interbeing

Dharma Talk: Protecting the Environment

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Many basic teachings in Buddhism can help us understand our interconnectedness with the environment. One of the deepest is the Prajnaparamita Vajracchedika Sutra (The Diamond that Cuts through Illusion). This sutra is a dialogue between the Venerable Subhuti and the Buddha. It begins with this question by Subhuti: "If daughters and sons of good families wish to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind, what should they rely on and what should they do to master their thinking?" This is the same as asking, "If I want to use my whole being to protect life, what methods and principles should I use?"

Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddha answered him, "However many species of living beings there are—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have perceptions or do not have perceptions; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have perceptions or that they do not have percep­tions, we must lead all these beings to the ultimate nirvana so that they can be liberated. And when this innumerable, immeasurable, infinite number of beings has become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated. Why is this so? If, Subhuti, a bodhisattva holds on to the idea that a self, a person, a living being, or a life span exists, that person is not an authentic bodhisattva."

The Buddha's answer can be summarized as, "We have to do our best to help every living being cross the river of suffering. But after all beings have arrived at the shore of liberation, no being at all has been carried to the other shore. If you are still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span, you are not an authentic bodhisattva." Self, person, living being, and life span are the four notions that prevent us from seeing reality.

Life is one. We do not need to slice it into pieces and call this or that piece a self. What we call a self is actually made only of non-self elements. When we look at a flower, for example, we may think that it is different from "non-flower" things. But when we look more deeply, we see that everything else in the cosmos is in that flower. Without all of the non-flower elements—the sunshine, the clouds, the earth, minerals, heat, rivers, and consciousness—a flower cannot be. That is why the Buddha teaches that the self does not exist. What we call "self" is made only of non-self elements. Therefore, we have to throw away all distinctions between self and non-self.

Here is another example. You may think that you are not George Bush or Bill Clinton, but that is not correct. You are comprised entirely of "non-you" elements, among them the candidates for U.S. President. So you have to take good care of the Bush/Clinton elements in you. When you ask, "How can I stop being so angry at President Bush?" the first thing I will tell you is that Mr. Bush is you. Mr. Bush is a non-you element in you. The trees are also non-you elements. If you look deeply, you will see all of these non-you elements, and you will know that you have to take care of George Bush and the trees that are in you. We cannot say, "I am separate and unique. I am not responsible for any of these things." Instead, we must learn to say, "By taking good care of myself, I take care of you. And by taking good care of you, I take care of myself." How can anyone work to protect the environment without this kind of insight?

The second notion that prevents us from seeing reality as it is is the notion of a person, a human being. We usually discriminate between humans and non-humans, thinking that we are more important than other species. But since we humans are made of non-human elements, to protect ourselves we have to protect all of the non-human elements. There is no other way. If you think, "God created man in his own image and He created other things for man to use," you are already making the discrimination that man is more important than other things. When we see that humans have no self, we see that to take care of the environment (the non-human elements) is to take care of humanity. The best way to take good care of men and women so that they can be truly healthy and happy is to take care of the environment.

I know ecologists who are not happy with their partners.They work hard to improve the environment, partly to escape their family life. If someone is not happy within himself, how can he help the environment? That is why the Buddha teaches that to protect the non-human elements is to protect humans, and to protect humans is to protect non-human elements.

The third notion we have to break through is the notion of a living being. We think that we living beings are different from inanimate objects, but according to the principle of interbeing, living beings are comprised of non-living-being elements. When we look into ourselves, we see minerals and all other non-living-being elements. Why discriminate against what we call inanimate? To protect living beings, we must protect the stones, the soil, and the oceans. Before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were many beautiful stone benches in the parks. As the Japanese were rebuilding their city, they discovered that these stones were dead, so they carried them away and buried them. Then they brought in live stones. Do not think these things are not alive. They are alive. Atoms are always moving. Electrons move at nearly the speed of light. According to the teaching of Buddhism, these atoms and stones are consciousness itself. That is why discrimination by living beings against non-living beings should be discarded.

The last notion is that of a life span. We think that we have been alive since a certain point in time and that prior to that moment, our life did not exist. This distinction between life and non-life is not correct. Life is made of death, and death is made of life. We have to welcome death, because it makes life possible. The cells in our body are dying every day, but we don't organize funerals for them. The death of one cell allows for the birth of another. Life and death are two aspects of the same reality. We must learn to die peacefully so that others may live. This deep meditation brings forth non-fear, non-anger, and non-despair, the strengths we need for our work. With non-fear, even when we see that a problem is huge, we will not burn out. We will know how to make small, steady steps. If those who work to protect the environment contemplate these four notions, they will know how to be and how to act.

In another beautiful Buddhist text, The Avatamsaka ("Adorning the Buddha with Flowers") Sutra, the Buddha continues to elaborate his insights concerning our unity with our environment. In this sutra, the word "interpenetration" is introduced. Please meditate with me on the "Ten Penetra­tions."

The first is, "All worlds penetrate a single pore. A single pore penetrates all worlds." Look deeply at a flower. It may be tiny, but the sun, the clouds, and everything else in the cosmos penetrate it. Nuclear physicists say very much the same thing: one electron is made by all electrons; one electron is in all electrons.

The second penetration is, "All living beings penetrate one body. One body penetrates all living beings." When you kill a living being, you kill yourself and everyone else as well.

The third is, "Infinite time penetrates one second. One second penetrates infinite time." Ksana means the shortest period of time, actually much shorter than a second.

The fourth penetration is, "All Buddhist teachings pen­etrate one teaching. One teaching penetrates all Buddhist teachings." As a young monk, I had the opportunity to learn this important sentence: "Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements." So I always respect non-Buddhist elements. Whenever I study Christianity or Judaism, I find the Buddhist elements in them, and vice versa. All Buddhist teachings penetrate one teaching, and one teaching penetrates all Buddhist teachings. We are free.

The fifth penetration is, "Innumerable spheres enter one sphere. One sphere enters innumerable spheres." A sphere is geographical space. Innumerable spheres penetrate into one particular area. And one particular area enters into innumer­able spheres. It means that when you destroy one area, you destroy every area. When you save one area, you save all areas. One student asked me, "Thay, there are so many urgent problems, what should I do?" I said, "Take one thing and do it very deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time."

The sixth penetration is, "All sense organs penetrate one organ. One organ penetrates all sense organs"—eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. To take care of one means to take care of many. To take care of your eyes means to take care of the eyes of innumerable living beings.

The seventh penetration is, "All sense organs penetrate non-sense organs. Non-sense organs penetrate all sense organs." Not only do non-sense organs penetrate sense organs, they also penetrate non-sense organs. There is no discrimination. Sense organs are made of non-sense-organ elements. That is why they penetrate non-sense organs. This helps us remember the teaching of the Diamond Sutra.

The eighth penetration is, "One perception penetrates all perceptions. All perceptions penetrate one perception." If your perception is not accurate, it will influence all other perceptions in yourself and others. Suppose a bus driver has an incorrect perception. We know what may happen. One perception penetrates all perceptions.

The ninth penetration is, "Every sound penetrates one sound. One sound penetrates every sound." This is a very deep teaching. We need to understand one sound or one word in order to understand all sounds and all words.

The tenth penetration is, "All times penetrate one time. One time penetrates all times"—past, present, and future. In one second, you can find the past, present, and future. In the past, you can see the present and the future. In the present, you can find the past and future. In the future, you can find the past and present. They "inter-contain" each other. Space contains time, time contains space. In the teaching of interpenetration, one determines the other, the other determines this one. Once we realize our nature of "interbeing," we will stop blaming and killing, because we will know that we "inter-are."

Interpenetration is an important Dharma door, but it still suggests that things that are outside of one another penetrate into each other. Interbeing is a step forward. You are already inside, so you don't have to enter it anymore. In contemporary nuclear physics, people talk about implicit order and explicit order. In the explicit order, things exist outside of each other—the table outside of the flower, the sunshine outside of the cypress tree. Another way of looking at things is to see that they are inside each other—the sunshine inside the cypress tree. Interbeing is the implicit order. To practice mindfulness and to look deeply into the nature of things is to discover the true nature of interbeing. You will find peace, and you will develop the strength that enables you to be in touch with everything. With this understanding, you can easily sustain the work of loving and caring for the Earth and for each other for a long time.

This essay is adapted from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh at the Retreat for Environmentalists in March 1991 in Malibu, California. These teachings were developed during the three-week June 1992 retreat at Plum Village on "Vipassana (Looking Deeply) in the Mahayana Tradition." Tapes of all of these lectures are available from Plum Village or Parallax Press. The teachings on the Diamond Sutra can also be found in Thay' s book, The Diamond that Cuts through Illusion (Parallax Press).

PDF of this issue

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

State of the World Forum

By Joan Halifax In September, Thich Nhat Hanh quietly stood before nearly 1,000 people in San Francisco and asked the question, "How do we realize peace?" Gathered were world leaders, business leaders, religious teachers, and others. This meeting was initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and colleagues from around the world, including Nobel Laureates, Presidents and Prime Ministers, and other luminaries. The meeting began an initiative on the part of Mr. Gorbachev to create a global community of individuals committed to a deep inquiry into the challenges that will face us in the coming century.

mb15-State

In the midst of the Forum, Thay sat like a Buddha reminding us of what we were really looking for. As some raced to meetings, Thay and 100 others did a meditation walk through the halls and on the roof garden of the Fairmont Hotel. In the steady quietness of the walk, people who were hurrying slowed down, and many joined us. At his keynote address, Thay offered the precepts as guidelines, whether we are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim. He reminded us of the ravages of war and the gifts of peace. He encouraged us to slow down and to look deeply into the present moment.

As Thay has said, if we care for the planet, we care for ourselves. If we take care of hungry children, we feed all beings. This sensibility of compassion in action was the awakening bell throughout the gathering. In the closing plenary session, biologist Jane Goodall said, "For me, stewardship has come to mean caring as much as we can, not only for each other but for the creatures, the nonhuman beings with whom we share the planet. It is when every one of us has the empowerment to know that we have the stewardship of this amazing planet in our hands, then gradually we can move towards true human potential for compassion, for respect, and for love."

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

PDF of this article

Dharma Talk: Loving the Unlovable

By Thich Nhat Hanh Dear Sangha, today is the 28th of January, 1996. We are in the Lower Hamlet (of Plum Village). It is the Winter Retreat. With us today are friends from the Lotus Bud Sangha in Australia. In France we are in the middle of winter. In Australia it is the middle of summer. Time and space have been brought together. 

Thich Nhat Hanh

At the beginning of 1996, Plum Village invented the Telecom Dharma talk. The first was directed to Vietnam. The Vietnamese monks and nuns here were very happy and moved to be able to “go back” to our ancestral temple. This is the second Telecom Dharma talk, directed to the Australian continent. 

Do you have someone to love? If you do not love anyone, your heart may dry up. Love brings happiness to ourselves and to those we love. We may want to love children who are hungry, disabled, or abused, to relieve them of their suffering. We carry that love in our heart and hope that someday we will be able to realize it. But when we actually contact these children, they may appear to be difficult to love. They may be rude, they may lie, they may steal. After a short time, our love for them may fade. We had the idea that loving children who need our help would be wonderful, but when confronted with the reality, we cannot sustain our love. When we discover that the object of our love is not lovable, we feel deep disappointment, shame, and regret, as though we have failed. If we cannot love a poor or disabled child, who can we love?

Everyone has an image of the Buddha. We think that if we meet the Buddha, he will be easy to love. He has so much compassion and understanding. But what if scientists were to find a way for us to see the faces of those who lived in the past? We see stars that perished thousands of light-years ago. Perhaps images do not travel in straight lines. When you fly from Paris to Los Angeles, the plane goes in a circular route. Maybe the image of the Buddha is also traveling in a circle. The sight of the Buddha teaching his disciples on Gridhrakuta Peak, the sound of his voice, those images went into space 2,500 years ago. With the right instruments, perhaps we could capture those images and sounds and see and hear the Buddha. Then we would be able to compare the Buddha’s teachings with the recorded sutras and discover mistakes that were made when the sutras were written down after being transmitted orally for several centuries.

A monk at Plum Village said to me, “My image of the Buddha is so beautiful. If I could see the real Buddha, I am afraid he might not be as beautiful. What do you think the Buddha looked like?”

I said, “He may have looked like Mahatma Gandhi.” The monk was disappointed. To him, Gandhi is not as handsome as his image of the Buddha. I have visited families in Lumbini and Kapilavasu, belonging to the same Shakya clan as the Buddha, and I got an idea what the Buddha may have looked like.

We have beautiful images of Buddha and Jesus. We love our images and hold them in our store consciousness. But if we were to meet the Buddha at the Sainte Foy la Grande station (near Plum Village), I am not sure if we would love him. If we met Jesus in the Leclerc Supermarket, I am not sure we would love him as much as our image. Our images of the Buddha and Jesus may be quite different from the real Buddha and the real Jesus.

There were people at the time of the Buddha who did not love him. Some of his own monks left the Buddha’s Sangha to start an opposing Sangha. Some people tried to murder the Buddha. Others brought the body of a young woman to the Jeta Grove and accused the monks of violating and killing her. Love is not merely about enjoyment. It has to do with understanding. If we don’t truly understand, our love will vanish.

mb16-dharma2

We think we love disabled and hungry children, but the truth might turn out to be different. A number of monks, nuns, and laypeople from Plum Village want to go back to Vietnam to help the children there and to bring about unity and faith among people. They want their country to have a future. The war created much division, hatred, suspicion and destruction in the hearts of people. These monks, nuns, and laypeople want to go home and walk on their native land. They want to embrace the people, relieve them of their suffering, and help them taste joy and peace.

But before they go back, they must prepare themselves. The people they want to help may not be easy to love. Real love must include those who are difficult, those who have been unkind. If we go back to Vietnam without first learning to love, when we find the people being unpleasant, we will suffer and we may even come to hate them.

When you lose your ability to love, you lose your life. We think we can change the world, but we should not be naïve. Don’t think that the moment you arrive in Vietnam, you will sit down with all the conflicting factions and establish communication immediately. You may be able to give beautiful talks about harmony, but if you are not prepared, you will not be able to put your words into practice.

In Plum Village, we live together 24 hours a day. Do we cooperate to bring each other happiness? Do we work together in harmony? Are we able to overcome our individual views in order to bring together the views of everyone? Or do we maintain our own view and think that it alone is correct? If you cannot practice “harmony of views,” bringing your views together with the views of others to arrive at a collective view that everyone can accept, if you cannot love and accept each other, if you do not use loving speech every day, what will you be able to offer our countrymen when you return to Vietnam?

In Vietnam there are people who can give very good Dharma talks, who can explain how to reconcile and live in harmony, but not everyone can do it. We should not only talk about it. If we do not actually practice what we preach, what can we offer anyone? If older sisters do not hold each other’s hands like children of the same mother, how can the younger children have faith in the future?

We must practice harmony of views and harmony of speech. We bring our views together to have a deeper understanding, and we use loving speech to inspire others and not hurt anyone. We practice walking together, eating together, discussing together, so we can realize love and understanding. If you are able to breathe and smile when your sister says something unkind, that is the beginning of love. You do not have to go someplace else to serve. You can serve right here by practicing walking meditation, smiling, and shining your eyes of love on others.

We want to go out and share what we have learned. But if we do not practice breathing to untie the knots of pain in ourselves – the knots of anger, sadness, jealousy, and irritation – what can we teach others? We must understand and practice the teachings in our daily lives. We can only teach from our experience. People need to hear how we have to be able to overcome our own suffering and the irritations in our own heart. When we talk about the Dharma, our words need to have energy. That is not possible if our words come only from ideas, theories, or even sutras. We can only teach what we have done ourselves.

When we practice the First Prostration, we have to be able to see our blood ancestors and our spiritual ancestors at the same time. Some of our ancestors have done beautiful things, and others have made big mistakes. But all of them are our ancestors, and we have to accept them all, those only 20 years older than us and those 2,000 years older, those who are wonderful, and those who are very difficult. Our parents and some of our ancestors may have made us suffer, but they are still our parents and our ancestors. Until we accept them, we cannot feel at peace. If we say, “That person is not worthy of being my ancestor,” we will suffer our whole life.

After that, we get in touch with our descendants – our younger sisters and brothers, our disciples, our grandchildren, and our students. Some of them are beautiful. Some may argue with us. Some may be rude to us. When we practice the First Prostration, we have to accept all our children, those who are good and those who are difficult. That is the only way to find peace. The Three Prostrations are not just a devotional practice. They are a practice of insight, of looking deeply. We see that we are part of a stream of life comprised of all our spiritual and blood ancestors. We transcend our personal self, which is a basic Buddhist practice, and see what is meant by “no self.” When we realize that we are our ancestors and our descendants, our “self” dissolves and we accept everyone, however wicked or wonderful they have been. If we do not have that insight when we prostrate, we are still caught in the individual self, a self apart from the Sangha. We think we are not our brother, our sister, or our teacher. If we think like that, we are not ready to go out and teach other people. We have a theory about no-self, but we do not yet have the insight.

At Plum Village we practice dwelling peacefully in the present moment. By abiding peacefully in the present moment, we avoid running around in circles and we begin to have happiness. When we breathe and walk on the meditation path, when we eat a meal together in mindfulness, we see that we have the capacity for happiness every day. If we do not know how to make use of these practices and enjoy them, if we look for happiness somewhere else, we will never find it.

In Vietnam we say, “Standing on the top of one mountain, you look with envy at the top of another mountain.” We don’t realize how beautiful our mountain is. We look at the other mountain and think, It is much more beautiful over there. If only I could go over there, I would be happy. We have a husband, but we look at another family and think, Her husband is much kinder than mine. We are a child and we say, His mother is much sweeter than my mother. I wish I could exchange mothers. If we stand on this mountain peak and want to be on the other, that is because we do not know how to have happiness in the present moment in this very place. We do not have the capacity to accept the conditions for happiness that are already within us and all around us. In our Sangha, there are people who have the capacity to live happily in the present moment. They do not have the attitude of standing on the top of one mountain wanting to be on the other. They can sit very still, without feeling as though they are sitting on hot coals, wanting to be somewhere else, anywhere else.

Those who cannot be happy may think, If I could be a Dharma teacher, or a monk or a nun, I would be happy. But those who have the capacity to dwell peacefully in the present moment say, I am not a Dharma teacher or a monk or a nun, but I am just as happy. If you are not happy, becoming a Dharma teacher, a monk, or a nun will not make you happier.

How high is this peak? It represents the year 2050. We have only four more years to get to the 21st century. I am advanced in years, and I don’t know if I am going to arrive at the foot of the 21st century hill. But I think about that hill every day. I think about my descendants who are going to climb it. I don’t know whether I am going to live two years. Some things we cannot know. But one thing is certain. I am going to climb this hill with my descendants. I don’t agree with being a teacher for just three or four more years. I want to be a teacher and a companion for thousands of years.

You may think that Brother Phap Canh will get to the top of the mountain in the year 2050. He is 20 now, so he will be 74 years old. When he stands there, what will he see? He will look down and see the Sangha climbing up together. At 74, he will probably have many disciples, both lay and monastic. They will call him “Grandfather Teacher.” What I want to say is we have to climb this hill together. We cannot go up as individuals. Our practice lies in doing it together. We cannot go up as individuals. If we go as a Sangha, we will reach our goal. If we go as individuals, we will never get anywhere. We must go up the hill of the 21st century together. That is how we will transcend our individual selves.

Your grandfather teacher is called Thanh Guy. He is present with us today in this Dharma Hall. He gave me the Dharma Lamp Transmission. He sent me out on the path with all his love and care. Now he is carrying me in his passing. I am carrying him in my passing, and I am transmitting him to you so you can carry him with you. If it were not for my teacher, how could I be here? We are just a stream called “life.” When we give Dharma Transmission, we are not giving it just to one person. We give it to many people at the same time. When your receive Dharma Transmission, you also receive it for many.

The Sangha body of the Buddha has never ceased to be. Today we bear in our heart the Sangha of the Buddha, which is more than 2,500 years old. We may still be young, but we are also very, very old. Our Sangha body is sitting in the Dharma Nectar Hall in France and in the Lotus Bud Sangha in Australia. But the Sangha is much greater and wider than this.

You have seen me teach the Dharma a little bit everywhere, and you have experienced the Sangha in many different parts of the world. Each part of the Sangha nourishes itself using different methods and different teachings, yet we are present in all these Sanghas, and our descendants will be present in them, also. To see this is the realization of no-self. You need this insight to be able to take stable steps on the path of life. We are not individuals suffering in isolation. When one horse in the stable is sick, none of the horses will eat hay. Our suffering is the suffering of others. Our smile is the smile of others. Our joy is the joy of others. Only when we live this way is the Buddha’s teaching of no-self a reality.

If you think you are standing outside, that is an illusion. You are standing on this mountain thinking you should be standing on that one. Everything depends on your way of looking. To have a cup of tea with Thay may be happiness. But not drinking tea with Thay is also happiness. Can you be at peace in the present moment? Can you accept the elements of happiness that are already here? If you don’t have happiness, it doesn’t matter whether you are a monk, a nun, a Dharma teacher, or a layperson.

During this winter retreat, we have been studying “The Living Tradition of Buddhist Meditation.” Today we are going to learn a little more about the poem by Nhan Tong, the Bamboo Forest Master, called “Living in the World of the Dust, but Enjoying the Path of Practice.”

If you understand, All wrongdoings from the past are wiped away. If you are able to understand, Past wrongdoings will not be repeated. Practicing in daily life, Keep your true nature shining. Realizing that Buddha is you mind, You don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. When you are mindful, here and now, When your light is shining, Why ask about the methods of Ma Tsu? Don’t even think about his methods. When you realize that Buddha is your mind, You will never ask again about Ma Tsu’s methods.  

If you understand, all wrongdoings from the past are wiped away. We misbehave because we do not really understand what we are doing. Once we understand, we will stop. How can we understand what we are doing? By looking deeply. That is called the “shining nature” in us.

At times we have to prostrate before six other people and ask them to shine light on our practice. When we do this, we will receive great benefit. We have wrong perceptions that imprison us. We need at least six people to shine their light on us. They will do this only if we prostrate before them, and, with all our sincerity, ask for their help. The Sangha’s wisdom is greater than that of any individual. I always take refuge in the Sangha. Six is the minimum. You can ask sixty people if you like. When you ask them to shine light on your practice, it can reveal the darkest places in yourself, the things that bring about your suffering.

If you are able to understand, past wrongdoings will not be repeated. Practicing in daily life, keep your true nature shining. You perfect yourself in the Three Trainings of precepts, concentration, and insight. Gin means protect, maintain, look after. Tinh sang means the essential nature that is shining and clear and resides in all of us. The energy of mindfulness is light. With mindfulness, we know what is happening. When we are angry and we know we are angry, we can transform it, because mindfulness is there. If we nourish our mindfulness for ten or fifteen minutes, our anger will be transformed. Keep your true nature shining. The shining nature is not a vague idea. It is mindfulness itself, and it helps us have concentration. With concentration, we look deeply, see, and understand. That is called prajna, wisdom or insight.

Keep your true nature shining so you do not enter the path of wrong practice. Ta is wrong or crooked. Dao is path. This is the path of suffering and self pity, the path that leads away from our teacher and our Sangha. The Sangha is a precious jewel, even with its weaknesses. It is essential for our practice. There are things you cannot accomplish without a Sangha. To lose your Sangha is like falling into the ocean without a life jacket. You might die. Keep your true nature shining so you do not venture onto the path of wrong practice. Keep the light of mindfulness shining so you develop the power of concentration and see the truth in your heart, in the environment, and in the Sangha. That will prevent you from falling into the path of suffering.

Always improve yourself by true practice. The word tu, “practice” in Vietnamese means, literally, “to make more beautiful or correct” or “to repair.” If you have a leaky roof, you repair it. If you have some jealousy, you have to transform it. To better yourself, to cultivate happiness, all these things are included in the Vietnamese word for “practice.”

Always improve yourself by true learning. Always follow the “right tradition,” which is the true teaching of the Buddha, not the things people added to the teachings later. The teaching of the Buddha is very clear, but there has always been a tendency to bring in other teachings that are more complicated. We have to be careful not to travel down paths of wrong teaching, or we will lose our way. The way of practice in the right tradition is the tradition of precepts, mindfulness, and living with the Sangha. To say that we can take drugs or drink alcohol while practicing meditation is an example of wrong teaching. To practice meditation without also practicing precepts, concentration, and insight is not following the right tradition. When Zen Buddhism first came to the West, people thought it had something to do with drugs, and they did not practice the precepts. That kind of practice always brings about suffering. Please follow the right tradition.

Realizing that Buddha is your mind, you don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. Mind is Buddha. Buddha is your mind. Buddha is not some statue made of wood or jade. Buddha is not a god. Buddha cannot be found in heaven. The Buddha is in your heart and mind. When your mind has precepts, concentration, and wisdom, Buddha is present. The Buddha is not the mind of forgetfulness. He is the mind of mindfulness.

When you are mindful, here and now, when your light is shining, why ask about the methods of Ma Tsu? Don’t even think about his methods. You don’t have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu, such as kung an, questioning, shouting, or using the stick. Yelling and hitting are tools that can help meditation students untie the knots of suffering in themselves. These kung an, questions and answers, are used by the Dhyana masters to undo the knots of the students. I prefer simpler methods, like asking “What are you doing?” Sometimes when Sr. Chan Khong is looking through her files, I ask her, “What are you doing?” Sometimes she says, “You’ve caught me. I wasn’t practicing mindfulness.”

When you are cooking, sweeping, or working in the garden, practice mindfulness. If not, it is a waste of time. When I ask, “What are you doing?” if you are present, you can just look at me and smile. But if you are not practicing, you have to say, “Thay, you’ve caught me. I’m not practicing.”

When you realize that Buddha is your mind, you will never ask again about Ma Tsu’s methods. Ma Tsu was a very famous Dhyana master from China. He was born in 707 and he lived to be 81 years old. There is a story about a conversation between Ma Tsu and one of his students. One day, the student was sitting diligently practicing sitting meditation. The teacher asked, “What are you doing?” and the monk answered, proudly, “I am practicing sitting meditation.” The teacher said, “Why are you doing that?” and the student replied, “To become Buddha.” Ma Tsu began polishing a tile, and the student asked, “Master, why are you doing that?” Ma Tsu replied, “To make a mirror.” The student said, “Polishing the tile will not make a mirror.” Ma Tsu replied, “Sitting in meditation will not make a Buddha.”

To become a Buddha, you have to know how to smile, how to speak, how to stand, how to walk, how to work, how to wash pots, and do all those things while you look deeply in the state of Samadhi (concentration). Meditation is not just sitting. Once a student came to Master Ma Tsu and asked, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” Ma Tsu said nothing. He just beat him. You see how kind the teacher of Plum Village is.

The great Bamboo Forest Master, realizing that Buddha is mind, said that you do not have to ask about the methods of Ma Tsu. If you are free from attachments, you will be happy. Wealth and sex, for example, are like worms on the end of a hook. If you don’t look deeply, you will get caught, and suffer a lot. If you see the dangers of wealth and sex, you can behave according to the precepts and keep your freedom. Without inner freedom, you can never be happy.

Thoi means the behavior or way of life that is pure. Layman P’ang lived at the time of Ma Tsu in 8th century China. He had a wife, a daughter, and a son, and the four of them practiced together. Although they came from a wealthy family, they gave up their luxurious ways when they tasted the Dharma. They were very pleased to live simple lives.

One day Layman P’ang’s daughter came to Master Ta Dao and asked, “If I don’t want to be friends with all dharmas, objects of mind, what can I do?” Master Ta Dao just put his hand over his mouth. The next time Layman P’ang met Master Ma Tsu, he asked the same question, “If I don’t want to be friends with all dharmas, how should I act?” Ma Tsu said, “Layman, if you can drink all the water in the Han River, I will answer your question.” Upon hearing that, he was awakened.

Layman P’ang and his family symbolize happiness with a simple life. This is the opposite of thinking you have to buy a lot of things to be happy. If you are not attached to wealth, it is because you have realized your shining nature of enlightenment.

You don’t have to go to a mountain to practice. If you follow the precepts, you will not be carried away by sounds and appearances. Some appearances infatuate us and we get carried away by them. Some sounds make us angry, others make us afraid. We practice mindfulness in order to stop – to stop our wrong perceptions, to stop being carried away by sounds and appearances, to stop our mind from running from place to place, unable to settle anywhere. We can do this because we have learned the art of mindful living.

The First Prostration

The Stream of Life

Contemplate while touching the earth with your knees and forehead:

Touching the earth, I connect with ancestors and descendants of both my spiritual and blood families. My spiritual ancestors include the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, the noble Sangha of Buddha’s disciples, and my own spiritual teachers still alive or already passed away. They are present in me, because they have transmitted to me seeds of peace, wisdom, love, and happiness. They have awakened in me my resource of understanding, and compassion. When I look at my spiritual ancestors, I see those who are perfect in the practice of the precepts, understanding, and compassion, and those who are still imperfect. I accept them all, because I also see shortcomings and weaknesses within myself. Aware that my practice of the precepts is not always perfect, that I am not always understanding and compassionate, I open my heart and accept all my spiritual descendants. Some of my descendants practice the precepts, understanding, and compassion in ways that invite confidence and respect, but there are others who come across many difficulties and are constantly subject to ups and downs in their practice. 

In the same way, I accept all my blood ancestors on my mother’s and father’s sides. I accept their good qualities and virtuous actions, and also their weaknesses. I open my heart and accept all my blood descendants with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses. 

My spiritual ancestors and my blood ancestors, my spiritual descendants and my blood descendants are all part of me. I am them and they are me. I do not have a separate self. All of us are part of a wonderful stream of life.

The Second Prostration

The Wonderful Pattern of Life 

Touching the earth, I connect with all people and species that are alive at this moment. I am one with the wonderful pattern of life that radiates out in all directions. I see the close connection between myself and others – how we share our happiness and our suffering. I am one with those who were born disabled or who become disabled because of war, accident, or illness. I am one with those who are caught in war or oppression. I am one with those who find no happiness in their families, who have no roots or peace of mind, who are hungry for understanding and love and who are looking for something beautiful, wholesome, and true to embrace and believe in. I am someone at the point of death who is very afraid, not knowing what will happen. I am a child who lives in poverty and disease, whose arms and legs are like sticks. I am the manufacturer of bombs that are sold to poor countries. I am the frog swimming in the pond, and I am also the snake that needs the body of the frog to nourish itself. I am the caterpillar or the ant that the bird is looking for to eat, but I am also the bird that is looking for the caterpillar or the ant. I am the forest that is being cut down. I am the river and air that are being polluted, and I am also the one who cuts down the forest and pollutes the river and the air. I see myself in all species, and I see all species in me. 

The Third Prostration

Limitless Time and Space 

Touching the earth, I let go of my idea that I am this body with a limited life span. I see that this body, made up of the four elements, is not me, and I am not limited by this body. I am part of a stream of life of spiritual and blood ancestors that for thousands of years has been flowing into the present and flows on for thousands of years into the future. I am one with my ancestors. I am one with all people and all species, whether they are peaceful and fearless or suffering and afraid. At this very moment, I am present everywhere on this planet. I am also present in the past and in the future. The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls, it is not the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. I am in all the other waves, and all the other waves are in me. My nature is water. The appearance and disappearance of my form as a wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death. I see myself before my body manifested and after my body disintegrates. I see how I exist everywhere. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like that of a leaf or a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.

Photos: First photo by Sr. Jina van Hengel. Second photo by Joseph Lam.

PDF of this article

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

Toward Greater Inclusiveness

By Scott Plous Last fall, I attended a wonderful mindfulness retreat at the Omega Institute. For four glorious days, 800 people practiced sitting, walking, and smiling together. Thay gave a series of eloquent Dharma talks on how to love one another, and several hundred retreat participants ended up taking the precepts.

Halfway through the retreat, it occurred to me that something important was missing. If the 800 participants at Omega had been a random sample of Americans, we would have expected to see more than 100 African Americans. Instead, the retreat included only two or three African-American participants.

To me, this suggests that the American Dharma tree is not as strong as it could be. Without African-American practitioners and Dharma teachers, how can peace be reached in the United States? The issue of race is too important to neglect.

Just as a garden is most beautiful when it has many different types of flowers, a Sangha is most beautiful when its members reflect the full richness of society.

Consequently, I would like to ask all American sanghas to make a special effort to welcome the participation of African Americans. As the following quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., shows, African Americans have much to contribute to the practice of mindful living.

mb16-Toward

All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.... Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you 've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren 't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967

If we are to touch peace in these days of racial tension, the involvement of African Americans is imperative. Please strengthen the American Dharma tree by helping it to grow new roots. If each of us makes this issue a priority, I am sure we will succeed.

Scott Pious teaches psychology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

PDF of this article

Sangha Profile

Open Way Sangha, Missoula, Montana Contact: Michel Colville 1440 Harrison Street Missoula, MT 59802 USA Tel: (406) 543-6443 Email: darwin@selway.umt.edu

In November 1989, a small group of Missoula residents began sitting together on Sunday evenings inspired by retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh earlier in the year. Open Way wasn't Open Way then. Nobody had thought up a name. Through that first winter, people thought and sat until the name emerged in the Spring of 1990. The name "Open Way" has become an inspiration for our practice.

The heart of our practice together over the last six years has been Sunday evening meetings. We use three standard formats on an alternating basis. Once a month, we have a single sitting meditation period followed by recitation of the precepts and a discussion. On other Sundays, we have a single sitting period followed by tea meditation and discussion, or we sit for two periods and then have a Plum Village-style service. Approximately 15 to 20 people attend these meetings. We have met in several different locations over the years. Open Way currently meets at the Quaker Meeting House in Missoula, and we are searching for our own zendo for Sunday evening and other events.

We also meet on Thursday evenings. On the first Thursday evening each month, we have a community meeting to discuss Sangha business. We have Dharma discussions on the other Thursday evenings. We usually schedule one special event each month that may be a Day of Mindfulness or an "intersangha event" with local Sanghas from other traditions. The last few years we have held an "Interdependence Day" picnic on the 4th of July featuring volleyball, plastic baseball, and outdoor walking meditation.

For the last four years, Open Way has celebrated Winter Solstice together. This celebration, initiated by Roily Meinholtz, observes the beginning of the sun's return in the midst of the snow, short days, and long nights of a Montana winter. This practice was described in the Winter 1995-96 edition of The Mindfulness Bell.

Open Way took a big step forward when it sponsored its first residential retreat in October 1991. Some dozen meditators attended that retreat led by Dharmacharya Eileen Kiera (True Lamp); Eileen has led many retreats since then and has become our primary Dharma teacher. In April 1992, Sisters Annabel Laity and Jina van Hengel from Plum Village led fifty people in a powerful retreat that firmly established Open Way. Since then, Open Way has brought in Dharmacharyas each spring and fall to lead a residential retreat, including Jack Lawlor, Arnie Kotler, and Therese Fitzgerald. Sister Jina returned to Montana last fall to lead our first retreat that included a children's program.

Our residential retreats have been attended regularly by several Sangha members who live outside of Missoula. Our "retreat Sangha" includes members from throughout western Montana and northern Idaho who join our Missoula members twice each year. The wide open spaces of Montana have given new meaning to our name of Open Way Sangha. Groups of Open Way members sit regularly in Kalispell, Helena, and Grass Range.

Our quarterly newsletter, News and Views, has evolved over the years. Bill Clarke firmly established the newsletter as a quality publication in his more than three years as editor. In the Spring of 1996, Bill passed editorial duties to Suzanne Aboulfadl. News and Views contains Dharma articles, and a schedule of Sangha and local events.

Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, was ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing in 1992. Rowan has been a mainstay of the Sangha and has inspired many others to become Sangha members through his Eightfold Path class that he has taught many times over the years. In 1995, Open Way Sangha became a religious nonprofit corporation registered in Montana as a local Sangha of the Order of Interbeing. There are currently over 40 registered members and dozens of unregistered/informal members who join us for retreats, sittings, discussions, and other events. Five members are ordained in the Order of Interbeing.

mb17-Sangha

Today, Open Way Sangha is firmly established in each of its communities: Missoula, Western Montana, the Order of Interbeing, and the community of all beings. May the merits of this practice benefit all beings and bring peace.

PDF of this article

Seasonal Family Practice

By Sister Fern Dorresteyn

Winter is a wonderful time to have family practices which bring us together. When I was younger, I lived in a community that celebrated the darkness of winter as a time to kindle the inner light. In December, every Sunday evening we gathered in a dark room. A child would light a candle placed in a beautiful wreath and then we would listen to two stories. One was a magical fairy tale about a poor soul lost in the cold winter night, who found the flame of truth, love, and goodness. The other was a true story of how someone like Nelson Mandela found light in the midst of suffering and darkness. After this, we sang songs about the beauty of winter. While in my community this season is called Advent and is based in Christian tradition, the practice can nourish people of any faith. Here are some ideas for family practice in the winter: Create a beautiful centerpiece, like a wreath made from pine boughs. Use treasures from nature gathered with your children which cultivate feelings of warmth and joy. Everyone can have their own candle in the centerpiece.

Begin your evening with walking meditation. The clear, crisp night sky in the winter is wonderful and refreshing for the spirit. When you come back, each person can light a candle from the center one and say a special prayer: 

Winter is here, the time of night we make our heart fire bright. 
When we are kind and loving, we give warmth to the hearts of others. 
Happiness is like the candle flame shining light into darkness.

Afterwards, share hot milk or tea by candlelight. Sing songs, tell stories, draw, read poetry, and express appreciation of each other. If you celebrate the Solstice, Christmas, or Chanukah, it might be a nice time to share the deeper meaning of these special times and talk about your own tradition. You may have a specific prayer each week to nourish the seed of loving kindness:

Week 1: Thinking of my family, I wish each one of them feels happy and loved by me.

Week 2: Thinking of the animals living outside, I hope they are warm and have found some food . May they be happy and safe through these winter days.

Week 3: Thinking of people who feel sad and lonely, may they be warmed by friendship and love.

Week 4: May all beings, people, animals, fish, birds, trees, and the whole earth be happy and peaceful.

You may like to take the prayers one step further by asking "What can we do? We often feel too busy for acts of generosity but doing them with our children gives us energy and helps us feel more connected with others. Bake a pie for a lonely neighbor. Invite some friends who need cheering to a tea party. Donate a blanket or food to a local shelter for people who are cold and hungry. Share with your children what happens to animals in the winter with picture books from the library, and then make a bird feeder or visit a local shelter. You can wish the whole world peace.

Sister Fern Dorresteyn, Ha Nghiem, pictured below with Bettina Schneider and Gaia Thurston-Shaine, lives at Plum Village. She was ordained as a novice nun in 1996.

Ben's Laces

By Peggy Mallette Sitting contorted on the floor, eyes peering over bent knees, foot held firmly in place by fists clenched on two ends of a shoelace, the process begins. Forming a giant loop with two hands, grasping the loop in a fist  with the left hand, circling the loop, the fist is in the way. Opening the fist, the loop collapses. Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp, separating the fingers to allow the other hand to seek the tangled lace, the loop collapses.

Concentration increasing, forming a giant loop again, circling the loop and tucking it into the fisted grasp. But Ben has now pivoted his body in a circle pursuing the elusive lace ends, and I was unable to see the magic movement he made with his fingers that completed the knot.

I crane my neck to see the completed product and discover he is not yet done. Now he is grasping the flopping loops of the bow in two fists and crossing them over each other in the elaborate ritual of a second knot that would ensure not having to struggle with the first one again.Patiently he turns to the other shoe and with equal concentration accepts the repeated challenge. All completed very matter-of-factly, he stands and trots off. No expression of the injustice of shoes with laces, no self-criticism at taking so long at the task. When I am overwhelmed with a struggle and feel the need to demonstrate competence immediately, I will remember Ben and this shoelace gatha:

Struggles are a reflection of inexperience and maturation, not inadequacy.

Peggy Mallette is a mother, school counselor, and member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

PDF of this article

Always Coming of Age

By Ariadne Thompson I took the Five Precepts when I was 13 years old. I felt completely ready and knew that I wanted to live my life following these guidelines. Many people thought I was too young to make that big a commitment and wondered why I decided to do it.

The precepts are a basis for my spiritual life. They motivate me to be a better person, living my life in peace and harmony. I practice mindfulness and meditation wherever I can, incorporating the precepts into my life where I know they will be helpful. For instance, when working with the fifth precept, I refrain from watching movies or reading books that are based on senseless violence. When I have not followed this precept, I often get a frightening image stuck in my head which brings fear into my life. I learn from my experience that the precepts are worthwhile and make deep psychological sense to me.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh' s most important teachings is the concept of interbeing, an interconnection and oneness among all beings. We are interdependent on each other. We would starve to death were it not for the farmers who grow our food, the earthworms who strengthen the soil, the truck driver who brings it to the store, and the store owner who sells us the food. Reminding myself each day that I am connected with everything else in the universe is refreshing to me. It reminds me to be aware of and grateful for my connection to the whole, and of the fact that we are all responsible for each other. I want to respond in an open, clear, healthy, compassionate way, no matter what the circumstances surrounding me may be.

Today is not the only day that I come of age. Every morning when I wake up I am coming of age. Every time I take action or responsibility, I am coming of age. At 26, 46, 66 years old, I will be coming of age with different tasks for different stages of my life. In our coming of age group, we have called ourselves "blooming adults." I feel honored to grow into myself in the supportive presence of this congregation. I would like to close with a poem I wrote about the spirit of mindfulness in my everyday life: May I develop the capacity to be alone; to take time out from my day and go places that I love to speak with the earth, reflecting on the beginning of the world or talking about the weather.

Ariadne Thompson, Peacemaker of the Source, is 15 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California. This is an excerpt from a piece she wrote for her Coming of Age Ceremony in the Unitarian Church.

PDF of this article

Reflections

By Jack Lawlor After returning from this year's meeting in Plum Village, I was immersed in gratitude for the mindfulness practices we share, and for the efforts of Thay, Sister True Emptiness, and the growing community of monks and nuns. I am also in awe of the spiritual growth and maturity in the Order since its first international meeting in 1992.

This collective deepening of our practice may be due to the steady growth of healthy Sanghas in over 20 countries during the past four years. When we met in 1992, there were many lay Order members who were not closely connected with a Sangha-apart from Plum Village-which could nourish their practice. As a result, our practice may have been wobbly and intermittent. More and more of us have begun to hear Thay's gentle and consistent reminders about the value of practice with our home Sangha, however small it may be. The fruits are obvious-regular practice of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and the use of gathas is resulting in more stability and peace in our lives. We have become better listeners and communicators, though there is always room for improvement. In our daily verses, we vow to "practice wholeheartedly so that understanding and compassion will flower." The quality of dialogue in the small group discussions held during the meeting showed that members have been practicing in this way.

During the meeting, we shared a moment of silent gratitude for the support of members of the extended community. Even though many in the extended community may not be able to afford the time necessary to practice as a formal member of the Order or the expense of going to Plum Village, they practice mindfulness diligently and to the best of their ability, consistent with their family responsibilities. Thus, it makes little sense to pursue the creation of an organization based solely on the thin reeds of certificates and robes. Both members of the Order and the extended community aspire instead to create genuine networks of spiritual communities which enable us to learn from each other in a warm, tolerant, and open-hearted atmosphere. Those who choose to ordain in the Order simply commit to make extraordinary efforts to help these community-building efforts succeed. When we do so, we may find that our wisdom and compassion flourish simultaneously in ways we could not foresee, and that our ability to understand, love, and help others is much deeper and more resilient than we had suspected. If the Order is to act consistently with its lineage and manifest the Bodhisattva ideal of "working mindfully and joyfully" for the sake of others, we must have a deep commitment to service, not only for the Order, but also for the extended community, for our blood families, and for our communities and biosphere.

As we learn the value of community, fewer people view the one-year waiting period before joining the Order as a barrier. In many countries, this time is being transformed from a negative source of impatience and frustration to an immensely positive period of spiritual training and friendship in the company of Sangha members who have gone before. If we rush into the Order, there should be little surprise that we feel a bit disoriented once we are ordained. But if we join after a period of spiritual friendship with a fellow Dharma brother or sister in the company of an accessible Sangha, the value of the Order and the extended community has been experienced through our pores, and there is little need for further written explanation.

A remarkable degree of experimentation is taking place within the Sangha to meet the needs of local culture and temperament. At this meeting, it was agreed to retain the guidelines for initiation into the Order. (See Charter of the Order of Interbeing in Thich Nhat Hanh's book Interbeing.) However, it was also agreed to emphasize the mutual benefits of the one-year mentoring period for both the aspirant and the Sangha in each country or region, stressing the need to nourish the bodhichiua of each aspirant, and allowing local Sanghas to embellish the admission process to reflect local culture, geography, and circumstances.

This experimentation has already resulted in the creation of several resources: the Sangha in the United Kingdom has developed extensive written materials about the ordination process; I have written the book Sangha Building to encourage the growth of new Sanghas and maintain the health of existing ones in the face of challenges which sometimes arise from excessive weariness or zeal. A number of Dharma teachers and Sanghas are developing explanations of how one may join the Order, which we hope will suit the needs of people in our regions.

There is much more work to be done. The Order has organized itself into committees of monks, nuns, and laypeople to enhance Sangha building, social action, youth and adult education, the development of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Charter, and communication within the Sangha. Everyone is encouraged to incorporate these efforts into practice, to accept help offered by others, and to know how and when to ask for help when needed. We' ll undoubtedly make mistakes, but even mistakes are a healthy part of the beautiful maturation process which makes both the Order and the extended community so relevant to the transformation of human society.

Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, is one of the founders of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois, and a newly elected co-director of the Order of Interbeing.

PDF of this article

Deciding How to Decide

By Dennis Bohn It took the New York Metropolitan Community of Mindfulness about a year to develop the document on decision making (see below). Some people were suprised that it took so long. but in retrospect. it surprises me that it happened so quickly. I would like to share some of the issues and difficulties we faced. so that other groups grappling with the same issues may know they are not alone.

In the late spring of 1996. Dharma teacher Lyn Fine proposed increasing the structure of our Sangha. both to provide a way for the community to grow and to share the workload with more people. The result was a series of planning meetings to plot a course for the Sangha. After the second meeting. it became apparent that not only was there disagreement over the direction we should take. but that we needed a process for coming to decisions. Opinions differed on whether a decision-making process was necessary or even desirable. Many of us worried that a voting model of decision making would divide the community. and that a consensus model would open the possibility of a "negative tyranny" by a single individual. There was also concern about how people would feel when the group made a decision with which they strongly disagreed.

At each meeting, the bell-keeper, time-keeper. recorder, and "vibes-watcher" worked together to watch the mood and flow of the meeting. When Susan Spieler, a vibes watcher, sensed deep emotions surrounding the decision-making proposal, she suggested that we schedule a meeting to explore people's feelings and past experiences with groups and decisions. This idea was warmly received and the meeting was larger than most. We learned a lot about one another, and ultimately, I believe this experience allowed us to move ahead with the proposal. As the group leaned toward a consensus style of decision making, we received guidance from Sangha member Ruth Lamborn. She taught us the guiding principle in the consensus model: no one person has all of the truth about an issue.

Instead, we each bring our own very individual lenses, grounded in past experience. Through discussion and listening to other people's truths, we can obtain the clearest truth about an issue. This dovetails beautifully with the notion of Interbeing. While the consensus process can be slow and cumbersome, it is also pragmatic. If one person blocks a decision, others in the group can listen again to their concerns, either amending the proposal to satisfy the objections, clearing up some misunderstanding, or persuading the individual to stand aside. Very rarely will an impasse be reached. We also found two texts useful in our process an article titled "Consensus," by Caroline Estes in The New Catalyst, Spring 1986, and Michael J. Sheeran's book, Beyond Majority Rule.

Personally, I found the meetings difficult and I often had unpleasant feelings when someone disagreed with me. When I sat with them, I realized that I felt attacked by disagreement. I try to resolve these feelings by cultivating compassionate listening. When I look at the person speaking, I remember that they are speaking their truth.

This document has truly evolved with our group. The  process guides us back to Buddhist principles, which have been a bell of mindfulness amidst the hurly-burly of our passionate opinions. The openness of our meetings, in which each person has a voice, is balanced by the depth of commitment that someone must demonstrate to block a decision. This proposal also allows people to disagree and then spaciously stand aside, letting the group move ahead. I am grateful that we now have this document as a loving start in the decision-making process, helpill:g us to organize and plot our course without becoming fragmented.

Peace, and good luck if your group is traveling on a similar path.

Dennis Bohn is a member of the New York Metropolitan Community of Mindfulness. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Amy and their dog Lucy.


Proposal for Consensus Process

In our proposals for process and structure in the Community of Mindfulness/NY Metropolitan Area, we consistently return to the spirit of the teachings [of Thich Nhat Hanh].

Part of the process of decision making involves letting go of attachment and preferences.

The process of how we respond when we feel that a decision didn’t go “our way” and our relationship to the mental formations arising from such situations is precisely one of the points of our Sangha practice together.

The spirit of Beginning Anew be built into the planning meeting process as “part of the culture,” for example, at the end of each planning meeting we give time for “flower watering.”

A short quote from Thich Nhat Hanh or “Evoking the Boddhisattvas’ Names” may be read at the beginning of each planning meeting to set the tone.

Proposed:

  1. That for a trial period of six months, decisions of the Planning Committee be made by a consensus of those present at the Planning Committee meeting, with the exception of the Dharmacharya, who is to be considered if she is not present. Prior to the end of six months, a planning meeting will be called specifically to review and revise this proposal.
  2. That, given a range of disagreement is possible in the consensus model: a) an individual or individuals may express disagreement with a proposal and then stand aside so that the rest of the group may move ahead; b) an individual or individuals may wish to be noted in the minutes as disagreeing with the proposal and then stand aside so that the rest of the group may move ahead with the proposal; c) block: an individual or individuals may take a principled position opposed to a decisions and refuse to stand aside. In this case, the group may not proceed with the matter until consensus is reached. Discussion of the issue may and probably will continue.
  3. That any individual who wishes to attend a Planning Committee meeting is welcome to attend and participate. However, in order that decisions will be blocked only by people with a significant commitment to the community and by people who are well informed about issues under discussion, there shall be two prerequisites for a person to block a decision. The person who wishes to stand in the way of a decision must have practiced for at least one year with one of the Sanghas affiliated with the larger CMNY/Metro Sangha, and have been present at a minimum of the past four planning meetings.

The intention of this provision is that community decisions not be blocked by a person(s) who does not have significant “investment” in the community or by a person(s) who is not informed about the issues under discussion through their personal presence at recent meetings. In both these instances, the person(s) who does not meet the prerequisites and wishes to take a principled stand against a decision may seek, through compassionate dialogue, to persuade others to his/her point of view. If an individual or individuals who feel strongly about a proposal must be absent from a scheduled Planning Meeting, it is understood that they take responsibility for ensuring presentation of their point of view at the meeting or for finding another way to have decision making tabled on the proposal on which they feel strongly until they can be present.

PDF of this article

Order Aspirant Training

The following two proposals are offered by Minh Tran and Rowan Conrad on behalf of the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee. When approached by an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing, Order members may wonder how to help. What will nourish and support the aspirant? What is expected? The Order Charter, found in Interbeing (third edition, Parallax Press, 1998), outlines the basic requirements for ordination into the Order.

In support of mentors and aspirants, the Education and Training Committee of the Order of Interbeing suggests using the first stage of the four-stage Education and Training Program proposed by Thay and Sister Annabel in 1996, with two basic differences. In this program, mentors need not be senior monastic Dharmacharyas (Dharma teachers), but may be lay Dharmacharyas or other Order members. The Committee suggests that Order mentors be senior Order members (members for at least five years) whenever possible. Secondly, aspirant training does not need to be in a retreat setting, although attending retreats is encouraged and expected.

The mentoring program is a guide for the study and practice of Buddhist teachings in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Its intent is to stimulate individual and collective transformation, increase happiness and stability, develop bodhichitta, and encourage a deepening mindfulness practice. We hope that practice with this program will support aspirants in their efforts to bring happiness to others and relieve suffering, and to build and support Sanghas. These are the real reasons for receiving Order ofInterbeing ordination.

All those involved in training-mentors, aspirants, and local Sanghas-should be aware that the program requires study and practice. Regular practice is essential to realize the depth of the teachings leading to transformation. Mindfulness is at the core of all efforts.

As the Charter explains, an aspirant must have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The aspirant then announces his or her desire to train for 01 ordination by written letter or application to the local Order members or to a Dharma teacher. One or more OI core community members then mentor the aspirant for a minimum of one year.

When the aspirant and mentors perceive that the aspirant is ready, the mentors write to Thay or to the ordaining Dharma teacher recommending ordination. The letter of recommendation indicates the aspirant is deeply engaged in active, daily practice that will allow him or her to achieve increasing stability, happiness, and transformation. Academic understanding alone would not support a recommendation. In addition, Order members and aspirants are expected to actively participate in and support their Sangha. As Thay said, "Only when you have the feeling that you have enough time, energy, and interest to take care of a community should you ask for formal ordination." After careful consideration, Thay or a qualified Order Dharma teacher may issue a formal ordination invitation.

The Education and Training Committee would like to hear from everyone involved in aspirant mentoring. We invite you to tell us the names of mentors and aspirants, the mentoring plan, and the current stage. Please contact Chan Ruy (Minh Tran), 9089 Richmond, Brossard, PQ, Canada J4X-2S1, telephone: 514-591-8726, fax: 514-466-8958; email: chanhuy@prisco.net.

PDF of this article

Poem: Interrelationship

By Thich Nhat Hanh mb22-InterrelationshipYou are me, and I am you. Isn't it obvious that we "inter-are"? You cultivate the flower in yourself, so that I will be beautiful. I transform the garbage in myself, so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you; you support me. I am in this world to offer you peace; you are in this world to bring me joy.

PDF of this article

A Pilgrimage Tale

By Canyon Sam Oi! I called to the cyclo driver, swinging my arm back towards two white columns he'd just cycled past. My companion and I had started off early that morning with rented bikes to find Thay's home monastery, Tu Hieu. All I knew was its name and its location southwest of Hue. After getting lost for a few hours, we'd taken all manner of conveyances to find our way here. Now it was late afternoon. The two white columns were the one distinguishing feature that indicated its presence down a red foot path leading into a pine forest.

I was struck by the triple-arched ornate gate and lovely crescent-moon lake at the entrance, not unlike the imperial entrances we'd seen the last two days at the Forbidden City and Mausoleums of former emperors. The sound of chanting resonated in the air. Soon we saw saffron and grey-robed monks standing in a gorgeous, 19th century, ope-doored temple. We found our way to the abbot and a layman, who invited us to have tea with them on the rosewood outdoor patio. They were very pleased to hear we were students of Thay. In fact, they said, "You see?" and pointed at a poster-size photo of Thay on the wall. It was the photo from the cover of Being Peace.

mb23-APilgrimage1

It seems the abbot was ordained at the same time as Thay years ago, the same generation, but now Thay is higher, the highest, they told us. The layman said something about having been sent or gone with Thay to Princeton years ago. Every time they referred to him, they called him Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

mb23-APilgrimage2

We talked for awhile, overlooking a courtyard of meticulously tended potted bonsai trees. I quickly realized that not only was Thay trained as a young monk at this temple, and revered as an alumnus and Sangha brother, but that the entire spiritual training and philosophy here was his. Sitting, walking, nourishing the seeds of enlightenment in each other-even lazy days.

Thich Minh Nguyen, an English-speaking monk, gave us a tour to the meditation hall. The long, light-filled hall in the forest had a large color-coded chart in one corner, showing seven generations of the ordained members of this order, dating back to the 1843 founding. I saw Thay's name written on a green-lined nameplate among maybe three dozen others, preceded by the name Trung. On a red-lined nameplate below, among even more names, I found Sister Chan Khong's name. Each generation had one family name that preceded the member's own name. Thich Minh Nguyen asked my friend and me our Dharma names and when we told him, he told us we were the Tam generation, which meant heart. All the names in our generation were Bouquet of the Heart, or Lamp of the Heart, etc.

A poem handwritten in black-inked calligraphy on a lime green scroll hanging in the hall was written by Thay, Thich Minh Nguyen told us. We walked back through acres of fruit trees, past half finished brick buildings with stacks of red cinderblocks and wheelbarrows in front. New housing for monks, Thich Minh Nguyen said. How much like Plum Village it is, I thought, even down to the construction projects. The place had a sense of well-being, very grounded, and I sensed it was thriving. A schedule posted on the wall began at 3:30 in the morning and went till past 10:00 at night. Thich Minh Nguyen read it for us: sitting, walking, working, eating, Dharma study, prayers. The only surprising thing was the monks' session of Kung Fu every evening! Suddenly I understood the model after which Plum Village had been established. And I understood the full meaning of bowing to our spiritual ancestors in the Five Prostrations.

mb23-APilgrimage3

We saw the altar to the monastery founder, his hand-drawn portrait framed in black lacquer, and walked among the graves of all the temple's abbots in a cool, pine-shaded grove. I had been in Vietnam for two weeks, touring the main sites. It had taken days to get here from San Francisco, and though I loved being in Asia and seeing Vietnam, because of the language and the tourist groove we were in, I hadn't made a strong connection. Out of this, and out of hours and hours of cycling around lost through the countryside we had arrived here and found these deep spiritual roots, this never-before-seen part of our spiritual lineage, and found a whole community practicing as we were taught to practice on the other side of the world.

Thay sometimes takes a pencil or a chopstick during a lecture and holds it horizontally to illustrate his point, and then turns it vertically and talks some more. I saw these lines again in my mind. I saw the vertical line. Below midpoint were all our ancestors who had come before us; above midpoint were all in the future who would follow us. Our responsibility to the generations who follow us is to do the same that has been done for us, or better, and our responsibility to the generations before us is to honor them for all they had done. We were no more and no less than part of this continuum of awakening. When I see the horizontal line, I see ground zero, that all of us on the earth now doing the practice are linked together. And then we are linked to the vertical line, at the midpoint. Therefore the place of the most energy and possibility is this center axis the here and now. The inhale and the exhale. The precious moment and the only moment. Here and now we inter-are across time and space from practitioners in pine forest temples in Asia, to traintrack-lined warehouses in Oakland, to hays tacked hills in France, and across the generations. I saw this, like this, as if for the first time.

Canyon Sam, Bouquet of the Heart, is a San Francisco writer and performance artist. Her nationally acclaimed solo show, "Taxi Karma and the Dissident, " about her travels in Tibet and work with Buddhist nuns, plays in March at the Working Women's Theater Festival. She is author of the forthcoming book, One Hundred Voices of Tara: Untold Stories of Tibetan Women.

PDF of this article

Coming Together to Realize Our True Home

By Karl and Helga Riedl Sangha is some times defined as "the community that lives in harmony and awareness." Community is one important aspect of a Sangha. Sangha can be a beautiful way to live with like-minded people, to share our responsibilities, happiness, and pains with friends in the Dharma. A Sangha supports our endeavor to live in awareness. We feel at home. We are nourished, and given the space and help to heal our wounds and transform our suffering.

mb24-Coming1

But when we look deeper into Sangha, when we are living in it for a longer time, we realize that the real aim of a Sangha is much more. It is the process-at times, quite demanding and challenging-of transforming our whole being. What looks like a lifestyle is actually the expression of a spiritual life. True Sangha offers an environment for spiritual growth-relaxed and gentle, but deep and thorough!

To build such a Sangha-and not just a community one needs to understand which "building blocks" are needed, look deeply into the ways a Sangha works, and be very aware which motivations the members ought to have. Out of our experience of living in the Plum Village Sangha for six years, we would like to share what we have found to be the main principles of a residential Sangha.

Commitment

True commitment reflects our deep aspiration to walk on the path of transformation and liberation, and to question the life we have led-with all our ideas, concepts, and desires- and the ways we secure our ego through wealth, fame, knowledge, and position. It is the heartfelt desire to submit ourselves to a life where "being" is more important than "having," where the loneliness of egoism and its restrictive ways of seeing and experiencing are opened up to others and to life as it presents itself. Commitment is the joyful willingness to let go of our concepts, to expose ourselves in the process of dissolving our existential ignorance and coming back to our true home.

Commitment means to being involved, not holding back anything. This is often seen as "giving up oneself' and accompanied with hesitation and fear. So it is safer, more familiar to us, to be a participant only, to basically keep our concepts and ideas and just add to that whatever feels "good" to us. Living in a Sangha is then seen as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge, to receive a training, and solve some personal psychological problems. We need to be aware of this pseudo-commitment.

Surrender

To let the process of transformation happen, we need to "surrender to the Sangha," as Thay has often emphasized. This is to surrender to the practice-wholeheartedly, with all our conviction and joy-and to surrender to the activities of the Sangha. Surrender is easily misunderstood as obeying or letting other people run our life. It is amazing to watch the Hydra of the ego come up at every possible occasion! Angels turn into rebels. "I do it my way!" "I need ... " Soon the first enthusiasm fades and we are looking for every possibility to take a leave from the practice. Even minor details and changes on the schedule evoke angry discussion. Surrender is the spiritual practice of setting aside our ideas and goals, and opening to new experiences, to all aspects of life, to the unknown-without opposing them. Its religious form is the prostration: bowing down, opening our hands, not holding back anything.

Serving

Another expression of surrender is serving the Sangha. Serving means doing what needs to be done- setting aside likes and dislikes, me and you. To serve is to overcome our habitual attitudes towards work and responsibilities and develop our concern, care, and love for others.

Serving happens when our initial idea "I am living in a Sangha" has changed into "I am living for the Sangha." But even then, there might be some selfish motivation; some personal hidden agendas may be the driving force for our actions. Serving then is misunderstood as taking on responsibilities.

Some people feel that they alone are able to do certain things, that they must take up the burden of a specific task or even of the whole community. In due time, they get burned-out and bitter. To rely on the Sangha, to step down from self-importance and accept one's own limits does not come easily for "the doer." When serving is misunderstood as assisting the Sangha with our skills, knowledge, and energy, then positions become fixed, and members of the community are judged by their "usefulness." True serving is to experience the reality of interbeing. Everybody actually supports everybody; there is neither dependence nor independence. It is then that we realize, "I am the Sangha."

Acceptance and Harmony

Another aspect of building a true Sangha is the willingness, even the heartfelt longing, to live in harmony with others. By cultivating our abilities to accept each other just as we are, we break through our spontaneous likes and dislikes, judgments and categorizing. We create an atmosphere of trust. Supported by the practice of deep listening and sharing, we develop a spirit of openness, where understanding grows into loving acceptance.

In our Western societies, where competition, jealousy, mistrust, and separateness prevail, their opposites-trust, acceptance, openness, and love-are deeply longed for, but it can be difficult to open to them. So it is easier to create a "pseudo-harmony"-where we are just "nice" to each other, where everybody seems to accept and love everybody-by not coming too close to each other, not touching anything that could disturb the peace and by closing off to those who do not "fit."

Humility and Respect

To greet the Buddha in each other is possible only when we have dissolved separateness and tackled the threefold complex of comparing ourselves with others-"I am better-equal-lower." Only then do we glimpse true humility-not putting ourselves down, but gracefully accepting that we need not be "somebody" or extraordinary. Ordinary is sufficient! We need not hold onto an image of ourselves or be caught in social status. If we give a Dharma talk, we sit on a platform, and if a driver is needed, we carry the luggage of a guest.

Now, from the depth of our being, we can show respect to ourselves and others. This respect is the foundation of a peaceful life. But, respect is not imposed on us as social hierarchy. We do not pay respect to a social position, but to a human being. We learn from others, follow their example, and listen to their advice, because we deeply honor and respect their having matured on the path. We accept others as "elders."

mb24-Coming2 Again, in a society where competition and mistrust prevail, where everybody makes sure that nobody is  "higher," even respect and trust are suspect. The "elder principle"-found in almost all spiritual traditions and at the core, a "maturity principle"-is rejected without any consideration. And that is an obstacle for building a spiritual community-a Sangha. Either a "pseudo-community" is created and maintained, or power games and "boss-hierarchy" consume all energy. Especially in Western societies we need to look deeply into this situation, and with the help of the Sangha, find ways to restore respect and based on that respect-the "elder-maturity-principle."

Each of these principles is in itself a door for entering the Sangha. As all these principles are interrelated, if one is practiced deeply, the others are strengthened. But if a Sangha member has a problem or a misunderstanding in  even one area, the whole process of spiritual growth for the person-and to some extent for the whole Sangha-is disturbed, maybe even blocked. So it is important to be very clear about the working of a Sangha, to avoid disappointments and suffering and to build a harmonious and happy Sangha.

Dharma teachers Karl and Helga Riedl, True Communion and True Loving Kindness, recently moved to the newly established Intersein Zentrum in Germany. Please don't hesitate to contact them. Please write to receive an Intersein Zentrum schedule. Intersein Zentrum fur Leben in Achtsamkeit, Haus Maitreya, Unterkashof 2 1/3, 94545 Hohenau, Germany. They are very happy to share their experiences and insight.

PDF of this article

Dharma Talk: New Century Message From Thich Nhat Hanh

Tu Hieu Temple and Plum Village December 7, 1999  To All Venerable Monks, Nuns, Lay Men And Lay Women Of The Sangha In The Tu Hieu Lineage, Inside And Outside Of Vietnam:

Dear Friends,

The Twentieth Century has been marred by mass violence and enormous bloodshed. With the development of technology, humanity now has the power to "conquer" Nature. We have even begun to intervene in the chemistry of life, adapting it to our own ends. At the same time, despite new and faster ways to communicate, we have become very lonely. Many have no spiritual beliefs. With no spiritual ground, we live only with the desire to satisfy our private pleasures.

We no longer believe in any ideology or faith, and many proclaim that God is dead. Without an ideal and a direction for our lives, we have been uprooted from our spiritual traditions, our ancestors, our family, and our society. Many of us, particularly young people, are heading towards a life of consump­tion and self-destruction.

Ideological wars, AIDS, cancer, mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction have become major burdens of this century. At the same time, progress in the fields of electronic and biological technology are creating new powers for mankind. In the 21st century, if humans cannot master themselves, these new powers will lead us and other living beings to mass destruction.

During the 20th century many seeds of wisdom have also sprouted. Science, especially physics and biology, has discovered the nature of interconnectedness, interbeing, and non-self. The fields of psychology and sociology have discovered much of these same truths. We know that this is, because that is, and this is like this, because that is like that. We know that we will live together or die together, and that without understanding, love is impossible.

From these insights, many positive efforts have recently been made. Many of us have worked to take care of the environment, to care for animals in a compassionate way, to reduce the consumption of meat, to abandon smoking and drinking alcohol, to do social relief work in underdeveloped countries, to campaign for peace and human rights, to promote simple living and consumption of health food, and to learn the practice of Buddhism as an art of living, aimed at transformation and healing. If we are able to recognize these positive developments of wisdom and action, they will become a bright torch of enlightenment, capable of showing mankind the right path to follow in the 21st century. Science and technology can then be reoriented to help build a new way of life moving in the direction of a living insight, as expressed in terms of interconnectedness, interbeing, and non-self.

If the 20th century was the century of humans conquering Nature, the 21st century should be one in which we conquer the root causes of the suffering in human beings our fears, ego, hatred, greed, etc. If  the 20th century was characterized by individualism and consumption, the 21st century can be character­ized by the insights of interbeing. In the 21st century, humans can live together in true harmony with each other and with nature, as bees live together in their bee hive or as cells live together in the same body, all in a real spirit of democracy and equality. Freedom will no longer be just a kind of liberty for self-destruction, or destruction of the environment, but the kind of freedom that protects us from being over­whelmed and carried away by craving, hatred, and pain.

The art of mindful living expressed in concrete terms, as found in the Five Mindfulness Trainings, can be the way for all of us. The Trainings point us in the right direction for the 21st century. Returning to one's root spiritual tradition, we can find and restore the equivalent values and insights. This is a most urgent task for us all.

I respectfully propose to all Venerable Monks, Nuns, and Lay people within our Tu Hieu lineage, in Vietnam and outside of Vietnam, to carefully reflect upon the following recommendations, and to contrib­ute some part in helping to create the direction for mankind in the New Century:

1. We should continue to set up monasteries and practice centers. These centers can organize retreats—one day, three days, seven days, twenty-one days, ninety days, etc.—for monastics and for lay people, aimed at developing our capacity for transfor­mation and healing. Activities at these centers should cultivate understanding and compassion and teach the art of Sangha building. Temples and practice centers should embody a true spiritual life, and should be places where young people can get in touch with their spiritual roots. They should be centers where the practice of non-attachment to views according to the Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing can be experienced. To cultivate tolerance according to these trainings will prevent our country and mankind from getting caught in future cycles of religious and ideological wars.

2. We should study and practice the Five Mind­fulness Trainings in the context of a family, and establish our family as the basic unit for a larger Sangha. Practicing deep listening and mindful speech, we will create harmony and happiness, and feel rooted in our own family. Each family should set up a home altar for spiritual and blood ancestors. On important days, the entire family should gather to cultivate the awareness and appreciation of their roots and origins, thus deepening their consciousness of these spiritual and blood ancestors. Accepting the stream of ancestors in our own beings, we draw on their strengths and recognize their weakness, in order to transform generations of suffering. Each family should recognize the importance of having one member of their family devote his or her life to the learning and practice of the Dharma, as a monastic or a lay person. The family should invest in, support, and encourage this family member.

3. We should give up our lives of feverish consumption, and transfer all merits of action created by thoughts, speech, and work to the Sangha. Our happiness should arise from understanding, compassion, and harmony, and not from consumption. We should see the happiness of the Sangha as our own happiness.

4. We should invest the time and energy of our daily life in the noble task of Sangha building. We should share material things that can be used collec­tively by the Sangha, such as houses, cars, television, computers, etc. We should give up alcohol, drugs, and smoking. We should learn to live simply, so that we may have more time to live our daily life deeply and with freedom. Living simply, we become capable of touching the wonders of life, of transformation and healing, and of realizing our ideal of compassion in the educational, cultural, spiritual, and social domains of our lives.

The 21st century is a green, beautiful hill with an immense space, having stars, moons, and all wonders of life. Let us climb the hill of the next century, not as separate individuals but as a Sangha.

Let us go together, hand in hand, with our spiritual and blood ancestors, and our children. Let us enjoy the climb together with our songs and our smiles, and allow each step to create freedom and joy and peace.

Wishing you and your Sangha a wonderful century full of faith and happiness,

mb25-dharma1Thich Nhat Hanh Elder of the Tu Hieu Lineage

mb25-dharma2

PDF of this article

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

Poem: A Teacher Looking for His Disciple

By Thich Nhat Hanh I have been looking for you, my child, Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity. I was looking for you When you were still in a deep sleep Although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions. Without leaving our ancient mountain, I looked at distant lands And recognized your footprints on so many different paths.

Where are you going, my child? There have been times when the mist has come and enveloped the remote village, But you are still wandering in faraway lands. I have called your name with each breath, Confident that even though you have lost your way over there, You will finally find a way back to me. Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path you are treading But you still look at me as if I were a stranger. You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives, You cannot remember the old vow you made. You have not recognized me Because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future.

In former lifetimes, you have often taken my hand and we have enjoyed walking together. We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees. We have stood side by side in silence for hours, Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us And looking up at the white clouds floating by. You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf And I have taken you through forests deep in snow. But wherever we go, we always return to our ancient mountain To be near to the moon and stars To invite the big bell every morning to sound, And help living beings to wake up. We have sat quietly on the An Tu mountain (1) with the Great Bamboo Forest Master (2) Alongside the frangipani trees in blossom. We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift. We have helped Master Van Hanh (3) design the Thong Long capital. We have built together a thatched hermitage, And stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen (4) When the sound of the rising tide was deafening On the banks of the Tien Duong River. Together we have opened the way and stepped into the immense space beyond space, After many years of working to tear asunder the net of time. We have saved up the light of shooting stars And made it a torch helping those who want to go home After decades of wandering in distant places.

But still there have been times when the seeds of a vagabond in you have come back to life. You have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters. Alone you go... I look at you with compassion, Although I know that this is not a true separation (Because I am already in each cell of your body)

And that you may need once more to play the prodigal son. That is why I promise I shall be there for you Anytime you are in danger. Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts. I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade. Late at night the cloud became dew And the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink. Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness Completely alienated from your true home. I have manifested myself as a long ladder and lightly thrown myself down So that you can climb up to the area where there is light To discover again the blue of the sky and the sounds of the brook and the birds. Sometimes I recognized you in Birmingham, In the Do Link district (5) or New England. I have sometimes met you in Hang Chou, Xiamen, or Shanghai. I have sometimes found you in St. Petersburg or East Berlin. Sometimes, though only five years old, I have seen you and recognized you, Because of the seed of bodhichitta you carry in your tender heart. Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised my hand and made a signal to you, Whether it be in Bac Ninh,(6) Saigon, or the Thuan An seaport. Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain, Or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest (7) during a winter night. Often I have seen you But you have not seen me, Though while walking in the evening mist, your clothes have been soaked. But finally you have always come home.

You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain, Listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching And the mountain chanting, echoing from the Buddha Hall. You have come back to me, determined not to be a vagabond any longer.

This morning the birds of the morning joyfully welcome the bright sun. Do you know, my child, that the white clouds are still floating in the vault of the sky? Where are you now? The ancient mountain is still there In this place of the present moment, Although the white-crested wave still wants to go in the other direction. Look again, you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud. If you call my name, you will see me right away. Where are you going? The oldfrangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning. You and I have never really been apart. Spring has come. The pines have put out new shining green needles And on the edge of the forest, the wild plum trees have burst into flower.

Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel Chan Duc. 1 A holy mountain in North Vietnam, where the Bamboo Forest meditation school was established. 2 The master who established the Bamboo Forest meditation school in the fourteenth century. 3 The meditation master who in the year 980, helped stabilize the political situation in Vietnam and prevent the Sung army from invading the country. 4 A reference to the poem "Kieu" by the poet Nguyen Du. Trac Tuyen is the Dharma name of Kieu who, when she could bear her suffering no more, threw herself into the Tien Duong River and was rescued by her elder sister and teacher in the Dharma. 5 A district in Central Vietnam. 6 The ancient capital of Vietnam in Bac Ninh province. It was a flourishing Buddhist center from the beginning of the Christian era. 7 In the hills near Dalat, where the author established the Fragrant Palm Leaves Practice Center.

PDF of this article

Cultivating Mindfulness on a Radioactive Path

By Michael Winnell For years, I have worked to slow, if not end, the long-term threat of radioactive waste products created by nuclear weapons and power plants. Radioactive waste is likely to threaten life as long as humans inhabit this world, so it is important for me to speak clearly and firmly. Those who support the nuclear cycle are also very determined. In this atmosphere, it is paramount to know one's grounding. I am learning to respond to this very difficult issue from my Buddhist understandings, largely revealed through the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh and the concept of interbeing.

Bringing mindfulness to an issue this large and difficult is challenging. It is very easy to take sides, point fingers, become a talking head of facts and statistics, forgetting that "This is like this, because that is like that." Having read Thay's talk, "Man is not our Enemy," I am struck by the depth with which he, and each of us, can hold the whole of the reality without choosing sides. It is not helpful to view producers of radioactive waste as wrong or the enemy. Their motivation springs from the same place as my own. In fact, I benefit by being able to turn on the lights at night. But their actions, as well as my own, are creating very difficult problems. I must bring to their attention my understanding of the future we are creating, but I must also realize they may not respond. My attachment to their response, and my desire for a specific response, is a negative seed to hold in mindfulness. At the same time, I must continue to firmly state facts about these dangers, truthfully and without exaggeration.

The Buddha taught that reality is both historical and ultimate. The suffering generated by fear—particularly the fear of death or nonbeing—is enormous. Being and nonbeing are elements of suffering in the historical dimension, but in the ultimate dimension, understanding can transform fear, relieve suffering, and bring joy by opening the door of loving kindness. Remembering these teachings, I can better relate to the people directly involved in the decision-making and production process of the nuclear cycle, and to myself. It is a demanding practice. Many people involved in nuclear waste production and storage do not see the connection between what they are doing and all life. They do not seem to recognize that nuclear waste could sicken or end many life-forms, or that it brings suffering even to the elements split by nuclear fission. All atoms split by fission emit energy in an attempt to regain a stable state. The energy they emit in their quest for stability, however, threatens all life. My determination not to harm people, animals, plants, and minerals is directly challenged by the production of this energy, and by my benefiting from the energy when I turn on the lights, the washing machine, or the computer.

With mindfulness, it is easier to be aware of my tendency to move into fear and duality, to choose sides and create more suffering for myself and others. It is easier to understand those whose perspective differs from mine, and not to vilify them. As Thay taught, "they" are not our enemies, nor is fear, hatred, or even duality; all can be held and transformed by understanding. It is important for me to remember that behind each environmental concern or dispute, are people with varying degrees of suffering. Mahatma Gandhi used to say that if his adversary did not respond positively to his proposal, it was not the adversary's fault, but his own, for not stating the truth clearly or simply enough. Each person contains seeds of goodness, truth, and beauty. When suffering is relieved through understanding, these seeds respond, joy is born, and there is no ability to continue to do things that harm others.

Leaping into the debate surrounding radioactive waste requires mindfulness and careful attention to motives. It is important to gather information, research the facts, and engage. The Buddha taught his followers to engage the Dharma in daily life, and in our engaged practice, the Buddha still lives. In the spirit of the teachings, I must engage first in my own heart, and then move into the communal arena with my concerns about nuclear waste, in order to help relieve suffering of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

As I breathe into my fear, I breathe out hope that this life has made a difference to at least one atom of radioactive waste and perhaps one mind. Reminded that nirvana is in this moment, may I understand, so as to relieve the suffering brought to matter and to living beings alike, actions are all we take with us. May we know the joy of interbeing, not grasping or judging, just walking on the path with mindful breathing and attention.

Michael Winnell, practices with Dancing Rabbit Sangha, in Elk Rapids, Michigan. If you would like more information about the radioactive waste issue in relationship to nuclear disarmament and the burning of MOX fuel in commercial reactors, please email him: mwinnell@onramp.freeway.net

PDF of this article

Buddha Eyes

Our dear Thay has done his very best over many years, transmitting the Buddha Eyes to us. The June retreat in Plum Village was a profound experience of this continued Buddha Eyes transmission. We learned of many types of eyes—Heavenly Eyes, Wisdom Eyes, Dharma Eyes, Sangha Eyes, and Buddha Eyes. The beginning of our retreat was spent developing our Sangha Eyes. Sangha Eyes call us beyond our ego eyes, which would have us believe we are substantially separate selves, with individual sensibilities and destinies, concerned only with what matters to us.

During the retreat, we touched the suchness of Sangha, and it healed our pain and transformed the fear in us. The more we were able to surrender to Sangha energy, the more joy we found in each breath and each step. We realized that the practice of the Sangha is the practice of deep interbeing or emptiness. Touching true emptiness, we reclaimed our solidity and freedom and our Buddha Eyes grew bright.

Buddha Eyes allow us to look deeply into the wonders of life, and as we touch these wonders, our peace and happiness are restored. But Buddha Eyes also allow us to see and touch the Sangha everywhere, within us and around us. It is said that upon awakening, the Buddha could see 48,000 beings in a cup of water. Buddha Eyes give us the gift of courage to come home to the present moment and see reality as it is, in its connectedness and wholeness. Buddha Eyes made our Dharma Eyes shine with the light of mindfulness. As the Dharma rain of the retreat fell on us, our understanding of the Four Noble Truths came, like the full moon into the darkness of our times. We dared to look into ourselves and into our new millennium, and we saw alienation, violence, and fear at the root of suffering.

After the retreat, I added a new daily practice. After sitting and walking meditation, I now read our local newspaper, noticing stories of suffering, alienation, violence, and fear. I have found that my heart and mind are open to new levels of identification, loving kindness, and compassion. We learn to practice the Noble Truth of suffering not for its own sake, but to find ways out of suffering. Thay charged us to practice this way during our retreat. We met in Dharma Discussion groups on education, health, and business, non-profit, youth, and others, in order to bring the Four Noble Truth to life.

With Buddha Eyes, we also saw clearly the great temptations of our millennium. We are tempted to believe that genetic and electronic invention and manipulation are our way out of suffering. While genetic manipulation promises new health and longer life spans, it also carries the shadow of seeking perfection disconnected from the reality of Interbeing, and from the causes and conditions that are a powerful part of who we are and who we become. Through insights into the ten realms, we realized that there is no genetic escape from the totality of our store consciousness, which contains all the seeds, both positive and negative, found in the depths of our cells.

mb27-Buddha

Our only hope is to create causes and conditions that water our positive seeds until they bloom as beautiful flowers, and to wrap our negative seeds within the arms of loving kindness until they fall asleep. The conditions that support healing and transformation must be created within us, in our Sanghas, and in our societies.

To transform and heal our alienation, violence, and fear, Thay encouraged us to create lay residential practice communities. He said that there are not enough monks and nuns, or enough time to provide the refuge needed to create the conditions for the healing and transformation of our suffering. Lay residential centers are crucial to transmit the field of energy, environment of safety, and presence of Dharma and Sangha that our times so desperately need. With our monastic centers, locals Sanghas, Mindfulness Practice Centers, and lay residential centers, we have a powerful way out of our suffering.

I am grateful for the Eyes of the Buddha retreat. I am grateful for the monks and nuns of Plum Village whose efforts made it possible. I am grateful for our dear teacher and his unselfish transmission of the Buddha Eyes.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, heads Community of Mindful Living and Parallax Press in Berkeley, California. He practices with the Stillwater Sangha in Santa Barbara, California, whose members have begun to look for property to establish a residential lay practice community.

PDF of this article

Poem: Home, Only One Flower Away

A poem dedicated to all teachers and participants at the Mindfulness Retreat in San Diego, California, September 2000 mb28-HomeAmazing life of purple-blue Morning Glory its true name Vibrant sunny face beams Elegant breezy arms sway

Deeply I look at the flower Softly violet hue nods back Becoming one The flower and me at play

Whole suchness Lineage from gentle powerful teachers Interbeing with quiet nurturing friends Strength in a delicate way

Present moment, wonderful moment Coming home to timelessness No more tears In smiles of oneness I stay

When my heart wearies again From traveling on the road I will always remember Home, only one flower away

E.E.Ho

PDF of this article