monastics

Winter Retreat at Plum Village

By Fred Allendorf I spent two weeks at Plum Village during this year's Winter Retreat. My first days in Plum Village were difficult in ways I had not anticipated. Twenty-nine years ago I went to Vietnam as a nineteen-year-old soldier. I spent most of my time at the southern tip of Cam Ranh Peninsula in the Army company responsible for constructing port facilities in central South Vietnam. Living in a community consisting of approximately half Vietnamese men and women in Plum Village and looking at the smiling faces around me brought many suppressed "mental formations" to my consciousness. American soldiers in Vietnam were taught, and quickly learned, to be suspicious of all Vietnamese people.

I had no knowledge of Buddhism while I was in Vietnam. However, I remember going to the PX at the Cam Ranh Air Force Base many times and resisting the strong urge to buy a large jade Buddha. There was something about it that attracted me and held my fascination. I also have a clear memory of looking up at the large white Buddha statue above the city of Nha Trang. My wife and I now have a picture of that Buddha hanging on our bedroom wall.

I was in Vietnam for only one year and it was a long time ago. But certain experiences trigger old memories that are as fresh as yesterday. The sound of a helicopter inevitably yanks me back to 1967. Many smells have a similar effect. The sight of Plum Village residents walking around during the rain in their traditional Vietnamese round pyramidal hats turned the French countryside into rice in my mind's eye.

Thay and Sister Chan Khong led the Plum Village Sangha to the Pyrenees Mountains during my visit. The Vietnamese monks and nuns had a joyful time throwing snowballs and sledding in the mountains. Thay Nghuen, Head of Practice in the Upper Hamlet, sat next to me on our four hour bus trip to the Pyrenees. I learned that he is a monk visiting Plum Village for two years. His home monastery is in Ninh Hoa, just across the bay from where I had lived in Vietnam. He was just four years old while I was in Vietnam; I imagined him as one of the many small children I saw in Vietnam.

The mental knots that had held me captive for 29 years began to melt during my conversations with Thay Nghuen and the other Vietnamese residents of Plum Village. Their smiling faces quickly brought much joy, rather than caution, to my heart. I especially came to love and enjoy being with the monks I worked with on the working meditation crew to help construct the Lotus Pond in the Lower Hamlet.

My last breakfast in Plum Village was deeply emotional. I held back tears as I looked around at my new brothers. It is traditional for people who are leaving the Upper Hamlet during the winter retreat to do hugging meditation with one person after saying goodbye to the Sangha. I had requested that Thay Nghuen join me in hugging meditation. I felt the fear and caution that I had carried with me for almost 30 years melt away as we breathed together three times.

Order member Fred Allendorf is a biologist and an active member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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Intention, Innovation, Insight

A Day of Mindfulness at Google

By Sister Chan Hien Nghiem

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The Google campus is an interesting place. Called the “Googleplex” by Silicon Valley, it is a sprawling mass of buildings of unusual shapes and sizes, with earnest-faced, intelligent-looking young people darting between them. Some of them are riding free “Google bikes,” which––like the buildings––are branded with Google’s signature tones of red, yellow, green, and blue. There is a plastic pink flamingo perched on a dinosaur skeleton in the main courtyard, as well as a mini-pool, a sandy volleyball court, deck chairs, and exotic desert plants native to the Valley. Right away, you know that this is a place full of creative people, playful people––people who are dedicated to their work and their company’s mission of “making the world’s information accessible and useful.” Google is known as one of the most innovative companies in the world––an exciting, challenging, and fun, if sometimes chaotic, place to work. Yet it is also known as a place where its young (average age twenty-nine), talented employees burn out and leave after just a few years.

As a result, Google has invested a huge amount in “employee well-being.” All the food, the eighteen cafes, gyms, child care, and other onsite services are offered to its ten thousand employees completely free of charge. If you complete a project well, you can gain free “massage credits” to redeem on campus, or take some time out in a “napping pod.” And yet, none of these “perks” can ever be enough to balance the intense workaholic culture. Google’s CEO said that they have “a healthy disregard for the impossible.” Employees may work up to sixteen hours a day, mostly in front of a screen. No matter how much high-quality food and services they have access to, they suffer greatly. They are so busy that they experience acute stress and pressure, struggle to sustain healthy relationships with their partners, and have little time for family life. And so “Googlers” were delighted when, in 2011, Thich Nhat Hanh agreed to lead a half-day of mindfulness for employees during his US tour. Google was proud to announce on its website that it was the very first corporate headquarters in America to host the world-famous Zen Master. As of this writing, Thay’s Dharma talk Q&A has been viewed over 230,000 times since Google posted it on YouTube.

Thay’s visit on October 23, 2013, was his second time on the Google campus. This time, Google asked for a full Day of Mindfulness, not just a half-day, on the theme “Intention, Innovation, and Insight.” More than seven hundred employees signed up, so they needed to open two “satellite” locations where Thay’s Dharma talk was live-streamed on big screens, with monastics assigned to each location. There was a lot of excitement in the bus as we headed to the Googleplex to start the day with an early morning walking meditation. Some of us had been there in 2011 and remembered the joyful, relaxed atmosphere, the openness of the employees, and the fun campus. There is one entrance hall where Google search terms (being submitted by users around the world in “real time”) are projected flowing down a wall like a waterfall. There is another lobby with a giant swirling slide for engineers to slide down from the first floor to the ground floor.

Much of our excitement was not just to go to the Googleplex as a place, but to connect with the Googlers themselves––people in our own generation who share many of our aspirations. Software engineers (or “geeks” as they like to call themselves) are a creative, collaborative, experimental bunch of people, and meditation naturally appeals to their science-based curiosity. If they want to master technology, they also want to master their minds. Many of them have a deep faith that technology can serve the world and bring positive change, creating opportunities for all people across boundaries of nationality, race, and culture. So although we did not have green or blue hair or luminous sneakers like some of the Googlers, as Buddhist monastics we fit right in to Silicon Valley’s “Zen vibe.”

Our Deepest Desire

Google’s unofficial company motto is “Don’t be evil.” Their intention is to make the world’s information available––without being evil. But is information the same as insight? If we had to describe our aspiration as Plum Village monks and nuns, perhaps it would be to do good (water positive seeds and help people suffer less) by making humankind’s deepest insights available to all those who are suffering. It may be that the world has a lot of information, but we may lack the tools, training, and insight to help us suffer less. Information (or too much of it) may even be a cause of our suffering.

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Our Day of Mindfulness began with stopping. Thay was very joyful and relaxed as he explained walking meditation and led the hundreds of employees (many of whom had arrived early) on walking meditation around the courtyard. It was a very quiet morning, and the buildings were shrouded in mist. Everyone was perfectly silent as they took one mindful step at a time, eventually joining Thay to sit on the paving stones silently together. Absolutely nothing happened, and yet everything was happening. There was true stopping. And there was a sense of magic. Here in the pulsing heart of the Internet, there was stopping. There was peace. There was mist, and smiles, and quiet breathing. Nothing was going on, and yet everything was going on. We could feel that the Googlers were 100% engaged, 100% present. They were curious. They were tired. They knew that Thay had something they wanted, and they were eager to learn and taste for themselves what it was. Was it wisdom? Was it happiness? Was it freedom?

In a Dharma Talk back in Plum Village, Thay described how the Googlers had practiced walking meditation that morning so wholeheartedly. “They practiced very well,” said Thay, unaware that one of those Googlers was sitting right there in the Lower Hamlet meditation hall, having decided to come and “check out” Plum Village for herself. She was very proud and happy to hear Thay’s praise for their wholehearted practice. “But,” Thay then continued, “the reason they practiced so wholeheartedly was because they suffer.” And sitting there in the audience, she thought, “Yes, Thay is right. Thay has understood. We do suffer a lot. And this practice does help, a lot.”

After the walking meditation, Thay offered a Dharma talk. “Each of us has a desire, an intention, which we nourish every day,” he began. “Is our desire, our intention, just to run after fame, power, success, and wealth? Or is it something else? Every one of us should take the time to sit down and ask ourselves, ‘What is my deepest desire? What do I want to do with my life?’ It’s not just a question of ‘work-life balance.’ It goes much deeper.

“If our deepest desire is to suffer less and be happier; if our deepest desire is to come back to ourselves, to create joy and happiness, and nourish ourselves, and help others do the same; if our deepest desire is to learn how to suffer, how to come back to ourselves and embrace and look deeply into our suffering, so we suffer much less, and can help others do the same; then that is good.

“Many of us are consuming technology to cover up our suffering and run away from ourselves, but surely we can design the kind of technology that can help us do the opposite? This is a question of innovation: we have to invent new ways of practice to suit our present situation. If we do not renew our teaching, our practice, then we cannot serve society. All of us have insight, we just need something or someone to help us bring it to life so that we can know which direction to go in––and which direction not to go in.”

Thay went on to speak about the Four Nutriments, and how to nourish body and mind with mindful consumption. He also spoke about how the practice of deep listening and loving speech can be applied in corporations, and about his own experience of nourishing himself with the very simple practices of walking and breathing with mindfulness and compassion. There was then plenty of time for questions and answers. Every question came from the heart. They were the questions of “seekers,” of young minds seeking to make sense of their busy, stressful lives and seeking to bring deep meaning to them. We could feel their openness and their deep trust and respect for Thay. We could also hear their suffering.

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Sharing Aspirations

Many of us were sitting on stage behind Thay, as representatives from a different world. We may go for days or weeks without even opening a computer or listening to a track of worldly music. Unless we have worked in the registration office before Summer Retreat, we may have never known what it’s like to receive several hundred emails a day. We have a chance to stop, not just for a few minutes every day, but for hour after concentrated hour, contemplating our body, our breathing, the food or the miracles of nature around our practice centers. We can take a shower without Radio NST (Non-Stop Thinking) blaring through our mind’s ear.

When I worked in news journalism before I ordained, every day I would have to read six newspapers cover to cover and listen to two hour-long news radio shows, while following the waterfall of live “news wires” cascading down my screen. I feel it has taken me years to slowly quiet my mind and enjoy the silence of nothing happening, except life in all its wonders. Sitting there on the stage, I wondered if any of the Googlers would ever taste the deep peace and relief of being “free from information” which has refreshed my spirit in the monastery. We can’t give them that kind of peace and silence, but we can demonstrate that it is possible––in our smiles and in our steps––and we can show them how to create the conditions to generate tiny, life-changing glimpses of it in their day.

Soon we were all enjoying a delicious, vegan, mindful meal together. Google is a pioneer of corporate mindful eating, and since Thay’s first visit, the company runs a monthly “mindful meal” session in its cafes. During these lunches, Googlers have a chance to listen to the Five Contemplations, eat in silence, and share about their experience together. After Thay’s second visit, they plan to make a permanent “mindful eating zone” on campus, where employees can come to nourish themselves peacefully during their lunch break.

As well as supporting and nourishing their mindfulness practice on campus, some of us also had our own secret aspirations as we stepped into the world of Google that day. One or two of us were looking for GoogleMap employees, hoping we could inspire them to code a live, editable, browsable map of all our Sanghas and mindfulness events around the world. Brothers Phap Luu and Phap Khoi had a giant hard drive stashed in a backpack, hoping to inspire a Googler to import a decade of Thay’s Dharma talks into the back end of YouTube and publish them on our channel. (It would take perhaps a year’s constant uploading to do it from rural France). I was looking for someone who would design a really elegant, simple, flexible, free mindfulness bell app. And Thay, never one to think small, was looking for soul mates who would design the kind of technology that would help people suffer less and stop our civilization going in the wrong direction.

In the afternoon, Thay, his attendants, and a few other monastics met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could do just that. While several hundred employees enjoyed total relaxation in the auditorium with Sister Chan Khong (surely much more healing and restful than the many massage chairs strategically placed throughout the offices), and others played volleyball with monks and nuns, a dozen of us sat around a giant boardroom table to have a Dharma discussion with Thay on the future of information technology.

Is it possible to create the kind of technology that can help people come back to themselves, embrace and handle the suffering inside? One chic and elegant employee was wearing the new “Google Glass”––the cutting-edge technology that enables you to send messages, run web searches, take photos, and record video without even lifting a finger. But was it helping her be truly present for herself or for the discussion?

The world watches 450,000 years’ worth of Google YouTube videos each month. That’s more than twice as long as modern humans have existed. But is this helping us suffer less? Is it possible to create, and make available on a global scale, the kind of content on the web that helps people to take care of themselves, their loved ones, and the planet? Google may know that someone is checking her Gmail one hundred times in one evening. That person is, at the same time, running Google searches for “causes of depression.” She makes orders through her Chrome browser for large quantities of junk food. Are the Google “algorithms” intelligent enough to offer some constructive ways to help this person? Google wants significant profits, that is true. But they also want to be good, to not be evil. Is there more they can do?

This was no ordinary business meeting, and the two hours we spent together flew by. It was amazing to contribute as part of the Sangha––as though we were the voices of one body, offering a new energy or idea in each moment, with Thay guiding us all the way. It was extraordinary to see our beloved teacher––a Zen Master from another generation, who was already over seventy by the time the 21st Century started––engaging so wholeheartedly with these young technology leaders, with such a quick and sharp mind, and with so much love and joy. The Googlers were delighted. And one of them, as Thay explained the deep meaning of why the bell and stopping are so important, was even moved to tears.

It was hard to bring the meeting to a close, and even harder to leave the room. We did so as friends, perhaps even as soul mates. The next time we meet will be for a retreat.

We didn’t take the slide down to the ground floor. We enjoyed every step.

mb66-Intention4Sister True Dedication (Chan Hien Nghiem) was born and raised in England and currently lives in the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village. She has been practising with the Sangha since 2002 and ordained as a nun in 2008.

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Peace Is Mandatory, Plumbing Is Optional

by Margaret Kirschner mb36-Peace1

Visualize Deer Park during winter retreat. Imagine the logistics needed to accommodate 250 monastics and approximately 250 lay retreatants, up to 1,000 or so on Days of Mindfulness when the local community visits. Picture the kitchens that prepare the food, the dishes, pots, pans, and silverware that need to be washed after each meal. Estimate the number of showers, hand washings, toilet flushings, tooth brushing, tea making, and the amount of water needed to keep the gardens alive and flourishing.

During the afternoon free time, a retreatant goes back to her room, ready to take a shower. She turns the faucet. Nothing happens. The water is off. She checks with neighbors. Theirs is off also. Next with the kitchen, and the restrooms near the Meditation Hall. Solidity Hamlet, Clarity Hamlet–all are without water. The pumps had stopped working. Was there panic? Was there grumbling and complaining? Was the water restored shortly thereafter? No, no, and no. The aridness of the desert enclosed the Deer Park retreatants.

Shortly after, the monastics announced a plan. They said the kitchens had reserve tanks that allowed enough water for meal preparations and cleanup. Large trucks would bring barrels of water, which would be placed outside our dormitories, along with buckets so we could bring in water to flush the toilets. We were asked to use the old slogan, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Packets of chlorinated wipes appeared here and there. Mindfulness practice continued as if nothing troublesome had occurred.  The water did not come back on until the next day, at least eighteen hours later. But even when it returned, only one pump was working, so we were asked to continue to conserve as much as possible in the week to come.

What caused peace to pervade the difficulties created by this situation? Was it the calm manner of the monk who made the announcement that solicited the acceptance of the water shortage? Was it the mindfulness practice of the participants? Surely both contributed, but the initial meeting of the monastics who were charged with responsibility must have been a generating source. There had to have been a committee of calm thinking ones, with an awareness that nothing is permanent. There must have been trust in the skills of those who were to do the repairs and an understanding that creative solutions come from serene minds. I’d have loved to have been a mouse in the corner watching the mindfulness that contributed to everything working out so harmoniously.

And so it goes at our retreat, day by day. Each small activity, imbued with mindfulness, builds further mindfulness and takes us through life’s vexations with equanimity and joy. May we show our gratitude by remembering this experience and by sharing this accepting awareness with our families and communities.

Margaret Kirschner, True Silent Sound, lives in Portland, Oregon and practices with the Portland Community of Mindful Living.  She was ordained into the Order of Interbeing during the winter retreat.

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Letter from the Editor

mb43-Editor1Dear Thây, dear Sangha, This summer in the glorious setting of Rocky Mountain National Park, the monastic sangha presented a five-day retreat entitled Still Mind, Peaceful Heart. Seventy retreatants benefited from the presence of eighteen monks and nuns from all three U.S. monasteries. It was a joyful, profound, healing time. We are blessed to have so many deeply gifted teachers, especially the younger monks and nuns who amaze us with their wisdom and their contagious happiness.

You will notice several changes with this issue of the Mindfulness Bell. The most significant is on the cover, where we are now using the tagline “A Publication of PlumVillage.” This change developed through meetings during the Breath of the Buddha retreat, and culminated with Sister Chan Khong’s heartfelt endorsement of the magazine, explaining that the Mindfulness Bell is supported, financed, and controlled by Plum Village. So when you support the Mindfulness Bell, you support the work of Thây and Plum Village. Over the next year, we hope to share that message with all practitioners.

I’m excited about other changes, where we are making more space for you, our readers. We welcome your letters (see page 3) and your writings for the new “Heart to Heart” section (page 34). As always, we encourage submissions of all types—they are the substance of each issue! And I am very pleased to introduce Judith Toy, who is now editing the “Book and CD Review” section; she is a gift as a collaborator and a new friend.

Another change is a personal one; on the last day of the Breath of the Buddha retreat I received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Afterwards, there was a Sangha Fair; here’s a picture of me (True Lotus Meditation) with my mentor Sister Dao Nghiem, Thây, and Sister Chan Khong at the Mindfulness Bell table (or rather, bench).

At the retreat in Estes Park, I spoke with Brother Phap Khoi about my ongoing attempt to practice mindfulness—and aimlessness—while editing the magazine. He suggested that I consider each issue a beautiful bouquet of flowers offered to the sangha. Here, then, is our humble offering to you, in wonder and gratitude.

May all beings walk in the Kingdom of God.

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Sangha News

Blue Cliff Monastery: The First Steps Our new monastery does have cliffs in the mountains nearby but they are not blue, they are white. We like to practice sitting meditation there as we watch the sun rise or set. These mountains are very old, the oldest in the U.S. They are covered in dwarf trees so that being on the mountain is like being in a natural bonsai park.

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When we first arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery, which is a former hotel, on April 30, 2007, a strong gust of wind blew down the hotel sign. Some people said that they saw a rainbow cloud. At that time Thay was in Vietnam and said that Blue Cliff Monastery will be a warm and welcoming place.

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After we arrived it took us a month to clean up enough to be able to offer an open house for our neighbours and members of local sanghas nearby. The next day we celebrated the Buddha’s birthday and 80 people bathed the baby Buddha. Our non-Buddhist neighbours also bathed the Buddha with great respect.

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At the end of June we offered a retreat for OI members. There were eighty-five participants. Some of them said that it was the best retreat they had ever attended. When people were asked what aspect they enjoyed the most, some said that it was the mindful working. Every day we had forty-five minutes to work together in the kitchen or in the garden. It was a time when we felt together as a four-fold sangha.

The family retreat that followed was less well attended. However the children and teens outnumbered the adults by almost two to one, which was auspicious for the future. The teen program was particularly successful; they took charge of all pot washing and cleaning up after meals. At first the monks and nuns said that they wanted to divide the teens into three teams: one for each meal. However the teens wanted to help each other and have everyone work together at every meal. The result was that the teens were able to live as a family and support new teenagers as they arrived.

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We are lucky to have the full support of our Town Manager (mayor). This has been a great help to us in our seeking permission to build a new meditation hall and a hut for Thay. Many local people say that they like the change of a hotel into a monastery. They feel that it supports their spiritual path, even though they belong to the Jewish or Christian tradition. They are happy that we are planting more trees to add to the large ancient pines that are like Dharma protectors for the monastery. They are happy to see the outdoor swimming pool area become a vegetable garden and the indoor pool area become a dining room.

Themb46-SanghaNews5 brothers and sisters of Blue Cliff are grateful to our sisters and brothers who have come to Blue Cliff from Plum Village since we arrived here to lend support. We are also grateful to brothers and sisters from Deer Park who came to help us for the two initial weeks here and the move. We are grateful to all our friends who have made financial contributions, material offerings, lent a helping hand, or responded to our wish list. Please know that we still need financial support to pay back loans, cover mortgage payments, build, and renovate.

We are now preparing for the arrival of Thay and the Plum Village delegation in August.

When we return after Thay’s tour there will be a retreat in Blue Cliff with Thay, October 12-16. After that it will be almost time to begin the winter retreat. We hope very much to see you, dear reader, this winter, whether it is with your family during the holiday retreat (December 2mb46-SanghaNews67-30, 2007) or for a longer stay during the winter retreat from mid-November until mid-February. The winter retreat of three months is the one extended period that monks and nuns spend together in the monastery to deepen their practice and studies. We wish that our lay friends can support us at that time and also join us for as long a time as possible in order to deepen their own practice. Thay gives teachings on a defined topic throughout the three months and these teachings are received two or three times a week by Internet.

Our friends who live nearby are welcome to join us for Days of Mindfulness 9:30 to 4:30 every Thursday and Sunday, for Thanksgiving (November 22, 2007), Christmas Eve (December 24, 2007), and New Year’s Eve (December 31, 2007).

Blue Cliff Monasterry 3 Hotel Road Pine Bush NY 12566 (845)  733-5653/4959 fax: (845) 733-4300 bluecliff@citlink.net www.bluecliffmonastery.org

— Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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Thay  to  Speak  at  UCLA  Conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: Cultivating Well-Being in the Present Moment

Thich Nhat Hanh will be the keynote speaker at this conference co-sponsored by The Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Insight LA, and the University of California Los Angeles. The conference, which will be held October 5-7, 2007, is designed for psychotherapists and other health care professionals, researchers, educators, and others interested in the behavioral sciences who are seeking to be more effective in their personal and professional lives.

According to the organizers, “One important new wave of psychotherapeutic practice is nourished by wisdom from the great philosophical traditions of the East, building upon and extending the clinical experience of previous eras—psychoanalytic, cognitive/behavioral, and humanistic/existential psychology.... A key element in this new frame of reference is mindfulness, the practice of being fully present within moment-to-moment experience with acceptance. Mindfulness enhances awareness of the sensory, somatic, intuitive, and emotional elements of experience in the present moment, thus enriching psychotherapy for both therapist and patient. For the therapist, cultivation of mindfulness facilitates the free-flow of clinical creativity and engages the wisdom of the heart. It fosters the ability to listen deeply with ‘beginner’s mind’ which enables the clinician to relate to clinical models in a new way. In turn, the client’s experience of mindfulness within the therapeutic encounter opens up the possibility of moving beyond the limiting frame of self and other.”

Other presenters include Tara Brach, Ph.D., Trudy Goodman, Ed.M., Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., Harriet Kimble Wrye, Ph.D., Sara Lazar, Ph.D., and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. For information go to uclaextension.edu/mindfulness or call (310) 825-9971 or (818) 784-7006.

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Join the Car-Free Day Movement

In October 2006, during a speech to UNESCO, Thich Nhat Hanh called for a global no-car day. The proposal was taken up immediately by all the monasteries. Now, a team of dedicated volunteers is working to spread the word through the Car Free Days campaign.

Deer Park Monastery announces that there is a new website: www.carfreedays.org. It describes ways to reduce personal carbon emissions and lower the impact on global warming. Users will f ind “fun, healthy activities that can bring more joy to your life while helping the planet.”

Organizers have declared September 22 to be “World Car Free Day” and have been soliciting pledges on the website. People are encouraged to promise to try four or more car free days per month or as often as they can. “For every mile you don’t drive, you save one pound of greenhouse gas from entering our atmosphere,” they say.

To help spread the word, a number of posters are available to be downloaded from the website. Willing artists are needed to design additional posters as well as t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, screen-savers, and so. In addition, to help promote the Car Free Days to a wider audience, volunteers are needed to translate the website and posters into as many languages as possible. To help with any of these projects, contact: deerparkmonastery@ gmail.com.

Bloggers are invited to contribute to the Car Free Days community by posting ideas, experiences, questions, and solutions on the blog: www.carfreedays.org/community.php

“We won’t solve this problem unless each person contributes,” says the Car Free Day team. “Please join us by doing your part to reduce global warming. The entire planet and future generations are counting on you.” You can start by visiting: www.carfreedays.org.

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Building Community Through Art

Earlier this year artist Brett Cook developed the epic “Building Community, Making History” collaborative art project that resulted in a series of portraits, two of which are on display in the “Portraiture Now: Framing Memory” exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum/National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through January 6, 2008.

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Brett Cook, a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh’s, worked with students and staff of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, leading them through a number of contemplative, educational, and creative practices. Seven workshops emphasizing portraiture allowed participants to explore their role in making history and resulted in the creation of four collaborative art works. The workshop exercises modeled the action of building community.

“By creating spaces for participants to express their individual selves in an inclusive and peaceful way,” says Cook, “there is the creation of a loving community that highlights the individual’s role in our collective history.” For slide shows, video clips, and student reflections, visit www.brett-cook.com.

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The Helping Hand

By Brother Phap Dung mb48-TheHelping1

Brother Phap Dung (pronounced FAP YUNG) gave the children’s Dharma talk before Sister Annabel spoke during the Colorado retreat, 24 August 2007.

I enjoy my life very much as a monk. I live with my brothers and sisters at Deer Park Monastery in California. We live together as a family. The nuns live in a place called Clarity Hamlet, in the oak grove, and the monks live in a place called Solidity Hamlet. It’s all rocky up there, and the sisters live by the stream where the oak trees are. We come together each day to do sitting meditation in the big meditation hall, and we watch the sun come up.

Have you ever seen the light change in the morning? It’s very beautiful. This is what we experience every morning. Because when we come out of our room going to the meditation hall, there are stars. We sit in there and we watch. We wake up with the sun. Afterwards we come out and do exercises while we watch the sun. It’s very nourishing to wake up like that, very quiet. I get to sit with all my brothers and sisters and it’s very nourishing.

Every year we have retreats like in Plum Village where families come with their kids, many little ones like you, and sometimes I take care of them. We also have a teen retreat just for teenagers. At the beginning when we first had the teen camp the parents said they would go somewhere else, stay away from the program, but they would find a way to sneak in. So the teens wrote us a letter and said please don’t allow any parents, any adults, they keep coming and trying to tell us what to do [laughs]. So we wrote them back and said, okay, we respect you. This year we had a hundred teens and we practiced yoga in the morning before sitting; the teens love yoga! Some of them are new to it so they do these moves and they fall — it’s a lot of fun. That’s how we start the day.

It’s wonderful to see so many young people learn to practice to sit still, to be okay not to run around and play computer all day. There we don’t have any computers and television for them, and some of them, like the new kids that come, they’re very afraid that they will not survive five days without television!

This last retreat we had with the teenagers, guess what we took away from them? We took their cell phones, can you believe that? We took their iPods, all their gadgets and video games. I remember the first meeting we had. They were like, “No, you can’t do this! No, but I need them! I need to talk to my mom.” You could see they were really afraid to be away from their cell phones. “But my friends! I have to check my messages!” You could see in their bodies, when they’re sitting around in the dining hall talking to us, they have physical reactions as if they’re addicted. So we thought that was quite interesting. [laughter from audience]

But after maybe three days, they made new friends and they were able to not even think about their cell phones and things. You’re very lucky right now — you don’t have cell phones, right? Once you get cell phones, you spend most of your time doing that, and you’re not really in front of your friends. The teens found out they’re in front of their friends and they play with sticks, with pine cones and stuff, and they really enjoy it.

And they go hiking. We take them hiking deep into the mountain where the coyotes live. Ohh! [laughter] And we go low and look in the bushes and we try to find the tracks of the coyotes, — you never see the coyotes — they disappear because they have these secret passages under the bush. So we take the children up the mountain, we go look for these paths.

Sometimes in the family retreat, we take the children all the way up into the mountain with their families, and we have sitting meditation up there. Then we enjoy breakfast or dinner. We watch the sun rise up in the mountain or the sun set out over the ocean. It’s an area where there are a lot of flat rocks. There are no railings re, so the monks and nuns, before we have the family retreat, do a little prayer,: “Please land ancestors, help us to — ,” cause you can imagine a hundred children going up there, and rocks are like cliffs, but there are no railings. But the children ays enjoy sitting and eating in silence up in the mountain. It’s y wonderful. They don’t need television, video games, and text messaging with their friends. They enjoy nature with us.

A Family of Fingers

I want to share with you today about our hands. I remember I was growing up, my mom taught me that a family, it’s like our hands [holds hand up and wiggles fingers]. Can you imagine u have five fingers and you always ignore this finger, and you everything with these fingers? [holds one finger down and ves the other four]

There’s a saying in Vietnamese, but I don’t really know it ughs] because I wasn’t really good with Vietnamese when I was owing up. I grew up in America. Anyways, I remember my mom ays reminding me that a family’s like a hand, and you always knowledge each other and see each other in the family. It could your father, your mother, your brother, your sister — you always things together, and you help each other, right? Your family is like the fingers on your hand, so if you have brothers and sisters, you help each other out.

Once in a while, this finger will be not so happy with this finger, right? Does that ever happen to you in your family? Sometimes it’s like this. You’re too close to each other, it’s like, “Get away from me! Get away from me!” [laughter] “I want to go in the closet! Mom!” Right? But look — how far can you go? [he wiggles his fingers; laughter] You still have to be in the family, right? So, remember that. Okay?

Once in a while we need space, and that’s very important. You kinda get very mad at your brother or sister, right? When I was young and I got mad at my mom or at my dad, I used to run in the closet. I’d go, rrrh! and I tried to pretend to my parents that I ran away. [laughter] You know, I’d run in the closet and I’d sneak in there and put all the blankets on, and I tried to stay there a long time, so that they’d think I ran away. And nobody looks for me! [laughs] So I stay there for a long time, and I come out, and nobody thinks I ran away!

So you cannot really run away far, because your mother and your father, sometimes they get angry at you, but they always love you, because you’re still part of one hand, you’re still part of the family.

But once in a while, we need space, and that’s okay. So we ask you to go home with your mom and dad, and tell them that we need a place for us to go when we feel angry, when we feel sad. “You know, Mom, Dad? I think we need a space. Our teacher called it the breathing space, a breathing room, or we can call it a flower room.” Go home and ask your mom and dad to set up a space in our home. It could be a corner or even a little area of the house where you have a cushion, a little flower, and if you feel angry, you go there. If you feel sad, you go there.

You see this finger here? When it feels a little sad or needing some space, you go to mommy and daddy, or you go to your brother, “I am going to the flower room.” Okay? “Please, everyone, you know, I need time to breathe.” So we go in there and we can sit on the cushion. Everyone try it, okay? Everyone sit in that space. Sit beautifully. No one can bother you in that space. Everyone in the family has to agree to that, even the young ones. The parents, you have to respect the young ones. So you sit there and you follow your breath. Everyone try it.

Pretend we’re sitting in that room. Sit beautifully. We can use our hands to help us. You put your left hand on your belly, and then you put your right hand on the belly on top of your other hand. We close our eyes. And we breathe in. Right now, I’m taking care of myself. I need space, I need to be still. So we sit there, and we close our eyes for a few minutes like that. And we become more calm.

Can everyone remember that? When I was young, your age, I didn’t have anybody to teach me that. All I knew was how to run into the closet and hide under the blanket. But now, you have a way, you don’t need to run. You can be with your feelings. So next time when your brother and sister, you rub against each other too much and you need some break time, instead of going to tell your mom, “Yah!” and yell, you go to that space. And you take care of yourself.

And now, please, for all the mommies and daddies, if you can help establish a space where our children can find some place for them to practice. We hear many stories from families that the kids remind their parents to breathe. Your mom, sometimes, and your dad, they take care of you and they get tired. You ever see your mom get tired? Because she gives everything to you. Yeah, she gets grumpy. Your mom is like a flower, like this [points to flower] and you need to take care of her. And your dad, too, you know. Because sometimes they take care of you too much and they get tired.

So I’m going to teach you with the hands again, with both of your hands. You go like this, it’s like a budding flower [holds hands together in lotus bud, then opens palms with wrists together, creating a blooming flower]. “Mom, here’s a flower for you.” You don’t have to go to the store to buy a flower. When you see your mom or your dad feeling grumpy — it’s not nice to feel grumpy, but you have to help your mom, because she takes care of you the whole day and sometimes at night, too — she’s like a flower and you have to take care of her. “Hi, Mommy, here’s a flower for you.” She’ll know that you’re there for her and then I think she will freshen up. Sometimes when she is grumpy, please try to help her — staying out of the way, giving her space, just like you when you need space.

So remember the hand — family [holds hand up]. You can’t run away from your family. Once in a while you rub against them, but you go to the space, breathing, and remember to give space to your mom and dad. Remember your hands can help you.

Brother Phap Dung is abbot of Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

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Sangha News

mb48-SanghaNews1 Thay Rewrites the Five Contemplations

In view of the statistics showing that more greenhouse gases are produced by factory farming than any other single factor, Thay has changed the wording of the fourth of the Five Contemplations that we use as part of a mindful meal.

The Contemplations now read as follows:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our sangha and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue October 2007

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New Dharma Teachers Ordained at Plum Village

On January 9, 2008, Plum Village held a Grand Ordination Ceremony called Earth-Refreshing. The following lay Dharmacharyas received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • Charles Al Lingo, True Seal of Virtue, U.S.A.
  • Cheryll Ann Maples, True Precious Mindfulness Trainings, U.S.A.
  • Eevi Elizabeth Beck, Practice of True Compassion, Norway
  • Ger Levert, True Ocean of Peace, The Netherlands
  • Seijja Mauro, True Jewel of Compassion, Finland

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Cheri Maples’ Gatha

Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace. Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.

Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice. Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.

Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety & protection to all beings. Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.

Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor & compassion as my weapon. Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.

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Q & A about Blue Cliff

During a recent visit to Blue Cliff Monastery, we had the opportunity to ask Brother Phap Vu some questions about the new practice center.

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Tell us what you know of the history of this place.

This was told to me by Corky Jeronimo, the former owner. The Jeronimo family lived in New York City, but during the 1940s there was a wave of anti-Cuban, anti-Latino sentiment and Corky’s parents decided to move out of the city. At that time the Catskills was a very popular place for city folk to escape to, especially on the weekend.

This was an existing farm — basically a house and a barn. The original house, in which Corky grew up, is still intact; we call it the Farmhouse. It shows up on late nineteenth-century maps, so it has to be at least a hundred years old. The original barn was eventually converted into the main building.

As the family settled in, relatives and friends would come up to visit. Eventually the parents decided to start a get-away resort. As time went on the various buildings were built, one at a time, then swimming pools and tennis courts.

Why did the Jeronimos decide to sell?

Most decisions there were several factors, including economics, but mostly they wanted to retire and unload a cow.

What did you do after you bought it?

We had to pour more money into it for some basic renovations such as the kitchen, laundry room, and Harmony Meditation Hall, which was an indoor swimming pool. In the main building we took out the bar and lounge for the main dining room. We renovated Jade Candle Meditation Hall to make it larger and added on a bathroom–shower block. We also did a little work on the Farmhouse, adding a bathroom and bedroom downstairs. We took an old barn down and built a storage building.

All of the rooms in all the buildings had large double or queen size beds as well as television. We had to get rid of the beds and the televisions. We started to get the word out in the local community that there were old beds and TVs to be had; not too many responded but eventually we got rid of them. In place we put bunk beds.

We also established trails in the forest with benches and bridges and a stone staircase for people to enjoy. We planted bushes and trees. We turned the outdoor swimming pool into a garden. Much of this needed to be done but we also did it in preparation for the big retreat with Thay [in October 2007].

Not only did we do all this but there were the basic maintenance issues — such as bathroom doors that didn’t close or didn’t lock. I trimmed about fifteen doors and changed close to twenty door knobs. I also repaired several toilets that needed parts; I had to rebuild two completely. Some roof work had to be done, some still need repairs. Some of the decking on the buildings was rotting and some of the beams and railings had to be replaced; they still need some more work. Two of the main water lines broke, one just before the October retreat.

What plans do you have for future work?

What future work — we’re broke!

In the monks’ residence we are currently converting the garage into a kitchen and adding on a dining hall. Mostly we will be looking to do some repair and renovation on the existing buildings; they certainly need it. Each building has its own issues that need to be addressed — you know, like sanghas. But with a little loving care... !

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Overall the buildings really need to be better insulated. The Jeronimos didn’t operate during the winter months so the buildings lose a lot of heat, which is very expensive in terms of fuel. We are beginning to look into green technologies and strategies to bring the cost down and help Mother Nature a bit. I do see that eventually we could turn to alternative energy sources, but one step at a time.

What is Thay’s vision for Blue Cliff Monastery?

Thay sees New York City as an acupuncture point for America and therefore wishes that the monastic sangha in BCM develop a strong practice in order to make that acupuncture point effective. This is why some of the older brothers and sisters have been brought in to support the practice. I think it is essential.

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mb48-SanghaNews7For this current year we are mostly concerned with building brotherhood and sisterhood here at BCM. This is a new territory for the monastics; in Plum Village the brothers’ hamlet and sisters’ hamlet are kilometers away. Even at Deer Park the hamlets are clearly separated, but this is not the case here. So we are learning how to be a more integrated community. It is really going to take a change in perspective. Think about it, we come from a tradition where for centuries monks and nuns are separated. Now we are here together. Formally, Thay has established two hamlets here: one for the brothers and one for the sisters. In actuality it comes down to two residences: one residence for the brothers and one residence for the sisters. This is due not to an idea of what a monastery is or isn’t or what it should be or what it shouldn’t be but to sheer practicality of the property.

mb48-SanghaNews8Geography plays an important role in forming societies and cultures. Here the question of what I am attached to is very relevant. More specifically, what perspectives, understandings, reactions, and decisions come out of that attachment? The teachings of the Madhyamaka school need to come forward — getting beyond categories and distinctions, little boxes that we sort the world of experience into and fool ourselves into thinking this is truth, this is happiness.

 

—Janelle Combelic, True Lotus Meditation

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Practice in Vietnam: An Inside Look

Interview with Thay Phap Kham By Barbara Casey in Hanoi, Vietnam

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During the retreat in Hanoi, former Mindfulness Bell editor Barbara Casey sat down with Thay Phap Kham (monks who have received full ordination are addressed as “Thay”) for an extended chat. This energetic and committed monk has been instrumental in establishing Thich Nhat Hanh’s Sangha in Vietnam and Hong Kong. He’s also a longtime friend and supporter of the Mindfulness Bell.

Please tell us your story about being born in Vietnam, about leaving, and then what it was like coming back for the first time.

I was born in a small village in the country, in the middle of a war zone. In the daytime it was controlled by the South Vietnam government, but at night it was under the control of the guerrillas, and at times they would take people away and terrorize them. When I was five or six years old, I saw the consequences of war. My neighbors were killed. I saw people being mutilated and burned like charcoal. I saw soldiers on both sides getting killed. Some of the guerrillas who were killed were acquaintances of my family in the village. As a small child, witnessing those kinds of things made me suffer. And a deep understanding grew in me, that there should be a better way, that something like this shouldn’t happen.

I remember vividly the image of a black GI who came to my village in a convoy. I wasn’t afraid of him; he gave me some candy. But a soldier from the South Vietnamese army told me to go home because there was some fighting about to happen. So, even at that young age I had some kind of human connection with those soldiers.

When I was eleven, my hometown was taken over by the North Vietnamese army, so I moved to central Vietnam, and then to Saigon, with my family. I lived with the communists for three years [after reunification in 1975], and then I left by boat in 1978. From a refugee camp in the Philippines I emigrated to the U.S. in 1979.

Those three years under the communists taught me a lot. I became a responsible young man. And then I left Vietnam with my mother and my five brothers and sisters. After emigrating, I attended the university and graduated, and then worked as an engineer for about thirteen years.

Where was this?

Near Washington D.C. When I was twenty-five I discovered Buddhism through reading Thay’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. It explained Buddhism to me as a way of practice, not as worship or religion. In 1987 I went to Plum Village because I wanted to come back to my cultural roots. I thought Plum Village was a place where many Vietnamese people came and participated in cultural activities, and spoke Vietnamese, and wore traditional clothes, and felt nostalgia for their homeland.

But as Plum Village developed into more of a Buddhist meditation center, I grew with that. Ten years later, in 1997, I came to practice as an aspirant. In 1998 I became a monk, so I have been a monk for about ten years. People who knew me at that time were very surprised to see me as a monk, because they saw that I was already very happy. For ten years I had been a community activist working with Vietnamese youth, teaching them about Vietnamese culture, language, and traditions. I taught Vietnamese language to the children almost every weekend. It was a way for me to serve.

But being a monk I can serve more people all over the world. So I told those people that being a monk makes me happier!

I see that the direction of my life was determined when I was very young. I was sent to a boarding school, and this had a big impact on my life. Almost every month I was allowed to go home from the school in Hue to Quang Tri where my family lived. My father would come pick me up. One day the bridge on the road was broken, because of the floods and the fighting, and my parents were on the other side and I on this side. It’s something I consider very heroic for me, an eight-year-old boy! So I crossed that broken bridge alone, and when I saw my parents, they hugged me and gave me popcorn; I felt a lot of joy!

After that trip, every night before going to bed at the boarding school I dressed up in nice clothes, and I prayed. I would pray, “Dear God, dear Buddha, and dear Jesus Christ, let me be with my family.” I did not know who had the supreme power, so I prayed to them all. But I didn’t want to be selfish, so I said, “Let all the people have a chance to be with their families also, and let the war end.”

I did that for one year. But of course it didn’t happen. The war still went on, so I stopped praying.

So you live in Vietnam again.

Yeah. Returning to Vietnam gave me a lot of experiences. I was born in Quang Tri, the place that suffered from the heaviest fighting. Just in front of my house, there was this place called Old Citadel, where the armies from the North and the South fought many fierce battles. During the two months of a last battle there in 1972, tens of thousands of people were killed or wounded. When I returned to Vietnam, I visited that place three times and contemplated — they say that every square foot of it is covered with blood. But now it has become a beautiful park. I see that people have good intentions, and it was a relief to see that local people made peace with it.

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I’m happy to be back in Vietnam, but also disappointed with the morality and the values of the society now. Before we went to war and during the war, people were taking care of each other. But now, even though we have peace, it seems like people don’t take care of each other.

Vietnam has grown and developed, but if you look deeply there are many poor people, and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger. This has happened in many developed countries, but it should not have happened that way in Vietnam. Also, people have lost their family values. We can see more buildings, more high rises, but if you look carefully, we see that life is difficult for people here. It’s congested and polluted. The people and the country have a long way to go to become a more developed, a more ordered society.

So I’m happy to be back, but I also see a challenge. I think that’s why Thay has made three trips back — to help, to give a hand in this process.

I have met quite a few young people at our retreats and I see their hope and also their disappointment. Having nothing to look forward to, it seems like there are no opportunities for them. In Vietnam I see that Buddhism can offer some hope, some way out.

What is Thay’s Sangha like in the different parts of Vietnam?

Since the trip in 2005, we have set up the practice in Prajna Monastery (in the highlands) and in Tu Hieu, Thay’s root temple [in central Vietnam], and we now have about four hundred monks, nuns, and aspirants who practice in our tradition. The average age is about twenty-two, very young, so they are creating a base of Buddhism for the next fifty years. Prajna is located in a remote area, but whatever we do at Prajna, people all over the country pay attention to it. Prajna is the place that people can think about and know that there is a group of people practicing for them. It gives them hope.

We have plans to expand our practice in the north. The people in the north have just returned to Buddhism after years of absence, and their practice consists mostly of faith and religious rituals. But they seem like they’re very open to our way of practice. It’s up to us to integrate their worship of Buddha with our practice. If we are skillful, we can make a big difference in the north.

There are already many temples in the north, and Plum Village doesn’t need to own a center in order to teach. We would like to be treated as a partner and be invited to teach in the temples that already exist. That makes people more secure and they’re more willing to help that way. We have to integrate with them and offer the practice so that we can spread the teaching. There are eighty-four million people, so five hundred Plum Village monastics cannot do the work alone. We need to have interbeing with other traditions, working together as a team.

We cannot be caught within the form of Plum Village traditions, of Thay’s teachings. It is the content of the practice — love and understanding — that counts.

Our presence in Hong Kong is also a support for Vietnam. The practice there is attracting quite a few people. Like everywhere else, people throughout Asia have suffered with the fast pace of modern life. If the help is there, they come. So we have a very positive outlook.

However, we need to really be careful not to over expand. We need our practice to be strong, to emphasize quality over quantity. Looking back, I think we have made quite big leaps.

What’s your relationship with the government at this point?

I think the Vietnamese government is more open, but being a communist country, they are afraid of some movement becoming too popular. They don’t want anybody to have so much influence. But they are fairly open to Thay’s teachings; for example, now most of Thay’s books have been published in Vietnam. But to spread more into the mainstream to professionals, to people who don’t come to temple regularly, we may have difficulty. We have not been able to go to schools or businesses to share the practice. We need to make the teachings available in other places besides the temple. So we have to think of ways to propagate the Dharma. For instance, people can go online to download a Dharma talk or read articles written for mainstream magazines.

As long as they don’t see us as a threat, the government will allow, maybe even encourage us to spread the teachings. We have to follow the rules, but I don’t think that we are forced to spread the propaganda of communism.

However, there are still political sensitivities. The government asked Thay and the Sangha to refrain from talking about Tibet and Burma, because these are sensitive issues. But we are in the business of practice, so as long as we can do so in a skillful way, we will continue to express our love and understanding to other peoples throughout the world.

Do you think the government sees a benefit to society in Thay’s teaching?

I think so. We have more difficulties with some segments in the Buddhist church in Vietnam than with the government, primarily due to jealousy. I think that by teaching people about moral values, we’ll help build the country. We have to do a lot more and see that this process must continue beyond our lifetimes. But at least Thay has come home and started the process. We have to find skillful ways to continue.

How can people in North America, Europe, Australia, and South America support the efforts of the Sangha in Vietnam?

The practice of other people from different parts of the world helps. On this trip, people have come from forty countries and the peaceful energy generated has impressed people already. Vietnamese people see this and say, These people are from the developed world, and they come from far away to learn the practice with this Vietnamese monk, and we are here in Vietnam, and he’s a Vietnamese man, why don’t we learn from him?

The staff in the hotel have already commented on how quiet, well behaved, and nice to be with we are. And that’s the best Dharma talk that we can give them. People who serve us in the dining hall or at the reception desk, or people doing the room service, notice the difference in a practitioner. I think being where we are, being good practitioners, is the best way to help the practice in Vietnam.

In the next twenty years Asia will be the center of attention, with the big growth in India and China and other countries. So it is good that we are beginning to take root here at this time. But we do not give less attention in the West, because that is where innovations and ideas and support will come from. Financially, Prajna is supported by the Western practitioners; Plum Village is responsible for one-hundred percent of operations and training. By going to retreats, contributing to this and that, practitioners all over the world are supporting our efforts here. That’s interbeing.

Being stronger in the West helps our practice to be strong in Vietnam. And by being stronger in Vietnam it helps us be strong in the West. From the beginning we have sent monks and nuns to Plum Village, from Prajna. And several of us from Plum Village have lived here in Vietnam.

Tell us about the online interview Thay did recently.

Thay gave an interview with an online newspaper, Vietnam Net [http://vietnamnet.vn and http://english.vietnamnet.vn]. It is one of the most visited websites in Vietnam. Quite a few people read it.

The interview lasted for almost two hours, and the interviewer asked quite a few questions — about how the teachings can help people live more moral lives, how the Buddhist values of happiness, stillness, and slowness contradict the ambition to be successful. How we can overcome jealousies among the monastics in the Buddhist church. How Buddhism can advise what a smaller Buddhist country should say to a bigger Buddhist country who always has the intention of invading [China]. He asked quite a few questions about how to apply Buddhism in real life; for example, how can his company practice as a Sangha? And Thay responded to all those questions, giving a Dharma talk to the whole nation.

Do you have any idea how many people might listen to that interview?

They say that it got one million hits. Perhaps several hundred thousand people really listened to it.

So censorship doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue?

Now it’s not an issue, because they already know Thay, so they’re quite comfortable!

Well, good! That’s a lot of penetration.

Yeah. And they transcribed the whole interview, and put the video on the Web so Vietnamese people all over the world can listen to it.

I am optimistic. There are still some hurdles — I’m still not able to get a long-term visa to stay in Vietnam. Every six months I have to renew, at the government’s mercy. But I have been here almost three years, with some break in between. The path is wide open. I am happy being a monk, so it’s the path for me.

Transcribed by Greg Sever.

Bmb49-Practice3arbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, lives in Ashland, Oregon with her husband, Robert, and practices with the Peaceful Refuge Sangha.

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The Eight Practices of Respect —Gurudharmas

For a bhikshu to practice with regard to a bhikshuni By Thich Nhat Hanh

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  1. A bhikshu should join his palms in greeting when he sees a bhikshuni join her palms to him, even though that bhikshuni has only been ordained as bhikshuni for a short time. A bhikshuni, no matter how long she has been ordained, represents the whole bhikshuni Sangha, which has been a partner of the bhikshu Sangha from the time it began to exist and will continue to be so in the future.
  2. A bhikshu does not think or say that the karmic retribution of a nun is less favourable than that of a monk and for that reason a bhikshuni’s studies, practice, realizations and  service to the  Buddhadharma cannot equal that of the bhikshu. A bhikshu is aware that the reason why the Pratimoksha for bhikshunis has more precepts than that for bhikshus is not because bhikshunis have a less favourable karmic retribution: it is because the nuns themselves established more precepts for self-protection and the protection of monks and laymen.
  3. When a bhikshu sees a bhikshuni he should be aware of whether she is of the same age as his mother, elder sister, younger sister, or daughter might be. He should feel respect for and want to protect and assist in the practice any bhikshuni who is older than him as he would feel respect for and want to protect his mother and elder sister. If the bhikshuni is younger than him he should feel care and concern for her and want to protect and assist her in the practice as he would feel concern for his younger sister or daughter.
  4. A bhikshu never maligns a bhikshuni, even in a roundabout way. He never hits a bhikshuni even with a flower. It is courteous of a bhikshu of the twenty-first century to offer a cup of tea to a bhikshuni. A bhikshu knows that just as the bodhisattva Samantabhadra is found in the person of the true bhikshu, so the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is found in the person of the true bhikshuni. This knowledge fosters mutual respect.
  5. When organizing the three-month Rains’ Retreat, bhikshus should make sure that it is in a place where there is a bhikshuni Sangha, so that the bhikshus have an opportunity to be near to, offer teaching to, and receive the support of the bhikshuni Sangha, because the bhikshuni Sangha always has and will be a partner of the bhikshu Sangha.
  6. When the bhikshus hear about a bhikshuni who is learned in the Dharma, is skilled in sharing the Dharma, and practices well the precepts and all other aspects of the path, they can contact the bhikshuni Sangha and invite that bhikshuni to come and give teachings and share her understanding and experience of the practice with them.
  7. When bhikshunis volunteer to come to the bhikshu monastery in order to help cook and lay out a celebratory meal at a memorial service or other important ceremony, the bhikshus should find ways to help out and work alongside the bhikshunis, especially in lifting heavy items.
  8. When bhikshus hear that a bhikshuni is in ill-health or has had an accident they should express feelings of sympathy and they can delegate bhikshus to visit her, ask after her health and find other ways to offer support.

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The New Gurudharmas for Monks

   

By Sister Annabel, Chan Duc

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Before the Sangha traveled to Vietnam, Thay wrote a code of conduct for monks with regards to nuns, to update the ancient code of conduct for nuns with regards to monks. Sister Annabel graciously wrote this commentary for the Mindfulness Bell.

The Sangha of the Buddha is known as the Fourfold Sangha. It comprises bhikshus (fully-ordained monks), bhikshunis (fullyordained nuns), laymen, and laywomen. The bhikshuni component of the Sangha was added last of all.

Tradition has it that it was not an easy matter for women to be accepted as monastic members of the Sangha. If the tradition, which says that the Buddha hesitated in receiving women as monastic disciples, is true, it is not something difficult to understand.

Surely the Buddha must have been taken by surprise when his dear aunt and a large number of Sakyan ladies arrived in Vaishali with swollen and bleeding feet after walking hundreds of miles barefoot to prove that women too could lead the life of wandering monks? No doubt he was also moved. His aunt Mahagotami had previously asked permission to ordain as a nun when the Buddha was in Kapilavastu and had been told that the time was not yet right for women to ordain.

It was not that the Buddha saw women as of inferior intellectual or spiritual properties that he hesitated to allow them to follow the monastic vocation. The reservations of the Buddha had to do with the cultural and social situation in which the Sangha of his time found itself.

Concerns of the Buddha

First of all the Buddha wanted his disciples to have the best conditions to realise the practice. His monk disciples spent the night at the foot of trees and begged for alms in the towns and villages. This could have been very dangerous for women to do. According to the Indian custom of that time women were always to stay in a house where they were under the protection of their father, husband, elder brother, or son. The only women who did not have that protection were courtesans and loose women. The Buddha feared that his nun disciples would be branded as such and in fact this often happened. It also happened that on a couple of occasions when nuns unusually stepped out of the monastery alone they were sexually assaulted.

The second question the Buddha must have asked himself was how the monks he had already ordained would accept nuns as fellow members of the same spiritual family. Were the monks sufficiently free of their cultural and social prejudice to offer protection to nuns and support them in their practice?

The third question for the Buddha concerned the relationship of the nun Sangha to the monk Sangha. The Buddha taught that the recognition of seniority was essential for harmony in the Sangha (Culavagga VI, 6). Westerners should remember that seniority is not hierarchy. Seniority is a matter of protocol and mutual respect but the ways juniors have of showing respect to seniors differ from the ways seniors have of showing respect to juniors. The Buddha made it clear that the nuns were juniors. The nuns after all had had no education. They joined the Sangha after the monks had already been practicing for many years. The monks had already memorized the precepts and discourses of the Buddha. Many had become teachers in their own right. It was only natural that the nuns should show respect to the monks as their seniors.

The Original Gurudharmas

These facts are the basis for the eight original gurudharmas (practices of respect) to be practiced by nuns. They were as follows:

  1. A bhikshuni should always greet a bhikshu with respect even though she is senior in years of ordination to the bhikshu.
  2. Bhikshunis should practice the annual three-month Rains’ Retreat in a place where there is a bhikshu Sangha for them to take refuge in and learn from.
  3. Twice a month the nuns should send a nun (with a second body) to invite the monk Sangha to let them know on what day they should recite the precepts1 and to send them a monk to give them teachings and exhortations concerning their practice.
  4. At the end of the Rains’ Retreat the nuns have to request shining light from the monks as well as from the other nuns. (This meant that if the monks had seen, heard, and suspected anything untoward in the nuns’ practice they could let the nuns know and give suggestions for the nuns’ practice.)
  5. If a bhikshuni breaks a Sanghavasesa precept, she has to confess the offense to and be purified of the offense by the bhikshu as well as the bhikshuni Sangha.
  6. A nun can only receive the full ordination from monks as well as nuns.
  7. A nun cannot malign or criticize a monk.
  8. A nun cannot admonish a monk for improper conduct.2

These eight practices of respect have sometimes led people to think that Buddhism discriminates against women. Although there is no small number of individual monks, nuns, and laypeople who believe that to be a woman is a disadvantage for progress on the spiritual path, this is certainly not what the Buddha taught. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, some monks took the opportunity to promulgate their culturally ingrained prejudices. The Buddha said clearly that the fruits of the practice that can be realised by women are no less than those realised by men. In accepting women as nuns the Buddha has opened up a way for hundreds of thousands of women to realise the fruits of the monastic path.

What is needed now is to continue the career of the Buddha by making it clear to Buddhists and non-Buddhists that the bhikshuni Sangha is an equal partner of the bhikshu Sangha in the Buddhist community. The eight gurudharmas for monks that Thay has given us have already been practiced in many Buddhist communities for years. We only need to acknowledge that this is our practice and will continue to be so, so that people no longer have doubts about the status of Buddhist nuns.

Interpreting the New Practices

The first gurudharma for bhikshus is equivalent to that for bhikshunis. Thay has added the fact that each bhikshuni is a representative of the whole bhikshuni Sangha. In bowing to her one is bowing to the whole bhikshuni Sangha. The concept of partnership is also mentioned. It means a spirit of cooperation between monks and nuns in continuing the career of the Buddha.

The second gurudharma for bhikshus is to clarify that it is not a handicap to be a woman. This is an illusion to which women as well as men are subject. Women themselves sometimes also believe that they have been born women because they have not laid down sufficient wholesome roots in past lives.

The third gurudharma for bhikshus is a re-wording of a teaching given by the Buddha (SN IV,3,127). It means that our practice community needs to be a family. Here Thay makes it clear how we can support the members of our spiritual family. Just as the monk practices to see the nun as his mother and so on, so the nun practices to see the monk as her father, brother, or son depending on his age.

The fourth gurudharma for monks is equivalent to the seventh gurudharma for nuns. Thay has added the practice of looking at oneself and at the nun as a bodhisattva. This helps us to recognize the enlightened nature in each other and support wholeheartedly each other’s practice.

The fifth is equivalent to the second gurudharma for nuns. There are mutual advantages for both the bhikshu and bhikshuni Sangha when they practice in proximity to each other.

The sixth is perhaps the most revolutionary. Many monks still hesitate to listen to a nun teaching, let alone invite her to teach them.

The seventh is a continuation of what the Buddha wanted. In the pratimoksha3 there are already precepts forbidding nuns to act as servants to monks. Here we see that in physical work as well as in spiritual practice, the monks are to give the nuns a hand.

The eighth new gurudharma reiterates the need for mutual care and concern if the Sangha is to function as a family.

Sister Annabel, Chan Duc, was abbess of  Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. She is currently assisting Thay to establish the European Institute of Applied Buddhism.

1 The precepts had to be recited at the full and new moon. There were no calendars and the educated monks knew how to calculate when the full and new moon days fell.

2 We should know that lay women who were strong in their practice did sometimes admonish monks with the concurrence of the Buddha who also made some precepts for monks at the suggestion of the lady Visakha. This gurudharma is to keep harmony between monks and nuns.

3 The pratimoksha is the disciplinary code of fully-ordained monks and nuns.

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A Day in the Life of a Catholic Zen Monk in Plum Village

December 8, 2007 — Feast of the Immaculate Conception By Brother Phap De

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This morning, I awaken and smile, saying “Twenty-four brand new hours are before me! I vow to live each moment fully, mindfully, and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

Then, I light a candle and a stick of incense before a picture of Mom, Dad, and my brothers and sisters, saying, “In gratitude, I offer this incense to you and all my ancestors. May it be fragrant as flowers, reflecting my loving reverence and gratitude. May we all be companions of the saints, especially Mary, our Mother of Compassion, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception.”

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Thanks to Thay and to the Vietnamese practice of ancestor worship, this Catholic now feels connected to his ancestors and is nourished by reverential gratitude to his parents and other ancestors

— a practice that the misguided Catholic bishops and priests tried to stop in Vietnam. When I light a candle and make the incense offering in front of their picture, I know that they are not actually in the picture. Rather, I know that they are actually in me. I know that the real altar of my ancestors is my body/mind on which I honor them by the way I live, particularly as expressed in the Fifth Mindfulness Training, mindful consumption. This living connection to my ancestors is helping me let go of my attachment to my ego, my notion of being a separate self and somebody special.

Only Zen Monks Stop

At 4:45 a.m., I quietly brew a cup of tea, without waking up my roommate. Drinking my tea, I gratefully remember that it was Mom who first taught me the devotion to Mary. As a boy, I prayed to Mary for many different things—even for assistance in winning basketball games.

After this, our ordinary day begins with sitting meditation (Holy Hour) at 5:30 a.m.

At 7:00 a.m., the centuries-old church bells sound the Angelus, calling us to stop and remember that Mary said “Let it be” to the Angel, and became the mother of Jesus. In the old days, everyone stopped at the sound of the bells and recited three Ave Marias. Nowadays, only the Zen monks stop. I love the sound and recite an Ave. Hearing the Angelus bells is like hearing the voice of Christ, calling me back to my true self and inviting me to be like Mary: with the energy of the Holy Spirit, to give birth to Christ in my own life, in my own soul and body. I know that if I don’t, then what she did will have been wasted as far as my life is concerned.

As the Angelus bells continue, I remember the Gospel story of how the newly pregnant Mary “set out and walked with haste” (she had not yet learned slow walking meditation) to the home of her cousin, Elizabeth, who greeted her with: “Blessed are you among women.” (Luke 1:39 and 42) The sound of the Angelus bells wakes me up to the realization that like Mary, my brothers and sisters embody Christ-consciousness here and now. Thus, like Elizabeth, I say to my sisters and brothers: “Blessed are you.” How lucky we are!

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Then, breakfast at 7:30. We sit, in a circle, on cushions on the floor — twenty monks and six laypersons, breaking bread together. I am surrounded by my companions. I remember that the word “companion” comes from com (together) and pan (bread), that is, breaking bread together. I remember Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. This morning I see the abbot’s mother sitting and eating with us — like Mary did with Jesus and his companions. I look gratefully at the two cooks, a New Zealander and a Vietnamese, who prepared the food, even though they understand very little of each other’s language. This is the Holy Thursday brotherhood meal and Pentecost (enlightenment) in the here and now.

Walking with Mother Mary

We study from 9:15 a.m. until we gather for walking meditation at 11:00. I usually invite Dad and Mom to walk with me. How can they not, for they are in me. Dad is learning how to walk more slowly, keeping his attention on the flowers and surroundings, not on the destination or job waiting ahead.

Today, I also invite Mother Mary to walk with me. After all, she is my spiritual ancestor and I am blessed with her spiritual DNA — the Christ-consciousness in me. Today, holding my hand, Mother Mary no longer walks “with haste.”

The divine feminine energy of Mary is very much with me in this Zen Buddhist monastery. (Buddhists know Mother Mary as Avalokita or Quan The Am or Kwan Yin.) Many of us can experience Mary’s spiritual DNA through our practice of touching the earth, when we lie on Mother Earth and reflect on the presence of her healing energy in each of us and in the body of our community. We chant Namo Bo Tat Quan The Am and send her healing energy to people around the world. This chant often brings tears of joy and gratitude to the listeners. To me, it feels like it generates the same energy that’s found in Lourdes and Fatima, energy that once seemed lost to me.

Now, it is 4:00 p.m. and time to do my working meditation: clean the meditation hall before the community arrives for the evening sitting meditation and chanting. When I was a priest forty years ago, lay persons cleaned the church after I celebrated Mass. Now, it’s my turn. I am learning humility — like Mary. They used to call me Father Adrian, now I am called Phap De, Young Brother. Five years ago, Thay told me that to become a monk I would have to give up my stock portfolio, property, bank accounts, and cars, and he said, “You will learn humility.” It has been surprisingly easy. Phap De is living joyfully and peacefully.

Her Wondrous Light

6:00 p.m. — Tonight, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was delighted when my Vietnamese brother led us in a chant of praise to the Great Saint of Compassion, Mary. Here are the lyrics:

From the depths of understanding, the flower of great eloquence blooms: The bodhisattva stands majestically upon the waves of birth and death, free from all afflictions. Her great compassion eliminates all sickness, even that once thought of as incurable. Her wondrous light sweeps away all obstacles and dangers. Her willow branch, once waved, reveals countless heavens, Her lotus flower blossoms a multitude of practice centers. We bow to her. We see her true presence in the here and now. We offer her the incense of our heart. May the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening embrace us all with great compassion. Praise to thee, Mary, Our Mother of Compassion.

9:00 p.m. — I am aware that I have come a long way and have let go of some old theological notions about Original Sin and the Fall/Redemption paradigm. “We have entered a broken and torn and sinful world — that’s for sure,” writes theologian Matthew Fox. “But we do not enter as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures. We burst into the world as original blessings.” Now I can see the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Mary was conceived without original sin) as an effort to help us wake up to the magnificence of Mary.

The Buddha’s gift of the communal practice of the mindfulness trainings helps this Catholic to live up to the example of Mary and the teachings of Jesus. We may be ordinary persons, but, like Mary, we are all Immaculate Conceptions. The joyful Angelus Bells repeatedly invite us to wake up to this Good News!

Brother Phap De (Brother Adrian) lives in Son Ha at Plum Village. Once upon a time, he worked as a Roman Catholic parish priest and teacher.

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How to Live with Two Religious Paths

By Emily Hilsberg I am seventeen years old, and I am Jewish and Buddhist. I study mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery. I have been going to Deer Park since I was six years old. This year marks my eleventh year being a part of the Sangha. I am also involved in my Jewish community. I am a member of Temple Beth Am’s youth group, and I have volunteered at many Jewish organizations. Every summer, I attend the family retreat at Deer Park and then I spend a month at Camp Ramah, a Jewish sleep-away camp in Ojai, California. When people ask me my religion, I say, “I’m Jewish and Buddhist.” Their reaction is always the same. They ask, “Why do you have two religions? You can only commit to one god.” This idea is false.

mb65-How1Thich Nhat Hanh has taught me so much since 2003. Thay says that you need to show compassion to others and that compassion is the basis for true happiness. Similarly, one of my Camp Ramah directors has had a huge impact on my life. He taught me to be a person who fights for change. Be that person who steps up and takes charge and is always trying to make the community a better place. I’ve also learned that lesson at Deer Park. For example, one year some developers wanted to build houses on the ridge facing the large meditation hall. The community fought to preserve the ridge and after many months, they earned enough money to save it.

Many people underestimate others. I was born with Asperger’s disorder, which affects my brain, and I’ve struggled socially and in school. People have often underestimated my capabilities. I’ve been beaten down by the speech and actions of others. Administrators at my elementary school had no confidence in my abilities and the so-called resource specialist often yelled at me and gave me answers to classwork without teaching me how to do the work myself. The principal did nothing to help me. My fifth grade teacher did not understand me and did not help me when other kids bullied me because she never caught them in the act. Kids can be so mean and they often harassed me! As a result of my life experiences, I want to make a change in the world.

I’ve learned so much from going to Deer Park and from the five summers I’ve spent at Ramah. I can be who I want to be and I can teach others to be active leaders. I recently attended Thay’s public talk in Pasadena. My mom was on staff and I decided to help out. I had a long talk with one of the brothers, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I told him that I’ve changed. I learned so much from Deer Park and appreciate how much it’s helped me. He was very impressed. Later that day, while my mom and I were driving home, I thought to myself, “I am proud to be both a Jew and Buddhist. Having both makes me stronger as a person.”

I consider Sister Ho Nghiem, one of the monastic sisters, to be my godmother. She’s known me since I was a young girl. Before the children’s program was started, I often spent time in the sisters’ hamlet. One year when she broke her leg, I visited her in her room to cheer her up and keep her company. For many years I helped her in the bookstore. When I saw Sister Ho Nghiem at the public talk, I was overjoyed. I can’t imagine my life without my brothers and sisters of Deer Park. The practice has grown on me, and I hope to teach it to my own children one day.

Buddhism teaches me to be more compassionate and understanding toward other people who are suffering. Judaism teaches me to be close to god and to be the person I want to become. In my mind, these lessons are very much alike. Both focus on ethics and the value of strong community. I am fortunate to have two very supportive communities to guide me on my path: my Jewish community and my Buddhist community.

Emily Hilsberg, Crystal Mountain of the Heart, lives in Culver City, California.

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In Gratitude

Support for a Nunnery at Deer Park Monastery

By Mary Gorman

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Driving up the winding road to Deer Park Monastery, you naturally slow down and pay attention to the curves in front of you. An open landscape of rocks and hardy desert plants unfolds and brings you into the present moment. You are entering high chaparral country where the ridges are 1,400 feet above sea level. Then the road descends and enters a canopy of oak trees, which thrives at the bottom of the hills. At last, you are greeted by a sign that reads, “You have arrived.” You know that you have come home. To the right is another sign that reads, “Clarity Hamlet.” This is the home of the nuns.

At Thay’s last retreat of his North American tour at Deer Park Monastery, the community was informed about plans to build a nunnery in Clarity Hamlet. Those of us who regularly visit the monastery had heard about the need for new living quarters for the nuns, but few of us knew much about their current living conditions. We learned that the sisters currently live in separated living quarters. Many of the nuns occupy changing rooms that were once part of an outdoor swimming pool area. Since these rooms were not meant as housing, they have no insulation or cooling features, making them cold and damp in the winters and terribly hot and dry during blistering southern California summers.

Fortunately, the monastery has plans to build energy-efficient straw bale dormitories for the nuns, as well as a new hut for Thay. The construction project was designed by Hubbell & Hubbell Architects, using a sustainable and environmentally friendly design. The rice straw bales will provide insulation and stable temperatures year round. The new buildings will have room for up to forty nuns and will be situated on a hill, where Thay’s current hut stands.

Our True Sisters

For the nunnery to manifest, the lay community will have to lend its support. Phase one of construction was scheduled to start in December 2013. Funds are needed to complete phases two and three in 2014. A committee is helping to raise funds for the nunnery, and we asked retreatants about their feelings regarding the nuns’ living conditions. People were very vocal and clear in their responses. “The nuns are like my mother and my true sisters. I love and adore them, and I want them to be safe,” said one retreatant. “The nuns are the core of the practice. We need to keep them safe in order to keep the practice going. I have received so much from them!” said another. Attendees who were familiar with the nuns’ living quarters were convinced that the environment was unsafe and unhealthy. “We need the nuns to have good health, to be safe and warm,” was heard repeatedly.

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There was also an outpouring of gratitude for the nuns. “The nuns provide so much for us. Deer Park and the Sangha have just about saved my life. I was going in the wrong direction. Now I have found my volition.” We heard over and over that the nuns do not complain. They serve and take care of everyone. “The nuns have embraced my children. They are my family. And they don’t ask for themselves; they don’t ask for anything.” Everyone felt strongly that the situation needed to be addressed soon.

A Vibrant Example

These comments made me think about why I felt such a strong need to take action. Sitting and looking deeply, I found myself acknowledging how dramatically my life has changed thanks to the nuns, monks, and lay practitioners of Deer Park. When I first arrived there, I was full of suffering—the kind of suffering that comes with life and the kind of suffering that we make for ourselves. I wanted to find a way out.

Arriving at Deer Park, I felt that I had come home. I met wonderful monastic and lay practitioners who were role models. With these examples and Thay’s clear directions, it was possible for me to develop a personal practice, use that practice in real life, and obtain insights that transformed my relationships.

The years following my early visits to Deer Park have been wonderful. Life is good and my deep aspiration leads me. I visit Deer Park as often as possible, taking refuge in the Sangha. I am very grateful. Gratitude and compassion are the feelings that move me to write this article—gratitude for the happiness that has been brought to my family, and compassion for the generations that follow me. The Deer Park community is a living, vibrant example of Thay’s teachings. I want the Deer Park community to be here, strong and well, and to help others as I was helped.

So, with gratitude and compassion in mind, I am considering what kind of financial contribution to make to support the nunnery. As I write this article, the holidays are approaching, and there will be expenses for family and friends. Reflecting on the cost of gifts, I wonder what material gift could equal the gift of happiness that I have received. No iPhone or sweater or dinner out with the family could provide a fraction of the benefits that I have received from the practice. Dollars cannot be compared to the gifts I have received from Deer Park over the years.

How about you? Is this the right time for you to consider the value of Deer Park, or of your local practice center, in your life?

mb65-InGratitude3Mary Gorman, True Ever Lasting Ocean, lives with her husband in Los Angeles. She wrote this article with the assistance of Vivian Hermiz, Serene Awakening of the Heart, of the Deer Park Nunnery Committee.

mb65-InGratitude4Join in Supporting a New Nunnery

If Deer Park is your closest practice center, whether you live in the US, Mexico, or Canada, we hope that you will take a personal interest in supporting this effort. There are so many ways you can help. If you are a member of the international Sangha, please consider the needs of your local practice center and find ways to support your community.

Ways you can help:
  • Make a personal donation to the nunnery Make your check payable to the Unified Buddhist Church, and be sure to write “Deer Park Nunnery” on the check. Send it with gratitude in your heart to: Deer Park Monastery 2499 Melru Lane Escondido, CA 92026
  • Donate via the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation website at deerparknunnery.org. Click “Donate Now,” and then select “Deer Park Monastery Nunnery” from the gift designation pull-down list.
  • Talk with your local Sangha and raise awareness of the urgency of this Many practitioners do not know about this opportunity to support the monastic Sangha.
  • Encourage your local Sangha to hold a fundraiser, such as a Day of Mindfulness or a silent auction.

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Retreating to My Roots

By Loan To Phan mb50-Retreating1

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I am a Vietnamese-born Australian citizen. While attending a winter retreat at Plum Village in November 2007, I got in touch with my ancestral roots on a level that over the last twenty-three years has been unacknowledged and unexplored, almost foreign. “Boi dap goc re, khai thong suoi nguon” (nourishing our roots, clearing our streams) were the themes at Plum Village that awoke a deep gratitude and curiosity about my blood ancestors. I realized that my existence came from a life force that runs through my parents, grandparents, and continuing back and back through many generations before them.

Growing up in a generally individualistic society has distanced me from my roots. Ironically, this has created a blank space that allows me to bring a beginner’s mind to explore and understand myself through knowing my ancestors. What better way to find answers to these questions than a trip to Vietnam?! And what better conditions than Buddhist retreats — with opportunities to deeply contemplate myself and hence my ancestors in me?! It was particularly meaningful to be able to do this with my parents.

Dharma Rain at Bat Nha

The first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh or Thay (Vietnamese for Teacher) was a five-day retreat at Prajna Monastery in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province. The spacious monastery and temperate weather of the green highlands near central Vietnam were ideal conditions for practice. In total there were approximate 3500 people of all ages attending this retreat. I was surprised to see so many young people there, some as young as fifteen — students and young people working in business, film industry, social work, health, etc. They all shared a search for meaning as well as relief from the difficulties faced in their increasingly demanding and pressured  environment.

Vietnamese people really enjoy socializing; in particular they like to be lively and vocal. However, during meals together and walking meditation all one could hear were the click-clacking of plastic cutlery and crockery, or the melodies of bird songs and rustling of leaves.

Thay spoke lovingly to the young people about having ideals and purpose in life, recounted funny love stories, and explained how having values or guiding principles as outlined in the Five Mindfulness Trainings can help restore and improve the quality of our relationships. He urged the young people to be determined and diligent in their practice of returning to the present moment by focusing on their breathing as they go about daily tasks. He explained how to listen deeply to cultivate understanding and Beginning Anew, a practice of reconciliation and expressing hurt in a constructive way. Brother Phap An gave a compelling account of his personal experience in dealing with a block of suffering he had gained during his childhood as a result of the war. Brother Nguyen Hai’s explanation on the Five Mindfulness Trainings contributed to inspiring about a third of participants to take the commitment to study and practice the Mindfulness Trainings and take refuge in the Three Jewels.

The regular afternoon exercise time came to life with traditional Vietnamese games such as bamboo stick jumping and Vietnamese hacky-sack, singing songs of meditation and joyful practice, or just walking around the beautiful gardens of Prajna.

The question-and-answer session contained some queries about forming and maintaining a Sangha for young people.

As a Viet-kieu I was impressed at the openness, depth and wisdom my young Vietnamese friends had drawn from their experiences. For some, Thay’s Dharma talk was a confirmation of their hard-earned life lessons, while for others the retreat planted a seed of curiosity about what it means to live engaged Buddhism.

The pouring monsoon, symbolising Dharma rain, came down generously as we shared deeply our experiences of life’s challenges and successes during Dharma discussion groups. The tents that we slept in became soaked but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We just rolled up our sleeping mats and joined the snoring choruses of the “young at heart” participants in the main meditation hall. In fact, the hard floor, lack of sleep (because it was colder than expected so some of us could not get good sleep) actually made our memories of the joy and peace in newly found friendship even more memorable!

Retreat for the Young People of Hanoi

Continuing their tour to the north, Thay and the Plum Village delegation held another four-day retreat for the young people of Hanoi, at Bang Temple, Hoang Mai province. Bang Temple was still under construction when over a thousand people crammed into its grounds, overtaxing its already limited accommodation and sanitary facilities. I was particularly moved to see elderly women bent over from their hard laboured life as well as young people from well-to-do families determined to receive the Dharma so much that again, the wet weather, hard floors, simple meals did not deter them from fully participating in the mindful practices.

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My Dad, who only attended the last session and lunch, was moved to tears by the collective energy of the four-fold Sangha eating mindfully. The walking meditation through the narrow local streets brought curious faces to the doors, preschool children offering their joined palms in respect and bright smiles as the river of Sangha flowed past, silent and reverent.

A highlight of this retreat was the session between young people and young monastics of Western and Vietnamese background. There was lively singing that accompanied eager questions about monastic life and faith. These questions illustrated the young people’s collective responsibility through concerns about their future as a generation facing the challenge of living in a society with increasing materialism and consumerism, corroding morality, and where Buddhism is a religion rather than a way of life and practice. The question-and-answer session with Thay was also dominated by questions from young retreatants about monastic aspirations and how to deal with the tribulations of romantic love.

Busy Hotel to Tranquil Monastery

There couldn’t be more of a contrast between the last two retreats and the twelve-day retreat titled “Engaged Buddhism for the Twenty-First Century” held at the Kim Lien Hotel in central Hanoi. This included the UN Day of Vesak 2008 and a three-day conference on the theme “Buddhist Contributions to Building a Just, Democratic and Civil Society.”

I went from a traditional incense-perfumed, spiritual environment with austere facilities to a relatively affluent, Western, secular hotel in downtown Hanoi. From sleeping on the floor and using squat toilets to serviced beds in air-conditioned rooms — I realised how attached I am to Western creature comforts! I am amazed at how in both of these environments the mindful practices can create wonderful and joyful energies, which confirms the universal nature of the Buddha’s teachings.

I am blown away at how a few simple collective practices of over four hundred participants from forty-one different countries can transform a busy worldly hotel into a tranquil monastery (not that there are any real differences in the ultimate sense!).

This retreat was special in that there was an ordination ceremony for the Order of Interbeing with over fifty people committing themselves to living the Fourteen Precepts, and close to one hundred taking refuge in the Three Jewels and Five Mindfulness Trainings.

After a week of solid practice one young person felt glad to call the hotel “home” after spending a day out in the hectic streets of Hanoi. Other under-thirty-five-year-old participants reported that their discussion groups provided an open, safe, and honest context where young monastics were accessible to lay friends, and together we listened and shared deeply our inner suffering, challenges, and experiences in living the Buddhist teachings. These were precious moments where we felt connected and supported to express ourselves; we could practice being the change we want to see in our lives and relationships with others.

The whole Sangha really flowed and practiced as one body as we did walking meditation around the beautiful Hoan Kiem (Returning Sword) Lake. Physically we must have looked quite impressive, all wearing the uniform grey robes or brown of the monastics, walking with each step contemplating the gatha: “Life is every step. Healing is every step. Miracle. Freedom.”

We ate together in silence and stayed within the hotel compound to preserve the wonderful collective energy, which was contagious as the hotel staff reciprocated our calm and respectful manners.

In his Dharma talks Thay warmly and humourously talked about the Four Noble Truths, Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Four Practices of True Diligence, and Three Doors Liberation. His presentation was always captivating, down to earth, and relevant to the current times, so that we could see daily applications.

Equipped with a week’s solid practice and new-found friendship and connectedness we attended the UN Day of Vesak 2008 with a strong and wonderful collective energy that moved and inspired other conference participants.

May all find a Sangha and flow as a river of clarity and freshness.

Loan To Phan, Tam Tu Hoa (Loving Harmony of the Heart), lives with her parents in Brisbane, Australia. She practices with the Solid and Free Sangha (Vung Chai Thanh Thoi) while working as a psychologist in a mental health service.

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Deepening Dharma in Hong Kong

By Sister Hanh Nghiem The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this lovely path I walk in peace. With each step, a gentle wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.

This is a gatha, a practice poem that was sung in the hearts of the monastic and lay practitioners at the seven-day retreat in Hong Kong. The Buddha’s Enlightenment Retreat took place May 24 to 30, 2008 with Brothers Phap An and Phap Trach, and Sister Hanh Lien and myself from Plum Village, along with Brothers Phap Tu and Trung Hai from Vietnam.

We came to the retreat, held at the Kadoorie Agricultural Research Centre of Hong Kong University, to learn about Buddhist psychology. (From the program: “Zen Master Thuong Chieu of Vietnam in the thirteenth century said that our practice would become much easier once we had a better understanding of its process. The teaching of Master Vasubandhu on consciousness will be used as the foundation for the retreat. We will briefly investigate the philosophical atmosphere in the pre-Buddhist period in order to understand and fully appreciate the enlightenment of the Buddha. We will ... then trace the historical development of the Yogacara School, which leads to the teaching of Master Vasubandhu as given in Ch’eng Wei-Shih Lun. The key teachings of the Thirty Verses will be discussed and applied to the daily difficulties of modern life. The basic practice of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and other practices will also be emphasized as foundation for a deep  transformation.”)

We wanted to have a better intellectual grasp, but we came home with a practice to heal our hearts and understand our mind. We were given the tools to live with freedom, more mindfully, in our daily life.

In a city that hustles and bustles from the moment it awakes till it falls asleep, it wasn’t easy for people to get off seven days to come to practice as a Sangha, study the Buddha’s teachings, and realize the Dharma of his or her life. Each of us figured out a way to be present at the retreat or what was called camp. Some of the eighty retreatants had to leave for a night to go work and then they would return to the retreat. Others couldn’t leave their families, so they had to commute every day in order to be able to attend the retreat.

We knew our priority was to learn, study, and practice the Buddha’s teachings, so that is what we did. Most of the retreatants were older in age because the topic for the retreat was quite advanced, but the few young folks sure did bring character and spice to the retreat!

The first few Dharma talks by Thay Phap An were dedicated to the basic practice and a brief history of Buddhism, and then remaining days were devoted to Buddhist psychology. Still, the basic practice was highlighted to take home.

The retreat was organized by the local Hong Kong Sangha from A to Z. The monks and nuns made the schedule and helped lead the activities, but the smooth flow of the retreat was thanks to the Hong Kong Sangha. Every morning we heard the mini-bell invited to wake us up and the bell was also invited before each activity by the lay practitioners. We also had other bells of mindfulness to bring us back to the beautiful environment surrounding us, such as the croaking of the bull frogs, the buzzing and biting of the mosquitoes, the luscious green vegetation, and the peace and quiet. This particular section of H.K.U. was donated by a family with the intention to promote more understanding of the environment and a way to preserve and develop the vegetation that already existed in the area.

The heavens treated us well because every day it rained, but nonetheless when it was time to do walking meditation, the sky cleared up for us. In the East rain is an auspicious sign that heaven is happy and the celestial beings are coming down to hear the Dharma being pronounced.

We also had the opportunity to practice chi qong every day for nearly two hours led by Thay Phap An. It was a great success and very healing for a number of people.

The Beginning Anew presentation and practice were carried out very elegantly by Brother Phap Trach. The contribution of the retreatants brought much enlightenment to our being together. They would go into the center of the circle to pick up the flower and then bring the flower to the person they wanted to share with. Many people shed tears of happiness because they were so touched by the kind calm words that were being spoken to them.

One unusual occurrence during the retreat was that the chief cook hurt her arm and couldn’t cook, so they ordered us pizza. The misfortune allowed us all to enjoy a very pleasant picnic dinner together outside and to bond a little closer before the retreat ended.

We left the retreat with an understanding of how to live our life rather than bury ourselves ten feet underground with the question, what is the meaning of life? We could breathe, because we are alive. Mindful breathing was our peace, joy, and freedom.

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Sister Hanh Nghiem, True Action, lives in New Hamlet at Plum Village.

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Someone Committed to Your Full Awakening

By John Bell At the January 2007 Order of Interbeing retreat at Deer Park I found myself in a handful of conversations with monastics and lay members about mentoring and support of OI members. It seems that aspirants for the Order get mentoring in preparation for ordination — the aspirant does assigned readings, a Dharma teacher checks in on the aspirant’s practice, and the Sangha sometimes holds a Shining the Light for the aspirant.

But typically once you are ordained, you’re on your own! It seems that only rarely does an OI member have ongoing mentoring by a Dharma teacher or monastic. Even lay Dharma teachers have little personalized support. It seems that this lack of structured support leads some lay OI members to feel disconnected, isolated, and lost, or to leave the Order altogether.

I’m wondering if there might be a missing piece in our community’s structure. I pose it as a question: What would it look like if someone were committed to your full awakening? What would it be like if someone more experienced and wiser in the practice personally cared about your liberation? How might that accelerate your development along the path?

A Personal Spiritual Relationship

As I understand it, at Plum Village, Blue Cliff, and Deer Park Monasteries, there is a mentoring relationship among monastics; each has a specific big brother or big sister. Other traditions have built this relational piece into their practices. If you are in a Twelve-Step program, you have a “sponsor” whom you call or who calls you on a regular basis. If you are in psychotherapy, you have the therapist who not only listens deeply, but also asks important questions that you might not ask yourself. In a peer counseling community, at least one other person is committed to your “re-emergence” and actively assists you to identify and shed unwholesome habit energies.

Another way to get at this issue is to reverse the question: What would it look like if I were committed to someone else’s full awakening? When asked this way, some elements of a caring, personal spiritual relationship become clear for me.

  • First I would have to be committed to my own full awakening! Do I really intend to be free or am I just going through the motions? Am I willing to recognize and embrace my own suffering in order to realize true peace, or am I wanting to stay comfortable and comforted? How do the five hindrances operate in my own practice — desire, aversion, dullness and drowsiness, agitation and regret, and doubt? If I knew that I could only truly assist another to the extent that I had freed myself, then such questions would motivate a more sincere effort, sharpen my practice, and increase my ability to be present to the person I’m committed
  • I would want to practice the four levels of love toward the person — loving kindness, compassion, joy, and I would want to be active in knowing the person and their struggles, showing love, and giving him or her my best.
  • I would want to check any ego tendencies to “help” or “save” the person, to create dependency, or to pat myself on the back for feeling wise, more advanced, or in some way better than the person I’m committed
  • I would want to continually study and practice the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as the grounding for my If I were not walking the talk, it would show up (at least to myself) in the relationship with the person I’m committed to.
  • I would have to learn how to accept the expression of deep emotions, since the person’s suffering would arise in the course of their liberation I would want to be present when it happened, even urge emotions up and out, if appropriate. I know from my own experience that full release can cleanse and permanently relieve long-stored suffering. The more I have done my own emotional work, the more capacity I have to accept the emotions of others.
  • I would want to continually add to my toolkit of skillful means so that I could think about the person from many To twist an old saying, I want to avoid having only a hammer so I don’t treat everything as a nail. A person’s journey to inner freedom is sometimes subtle, nuanced, non-linear; sometimes wild, roaring, ecstatic; sometimes depressing, confusing, scary. A hammer won’t do for all these!
  • I would want to ask for help when ) didn't know what to This is where the person committed to my full awakening could come in handy! Or a trusted advisor, or the Sangha, or a Dharma teacher, or a text.
The Benefits of True Love

There are risks in setting up such committed relationships. Since we are human beings and can get hooked by all sorts of unwholesome behaviors, we can fairly well predict that sticky situations would arise. For example, the mentee feels judged or shamed; the mentor feels unskilled or unsuccessful as a mentor; unhealthy dependencies develop; the two cross some boundaries and cause further suffering. However, I suspect that beneficial relationships would far outnumber the distorted ones. The benefits are two-way: if I commit myself to your full awakening, then that intention will necessarily encourage me to grow. True Love is never one-way.

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There are a couple of methods that we could experiment with:

  • Formal mentors. Upon ordination each OI member is helped to find an older Dharma brother or sister who would serve as a mentor. This might be the same person who mentored the person as an aspirant. It might be someone with whom the Order member has built a good relationship. It could be a monastic or lay Order member. The mentor would find ways to get to know the person, set up regular practice check-in by phone or in person, and try to attend at least one annual retreat with the person.
  • Practice Partners.  Where an older brother or sister is not readily available, two Order members might pair up and agree to check in regularly. They might ask each other about learnings and challenges in their practice. They could offer reflections, feedback, and suggestions. They might attend retreats together. They might occasionally check in with a Dharma teacher if they feel stuck in their relationship. This kind of peer mentoring would encourage mutual deep listening.

Still other arrangements would occur to us if we began thinking about mentoring. We might need a monastic or senior lay Dharma teacher in charge of thinking about and tracking these support relationships. Maybe when registering for retreats, in addition to stating our Dharma name we would also list our mentor.

A Cascade of Mentors

Creating such mentors or practice partners would call for a crucial shift: each individual, beginning with each lay Order member, would be thought about in a personal and ongoing way. The most important piece is for the Order member to feel personally known and cared about by their support person, and to feel that their practice is deepening partly because of the support person’s commitment to their spiritual development. While it is true that we are all connected and safe in the ultimate dimension, it is most helpful to feel the connection and love on the personal level. I’m envisioning a kind of cascading mentorship, from Thay to senior monastics, senior monastics to senior lay Dharma teachers, senior lay Dharma teachers to senior lay Order members, senior lay Order members to newer Order members, newer Order members to aspirants and Sangha members.

The two guiding relevant questions for Order members are:

  1. Who is personally committed to my full awakening?
  2. Whose full awakening am I personally committed to?

Would this approach be worth trying? What might the benefits be? How might we begin?

mb51-Someone2John Bell, True Wonderful Wisdom, practices with the Mountain Bell Sangha in Belmont, Massachusetts, and he offers retreats on mindfulness and emotional healing. John is co-founder and vice president of YouthBuild USA, a national network of 226 local YouthBuild programs that work with low-income young people who have dropped out of high school.

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The Plum Village Sangha in India

Autumn 2008 By Sister Chan Khong

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

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

A Retreat for Educators

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

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

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

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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh, Newspaper Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sankassa Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sangha News

mb52-SanghaNews1 The Realization of a Dream

Thich Nhat Hanh began his last Dharma talk at the Path of the Buddha retreat by speaking about the EIAB.

It has been Thay’s dream to set up an Institute of Applied Buddhism in the West, and now the dream has been realized. We have created the European Institute of Applied Buddhism [EIAB] in Germany, very close to Cologne. It is in the heart of Europe. There is a monastic community and a lay community taking care of the Institute and offering retreats and courses on Applied Buddhism. If you are a Dharma teacher in Europe or America, you might be inspired to go there and teach a course. You can bring your children and your students. There will be many students there from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and so on. You can get more information about it by visiting their website, www.eiab.eu.

Unlike other institutes, there is a permanent Sangha always practicing there. At the EIAB, the residential community embodies the teaching and the practice. It is the most important feature of the Institute. Whether you are in Dharma discussion, listening to a talk or practicing sitting or eating, there is always a strong Sangha present to support you.

We want the teaching of Buddhism to be applied to many areas of life, so a variety of courses are offered. There is a twentyone-day course for young people who are planning to marry,

to help them learn practices and to gain insight that will make their commitment successful. This course has roots in the history of Buddhism. Traditionally, in Buddhist countries like Thailand, a young man had to come and practice in a temple for a year before marrying. It’s like military service, but instead, this is spiritual service. Even the prince had to do it, or he would not be qualified to be king. When a man asked a woman to marry, she would ask whether he had fulfilled his time in the temple. If not, she would refuse his offer. Now people come to the temple for a shorter period, but that service still exists. We hope that in the future in every country there will be an institute that will train young people before they can marry, because they will have a much better chance to have a happy family life. Because there are so many families broken by divorce, we must offer that course everywhere.

We also offer a twenty-one-day course for children who have difficulties with their parents, and one for parents who don’t know how to communicate with their children. And we offer a course for both parents and children to practice together. We offer a course for people who have recently discovered they have an incurable disease like cancer or AIDS, and one for those who are grieving from the loss of a loved one. We will also offer a course on how to set up and lead a local Sangha.

The Buddhism taught at the Institute of Applied Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life, a way of transformation and healing.

I think our spiritual ancestors and our blood ancestors have prepared this place for us in Germany. There is a lot of land, with many trees and clean air. The people in the town like us and are glad we have come. They support us, bringing gifts to the monastics. The building can hold 500 retreatants. Thay

intends to organize a gathering of Dharma teachers there from Asia, Europe, and North America to stay together for one week. They will sit and walk together, drink tea together and reflect on how to make the teaching and practice relevant to our times. So, please, if you are a Dharma teacher, you might like to come to that retreat at the Institute, probably two years from now.

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The Meanings of Engaged and Applied Buddhism

First was born the term, “Engaged Buddhism.” Engaged Buddhism means that you practice all day without interruption, in the midst of your family, your community, your city, and your society. The way you walk, the way you look, the way you sit inspires people to live in a way that peace, happiness, joy and brotherhood are possible in every moment.

The term Engaged Buddhism was born when the war in Viet Nam was very intense. To meditate is to be aware of what is going on, and what was happening then was bombs falling, people being wounded and dying: suffering and the destruction of life. You want to help relieve the suffering, so you sit and walk in the midst of people running from bombs. You learn how to practice mindful breathing while you help care for a wounded child. If you don’t practice while you serve, you will lose yourself and you will burn out.

When you are alone, walking or sitting or drinking your tea or making your breakfast, that is also Engaged Buddhism, because you are doing that not only for yourself, you are doing that in order to help preserve the world. This is interbeing.

Engaged Buddhism is practice that penetrates into every aspect of our world. Applied Buddhism is a continuation of engaged Buddhism. Applied Buddhism means that Buddhism can be applied in every circumstance in order to bring understanding and solutions to problems in our world. Applied Buddhism offers concrete ways to relieve suffering and bring peace and happiness in every situation.

When President Obama gave a talk at the University of Cairo, he used loving speech in order to release tension between America and the Islamic world. He was using the Buddhist practice of loving speech: speaking humbly, recognizing the values of Islam, recognizing the good will on the part of Islamic people, and identifying terrorists as a small number of people who exploit tension and misunderstanding between people.

The practice of relieving tension in the body is Applied Buddhism because the tension accumulated in our body will bring about sickness and disease. The sutra on mindful breathing, presented in 16 exercises, is Applied Buddhism. We should be able to apply the teaching of mindful breathing everywhere – in our family, in our school, in the hospital, and so on. Buddhism is not just for Buddhists. Buddhism is made up of non-Buddhist elements.

So please offer your help because the European Institute of Applied Buddhism is our dream. Find out how you can help make this dream come true. Next June we will have a seven-day retreat there.

—Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village, 21 June 2009

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Give from the Heart The European Institute of Applied Buddhism

Following is an excerpt from a fundraising letter by Thay Phap An on behalf of the monastics residing at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB). To read the complete letter, view photos of construction at EIAB, see the course catalogue, or make a contribution, please visit www.eiab.eu.

19 June 2009

Dear Beloved Sangha,

In September 2008, more than twenty brothers and sisters were sent to Germany from Plum Village to set up the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB). This has been a dream of Thay’s since he was a young novice. His wish is to bring the teaching of the Buddha into every aspect of our lives. Buddhism should not only be theoretical, but it should be practical and we should be able to apply it in transforming the suffering of individuals, families, and society. At the EIAB, we will have courses for new couples who are getting married, for parents and children who wish to reconcile, for police officers, psychotherapists, teachers, and businesspeople.

The EIAB building has the capacity of hosting 400-500 people. The military operated the building from 1967-2006 and they have their own set of fire safety regulations. As the EIAB, the building is considered to be in civilian use, and the authorities have a very different set of fire safety regulations for this purpose. In addition, many water pipes are now old and rusty, and together with our now out-of-date kitchen, they no longer meet the public health standards. We also need to repair our old heating system due to many leakages, and more importantly, to make it more energy efficient and ecologically friendly. To house the intended number of people, we would also need to build many more public toilets and showers.

In the last nine months, a team of experts that includes architects, engineers and technicians have looked carefully into this matter, and we now know that we would have to spend at least 3 million Euros for half of the building to be functional and open to the public. The EIAB is not allowed to be opened to the public under current conditions, and the brothers and sisters are only given temporary permission to stay in a small restricted area of this building until January 2010. This means that we have to raise 3 million Euros as soon as possible in order to proceed with the construction work and have it completed by the end of 2009.

Last night, I was thinking about how we can raise this big amount of money in such a short time. I evoked the name of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion to ask for her help, and for the whole night, I thought about my international beloved community – brothers and sisters and friends that I have come to know in my 18 years as a monk. I thought that if each of our friends, families, or local Sanghas everywhere in the world would give a contribution of 500 Euros, then with 6,000 such contributions, we would meet our urgent need of raising 3 million Euros by the end of this year. I am writing this letter to our friends all over the world so that you know about our situation. I have a deep trust in our beloved community. I know that if I communicate our difficulties to you, we will receive your help.

The EIAB is a vision not only for the European community but also for the international community. We sincerely ask for your practice of generosity to help to make the EIAB a reality for the cultivation of love and understanding for all of us, and our children.

— Thay Phap An On behalf of the brothers and sisters of the EIAB

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Help Prajna Monastery

Just as a flower garden may experience heavy winds and severe rainstorms as it grows, the Sangha body can encounter very difficult conditions as it blooms in awakening. In recent months, young monks and nuns at Prajna (Bat Nha) Monastery in Viet Nam have faced adverse conditions – including police interrogations, violent attacks, and threats of eviction. Yet they have continued to blossom.

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Causes and Conditions

Prajna Monastery, in Viet Nam’s central highlands, houses more than 350 monks and nuns who have chosen to practice according to the Plum Village tradition under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh. They are all between the ages of sixteen and thirtyfive. Since Thay’s first return to Viet Nam in 2005 his teachings have inspired dozens of young Vietnamese to ordain as monks and nuns. The Venerable Abbot Thich Duc Nghi offered the Prajna monastery as a home for the new monks and nuns. Over the next few years, the number of aspirants and lay practitioners quickly multiplied, and Prajna needed to expand. Supporters from many countries donated funds to renovate buildings, build new structures, and buy adjacent land for the growing community.

During Thay’s next visits to his homeland in 2007 and 2008, he met with government officials, including the president of Viet Nam. Thay proposed that the nation open its doors to visitors, strengthen ties with other countries, and reduce its dependency on China. He presented a ten-point proposal to the president. All of his suggestions were adopted by the government except the last one, “to dissolve the religious police and the religious affairs bureau.” In a letter explaining recent events, Sister Chan Khong writes, “It seems that difficulties at Prajna can be traced back to this point.” She explains that Thich Duc Nghi was under pressure from the immigration office to expel Plum Village monks and nuns from Prajna, even those who had a valid visa.

In 2008 Thich Duc Nghi asked the police to evict the 379 monastics living at Prajna. By the end of that year, a report from the Vietnamese Buddhist Church directed the monks and nuns to leave by April 2009.

In a letter to his students, Thay writes that “this was not about an internal struggle over a temple, but it was the result of a delusion: that the presence of Prajna may be a threat to national security, because the monastics at Prajna… want to do politics.” He likens this perception to a painting drawn in the air – purely a projection. “Now everyone around the world is able to see that the monks and the nuns and the aspirants at Prajna only do one thing. That is: to practice and to guide others to practice.”

Wrong perceptions of the monastics have led to violence. A letter from the monastics of Prajna testifies: “Groups of men were ordered to throw the belongings of young monks out in the hallway. Gates to the monastery have been locked so that lay friends could not enter. Some monks and nuns have been chased with life-threatening objects.” Police came to the monastery frequently, searching and questioning the monks and nuns, and asking them to sign a statement that they were living there illegally. Sister Chan Khong writes that the monastics “always used gentle speech toward the police and even offered them tea and songs to relieve their tension.”

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On June 26, monastic huts were torn down in an attack. Electricity, water, and phone lines were shut off, and food deliveries were blocked. An e-mail from a western visitor describes video footage of the event: “An out-of-control crowd swarmed over the grounds… taking things from the rooms, as uniformed police watched and did nothing.” As of mid-August the monastics were still without electricity and water.

A Chance to Practice

For the monastics, these events have offered a chance to practice mindfulness, solidity, and equanimity – to abide in stillness, even in the heart of turmoil.

In a letter dated July 20, Thay reassures his students at Prajna and everywhere: “Thay has confidence that you can behave true to the Dharma in challenging and difficult circumstances. The day Thay received the news that people invaded your monastic residence… throwing out your belongings, pushing whoever got in their way, and going to the third floor only to find all of you doing sitting meditation, evoking the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening Avalokiteshvara in the imperturbable posture, and not trying to react or fight back, Thay knew that you were able to do what Thay has hoped for, and there is no more reason for Thay to be worried about you.”

Thay’s letter recounts the story of a Prajna novice trained in martial arts. In response to the attack, the young brother “asked his mentor for permission to handle those men. ‘Please allow me to quit being a monk. I cannot bear it anymore. I only need fifteen minutes to defeat all those gangsters. After that, if needed, I will go to prison... when I finish my term, I will return to be a monk again.’” His mentor responded with compassion. “Dear brother, don’t call those young people gangsters…. They were misinformed. They are thinking that we are gangsters who have come here to take over the building and the land. They are victims of wrong information, and they need help more than punishment.” He encouraged his brother to sit in meditation and master the anger in him. A few days later, the novice realized that if he had answered violence with violence, he would have “destroyed the great example set by the Buddha and by Thay.”

How We Can Help

The world’s eyes are on Prajna Monastery. Articles about Prajna and “Plum Village style practice” have

appeared in newspapers from the United Kingdom to New Zealand. Worldwide, Sangha members are concerned, confused, and wondering how to help.

A blog titled www.helpbatnha.org features written accounts, letters, photo galleries, and a history of events at Prajna. It also demonstrates the resilient spirits of practitioners there. One photo shows a makeshift outdoor kitchen, with the caption: “The monks find ways to make do with hearts unperturbed.” Another picture shows a barricade of tree branches, with the words: “This pile of trees may block our path, but it can never block our understanding and compassion.”

The monastics have called for help from the international community so that they can practice in safety and peace. They “cannot just find another place to relocate, since there are almost 400 monks and nuns. Moreover, it is not likely that the monks and nuns would be left in peace to practice, even if we were to relocate. Thus, we entrust our protection in our spiritual ancestors and in you.”

To help the young monks and nuns at Prajna, Sangha members can write letters to the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate, sign a petition at www.helpbatnha.org, inform news organizations and human rights groups, and sit with local Sanghas, sending support and compassion to all those affected by the events at Prajna Monastery.

— Natascha Bruckner

Sources:

  • AP news, Ben Stocking, “Vietnam’s dispute with Zen master turns violent,” August 1, 2009
  • Email from OI member True Concentration on Peace, July 2009
  • New Zealand Herald, Margaret Neighbour, “Monks evicted from monastery in row with government,” August 5, 2009
  • helpbatnha.org

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The Miracle of Sangha

Dear Brothers, Sisters, and Friends, A miracle took place at the One Buddha Is Not Enough retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. Each person at the retreat experienced that he or she was surrounded by Thich Nhat Hanhs (Thays) and that he or she was indeed also Thay. In fact, there were over one thou- sand Thays practicing deeply and joyfully together. The retreat came to be affectionately known as “One Thay Is Not Enough.”

It all started when Thay was unable to attend the retreat. He was diagnosed with a severe lung infection while conducting a retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, and he was admit- ted to Massachusetts General Hospital for a two-week course of IV antibiotics. Seven monastic brothers and sisters stayed with Thay; the rest of us, over sixty people, went to the YMCA of the Rockies to prepare for the retreat as it had been planned. It was the largest retreat that the monastics would conduct without Thay’s physical presence.

Even though the retreats on this teaching tour were advertised as led by both Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Sangha, all of the retreatants expected to be with Thay. The monastic brothers and sisters had several meetings to discuss the best way to support our teacher and our retreatants. The practices of deep listening and loving speech were followed more earnestly than ever. Unified by the urgency of the situation and by our love for Thay and for our lay brothers and sisters, we experienced a profound solidarity. Every person stepped up to take on responsibilities, even those who might have hesitated in other circumstances. We realized that the success of the retreat depended on each one of us contributing our best.

On the night of orientation, all of the monks and nuns ar- rived early. Without planning it, when we got on the stage, we stood closely together as one unit. Those of us who were present will always remember that moment. The Sangha was invited to listen to three sounds of the bell and touch a spacious and calm place within, so that Thay’s love letter could be received. As it was reported later, many people became immediately alarmed: “Love letter! What?” “Where is Thay? Is he O.K.?” “Where is Thich Nhat Hanh? Why is he not on stage?”

Brother Phap Khoi read Thay’s letter slowly and clearly. “Boston, August 21, 2009.... My dear friends, I am writing to you from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I know the Sangha has manifested today in Estes Park. I miss the Retreat. I miss the beautiful setting of the Retreat. Especially I miss the Sangha, I miss you....”

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Tears were streaming down faces. One retreatant later shared that she felt a strong urge to scream at that moment, but everyone was so still, she did not dare to. People said that they felt over- whelmed by disappointment, worry, and grief; but as Noble Silence started immediately after the orientation, no one gave voice to these feelings. Instead, there was an opportunity to listen to one’s unpleasant and painful feelings and to embrace them. Leaving the meditation hall that first evening, everyone walked ever so quietly and attentively.

Many of us had to ask ourselves: did we come to a retreat to see Thay in the same way we would go to a concert to see a rock star? If the rock star did not show up, we would be entitled to a full refund. Then, should we also demand a full refund and leave the retreat, since Thay was not there?

Thay’s absence forced everyone to re-evaluate their intention for the retreat. Thay could not be looked to as the main focus, nor could he be relied on for energy and inspiration. During the next five days, the retreatants came to a decision to invest wholeheartedly in the practice. The monastic and long-term lay practitioners became Thay in the way they walked so stably, in the way they spoke so compassionately, and in the way they thought so gratefully—for Thay, for each other, and for the shared path of practice.

There were over four hundred first-time retreatants, and they, too, practiced deeply. From the early morning first activity to the late evening last activity, all were fully present. Thay was not at the retreat.Yet, Thay was everywhere. All of us experienced Thay’s presence, in ourselves and in one another. This powerful energy of our collective practice enabled everyone to look into their own past experiences with love, loss, expectation, and disappointment. By staying together as a Sangha, we broke through habitual pat- terns of avoiding and running away from pain. Transformation and healing took place in every person, monastic and lay, long-term practitioner and beginner.

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We experienced directly the immense value and strength of the Sangha. We realized that Thay and the teachings will be continued well into the future because we are a Sangha. Wherever we are, as long as we come together as a community of practice, we can generate this powerful energy of peace and healing. The miracle of Sangha manifested because each one of us took the practice to the deepest level, in which we experienced the nature of interbeing with Thay and with one another. No individual talent could have performed this miracle. It was the success of a com- munity of practitioners.

The Be-In on the last night of the retreat was truly a joyful and meaningful feast of the practice. Thay’s second letter was read at the beginning. In response to Thay’s proposal that a retreat in Colorado should be conducted every year, with or without Thay’s physical presence, we all bloomed flowers with our hands.

One teenager said he was very happy that there would be a retreat in 2010, since he could not bear the thought of having to wait for it for two years. Over seventy-three people signed up to help organize the 2010 retreat in Colorado. One person reported that after he left the YMCA, he shared with many friends about his wonderful experience at the retreat. He realized that he was saying to them, “I was at the retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh.” Indeed, we were all at the retreat with Thay in the deepest possible way.

Dear spiritual family, together we can continue our aware- ness and realization of the miracle of Sangha. Thay has suggested that we write a book about our beautiful experience at the One Buddha Is Not Enough retreat. Please send us your writings and photographs from this retreat. Already we have received many poi- gnant, enlightening letters and articles from both lay and monastic brothers and sisters. Thay has thoroughly enjoyed reading each one of them. For those of us who did not attend the retreat in Estes Park, Thay encourages us to write about our direct encounters with the miracle of Sangha in other places.

May we allow the Dharma and the Sangha to take care of us in our daily lives. May we take good care of the Dharma and the Sangha, so that all beings may receive their wonderful benefits.

Sincerely,

Brothers and Sisters of the Plum Village Sangha

Please send your writings about the YMCA retreat in Estes Park to clarity@dpmail.net, with subject line: Sister Dang Nghiem (or Sister D), re: YMCA (or Miracle of Sangha).

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The Last Walking Meditation

By a Young Monastic Sister from Bat Nha Monastery In September 2009, over 350 monastic disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh were violently expelled from Bat Nha (Prajna) Monastery in Vietnam’s central highlands. They took emergency refuge at Phuoc Hue temple in the nearby town of Bao Loc. Following is an eyewitness account from a young monastic sister from Bat Nha. Further stories, photos, press coverage, petitions, and opportunities to help can be found at www.helpbatnha.org.

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On Sunday, September 27, we had the opportunity to do sitting meditation together, and then to do walking meditation around the Garuda Wing Meditation Hall. It was raining heavily that day. My brothers’ and sisters’ robes were soaking wet, but we continued to walk next to each other in peace, love, and understanding. In me, the mind of love and faith reignited brightly.

We never thought that this would be our last walking meditation on this lovely piece of land that was full of life. The atmosphere was still peaceful, and everyone was ready for the next activity, a Day of Mindfulness. For our class, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings,” the topic of the four nutriments was going to be presented, but it had to be cancelled. Perhaps that presentation became the non-verbal Dharma talk, manifesting its insights through our love and profound brotherhood and sisterhood.

At 8:00 a.m., all of us returned to our rooms and sat on our own beds, waiting. I did not know what I was waiting for; I only thought of it as a routine Sunday schedule. Over the last few months, there had been no Sunday when we were not shouted and cursed at. We only knew to sit still and keep our minds calm and receptive.

At 9:00 a.m., we—the sisters in the Mountain Cloud Hamlet— received the news that the brothers’ hamlet, Fragrant Palm Leaf Hamlet, was being attacked. Everything was being destroyed and thrown into the rain. A number of elder and younger brothers were dragged outside and driven away. We were shocked by the news, and we did not believe that it could be true. Soon after that, I saw one elder brother and one young novice running toward Mountain Cloud Hamlet in soaking wet robes. They only had enough time to bring their Sanghatis [monastic ceremonial robes] wrapped on their shoulders.

Victims of Ignorance

At 10:30 a.m., we were allowed to take our food. I was on the cleaning team, so I stayed back to clean up and put things away before I went to eat. As soon as I sat down on the straw mat and picked up my alms bowl, I was told to get my things immediately. All of us put down our alms bowls and went to pack our belongings. We only thought about bringing our Sanghatis, alms bowls, monastic certificates, and identification cards. It would be all right if people came and took the rest of our belongings for their own use. We understood that they were only victims of poverty and constant struggle. They were unfortunate to grow up and live in negative environments, so they were easily “brainwashed” and incited by distorted information.

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In fact, these people deserve love as much as we do. We are victims of violence. But they are victims of ignorance and lack of reflection. Only 70,000 to 100,000 dong [Vietnamese currency] was enough to hire them to do something unwholesome. How pitiful that is! Is that the value of a human being? What about the days and months to follow, when they would suffer from the gnawing of their own conscience? Who would pay them a salary?

At 11:30 a.m., six men walked around our hamlet and knocked on the sisters’ doors, shouting, “The nuns have to leave this place. Do not make us get angry and hurt you. If you don’t leave this place, you will have to suffer the consequences.” All of us sat next to each other quietly. We listened to the sounds of glass windows being broken. People came into every room and herded us outside. They held long iron bars, which were used to hit us if we resisted. One by one, we walked out of our rooms and went out in the front yard. It was raining heavily. Perhaps the sky gods also cried for us.

Not Someone to Love or Hate

When everyone was down in the front yard, we discovered that young sister Cong Nghiem was not with us. She had recently had an accident, so she could not move. We begged the uncles [the attacking men] to allow us to go back and carry her down. All of us were so moved looking at our elder sister carrying our young sister on her back.

The more we looked, the more we also felt sorry for the uncles. There was one uncle about fifty years old, who wore a helmet and walked with a limp. While he was smashing the windows his hand got cut, and it was bleeding severely. We ran to the first aid cabinet, which was completely destroyed. We were lucky to find some cotton balls, gauze, and alcohol to clean and dress his wound. Looking into his eyes, I saw that he was deeply moved; he realized we did not hate him, but instead we took care of him wholeheartedly. During that time, for me, there was not someone to love or someone to hate. I did not think about what they had done to us. There was only this person who needed our help.

After we dressed his wound, he lowered his head to thank us and situated himself quietly in the corner, watching us standing next to each other in the rainstorm. He was not violent anymore. Then I saw him leaving quietly. At that point, all of us were together and safe. No one was stuck inside. We felt so happy to realize that we loved each other, and that we could sacrifice our lives for each other, for our ideals, and for this path of understanding and love.

We Love Vietnam

That morning, about 100 women and men came down to the sisters’ hamlet. Whenever they saw a monk, they would jump in to tear at his clothes and beat him. When we tried to protect our brothers and sisters, we suffered the same fate—they pushed us down; the women used umbrellas and rocks to hit and kick us on our hands and backs. Some of them even slapped our faces. We only knew to endure it or duck. We did not do anything else.

When all of that happened to us, we did not shed one tear or complain. We only felt that our society was full of violence, hatred, and fear. We felt that we needed to protect and guard our ideals, bringing understanding and love to humankind. It pains me to see that the Vietnamese nation was loving, gentle, and ethical, and that the four thousand years of history for which Vietnam has been praised is now lost at the hands of Vietnamese people. We love Vietnam. We love the gentle and kind people. We love the humanist culture that our ancestors cultivated. That is why we have chosen this path, to protect and guard the beauty in the Vietnamese people.

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The pain, the shame, is too great. The beating and eviction are all right, because as monks and nuns, we have no property to be attached to. It only pains us that the dignity and humanity of our society have been brought to such a low level. I thought to myself: How happy I had felt, reading the history of those before me in the Ly and Tran dynasties! We have the right to raise our heads and feel our national pride. However, our children and future generations, when they recall the events at Bat Nha, will have to lower their heads in shame. Time will erase all the physical traces, but the wounds in the heart, the shame, the hatred, the fear, and the violence will be transmitted. With such a transmission, the ethics of our society cannot help but seriously decline. How sad that would be!

We brothers and sisters speak our own hearts; we cannot plant and spread more of those negative seeds. We have to water this arid, thorny land of the human mind with drops of wholesome nectar, so that we can revive the flowers of understanding, love, inclusiveness, and non-harming. Only because of that, we—who are carrying in our hearts the great love, the great vow—are determined not to allow those unwholesome seeds to develop further in the hearts of our people.

We love the sound of the phrase “my motherland.” We love the Vietnamese people. Even if they accuse us of being traitors, even if they beat us down, we never want “chicks of the same hen” to attack or hurt one another. So, from the moment when we were forced out on the street to stand in the rain, accepting the heckling and the beatings, enduring the dirty water tossed into our faces, we continued to stand next to each other and protect each other. Even though we were cornered, beaten, pushed and pulled, we would not leave each other.

“We Will Never Lose You”

At 5:00 p.m. that day, we were forced outside the gate of Mountain Cloud Hamlet. It was painful for us to see that we could not protect our elder Brothers Phap Hoi and Phap Sy from the violence of the uncles. We watched with deep pain as they were taken away. They tried to shoo us, but we all stood silently in the rain. We were cold and hungry.

Only when it was dark outside did we quietly walk to our sisters’ Warm Hearth Hamlet. We were moved by the way our sisters greeted us and received us. They were able to start two fires so that we could warm ourselves. Then they cooked ramen noodles for us to eat. We all felt a burning in our eyes. Was it from the smoke or from the love for each other?

That night, the Warm Hearth Hamlet was left temporarily in peace. We sat next to each other and looked at each other carefully for a long time. We knew that it would be difficult for us to be united like this again. Even though I was tired, I could not sleep. As soon as I lay down, the image of Thay Phap Hoi and the other brothers being taken away arose in my mind. I was afraid that it would be the last image, and the last time that I was able to see him. If this were true, then we would cherish even more deeply his silent sacrifice. It would further affirm our confidence in our path of practice. “Rest assured, dear elder brother. You are present in us. You have transmitted to us your quietness, your calm, and your solidity in those moments. We will never lose you.”

That night, the rainstorm continued strong. I sat up to look around our room in the “Phuong Vy 2” dormitory. Seeing my sisters sleeping, my heart surged with love. If my sacrifice would bring them peace so that they could live and practice, I would do it. Fear in my heart yielded to a powerful love. Two streams of tears ran down, and down. These were the first tears shed since what happened in Bat Nha. The teardrops came from an unlimited source of love.

At five o’clock the next morning, one by one, we got on the bus to Phuoc Hue temple. I was on the second trip. Looking at my sisters’ faces—so young, innocent, and pure—my heart jolted with a sharp pain. We began to sing Here is Our Beloved Bat Nha. Everyone’s eyes became red and teary. When we got to “Here is our beloved Bat Nha, with those who carry in our hearts the Great Vow, to live together and to build the Pure Land right here…,” we could not sing anymore. We just cried. The driver saw us, and he was also moved to tears.

Never before had we cherished so much every moment we were together. To be able to stay together, we were willing to endure any amount of poverty, pain, and suffering. Only five minutes were spent in deep sadness; then we continued to sing our practice songs. We sang and sang until the bus stopped in front of Phuoc Hue temple. From that moment on, our life has moved on to a new page, not any less beautiful or majestic.

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