Dharma Talk: Loving the Unlovable

By Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Prostration

The Stream of Life

Contemplate while touching the earth with your knees and forehead:

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

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

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

The Second Prostration

The Wonderful Pattern of Life

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

The Third Prostration

Limitless Time and Space

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

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

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Poem: Smiling with My Pain

I feel the pain. It hurts. It hurts very much. I want to smash something, someone, anything. It hurts. It hurts very much. Rage and anger boil within me. It hurts. It hurts very much. I feel inadequate, useless, pathetic; After all it's only pain. But it hurts. It hurts very much.

I stop.

I breathe. I breathe in the stale rank air which surrounds me. I begin to calm, to slow down. I begin to know that I am breathing. As I breathe in, I know I am breathing in. I greet the air. As I greet the air, It tastes sweet and fresh. It tells me of newly mown meadows and mountain valleys. I continue to breathe; Each breath being As if it were the first new beautiful breath of my life.

I hurt. I hurt very much. But I begin to feel safe. I begin to smile. My fixed, clamped, teeth part, Just a little. The tip of my tongue gently brushes my awakening mouth.

My numbed, compressed lips open. They move and begin the forming of a very small, fragile smile. My hard, staring eyes begin to soften. They crease around their edges. They open. I begin to see. I hurt. I hurt very much. But now I know everything will be all right.

As my smile continues to find its way, And my breath brings peace and calm, So my shoulders drop. My tense, aching muscles ease. As my smile mingles, merges and lovingly takes hold of my intolerance, anger and frustration, So love, peace and understanding arrive. I take a long, slow, beautiful breath,

And let my mind dwell on something good and wonderful. I forget that I hurt.

I sense the love, joy, happiness and laughter Of my brothers and sisters in the Dharma, gathered round the long tables; In the warm steamy kitchen, Purposefully wrapping earth cakes in preparation for the New Year's celebrations. I feel the strength of the green banana leaves, As I carefully wrap them round the sticky rice, and tie them with string. I hear the laughter of my brother as I get it all wrong, And he shows me, Again, How to wrap the rice. As I touch this beautiful moment, So I open, And am filled with the wonder and joy of my life. I forget to forget that I hurt.

With the love and understanding that my breath and smile have brought, I acknowledge and greet the deep hurting pain in my body. I smile with my twisted, locked, muscles at the back of my tongue, That hurt so much.

We speak together with love and understanding. I smile with the hard, creased up I knot of muscle at the base of my I spine, That is trying to pull me out of I shape and is the cause of so much pain. I hurt. I hurt very much. But now I know I hurt.

As I open to my pain, To the joy and wonder of my life, So I remember the sound of a teacher's strong, clear voice. I repeat the words that I know so well: "My mind and my body are one." The words travel to the very centre of my being, Like the music of a beautiful bell.

With all my wrong perceptions—I know I am my pain. With all my wrong perceptions—I know I am the cause of my pain. We are one, as I understand, as I do not understand. I know that I hurt. I hurt very much. I But I do not hurt at all. I

Rupert Wilson  Hungerford, England

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The Bear in the Blueberries

By Linda Buckley

Twice a month a group of families gathers to practice mindfulness in Juneau, Alaska. We meet on Sunday afternoons in private homes. When a family is hosting the mindfulness family gathering, they decide on a theme, choose an activity to support the theme, and offer a mindful snack. Each snack is preceded by the five contemplations and a sharing circle looking deeply into the food we are about to eat.

In September, with the theme of harvest, our activity was to go out into the yard and pick blueberries for our snack. We selected some nice plump berries, washed them and put them in a large bowl. We recited the five contemplations and then began a discussion. Can you see the sun in the blueberries? Yes. Everyone could easily see the sun in the berries. Can you see the rain in the blueberries? Oh yes. Can you see the earth? Yes. Can you see the bear in the blueberries? Not really. In fact, the children agreed that the bear was not in the blueberries. The blueberries could be in the bear. But the bear could not be in the blueberries.

One of the children, Haley, had brought a small stuffed bear with her that day. She was putting the small bear on her head and balancing it there as she shared in the discussion. After seeing nearly the whole universe in the blueberries (except the bear) we passed the bowl around and mindfully began to let the sweet juice of the berries bring joy to our mouths. Each person would offer the bowl of berries, bow, and pass it on to the next. As Haley bowed to offer berries to her brother Alex, the bear perched on top of her head plopped into the blueberries. Everyone laughed and I asked, "Now can you see the bear in the blueberries?" YES!!

Then Alex said quite seriously, "The bear is in the blueberries because when the bear eats the blueberries and then goes to the bathroom, that goes into the earth and feeds the blueberry bush for next year ... so the bear is in the blueberries."

Linda Buckley, True Spiritual Fulfillment, is the Director of the Mindfulness Center of Juneau, Alaska. She is working on a book on family practice. For information on her book or ideas for family practice you may contact her at

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Poem: Home, Only One Flower Away

A poem dedicated to all teachers and participants at the Mindfulness Retreat in San Diego, California, September 2000

Amazing life of purple-blue
Morning Glory its true name
Vibrant sunny face beams
Elegant breezy arms sway

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

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

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

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

E.E. Ho

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Poem: Walking Meditation at St. Michael's College


We walk under a canopy of trees
Whose long early morning shadows
Sketch black lines on the landscape;
We inhale them.
Clouds accumulate their merit above;
We exhale them.

The sharp cracks of rifles
on the nearby firing range
Enter our deep listening calisthenics;
A fighter plane empowers the sky
To display its amazing hues.

Smiling, a monk,
Garbed in the dark brown of tree trunks
Glides across the lawn,
Calling us by our true names
In Vietnamese.


We walk in the tempo of his footsteps
As he holds the hand of a little child.
Both lead our multitude in a choir of breath.
In unison we are
One silent common
Holy Spirit: One step, one breath;
Breathing in, breathing out;
Some in shoes whose soles
Crunch the sand in the path with one sound;
Some with bare feet barely bend the grass beside
This slowly moving conscience of peace.

A crowd gathers round a crabapple tree
To hear a Finch chirping to its young.
Invisible, they answer from inside
The overhanging roof, where small strings of nest
Spill out, caught like rain against the clouds.

The steeple chimes a ringing resonance.
Our feet stop, at ease:
A breeze excites a burgundy
Maple tree
Waving its readied bunches of full-winged seeds
Waiting to let go and expand into space;
The wind pulls a murmur, then a true song
From the trunk where the branches grow from the center;
All the trees, a congregation of choristers
Are warmed by the same earth's core;
All continents are moved by the same stream of oceans

That rise and fall by the same waves
Of the same moon time.

We are each a particle in that transforming stream.

We resume our walk,
A lazy stroll, each touching a different beat.
Our movement is the movement of the moving ground.

Rosie Rosenzweig (Composed during the 1999 three week retreat)

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Tasting the Earth with My Feet

By Sister Chau Nghiem mb29-Tasting

In slow walking, after sitting meditation, I was aware of nearly every step. It was so beautiful. I began by being aware that as I was stepping with my left foot, I was at the same time stepping with my right, because my left foot cannot be without my right. And vice versa. Then I saw that my arms were also contained in my feet, so I was also stepping with my arms. Then my hands, my stomach, brain, sense organs, heart, lungs. I was 100% with my body. So I was tasting the earth with my feet, listening to it, looking at it, feeling it, knowing it, smelling it with my feet. My heart was loving it, my lungs breathing it in and out.

Then I turned my attention more towards the earth and knew I was also walking on cool streams of water flowing under me, and hot, fiery liquid, deep below, in the center of the earth. I imagined walking on the feet of those directly opposite us on the other side of the planet. The soles of my feet touched the soles of a little baby, taking tentative steps, and a pregnant woman, and an old grandpa. My feet touched the feet of a lonely isolated person, and someone carried away by hatred and anger. I was also walking on the feet of someone who was right then doing walking meditation and enjoying the present moment. I was one with those walking the earth whose hearts are filled with love and peace. I love walking meditation like this!


Sister Chau Nghiem, Adorned with Jewels, is a novice nun in Plum Village.

Photos courtesy of Plum Village

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The Soul Of Ancient Europe

By Marcel Geisser Plum Village is not only a place in France. Wherever Thay is there is also the spirit of Plum Village. This was the feeling I always had, when I was traveling with my teacher. Wllether it was on a highway through Switzerland, in a peaceful park in Warsaw, on the high top of the Zugspitze mountain in south Germany or on the magnificent Karl's bridge of Prague.

It is 1992. In my memory I see many people walking the streets, enjoying the nice weather of the summer holidays. Late that morning we were walking through the ancient city of Prague, looking at the beautiful old churches and buildings. Slowly we reached the Karl's bridge, crowded with tourists and many merchants from the town, offering all kinds of handmade goods.

As it often happened, Thay had linked his arm loosely with mine. Once in a while we would look over the bridge down to the calm water, then continue our slow walk in mindfulness amidst the crowd of people. I enjoyed it so much to be with Thay among all the strangers. Suddenly he stopped walking. He stood still and closed his eyes and so did I. I began to hear the midday bells from the church on the other side of the river. Time and space disappeared in the deep beautiful sound. There was no trace left of a thought. The complete oneness of the universe was not a matter of speculation.

After an unknown time I realized we were still standing motionless on the bridge among all these people passing by. It struck me, how odd this sight must be for the people passing by, an old Vietnamese monk in brown robes standing there with this other small man on a crowded bridge. I opened my eyes and was touched by surprise. Nobody even took notice of us. We were somehow invisible - something I had come across often from the teachings of the shamans. How to become invisible? By not being special'


At his public talk that evening Thay said, "It took me many years - but today I touched the soul of ancient Europe."

Marcel Geisser, True Realization, is a Dharma teacher in Switzerland.

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Poem: Decline to State

mb37-Decline1 Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state What is your ethnicity? A little box in front of me fails To see the complexity of my identity

In the face of this bureaucracy The confusion of my whole life Follows me And it bothers me It really bothers me That only one category is acceptable

Anger, shame and sadness come up As the complexity of my identity stares me in the face Challenging me from behind the linear lines One box to represent the multiplicity of my history Check one and only one And it’s there’s only one right answer And you are not it “Half breed, mongrel, mixed girl” “You don’t exist You shouldn’t exist” There’s no room for you on this piece of paper

Decline to state Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian What is your race?

Well I was Conceived of colonization father India married his fate to Royal mother England Creating me Part British part Indian Wholly human Yet the ancestry of my motherland Claims I should not be born While in India I was the half hidden little secret My father kept from his family Were they ashamed of me?

His mother died on her way from India to Britain Coming to see me And I’ve held the guilt of responsibility for her death Believing my blood hold divisions she could not bear to see. So we moved to the United States The land of hope, equality & opportunity Seeking inclusion, prosperity And respite from firebombs little British boys were dropping in living rooms Of mixed raced families

What is your race? Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state

Well, I am Indian, and now I am an American, but Somehow, the American Indian box just isn’t quite right And Asian isn’t right Because Indians are barely Asians, And I being half Indian, well it’s just to far to stretch

And no way in a million years would I check the white box Submit under this form to the same Annihilation of my identity? You must be joking

Too many years of wishing Too many years of thinking White was what I desperately wanted to be Only

None of the other boxes apply And even if they give me an “other” option What kind of race is “other” anyway? And decline to state feels like a cop out Two minutes too late I know like you know that you have already locked me down & judged me based on what you think you see

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Declined to state

Pen shaking in my hand, angry; What’s your race? Declined to state Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian & the inadequacy of my identity is the reality of my privilege guilt comes rolling up like waves washing British ships upon Indian shores The story of my family tree bringing me Closest to the Asian category

Asian? How can I benefit from 400 years of oppression I barely feel the taste of? How can I claim a history my Indian father taught me to disown? What’s your race? Declined to state They’ll let you blend in if you Don’t state They’ll let you be a normal part of this state Of affairs

I am inclined now to think outside the box to redefine this narrow history and tell a different story on this piece of paper in front of me pull the box wide open ‘cos these racial categories intend to conveniently erase my identity perpetrate colonization on me again and again every time I

Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian Decline to state What’s your race? & I decline to submit to this state of affairs and proudly, as thee mixed girl I am I check off, quickly, Every single box on the page Black, Native American, Latino, White, Asian I state ‘em all, even the “other” box Watch me & if there’s a space to write in my race I fill in “human” Declaring unity & equality for all to see

I leave no trace of my identity Make if harder to process me Into neat little categories Since love, life, family, my ancestry Are much deeper than the space One little box can afford me

It’s about time we set ourselves, humanity & the little boxes free about times we take the matter of the complexity of identity into our own hands

‘cos where I want to be it’s all about interconnection & unity all of us connected one blood one people one love humanity no distinctions necessary

‘cos the way I see it tho' we may mix like apples & oranges or appear to be different fruits totally, we all grown from the same family tree & that’s human, completely, you see?

—Susanna Barkataki

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Poem: Ancestors

By David Percival

Walking through clouds descended like a lush wet blanket
Impermanence hangs heavy in the saturated air.
Trails and lanes climb over hills through the neighborhoods of Hue
Past homes, gardens, lush undergrowth, bamboo, tall pine trees,
Neighborhoods where graves and tombs sit serenely on the hills,
next to homes, in rice paddies,
Some cared for, some abandoned or forgotten.
Our ancestors are everywhere.
At Tu Hieu we walked and sat amidst the tombs,
Contemplated hundreds of graves
And achieved a oneness with these spiritual ancestors
I had never dreamed of.
Interbeing settles on me like the mist falling on my clothes
And penetrates into my very bones.
Now I know I will bring this penetration with me
To my land of disposable people, broken families, life extending pills and potions, plastic surgery.
A place where I didn’t think too much about my ancestors
Yet in Hue they are in my mind daily.
So in the hot dry desert air where I live
I can see clearly our responsibility to those who have departed
And I celebrate our global community of ancestors
And the peace and compassion of interbeing.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Poem: I Ate the Cosmos for Lunch



I ate the cosmos for lunch
And then again for dinner
What will I tell my friends?

I noticed that I am bigger now too—
More to me than I thought.

Not only is my Mom inside me,
And that would be enough.
I also have my Dad, blood ancestors and Spiritual ancestors.
The Sangha, mindfulness trainings,
Thay and the Buddha.

There’s more too.

Like the Forest I lived in for five years,
Walking home on a dirt road in the moonlight,
Or moonless night, to a ring of redwoods
Where I made my home.

And freight trains, as they creak and groan
Like monsters waking up,
As they start moving down the tracks,
Taking my friends and me on adventures across the country.

And my feline friend who started sleeping over on his own
And stayed with me for four years.

The list is quite endless.

But let me get this straight—I’m empty,
Yet I have the entire cosmos inside me.

I’m sure my friends will notice this,
And how much bigger I’ve become.
More solid, more joyous.
More compassionate and loving.

More able to live how I truly want—
Joyfully working for the care, respect
And dignity of all beings.

And my friends will want to know my secret.
I guess I’ll start with:

Breathing in, and
Breathing out…

—Caroline Nicola

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Book Reviews

This Tender Place

The Story of a Wetland Year

By Laurie Lawlor

University of Wisconsin Press, 2005 Hardcover, 166 pages, $26.95

Reviewed by Janice Rubin

In a volume of fewer than 200 pages, Laurie Lawlor, author of thirty-three books for children and adults, writes the story of a love affair with a swamp that is ultimately a clarion call to preserve our wetlands if we wish to ensure adequate supplies of potable water. Lawlor and her husband, Jack, bought the eleven-acre property in southeast Wisconsin as a way to “reconstruct” themselves following the deaths of their fathers within months of each other. In spring they planted a pin oak, beneath which were placed her father’s ashes.

This Tender Place is permeated with Lawlor’s deep practice of mindfulness in nature. As a Dharma teacher who has received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh, her stories reflect her ten-year intimacy with the vegetation, animal life, and minerals in this 14,000-year-old fen. In an enchanting tableau of the four seasons of the year, beginning with winter and going back to the start of the Ice Age, she chronicles the gradual formation of the current wetlands landscape and its seasonal changes.

We are with her as she travels by kayak or canoe along the streams and passageways of the fen to the lake, or walks the paths and slogs through mud, observing the changes in water quality, vegetation, and animal life at each season of the year. We note the coming of spring in the water bubbling up through cracks in the ice on the marshes as winter ends, the incipience of summer in the return of mated pairs of cranes in early spring, the crackling of the drying water-lily pads and the presence of scum, white swan feathers, and dead insects on the pond foretelling the coming autumn and “the long slide into the beginning of silence.” On her last kayaking trip of the year, she finds herself cutting through a thin film of ice; the turtles and frogs are gone, vegetation is floating loose, and snow begins to fall.

Unrestricted hunting led to the extinction in the area of elk, white-tail deer, black bear, wild turkey, sandhill cranes, and massasauga rattlesnakes by 1850. Past practices of draining wet areas to create land that can be farmed or developed for housing, shopping centers, or industrial uses have resulted in the diminished availability of fresh water as the population grows. Grassroots conservancy groups are now involved in promoting the reclamation and preservation of watersheds, prairies, woodlands, shorelines, and other sensitive areas from human indifference.

We feel, with Lawlor, a growing sense of oneness with the environment as she makes her way. Twenty-two photographs, most of them taken by her, reflect the peaceful aspect of this tender place even when animal and plant life are most abundant. For this, if for no other reason, wetlands areas must be preserved as places where people can find refuge from the hurly-burly of everyday life.

Little Pilgrim

By Ko Un

Parallax Press, 2005 Softcover, 381 pages, $18.95

Reviewed by Judith Toy

A novel twenty-two years in the writing by celebrated Korean poet and former Buddhist monk Ko Un (pronounced ‘Go Oon’), this book is a Dharma treasure brought to us by translators Brother Anthony of Taizé and Young-Moo Kim. The protagonist is a tenyear-old boy, Sudhana, who during his life’s fantastical journey, morphs more than once into an adult and even once into a leper.

He encounters fifty-three teachers in all, sometimes in dreams, from gods to singing snails to a boy who becomes a girl, to bums and bodhisattvas (sometimes the bums are bodhisattvas), a giant, an underworld, heavenly realms, vanishing beings, and a kite that points the way on his travels.

Ko Un’s fiction without a plot is based on the thirty-ninth, the last and longest section of the Avatamsaka Sutra, known as the Garland Sutra––a teaching that’s had an extraordinary impact on East Asian Buddhism since its introduction into China in the sixth century.

Supposedly derived from a series of sermons by the historical Gautama Buddha––or possibly by his disciple, the bodhisattva of Great Action, Samantabhadra, Ko Un’s poetic rendering of the pilgrim’s journey is like a string of wisdom pearls.

Like St. Exupery’s Little Prince, who always felt he was at home, the little pilgrim Sudhana teaches us two crucial lessons: how to see the signposts that show us where to go next on our life’s pilgrimage; and how to let go. At each stop, someone or something directs the boy to his next destination. He only hears them because this child without parents or roots is able to move through the universe with an open heart. He simply allows each teaching to enter him, and then the young pilgrim moves on.

The setting is India in the Gautama Buddha era, and some place names are familiar to us from the life of the Buddha. While the Buddha is not a character in the novel, there are increasingly frequent references to his teachings as the boy’s journey unfolds. To fully receive the sweep of Ko Un’s novel as a metaphor for our lives, it’s probably best to read it through at once, rather than piecemeal. Readers will want to linger at the striking papercut illustrations by Jason DeAntonis that pepper the text.

As a sangha body we can apply these two lessons––trusting the way enough to be available to the teachings that abound in every moment and becoming still enough to know where as a sangha our path is leading us next; and allowing ourselves to let go of the many people who come and go in a sangha, loving them in a nonattached way. Allowing the comings and goings to happen without any resistance, without clinging. With the Buddha, Ko Un shows how to let go and join the dance!

The Wonder of the Tao

A Meditation on Spirituality and Ecological Balance

By James Eggert

Published by Humanics, Lake Worth, Florida Hardcover; 90 pages; $14.95

Reviewed by Hope Lindsay and Barbara Casey

James Eggert is an emeritus faculty member of the University of Wisconsin. As both economist and ecologist, Eggert offers a singular perspective on the workings of our world and our relationships in it. For example, he suggests that we consider the concept of market capitalism as a flawed gemstone. Inspecting it for defects from the viewpoint of an economist and then an ecologist, Eggert offers a vision to bring balance and harmony back into our economic system.

Eggert’s simple stories offer a wise view of life and practical methods for deepening our understanding of interbeing. To help develop balance and an increased awareness of other species, he describes simple t’ai chi exercises that embody qualities of bear, crane, monkey, deer, and tiger. Opening our eyes to a larger view of the world, Eggert describes the unfolding of the universe, through stellar contractions and expansions, the origin of water, the moon’s influence, and the development of life forms.

Each chapter begins with a verse from the Tao Te Ching, a slim volume written by Lao Tzu 2,400 years ago, and woven into the heart of Buddhist teachings. The wisdom of simplicity, balance, and letting go show us a way through the complexities of modern life and the confusion of searching for happiness outside ourselves. The last chapter, “The Wonder of the Tao,” begins with the verse:

“If you don’t realize the source, You stumble in confusion and sorrow… Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, You can deal with whatever life brings you, And when death comes, you are ready.”

Eggert gently leads us back to the source of true happiness, through his stories of connecting with nature and seeing the world in all its remarkable beauty. In the book’s foreword, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Please enjoy this offering of our friend, James Eggert, as an invitation to enter into a deep relationship with our home the earth and all her creatures, to cultivate our awakened wisdom to find harmony and balance.”

The Wonder of the Tao is generously illustrated with calligraphy and brush paintings by Li-chin Crystal Huang. A lovely snapshot of one man’s walk in mindfulness through our world, this book reflects the simplicity and fullness of which it speaks.

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