children

Dharma Talk: Community as a Resource

By Thich Nhat Hanh  We can make people happy. One person has the capacity to be an infinite resource of happiness for others. The more we practice the art of mindful living, the more we become a source of happiness and joy. This is possible.

Thich Nhat Hanh

But we need a place, such as a retreat center or a monastery, where we can go to renew ourselves. The features of the landscape, the buildings, and the sound of the bell should be designed to remind us to return to awareness. Even when we cannot actually go to the retreat center, we can think of it, smile, and feel ourselves becoming peaceful.

The community does not need to be big. It is enough to have ten or fifteen permanent residents who emanate freshness and peace, the fruits of living in awareness. When we go there, they care for us, console and support us, and help us heal our wounds.

From time to time, the residents can organize large retreats so that we can learn the arts of enjoying our lives more and taking good care of each other. Mindful living is an art, and this community can be a place where joy and happiness are real. They can also offer Days of Mindfulness, so that people can come and live one happy day together in community. And they can organize courses that teach The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, and other courses on Buddhist psychology and healing in a Buddhist way. Most retreats will be for preventive practice, practicing mindful­ness before things get too bad. But some retreats should be for people who are undergoing a lot of suffering, although even then two-thirds of the retreatants should be healthy, happy people. Otherwise it may be difficult to succeed.

Practice has a lot to do with the happiness of the people in a family or a community. We practice not only in the meditation room, but in the kitchen, the backyard, the office, and in school as well. How can we incorporate practice into our daily lives, so that our daily lives can be joyful and happy?

The sangha is a community that lives in harmony and awareness. When you are with your family and you practice smiling, breathing, recognizing the Buddha in yourself and your children, then your family becomes a sangha. If you have a bell in your home, the bell becomes part of your sangha, because the bell helps you to practice. If you have a cushion, then the cushion also becomes part of the sangha. Many things help us practice. The air, for breathing. If you have a park or a river bank near your home, you can enjoy practicing walking meditation. You have to discover your sangha. Invite a friend to come and practice with you, have tea meditation, sit with you, join you for walking medita­tion. All these efforts can help you establish your sangha at home. Practice is easier if you have a sangha.

The foundation of a community is a daily life that is joyful and happy. In Plum Village, children are the center of attention. Each adult is responsible for helping the children be happy, because we know that if the children are happy, it is easy for the adults to be happy. In old times, families were bigger. Not only nuclear families, but uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins all lived together. Houses were surrounded by trees where they could hang hammocks and organize picnics. In those times, people did not have many of the problems we do now. Today, our families are very small. Besides Mom and Dad, there are just one or two children. When the parents have a problem, the whole family feels the effects. The atmosphere in the house is heavy, and there is nowhere to escape. Sometimes a child may go to the bathroom and lock the door just to be alone, but still there is no escape. The heavy atmosphere permeates the bathroom too. So the child grows up with many seeds of suffering and can never feel truly happy and then transmits these seeds to his or her children.

Formerly, when Mom and Dad had some problems, the children could always escape by going to an aunt or an uncle. They still had someone to look up to, and the atmosphere was not so threatening. I think that communities of mindful living can replace our former big families, be­cause when we go to these communities, we see many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that can help us a lot.

You know that aged people are very sad when they have to live separately from their children and grandchildren. This is one of the things in the West that I do not like very much. In my country, aged people have the right to live with the younger people. It is the grandparents who tell fairy tales to the children. When they get old, their skin is cold and wrinkled, and it is a great joy to hold their grandchild, so warm, so tender. When a person grows old, his or her deepest hope is to have a grandchild to hold in his or her arms. They hope for it day and night, and when they hear that their daughter is pregnant, they are so happy. Nowadays the elderly have to go to a home where they live only among other aged people. Just once a week they receive a short visit, and afterwards they feel even sadder. We have to find ways for old and young people to live together again. It will make all of us very happy.

A community of mindful living should be in a beautiful location in the countryside. In many cities today, you do not see a lot of trees, because so many trees have been cut down. I imagine—and I believe it is very close to reality—a city which has only one tree left. (I don't know what kind of miracle helped preserve that one tree.) Many people in that city have become mentally ill because they are so alienated from nature, our mother. In the old time, we lived among trees and we sat in hammocks. Now we live in small boxes made of concrete. The air we breathe is not clean, and we get sick, not only in our bodies but in our souls.

I imagine that there is a doctor in the city who under­stands why everyone is getting sick, and every time some­one comes to him, he tells them, "You are sick because you are cut off from Mother Nature." And he gives them this prescription: "Each morning, take the bus and go to the tree in the center of the city and practice tree-hugging medita­tion. Hold the tree and breathe in, 'I am with my mother.' Then breathe out, 'I am happy.' And look at the leaves so green and smell the bark of the tree that is so fragrant." The prescription is for fifteen minutes of breathing and hugging the tree. After doing it for three months, the patient feels much better. But the doctor has many patients, and he gives each of them the same prescription.

So I imagine a bus in the city going in the direction of the tree, while people are standing in line, waiting their turn to embrace the tree and breathe. But the line is several miles long, and the crowd is becoming impatient because they have to wait for such a long time. They demand new laws which will limit each person to just one minute of tree-hugging. But one minute is not long enough to be effective, and then there is no remedy for society's sickness. I am afraid we will be close to that situation very soon, if we are not mindful of what is going on in the present moment.

When we practice mindful living, we know what is going on in every moment of our daily lives. When we throw a banana peel into the garbage, we know it is a banana peel, and that banana peels decompose quickly and become flowers. But when we throw a plastic bag into the garbage, we have to know that it is a plastic bag. This is a practice of meditation: "I am throwing a plastic bag into the garbage can." If we practice mindfulness, we will refrain from using things made of plastic, because we know that they take much more time to degrade into soil and become flowers. And we know that disposable diapers take four or five hundred years, so we refrain from using them. Nuclear waste, the most difficult kind of garbage, takes 250,000 years to become a flower. We are making the Earth an impossible place for our children to grow up.

Practicing mindfulness with friends allows us to get in touch with the healing aspects of life, Breathing mindfully the clean air, we plant seeds of healing within ourselves, our friends, and society. Smiling, we realize peace and joy. Communities of mindful living are very important for us to cultivate these practices.

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Lecture at the "Cultivat­ing Mindfulness" Retreat, Mt. Madonna Center, Watson­ville, California, April 1989.

PDF of this article

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

Dharma Talk: Finding Our True Heritage

By Thich Nhat Hanh We all wish to return to a place where we truly belong, where we feel happy and at peace. Most of the time we feel lost, as though we are living in exile. People all over the world feel this way, constantly searching for an abode of happiness and peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh

We are not separate. We are closely connected with others. The ground from which we grow is our family and our society. Many young people today are not happy because they come from broken families or because their parents devote so much time and energy to making a living that they have little real time for them. In the past, parents raised children according to the cultural and moral sub­stance of their tradition, but today, few adults transmit the values they themselves received. As a result, children are left without guidance or support, and they grow up not knowing what to do and what not to do.

Without receiving values and without worthy role models, young peoples' feelings of loneliness are intense. They have little knowledge or confidence about who they are or what they are doing, and their parents just tell them to earn a diploma and secure a good job. Human beings cannot live on bread or rice alone. We need to be nourished by culture and tradition as well. Parents who are too busy to transmit wonderful cultural elements to their children may feed them delicious meals, send them to excellent schools, and work many hours to save money for them, but this is not the way to love children. True love for a child comes from a heritage of true happiness between the parents.

After the family, school is the most important environ­ment in a child's life. Our children spend six or seven hours a day there. A child who can be happy at school is extreme­ly fortunate. When I was in third grade, my teacher wrote on my report card, "No talent. Needs to be better motivated." This caused a big internal formation in me, and I did poorly that year. My sixth grade teacher was more supportive, and I did well that year—I even received a prize of many books. Every time I wrote a good essay, he read it to the class, and, greatly encouraged, I went on to a writing career.

Like the family, school is a product of society. When the society is healthy, the family and the school are also healthy. If teachers are unhappy and filled with internal formations, how can they look deeply into their students and understand them well? The Parent-Teacher's Association is important. Teachers need to understand the circumstances of their students' families in order to educate the students appropriately.

To be healthy, we need a good environment. One very healthy environment is a good sangha, a community of happy and peaceful individuals, people who can smile, love, and care for us, whose presence is as fresh as flowers. When we meet someone with that capacity of peace and joy, we should invite him or her to join our sangha. If she cannot stay for two or three years, we can invite her to stay for a few months or weeks, or even a few days. The quality of a community depends on the capacity of each person in it to be happy. A good sangha is crucial for our transformation.

When someone comes to a community of practice, we should learn about his or her past and family in order to offer suitable methods of practice. In retreats offered to young people, we should take the time to understand their culture, roots, and society in order to offer appropriate teachings. If not, the practice will be unrelated to their lives. By asking a few questions concerning their loneliness and their identity, we can open the doors of their hearts, and they will begin to listen and join us in the practice.

A friend or a psychotherapist can also help us very much, just by listening to us. But many psychotherapists themselves are not healthy; they are filled with suffering. How can we feel confident working with a psychotherapist who does not apply his knowledge of psychotherapy to himself? If we find a psychotherapist who has time to live and to be happy, his listening can be highly effective and we will feel great relief. Psychotherapists also need to establish peaceful, happy sanghas, groups of friends who meet regularly to drink tea, practice sitting and walking medita­tion, and bring peace and caring to one another. Clients who have recovered can be beneficial members of such groups since they have already experienced transformation and can help others do the same.

The number of individuals anyone can help is small compared with the number of people who need help. Treating individuals is important, but we also have to help our society be well. But if we are spending hours doing charitable or social work, taking care of the sick and the poor, as a way to escape our own loneliness, our work will not be effective. If we carry too many internal knots inside us, no matter how much time and energy we spend working for the well-being of others, we will still be lost.

To grow well, a tree needs roots. We need to get in touch with our roots and our true identity. If we live with a good sangha for a while, we will find our identity and true person. The words "true person" were offered by Zen Master Linchi. One day, Master Linchi said to his students, "Brothers and sisters, there is one true person who permanently comes in and out of our being. Do you know that true person?" The audience was silent for a long time before one monk stood up and asked, "Master, please teach us. Who is that true person?" Disappointed by the monk's question, Linchi said, "That true person? What the heck!" No one understood his words.

Who is that true person? Can we be in real touch with him or her? Until we do, we will continue to be lost, unable to find our true heritage. We will not need a train or a plane to come home. We will be at home wherever we are. Being with a sangha, with those who have found their true heritage, is the best way to realize this. In a sangha, even if we just relax and do nothing, one day our true person will reveal himself or herself. Communities where people can come together and be guided in the direction of returning to their true person are very important.

Many teenagers come to Plum Village feeling aban­doned and unhappy. They suffer from cultural and identity crises. They listen to Dharma talks, but these do not help. The most important thing for them is to be in contact with others their own age who are happy. These friendships help them contact their own true person. This is a basic principle of the practice. If you are a Dharma teacher leading retreats, please keep this in mind. Otherwise you only offer tempo­rary relief—you will not touch the sufferings that are rooted deeply in people and bring about real transformation.

Individual transformation always goes hand in hand with social transformation. We may receive praise when we go on a solo retreat for ten or twenty years, seeing no one and eating only fruits and vegetables. But if, during that period, we do not meet anyone who could say something to upset us, how can we be sure that our anger and delusion have been transformed? If we are criticized and confronted with difficulties and still remain calm and happy, then we know that we have arrived at understanding, love, and insight, and our transformation is real.

The moment we feel happy, society already begins to transform, and others feel some happiness. When someone in society finds his true identity, we all find our identity. This is the principle of interbeing. The moment we come in touch with our true person, we become relaxed, peaceful, and fresh, and society already begins to transform. If we are pleasant and happy, the nervous system of those we meet will be soothed. Everything settles down when we put an end to craving, anger, and delusion.

Even though our society has caused us pain, suffering, internal formations, and illness, we have to open our arms and embrace society in complete acceptance. We have to go back to our society with the intention to rebuild it and enrich life by offering the appropriate therapies for its illnesses. People may not be ready to accept our ideas, our love, but we must make the effort. When a foreign substance enters our body, white blood cell production increases, and macrophages embrace and destroy the foreign body. Even foreign bodies that can play an important role in keeping our body functioning well are rejected. If we need a liver transplant, the new liver is subject to rejection since it is foreign to our body. The new liver is neither sad nor disappointed, because it knows that it enters our body with all its love. It tries to find a way to establish a good relation­ship with the body so that one day it will be accepted.

We are the same. When we return home—to Ireland, Poland, Vietnam, or anywhere—we have to use skillful means to weaken rejecting phenomena. Even if our return is full of good will, we can be crushed. Some medicines that can cure an illness become ineffective before reaching the intestines because of the stomach's acidity. To prevent this, pills are coated with protective substances, and the pill's content is not released into the bloodstream until the pill reaches the intestines. We should use the same principle to return to society. Rejection also exists in our own con­sciousness. Our bodies and minds often refuse things that can help us. The practice of peace is basic for our well­being, but since we already have habits, rejection is a common tendency. Many people think that if they accept new ideas or insights, their identity or security will vanish. They may cling to something they think of as their identity, but that is not their true identity. It is only an artificial cover that society has painted on them.

mb09-dharma2

Look at a Vietnamese teenager growing up in America. In her are worries, despair, and problems just as there are in all young people. The cultural and social substances that she has picked up in America have built up her personality, and she thinks she is just that personality. But her Vietnamese tradition and culture are also in her, although in the form of not-yet-sprouted seeds. In this young lady, there is the substance, the personality, and countenance of a young Vietnamese girl that she has not been able to touch. She believes that what she has received from American culture is her true person. If someone suggests that she live in an environment that will help her be in touch with the Viet­namese seeds in her, she may become frightened. To her, returning to her Vietnamese roots is a threat. She is afraid she will lose her personality. Most teenagers feel the same—that if their present identity is dropped, they will not know where to stand. We should help them find their true person so that, gradually, they will be able to let go of their suffering. Concepts about success and happiness are a kind of coating that society has painted on them, and they mistake them for their identity. Vietnamese, Irish, Ameri­can, Polish, everyone should return to their true person. That is the only way we will have a chance to transform our­selves and our society, and become our true person.

All of us need to return home along that path. When we return, we may want to introduce the practice of mindful­ness to others. If we can help people see the essence of love and understanding, we might be able to help the situation. To rebuild our society, we need to bring about social balance and uncover the best traditional values. We are like a child who has crossed many mountains and rivers to find the right medicine for our mother's illness. We should tell people, "Please try this remedy. It may cure the illness of our motherland. If this medicine is not effective, let us look for another remedy together. Let us give our motherland a chance." We must go back to our society as a son, a brother, or a sister and accept everyone as our relative.

When we return home, we can live in the heart of socie­ty, but we should be careful to protect ourselves. People may reject us or try to destroy us, because they are afraid to lose what they are accustomed to. We can try to establish a sangha, a community of practice, an island standing firmly in the ocean that is not affected by social storms—a pro­tected island where trees and birds can live safely without being threatened by strong winds or high waves. A sangha is an island in which we can take refuge. Vietnamese, Irish, Americans, Poles all have to do the same. Sangha-building is a way to break through the obstacles presented by society. In order to offer a therapeutic role, a sangha should acquire a certain degree of peace and happiness itself. There need to be a number of happy individuals who have found their true person and are relaxed, smiling, accepting, loving, and helpful. Once an island like that is strong, it can open itself to more and more people for refuge. One island can then become two, three, four, or more, depending on its capacity to share the practice. Forming a sangha is not difficult if we have support of friends on the path. To take refuge, first of all, is to take refuge in the island of ourselves and then in the island of a sangha.

These islands are communities of resistance. "Resis­tance" does not mean to oppose others. It means to protect ourselves, like staying inside the house to protect ourselves from the weather. We resist being destroyed by society's pollution, noise, unhappiness, harsh words, and negative behavior. If we do not know how to take care of ourselves, we may get wounded and be unable to help others. If we join with others to build a sangha that can nourish and protect us and resist society's destructiveness, we will be able to return home. Many years ago, I suggested that peace activists in the West establish communities of resistance. A true sangha is always therapeutic. To return to our own body and mind is already to return to our roots, to our true home, to our true person. With the support of a sangha, we can do it.

In the Lotus and Diamond Sutras, there are stories of our true heritage: There was a young man from a wealthy family who led a life of pleasure, always squandering his wealth. His father loved and cared for him very much, but he could not find a way to make his son aware of his good fortune. He could see that his son would suffer and become a beggar if he did not transform, but he understood that warning or blaming the boy would not help. So he made himself a jacket and wore it for some years.

Then, one day, he said to his son, "In the future, when I die, I know you will squander your inheritance. I ask only one thing. Please do not lose this jacket. Please always keep it with you." The father had secretly sewn one very precious gem into the lining of the jacket. The young man did not like the old jacket, but he kept it because of his father's request was so easy. After the father died, the son quickly spent his entire inheritance, and soon, as his father had predicted, he became very poor. He went many days without food. The Lotus Sutra calls him "the destitute son." No­where could he make a living or find happiness. He owned only the old clothes on his back, including the jacket his father had asked him to keep.

One day, the young man was running his fingers along the outside of the jacket, and he suddenly discovered the precious gem inside the lining. For many months he had been living in hunger and despair, and as a result he now knew something of life. He understood how it was to use his precious gem to rebuild his life, and he finally received the heritage his father had left for him. For the first time in his life he was happy.

Our true heritage is a gem. It includes understanding, responsibility, and knowing the way to live happily. The Buddha uses this image in the Lotus Sutra to teach us that we are all destitute sons and daughters squandering our true heritage, which is happiness. Our heritage is right in our hand, but we waste our lives, acting as if we are the poorest person on Earth. Now is the time to rediscover the gem hidden right in our jacket.

In the Diamond Sutra, we read about sons and daughters of good families who fill the 3,000 universes with the seven precious treasures as an act of generosity, and the more they give, the richer they become. We can do that too, because we too have innumerable gems. Each minute of our life, each hour of our day is a precious gem. If we live mindfully, smiling, each moment is a wonderful treasure. Thanks to mindfulness, we can hear the birds singing, the leaves rustling, and so many other wonderful sounds. We see the flowers blooming, the blue sky, and the white clouds. If we live in mindfulness, our baskets will be filled with precious gems. Every second, every minute, every hour is a diamond. We have been living like wandering destitute sons and daughters. Now, it is time for us to go back and receive our true heritage and live our days deeply and happily. Once we learn the art of living mindfully, people around us will benefit from our happiness. We will be able to offer one handful of precious gems to the person on our right, another to the person on our left, and we never run out; our precious gems will fill the 3,000 chiliocosms. Our heritage is so rich. There is no reason to feel alienated. At the moment we claim our heritage, we can offer peace and happiness to our friends, our ancestors, our children, and their children, all at the same time. 

Adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh' s lectures at Plum Village, translated from the Vietnamese by Anh Huong Nguyen.

Photos: First photo by Ingo Gunther. Second photo by Karen Hagen Liste.

PDF of this article

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

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.

PDF of this article

Family Retreats

By Ann-Mari Gemmill & Mitchell Ratner Every fall and spring for the past five years, members of the Washington Mindfulness Community retreat to an old lodge on the Chesapeake Bay. The lodge has room to ramble and appreciate the waves and sunsets. Each group is a little different and includes active Sangha members, spouses, children , companions, and friends , usually about 30 people. Because many are "regulars," the organizing tasks have become familiar and easy to share. As one nine-yearold "regular" says, "It's really fun."

Before the retreat, adults and teenagers agree to take turns organizing children's activities and bringing materials for each activity. Teams are designated to bring ingredients for and prepare one meal during the retreat.

The retreat begins Friday evening with a game to help learn names. We gather in a big circle and people introduce themselves with a positive adjective that alliterates with their first name, such as Amazing Ann-Mari or Magical Mitchell. Then parents and older chi ldren read or tell bedtime stories- often Buddhist stories with themes related to Thay's teachings. After the stories, some parents put younger children to bed, while others gather in the boat house for meditation. Older children may join if they wish. Early morning meditations are also in the boathouse or, in nice weather, on the dock.

Saturday morning, we choose topics for Dharma discussions and fine tune the timing of activities and meals. We plan a schedule that lets each child (over two years old) be part of a team that invites the bell to sound and reads gat has before meals . The children increasingly join in planning the program, especially the tea ceremony. They also enjoy craft projects (such as creating a miniature tea ceremony from beeswax), soccer games, canoeing and paddle-boating, baking cookies, and planning skits for the tea ceremony.

Before meals, our entire community stands holding hands in a circle, to smile at each other and hear the gathas. We eat in (relative) silence for the first five or ten minutes. The children delight in inviting the bell after talk begins, silencing us all.

The tea ceremony takes place Saturday evening after a flurry of cushion placement and flower arranging. We tell what we discovered on our walks, show drawings and craft projects, and share skits, songs, jokes, poems, and insights. The retreat ends Sunday with a short ceremony of appreciation and reflections, followed by lunch.

Ann-Mari Gemmill, Mitchell Ratner (True Mirror of Wisdom), and their daughter, Juliana, are veterans of nine Washington Mindfulness Community family retreats.

PDF of this article

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.

PDF of this article

Healing Trees

By Vaughn Lovejoy My work with TreeUtah, a nonprofit tree planting organization, allows me to work with inner city schools, neighborhood projects, and ecological restoration projects. I came to this job out of concern for the natural world. Though it, my heart has opened to the beautiful, young children living amidst poverty, violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, and broken families in my community. I have come to see that environmental and social issues are connected, and I have tried to use tree planting and mindfulness to address both issues.

This year we introduced the Healing Tree Program. We plant a tree to bring healing to the neighborhood or schoolyard where it will grow. I explain to the elementary school students that for thousands of years, trees have been a symbol of the unification of heaven and earth. The roots of a tree go deep within the earth and the branches reach into the sky. I explain that the earth is like our body and the sky is like our mind. If mind and body are brought together in harmony, then like a tree, we can be a blessing to our community.

Before we plant the tree, I have the children imagine a tree of light in their hearts. I suggest that they may plant a healing tree in their own inner world, where they can go for nourishment and safety whenever they need to. I tell them that like the tree we are planting in their schoolyard, the trees they plant in their hearts need care. I tell them that I spend time every day taking care of my inner healing tree by paying attention to my breathing. On my in-breath I imagine healing light nourishing my tree and say "healing" silently. On my out-breath I imagine loving light going out to the world and say silently "loving." While following this practice, the children and I plant the tree together.

Vaughn Lovejoy, True Holy Seed, practices with the Salt Lake Community of Mindfulness in Utah.

PDF of this article

May Sangha Relations Become Complete

By Wendy Johnson When I first began to practice Zen meditation in 1971, I sat with a small Sangha on the Mount of Olives, east of the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Dead Sea. Every morning after sitting, we chanted a simple verse of dedication that ended with this evocation:

Past, present, future, all Buddhas Bodhisattvas, teachers and friends Let true Dharma continue, Sangha relations become complete!

This evocation has stayed with me over the years. I remembered it vividly one evening at our Fragrant Earth Mindfulness Sangha when Dharma teacher Caitriona Reed joined us. We spent the evening talking about Sangha relations becoming complete, or whole. "Please embody the teachings," Caitriona urged us.

Complete embodiment of the teachings is the source of healthy Sangha relations. Dynamic practice, practice that is energetic and that welcomes change, also depends on embodying the teachings, giving them life through the life of your body and mind and through your daily, moment-bymoment, step-by-step practice of mindfulness.

Please listen to your body and believe your experience. A dynamic, truthful Sangha, one that continues to practice mindfulness even in the midst of fIre and loss is made up of dynamic, truthful Sangha members. When we stay very close to our experience of life in the present moment and fInd a way to share and offer this experience to our Sangha, then Sangha relations become complete. So ...

  • Anchor yourself in the practice of mindfulness.
  • Don't be afraid to speak truthfully, even though doing so may endanger your safety and your sweet reputation. Remember, as one of our Sangha members reminded me, saccharine is made up of non-saccharine elements.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Play with the teachings. Tickle them from behind.
  • Be earnest and bold. Don't rely on anyone, even the Buddha, to tell you how to practice.
  • Be kind to yourself and others.
  • Face the world and insist that practice respond to the cries of the world. Remember the Buddha's message: "One thing do I teach: suffering and the end of suffering."
  • Pay attention to children. Look them in the eye and listen to them.
  • Give up the struggle and cultivate the practice of patience.
  • Listen to the still place inside. Be open.
  • And once a day, forget everything you know and begin anew. Follow your heart. When you do, you embody the Dharma, and Sangha relations become complete.

Dharma teacher Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment, prepared this piece with input and support from the Fragrant Earth Sangha in Berkeley, California.

PDF of this article

Postscript

April 20, 1999 mb24-Postscript

This morning The Naples Daily News had a banner headline: "Massacre in Colorado." Tonight on CNN, our president spoke to our country's adults about the tragedy. He asked us to look at the example we're setting for our children in terms of violence and aggression. He spoke of teaching our children that disagreements can be settled through dialogue and peaceful means. The fact that as Commander in Chief he is currently unleashing incredible destruction on the Serbians, and the example he is setting for our nation's children, seemed to have eluded him. "Compartmentalization" at its most tragic. Once again, children are mimicking the world around them by settling hurts and disputes with killing and destruction.

Once again, the lonely and embittered of our society have been allowed to remain alone, untouched by understanding and love, no one reaching out to them in friendship and dialogue. Once again, pent-up anger has exploded in a seemingly irrational display of hatred and violence.

This horrible tragedy is a wake-up call to our country to truly begin the demilitarization of our society-civilian and military. To renounce violence in all forms, put away our guns and bombs, and stop watching violent movies, television shows and video games. And, most importantly, to commit ourselves to resolving all disputes, no matter how small, with compassionate dialogue and mediation. We must reach out to those sectors of our communities that are alienated, and bring them into the larger community. We must renounce violence in all forms as a solution to any problem. To paraphrase A. J. Mustie, there is no way to nonviolence, living nonviolently is the only way.

- Fred Eppsteiner

PDF of this article

Taking a Breath

By Bill Welch Last August, the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax opened, operating in rented space at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The church, located in Oakton, Virginia, offers several advantages to the center: eleven wooded a res; a supportive congregation, staff, and ministers; proximity to Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen, the primary teachers at the MPC; and its location approximately in the center of Fairfax County, Virginia, a large suburban area directly west of Washington, D.C.

In the short time the center has been open, many participants have experienced significant, positive changes. Kay, a therapist, shared her thoughts in a letter to AnhHuong and Thu.

"I hold on to the practice much better since attending the Center. I notice the moon often, when I attend the Center often. Instead of noticing the moon only on vacation, I now find it is there on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. ... The practice of maintaining my center while increasing my field of awareness greatly enhances my work as a therapist. After a few mindful breaths in the midst of a chaotic family, I am present to offer my best. I have also incorporated the practice of conscious breathing into my work by introducing bits of it to interested people."

Jim, interested in Buddhism since childhood, was well read on the subject of meditation, but "had a difficult time comprehending the instructions, much less putting it into practice." He longed for a place that could offer him instruction. Plagued by anger, stress, and addiction, he decided to visit the center every day for meditation. "I could feel the walls that I had built around my heart and mind start to come down, brick by brick. I started to leam to love again- most importantly, how to love myself. I learned that to love and respect others, I must first love and respect myself. A cigarette smoker for fifteen years, I finally realized how beautiful my breath is, how beautiful my lungs are. It did not take long after that to pluck that habit from my life. I pray that centers like this pop up all over the planet. The world would be so peaceful."

mb24-Taking

Thu offers deep relaxation meditation to parents while their children are in church choir practice. The parents found they had more patience for their children, and were better able to handle stress as a result of the sessions. Based on their own refreshing experience, several parents encouraged Thu to teach deep relaxation to the children. None of them knew how long it would take the children to settle down. They were surprised and pleased that the children were able to enjoy deep relaxation the very first time. One parent, Susan, reports on the benefits:

"For our family, it was a huge success, and my son looks forward to going to the MPC every Monday, even when it's a school holiday and there is no choir practice. He just wants to go because it makes him 'feel good.' My husband and I have noticed that his disposition is much more pleasant after the Monday session. He has had difficulty controlling his anger most of his young life, and has made so much progress in controlling his temper during the last four months. I attribute much of this improvement to the relaxation sessions at MPC."

Hal , a recovering alcoholic and longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, finds practicing mindfulness and meditation enriching to his AA program. Hal was instrumental in having Anh-Huong and Thu offer a Day of Mindfulness for People in Recovery. In expressing his gratitude after this initial offering, Hal said:

"Living in the here and now is a matter of life and death when recovering from addiction to alcohol and other drugs and is of bedrock importance to developing a happy sobriety over the long term. Your teaching had a profound effect on all the attendees with whom I spoke afterward."

Since this first offering, one other daylong workshop for people in recovery has been held. The current plan is to offer such an event all day one Saturday every other month.

Alice began attending the MPC soon after it opened and has found relief from a fear and anxiety syndrome which had bothered her for more than a year. When she recently had a rather serious leg injury treated in the Emergency Room, she practiced mindful breathing, and remained calm and relatively pain-free while the wound was cleaned and stitched. Alice finds that reminding herself to live one minute at a time helps her relax and reduces her stress.

For me, Thu and Anh-Huong have really become colleagues in ministry. As someone who has a real interest in spiritual growth- my own and others-I find the MPC a wonderful resource and support. It provides a regularity and structure that my own practice needs. Having an instructor conveniently available and having other people to practice with is very valuable. All of us associated with the MPC in Oakton hope others will make the effort to find and join us.

mb24-Taking2

Bill Welch is the Assistant Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax.

PDF of this article

With Thay in England

By Rosamond Richardson Thay once wrote a poem called "Froglessness," about a frog's tendency, when put on a plate, to jump off again and again. My frogness was doing well when I arrived at Wymondham College in Norfolk for a five day retreat last spring. It was my first experience in Thich Nhat Hanh's presence, although I had read several of his books, heard tapes, and been on two Sangha retreats. The frog was destined to have an interesting time.

At first, I felt overwhelmed by the nearly 500 people, uncomfortable at sharing a room, and underwhelmed by my surroundings. The bath and shower on the landing did not work. I felt homesick. People did not respond to smiles. But the food was excellent, served with grace and sweetness by the college staff; the spring weather was perfect; and the college grounds were beautiful.

By day five, all my negative seeds had been supplanted by spring flowers of joy and understanding. And the frog had calmed down. How did this happen?

My turning point was Thay's second Dharma talk when I experienced Thay as an embodiment of wisdom and compassion. With his elegant lacing of humour, I was spellbound. Thay taught that mindfulness can arouse us from the unconscious state in which we choose to live. He told wonderful stories illustrating how suffering often results from wrong perception, and how we frequently find what we seek in unexpected places. The frog began to relax and listen.

It was the start of a beautiful day. After a quiet yoga practise I soaked in a bath (yes, the plumbers had called!) and absorbed the richness of the teaching. After lunch, Sister Chan Khong led Total Relaxation. In nearly twenty years of yoga, I had never experienced going so deep. Her beautiful singing took me to a place I didn't know was in me. The session seemed to untie every knot and iron every crease, right to my core.

That afternoon, the monks and nuns offered a "Question and Answer" session. Several people asked about joy, pointing out the lack of its manifestation around the campus. From then on, we gave ourselves permission to smile, to feel cheerful, and above all to enjoy the practice. The atmosphere changed and everyone became more relaxed.

Later that day, someone told me a single room had become available. I went to see it and wandered back to my room to pack, but on entering realised that I no longer needed solitariness. I had moved through a defensive wall and opened up to actually enjoy sharing (a first for me). I had, I think, negotiated a passage to the island of my soul and had no need to close a physical door between me and others. My breath was a perfect refuge if I needed one. That evening's meditation was deeper and more peaceful than before.

The following morning, Brother Michael led a guided meditation on seeing ourselves and our parents as five-year olds in order to heal and reconcile, and then to transform our relationships. I found it profoundly moving, and allowed the tears to run freely. One section hit an incredibly painful spot, but by allowing the pain to release, I healed a very old misunderstanding. This was appropriate preparation for Thay's Dharma talk, where he reminded us of our interconnectedness to our ancestors. He went deeper into the Heart of Understanding, clarifying it with such crystalline simplicity that it was easy to absorb. My admiration for him as a teacher, let alone as a human being, was increasing by the minute. The way he related interbeing to quantum physics was masterly. Taking the now axiomatic "waves are particles, particles are waves" he turned to write "wavicles" on the board. Non-duality with a smile.

When Thay addressed the children each morning, the child in me received those teachings vividly. Watching the children absorb the atmosphere and the teachings was deeply touching. On the last day, they sang a song and presented Thay with a card of The Buddha Within, drawn and signed by them all. I was moved to happy tears.

"You are already what you want to become," Thay said. What a relief to let go, and simply be. "When you sit," he said, "just smile and be yourself. To meditate is not to achieve, but to be. There is no attainment. Only then is stopping possible." In answer to a question about the butterfly mind, he said to love the butterfly, to embrace it with the practice of breathing. Me and my frog, we were beginning to do the same thing.

The last morning I walked alone around the park after a quiet meditation in the chapel and absorbed the primroses under the great beech tree. As I walked towards the sheltered pond a green woodpecker flew out of the thicket and went to drink. I walked past waving poplars shimmering in the early sunshine and felt at one. The retreat had reconnected me not only with the joy of life (which comes fairly naturally to a frog), but also to its sheer beauty. What a wonderful gift. The path of joy and understanding was no longer just words, it was a living reality.

Rosamond Richardson practices with the Cambridge Sangha. She is an author and a yoga teacher.

PDF of this article

Poem: Teacher, Teacher

mb25-TeacherChildren, the Great Consciousness in its myriad forms. May I honor each one as we work together. I enter a room filled with small eager beings busy with things to see, learn, do. It's kindergarten class, and I'm the guest teacher

Suddenly there's a tap on my leg, a tug on my sleeve, so many touches at once,

I can't think.

I want to stop these pawing hands, these voices, voices, voices. The world that clamors for my attention.

"Teacher, teacher, see I can write my name." "Teacher, teacher, look at the building we made." "Teacher, teacher, listen to the story I wrote."

"Calm yourself," I mutter, "these are only little kids." But their never-ending touches drive my nerve endings to the edge of sanity.

"Teacher, teacher, do you like my picture?" "Teacher, teacher, I catched the ball three times." "Teacher, teacher, listen to the song I know."

I look down noses taking the breath of life, mouths excited with the formation of words, skin luminescent with newness hair carefully braided, hair straggly and brittle, eyes all shades, large and luminous, deep and dark, clear blue, hazel, gray, brown, black, open.

Hands holding a picture— "Special, for you teacher." the voice soft as milkweed about to fly off on the wind.

"Teacher, teacher, see, I sharpened the pencil all by myself." "Teacher, teacher, look at the puzzle I finished." "Teacher, teacher, I can count to 100."

I am looking into the soul of the universe the Great Consciousness fresh from its source.

I breathe in once, twice, three times. Now the tapping feels like gentle waves lapping my thigh, Fall leaves brushing against me as I walk. Buddha nature, present, visible, vibrant.

"Teacher, teacher, see how high I can jump." "Teacher, teacher, look, I put everything away." "Teacher, teacher, read me this story."

And suddenly, "teacher, teacher" is my bell of mindfulness.

I turn. On the edge of class a child sits, eyes clouded, face tight, lips pulled. So soon? I walk over, the child shrinks into himself. The Great Source in pain. "You are beautiful, special," I whisper in passing, "I'm glad you're here."

Oh, that I could be open and compassionate all day long. That I didn't slip, wasn't short, never used a sharp voice.

But the children help. "Teacher, teacher," they say, and the mindfulness bell rings again.

"Teacher, teacher, I cut good with my scissors, don't I?" "Teacher, teacher, please tie my shoe." "Teacher, teacher, I like you."

Diane L. Ste. Marie Seattle, Washington, USA

PDF of this article

Practicing with Kyrre

By Svein Myreng and Eevi Beck We sat down to meditate for the first time in weeks, and it felt wonderful. Then we heard small, unhappy noises from our baby boy, Kyrre, crawling on the floor next to us. Seeing Mom and Dad sitting still and withdrawn, was quite scary. Practicing mindfulness with a child is different from what we had expected, and different from all ideas we might have had of practice. It is difficult to find time for yourself, and we often have no time for sitting meditation, or are too tired from waking up repeatedly at night. Yet, we need the support of formal sitting more than ever, and are learning to create time for it.

mb27-Practicing3

Kyrre draws us straight into the present moment, time and again. He lives fully in the present, and when he needs us, there is no saying, "I'll just finish reading this article first." We have to let go of what we are doing and be there for him. Of course, sometimes we have to have him wait, such as when we're holding a hot pot, or putting soiled nappies in the wash. On such occasions, Kyrre is usually patient with us, if we don't overdo it. So we try hard to be there without delay if we can, so when we really need to, we can ask him to wait.

The wonderful thing is that he's there for us too, fully present. This has had impacts I (Eevi) could not have imagined. One day I couldn't work out why he didn't settle in at the breast. He was in a good position, and I wanted him to get on with it so I could turn to something else afterwards. Suddenly I saw that his little frowning face was my face. I knew I was sitting still, but when I felt my brow, it was all frowned up. And sure enough, as soon as I returned to my body, relaxed my face and other tensions, his unease evaporated and he sucked happily away. I learned then to check my own agitation whenever he seemed inexplicably restless!

mb27-Practicing3

Letting go is, of course, one of the main parts of the practice. Holding on—to desires, fixed ways of doing things, opinions, and our self-image—keeps us unfree. Kyrre helps us let go by demanding our presence, by needing us—and by changing so fast. By the time we both felt confident changing his nappies on a changing table, he soon started moving about so much that we were afraid he'd fall down. In the end he did, and we moved nappy changing onto the floor, and later, to our laps. When Kyrre started crawling, we moved all dangerous objects out of his reach on the floor. Then he started standing, and we had to move the same objects out of his new and higher reach. One day, he could open drawers for the first time. These changes, commonplace for all parents, demand pretty constant mindfulness just to avoid accidents.

mb27-Practicing A more demanding exercise in letting go comes from seeing the stress caused to Kyrre and to us by filling up our days and weeks with too much programme. Time and again we have to make a conscious effort to protect periods of doing nothing.

mb27-Practicing3

The tremendous love that appeared in us when Kyrre was born, is something I (Svein) would never have been able to imagine. The main part of our practice is, in a way, to let this love be expressed. So the challenge isn't so much staying mindful. For this, we now have our own little "Thay" to teach us each moment. The challenge is to find a balance between listening to the toddler's needs and wishes, and retaining a sense of rhythm to the day. This is not always easy.

One thing we have succeeded in, is to make a small ceremony before each meal. We light a candle, and sing a short verse of grace before we start eating. It's wonderful to see Kyrre's face light up in joy when he sees us light the candle or hears the song. Our simple ceremony gives him a sense of security and familiarity. We also use it away from home. On trips, we sing grace quietly before feeding him. Once, Kyrre got upset, when we joined another child in singing a different song: We had not been mindful that we had already lit the candle and were in the middle of his ceremony!

Stopping and looking at a tree is a healing practice during a busy day. Tonight, on a light Norwegian summer evening, we introduced Kyrre more closely to some trees near our block of flats. He was completely absorbed, touching a fir tree and then a birch, looking at an ant, ... ? He was radiant with a deep, quiet joy.

mb27-Practicing3

One aspect of our practice is to impart values and practices that are good for him and the world. We use cloth diapers, better for his skin as well as the environment. They take a bit more work, but folding nappies is an excellent meditation practice. The calm rhythm of repeated movements makes a break from rushing between chores. By choosing the convenient solution, disposable nappies, dishwasher, etc., many of us deprive ourselves of calming and centering work. With a baby, this kind of work is extra important. We have chosen not to have a TV set—a decision we are very happy with. We have read enough about the impact of television on the human body and mind to feel that it is a pretty dangerous device. (We think and hope our computer is less so!) Visiting friends or relatives who have a TV, we see Kyrre's attention getting sucked into the TV screen. It's virtually impossible to make him look away from it. We are aware that it may be more difficult to always keep him away from TV, but we hope the good seeds we plant now will have their influence.

We are aware that we are privileged—without money worries (because we try to live simply) and living in Norway, where people work less and get better social support than in many other countries. For instance, we had a one-year parental leave of absence from work, with 80 percent pay, dividing the free time between us.

Another privilege that means a lot to us is having Sangha meetings at our home every Thursday. Eevi and Svein take turns meditating with the others and being with Kyrre, and for the conversation after sitting, Kyrre joins the group. Though the Dharma discussion becomes less concentrated, this is a very joyful time for all, and we feel like Kyrre has an extra family

All the letting go brings lots of old knots to the surface, and challenges our habit energy. To take care of the irritation and selfishness that appear when we are tired from waking up several times a night for several nights running, or when Kyrre poops five minutes after we last changed his nappy and we need to make it for the subway—those are the great challenges of practice. The old "mindfulness virtues" are important: to recognise and acknowledge what you feel and accept it, even when it's irrational anger against your beloved child. Then, it's possible to breathe a few times so the anger can disappear, or ask your spouse for help.

mb27-Practicing2

Admitting our weaknesses—without self-judgment— may be most important of all. So many times I (Eevi) feel I am failing—as parent, as practitioner, and as an example for Kyrre. My practice from before he was born taught me the invaluable lesson that such feelings are never the whole picture. Just try again. And this life-transforming lesson is one I have been able to keep practicing. The practice helps us not lose faith when we fail to live up to our ideals. "A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake," said Dogen. A parent's life is, too!

And Kyrre is a perfect mirror. We project onto him reactions that can only stem from ourselves. As he can't talk yet, our communication, though rich, is limited to the concrete and to general moods. We may catch ourselves thinking he's impatient or irritated with us, only to see that it's our own mind, our fears we see. This year has opened our eyes to how habitually we project onto others. When our fear and insecurity doesn't intrude, we see him more clearly as he is.

mb27-Practicing3

Living with and through these challenges, we find it's crucial to keep communicating. We do the Beginning Anew ceremony when possible, and try to take time for each other. It is difficult at times, but very important. During this period of too little sitting and too little sleep, some of Thay's practices get a whole new meaning—the Four Mantras, the teachings on Right Speech, and the Five Awarenesses for married people. More than ever before, we feel part of a family lineage, grateful to the previous generations and committed to give Kyrre as much love and joy as possible. This is such a joyful time, taking care of our precious little son and of each other.

Now, Kyrre is even comfortable with us sitting a little in meditation—if we remember to smile!

Eevi Beck, True Compassionate Practice, and her husband, Dharma teacher Svein Myreng, True Door, live in Oslo, Norway. Their son, Kyrre, was born in May 1999. Svein's book, Plum Poems, was published by Parallax Press in 1999. Svein is at home with Kyree, while writing a book on meditation. Eevi works as a computer scientist.

PDF of this article

Cultivating Family Practice in the Sangha

By Michele Tedesco Two years ago, I presented the community at Plum Village a very special vase of flowers. It took me about fifteen minutes to arrange in front of the community. The whole community was breathing and smiling while I arranged these flowers. But that pot of flowers was quite different from any other pot of flowers I have arranged, because that evening, the flowers that I arranged were children.... Each child is a flower. Adults should remember that children are flowers to be taken care of in order for joy and happiness to last. —Thich Nhat Hanh

Every time adults practice together, we have an opportunity to present the Sangha with just such a pot of flowers. We may not be as skillful at flower arranging, because the practice is new to us. We may be afraid to handle the blossoms for fear they are too delicate or the bright colors may offend some community members. We are afraid the vase may tip and fall loudly, causing some to lose their mindfulness momentarily. We are afraid of discord in the Sangha. As with any new skill, we must overcome fear of failure to make the first attempts. Be mindful, be diligent, and we will learn to be skillful flower arrangers.

My husband and I are fortunate that our Sangha supports our learning to arrange our beautiful flowers—Christopher (15), Giovanni (7), and Gabriela (5)—in front of them on a regular basis. Indeed, over the past two years, the Sangha has encouraged us. Many have seized the opportunity to practice with our children. Because of this, our family, our practice, and our Sangha have reaped many rewards. As a family we are able to practice together and feel the support and love of our community. Our Sangha benefits by having the vibrancy of youth to inspire us, and provide other ways to practice.

Even within my beautiful Sangha, however, some parents do not include their children in our community practice. There is nothing unique that makes our children more accessible to the practice. My children are valued immensely, but they are the only children who attend functions regularly. I know this must be true of other Sanghas as well. I have spent much time and energy trying to figure out why, so that I would be able to help people understand that children and Sangha practice can go together—even if it is a little messy sometimes. So this past spring, I decided that instead of bringing the children to the Sangha, I would bring the Sangha to the children! In May, we had our first Kid's Mini Day of Mindfulness.

The day was a great success. Not because everything happened perfectly—of course, it didn't—but because it simply happened). Ten children, from one to fifteen-years-old, attended with at least one parent. Most wonderful of all, five members of our Sangha who do not have children participated, by taking on activities through the day or by simply leading around a restless one-year-old—a beautiful contribution of support for the mother. Here is our schedule:

mb27-Cultivating

During orientation I explained the symbolism of the Buddha statue on our small altar. Some parents and children knew very little about Buddhism; some practice another religion as their spiritual foundation. To alleviate any discomfort they might feel, we made it very clear that the statue was not the Buddha, but a symbol of his wisdom and enlightenment. I explained that we show respect to these qualities, and to this potential within ourselves when we bow. Also, we oriented the children to the bell and used it as a gathering sound.

The mindful games, led by one of our "less young" Sangha members, consisted of carrying beans in a small spoon from one pot to another. If they spilled, you had to start over. In another game, the children held the edges of a parachute and tried to keep balls rolling on it. In both games, the children discovered that the slower they went and the more they concentrated, the more successful they were. In the Dharma Talk, we talked about their experiences in the games, as applied to the idea of mindfulness. Cultivating mindfulness was our theme for the day and the games gave the children direct experience of its benefits. We also discussed how to be mindful with parents, siblings, and friends. Even the youngest children understood these experiences of mindfulness.

During story time, another less young Sangha member read some of the Jataka tales. Then, one of the mothers taught the song, "Breathing In, Breathing Out." The children also drew pictures of some of the concepts in the song: mountains, flowers, water, space. While the children were doing this, I threw in a parent discussion group, almost as an afterthought. The parents' discussion turned out to be a wonderful, nurturing experience. We asked questions and shared experiences. We opened by reading and discussing a longer version of the quote at the beginning of this article. Most importantly, I wanted to give the parents some simple, useful, practice tools. First, I encouraged the parents and children to use the bell when emotions are high, to bring the family back to its breath. Another tool I find very effective is using the word "mindful" with children, for example, "Susie, was it mindful to yell at your brother?" Finally, I gave the parents copies of The Five Contemplations, a sort of Buddhist meal prayer. Reciting the contemplations, announced by a bell, before a meal can add meaning and closeness to this daily family activity.

During lunch, we introduced the practice of the contemplations. The bell was invited. The contemplations were recited. Then, there was another bell and we took a few breaths before we ate. To deepen the practice of mindful eating, I asked the children to take one bite of their food and chew it ten times, counting their chews. During the meal we invited the bell a few more times to remind them to count their chews.

Meditation was presented to the parents and children as simply quieting your body and mind. We practiced bell meditation. Everyone closed their eyes and listened to the beautiful sound of the bell. When they couldn't hear the sound any longer, they raised their hands. All the children enjoyed a turn at inviting the bell, especially the one-year-old who invited it several times. At first, I thought it was a mistake to put meditation after free play when energies are at their peak. It did take a few minutes to settle down, but this was good training for the children. After all, mindfulness is most useful when things get crazy.

The last activity was art. Toni Carlucci, an art teacher whom we are fortunate to have as a Sangha member, is discovering wonderful ways to cultivate mindfulness through art. First, she showed the children some seeds and seedlings. Then they went around the property where we were, and looked at all the plants and flowers. Toni spoke to the children about how, through looking deeply and mindfully, they could see that the earth, rain, and sun are in the plants. Then, they made a three-paneled drawing with the seeds in the ground, a seedling, and a plant in full flower with the earth, sun and rain in each panel.

In the closing circle, we came together one last time. We looked at the art projects, and the children sang their new song. Each child was encouraged to say something. The point was to hear everyone's voice even if the only thing they had to say was, "I don't have anything to say."

We had a full day. Yet everyone—parents, children, and other Sangha members—came away with a deepened sense of mindfulness for themselves and their families. In other words, children's and family practice works!

I encourage every Sangha with families and children to plan some special time like this, even if you only have one or two children. Don't worry. If you start this practice, they will come. It is easier than you think. You may be surprised by the talents and energy your Sangha members bring to this project. Don't expect the kids to practice like adults. This is a different kind of day. Instead of Noble Silence, encourage the practice of Noble Not-So-Loud. Be prepared to abandon a plan if it is not working with your group. Be flexible. If four hours are more than you can handle, try two hours. Have parents and children practice together as much as possible through the day, especially during the Dharma Talk, the meal, and meditation. It is important that parents and children are on the same page in the practice, so it continues at home.

Deepening family practice in your Sangha will add a new and vital energy to the Sangha as a whole. As your spiritual community broadens itself in this way, its strength will grow, making a deeper well from which all members can drink.

Michele Tedesco and her family practice with The Breathing Heart Sangha, in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. She is interested in creating materials and rough guidelines for developing family practice. If you would like to help, please write Michele at 207 St. Martins Lane, Mableton, GA 30126, USA; e-mail: wholeideas@mindspring.com

PDF of this article

 

The Prodigal Son

By Mark LeMay I came late to parenting. I was 40 when Joe was born and 43 when Sammy arrived. They are now six and three years old, and I am still amazed at how they changed my life. I am especially struck by the sheer challenge of parenting. When Joe was an infant, his nighttime nickname was Buddha: he was always awake. Now it seems we have two live-in Zen masters. They are ingenious at disrupting the first sign of complacency in us.

During our six years as parents, we have moved closer to Buddhism and the practice of mindfulness. We strive to bring mindfulness to our family life and were very pleased to discover Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Everyday Blessings. We are committed to parenting as spiritual practice, and look for ways to gently introduce our children to the path. For example, they take turns as bellmaster before meals, and we recite a mealtime gatha together. We also encourage them to sound the bell when things get a little out of control. We all take three breaths and, with or without giggling from the boys, try to remember our commitment to family harmony.

We feel it is also important that our children know something of Christianity, the root tradition of both their parents. We have attended a fairly liberal Episcopal church where the boys went to Bible school. For a year or so, Joe thought of Jesus and Buddha as ancient superheroes, like Superman and Batman. This church, with its friendly priests and warm congregation, helped heal many of my old Catholic School wounds. In particular, I remember a visit from a retired bishop who talked about the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). He focused on the story as a model of God's love for all his children, and of God's willingness to accept us back into the church, even when we have fallen away.

The Prodigal Son, like many Bible stories, has always been difficult for me to grasp, and even harder to live. But since I was studying and practicing mindfulness when the bishop came, I started to see the parable in a different light. It became particularly useful to see each of the three characters as parts of myself.

In the parable, the prodigal son convinced his father to divide his estate and give him his inheritance. He then journeyed "into a far country, and wasted his substance with riotous living." After he squandered his inheritance, a famine arose, "and he began to be in want." He went to work for a farmer, feeding his swine and eating the husks that the swine left. He suddenly realized that his father's hired hands lived better than he did. He decided to go home and ask his father to "make me as one of thy hired servants." But when he returned, the prodigal son was overcome with guilt, and said to his father, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son."

In relation to my practice, I am the prodigal son when I live in forgetfulness and self-centeredness. When I hurry my children through our morning routine or allow irritation to creep into my voice because I am attached to my agenda, I waste the precious gift of life in the present moment. When I come back to my breath, I seek the peace of mindfulness, but often I experience the guilt of the prodigal son for having strayed and causing others to suffer.

When the prodigal son returned, the father told the servants to bring his best robe for the son and to  kill the fatted calf: "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." The father accepts his son with loving-kindness and rejoices at his return. He greets the prodigal son warmly and rejoices at his return. The father's response is a model for how I can treat myself when I stray from the path of mindfulness.

The third character, the elder son, remained faithful to his father while his younger brother squandered his inheritance. Upon hearing the celebration for his brother, he "was angry and would not go in. His father came out, and entreated him: 'Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.'" The story does not explore the elder son's feelings, aside from his anger. I can easily imagine him also feeling resentful, wounded, and suspicious. These feelings are familiar, for I have held them toward others and towards myself. When I wake up to the suffering caused when I stray from mindfulness, I feel critical and suspicious of myself. When I have strayed from my goal of mindful parenting, I sometimes feel the sting of shame as I take a deep breath and re-attune to my children. I feel both the guilt of the prodigal son, and the angry suspicion of the elder brother toward myself.

Each time I catch myself living in forgetfulness  and feel the prodigal son and his brother in my heart, I try to remember the father. The father does not reject his younger son for having strayed, but rejoices  at his return. The father also does not rebuke the elder son for his anger and resentment, but invites him to join the celebration. I try not to cling to or repress my shame and anger. I notice these feelings and return to my breath. My feelings cannot be removed with aggression. I recognize them as part of the fold, and each time I return to the path, I say to myself (paraphrasing Thay),"I have arrived; welcome home."

Mark LeMay lives in Jefferson City, Tennessee, practices with the Thirty Good Leaves Sangha, and teaches parenting at a community mental health center, where he and his wife are psychologists.

PDF of this article

The Bear in the Blueberries

By Linda Buckley Twice a month a group of families gathers to practice mindfulness in Juneau, Alaska. We meet on Sunday afternoons in private homes. When a family is hosting the mindfulness family gathering, they decide on a theme, choose an activity to support the theme, and offer a mindful snack. Each snack is preceded by the five contemplations and a sharing circle looking deeply into the food we are about to eat.

In September, with the theme of harvest, our activity was to go out into the yard and pick blueberries for our snack. We selected some nice plump berries, washed them and put them in a large bowl. We recited the five contemplations and then began a discussion. Can you see the sun in the blueberries? Yes. Everyone could easily see the sun in the berries. Can you see the rain in the blueberries? Oh yes. Can you see the earth? Yes. Can you see the bear in the blueberries? Not really. In fact, the children agreed that the bear was not in the blueberries. The blueberries could be in the bear. But the bear could not be in the blueberries.

One of the children, Haley, had brought a small stuffed bear with her that day. She was putting the small bear on her head and balancing it there as she shared in the discussion. After seeing nearly the whole universe in the blueberries (except the bear) we passed the bowl around and mindfully began to let the sweet juice of the berries bring joy to our mouths. Each person would offer the bowl of berries, bow, and pass it on to the next. As Haley bowed to offer berries to her brother Alex, the bear perched on top of her head plopped into the blueberries. Everyone laughed and I asked, "Now can you see the bear in the blueberries?" YES!!

Then Alex said quite seriously, "The bear is in the blueberries because when the bear eats the blueberries and then goes to the bathroom, that goes into the earth and feeds the blueberry bush for next year ... so the bear is in the blueberries."

Linda Buckley, True Spiritual Fulfillment, is the Director of the Mindfulness Center of Juneau, Alaska. She is working on a book on family practice. For information on her book or ideas for family practice you may contact her at lbuckley@gci.net.

PDF of this article

Poem: Jumping in Stillness

mb30-Jumping1 It is after, our first snow storm clears. Standing at the kitchen window, watching, looking as

the blue breaks. I am seeing my daughter's jumping,jumping with a friend. Sun bouncing on the

trampoline as the canvas shoves them too, pushing back. Jumping because they can, in a whitestorm or the blue. Me, seeing

because I can not, not. Can not move from this place, so rooted am I to this spot of being eight again. As they sit on the

roof of the playhouse sharing stories, hairs bent, coupling to whisper secrets so close, every ear holds the murmurs. When they bite,

we can all taste, our apple's tang pulling us with every mouthful. Savor it inside our heads. Touch the laughter rolling off

that roof. And I stand still, placing this space, and this moment in our lives. Light shimmering abounds our jumping, our seeing,

the movement toward the window and away. Remember the reddening leaves, remember the snow brings freeze. But for now, we

blaze. Coloring trees. Oranges match her wind pants, treetops echo yellow soccer socks. Birds, sing a recitation of this palette, of this jumping in the stillness.

by Julia Burns, a mother, teacher, and child psychiatrist. She practices with her family in North Carolina.

PDF of this article

Teasing

A story retold by Terry Masters mb34-Teasing1

Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat. There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages two years old to fourteen years old.

“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile. “Please come sit with me.” They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“It snowed!” Julia Kate, who is six years old, informs him enthusiastically.

“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins. “It was so little!”

“But it was snow!” she insists. “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”

“She did!” Alex, the nine year old, says. “And it hit me!” “Well, what did you do?”

“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate. “Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children. “Do you have any questions for me today?”

“I do,” Eliana, a seven year old, says softly. “What is your question, Eliana?”

“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues, “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?” Chan Huy looks at the child. There is a long moment of silence.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.

After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers. The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.

“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.

“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.” “Hmmm.”  Chan Huy pauses.  Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”

Eliana thinks for a moment. We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child? What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.

Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’” The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.

“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head. He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips. She begins to sing. The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.

Breathing In Breathing Out I am blooming like a flower I am fresh as the dew I am solid as a mountain I am firm as the earth I am free.

Breathing In Breathing out I am water reflecting What is real, what is true And I feel there is space Deep inside of me I am free, I am free I am free.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She has owned a summer educational day camp for twenty-two years and helps coordinate and teach the children’s program in her Sangha.

Chan Huy, True Radiance, received the Lamp Transmission in 1994. Coming from a family with four generations of Thay’s students, he lives and guides Sanghas in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.

Drawing by Shea Lyndsey Griffin, age 10.

PDF of this article

Dharma Talk: Everyone Can and Will Become a Buddha

By Thich Nhat Hanh Exerpt from Lotus Sutra book, by Thich Nhat Hanh, recently published by Parallax Press.

mb35-Dharma1

In Chapter Twenty of the Lotus Sutra we are introduced to a beautiful bodhisattva called Sadaparibhuta, “Never Disparaging.”The name of this bodhisattva can also be translated as “Never Despising.” This bodhisattva never disparages living beings, never underestimates them or doubts their capacity for Buddhahood. His message is, “I know you possess Buddha nature and you have the capacity to become a Buddha,” and this is exactly the message of the Lotus Sutra—you are already a Buddha in the ultimate dimension, and you can become a Buddha in the historical dimension. Buddha nature, the nature of enlightenment and love, is already within you; all you need do is get in touch with it and manifest it. If you know this, if you are able to see your true nature in the ultimate dimension, then you will be able to realize Buddhahood in the historical dimension. Never Disparaging Bodhisattva is there to remind us of the essence of our true nature.

The action of this bodhisattva is to remove the feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem in people. “How can I become a Buddha? How can I attain enlightenment? There is nothing in me except suffering, and I don’t know how to get free of my own suffering, much less help others. I am worthless.” Many people have these kinds of feelings, and they suffer more because of them. Never Despising Bodhisattva works to encourage and empower people who feel this way, to remind them that they too have Buddha nature, they too are a wonder of life, and they too can achieve what a Buddha achieves. This is a great message of hope and confidence. This is the practice of a bodhisattva in the action dimension.

Sadaparibhuta was actually Shakyamuni in one of his former lives, when the Buddha appeared as a bodhisattva in the world to perfect his practice of the Dharma. But this bodhisattva did not chant the sutras or practice in the usual way—he did not perform prostrations, or go on pilgrimages, or spend long hours in sitting meditation. Never Despising Bodhisattva had a specialty. Whenever he met someone he would address them very respectfully, saying, “You are someone of great value. You are a future Buddha. I see this potential in you.” There are passages in the Lotus Sutra that suggest that his message was not always well received. Because they have not yet gotten in touch with the ultimate dimension, many people could not believe what the bodhisattva was telling them about their inherent Buddha nature, and they thought he was mocking them. Often he was ridiculed, shouted at, and driven away. But even when people did not believe him and drove him away with insults and beatings,  Never

Despising did not become angry or abandon them. Standing at a distance he continued to shout out the truth:

“I do not hold you in contempt! You are all treading the Path, And shall all become Buddhas!” (1)

Never Despising is very sincere and has great equanimity. He never gives up on us. The meaning of his life, the fruition of his practice, is to bring this message of confidence and hope to everyone. This is the action of this great bodhisattva. We have to learn and practice this action if we want to follow the path of the bodhisattvas.

The sutra tells us that when Sadaparibhuta was near the end of his life he suddenly heard the voice of a Buddha called King of Imposing Sound (Bhishmagarjitasvararaja) teaching the Lotus Sutra. He could not see that Buddha but he clearly heard his voice delivering the sutra, and through the power of the teaching, Never Despising Bodhisattva suddenly found that his six sense organs were completely purified and he was no longer on the verge of death. Understanding deeply the message of the Lotus Sutra, he was able to touch his ultimate dimension and attain deathlessness.

We have already learned about the infinite life span of a Buddha in the ultimate dimension. In terms of the historical dimension, a Buddha may live 100 years or a little bit more or less; but in terms of the ultimate dimension a Buddha’s life span is limitless. Sadaparibhuta saw that his lifes pan was infinite, just like the life span of a Buddha. He saw that every leaf, every pebble, every flower, every cloud has an infinite life span also, because he was able to touch the ultimate dimension in everything. This is one of the essential aspects of the Lotus message. When his sense organs had been purified, he could see very deeply and understand how the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) produce the six kinds of consciousness. When his senses had been purified he was capable of touching reality-as-it-is, the ultimate dimension. There was no more confusion, no more delusion, in his perception of things.

This passage in the sutra may sound as if it is about something magical or supernatural, but in fact it describes a kind of transformation that we too can experience. When the ground of our consciousness is prepared, when our sense consciousnesses and our mind consciousness have been purified through the practice of mindfulness and looking deeply into the ultimate dimension of reality, we can hear in the sound of the wind in the trees or the singing of the birds the truth of the Lotus Sutra. While lying on the grass or walking in meditation in the garden we can get in touch with the truth of the Dharma that is all around us all the time. We know that we are practicing the Lotus samadhi and our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are automatically transformed and purified.

Having realized the truth of the ultimate, Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta continued to live for many millions of years, delivering his message of hope and confidence to countless beings. So we can see that the Lotus Sutra is a kind of medicine for long life. When we take this medicine we are able to live a very long time in order to be able to preserve and transmit the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to many others. We know that our true nature is unborn and undying, so we no longer fear death. Just like Never Despising Bodhisattva, we always dare to share the wonderful Dharma with all living beings. And all those who thought the bodhisattva was only making fun of them finally began to understand. Looking at Sadaparibhuta they were able to see the result of his practice, and so they began to have faith in it and to get in touch with their own ultimate nature.

This is the practice of this great bodhisattva—to regard others with a compassionate and wise gaze and hold up to them the insight of their ultimate nature, so that they can see themselves reflected there. So many people have the idea that they are not good at anything, that they are not able to be as successful as other people.

mb35-Dharma2

They cannot be happy; they envy the accomplishments and social standing of others while regarding themselves as failures if they do not have the same level of worldly success. We have to try to help those who feel this way. Following the practice of Sadaparibhuta we must come to them and say, “You should not have an inferiority complex. I see in you some very good seeds that can be developed and make you into a great being. If you look more deeply within and get in touch with those wholesome seeds in you, you will be able to overcome your feelings of unworthiness and manifest your true nature.”

mb35-Dharma3

The Chinese Master Guishan writes,

We should not look down on ourselves. We should not see ourselves as worthless and always withdraw into the background. (2)

These words are designed to wake us up. In modern society, psychotherapists report that many people suffer from low self-esteem. They feel that they are worthless and have nothing to offer, and many of them sink into depression and can no longer function well, take care of themselves or their families. Therapists, healers, and caregivers, teachers, religious leaders, and those who are close to someone who suffers in this way all have the duty to help them see their true nature more clearly so that they can free themselves from the delusion that they are worthless. If we know friends or family member who see themselves as worthless, powerless, and incapable of doing anything good or meaningful, and this negative self-image has taken away all their happiness, we have to try to help our friend, our sister or brother, our parent, spouse, or partner remove this complex. This is the action of the bodhisattva Never Despising.

We also have to practice so as not to add to others’ feelings of worthlessness. In our daily life when we become impatient or irritated we might say things that are harsh, judgmental, and critical, especially to our children. When they are under a great deal of pressure, working very hard to support and care for their family, parents frequently make the mistake of uttering unkind, punitive, or blaming words in moments of stress or irritation. The ground of a child’s consciousness is still very young, still very fresh, so when we sow such negative seeds in our children we are destroying their capacity to be happy. So parents and teachers, siblings, and friends all have to be very careful and practice mindfulness in order to avoid sowing negative seeds in the minds of our children, family members, friends, and students.

And when our students or loved ones have feelings of low self-esteem we have to find a way to help them transform those feelings so that they can live with greater freedom, peace, and joy. We have to practice just like Never Despising Bodhisattva, who did not give up on people or lose patience with them but continued always to hold up to others a mirror of their true Buddha nature.

I always try to practice this kind of action. One day there were two young brothers who came to spend the day with me. I took them both to show them a new printing press I had just gotten. The younger boy was very interested in the machine, and while he was playing with it the motor burned out. As I was pressing one button to show the boys how it worked, the little boy pressed another at the same time, and it overstressed the machine’s engine. The elder brother said angrily, “Thay, you just wanted to show us the machine. Why did he have to do that? He wrecks whatever he touches.” These were very harsh words from such a young boy. Perhaps he had been influenced by hearing his parents or other family members use blaming language like this, so he was just repeating what he had heard without realizing the effect on his little brother.

In order to help mitigate the possible effects of his brother’s criticism on the younger boy, I showed the boys another machine, a paper cutter, and this time I instructed the younger one how to use it. His brother warned me, “Thay, don’t let him touch it, he’ll destroy this one too.” Seeing that this was a moment when I could help both boys, I said to the older brother, “Don’t worry, I have faith in him. He is intelligent. We shouldn’t think otherwise.” Then I said to the younger boy, “Here, this is how it works—just push this button. Once you have released this button then you press that button. Do this very carefully and the machine will work properly.” The younger brother followed my instructions and operated the machine without harming it.

He was very happy, and so was his older brother. And I was happy along with them.

Following the example of Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, I only needed three or four minutes to remove the complex of the younger brother and teach the older brother to learn to trust in the best of his younger brother and not just see him in terms of his mistakes. In truth, at that moment I was a bit concerned that the young boy would ruin the other machine. But if I had hesitated and not allowed him to try and follow my instructions, believing that he would destroy the machine, I could well have destroyed that little boy. Preserving the health and well-being of the mind of a child is much more important than preserving a machine, by a long way.

You only need to have faith in the action of Sadaparibhuta and very quickly you can help others overcome their negative self-image. Never Despising Bodhisattva shows everyone that they have the capacity for perfection within themselves, the capacity to become a Buddha, a fully enlightened one. The message of the Lotus Sutra is that everyone can and will become a Buddha. Sadaparibhuta is the ambassador of the Buddha and of the Lotus Sutra, and sometimes ambassadors are reviled or attacked. Never Despising Bodhisattva was also treated this way. He brought his message to everyone, but not everyone was happy to hear it because they could not believe in their own Buddha nature. So when they heard his message they felt they were being scorned or mocked, and, the sutra tells us, “throughout the passage of many years, he was constantly subjected to abuse…some in the multitude would beat him with sticks and staves, with tiles and stones.” (3) The mission of a Dharma teacher, of a bodhisattva, requires a great deal of love, equanimity, and inclusiveness.

mb35-Dharma4

Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva represents the action of inclusiveness, kshanti, one of the six paramitas, the bodhisattva practice of the perfections. Kshanti is also translated as “patience,” and we can see this great quality in Never Despising Bodhisattva and in one of the Shakyamuni’s disciples, Purna, who is praised by the Buddha in the eighth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. While the Lotus Sutra only mentions Purna in passing, he is the subject of another sutra, the Teaching Given to Maitrayaniputra. (4) In this sutra, after the Buddha had instructed Purna in the practice, he asked him, “Where will you go to share the Dharma and form a Sangha?” The monk said that he wanted to return to his native region, to the island of Sunaparanta in the Eastern Sea.

The Buddha said, “Bhikshu, that is a very difficult place. People there are very rough and violent. Do you think you have the capacity to go there to teach and help?”

“Yes, I think so, my Lord,” replied Purna. “What if they shout at you and insult you?”

Purna said, “If they only shout at me and insult me I think they are kind enough, because at least they aren’t throwing rocks or rotten vegetables at me. But even if they did, my Lord, I would still think that they are kind enough, because at least they are not using sticks to hit me.”

The Buddha continued, “And if they beat you with sticks?”

“I think they are still kind enough, since they are not using knives and swords to kill me.”

“And if they want to take your life? It’s possible that they would want to destroy you because you will be bringing a new kind of teaching, and they won’t understand at first and may be very suspicious and hostile,” the Buddha warned.

Purna replied, “Well, in that case I am ready to die. Because my dying will also be a kind of teaching and because I know that this body is not the only manifestation I have. I can manifest myself in many kinds of bodies. I don’t mind if they kill me, I don’t mind becoming the victim of their violence, because I believe that I can help them.”

The Buddha said, “Very good, my friend. I think that you are ready to go and help there.”

So Purna went to that land and he was able to gather a lay Sangha of 500 people practicing the mindfulness trainings, and also to establish a monastic community of around 500 practitioners. He was successful in his attempt to teach and transform the violent ways of the people in that country. Purna exemplifies the practice of kshanti, inclusiveness.

Never Despising Bodhisattva may have been a future or a former life of Purna. We are the same. If we know how to practice inclusiveness then we will also be the future life of this great bodhisattva. We know that Sadaparibhuta’s life span is infinite, and so we can be in touch with his action and aspiration at any moment. And when we follow the practice of inclusiveness of Never Despising Bodhisattva, he is reborn in us right in that very moment. We get in touch with the great faith and insight that everyone is a Buddha, the insight that is the very marrow of the Lotus Sutra. Then we can take up the career of the bodhisattva, carrying within our heart the deep confidence we have gained from this insight and sharing that confidence and insight with others.

Therapists and others in the healing professions, Dharma teachers, schoolteachers, parents, family members, colleagues, and friends can all learn to practice like Never Despising Bodhisattva. Following the path of faith, confidence, and inclusiveness we can help free many people from the suffering of negative self-image, help them recognize their true Buddha nature, and lead them into the ultimate dimension.

Illustrations by Lien Buu Olsson. She lives and practices in San Diego, California.

1 Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, p. 283.

2 Quote from “Awakening Words of Master Quy Son,” in Stepping Into Freedom [PUB INFO].

3 Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, pp. 280–1.

4 Teaching Given to Maitrayaniputra , REF Pali/Skt and/or Chinese texts, translations

PDF of this article

Poem: Above Saigon

By Phap Tue Above Sai Gon and the honk of horns the silent sky, where Two shark kites flutter from the rooftops tethered vying high above the city among the twitter of bats and one kite with three tails tugs and rises on waves of wind like a dancing lady amidst the streaks of rose-colored sky

mb35-Above1In the darkening light a boy on a nearby rooftop still gathers string to raise his eagle kite on currents of wind

I tell you, the peace of Saigon is on the rooftops where little fragrant gardens gather and eyes touch the peace of the sky again and kites, even at dusk sway above the darkening earth

These are messengers: and all children young or old meet in a silent and secret dance from rooftop to rooftop and silent height to silent height as swallows in eaves or doves at dusk

The stars appear slowly and dim one shark kite still sways above the darkness to meet the stars advancing toward the west and this last kite and all those who meet at night are the freedom of a people greater than any flag.

Thay Chan Phap Tue currently lives at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

An altar in the alley in Da Nang, Vietnam by Gary Richardson, Chan Dieu Hanh.

PDF of this article