own vegetarian recipe to prepare for the group. We had some delicious and creative organic vegetarian meals! In appreciation for the wonderful food and the work that went into preparing it, we began each meal with the Five Contemplations.

We practiced meditation every day. We offered formal yoga classes, and informal ones, too: the girls invented their own tree pose in the river! Sometimes the girls were quiet, enjoying the time to reflect and relax. Of course, there were also times when the girls were chatty and giggly.

We hiked. We swam. We sat in awe of nature: one girl found frog eggs for us to admire; another commented on how beautiful it was to be swimming in an apple orchard. One day Judy Bluehorse, a Native American, guided us through the woods, pointing out the various medicinal uses of the plants and trees we saw.

What is especially encouraging for me in working with teens is how they share their ideas with each other so freely. How supportive and kind they are, how sweetly they encourage each other. For example, some of the girls were afraid to swim in the muddy-bottomed lake. After some encouragement from their peers, the timid ones were in there having fun too. That kind of sweetness, that kind of compassion and generosity, gives me hope for the future.

If folks want to find out more about your work with teenagers, how can they get in touch with you?

Our website is I'd be happy to share whatever I can with people who are interested in working with teens. And I’d love to know more about what others are doing.

Holiday Johnson, Kind Forgiveness of the Heart, practices with the True Name Sangha in Portland, Oregon.

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Buddha Nature

An Exercise for Children

By Terry Masters



NOTE What the facilitator might say is in boldface. The answers in parentheses are the answers our children gave us.

We know that a Buddha lives inside of each of us. Not the man who lived a long time ago, of course! But the nature of that man who lived thousands of years ago.  The Buddha’s nature lives inside each of us.

What do you think the Buddha’s nature is like? (Happy, generous, compassionate, kind, loving, open, free, patient, etc.)

Think of someone you love very much. Do you sometimes see the Buddha’s nature in that person? What does that person do, how does that person show you that the Buddha’s nature is inside of her or him?

It is usually easy to see the Buddha’s nature in someone we love. But the Buddha’s nature is in everyone, even people we do not think we like at all. Think of someone you do not like very much. Have you ever seen the Buddha’s nature peek out of that person even a little bit?

What did it look like? (The person smiled; the person once said a nice thing to a friend of mine; the person likes my cat.)

Why is it important for us to remember to look for the Buddha’s nature in ourselves and in everyone we meet? (So that we can love ourselves and others; so we can be happy and make others happy; so we can all have peace.)

Let’s learn a song about how we feel when we notice our friend’s Buddha Nature.


Dear friend, Dear friend, Let me tell you how I feel You have given me such treasure I love you so

What do you think the “treasure” is that we sing about in this song? Could it be our friend’s Buddha Nature?

How do we feel about our friends when they show us—when they give us—their Buddha nature? (We love her; we feel happy; we feel grateful.)

Let’s sing the song again.

After the children have learned the words, it is fun to sing the song as a round in two or three (or more!) parts.

This song is a good way to say “thank you” to your friend or someone in your family. When might you want to sing this song? (When my brother doesn’t hit me; when my mom gives me a surprise in my lunch box; when Daddy reads me a story; when my grandmother makes up a song for me; when my friend lets me play with his roller blades)

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Deep Relaxation for Children

By Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem At the Family Day of Mindfulness at Deer Park, the children led the deep relaxation for the whole sangha. It was so sweet! Here are excerpts from that practice.

Deep relaxation is a wonderful chance to allow our bodies to rest. When our body is at ease and relaxed, our mind is also calm and at peace. The practice of deep relaxation helps our body and mind to heal. Please take the time to practice it often— for five or ten minutes when you wake up in the morning, before going to bed in the evening, or during the middle of the day. The most important thing is to enjoy it.


Please lie down comfortably on your back. Close your eyes. Allow your arms to rest gently on either side of your body. Let your legs and feet relax, opening outwards.

    • We begin by following our breathing. When we breathe in, we feel our tummy rise up. When we breathe out, we feel our tummy go down again. Our breathing comes in and out like waves on the ocean, very relaxed, very peaceful. Just notice the rise and fall of your belly.
    • As you breathe in and out, become aware of your whole body lying down. With each out-breath, feel yourself relax deeper and deeper into the floor, letting go of everything: worries, fear, or thoughts.
    • Breathing in, I feel my two hands. Breathing out, I completely relax all the muscles in my two hands. Breathing in, I feel lucky to have two good hands; breathing out, I smile to my two hands. My two hands are so precious! With my two hands, I can paint. I can draw.I can write. I can hold hands with my friend, and much, much more.
    • Breathing in, I feel my two arms. Breathing out, I allow my arms to completely relax. Breathing in, I feel happy to have two strong arms. Breathing out, I let go of any tight muscles and I feel joy and ease in my arms. With my arms I can hug Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa. Now I can say thank you to my two arms.
    • Breathing in, I feel my shoulders. Breathing out, I let my shoulders rest and give all their weight to the floor. Breathing in, I send my love to my shoulders and breathing out, I smile to my shoulders. Every time I breathe out, I feel them relax more and more deeply.
    • Breathing in, I feel my two feet. Breathing out, I smile to my feet. I wiggle my toes, all ten of them. How nice to have two feet! With my two feet, I can walk and run, play sports, dance, and ride a bike. And when I am tired, my two feet love to rest. Breathing in, I stretch out my feet. Breathing out, I let my feet relax. Thank you, feet!
    • Breathing in, I feel my legs. Breathing out, I enjoy my two legs. My legs help me stand up straight, each day a little taller. With my two legs, I can sit cross-legged or do the splits or walk back and forth to school. It feels so good to have my legs. Breathing in, I stretch out my legs. Breathing out, I let my legs relax.
    • Breathing in, I feel my two eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes. Breathing in, I let all the many muscles around my eyes relax. Breathing out, I send my two eyes my love and care. My two eyes are a gift! I can see birds flying in the bright blue sky. When I’m sad, I can cry and let the tears flow. Breathing in, I squeeze my eyes tight. Breathing out, I release them and let them relax.
    • Breathing in, I feel my lungs grow bigger. When I breathe out, I feel them shrink. Breathing in, I feel so happy to have two good lungs. Breathing out, I smile to them with kindness. They bring oxygen into my body and give me the power to speak, to sing, to shout, to laugh. When I was just born, the first thing I did was take a deep in-breath. I breathe the fresh air into my lungs and breathing out, let them rest and relax. Thank you, lungs for helping me breathe!
    • Breathing in, I know my heart is beating on the left side of my chest. Breathing out, I enjoy my heart and let it rest. With my in-breath, I send my love to my heart. With my out-breath, I smile to my heart. My heart keeps me alive and it is always there for me, every minute, every day. Breathing in, I know that my heart loves me. Breathing out, I promise to live in a way that will help my heart to be healthy and strong. With each exhalation, I feel my heart relaxing more and more, and I feel each cell in my heart smiling with ease and joy.
    • Now, I bring my attention to a place in my body that may be sick or in pain. Breathing in, I allow this area to rest, breathing out, I smile to it with kindness. I know that there are other parts of my body that are still strong and healthy. I feel the support, energy, and love of the healthy parts of my body penetrating the weak area, soothing and healing it. As I breathe in, I know my body is a miracle because it can heal when it gets sick. As I breathe out, I let go of any worry or fear I might hold in my body. Breathing in and out, I smile with love and confidence to the area of my body that is not well.
    • Breathing in and out, I enjoy the feeling of my whole body lying down, very relaxed and calm. I smile to my whole body and send my love and compassion to my whole body.Now the practice of deep relaxation is over. You can wiggle your hands and feet and slowly stretch. Then roll on to one side. When you are ready, you can open your eyes. Take your time to get up, calmly and lightly. Enjoy carrying the mindful energy you have generated into the rest of the day.

If you like, you can now sing a few relaxing songs or lullabies, or play soft music for a few minutes.

Now the practice of deep relaxation is over. You can wiggle your hands and feet and slowly stretch. Then roll on to one side. When you are ready, you can open your eyes. Take your time to get up, calmly and lightly. Enjoy carrying the mindful energy you have generated into the rest of the day.

Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem is a nun living at Deer Park Monastery.

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Family Day at Deer Park

By Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem mb47-Family1On December 17, 2006, Deer Park held its first family day of mindfulness. The intent was to offer a full day of activities for both parents and children to enjoy together. Since January 2006, we have offered a regular children’s program at Deer Park, on every first and third Sunday. However, the children’s activities are mostly separate from the adults’ so parents are not always familiar with the mindfulness practices we share with their children, and rarely have the chance to explore them together as a family.

The day was filled with lots of joy and meaning. Although adults outnumbered children, it was hard sometimes to distinguish between the two because we had so much fun that everyone’s inner child was very alive!

Dharma Adventure

We began with an introduction to the day. Then we divided into five groups to begin our Dharma Adventure, each group visiting one of five different stations around the monastery and then rotating. Nuns, monks, and lay practitioners were already at each station to receive the groups. Everyone in the Deer Park Sangha was enthusiastic and participated in the day; even the cooks prepared lunch early so they could join one of the groups!

One station offered pebble meditation,* which was actually acorn meditation because acorns are so plentiful and beautiful. There, families learned a little about anatomy and how the lungs and breathing process works. Gently holding a single acorn, they visualized: “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower, breathing out, I feel fresh.” Then they continued to breathe and visualize mountain — solid; still water — reflecting things as they are; and space — free.

Another station engaged everyone in making a collective artwork: a wheel of Tibetan prayer flags decorated with play dough figurines in all colors, shapes, and sizes. The beautiful structure brightened up the tea room in Solidity Hamlet for many months afterwards.

An outdoor station had everyone playing cooperative games, which ranged from story-telling, to relay races, to standing in a circle with cups in our mouths and without hands, pouring water from cup to cup. Very memorable!


Then there was the dining hall station, where everyone got their hands messy making and mindfully eating peanut butter balls, with lively discussions about each ingredient and its interconnectedness with other things.


At the last station, families were skillfully facilitated in role-playing difficulty they encounter in their everyday family life. They acted out situations like miscommunication or venting their anger and frustration, and then had an opportunity to play out the same situation again, with more calm and awareness.

Deep and Simple Practices

After a joyful, sort-of-silent lunch together in the dining hall, the children offered the Sangha total relaxation! As all the adults and children lay quietly resting in the Ocean of Peace meditation hall, four children slowly guided everyone in relaxing the different parts of the body. They also sang beautiful lullabies.

Then Sister Susan guided everyone in the children’s version of Touching the Earth. We were all moved by the depth of the words; the concentration and sincerity in the room was palpable. Several adults came up to me at the end of the day asking for a copy of the text, saying they liked it better than the adult version [see Mindfulness Bell issue 45, Summer 2007].

We ended the day with a session of Beginning Anew. Passing a flower around the circle, parents and children expressed their gratitude and appreciation for each other as well as what things they wanted to do to bring more happiness to each other. Sharings were concrete and from the heart. Laughter, tears, and peaceful silences left us all feeling very full, very rich in the Dharma.

We all enjoyed the day very much and look forward to offering more events like this in the future. We hope other sanghas will benefit from what we are learning and we also want to learn from the innovations of other sanghas as we open the new Dharma door of family mindfulness practices.

Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem, is now in residence at Plum Village in France.

*This practice is explained in depth in Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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The Heart of Creativity

By Aleksandra Kumorek mb65-TheHeart1

The work of artists, creative practitioners, and those working in the media has an impact on the collective consciousness. But which seeds are being watered? What would it look like to live and work according to Buddhist ethics? How can we be part of a wholesome, supportive community of creative practitioners?

“Together we are one,” reads a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. This statement became the motto of the first retreat organized by the Mindful Artists Network, which took place at Findhorn, Scotland, in June 2013. Fourteen dancers, musicians, actors, writers, and visual artists from Germany, Great Britain, and Canada came together at the Victorian retreat centre, Newbold House, in order to meditate, dance, celebrate, and practice creativity. Under the spiritual guidance of Sister Jewel (Dharma teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh) and Sister Hai Nghiem, and with co-facilitation by the network founders Susanne Olbrich and me, this newly formed “tribe” spent a weekend enjoying the magical Scottish midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony, everyone placed an object or image on the “altar of creativity”––something that represented each person’s connection to his or her individual creative source. It was an act of consciously joining the great stream of our ancestors, inspirations, and influences. This marked the beginning of an intense weekend of shared joys and tears, dances and performances, deep reflection, and heartfelt laughter.

In addition to sitting and walking meditations, the focus was on creative practice. Sister Jewel introduced the InterPlay* method and dance meditation, which helped us connect deeply with ourselves and with each other. In the large, walled garden of Newbold House, groups created mandalas from natural materials and then gave impromptu performances. In small groups, we reflected on ethics and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

An informal tea ceremony provided a frame for participants to present their own creative work: music, dance, painting, sculpture, performance, movies, photography, and poetry. One of the particularly memorable artists was a most uncommon “Zen” master: a clown who works with terminally ill children in hospitals and who made us laugh that night.

By the time we parted Sunday afternoon, we’d grown into a loving community that had brought Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement to life: Together we are one, indeed. We couldn’t resolve the world’s problems during this weekend, and living our lives lovingly and mindfully will continue to be a challenge for each one of us. We know we must not allow the seeds of greed, stress, and competition, which are so dominant in our society, to be watered. We must remain true to our way of compassion and non-harming in everyday work. But we know that we no longer walk this path alone.

The next Mindful Artists Network retreat is scheduled for July 17-20, 2014, at the Source of Compassion practice centre in Berlin. It will be guided by Sister Jewel. Please visit www.mindful-artists. org for information about the previous and upcoming retreats.

*InterPlay ( is a creative practice that integrates movement, storytelling, silence, and song to unlock the wisdom of the body.

Amb65-TheHeart2leksandra Kumorek is a writer, director, and lecturer in Berlin. In 2012, she became a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. She has practiced with the Sangha Source of Compassion in Berlin since 2005. She and pianist/composer Susanne Olbrich launched Mindful Artists Network at Plum Village in 2012.

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Wake Up

Young Buddhists and Non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society mb65-WakeUp1


Wake Up is an active global community of young mindfulness practitioners, aged 18-35, inspired by the teachings of Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. We come together to practice mindfulness in order to take care of ourselves, nourish happiness, and contribute to building a healthier and more compassionate society.

We want to help our world, which is overloaded with intolerance, discrimination, craving, anger, and despair. Seeing the environmental degradation caused by our society, we want to live in such a way that our planet Earth can survive for a long time. Practicing mindfulness, concentration, and insight enables us to cultivate tolerance, non-discrimination, understanding, and compassion in ourselves and the world.

Practice: Essence

We follow the Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are ethical guidelines that offer concrete practices of true love and compassion, and a path toward a life in harmony with each other and the Earth. These guidelines are the foundation of our lives and represent our ideal of service. Our practice is based on cultivating awareness of the breath and living deeply in the present moment, aware of what is happening within us and around us. This practice helps us to release the tension in our bodies and feelings, to live life deeply and more happily, and to use compassionate listening and loving speech to help restore communication and reconcile with others.


The Wake Up movement is inspired by Buddhism’s long tradition of wisdom and practices that help cultivate understanding and love; it is not based on beliefs or ideology. The spirit of our practice is close to the spirit of science; both help us cultivate an open and non-discriminating mind. We honor everyone’s diverse spiritual and cultural roots. You can join as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, as an agnostic or atheist, or as a member of any other spiritual or religious tradition.

What We Do

We aspire to be a place of refuge, nourishment, and support for people with an aspiration to transform their own suffering and contribute to a healthy and compassionate society. We gather weekly or monthly in Wake Up groups to practice sitting and walking meditation, listen to a teaching, practice total relaxation, listen deeply to one another, and recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We also organize mindfulness events and retreats, and visit meditation practice centers together to refresh ourselves and strengthen our practice. Many groups also organize music evenings, meditation flash mobs, picnics, hikes, and other special events or actions.

You Can Do It

If you are a young person inspired to cultivate mindfulness and compassion in your life, we invite you to join the Wake Up movement in your country. Wake Up offers a way for us to pool our energy and act collectively, to create the world we want to live in! You can get together and form a Wake Up group wherever you are. Please let us know what you are planning to do and what you are trying to achieve. We will do our best to support you.

For more information about joining a group, starting a group, attending a retreat, or connecting online, visit

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Wake Up Spirit

By Brian Kimmel mb65-WakeUpSpirit1

What is Wake Up Spirit? The intention to “wake up” beyond our usual notions of ourselves and our environment, to enter deeply into meditation and move out into the world, to celebrate and share our gifts with collective awareness, inclusion, and fun. It is a coming together of people of different ages to support the new generation in Dharma practice, and to apply mindfulness trainings to our intimate, daily lives with emphasis on personal transformation and collective action in the world.

In October 2012, four non-monastic and five monastic friends of Deer Park Monastery went on a sort of modern-day mission: we toured the Pacific Northwest offering workshops, retreats, and meditation flash mobs on college campuses and on city streets with mindfulness trainings, loving speech and deep listening, and fun! Washington State, the home of the Mountain Lamp Community, was our last stop. Three months later, three Wake Up Peer Facilitators––Maria, an OI aspirant and Wake Up Seattle member; David, an OI member from northern California; and me, an OI member from Boulder, Colorado––met with Dharma teacher and Mountain Lamp resident, Eileen Kiera, to discuss and organize a five-day Mountain Lamp Wake Up Retreat and Intergenerational Day of Mindfulness to be held at the end of June.

We three peer facilitators, along with Eileen and Jack, her husband who is a teacher in another tradition, wanted to organize a retreat based on peer-facilitated practices. We wanted to build upon the foundation offered to us from monastic-led retreats and mentoring. This was our gift back to our teachers and community.

We invited a group of young adults, ages 18-35, into the Mountain Lamp environment, a “Dharma family” that, for the past ten years, has practiced mindfulness and cultivated the land and themselves through daily meditation and loving work. Our aspirations were to explore present moment practice together and re-envision the stereotype that “kids these days” only know how to have fun, and to learn Wake Up practices within a mixed age community, where retreatants, residents, and we would essentially wake up together.

After six months of intense preparation, we greeted our first retreatants on June 26, 2013. In our opening circle, tears and laughter flowed with yearnings to heal and our need for physical and spiritual support to connect with what is vital and profoundly urgent to our own lives, and incidentally to the planet and society.

Each retreatant was offered the responsibility of inviting meal bells and reciting the Five Contemplations before we ate. Each was assigned a work duty during joyful working meditation, beginning with singing, dancing, and games. The bellmaster sounded the bell to remind us to breathe during work periods and to invite daily sitting and walking meditation. Retreatants shared that having Wake Up-aged practitioners guiding the retreat and being invited to facilitate parts of the retreat themselves, like inviting bells and guiding the Five Contemplations, made mindfulness practice real.

At least twice during the retreat we held formal meal ceremonies. The community gathered, recited meal verses, offered food, and ate in silence guided by sounds of the bell. In the times of noble silence throughout the retreat, we were able to suspend talking and dwell more fully with ourselves. During the Five Mindfulness Trainings transmission, the power of our chanting, touching the Earth, incense offering, and concentrated sitting practice offered a clear transmission of mindfulness to recipients of the trainings that day and to all of us.

If I were to describe the outcome of this retreat in a few words, I would say, “Each of us were as we were.” We shared activities such as Dharma art, daily Dharma sharing, canoeing, swimming, scooping goose poop, singing and dancing around a campfire, and open space discussion forums with “elders.” Mountain Lamp Wake Up proved that we of Wake Up age know how to have fun––AND that collectively with other ages, and individually, we can access a profound sense of how to live our lives awake, engaged, and resilient.

mb65-WakeUpSpirit2Brian Otto Kimmel, True Lotus Concentration, age thirty-three, ordained as a core member of the Order of Interbeing at Plum Village in 2006. He took part in the East Coast, West Coast, and Pacific Northwest Wake Up USA teaching tours. He lives in Colorado, where he helps facilitate Wake Up as well as Young OI International and North America Skype calls.

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Media Reviews

mb65-MediaReviews1The Art of Communicating By Thich Nhat Hanh Hard cover, 166 pages Harper One, 2013

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

The Art of Communicating contains a wealth of practical teachings and clear instructions about how to enhance relationships using thoughtful and intentional communication. In an era dominated by texting, emailing, tweeting, and posting, Thay suggests that many of us spend our time not actually communicating, and that the growing array of electronic devices (mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, etc.) is no assurance that effective or meaningful communication is taking place.

In a Dharma talk at Deer Park Monastery during the 2013 North America tour, Thay mentioned he hasn’t used a telephone for thirty years, and he happily reported that his communication with his friends and students is nonetheless rich and meaningful. Thay enjoys rich face-to-face contact and communicates through letters (not email), Dharma talks, and calligraphy. He explained that when his students are following their in-breath and out-breath and practicing mindfulness (sitting, walking, eating, deep listening, and loving speech), they are nonverbally connected to and communicating with him, because he is engaged in the very same activities.

Thay’s teachings in this book hone in on nourishing and healing communication and include specific instructions for how to reconcile with others using deep listening and loving speech when difficulties arise. My favorite chapter describes the Six Mantras of Loving Speech. These mantras “are six sentences that embody loving speech and let people know that you see them, you understand them, and you care for them. …They’re a kind of magic formula. When you pronounce them, you can bring about a miracle, because happiness becomes available right away.” Many of Thay’s students will be familiar with the fi four mantras: “Darling, I am here for you.” “I know you are there and I am very happy.” “I know you suffer and that is why I am here for you.” “I suffer, please help.” The two new mantras are: “This is a happy moment,” and “You are partially correct,” or as I’ve heard Thay say, “Yes, dear, you are right, but only fifty percent right.” In The Art of Communicating, Thay explains these new mantras and how to use them effectively.

Thay believes mindful compassion and loving communication have the power to heal us, heal our relationships, and heal the planet. He explains that love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. He shows us how we can produce positive thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them to thrive. The Art of Communicating will be a much referenced and extremely valuable how-to manual that readers can use to heal their relationships.

mb65-MediaReviews2Moments of Mindfulness Daily Inspiration

By Thich Nhat Hanh Paper over board, 160 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Gary Gach

Whenever I begin a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, I never know when I’ll be done. Sometimes years later. Sometimes never. Maybe you’ve had similar experience? You read a paragraph and––wow!––time to lay it down and ruminate. Digest. Contemplate. Understand. Make it real for yourself.

Moments of Mindfulness places Thay’s masterly way with words under a magnifying lens. It serves up fifty-two compact, fresh, nourishing, breath-sized Dharma morsels. Seven to seventy words, no two are alike. Peace is every word. All in all, they whisper, nudge, sparkle, startle, sing, embrace, liberate. Peace, too, is in the spaciousness surrounding the words.

On the cover and throughout, the book is illuminated by patterns of movement and growth drawn by Jenifer Kent. At the outset is a poem that’s also a guided meditation, nurturing the compassionate, correct view necessary at the beginning of the path. It’s followed by eleven pages by prolific Rumanian author Richard Reschika, outlining the rudiments of mindfulness. This preface includes a gatha by Thay, encapsulating the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. At the back, there’s a built-in notebook. In the center: Thay’s fifty-two gists and piths.

A single breathful of mindfulness can overcome the absentmindedness of 10,000 forgettable moments. It doesn’t take a wheelbarrow––sometimes just a thimbleful will do. Remember ancestor Hui Neng’s enlightenment, on the spot, hearing but one line from the Diamond Sutra. As contemporary, daily inspiration, such diamond-bright moments can provide the clarity that lends consistency to your conscious living and loving. As you approach a new obstacle or threshold, the reminders, landmarks, celebrations in this book can help see you through.

Mindfulness is more than calming: its compassion awakens insightful, transformative wisdom. Given the cynical and painfully dwindling attention span of our times, it’s an effective homeopathic remedy. Thay’s mindful moments are succinct postcards from our true home. We’re already in the divine kingdom, the pure land. Nirvana isn’t on the way. It is the way.

This book is a gift for the preservation of all beings, including adepts, those just setting out on the path, and those who don’t yet know it is available. The initials of the book spell MOM. These mindful moments give birth to us all.

mb65-MediaReviews3Everybody Present Mindfulness in Education

By Nikolaj Flor Rotne and Didde Flor Rotne Soft cover, 141 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education is a how-to manual designed for teachers who want to bring mindfulness into the classroom. It begins by briefl recounting the story of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the response of a monastic who lived near the school as a child. He explains: “As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present with one another, by being truly there for one another.”

Given the myriad challenges currently facing our educational system, how can educators create the conditions for a healthy classroom environment that can nourish our children and our society? The book aspires to answer the question of how teachers can fulfil “their ideals without being crushed by them” in order to “show the next generation a path toward a good future.”

Since experiencing mindfulness is key to understanding it and teaching it to others, the book contains basic practices for educators to become more mindful. Once educators begin to realize some of the benefit  themselves, they can begin to introduce the concepts in their classrooms. The book contains examples of practices for children, such as paying attention to their breath, walking meditation, and sharing gratitude. One of my favorite practices, called “eating the raisin,” encourages students to trace all the people involved in the making of a raisin, then draw a picture of one of the people in the cycle, and end by mindfully eating their raisin.

The book’s appendices will be helpful to those who like to know the science behind mindfulness. Topics include the physical symptoms of stress, how to manage heart rhythm in order to decrease stress, how different parts of the brain react to stress by releasing hormones, and how our neurons help to connect us to other beings.

mb65-MediaReviews4Everybody Present weaves children’s stories, neuroscience, social science, case studies, and practical exercises for educators and students. The authors emphasize the need for teachers to cultivate their own inner peace in order to manage their classrooms wisely and compassionately. As Thay has said, “Happy teachers will change the world.” Everybody Present provides tools that can assist those in the field of education to work through the daily and larger systemic challenges found in many classrooms and schools, and to cultivate stillness  and  grace  that can serve as an example to other teachers, principals, parents, and children.

mb65-MediaReviews5Room to Breathe

Produced and directed by Russell Long Sacred Planet Films, 2012 DVD, color, 55 minutes

Reviewed by Ambrose Desmond

Room to Breathe is an inspiring new documentary about bringing mindfulness practice into schools. The fi follows Megan Cowan, a trainer and the Program Director of Mindful Schools, as she works with one San Francisco middle school class. Room to Breathe begins by exploring the classroom and the academic and behavioral challenges of the students in that class. Through interviews with the teacher, the students, and their parents, the film profiles the particular challenges of a few individual students.

At the beginning of the fi the portrait is not a hopeful one. Parents and teachers are trying unsuccessfully to motivate the students toward better behavior and engagement at school. The film clearly shows what a challenge it would be to make a significant impact in the lives of these students.

When Cowan arrives in the classroom, her first visit is nearly a failure. She is white, while most of the students are African-American and Latino, and the cultural distance is glaring. Many of her early struggles in connecting with the students seem to result from a lack of cultural competence. Yet over time, she builds authentic relationships with most of the children. One of the real strengths of the movie is that it presents a realistic picture of the challenges associated with trying to create change in a difficult classroom. During one scene, Cowan asks the students, “Who doesn’t want to participate in the mindfulness practice?” Most of the students raise their hands. However, through creative classroom management and truly admirable persistence, that dynamic undergoes a profound shift.

By the end of Cowan’s time with the class, most of the children seem engaged in the mindfulness practices. Some of them describe how they use mindfulness practice to control their impulses and make better choices. While this program is not portrayed as a panacea, it’s clear that some of the students have been profoundly affected by mindfulness practice and have integrated it into their lives. Because the film does not shy away from Cowan’s difficulties, it makes her obvious impact on the children even more inspiring. Room to Breathe is well made and highly engaging, and I believe that anyone interested in how mindfulness can transform society would enjoy watching this film.

Room to Breathe is available for community screenings and house party screenings. The filmmakers wish to encourage post-film discussions as a first step toward implementing mindfulness in schools. For information about hosting a screening, visit

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The Plum Village Sangha in India

Autumn 2008 By Sister Chan Khong


The Plum Village delegation arrived in New Delhi on 24 September 2008, and the next day the delegation met with some Indian journalists. The Ahimsa Trust, organizers of Thay’s tour of India, had arranged for the press conference at the French Embassy. During this meeting the French ambassador, Jerome Bonnafont, launched the release of two new books by the publishing house Full Circle: The Sun My Heart, and Under the Banyan Tree, a book transcribed from teachings given by Thay at the Krishnamurti headquarters in Chennai during Thay’s India trip in 1997.

After the press conference, the big newspapers of New Delhi publicized the teaching tour of Zen Master Nhat Hanh. For many days the television channel NDTV announced the tour schedule; text scrolling across the bottom of the screen indicated details of where Thay would be teaching or doing walking meditation in New Delhi. Thanks to such publicity the people of India knew all about the teaching tour offered by the Plum Village delegation.

A Retreat for Educators

On September 26, the first retreat of the tour began at Doon School, the most famous secondary school in India. Located in the highlands of northern India, the Doon School is one of the wonders of the Uttarakhand state capital city Dehradun, with its rich past and beautiful architecture. Many famous political leaders of India spent their youth at this school, before going abroad to study either in England or the United States.

Five hundred eighty-five educators, among them many headmasters or directors of well-known elementary or secondary schools, came from all over India, some traveling for two days by plane. The state governor came to the opening of the four-day retreat, titled “Towards a Compassionate and Healthy Society.” The Plum Village monks and nuns had the opportunity to participate in activities and sports with Doon students. The educators learned and practiced wholeheartedly, attended all the activities such as sitting meditation, walking meditation, Dharma discussion, total relaxation, Touchings of the Earth, and eating in mindfulness. On the third day ninety people received the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The retreat was very nourishing and brought transformation and joy for everyone who attended, among them the headmaster of Doon School. At the beginning, although he had helped tour organizer Shantum Seth send out invitations to other educational institutions, he admitted he did not have much faith in the effect of the retreat, but by the end he was transformed.

The next day the delegation visited the new Mindfulness in Education Centre, at the foot of the Himalayas not far from the city of Dehradun. Thay did the ceremony for Protecting the Land and planted a bodhi tree, two banyan trees, and several other kinds of trees on the site.

During the rest of the tour, thirty young Plum Village Dharma teachers visited to share the joy of mindfulness practice at a dozen elite schools. The monks included Brothers Phap Dung, Phap Hai, Phap Thanh, and Phap Luu from Deer Park Monastery, as well as Phap Trach, Phap Don, and Phap Chieu. The nuns included Sisters Anh Nghiem, Kinh Nghiem, Luong Nghiem, Chau Nghiem, Tung Nghiem, Dinh Nghiem, and others. The monks and nuns also shared the practice in an educational center with programs for poor children and street children. These children also attended the children’s program in a five-day retreat in Delhi.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Newspaper Editor

October 2 was the International Day of Non-Violence, commemorating the 139th year of the birth of Gandhi. The Times of India, the largest national daily newspaper, invited Thay to be the guest editor for a special Peace edition. Thay went to work with the editorial team, presenting several themes for the journalists to investigate and research:

  1. Who are the Buddhists in India?
  2. Would it be possible to organize a national No-Car Day in India to bring awareness to and educate the people on the problem of global warming?
  3. Are families in India able to sit down to eat together at least for one meal together each day?
  4. Would it be possible for teachers in all the educational institutions in India to have opportunities to train the students how to transform the emotions of anger, violence, and despair?
  5. Has anyone written love letters to a bombing terrorist to help them let go of their wrong perceptions and vengeance in their hearts?

In six hours the journalists had written a multitude of articles. On the front page of the October 2 edition appeared the lead article, “Quest for Peace in Troubled Times.” This article was printed next to the most shocking news of the day: A bomb had exploded in Agartala, killing four persons.

In a related article on the newspaper’s website, “Terrorists are victims who create more victims,” the editorial team reported:

Midway through the news meeting on Wednesday, the grim news came in: Agartala had been rocked by serial blasts. All eyes immediately turned to Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, the Guest Editor for our special Peace Edition. As journalists, what should we do on a day like this?

The Zen master, who has rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centres, resettled homeless families and for a lifetime advocated tirelessly the principles of non-violence and compassionate action, pondered for a while.

When he spoke, it was with great clarity, “Report in a way that invites readers to take a look at why such things continue to happen and that they have their roots in anger, fear, hate and wrong perceptions. Prevent anger from becoming a collective energy. The only antidote for anger and violence is compassion. Terrorists are also victims, who create other victims of misunderstanding.’’

This, remember, is the monk — now 82 years old — credited with a big role in turning American public opinion against the war in Vietnam — for which Martin Luther King, Jr. had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. And so, his words are not to be dismissed lightly.

“Every reader has seeds of fear, anger, violence and despair, and also seeds of hope, compassion, love and forgiveness,’’ said Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately called Thay.

“As journalists, you must not water the wrong seeds. The stories should touch the seeds of hope. As journalists, you have the job of selectively watering the right seeds. You must attempt to tell the truth and yet not water the seeds of hate. It’s not what’s in the story, but how you tell it that’s important.’’

Several other articles appeared in the Times that day and on the website, written by the journalists and the monks and nuns who assisted Thay [and also one reprinted from the Mindfulness Bell].

The Sankassa Story

Legend has it that the 14th of October was the day when the Buddha returned to Earth after a time visiting his mother, Queen Mahamaya, who was in the thirty-third Heaven. When he was back on Earth he took his first steps in the land of Sankassa, where many of his disciples were waiting to greet him.


Several thousand people of the Shakya lineage came to attend the retreat led by Brothers Phap Son and Phap Do and Sisters Chan Khong Nghiem and Chan Luong Nghiem. The people had been informed that on the morning of 14 October, the third day of the retreat, Master Nhat Hanh would arrive to offer a ceremony of transmission of the Three Refuges and Five Mindfulness Trainings. And Master Nhat Hanh, too, would be arriving from the sky — in a helicopter.

At Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, the morning fog was thick, and it wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. that permission to fly was given. In the helicopter with Thay were three lay Dharma teachers: Shantum Seth, Ann Johnston, and Pritam Singh, along with educator Irpinder Bhatia and Simran, daughter of Pritam. Shantum, the main organizer of Thay’s tour, was holding a professional camera with which his younger sister had asked him to record the event at Sankassa. Shantum’s sister Aradna was making a documentary film of the whole tour.

The young people of the Shakya clan were sitting and practicing together with the brothers and sisters in the meditation hall. When they heard the helicopter they could not contain themselves; everybody stood up and ran out of the meditation hall to look up. They had been waiting for the helicopter since 9:30 and now at noon the sun was directly overhead. In this remote part of the country the people live in huts made from earth, without electricity, without pumped water; their way of life is still very primitive, perhaps not unlike the way of life in India over 2500 years ago. They had never seen a helicopter up close.


The youth stood in line to welcome Thay. After cutting a ribbon to inaugurate a Shakyamuni Buddha statue for the practice centre, Thay went straight into the meditation hall, where there were about 200 monks wearing the robes of the Theravadan tradition. Thay taught the Three Refuges and Five Mindfulness Trainings and how to apply them in daily life. Thay began as follows: “Queen Maya was still in good health. She was very happy and proud to have a son, Siddhartha, who had attained enlightenment and was able to liberate countless beings. She sends her love to all the people of the Shakya clan. I am also a member of the Shakya clan. I have come to transmit to you the teachings taught by the Buddha Gautama.”

After the transmission ceremony in the afternoon, Thay reminded them to regularly come together to recite, study, and discuss the Trainings. Thay promised that if they practiced diligently there would be a day when we would meet again. Everybody expressed their happiness by applauding enthusiastically.

Time arrived for the helicopter to take wing. Thousands of the Shakyan people came to bid Thay farewell, including many children. Thay wished that some of them could come to Plum Village to learn and practice so that one day they could return to be of service to the Sanghas from their clan. Many people cried, their eyes red.


From the report by Irpinder Bhatia [see below], we know that hundreds of thousands of the Shakyan people have abandoned their tradition and completely forgotten that within their lineage was someone named Gautama Siddhartha, who had become one of the greatest spiritual masters of the world. Buddhism was suppressed in India starting in the eleventh century, when Buddhist monks and nuns had to flee and find refuge in other countries further north. Some people returned to the Hindu tradition, some converted to Islam; from their rich heritage they retained only their name Shakya. It was less than twenty years ago that they were reminded by the Dalit Buddhists of their Buddhist heritage.




Today the number of Buddhists in India has risen to about 10 million. However, the teachings that they were given were often about how to fight injustice and the discriminating caste system. Even though they have returned to their Buddhist roots, they have not truly tasted the fruits of the Buddhadharma.

Hopefully the Plum Village Sangha will be able to help train a number of young people from the Shakya lineage to become Dharma teachers so that they may return to their people the spiritual tradition that they lost over a thousand years ago.

For more information about the India tour, go to and select “Thich Nhat Hanh.”

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been working side by side with Thay to fight injustice and teach mindfulness since the 1960s. She is a tireless champion for the poor in Vietnam, especially children.

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