non-fear

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

By Karen Hilsberg BRUCE L. HILSBERG, Strong Commitment of the Heart and True Courageous Inspiration, passed away on March 29, 2005. He was forty-five years old. Bruce and his wife Karen met in graduate school, where they both received doctorates in clinical psychology. Bruce’s most recent employment was as Chief of Psychology at Metropolitan State Hospital, a locked psychiatric facility where he brought mindfulness training to the staff and individuals served.

Partners for eighteen years, Bruce and Karen have two children, Emily and Ben. The Hilsbergs began the thriving Organic Garden Sangha in Culver City in 2003.

Numerous beings have provided invaluable friendships and spiritual support along the path, sharing the gifts of love and non-fear. In lieu of flowers, please offer support to the Touching and Helping Program, c/o Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026.

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Many people use the word “lemon” to refer to something that is no good. For example, a car that frequently breaks down is called “a lemon.” But a lemon is a beautiful fruit. The blossoms of our lemon tree fill our garden this very morning with an indescribably sweet fragrance. People have said many things to us during this past year and half of our experience with illness: “This is a trag­edy;” “What is happening to your family is terrible;” and “I hate cancer.” Our response has been to see this time as a wonderful opportunity to develop spiritually, to practice mindfulness, and to learn about true love and non-fear. The depth of closeness and trust that we have nurtured and developed in our marriage and our family this past year has been priceless.

It is one thing to study the teachings in the abstract, philosoph­ically, but quite another to live them day in and day out. For Bruce, that meant facing his own inescapable death; for me, it meant facing the inescapable death of my partner of eighteen years; and for our children, it meant facing the illness and loss of their daddy.

We have been taking refuge in the three jewels, practicing weekly with our Sangha, frequently visiting our teachers and broth­ers and sisters at Deer Park, and practicing with each other, with our family, and with friends. In the process, we have experienced letting go—letting go of our careers and professional personas, of our attachment to Bruce’s physical health, of our possessions, of our so-called independence, even of eating and drinking, and most important, of many long-held notions and beliefs.

In the letting go, remarkable things have been happening. We have touched deeply experiences we had only dreamed of—giving freely of ourselves to our loved ones, receiving the generosity of others, openly communicating with one another. For us, the real­ization that our spirit truly continues on, healthy and vital, even after our body has de-manifested “like a worn out, old shoe,” has been liberating.

Together, as a family, we have been able to transcend feelings of fear and despair and to touch the ultimate dimension when we enjoy simple pleasures like the garden, the flowers, the wind, the birds, the full moon, the laughter and tears of each other and our children, hugging, touching, breathing, moving our bodies sleeping peacefully. Simple pleasures mean everything when we realize that we are all “on death row.”

Just as we enjoy picking lemons from our lemon tree, squeezing them, adding sugar, then water, and tasting the fresh and delicious lemonade, we have taken this experience of cancer that has manifest­ed in our family and added our practice of mindfulness in order to touch the beautiful and refreshing truths taught by the Buddha 2,600 years ago. In doing this, we transcend our suffering and touch peace, solidity, freedom, love, and non-fear in our everyday lives.

Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, lives with her children in southern California, near Deer Park Monastery

 

Letter to Bruce and Karen Hilsberg

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hilsberg,

Whether Easterners or Westerners, young or old, we are always very fearful when we are facing death. Even when we are so ill that our breath is irregular, we still don’t believe that we are facing death. We don’t accept that this physical body is disintegrating because of beliefs that lie deep in our consciousness.

But there is an ultimate truth, which you can understand with deep awareness. Life is a cycle of manifestation, and death is a cycle of de-manifestation. We are the awareness that is no birth, no death.

In the winter, the leaves fall from the trees and the branches are bare. But during that time the trees are not dead, because the living energy still exists. We know that in springtime the young shoots and new leaves will return and develop very fast. Our human life is a thousand times more miraculous than the cycle of the trees. As the trees use the cycle of rest to grow, human beings should look at the life and death of this physical body as a cycle, in which they can mature spiritually. When you look deeply into your own mind you won’t have any worry, fear, or despair.

I am not a good practitioner, and I have much suffering when I see that my loved ones are very sick and I cannot help them; when I have to face many of my friends leaving, and I do not have the power to hold them back. But because of the practice, eventually I can transform the fear and suffering in my heart. I have a strong faith that the life and death of this physical body is only a cycle of the manifestation and de-manifestation, while the nature of our true self, is no birth, no death.

Bodhisattvas and Zen masters come to this world and leave this world very peacefully and freely. They can say goodbye to this life with joy because they know that they are not truly gone. We are no different than these bodhisattvas and Zen masters, if we have a strong belief that our true self is never gone.

I sincerely hope that you have strong faith in your Buddha nature that is no birth no death, so you can overcome despair, worry, sadness, and suffering. And I pray that the Three Jewels in the Ten Direcitons will always protect you so that you will have strong faith in yourself.

Venerable Phouc Tinh

The Venerable Phouc Tinh of Deer Park, wrote this letter shortly before Bruce Hilsberg’s death. Translated by Van Khanh Ha.

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Loving Our Planet

Spirituality and Global Warming By Brother True Dharma Sound, Phap Thanh

A Reflection and a Mindfulness Training: “Aware of our responsibility and love for ourselves and for our environment, we want to practice living in harmony with humans, animals, plants, and minerals. Aware of our interrelatedness with all beings, we know that harming others is harming ourselves.”

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Our planet is under stress and our civilization is in trouble, according to L. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute and a highly honored scientist. The majority of scientists agrees that our planetary climate is heating up and that there is an urgency to prevent further damage. Increasing temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, expanding deserts, shrinking forests, disappearing plants and animals, eroding soils, and falling water tables are just a few signs. These imbalances have the potential to lead to an immense amount of suffering through droughts, drinking water shortages, famines, increased occurrences of storms, floods and other climate-related disasters.

Our environmental support system is rapidly changing and it seems that our civilization is moving toward self-destruction. We seem to be confronted with the challenge of accepting the death of our civilization. This includes accepting our own death. On the spiritual level, we are challenged to practice with confronting our death, to arrive at a point of “no death, no fear.”

Global warming is not only a biological crisis; it is also an emotional crisis, a psychological crisis, and a spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of me as a person, of us as a society, of us as the human species, of all beings inhabiting planet Earth (including humans, animals, plants, minerals). But this crisis is an opportunity for fundamental changes in our own lives, in our situation as humans, and in the way we relate to the planet. It is an opportunity to practice interbeing.

As spiritual practitioners we can practice awareness of the rising and falling of all civilizations and acceptance of the coming death of our civilization. We can practice with non-fear when facing global warming. Looking at the scientific proof of the need for urgent action, we can practice non-despair to keep our freshness for the needed action. It is time to face and digest what is going on around us and act accordingly.

What We Eat

I would like to take a closer look at the topic of eating a vegetarian diet and the impact on our environment and global warming. Consuming less meat and dairy is an action many people all over the globe can commit to, without having to invest large amounts of money, and it has a relatively significant impact on global warming. Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation.(1) “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld says. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” (1)

The methods of raising animals for food are especially alarming in the USA. But according to a recent UN report, it is the case worldwide that with increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tons. (2) So the current situation in the USA will be mirrored in a growing number of countries.

An estimated 40,000 children die each day—fourteen million or so a year—from diseases such as measles and diarrhea that are commonly associated with poverty, overcrowding, and malnutrition. About sixty percent of deaths in children under the age of five in developing countries are thought to be related to malnutrition. Millions more children survive on the edge of starvation. (3)

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Meanwhile, corn and wheat are largely grown to feed livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.) or to produce alcohol. Over 95 percent of oats, 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of corn and 70 percent of all grains produced in the United States are for feeding livestock. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equivalent to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on Earth. Eating meat and drinking alcohol with mindfulness, we will realize that we are eating the flesh of our own children. (5,6)

U.N. Recommendation

The U.N. recommendation is clear: “The environment impact per unit of livestock production must be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage beyond its present level”.1 We need to reduce at least 50 percent of meat industry products, and we must consume 50 percent less meat. The U.N. also reports that even if cattle-rearing is reduced by 50 percent, we still need to use new technology to help the cattle-rearing industry create less pollution, such as choosing animal diets that can reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions. Urgent action must be taken at the individual and collective levels. As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert global warming with the practice of mindful eating. Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to fight global warming.

From Vegetarian to Vegan

Over the last two thousand years, many Buddhist practitioners have practiced vegetarianism. The community at Deer Park Monastery is vegetarian with the intention to nourish our compassion towards the animals. We also eat vegetarian in order to protect the earth, preventing the greenhouse effect from causing irreversible damage. (5)

According to researchers at the University of Chicago, being a vegan is more effective in the fight against global warming than buying an eco-friendly car. The typical U.S. diet, about 28 percent of which comes from animal sources, generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet with the same number of calories. By comparison, the difference in annual emissions between driving a typical car and a hybrid car, which runs off a rechargeable battery and gasoline, is just over one ton. If you don’t want to go vegan, choosing less-processed animal products and poultry instead of red meat can help reduce the greenhouse load. (4)

Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is possible for most people on our planet. We simply need to pay attention to creating a balanced diet, perhaps supplementing certain nutrients like vitamin B12. A completely vegan diet might not be possible for everyone, but reducing our consumption of meat is possible. This will reduce greenhouse gases and help to create less suffering for all beings on our planet.

Brother True Dharma Sound, Thich Chan Phap Thanh, was formerly known as Bernd Ziegler. He resides at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

Sources

1     H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, and C. de Haan, “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options,” Livestock, Environment and Development (2006).

2     “Rearing Cattle Produces More Greenhouse Gases than Driving Cars, U.N. Report Warns,” U.N. News Center, 29 Nov. 2006.

3     Read, C., “Behind the Face of Malnutrition: What Causes Malnutrition?”, New Scientist magazine, Issue 1704, 17 Feb. 1990.

4     G. Eshel and P. Martin, “It’s Better to Green Your Diet Than Your Car,” New Scientist magazine, Issue 2530, 17 Dec. 2005.

5     Thich Nhat Hanh, “Mindfulness in the Marketplace – Compassionate Responses to Consumerism,” Parallax Press, Berkeley, California (2002).

6     M. Vesterby, K. Krupa. “Major Uses of Land in the United States, 1997,” Statistical Bulletin No. 973. Resource Economics Division, Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (1997).

Vitamin B12 in a Vegan Diet

I feel very happy that, under the guidance of Thay, our Sangha has made a successful transition to a diet free from animal products, in all of the main practice centers and during retreats of mindfulness. Our Sangha is making a significant contribution to reducing the production of greenhouses gases which contribute to global warming, and is setting a powerful example for others in the world to follow. Furthermore, we contribute less to the suffering of animals in the egg and dairy industry that often live in inhumane  conditions.

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While I wholeheartedly support this way of consumption in our community, I hope that the Sangha will consider the nutritional aspects of a diet free from animal products. A well-rounded vegan diet can be very healthy in many respects; however, it lacks

some vitamins and minerals that are essential for our body’s health. A vegan diet completely lacks Vitamin B12, and contains less calcium than a diet with dairy foods. B12 is one of several essential elements needed for the production of hemoglobin, a molecule in red blood cells. One cannot obtain B12 from vegetal sources, only through animal products, nutritional supplements, or select fortified foods. The body can store reserves of B12 from two to four years without needing any new supplies. Once the reserves of B12 begin to run out, and without any new intake, the body begins lacking healthy red blood cells, a condition known as vitamin deficiency anemia.*

Red blood cells carry oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body; the symptoms of anemia range from mild to severe. The most common physical symptoms are pale skin, weakness, fatigue and lack of energy, numbness or poor circulation in extremities, loss of appetite and weight loss. Symptoms can also include cognitive changes such as memory loss or forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, thinking and planning, general malaise, and depression.

Having suffered from a severe case of anemia after living at Plum Village as a novice monk, I would like to help the community be aware of this important nutritional aspect. In the past couple of years, I have spoken with several people in the Sangha, both lay and monastic, who shared that they had experienced mild cases of anemia, as diagnosed by a medical doctor.

Many people in the Sangha are aware of the need for B12 in a vegan diet, but it may not yet be common knowledge throughout the community. Hopefully we can help everyone to be aware of the nutritional supplements needed in order to prevent individuals from experiencing anemia and its health related consequences. For the vast majority of people, a daily multivitamin with B12, or a B-complex vitamin will do the job.

Taking care of our bodies in this way may help us to cultivate better health, which gives us more energy and stamina for our practice of mindfulness and for serving others.

— David Viafora, Courageous Faith of the Heart

*  Asian and African people produce their own B12; Caucasian intestines no longer produce much it because they have been on a meat and dairy diet for so long. So most Caucasian people on a vegan diet need extra B12. — Sister Annabel, True Virtue

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Compassion Is the Energy that Protects

By Brother Chan Phap Lai mb54-Compassion1

Thay’s offering, Bat Nha: A Koan, is intended to nourish our collective bodhicitta—the mind of love. Thay has contributed his deep insight and invites us all to read, contemplate and practice in order to come to our own insight—the kind of insight that can show a way out.

The situation, as it has developed, is certainly sad in many ways. The Vietnamese Communist Party’s aggressive policy remains steadfast. We continue to pursue our request of France to allow some of the brothers and sisters to take refuge in Plum Village. Still, there is a greater happiness to celebrate. From a spiritual point of view, Bat Nha is a huge success. Here, I want to share a few anecdotes that for me personally gave a more intimate connection to this success.

mb54-Compassion2Recently, a number of Most Venerable monks and nuns from Vietnam were able to come to Plum Village and, along with Thay, preside over our annual ordination ceremonies. Some stayed after the week of ceremonies and shared about their monastic life in Vietnam. I asked Ven. Minh Nghia if he would mind my writing articles about his involvement with our Sangha. I understood the Venerables were likely to be given some trouble on their return from Plum Village. Although Ven. Minh Nghia has already been outspoken in his actions to support the Bat Nha Sangha within Vietnam, I wanted to be sensitive. I was most impressed by his response: “You can write what is true—the truth is good.”

There are, of course, many aspects to the truth. One aspect is that the conduct and spirit of the Bat Nha Sangha was admired by the elder monastic community, and they truly wanted to help us. They risked their peaceful coexistence with the government and put their elderly bodies in harm’s way. Ven. Minh Nghia said, “When we saw how bravely the young brothers and sisters were acting, exemplifying the precepts and enduring immense difficulties, we had to act. How could we call ourselves elders of these young monastics if we did nothing but stand by and watch?”

One beautiful aspect of the truth is that the poor townspeople of Bao Loc and neighboring villages loved us. They demonstrated their love in many ways, including secretly bringing food in the middle of the night to the 400 young monastics. This proved a lifeline during the last three months in Bat Nha monastery when electricity and running water had been purposefully cut off. After the forcible eviction from Bat Nha in September, the community took refuge in Phuoc Hue temple in the town of Bao Loc. Here, the government, try as they might, using blackmail, bribes, and relentless propaganda, found it was impossible to enlist locals against the community. Even if the local people could not intercede directly, gaining their respect and love was a spiritual success that made staying in Bat Nha and Phuoc Hue Temple possible and left the local community changed forever.

In an interview concerning the September eviction, Chan Phap Si described how a sister, during a lull in the unpleasantness of the day, handed him a moon cake. (The monastics had, in effect, been starved during the months leading up to the eviction, and were very hungry on the day of eviction.) Phap Si, having noticed a lone policeman standing in the courtyard and knowing the other police had taken time for a lunch break, walked over and offered to share the moon cake. The policeman looked at Phap Si strangely, then politely declined, saying, “You will need it; you have a long journey ahead.” Phap Si was later forcibly driven to his home town and placed under house arrest. In the months that followed, police came around on spot visits to interrogate him. When they came into his house, he skillfully had them partake in a silent tea meditation before answering their questions. As a result, trust developed, and Phap Si found himself listening to the policemen’s personal suffering. They shared their pain concerning the fact that, as police, they often had to do things they felt were wrong.

On the day of eviction from Bat Nha, both Phap Si and Phap Lam placed themselves under a taxi in an effort to prevent their younger brothers from being driven off. They had accepted they were being forced out of their home but were determined not to be dispersed. Phap Lam described his state of mind: “I was not angry with the violent actions of the police and the hired thugs. I was only conscious of my deep love for the brothers.” This desire to protect them led him to place himself under the taxi. His action did not come from an idea to demonstrate non-violently, but was the natural response of a monk who had cultivated no-harm as a way of being, yet wanted to prevent the community from being dispersed.

In Phap Si’s account we heard how a heavy-set policeman tried to drag him away from the taxi wheel he had clasped. The policeman drew back his fist to hit Phap Si. The punch would have been injurious, given the large studded ring Phap Si observed on the policeman’s index finger. At this moment Phap Si said he looked into the eyes of the policeman about to hit him. “I was completely concentrated on compassion, having no fear or resentment, focused only on protecting my younger brothers. I believe the policeman was affected by this because as his fist bore down it seems he lost the heart to follow through and his fist only glanced my face.” Phap Si is convinced it was his concentration on compassion that protected him. “In truth we had nothing and no one to protect us from the ill-will and violence of that day— it was only the energy of compassion generated among us that protected.” There are so many elating anecdotes like this—small triumphs of love over hate.

We are all sad for the country of Vietnam and the dispersion of the Sangha. The Abbot of Phuoc Hue, the Venerable Thai Thuan, cried and cried. Thay says these tears of love shall go down in the history books. Thay also shared that the Sangha has been more united by this experience than divided by the government’s actions. “The Bat Nha Sangha is already a legend in the history of Buddhism in Vietnam,” one which, I believe, we can allow to inspire and instruct for years to come.

Dear friends, it would be remiss of me to ask you to share your personal insight on the koan without sharing my own. So I will end with my reflections on this never-ending koan:

Compassion is the energy that protects. With compassion and nonviolence as our way of being, we discover non-fear and need not act from anger. Bat Nha is not a distant event, remote from our lives in the West, but a collective experience of our international community. We are in this together. As individuals and as countries we should protect our integrity so that we have the moral right to speak out and are free (from vested interest) to act. The brothers and sisters of Bat Nha used their time to prepare mentally and spiritually for what they knew would come. They made the very best of the present moment, enjoying every day of practice. We might do the same.

May your koan practice benefit all living beings. May all be well, peaceful, safe, and happy. May all attain enlightenment. No discrimination.

Thay suggests we offer our insight in written form to be published on www.helpbatnha.org. Please send your personal insights on Bat Nha: A Koan to batnhakoan@gmail.com.

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No Enemy, No Duality

Thay's Celebrating Hanoi's Anniversary By Susan O’Leary

mb54-NoEnemy1Within weeks of the final official dispersion of the Bat Nha monastics, Thay presented us with two powerful teachings: Bat Nha: A Koan and Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary. The koan asks us to look deeply, to become determined to penetrate its meaning by reading and remaining with the experiences, perceptions, and questions of five people touched by Bat Nha. The Twelve Proposals—based not in Zen stories but in ethical action—can also be pivotal teachings for Thay’s students as we practice engaged Buddhism in the world. Strong, fearless proposals grounded in the thousand-year-old wisdom of Zen Master Van Hanh, they remind us to return to our roots as refuge when acting. They call for compassion and generosity, ethical study and leadership, global care and stewardship, and true ecumenical religious freedom.

The koan and the proposals are close teachings of the Bat Nha era. In the koan story of the communist government official, Thay refers to the 1,000-year anniversary of the founding of Hanoi.

Reading them together and remembering in our hearts the loving, concentrated actions of the Bat Nha monks and nuns, might shed light for practitioners on the Tenth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, a sometimes difficult training to resolve.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Just as the personages of the koan kept questioning, we might also ask questions like these in reading Thay’s proposals:

  • Am I taking a clear stand against oppression and injustice?
  • Are my actions grounded in inclusiveness, non-fear, and nonduality?
  • Is my action an action or reaction? Does it demonstrate that I do not see others as separate from myself?
  • Does my action arise from an inner freedom of compassion and understanding?

Thay’s writings of this era remind us to be engaged in the world while having no enemies. To find the beauty as we breathe and walk in moments of suffering. An engaged Buddhist political action resides in non-fear and non-duality. It is grounded in kindness and inclusiveness, and does take a stand. The action itself manifests the teachings.

Susan O’Leary, Deep Confidence of the Heart, practices with the SnowFlower Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the author of several books and essays.

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