community of mindful living

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.

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 andsupport 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. Invitea 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.

To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at

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Buddhist Prisoners in Vietnam

By Stephen Denney In the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell, we reported the trial of Venerable Thich Quang Do, age 68, and five other members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBC) on August 15, 1995.

Ven. Quang Do, UBC Secretary General, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Others sentenced were Ven. Thich Khong Tanh (five years), Ven. Thich Nhat Bang (four years), Ven. Thich Tri Luc (two and a half years), Nhat Thuong, a layman (three years), and Mrs. Dong Ngoc (two years, suspended sentence). They were charged with "undermining the policy of unity" between religion and state, which appears to be based on their efforts to carry out religious and social work in the name of the UBC. Ven. Thich Quang Do had also written an open letter to Vietnam's Communist Party Secretary General protesting the Party's legacy of religious and political repression. At the time they were tried, authorities indicated that UBC Executive Director Ven. Thich Huyen Quang (age 77) and Ven. Thich Tri Luc, head abbot of the famous Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue, will also be tried for their public dissent.

Ven. Thich Quang Do has been forcibly relocated to the north and his present whereabouts are unknown. Three of the other monks at the August 15 trial appealed their verdicts, but a higher court rejected the appeal on October 28. We had hoped that Ven. Thich Tue Sy and Ven. Thich Tri Sieu might be released on Vietnam's 50th National Day (the anniversary of the government established by Ho Chi Minh in 1945), but unfortunately this did not occur. The number of prisoners released that day was much lower than expected. On the other hand, government spokespersons indicated in October that Ven. Thich Huyen Quang would not be tried.

In a related development, Do Trung Hieu was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment in a trial held in November. Hieu was formerly Ho Chi Minh City's Communist Party liaison officer for religious affairs and was arrested in June 1995 for writing a document highly critical of the government's policy toward Buddhists.

The government's imprisonment of these leading UBC monks has elicited strong protests from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch Asia, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus; as well as the United States and other governments. In August, the Community of Mindful Living sent 8,000 people a letter written by Sister Chan Khong urging that faxes be sent to Vietnam's Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and Party leader Do Muoi protesting these latest developments. We also circulated letters to be faxed to Mr. Kiet and Mr. Muoi at Thay's lectures and retreats in the United States in September and October. We are grateful to those of you who responded to these appeals. If you would like to join in this effort, please ask the Community of Mindful Living to send you copies of the letters for you to sign and send. I recently came across this passage in a monograph written by Sister Chan Khong in 1969, entitled "Voices From the Burning House":

"In 1964 two young Buddhist monks, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and Ven. Thich Quang Do, worked to convince the Buddhist Church to lead the movement against the war and against the intervention of foreigners in Vietnam." 

Now, 31 years later, Ven. Thich Quang Do is serving a fiveyear sentence for protesting human rights abuses, his present whereabouts unknown. Is this not tragic? Let us continue to support him and other monks, nuns, and laypeople who have devoted their lives to peace and genuine reconciliation in Vietnam.

I would like to conclude with a note we received from Sister Chan Khong, commenting.on the government's announcement that Thich Huyen Quang will not be tried: "That is only one step back from the government's pattern of increasing  human rights violations. If the Vietnamese authorities did step back a bit, it is because we have advanced our work with tens of thousands of letters and with more pressure from international organizations. But if we are not alert and we are lazy, then they will advance their suppression. Thank you for your patience. Please continue. The process is slow but without bloodshed."

Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a longtime activist for human rights in Southeast Asia. To subscribe to Vietnam Journal ($8 per year), write P.O. Box 1163, Burlingame, CA 94011.

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Documentary Film about Thay Peace Is Every Step, the first wide-ranging profile of Thich Nhat Hanh, is nearing completion. After five years of independent production, filmmaker Gaetano Maida is in the final stages of editing. With extensive footage from Plum Village, retreats in the U.S. and Asia, an intimate interview, and archival footage from the past 30 years, the film promises to share Thay's teachings widely.

The film is a production of Legacy Media, and the Community of Mindful Living (CML) is the project's fiscal sponsor. A recent foundation grant served as impetus for moving forward with the final editing phase, but funds totaling $40,000 are still needed to complete the film. A portion of proceeds from broadcast and video sales will be contributed directly to Plum Village. If you can help realize the completion of this work, please send a tax-deductible donation to CML, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707. If you know of any foundations, corporations, or individuals to approach, please let us know, and we can follow up directly or assist you in the effort. For more information, contact Therese Fitzgerald at CML: (510) 527-3751.

Resource Manual for Sangha Building

Two years ago, while recuperating from a broken leg, Jack Lawlor wrote a manual on how to create a happy Sangha. Several groups have already been helped by using this manual to form or rejuvenate their groups. Copies of Sangha Building: Creating Buddhist Practice Community are available for $ 15.00 ($20.00 outside the U.S.) from Lakeside Buddha Sangha, P.O. Box 7067, Evanston, Illinois 60201.

Bell Instruction from Plum Leaves

We are happy to announce that the recent issue of Plum Leaves, the Plum Village newsletter, offers guidelines for inviting the bell to sound. If you would like a copy, please contact Plum Village or Community of Mindful Living.

Manzanita Raffle

A half-acre plot in the rain forest of Costa Rica will be raffled this May to support Manzanita Village in southern California. Tickets are $50 each. Please send checks payable to Ordinary Dharma, 247 Horizon Avenue, Venice, CA 90291.

New Buddhist College

Sharpham College will open in England this September integrating Buddhist studies and contemporary inquiry with community living, meditation, work on the land, and social projects. For information, contact Stephen Batchelor, The Sharpham College, Ashprington, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7UT, England. Fax (44) 1803 732 037, email 101364.537@comp.


Sulak Wins Alternative Nobel Peace Prize

One of this year's Right Livelihood Awards was presented in Stockholm to Sulak Sivaraksa, leading Thai Buddhist activist, in honor and support of his offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today. The jury acclaimed Sulak for "his vision, activism, and spiritual commitment in the quest for a development process that is rooted in democracy, justice, and cultural integrity."

Mountain Retreat Practice

Order member Herb Walters is planning a rustic retreat in the mountains of North Carolina to share spiritual practices he has learned from Native American traditions. Contact Herb at 278 White Oak Creek Road, Burnsville, NC 28714, (704) 675-4626

Pilgrimage to Close School of the Americas

Order of Interbeing member Greg Hessel will spend this winter walking from Washington, D.C. to Fort Benning, Georgia, to gather support for stopping funding of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, that has trained many officers from other countries in war strategy. If your Sangha would like to organize a Day of Mindfulness for those walking, please contact Greg at HC 60 Box 50, Charlestown, NH 03603, (603) 543-0568.

Prisoner Correspondence

Prisoners seek to connect with Dharma friends. Please write to: DeVoil Devane II, P.O. Box 215, Maury, NC 28554; and Stanley A. Farley, NCCI-Gardner, P.O. Box 466, Gardner, MA 01440-0466.


Lex Hixon, author, teacher, and lecturer on Buddhism and many other spiritual traditions, died in November at his home in Riverdale, New York. He was 53. Robert Sycamore Winson, Zen student and poet, died in Santa Fe in October of a colon disease. He was 33. We wish these two good friends of Buddhism in the West a steady passage and extend our heartfelt condolences to their families.

Retreat Center Update

The Community of Mindful Living, with the help of the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Charlottesville Sangha, has been searching for land to begin a residential mindfulness retreat center in the Washington, D.C. area. We are presently looking at four properties, and by mid to late spring, we expect to conclude negotiations on one of them.

Since announcing this search less than two years ago, we have received hundreds of expressions of interest that a center dedicated to the practice of mindful living as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh be established here in the U.S. For more information or if you would like to share with us your own interest in such a center, please contact the Community of Mindful Living.

The acquisition price, plus the anticipated expenditures that will be needed for improvements and operations' shortfalls will be approximately $1.5 million. To date, we have received $250,000 in contributions and pledges. Tax-deductible donations to the "Community of Mindful Living," earmarked "Residential Retreat Center," will be deeply appreciated.

Help Wanted

When Parallax Press and the Community of Mindful Living offices relocate to the retreat center property in the Washington, D.C. area, perhaps sometime this summer, we will need additional staff. If you might be interested in applying for work in our publishing or administrative offices, please write to tell us about your interest.

In addition, Parallax Press is looking for a "chief operating officer." Inquiries or applications should be sent to Arnie Kotler, Parallax Press/CML, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, California 94707. Experience in publishing, management, and the practice of mindful living are essential.

New Order Members

We are pleased to welcome the following friends into the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing:

Plum Village, France-August 5, 1995 Margret de Beckere Irmgard Buck Richard Buck Phan Thi Chau Jane Coatesworth Steffi Holtje Annette Landgraf Reiner Landgraf Deanna Malago Iris Nowak Bettina Schneider Dave Tester

Saratoga, California -September 22, 1995 Dewain Belgard William Chan Nanda Currant Brooke Deputy John D'Zahrt Susan Murphy Nuba Shores Hannah Wilder

Rhinebeck, New York - October 8, 1995 Bill Alexander Jeanne-Marie Anselmo Dai-En Bennage Tom Childers Cindy Cowden Susan Deakins Meg Dellenbaugh Mair Honan Monica Hoyt Patricia Hunt-Perry Patrecia Lenore Tonia Leon-Hysko Sandra Oriel Linda Parker Leslie Rawls

Oakton, Virginia - October 11, 1995 Nguyen Hoang Hai Pham Nguyen Thi Lien Nguyen Hoang Hieu Tran Kim Que Nguyen Van Vien Trinh Ngoc Dung Nguyen Khac Luan Vo Dinh Quang

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Retreat Center Update

The property in West Virginia we have been negotiating for to establish a residential retreat center is not available after all. Our property search is continuing. If you know of a suitable place or would like to contribute to this effort, please contact Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, or Ellen Peskin at the Community of Mindful Living. Thank you. PDF of this article

Vietnam Update

By Stephen Denney

Thank you for your concern about the people suffering in Vietnam and your desire to help. At the Community of Mindful Living we have organized a program of humanitarian aid to the poorest people of Vietnam and have also circulated many appeals on behalf of imprisoned monks and other prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

With regard to the latter issue, we are pleased that there is more individual freedom in Vietnam than a few years ago, and that many prisoners of conscience have been released. People also have more freedom to participate in ordinary religious services than before. However, the Communist Party is still very afraid of losing power in Vietnam and for this reason punishes harshly those who openly challenge their political policies.

Among those detained are Venerables Thich Quang Do (age 69) and Thich Huyen Quang (age 77). They have been punished because of their leadership positions within the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and open protests of the government's forced incorporation of the UBCV into a state-sponsored Buddhist Church. Ven. Quang Do was sentenced to five years in prison at a Jan. 1995 trial and is presently detained at B 14 prison in Hanoi. Ven. Thich Huyen Quang has been under house arrest for several years in central Vietnam (Quang Ngai province), is closely guarded and in poor health. Both monks are highly respected abroad and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 by the Irish recipients from the previous year.

Several other Buddhist monks have been arrested for supporting the protests of Venerables Quang Do and Huyen Quang. Among these are the following monks who were sentenced in 1995: Thich Khong Tanh (five years), Thich Nhat Bang (four years), Nhat Thuong (three years) and Thich Tri Luc ( two and a half years). They were charged with "undermining the policy of unity," which appeared to be based on their efforts to carry out religious and social work in the name of the Unified Buddhist Church.

Other monks imprisoned include Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu, both serving 20 years (sentenced in 1988) for their nonviolent opposition to government policies; and Thich Hai Thinh and Thich Hai Chanh, who were arrested during a police raid on the Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue. These two monks had previously been detained from 1993 to 1995 for their involvement in a demonstration. In addition there are a number of prisoners of conscience:

  • Nguyen Dinh Huy, age 64, arrested in November 1993 along with ten other members of his movement for a democratic society in Vietnam. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in August 1995. He and six colleagues remain detained. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He is presently detained in Z30A prison camp of Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province.

  • Doan Viet Hoat, age 53, former professor of the Buddhist Van Hanh University in Saigon, was arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison (later reduced to 15 years) for leading a group of southern intellectuals who advocated a more democratic society in Vietnam. He is presently detained in the north under harsh conditions.

  • Nguyen Dan Que, a medical doctor from Saigon, was also arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison for advocating political democracy.

  • Phan Duc Kham, age 64, serving 12 years in prison for his involvement with the Freedom Forum group led by Doan Viet Hoat.

Our other human rights concerns in Vietnam include unfair political trials, increased use of the death penalty, and poor conditions in the prisons and re-education camps.

Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a longtime activist for human rights in Southeast Asia.

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North American Order of Interbeing Gathering

By Richard Brady Twenty-six Order members from across the U.S. gathered February 15-17 at the Ralston White Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the weekend, we enjoyed sitting meditation, walking amidst the redwoods, group sharing, and delicious, mindful meals. The joyful feeling of being with sisters and brothers at this time in the evolution of our Order suffused the event. Because of the Order's growth during the past several years (almost 250 members now in North America), and Thay's focus on training the growing number of monks and nuns, we feIt the timeliness of efforts such as this gathering and last September's Plum Village conference to organize the Order.

Jack Lawlor and Lyn Fine began with reflections on the Order and last fall's conference. They talked about the diversity of members and Sanghas. Jack asked, "What does an Order member look like?" and directed us to the Order's charter, Sister Chan Khong's Learnillg True Love, and the writings of Alfred Hassler for some answers. Lyn suggested that we cannot really know what we look like, and, in the words of Paolo Freire, "We make the road by walking."

We discussed local Sangha involvement in social action. Many of us and members of our Sanghas do social service work as our livelihood. A few groups have been involved in prison work, supporting Vietnamese and Cambodian relief efforts, and working in soup kitchens . Sanghas provide a place for us to maintain our equanimity in the midst of this work. Nevertheless, one participant asked whether outsiders would see the work of the Order as "engaged." Bringing Thay's teachings to many emotionally wounded people is also an important form of engagement. As more people become aware of Thay's teachings, we are increasingly asked to share and interpret mindfulness practices and teachings. Several participants stressed the importance of offering mindfulness practices to receptive children and young adults. The Communi ty of Mindful Living, with its small staff and limited financial resources, could especially benefit from the service Sanghas could provide. Jerry Braza suggested creating a "Dharma Corps" of volunteers who would ass is the CML staff (see Announcements, page 35). One person suggested that Sanghas or individuals be guest editors for issues of The Mindfulness Bell. Another asked for more articles addressing topics related to Sangha practice, participation, and decision making.

Another topic was preparation of Order aspirants for ordination. In the past, there have been times when local Sangha members expressed their desire to be ordained shortly before one of Thay's visits. This put local Order members in an awkward position and pointed out the need for clarity and good communication about the process. Different Sanghas carry out the preparation process in different ways. In the San Francisco Bay Area, aspirants meet monthly with Order members to study selected practices and teachings. In the Chicago area, Jack Lawlor mentors several aspirants. One person suggested that the one-year preparation period could be seen as an opportunity for deepening rather than as a barrier. Recommendations for revising the Charter's provisions about the ordination process were made at the September conference (see Mindfulness Bell # 18). Jack welcomes comments about these recommendations.


The new version of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings was another topic. Members described their rich words as facets of a jewel, reflecting the light of mindfulness practice from different angles. Many felt they had not yet had enough time to fully realize the benefits of the revisions, but saw that both versions shared a common core of mindfulness. One participant described how his Sangha alternated between reading the old and new versions, using one to deepen the understanding of the other. At the end of the September conference, Thay welcomed responses to the new language. Some Sangha members have expressed an initial sense of discomfort with the word "Trainings," feeling it has a hierarchical tone. The phrase, "Fourteen Mindfulness Practices," was suggested as a substitute. Regardless of the wording, we agreed that Sangha elders (ordained or not) have a role to play in helping younger Sangha members develop their practice.

Smaller groups discussed consensus decision-making, transforming conflicts, and designing inclusive Sangha programs for non-participating partners and children. There were also presentations on family practice, maintaining warmth and tolerance in Sanghas, and engaged Buddhism.

We discussed how to incorporate Plum Village practices and forms into our Sanghas in a way that supports all our members, both those who find support in form and those who are refugees from too rigid a form. Inviting the bell, bowing, walking meditation, and other practices provide a constant, familiar environment that facilitates mindfulness for many . In one Sangha, new people are trained as bell master to reduce the sense of hierarchy. Instruction is given with a light touch, tolerant toward the little mistakes everyone makes when learning this practice. The Beginning Anew practice is a strong way to promote healing, but only a few Sanghas use it due to the regular presence of visitors and newcomers.

Arnold Kotler spoke about progress in establishing a national center. Thay has asked Dharma teachers Arnie Kot ler, Anh Huong Nguyen, Wendy Johnson, Jack Lawlor, Therese Fitzgerald, and Lyn Fine to comprise the Program and Practice Committee of the center. With support from Pritam Singh and his development company, attention is now focused on finding a property in northern Virginia.

Everyone agreed it would be valuable to have regular North American Order of Interbeing gatherings, perhaps every six months. One person was concerned that frequent Order meetings might detract from local Sanghas and create a sense of separateness from the Extended Community. Another expressed the feeling, " let a thousand flowers bloom." Penelope Thompson (3 10-392-1796), Linda Parker (713-880-3130), and Richard Brady (30 1-270-3923) will inves tigate the possibility of future gatherings, including one after Thay's September retreat in Santa Barbara. Please contact them with your interest. Susan Murphy (415-969-3452), who helped to coordinate this meeting, is also a resource for those interested in planning similar events.

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The Gateless Sangha

By Calvin Malone

In 1994, hundreds of inmates were transferred to Airway Heights Correction Center, a new minimum security prison near Spokane, Washington. When one inmate jokingly said, ''I'm a Buddhist," the chaplain undertook to locate an outside group to sit with interested inmates. He found the Padma Ling Center with two lamas who now sit with us weekly. Rowan Comad of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana also visits regularly to lead mindfulness retreats and support our practice. Despite the tremendous obstacles inherent in prison life, our Sangha has grown to nearly 70.

Here, we are allowed only one meal a year that is not prison food. In the past two years, our Sangha has enjoyed these meals by hosting Buddhist celebrations. Our first event was The Freedom Celebration in 1996. Thirty-one Buddhist inmates and 17 outside guests enjoyed food, community, and teachings. In September 1997, 53 Buddhist inmates and 21 guests attended our Friends of Peace Festival.

The cost of these events is a serious consideration. Seventy-five percent of our Sangha members have no income, 5% earn minimum wage, and 20% earn $1 or less per hour. Some Sangha members felt our money was better spent helping to ease suffering. Others felt that once a year we could spend a bit to ease our own suffering. After much debate, we have decided to use our annual event to raise funds for outside Buddhist groups.

On September 19, 1998, we held our third annual event. With the funds raised, we plan to sponsor the education of a child in Nepal, and contribute to three groups: The Free Tibet Project which supports the work of the Dalai Lama; the Engaged Zen Foundation which works with inmates; and Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living's efforts to rebuild and support monasteries in Vietnam. From this practice of compassion, our name was born-The Gateless Sangha.

Through mindfulness, we are learning if one life is abused, we are all abused, and if one life is enriched, we are all enriched. Our efforts to support others have inspired and enriched our lives. We sincerely hope we inspire others as well.

Calvin Malone, 702364 MB28L, is an inmate at AHCC, P.O. Box 2049, Airway Heights, WA, 99001-2049

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Haus Maitreya

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


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

Reprinted with permission from Intersein.

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A Center in Hawai'i

The Community of Mindful Living's dream of helping start a residential mindfulness retreat center took a significant step forward this month (January 1999). Bennett Dorrance, Healing Touch of the Heart, has purchased the 638-acre historic Bond Estate on the Big Island of Hawai'i, and offered CML the Kohala Girls' School parcel to begin a center for the cultivation of mindfulness, community, healing, creativity, and responsible land stewardship. This beautiful campus is surrounded by lush vegetation, including banyan, coconut palm, macadamia, banana, and papaya trees, and passion fruit and wood-apple vines. During the coming years, Bennett's organization, New Moon LLC, will improve all the structures, including the chapel, a large dormitory, a dining room and kitchen, and several smaller buildings. mb23-ACenter1

A Day of Mindfulness with nearly 75 local people was held on the land January 10, led by Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald. Arnie and Therese are planning to relocate from California to this retreat center within a year. In February, Dharma teacher and CML Board member Wendy Johnson and her family will visit, and Wendy will lead a workshop on meditation and gardening.


Over the past fourteen years, the Community of Mindful Living has been accompanied by many wonderful co-practitioners in the efforts to help create a residential practice center. Wholehearted  thanks to John Nelson, Kim Cary, Anh Huong and Thu Nguyen, Richard Brady, Pritam Singh, Mitchell Ratner, Betty Rogers, Kay Allison, Paul Norton, Jack Kornfield, Irving Kramer, and so many others in Virginia, California, and elsewhere, all of whose steady efforts have contributed toward making this possible. Special thanks to John Balaam, True Original Mountain, and our deepest thanks to Bennett Dorrance who found the "home" for practice on the Big Island. Undying thanks and a deep bow of appreciation to Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong for their unwavering support all these years. We look forward to the unfolding of this wondrous dream with the participation of the wide Sangha.


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Married: John Balaam, True Original Mountain, and Charito Sanchez were married in Waipio Valley, Hawai'i on January 1, 2000.

Ordained: A warm welcome to new Order members, Virginia Bollero, Sheila Klein, Judy Weaver, Karen Zampalia, Chau Yoder, Peter Hawkins, and Bethany Freshnock.

One Hundredth Monastic: During the Winter Retreat in Plum Village, sixteen new monastics were ordained—the sixteen "cherry trees." Newly-ordained Sister Man Nghiem is the youngest nun in Plum Village. She was also the one-hundredth monastic ordained in Plum Village.

New Website Address

The Community of Mindful Living website has a new address: The Parallax Press website address remains Please come visit.

Southern California Practice CenterAn Update from Sister Chan Khong

Thank you for contributing generously during the past year to our Southern California Center. On May 2nd, 2000, San Diego County auctioned the 436 acres in Escondido that we had hoped to obtain. Senior monastic Dharma Teacher Thich Giac Thanh and Order of Interbeing members Larry Ward and Pritam Singh attended the May 2 auction. But we were not the highest bidder. A neighbor won the auction with a bid of $4 million. After the neighbor won the bid, we began conversations with him and found him to be a very spiritual man. We discussed the UBC buying the property from him. After these discussions, he said that among the three competitors that morning, he felt that we are the kindest. He told our real estate friends, "The Buddhist are good people who deserve to live on the Deer Park Property." So, we hope to buy the property after all.

We chose this property in part because it has 17 lots that could be available for friends to build homes. These lots range in size from 1.5 acres to 4.5 acres, and could be purchased for $120,000 to $ 189,000. Buying a lot at Deer Park to build your home will help pay for the monastery property.

Deer Park is about ten minutes from the intersection of Highway 78 and Highway 15. It is 40 minutes from San Diego and an hour and 40 minutes from Los Angeles. Surrounded by a National Park and beautiful mountains, the land is much like Thay's Fragrant Palm Leaves Monastery in the highlands of Vietnam. Deer and many other wild animals live here.

Entering the property, you first drive past the lots reserved for friends' homes. Two miles beyond, an oak forest offers shade. The oak grove also has seven bungalows with three rooms each, which we could use for a monastery. A large garage could be transformed into a meditation hall with a room for Thay. These buildings could also house the many monastics who will join Thay for the United States retreats this fall.

From the oak grove, the road leads to a eucalyptus grove, higher in the mountains. Here, there are five houses, each with approximately 700 square feet, and five larger buildings in poor condition. We do not need to repair all the buildings, but for $10,000, we can get one in good condition for the nuns to use. For Thay's retreats to California, we will hire a large campus, such as the University of California at Santa Barbara or San Diego. But Thay could also offer Days of Mindfulness at Deer Park, like those offered at Spirit Rock.

THE GOOD NEWS! On May 17, the neighbor agreed to sell the Deer Park property to us! But $4 million plus is a lot of money. We have $227,000 in donations now, and can borrow $600,000 from the part of Thay's royalties reserved to build Maple Forest Monastery in Vermont. Also, 1,007 friends have pledged monthly donations totaling $10,700. And San Diego County agreed to loan us $3.2 million at 9% interest. We are grateful that we may be able to borrow this money, but are afraid of being indebted at such a high interest rate. We appreciate your support through donations of funds, stock gifts, and monthly pledges. And we would also like to invite friends who are financially able, to please consider supporting the new Dharma Center by loaning us money at a very low rate. We have 90 days to decide whether to purchase the Deer Park Property, but we need your support.

Please send a check or credit card pledge or stock gifts to Unified Buddhist Church, Attn: Sisters Chan Thuc Nghiem and Chan Thang Nghiem, Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, VT 05049; Tel: (802) 436-1103; Fax: (802) 436-1101 ;or Email: You  may also contact Sister Chan Khong by Email at or Fax: 011 (33) 556 61 6151. Please leave your phone number and the best time she can reach you. Thank you.

Veterans Scholarship Fund 

Since 1991 Thay and our community have welcomed veterans of war to our retreats. Our Veterans Sangha has continued to grow and flower each year. The need for financial support also has grown! We have instituted a Veterans Scholarship Fund and offer to you the opportunity to support us. Last year several local Sanghas sponsored veterans to attend Thay's retreats in the U.S. This year we hope more local Sanghas will do this, and also that individual Sangha members will consider sponsoring a veteran to attend the Ascutney and San Diego retreats with Thay. If we raise enough money, we will be able also to help veterans attend retreats offered by our local and regional Sanghas. Please make checks payable to Unified Buddhist Church with a clear notation that this is for the Veterans Scholarship Fund, and mail them to Brother Ivar (Phap Tri), Maple Forest Monastery, P.O. Box 354, South Woodstock, VT 05071. Also, you may address questions and suggestions to Roberta Wall, 338 4th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215; Tel: (718) 965-1992; Email:

Prison Project Update

In June 1999, Michael Trigilio, True Birth of Peace, became the new Prison Project Coordinator at Community of Mindful Living (CML). The Prison Project responds to dozens of letters each week from inmates around the United States by sending books, correspondence, and loving kindness to these practitioners behind bars.

The Project has worked closely with Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), Green Mountain Dharma Center, and the Human Kindness Foundation to help coordinate our mutual efforts to support and encourage our co-practitioners in prison. CML's Prison Project and BPF worked to develop strategies to defeat California's Proposition 21, which, having passed, allows the state to incarcerate children as young as fourteen in adult prisons. On Tuesday, March 13, 2000, the Prison Project participated in a midnight silent sitting vigil outside San Quentin Prison, bearing witness to the execution of Daniel "Young Elk" Rich. We were also involved in editing and distributing Thay's new booklet, Be Free Where You Are, based on his talk in a Maryland prison. (See page 20.) If your Sangha would like to help distribute copies of the booklet to prisoners from whom we have received requests, or if you need copies for prisoners with whom your Sangha is already practicing, please contact Michael at the address shown below.

The Prison Project is one of the strongest programs of social engagement currently facilitated by CML. We are glad to be working with Sanghas around North America to develop creative and localized strategies that help cultivate and nourish prisoner Sanghas, and our own. One Prison Project volunteer offered these inspiring and heartwarming words: "It's been a wonderful experience writing to prisoners. I've found a compassionate part of myself that I never knew existed and I'm very grateful to have the privilege of corresponding with them." We are aware of Sanghas working with prisoners in Oregon, New York, Idaho, and elsewhere. We look forward to hearing from all Sanghas interested in this important work —in the United States and around the world, in prison or out—so we can share and support each other. Please write Michael at the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA.

Parallax Press and Community of Mindful Living Update 

In October 1999, the staff of Parallax Press and Community of Mindful Living were invited, along with a few other friends, to spend four days in Plum Village with Thay. At that time, in preparation for Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald's move to Hawai'i, a new management committee for Parallax and CML was established. The committee is composed of Thay Phap An, Sister Chan Khong, and Order of Interbeing member Larry Ward. We listened deeply to each other, offered insights, and explored how the work of Parallax and CML could continue in a beneficial way for the entire Sangha.

Since October, the staff of Parallax and CML have continued to deepen their practice as a mindful workplace through sharing Days of Mindfulness, Beginning Anew, and listening deeply to each other. Together, we have worked on the booklet for prisoners, Be Free Where You Are. The April 2000 publication of the booklet has met with enormously positive response from inmates and Sanghas working with inmates. We are grateful to the Human Kindness Foundation for helping inmates learn about the booklet. We are pleased to announce that The Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book and Path of Emancipation will be available during the Summer 2000. Thay's United States tour organizing is also well underway. We are responding to many inquiries to register through CML's new website.

CML continues to support Sanghas and Order of Interbeing members in a variety of ways, including the publication of The Mindfulness Bell Together with Green Mountain Dharma Center, we continue to support the Prison Project and to develop other mindfulness-in-society projects. Through the Sangha survey, we have invited the larger Sangha to participate in our ongoing developments and to help clarify the emerging framework for the Dharma service of Parallax and CML.

Note: Please be touch with Melanie Phoenix at CML to receive or respond to a Sangha survey; CML, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707; Tel: (510)527-3751; Fax: (510)525-7129.

UBC's Support of the New Center in Hawaii and Thay's Teaching on Sangha Building and Dharma Work 

After many trips to Hawai'i over the last two years, Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald left their California home in December 1999 to set up a Retreat Center on the big island of Hawai'i.

Prior to their departure, Arnie and Therese requested from the board of the Unified Buddhist Church $500,000. The board advised them that such a request could only be considered if they accept to enlarge the board of Dharma Friends in Hawai'i, so it will consist of local members practicing and living together in the spirit of harmony and awareness. This will allow the unfolding of a true Sangha. Since Arnie and Therese left for Hawai'i, the UBC board has approved to continue the equivalent of their full-time salary when they worked for CML/Parallax, so they could put all of their efforts into building this new Hawai'i center in its beginning stage. Recently in a letter to an Order of Interbeing member, Thay explained the concept of Sangha building and Dharma work:

"... Many of us take pleasure in doing dharma work and we get satisfaction when the work is done, but not many of us know how to conduct work as a practice. Interacting and interbeing with the Sangha is a wonderful opportunity to practice the dharma. We can learn how to listen and to release our views and help build more understanding, harmony, and love in the process of working and practicing together. The most wonderful outcome of the work is our own transformation and the transformation of our dharma brothers and sisters, and not fame, profit, power, or position.

Thay has invested himself into the work of Sangha building. Sangha building first of all means to be in the Sangha and to live with the Sangha. Sangha here is first of all the people we live with 24-hours a day. If the harmony and the happiness do not exist in that circle then things you do cannot really be called Dharma work. I know that if the Plum Village Sangha is not happy and harmonious, we cannot serve as the roots for any activities and aspirations outside plum Village like Parallax, Order of Interbeing, CML, etc. You would not be happy working in the community unless you accept and trust the Sangha of Plum Village. The more you trust and accept the Sangha, the greater will be your joy and your energy. All of us here in the three hamlets of Plum Village, Maple Forest Monastery, and Tu Hieu Temple feel very much the same.

Love and trust help us in our practice and transformation. Without them, twenty years of Dharma work would not bring about anything. If we do not trust, love, and accept each other while working with each other, how could we describe our work as Dharma work? Suffering comes from the lack of trust and acceptance, made concrete by the practice of taking refuge in the Sangha. If you do not trust the Sangha, you cannot profit from the Sangha eyes and the Sangha energy. If you do not trust your teacher, he can no longer help you. If you do not trust the practice and apply it to your daily work, then you cannot say that you are taking refuge in the Dharma. The Dharma is real; it is to come and see directly. The Sangha is not something you can set up by means of correspondence (Email, letters, magazines, telephone calls, etc.) or even ordinations.

Please reflect on these things and you will understand everything."

On May 4, 2000, Thay and the Sangha of Plum Village sent a letter to Arnie and Therese, inviting them to come and live with the Plum Village Sangha in order to deepen their training in the practice.

Notes from the Community:MPC of Fairfax, Virginia 

Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen have been working for the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax (MPCF) since its creation a year and a half ago. Nearly 400 people from different corners of the Washington metropolitan area have come to the MPCF for daily and weekly sessions, monthly days of mindfulness, as well as evening classes. The monthly day of mindfulness has become a regular day of practice and rest for many people. The deep relaxation program for children has been helping many children to become calm, a challenge for many parents in a fast-pace society.

Still Water Sangha-Santa Barbara

By Larry Ward

The Full Blossom Sangha grew out of a 1997 retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. For two years, a small group of dedicated practitioners met to sit, walk, and share the practice. Thay's 1999 retreat brought phenomenal growth to this Sangha, along with a new name, location, and leadership.

The blossom became Still Water. The Sangha meets every Sunday evening at Trinity Episcopal Chruch, 1500 State Street in Santa Barbara. Still Water Sangha serves as a root home to train leaders who come from neighboring communities of Santa Ynez, Ojai, and Ventura.

We schedule Days of Mindfulness bimonthly, and have had three memorable days in community and in nature with our community. This July, we will have our first retreat, with Minh Tranh coming from Montreal. Our community delights in singing, and the simplicity and sweetness that flow from Thay's teachings.

Our Sangha has begun the process of visioning and searching for facilities to establish a Mindfulness Practice Center to extend the Dharma to the many communities and organizations of South Coast California.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, is a member of the Management Committee of Parallax Press and Community of Mindful Living.

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Bay Area Young Adult Sangha

By Michael Trigilio In 1997,1 was ordained in the Tiep Hien Order. I was twenty-two and feeling so happy and supported ... but also a little bit isolated. I noticed that nearly every layperson around me was my parents' or grandparents' age. I had so many wonderful opportunities to share and learn from my dear friends of previous generations. But I also experienced a feeling of marginality—perhaps similar to the discomfort often expressed by people of color, women, gays and lesbians, or disabled people when they find themselves in the minority of a group practice setting.

In the Fall of 1999, a friend and I began working to develop a Sangha for young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area. And in January 2000, six practitioners in their 20s met at the Community of Mindful Living for the first time. We practiced sitting and walking meditation, chanted the Refuge Chant, and had Dharma Discussion. Since then, our Young Adult Sangha has grown to more than twenty people, ranging in age from 18 to early 30s. We meet three times a month to practice together and discuss our practice of mindfulness and the Mindfulness Trainings as we grapple with issues specific to young people.

The Bay Area Young Adult Sangha offers a safe, nourishing space for young people to practice, where the culture of our generation in the United States is shared and directly understood. Many of us have been in Sanghas where we are the only people of our generation, and where we felt not entirely comfortable. In larger gatherings, our Sangha members often hear the refrain, "You practice so deeply for being so young." Together we recognize that this kind of comment is meant as praise or flower-watering, but we acknowledge that it often feels condescending.

Recognizing the need for intergenerational practice and the invaluable wisdom of our elders, most practitioners in our Sangha also practice with a second Sangha in their local area. The Young Adult Sangha, then, is more like a special place to practice and discuss issues that are, at times, specific to our lives as young people in the year 2000. We are so happy that our Sangha has grown so beautifully and are thankful for the opportunity to support the practice of young adults in our area.

Michael Trigilio, True Birth of Peace, is the Program Coordinator at the Community of Mindful Living. To learn more about the Bay Area Young Adult Sangha, e-mail or call (510)527-3751.

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Lamp Transmission of Shalom

at the Great Ordination Ceremony
Deer Park, California
February 13, 2004

Respected Thay, respected Venerables, brothers and sisters and friends, I offer Greeting to this House, greetings to the people and to the ancestors of this House. Greetings to the land, the mountains, the rivers, and the sea. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa (translation:  Greetings, greetings, greetings to you all).  In New Zealand, this is a traditional and respectful way to begin to speak as a guest of another community.

I have a sense that if I were to turn and look behind me I would see the New Zealand Sangha sitting, supporting me, and see my beloved daughter, who ten years ago insisted that we sell our house and go to Plum Village. She was eight, and she was very wise.

About fifteen years ago somebody put a book of Thay’s in my hand. I read one page, and that page was the beginning of the lamp transmission. I didn’t know anything about Buddhism, but I knew that this man knew what I wanted to know. For me, it is very beautiful to see this physical manifestation of the lamp, but the lamp of the Dharma, the lamp of Thay is in here, in my heart.

With my mother behind me and my daughter in front of me, there is a hardness in our family line. The practice gave me a lot of courage to transform that hardness so my daughter wouldn’t have to suffer so much. In the early days at home I would literally stop when there were difficulties between me and my child, and I would turn to Thay and I would say, “And what am I supposed to do now?” Many of you will probably know what he answered. He said, “Shalom, do the dishes.” Because that was what was in front of me. And I would do the dishes, very mindfully, and the difficulty between us would calm down.

A few years ago I was very sick. I’m not quite sure how this will sound to you, but it was a wonderful experience! It was very difficult and there was pain, and for many days I felt as if someone had pulled the plug out, because there was no energy, and this body suffered a lot. But something wonderful happened. I could experience for myself the softening of that hardness. I felt a lot of compassion and a lot of love for this body. I could feel the energy of the teaching from Thay, of the mother holding the baby.

Some mornings I would wake up and walk from my bed to the kitchen, and I would get halfway through cutting an apple, and there would be no energy left, so I would have to put the knife down and leave the apple half cut, and walk mindfully back to bed.  My body was very ill, but my mind was very clear.  So I lay in my bed and I breathed in, and I breathed out, and I could do that quite easily.  I could look out at the hills and the sky, and I was very happy.

It’s very wonderful to sit together and receive the Dharma lamp, all of us. I’d like to say to my lay friends: Don’t wait for the Dharma lamp that looks like this. It is a great good fortune for us to be able to be here. I wish you all well. I wish you well in body, heart, and mind, and I thank you for supporting me and teaching me.

Shalom lives in a community of mindfulness practitioners called Dharma Gaia Garden. They welcome guests throughout the year, for organized retreats and for informal visits. Some scholarships are available

The Path of Emancipation, a twenty-one day retreat, July 10–31, will follow Thay’s teachings from the book of the same name. Cost: $400 plus dana for the teachings.

Write to Dharma Gaia Garden, RD1 Coromandel, New Zealand; phone (+ 64  7) 8667995

Shalom’s Insight Gatha

The deep purple delphinium drops her petals one by one. Magnificent! And my countless faces appear and disappear, bubbles on the ocean’s surface. Beauty and pain quiver my ripening heart. The earth trembles. I step gently, this foot anointed by the bodhisattva’s hand.

Thay’s Gatha to Shalom

The seed that has been planted in the Precious Land now has a chance to be penetrated by the spring rain. Day and night, let us dwell peacefully in the position of touching the earth so that everywhere flowers will bloom and reveal our true mind.

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Sowing Sangha Seeds

By Judith Toy

A Sangha Sprout

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

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

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

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

The Cloud Cottage Council

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


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

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

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

Raising Goodwill and Funds

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

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

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

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

A Dharma Comedy

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

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

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

New Blooms in Our Garden

Our schedule has blossomed like a June garden.

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

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

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

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

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

A Sangha Harvest

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

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

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Lamp in the Mountains

An Interview with Eileen Kiera

By Tracey Pickup

I first met Dharmacarya Eileen Kiera (True Lamp) at Deer Park Monastery when she was giving a Dharma talk. I found myself drawn in by her simple and illuminating presence and the intimate way that she spoke about the natural environment of the rural practice center, Mountain Lamp, where she lives in northern Washington. Since that time I have returned to Mountain Lamp regularly to practice with her, the Sangha, the trees, and the forest creatures. On a late February day with the snow falling on firs and cedars, we sat down to talk about her life of practice.

Tracey Pickup: How and why did you start your spiritual journey?

Eileen Kiera: I believe I always had a spiritual draw toward stillness and the beauty of nature. That led to my eventual career as an ecologist specializing in arctic/alpine ecology. I began my meditation practice while working in the Arctic, where there was the vast spaciousness and deep stillness of the place. Only the periodic call of a bird or whistle of the wind broke the silence. I spent hours sitting behind a spotting scope watching the nesting sites of the Black Brant, and other activity in the salt marshes I was studying. In the summer the sun never sets, and I would sit through the days of bright, white sunlight and the golden nights when the sun ran along the northern horizon.

TP: What inspired you to follow Thay in those early years?

EK: Thay feels like a being of love. And peace. He emanates that, even in the face of all that he and Sister Chan Khong went through in Vietnam. When he talked about what he had gone through in the war, I always asked myself, “What would I have done in that situation?” I was challenged by his example as well as moved by his love.

TP: Was there any memorable moment or interaction that illuminated that?

EK: There were many. When we were at KokoAn, Thay noticed a beautiful calligraphy by Zen master Hannya Gempo. We walked up to look at it, so Thay could read the characters. I stood one step behind him out of respect, but he stepped back to stand equal with me. He wouldn’t let me stand behind him. Through the years, he has consistently shown me great kindness. At the same time, he cut me no slack when I’ve done something wrong. He told me when I was being foolish. He helped me see and transform so many habit energies and for that, I am eternally grateful.

TP: What are the general principles that he would consider foolish?

EK: Excluding other people, jealousy, competition, arguing, and picking and choosing who you did and did not want to associate with.

TP: What did you learn from being with him?

EK: I’ve learned to let go and to look with the eyes of love.

TP: You sought and found instruction in meditation. Why was it important to have teachers in your life? Couldn’t you have found this by seeking on your own?

EK: I couldn’t have. I continually get too caught in myself and my ideas and my constructs. I need a form and a teacher to challenge me to let those ideas, constructs, viewpoints, and attachments go.

TP: And by letting go of those attachments, what happened?

EK: Many layers of personality have fallen away, bit by bit, over the years. I feel more free, and in that freedom, there is a sense of peace and the connection that love gives.

TP: For most of your life you have been struggling with chronic celiac disease. How did you practice with the pain and the impact it had on you?

EK: I was sick without knowing why for many years. Before I was diagnosed, my practice allowed me to rest, and to transform personal pain and losses, kind of on a moment-by-moment basis—I didn’t know why life was so difficult, but practice allowed me to be there with whatever came. After I was diagnosed, and I under stood my difficulties better, my practice helped me to grieve and accept the losses. Mostly, however, celiac disease strengthened my determination and intention in practice.

TP: How did you touch that intention when you were so sick?

EK: When I was most sick, shortly before diagnosis, I couldn’t sustain a sitting meditation practice. I didn’t have the energy to sit upright for any amount of time, but I could practice when I took a step from the bed. I could be completely there in that step. That’s what became my practice—just this breath, just this step. I couldn’t do what I thought of as practice, ideas like “now I do twenty-five minutes of sitting meditation,” or “now I need to go on a retreat.” I couldn’t do any of that. I could just take this step. It was really very helpful. My intention to practice became really strong. When I got diagnosed and began the journey back to health, that deep aspiration and strength of intention carried me through other ob­stacles. I knew I could practice with any circumstances: healthy or not healthy, living or dying, with suffering or with joy. Fewer things got in the way of being mindful.

TP: Do you find you still carry that same intention?

EK: Of course it has changed now, but yes. It kept my practice alive and constant through working in the world, raising a daughter, being with my father over the years of his illness and death. It was also the wellspring that gave rise to the vision of Mountain Lamp.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, Eileen Kiera, Jack Duggy, and Sangha at a retreat held by Aitken Roshi (seated beside That), KokoAn Zendo, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 1985

TP: In addition to supporting local Sanghas, working with stu­dents to deepen their practice, and leading retreats both here and in other countries, you are also developing a rural practice center in Washington for laypeople called Mountain Lamp. What gave you the inspiration to do this and why do you think it is important?

EK: A lot of it came from Jack and I wanting a lifestyle we came to know at KokoAn and Plum Village. We wanted to live in com­munity, to have people to sit with and walk with, and to have the support of others in practice. We knew there were some things that were essential for practice—having a spiritual home, having a teacher, having a Sangha that shares an ethical basis of precepts and mindfulness trainings. So the aspiration is to create a life of practice that has the potential to support other laypeople and create community—a spiritual home for many people.

Photo by Dzung Vo

TP: What is happening with the community of Mountain Lamp right now?

EK: We have a daily schedule of sitting meditation in the morn­ing, followed by breakfast in community and a period of work meditation. There are regular Days of Mindfulness and an annual one-month retreat. People come for personal retreats, and some people stay longer as residents.

In addition, my husband is a teacher in the lineage of Aitken Roshi. We hold Zen sesshin at Mountain Lamp as well as mind­fulness retreats. In some things, Jack and I co-teach, but mostly we keep the forms of the traditions pure in their own right. Ad­ditionally there are Sangha-led events, like Days of Mindfulness, Buddha’s birthday, and the annual harvest festival.

Over the years, we’ve welcomed Sister Jina, Sister Annabel, Thay Phap Dung, and Thay Phap Tri to teach and lead the com­munity in practice. We were grateful to have two brothers from Deer Park, Brother Phap Ho and Brother Phap De, lead a Day of Mindfulness at Mountain Lamp in May. In the years to come, we look forward to many more visits from our monastic brothers and sisters.

We are moving toward a more structured schedule with the awareness that as laypeople we need to work, and we have commitments outside of Mountain Lamp. We live together in an atmosphere of trust that we are together for the same purpose—to support each other and offer joy in practice.

More information about Mountain Lamp can be found at

Tracey Pickup, True Fragrant Field, started the Wild Rose Sangha ( in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and is currently residing at Mountain Lamp as the Temple Keeper.

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To Continue Beautifully

Sangha, Loss, and the Creative Process: An Interview with Susanne Olbrich By Philip Toy 


Into the nebulous, ongoing mystery of life I welcome, as if through an open door, the continuing spirit of the one I have loved. – Martha Whitmore Hickman

During our summer 2010 pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland, while visiting the Findhorn Community, we were invited by Northern Lights Sangha to conduct two Days of Mindfulness. One of the Sangha leaders, Susanne Olbrich, True Ever-present Stability—pianist, composer, and teacher—graciously consented to this interview.


Philip Toy: Susanne, you have just returned from a concert tour in Germany, where your Marama Jazz Trio was warmly received. You composed some of the music after the sudden loss of your dear friend and former partner. One piece, “Beyond Gone,” was a meditation you played soon after hearing the news of H.’s passing. How do your practice and your music relate to such a loss?

Susanne Olbrich: It was in Plum Village during the ‘05-‘06 Winter Retreat, just after H.’s suicide, where I took refuge in the Three Jewels. Thay’s teaching on continuation supported me then, especially in light of his conviction that those who take their own lives may not have a good chance of continuing beautifully. Then and there I made a deep commitment to help my friend continue beautifully. Thus the piece “Beyond Gone”—a phrase from Stephen Levine’s book, Who Dies?

PT: Keeping such a commitment in the wake of deep loss requires extraordinary support. Where and how did you find support and encouragement?

SO: It started the first few moments after hearing the news when the shock set in and my legs began to go numb. It seemed as if what kicked in and began to operate was an emergency program designed to hold me. I heard the instruction, “Breathe, just breathe!” This inner voice lingered, and later became like a reliable old friend suggesting when I should rest, when I could let go of an excess obligation, when to focus on one breath, one step, and when to ask for help. Very unlike me! Yet, I would sit on my cushion much longer than usual, however long it took for the pain to subside.

PT: I can see how your decade of practice before this loss paid off. Yet, even with this fortunate help, how did you sustain yourself?

SO: I could not do it without my loving and steady Sangha. They gathered at my place, cooked soup, and filled the house with warm food aromas and their even warmer understanding presences. Whether I had the energy to fully participate or not, soon my isolation began to melt in the warmth of their companionship and compassion—their Sangha eyes, hearts, and hands.

PT: I know from my own experience of the death of my son, Jesse, by drug overdose, and my very close association with Sangha—the complexity of the loss of a child, likely by suicide, calls out for a rich and special brand of caring. How does Sangha embrace and minister to these complexities?


SO: Making space and holding it, deep listening, sharing from the heart—all central components of effective Dharma discussion— together with the gift of benevolently witnessing one another in the circle. These all allow for the kind of conscious grieving and reflecting that can help dissolve searing issues and questions, such as not having time for bidding goodbye to the lost loved one, or the anger and guilt of “What did I do, or not do,” or “What could I have done,” or “If only….” We can allow all this to unfold within the stable and protective space of the Sangha without fear of getting lost or overcome.

PT: You and I share the experience of surrendering and taking refuge in Sangha following a tragic loss. For me it was key to surviving those earliest days, weeks, and months after my son’s death. As Thay teaches, the Buddha is there, too, in the midst of Sangha. Were you able to take refuge in the Buddha?

SO: The Buddha I took refuge in was the Buddha I had discovered in myself through practice, especially practice with my Sangha. It was the energy capable of witnessing tears and distress with utmost tenderness and letting me know it was okay. There arises an open space for us to recognize harsh feelings and thoughts. Within the fold of Sangha, these feelings may be held gently in the light of awareness, and we may finally watch them evaporate! This was the single most powerful act of self-care I could have given to myself—not just once or twice, but again and again with patience and perseverance. This is the love that heals.

PT: You say you made a commitment to help your lost partner continue beautifully. Tell us more about that commitment.

SO: Thay says that Dharma, too, can be found in Sangha. In Plum Village Sangha those five years ago, I read Thay’s book, No Death, No Fear. Through the teachings on no-birth, no-death, transformation, and continuation, my sense of deep loss was mitigated some and it sparked a new awareness. I was able to see the ways in which my lost friend continues: his adult children, the song I wrote for him, the tree planted at his memorial, the sturdy wooden tables he built for our Findhorn Community Centre, the grove in the Scottish Highlands planted in his honor as part of a national reforestation project, and of course, the many memories I and others hold dear. Also at that winter retreat, I birthed the idea for a new album, a CD in H.’s honor. The cover art would be one of H.’s beautiful nature photographs and the album’s name would be Continuations, in order to celebrate that: “Nothing exists on its own…. Everything is a continuation of something else, and everything will continue in manifold forms…. Nothing is ever lost.” Manifestation of the CD took nearly four years. Every step of the project was a teaching for me, from cover design to legal questions about royalties, from finding a manufacturer to creating a record label, and it was a labor of love. When I finally held the finished product in my hands, with H.’s photo of the Scottish West Coast, it was beautiful. I knew part of my grief had transformed into something else; an artistic offering, a rose from the compost.

PT: You seem to have a heightened awareness of transformation and continuation, leading to the birthing of your Continuations CD; there’s an interaction between mindfulness and the creative process.


SO: Yes. The energy generated in mindfulness and the practice of deep listening, together with a present-moment focus—allowing what is to be—are working elements for me during the composition or playing of a musical piece. Composing music in its essence has much to do with listening deeply. What takes shape in my inner ear—from apparently mysterious sources—often amazes me. I simply could not have thought it out. In the case of “Beyond Gone,” that’s exactly what happened. About six weeks or so after H.’s suicide when many of my friends had gone back to normal, I was still feeling anything but normal. There was this not-so-subtle pressure that I should be over and done with this grief—ready to move on. In this emotionally stuck place, I had a strong impulse to play for H. It was a meditation.

PT: Your band members’ masterful back-up and solos on Continuations could be seen as an extended Sangha support for you in your grief journey.

SO: Yes, I am extremely fortunate to have found Anja Herold (soprano and tenor saxophone) and Jens Piezunka (acoustic bass and cello). Both bring an extraordinary quality of listening, musical sensibility, and creative imagination to the project. Both of these seasoned improvisers have significantly broadened my musical horizons. Musically, creatively, as well as personally, my work with Marama Trio has been harmonious and joyful.

PT: It seems that as your grief unfolded, your creative process ran parallel to your practice, or in concert with it. I’ve discovered that grief is different for everyone, that it’s at best a bumpy road, and that there is no fast forward button.

SO: Exactly my experience. During the final stage of the creative journey that led to the Continuations CD, I was blessed with two extra-large helpings of Plum Village energy. I was able to spend a whole month with Thay and the Sangha for Summer Opening, 2008, and again for Path of the Buddha Retreat, 2009. Feelings of inadequacy, ignorance of the technicalities of CD production, plans gone awry, bouncing between Scotland where I live and Germany where my band members live—all of these left little time for rehearsals and other preparations. So the energy of the practice was strong in me when I needed it most.

At Findhorn we have woven into the fabric of the community workday the practice of “attunement,” a kind of practical, organizational deep listening. Shifts in every department—management, kitchen, garden—begin with a joint attunement, sometimes holding hands, sometimes sitting around a candle, always breathing together for a moment in silence with a wish to benefit others, uniting heart and mind for the task at hand. While producing Continuations, for the first time in my life I adopted regular attunement sessions for my own often solitary musical work and have continued the practice ever since. We’ve discovered that our attuned work frequently yields a better result than work driven simply by efficiency-oriented thinking mind.

PT: You are very fortunate to have the dual communities of Northern Lights Sangha and the Findhorn Community to engage with, especially in times of great loss and creative struggle.

SO: Yes, I feel gratitude for these two amazing groups every day. I’ve been living in the spiritual community of Findhorn for over ten years now, and our inherent humanistic and ecological missions inform all that I do, here in my Sangha and everywhere I travel. While in the distant past my life has felt at times like pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain, guided by Buddha mind within these two communities, the CD manifestation unfolded remarkably gracefully. I wish I could claim success practicing equanimity in every corner of my life. In fact, work and relationships are two areas where I do get caught in habit energies more often than I like. Yet, mindfulness practice over the years—be it through dark paths of grieving or inspiring musical projects—has informed and enriched my life. Music, like mindfulness, has the capacity to bring us home to ourselves and in touch with the wordless, refreshing, and healing aspects everywhere surrounding us. With it we can water seeds of beauty, understanding, and love. The piano has been my passion since age six and, long before I knew the term “meditation,” it became a refuge, a place to learn about concentration and dwelling happily in the present moment.

PT: I noted that some of the most common audience responses to your music during the Germany concerts were meditative: “soulful,” “spacious,” “it slowed me down in a pleasant sort of way.”

SO: Yes, though the project may not explicitly be about Dharma, it makes me so very happy to have touched listeners in this way.

PT: Thank you very much, Susanne. May you and your work in this world ever remain soulful and spacious.

Author’s note: On our return from Isle of Skye to Findhorn for our second Day of Mindfulness, I received news that my sole surviving elder brother had died. As I reflect on our stay at Findhorn, although we were across the ocean and far from home, we could not have been in a more accepting, loving, and understanding environment. From my sundown bedroom window at the Shambala Retreat House, I watched the tide wash out over Findhorn Bay, and I knew, despite everything—maybe because of everything—all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.

For more information about Susanne Olbrich and her music, visit or

mb58-ToContinue6Philip Toy, True Mountain of Insight, and his wife Judith have founded three Sanghas in Thay’s tradition. Since 1993, they have hosted mindfulness practice centers—first at Old Path Zendo in Pennsylvania, and for the last twelve years at Cloud Cottage Sangha, Black Mountain, North Carolina. Philip is a poet and jazz pianist. Cloud Cottage Editions is the Toys’ Dharma publishing imprint.

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