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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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The Nameless Bodhisattvas

By Sister Chan Khong Vietnam recently experienced the worst flooding in over 30 years. Eight provinces are under the fierce waters. We desperately need your help to bring relief to these people. We send money only to the very able friends who have dedicated their lives to helping destitute people, not entrusting your gifts to the unreliable government agents. In comparison with the courageous, compassionate service of these nameless bodhisattvas, our gifts are so small. There are not enough words to thank them.

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These friends undertake dangerous trips to bring your gifts, evidence of your love, to the needy. They could easily lose their lives, sitting on trucks full of your gifts on muddy, broken roads or tiding through stormy waters on boats heavily loaded with your gifts. These live bodhisattvas radiate the energy of Love and Fearlessness. They go in place of us to face dangers and bring our gifts to the neediest people who are dying of hunger and cold.

Please touch the earth deeply in gratitude for their efforts, and then send your donation to help the people suffering from the storm and floods. Dear friends, even if you can only afford to give one dollar, if you offer it with all your love, then this act will touch three thousand worlds in the cosmos, and the wonderful energy of God, of the Buddhas, will embrace you and protect you and the people you love.

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What you can do to help: • $1.00 can buy seven pounds of rice or fifteen instant noodle packages. • $5.00 can buy a blanket for a family. • $15.00 can help one family start their lives again.

Please send your tax deductible donation, marked "for flood victims," to UBC Relief Committee of Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hattland-Four Corners, VT, 05049, or wire funds to UBC Maple Forest Monastery, AL Bank, Route 4, East Woodstock, VT, 05091, Account #01001-24920.

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Letters of Thanks

In November 1998, Plum Village sent $2,500 to Sisters Hanh Toan and Hanh Lien from Quang Nga and $10,000 to Hue, to help victims of the recent typhoons in Vietnam. These letters are in response to this aid. On December 14, 1998, after receiving Sister Hanh Toan's letter (below), Sister Chan Khong sent another $6,000, all the money left in the relief budget, to Sister Hanh Toan. From Sister Hanh Toan, Tinh Nghiem Temple, Quang Ngai: 

We live in Quang Ngai City, away from the center or the storm and the damage here is small. With your help, we have tried to go to villages where the heavy rains caused creeks to rise, flooding and catTying away houses and crops-places like Binh Son, Ba To, Minh Long, Tra Bong, Sun T§.y. Very few relief groups dare to come to these areas, because the rains destroyed the roads and left them impossible to drive.

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After three consecutive typhoons, all families have depleted their rice supply. They eat manioc leaves or other raw forest leaves to survive. And they pray that relief people will come to save them. Hearing that our delegation of Buddhist nuns was coming to the district city, victims from nearby villages tried to meet us in the city. Although their villages are not more than fifteen kilometers away, the trip took nearly two days. The roads and bridges have been destroyed. The villagers crossed mountainous ravines and raging creeks, searching for unflooded jungle so they might reach us. In the end, we faced each other across swollen river waters. The bridge was broken and the water so high and fierce that no one and no boat dared to cross. The hungry victims stood on one shore and we stood on the other, incapable of reaching each other! With tears in our eyes, we left your gifts with friends, hoping they might cross the river in a few days, and continued our journey to Binh Dong.

Binh Dong is a remote village, 45 kilometers from the district city, and the road was very bad. When we got closer, it became impossible to drive. We left our truck and carried big boxes of food over a kilometer on a muddy, slippery road. As we crossed the river with the village on the other shore, the wind and rain became very strong. Our boat nearly threw us all into the river to drown. We sat very still and prayed in deep concentration.

When we arrived safely on the shore, we found everyone thin and pale, looking like hungry ghosts. They threw themselves upon us, pulled our dresses, kneeled down, and cried: "Sister, we are so hungry!" "Sister, my mother is dying, please give me a handful of rice to prepare soup for her!" "Sister, my young children are so hungry, please help us!" The people shivered in wet rags. We saw an old woman wrap herself in a torn mat, waiting for her daughter to return and prepare her soup. But when her daughter came home with some lice, she had already died of cold and hunger. Later, I witnessed another death because we came too late.

Most people are desperate. They have no food, not even a dry slice of potato. The waters are polluted with human and animal corpses, and other dirty, rotting things. People are so thirsty they must drink this water, and we will soon face epidemics of dysentery, diarrhea, cholera, and plague. These people have only wet rags to wear, no shelter, no beds, no tools for cooking, no blankets, no mats. There are 200,000 victims in Binh Son and Binh Dong, and many more in Minh Long, Ba To, Son Tay, and elsewhere. We do not dare to visit now, because we have already given away all of the money you sent.

From Nguyen Thi Kim Hoa on behalf of Binh Dong victims: We send our deep thanks to you for helping relieve our misery following the floods. Disasters crushed us as four typhoons, one after the other, lashed through our village. The waters rose and ran fiercely. The wind tore away trees and houses and threw them about. Everything was carried away by the raging waters. We ran with empty hands, trying to save ourselves.

Now, nothing remains. Nearly all of us are homeless. The sky is our roof and the earth our floor. No one has a grain of rice or a slice of dry potato to fill an empty stomach. No one has a glass of clean water or dry clothes. We look helplessly at those who died, but cannot be buried.

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As we faced such tragedy, your sudden presence was a light shedding grace on our misery. We are like one near drowning who suddenly catches hold of a log. We thank the Buddha of Compassion who heard our cries. You have come to distribute the food of love. Your bags for 320 families are not enough for all 200,000 victims in Birth Son, but thanks to your gifts, many children and weak, elderly people have a handful of rice. We bow deeply to thank your divine, immense grace.

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Announcements

Passages Married: Linda Buckley, True Spiritual Fulfillment, and Jeff Robertson were married on October 18, 1999 in Hamakua, Hawai'i.

New Book by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh's new book, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, was recently published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York. The book is a collection of Christmas Dharma talks given by Thay during the winter retreats in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

Poetry Book

In March, Parallax Press published Plum. Poems, a collection of mindful poems and short articles by Dharma teacher Svein Myreng.

Parallax Press Publishers Outlet

Parallax Press invites you to visit our offices and practice center in Albany (North Berkeley), California. Our publisher's outlet offers a complete assortment of books and tapes by Thich Nhat Hanh and other authors on Buddhism, mindfulness, and related topics. Stop by to browse, enjoy a cup of tea, and observe our efforts to practice mindfulness in the workplace at 850 Talbot Avenue, Albany, California. We are open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

We wish all readers of The Mindfulness Bell a happy and peaceful holiday season.

Parallax Press Needs Vehicle

Parallax Press is looking for a used van or pickup truck to transport books and passengers. Should be in good running condition. Please contact Travis at (510)525-0101.

Southern California Dharma Center

At the request of thousands of practitioners living in the western United States, Thay and the Sangha decided to establish a permanent monastery and retreat center in southern California. During Thay's United States retreats this fall, we announced our hope to obtain a former youth camp in San Diego County. Since the retreats, however, the county has withdrawn the property from the market—perhaps only until February 2000. Meanwhile, we will continue to look for anotherbeautiful property south of Los Angeles, in the area of Orange County and San Diego County. We anticipate a cost of approximately $2.5 million. When property is located and repairs to the facilities are complete, Plum Village will send a Sangha of twelve monks and twelve nuns to practice there permanently. Several lots of land will be located nearby for those who would like to live near the monastery. Buying a lot for your home would also help purchase and support the Center.

Please help build a 21st century for our younger generation by making this center a reality. You could pledge $5, $10, $20, or more each month for the next 36 months, or donate whatever you can afford. All donations are taxdeductible. Checks should be make payable to Unified Buddhist Church and sent to Green Mountain Dharma Center at the address below. Please contact us for details on donating shares of stock.

For information about the progress of the Southern California Dharma Center, please contact us at Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, Vermont, 05049 USA; phone:(802)436-l 103, fax:(802)436-1101; Email: sc-center@plumvillage.org. You can also visit our website at http://www.plumvillage.org.

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Precious Steps For Peace

By Pamela Overeynder

Members of Plum Blossom Sangha of Austin helped organize and participated in a public walking meditation on December 10, 2000, International Human Rights Day. The event, "Precious Steps for Peace," was sponsored by the Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It was held to raise awareness about the international land mine crisis and to share with our Austin community the wonderful and ancient practice of walking meditation as a way to cultivate inner peace and compassion, and to diffuse anger and other unwholesome emotions.

About fifty people participated in the silent walk at the State Capitol. Most were not Buddhist and had never experienced walking meditation. As people arrived they were given a small card with Thay's calligraphy which says, "What is most important is to find peace and to share it with others." We gathered in a circle and invited everyone to: Walk in silence. Walk in support of our brothers and sisters around the world. Walk because you can. Walk in gratitude. Walk for peace. Walk with all your heart for those who can't.

Among the "walkers" were a woman in a wheelchair, a five-year-old girl and a soon to be born baby. We walked from the steps of the Capitol down the Great Walk, as it is called, toward the street. As I walked I repeated the gatha "Peace, Now." During the walk, several people, including me, noticed the distinct smell of sandalwood incense. As far as we know, no one offered incense, but the smell was unmistakable. A large poster showing two children with prosthetic devices in place of legs was placed at the end of the walkway, inviting each person to pause there for a moment before turning to walk back to the Capitol steps.

There were many people visiting the Capitol who quietly and respectfully moved around and past us as we walked. Children played happily on old canons, (relics of past wars) while their parents posed for Christmas pictures in front of the Capitol. One walker noted how fast and nervous "normal" walking seemed in comparison to our slow walk. People were deeply moved by the experience and expressed gratitude for the practice and for increased awareness of others' suffering.

We can play an important role as students of the Buddha by initiating and cultivating a dialogue about what it means to be peacemakers. Our walking meditation was one step in that direction.

Pamela Overeynder practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

The danger of unexploded land mines is one of the most pressing and immediate impediments to peace in the world today. Peace is much more than the absence of war. Peace is only possible when all beings are free to walk unharmed wherever they wish, when children can play safely outside, when farmers can work the land free of the danger of unexploded land mines.

There are over 70 million unexploded land mines around the world. Every 22 minutes, someone is maimed or killed by a land mine. This is an unnecessary tragedy. Citizens' groups around the world are joining in the massive effort to do what governments won't do--clear the minefields now.

The Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign is a four-month project of the local chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States. The campaign, a global citizens' effort, gives safe communities the opportunity to help endangered sister communities rid themselves of land mines. By adopting and raising funds to clear a minefield in the village of Praca in Bosma-Herzegovina, residents of Austin will help save lives and give hope to a people who desperately need to return to their homes. The goal of the Austin Campaign is to raise $50,000 to help clear the minefields in Praca. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ranked the village of Praca as a high priority for clean up and rebuilding.

As we reflect on the truth of interbeing, we see that all suffering is our own suffering. By recognizing our interconnectedness with all beings and acting now, we can make an immediate difference. Please join us in this very human endeavor to clear the path for a peaceful return home for the people of Praca after a long and bitter war.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Austin Campaign, please make your check out to the Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign and mail to 1212 Guadalupe, Suite 105, Austin, Texas 78701. To find out if there's a campaign in your community, contact UNA-USA, 801 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10017, Attention: Oren Schlein. Phone: 212-907-1314. Visit the national website at www.landmine.org.

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Vietnam Update

By Sister Chan Khong

On a recent night, though it was very late, I could not sleep because I knew that hundreds of thousands of victims of the most recent flooding in Vietnam were sitting on their roofs, exhausted, cold, and hungry. I sat in my room, but I felt as if I was sitting on one of those houses in the village of Vinh Hung, Tam Nong District, Dong Thap Province.

My home village is not Vinh Hung where 27 people have drowned, nor is it Moc Hoa where 18 children and two elderly people died. But I feel that wherever people suffer, it is my homeland. My home town is not in Tan Chau District, Chau Doc Province, where the water rose to 18 feet high, and tens of thousands crouched together, waiting for help. Forty-three people died in this district. In Chau Doc province, there is an annual flood from August to October, but the water usually rises only one to two feet. The high water helps a rice plant called Iua sa grow fast, and gives a food harvest. Being used to these smaller annual floods, the people in Chau Doc tried to adapt instead of moving to higher ground, as the government had advised. But in a ten-day period in September 2000, the water rose higher than the highest level in the last forty years. When the water rises so fast and stays too long, all the rice plants rot. In the fall of 2000, thousands of rice fields and pineapple fields rotted, and huge fruit orchards were totally destroyed by the flooding.

The government was challenged to rescue the hundreds of thousands of victims hanging on their roofs, scattered across the immense area of eight provinces along the Mekong River. Many children fell in the water and drowned. Perhaps they were hungry, cold, and exhausted. In the province cities like Cao Lanh or Long Xuyen, the bodies of dead animals float with human excrement, creating an extremely unhealthy environment. The people often have no running water, electricity, or clean drinking water.

Green Mountain Dharma Center and Plum Village were able to send $10,000 US to help 4,000 families. Each family received eight kilograms of rice and five packages of instant noodles. We have hundreds of monks and nuns and lay practitioners in the troubled spots to do the rescue work on our behalf.

Please share what you can with these friends in Vietnam. With $3.00 US, we can offer 30 packages of instant noodles; with $20.00 US, we can offer 80 kilograms of rice to a family; with $50.00 US, we can offer a small boat for one family, as transportation and to make a living in this area of rivers and water. For $200.00 US, we can offer a family enough to buy seeds to replant their crops and rebuild their homes. Please send your tax deductible gift to: Attn. Sister Chan Hy Nghiem, GMDC, P.O. Box 182, Hartland Four Comers, VT 05049.

May the energy of loving kindness be with you all year round.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, lives in Plum Village. She is the author of Learning True Love.

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SOS: Help for Hungry People in Tay Nguyen

 In the West Highlands of Vietnam mb39-SOS1

Dear Friends,

Eight thousand, seven hundred people living in the west highlands of Vietnam, 200 km west of Dalat, are starving from an extended drought. The farmers and their families watch their crops dry up and die, and the family rice container empties until not even a handful of rice is left. With broken hearts, they have to leave the highlands to walk down to the cities to find work or beg for food.

mb39-SOS2We would like to thank the twenty-seven friends who have sent donations to help these people. Even though so many of us have been focusing our donations on victims of the tsunami, still we have received during the last three months $1,005 US dollars.

Together with funds from the Plum Village bookshop and sales of calligraphies of Thay, we are sending $9,000 USD to them.

mb39-SOS3Our friends living in cities near this drought-stricken area report that they are trying to help those who cannot even walk to the cities. They have selected 870 of the poorest families, who will die without our help. Each family with five weak members (for example, with four children and one aged mother) will receive $10 USD to purchase thirty-five kilograms of rice to keep them from starving.

They need to continue receiving our help, so please write a check now for whatever you can donate, even if only $5.00.

Make checks payable to: UBC Deer Park earmarked SOS West Highlands Hungry People

Mail to: Deer Park Monastery 2496 Melru Lane Escondido, CA 92026

Thanks a lot.

Sr. Chan Khong

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Please Help to Support Our Two Monasteries in Vietnam

mb42-PleasePlum Village 7th  August, 2005 Dear friends,

Today, from Plum Village, Thay has ordained ninety-one monastics. Eighty-four of them were ordained via the Internet at Tu Hieu Temple, where Thay grew up as a novice, and Prajna Temple in the Highlands of Vietnam, where many of you joined Thay during the Vietnam trip.

For the first time, Thay has asked us to write you to ask for your support of our two monasteries in Vietnam, Tu Hieu and Prajna. When Thay returned to Vietnam after almost forty years,  millions of Vietnamese people had not met Thay in person, but their respect and love were overflowing when they had the opportunity to spend three months with the Plum Village delegation of monastics and lay practitioners from thirty nations.  Everyone had the opportunity to walk with Thay and touch the wonderful reality of the land that had nurtured Thay’s insights—the insights which have helped millions of people to transform their suffering and to overcome their many difficulties in life.  Now hundreds of young Vietnamese men and women have made the courageous decision to follow Thay’s example to practice in order to transform themselves and to help bring wellness into their families and society.  They are willing

to leave behind their diplomas, money, possessions, parents, sweethearts, mobile phones, e-mail accounts, and scooters.  They vow to go as a river with the Sangha, and whatever offerings they receive, whether food or material things, they will offer up to the Sangha, so that everyone can benefit together.

Presently, our root temple, Tu Hieu, has 101 monks and male aspirants, and Prajna temple has 120 monks, nuns, and female aspirants; all practicing in this spirit.  Both monasteries are guided by fourteen monks and nuns from Plum Village. The Prajna temple   is on a mountain road, eighteen kilometers from the closest market, so the brothers and sisters cannot use bicycles for shopping.

We very much need your financial support, so that we can purchase the necessities for our two new monasteries.  We need beds, blankets, pots and pans, and scooters. Each day, 221 persons in two monasteries use up to eighty kg of rice.  Right now, each room holds twelve to fourteen sisters on bunkbeds.  We are in great need of a computer, a fax machine, and a photocopier in each monastery.

In the past, some of the monks and nuns attending public school became distracted, neglected their practice, and eventually lost their monastic path.  Now we offer classes in the monastery instead. In addition to learning sutras and concrete ways to transform suffering,  each week there are two periods each to learn English and Chinese, and one period to learn Vietnamese.  We believe that training in this way, within four years these monastics will be ready to lead retreats, both inside and outside Vietnam.

Please show your kindness by choosing the items you would like to donate and send the appropriate funds to one of the addresses below:

___ Beds: $30/bed. Donate 20 beds x $30 = $600

___ Bunkbeds:  $60 each

___ Blankets: $8 each

___ Sweaters: $8 each.

___ Rice: $25/100kg. The two monasteries need 24 tons x $25 = $600 per month

___ Mosquito nets: $3 each.

___ Donate 100 mosquito nets x $3 = $300.

___ Old scooter:  $1,000 each

___ Photocopy machine:  $500 each

___ Computer: $500 each

___ To sponsor a monastic (food, medicine, toiletries, electricity, water, etc.): $25/month

WHERE TO SEND MONEY:

  • USA: make check to UBC Deer Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026 or transfer directly to account of Deer Park Monastery 029-1314078, Wells Fargo Bank, 145 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido CA 92025; Routing Transit Number 121-04-28-82
  • In France: make check to EBU Village des Loving Kindness Temple, 13 Martineau, F 33580 Dieulivol, France. Att: Sister Chan Khong.
  • In Europe and Asia, please transfer your gift to the bank: UBS Bank, Aeschenvorstadt 1, CH Basel, Switzerland; account of Sister CAO P.F.Chan Khong for the Unified Buddhist Church, attn Mr. Guy Forster 0233-405 317 60 D in USD, 405 317 01 N in Swiss Francs and 405 317 61 F in Euros, SWIFT Code: UBS WCH ZH 40A.

Each day, young people come to our two monasteries and ask for ordination. However, our living quarters are too crowded, so we have to build more. We depend on you to continue this beautiful and noble service. Yours truly,

Thay and the Plum Village Sangha

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