sharing

Maple Forest Blooms

By Sister Annabel Laity The young banana plant has two small leaves. They are the first to arrive, and nourish the plant's early stages. Then, they wither and fall, giving way to larger leaves which allow the tree to develop and bear fruit. The budding practice in Maple Forest Monastery is like those first small leaves. If we succeed in our practice, Maple Forest will blossom and bear fruit. If we take root, Maple Forest will grow into a monastery where monks and nuns live and a Dharma Center where lay practitioners live.

We first residents are ten monks and nuns, living in two borrowed houses and supported by a local lay Sangha. We are awestruck by the exceptional beauty of the countryside near Woodstock, Vermont. We wish to live happily and in harmony in order to be worthy of the natural beauty, our ancestral teachers, and the laypeople who support us. We know that this is the best foundation we can lay for the Buddhist Sangha here.

As much as possible, Maple Forest follows the schedule of Plum Village. Formal daily training begins at 5:30 a.m. and continues through 10:00 p.m. During the day, we train in sitting meditation, reciting the sutras, discussing and studying the novice and bhiksuni precepts and fine manners, working mindfully (mostly housekeeping at this time of year), eating and drinking with full awareness, walking mindfully in the snow (we hope someone will introduce skiing meditation in the future), listening to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh recorded a week earlier in Plum Village, and organizing weekly Days of Mindfulness for the local people.

As monks and nuns, we are learning to live as free persons in order to help others. We do our best to live simply and devote ourselves to daily training in the practice of mindfulness. Our training nurtures our abilities to live awake and present to the moment as well as to be happy and to develop the Six Harmonies.

Practicing harmony of the body, we live together and act in harmony with those around us. If someone has not tidied up after themselves, rather than say, "Who left that terrible mess?", we tidy up for them. Practicing harmony of sharing, we share material things as well as experience of the practice. If someone in the community receives clothes and already has enough, she hands the new clothes on to a sister or brother who does not. If someone in the community receives food, he shares it with the whole community.

Practicing harmony of speech, we reflect on the effect of our words before speaking. When correcting a sister or brother, we do not use harsh words. We do not cause division between our sisters and brothers by our speech. Practicing harmony of precepts, we recite our precepts and fine manners regularly. If we see that we have infringed the precepts or fine manners, we repent before the Sangha.

When we see someone else infringe the precepts, we correct them with love and understanding. We know that the precepts and fme manners are a concrete manifestation of mindfulness. We give our whole heart to the practice of mindfulness. Practicing harmony of mind, we think about each other in order to understand each other. When someone is suffering, we think about how we can best help them. Practicing harmony of view, we know that the understanding of one person can never be as complete as the combined understanding of many. We use the collective wisdom of the Sangha, which we call "looking with Sangha eyes." We reach decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote. Practicing the Six Harmonies, we learn to live together as milk mixes with water. If we are a drop of oil, we will find it difficult to mix with water, but if we are milk, we will become one with the water. It means that your suffering and your happiness are my suffering and my happiness.

Such warmth and joy as this, generated by the practice, bear witness to the fact that the heart of Thay Nhat Hanh's teaching is beating in North America. For this the monks and nuns have to thank the core and extended Order of Interbeing, whose members come and give wholehearted spiritual support.

Maple Forest is particularly fortunate to have many children participate in the weekend Dharma talks, walking meditation, and mindful meals. The children are practicing well: listening to the bell, being mindful of the words "yes" and "thank you" as they walk, eating in silence for fifteen minutes, and listening to the teachings. They play indoors and also out in the snow, and bring much happiness and freshness to everyone. Many children are interested in the monastic life, and we answer their questions.

The monks and nuns want to be available to lead the Buddhist practice for laypeople several times a week. In the future, we will lead retreats in the Dharma Center. In the nearby town of Woodstock is the Mindfulness Practice Center. The monks and nuns will sometimes give nonsectarian teachings on mindfulness here. Presently we are in touch with the Correction Services to find out how monks, nuns, and laypeople from this Sangha can help in the correction facilities in Vermont.

mb21-MapleWe hope that before too long you can join us for walking meditation in this beautiful part of the world. Whenever we walk in the sunshine on the snow-covered hill near our home, we feel we are in a pure land. The forest in which the nuns' house is found is very still. Each pine tree stands straight and tall, holding the snow on its branches without complaint. When the snow melts and the sun shines, the air is fragrant with pine. We hope that all practitioners, monastic and lay, who come to Maple Forest will grow strong in the practice of being themselves as these trees practice being trees.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, has been a nun in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh since 1988 and has translated many of Thay's books into English.

Illustration by Anneke Brinkerink.

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International Mindfulness Network

A Message from Thich Nhat HanhNovember 2 , 1999 Plum Village, France

Sharing a Practice

Twelve years ago, at a retreat in Montreal, a lady told me after the first session of walking meditation practice, "Thay, it is wonderful to walk this way. I have never felt relaxed and happy like this before when I walked. Would you allow me to share this practice of mindful walking with my friends at home?" I looked at her and smiled: "Why not?" It is wonderful to share your practice with others, when the practice brings you joy and well-being. We should be able to share the Dharma, and by doing so, we build a Sangha, a community of practice. When we have a Sangha, we have a refuge, and many others will also profit from that Sangha. Sharing the practice can be a great joy. It helps other people. And it helps us. Naturally we want to learn more, and to practice more in order to be able to share more.

The Meaning of "Lamp Transmission"

The Dharma can be transmitted continuously in each moment of the day. By practicing, the teachers and the sisters and brothers in the Dharma are already transmitting the Dharma every minute of their life. Very often the Dharma is transmitted without verbal expressions. We do not need an "authorization" to share the Dharma. The "Lamp Transmission" Ceremony performed in Plum Village is not an authorization to teach the Dharma; it is only an encouragement, a support, and an empowerment.

Sangha-Building

If you have joined in one or more retreats of mindfulness practice, you may like to organize and lead a Day of Mindfulness or a small retreat by yourselves or with other experienced practitioners in order to share the Dharma, and to practice with others. And you may like to receive further training or attend other retreats of mindfulness to learn more, to improve the quality of your practice and your skills in organizing and leading a retreat.

Organizing a retreat and practicing with others is a wonderful way to build a Sangha. Sangha-building is the noblest thing for us to do. Everyone needs a Sangha to continue and get support for his/her practice. Without a Sangha, one can abandon one's practice after a few months of practicing alone. The Sangha is like a boat carrying us and preventing us from sinking into the river of suffering, because the Sangha contains also the Buddha and the Dharma.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are also powerful tools for Sangha-building. The Five Trainings are the most concrete expression of the practice. They are the basis for individual and collective transformation and healing. Everyone in the Sangha should be encouraged to receive the Five Trainings and bring them into his or her daily life. On Days of Mindfulness and in mindfulness retreats, it is beneficial to recite the Five Trainings and to organize Dharma discussion to deepen our understanding of the Trainings and to help us know how to apply them better.

True practice can bring a lot of relief and joy and nourishment. Suppose your Sangha has fifteen members and you would like to call it by a name, like Lotus Seeds Sangha. You may like to use a letterhead with the following: Lotus Seeds Sangha A Community of Mindful Living Address Phone Number/Fax/Email

Communities of Mindful Living Network 

There will soon be thousands of Communities of Mindful Living like yours in many countries, and people who live in your area may find you and join your Sangha through the Internet or through The Mindfulness Bell magazine. What characterizes a Community of Mindful Living or a Mindfulness Practice Center is the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We cannot call our community a Community of Mindful Living or a Mindfulness Practice Center if we do not live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The Mindfulness Bell magazine will continue to be a great support for Sangha-building, sharing information about the practice and the worldwide Sangha.

From time to time you may like to co-organize a larger retreat with other Communities of Mindful Living in your region. You may like to invite a Dharma Teacher through the Communities of Mindful Living Network, because there is now a Coordinating Council of the Communities of Mindful Living. The Council has an office in Albany, California, and you can contact the office in order to seek help with planning, materials, training, information, teachers, and other matters.

We have opened a new Dharma door called a Mindfulness Practice Center to introduce the practice to as many people as possible in a nonsectarian manner. You may want to contact the Mindfulness Practice Center Association and explore initiating a Mindfulness Practice Center in your city, institution, or workplace.

The Order of Interbeing

If you are an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, your task is to build a Sangha and support the practice of the Sangha. Your Sangha can be called a Community of Mindful Living. Those of us who have formally received the Fourteen Trainings are members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing, and all others are members of the extended community of the Order. You may like to invite everyone in your Sangha to come and participate in the recitation ceremony of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Members of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing are expected to keep sixty days of mindfulness a year, be active in Sangha-building and organizing Days of Mindfulness and mindfulness retreats.

There will soon be a Council of the Order of Interbeing forming in each country or region. We may get in touch with this Council to get the support we need. The dates for Days of Mindfulness and retreats can be set up one year in advance, and practitioners can have access to this information through the Internet or The Mindfulness Bell magazine.

The Institute of Mindfulness Training located at Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont is a place where we can receive more intensive training in the practice of mindfulness. The Head of the Institute is Sister Annabel Laity, Abbess of the Green Mountain Dharma Center.

Parallax Press

Parallax Press will continue to be the primary publisher and distributor of Thay's books and of other books on socially engaged Buddhism. My hope is that Parallax Press will lead the way in showing others how our practice and our work lives can be integrated, that Parallax Press will succeed in being both financially viable and a center of practice.

The Unified Buddhist Church

The Unified Buddhist Church (UBC) was founded by Thay in 1971 to serve as the legal and financial entity behind Dharma projects such as the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation (1971-76), Sweet Potatoes Community (1976-82), the boat people rescue project (1976-1989), Plum Village (1982-Present), and the organization of retreats in Europe, Asia, and Australia (1983-Present). In 1998, the UBC was incorporated as a church in the United States to provide a focus for the expanding network of Dharma projects, such as the Green Mountain Dharma Center, Parallax Press, and the Communities of Mindful Living. The UBC is guided by a Board of Directors that include Thay, monastics, and a lay Dharmacarya.


The following names and addresses may be useful:

Unified Buddhist Church Board The Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh (Plum Village) Sister Chan Khong (Plum Village, New Hamlet) Brother Phap An (Plum Village, Upper Hamlet) Sister Thoai Nghiem (Plum Village, Lower Hamlet) Sr. Chan Due, Annabel Laity (Green Mountain Dharma Center) Sr. Thuc Nghiem, Susan (Green Mountain Dharma Center) Dharmacarya Anh-Huong Nguyen (MPC of Fairfax, Virginia)

Plum Village—New Hamlet Martineau 13, 33580 Dieulivol, France Tel:(33)5 5661 8418 or (33)5 5661 6688 Fax:(33)5 5661 6151

Plum Village—Lower Hamlet Meyrac, 47120 Loubes Bernac, France

Plum Village-Upper Hamlet Lepey, 24240 Thenac, France

Green Mountain Dharma Center and Maple Forest Monastery P.O. Box 182 Hartland-Four Corners, Vermont 05049, USA Tel:(802)436-1103; Fax:(802)436-1101

Coordinating Council of the Communities of Mindful Living (For information about local Sanghas, The Mindfulness Bell, the Order of Interbeing, and Mindfulness Practice Centers) P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA Tel:(510) 527-3710; Fax:(510)525-7129

Parallax Press P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA Tel:(800)863-5290 (Book orders); (510)525-0101 (Other calls) Fax:(510)525-7129; email:parapress@aol.com

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Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart is a new section of the Mindfulness Bell — for you to express your thoughts and share your practice on a given topic. In this issue we focus on an assignment that Thây gave to the sangha at the Breath of the Buddha retreat in June (see the Autumn 2006 issue): to write a letter to a potential suicide bomber. mb44-Heart1

Letters to a Suicide Bomber

Dear Beloved One,

I see your face, so fresh and full of energy, before me. I can see that you love this life, your mother, father, and family, and your culture, religion, and country.

I think that probably every day you have been taught that I am your enemy, and that given the chance, I will destroy everything you hold dear.

And even to me, a white American woman almost sixty years old, it looks this way. How else could you feel about me?

It seems that possibly the only alternative we both have to annihilation is, for one moment, to stop and just look into each other’s eyes. Can you see the great sorrow I carry for all the terrible harm my government has caused your people? Can you possibly forgive me?

I want you to have a long life filled with beauty, joy, and accomplishments. I want to offer you a way out of the one-way path to suicide you are on. The only way I know to do this is to show you my breaking heart.

There is so much pain and suffering in life, and there is also so much beauty, peace, and love. Can you and I choose to begin with one step by seeing each other not as “other” but as fellow human beings, each wanting fulfillment and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones?

I know that you are my beloved because I see the preciousness of my life in your face. Can you see me too?

With love and hope,

Barbara Casey True Spiritual Communication Jacksonville, Oregon, U.S.A.

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Dear Friend,

I want you to know that your anger and sense of powerlessness at the erosion of your culture and beliefs — I have known these too.

For a long time, I wanted to find a way to fight back at the forces of capitalism and consumerism that were eroding the culture that I love and the society that I hold dear. I envied those who were prepared to die for their beliefs but felt too disempowered to join them.

Then I found a better way than dying for my beliefs. I have learned instead to live for them by living by them. This seems to make a stronger statement than my death could — by showing my love for my society and my culture rather than leaving them forever.

I have learned to live deeply in the present moment, not overwhelmed by the anxieties about the future, or difficulties in the past. By taking good care of the present moment and finding peace in it, I influence my life, my society, and my country for the better.

I know that this path is available for you in the teachings of your faith and I urge you to consider this before you destroy the peace and happiness of those you love and many other precious human lives through your death.

Violence always leads to more violence, until someone has the courage to break this cycle. May you be given the strength and happiness to take this step to end the violence.

Yours sincerely,

Murray Corke

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Dear Sirhan,

It has taken me thirty-eight years to become willing to write to you. Learning how to love by practicing with Thich Nhat Hahn has gradually opened my heart. Right now, today, I love you and look deeply to see your suffering.

When I knew you in college, I enjoyed your company. We were always happy to see you when you came to class. You were fun, joking, smiling, polite, and very smart. You enlivened our classes.

We were part of a group of pacifists. We were dismayed by the war in Vietnam. One of us was an Israeli conscientious objector. You and he were especially close because you both suffered over the treatment of the Palestinians. I knew you were a Palestinian refugee.

I did not know about what had happened to you and your family as a result of your displacement.

I didn’t understand, none of us understood, how much you were suffering. Later, we found out that your sister had died of cancer at Los Angeles County Hospital. You thought that her medical treatment had been inadequate because your family was so poor. When she died, you were heartbroken.

You decided to call attention to the condition of Palestinian refugees by killing Bobby Kennedy. When I saw you kill Bobby on television, I was shocked. I was hooked by my critical discriminating thoughts against you. You had chosen violence, murder. I closed my heart.

At this present, wonderful moment, I see you again as my dear sweet friend, Sirhan. The Mindfulness Trainings of my teacher give me openness, nonattachment to views, and freedom of thought space to breathe and open my I smile to you. We have both been strongly attached to our views. I wish you the freedom, peace and happiness I have found.

In friendship,

Dollie Laura Meyers True Recollection of Loving Kindness Marina del Rey, California, U.S.A.

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Dear Brother, Dear Sister,

Please believe me when I tell you I want with all my heart to know you, to know your feelings, the reasons that motivate you to offer up your life for a cause you believe in.

My first thought about your motives is that you feel you are doing a noble, heroic act for Allah, for your families, for the wellbeing of all and that you will be rewarded in heaven. Is this true? I also believe that the goodness you are seeking may not be so different from the goodness I am seeking. I wish for a peaceful life for all, where our nations respect one another, and no one is hungry or without shelter, where no one has to live in fear of war-torn violence, and where all have the freedom live their lives and to practice their beliefs without coercion from other nations.

Do you have other motives also? Do you suffer from not having enough food to eat? Or watching small children suffer from hunger, or cold, living in fear, or bearing the loss of their parents who have

been killed by our bombs? Or the many other injustices that happen when countries fight one another?

It is my wish that you can have a good life, be free to live with your faith, without our country’s attacks. The only way I see this can come about is that you and I understand each other better, know one another’s needs, hopes, and dreams. Deep understanding of one another will help us promote peace and develop compassion so you won’t have to sacrifice your life. Sometimes it requires more to live in order to promote peace.

Can you hear my need to know and understand you? To be able to change in the ways I need to change, in order to bring about the things we both want and need? I need you to understand me in a new light.

Above all, we are brothers and sisters. I pray we can live together as a family.

With love and compassion,

Margaret  Kirschner True Silent Sound Portland, Oregon, U.S.A

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Dear Suicide Bomber,

This may surprise you. I am a suicide bomber, too. The bombs I make explode inside you and cause you to want to make the bombs that explode outside of you. My bombs explode in your heart and in your mind.

When my country supports governments, ideals and people that hurt you, oppress you, and cause you to suffer, I detonate a bomb in your heart.

When my government works to undermine your country’s leaders because we fear your political, religious, or social ideologies, I detonate a bomb in your mind.

When the businessmen of my country take unfair advantage of your country to get goods and labor cheaply, I detonate a bomb in your soul.

In doing these things to you, I have violated values and precepts that I aspire to live by. In doing these things to you I have failed to practice deep listening and mindful speech. I have stolen not only your resources, but also your joy. My actions have killed your spirit and your will to live. But I have been too intoxicated by my lifestyle to hear your cries of pain, anger, and grief.

My bombs make you despair of living. They make you want to kill yourself and take others along with you. Looking deeply I can see that when my bombs explode in you, I die also. When you die, I die.

I know that for you to want to kill yourself and others, you must feel very helpless and angry. I feel helpless too, and I don’t know what to do. So I continue to live my life in such a way that you are hurt by my selfishness and greed.

Inside I am very angry and frustrated by the situation we are in together. Whenever I don’t know what to do, I have learned to breathe deeply and try to understand. So that’s what I’m doing. And as I breathe in and out, I can see you there in your country, also breathing in and out. I can feel your anger and frustration. And in this moment I know what I want to do. I want to soothe and comfort you. I want to remove the cause of your suffering so you don’t have to be in pain. I sincerely and genuinely want you to know peace in your heart and relief in your mind. I want you to be happy, whatever that means to you.

I know that you will find it difficult to forgive me and my country for the damage we have done to you. I know we have hurt you deeply and I want to listen as you tell me how we have hurt you.

I also find it difficult to forgive the damage done to my people. I am so sorry to have made you do such terrible things to get my attention. I was not able to hear. Well you have my attention now. I’m listening now. And isn’t that what you have really wanted all along?

Maybe now that we know that we are both suicide bombers, perhaps we could get to know each other. Then maybe you wouldn’t have to kill yourself for me and I wouldn’t have to kill myself for you. Maybe we could find a way to share our planet and its resources as equals. Maybe instead of bombing each other we could live peacefully together. I’d like to try.

Michael  Melancon True Recollection of  Light Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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Dear Friend,

I heard about you from a friend. She said you lost your husband and your son. Your grief and despair were so great you no longer wanted to live. You wanted to die and you wanted the people who hurt you so deeply and destroyed your family to suffer in the same way that they made you suffer. So you made the only decision you could — that your last action would be as a suicide bomber. And now you are gone — taking others with you. And all the grief, despair, hopelessness, and powerlessness you felt when you made your decision continue to spread out into more and more people’s lives.

Oh, how I wish I knew you — had been there with you when your husband and little boy died. How I wish I had been there to hold you, to comfort you, to help you to hold all your pain that was too much for one person to hold alone. How I wish I was there talking to you, letting you know you are not alone, and that even though this pain and grief are so intense and consuming, life can go on. The pain can be transformed — it will change. And the anger and hatred can be released in a different way. In a way that can put an end to suffering, instead of creating more suffering for others and for ourselves.

I also have known such pain and despair. My family — grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, altogether maybe twenty-five people were killed in a war before I was even born. My father somehow survived, and somehow continued his life. And I was born. How grateful I am to him, that he didn’t kill himself! All my life I missed my roots, my family so much, without even knowing them. And there was deep despair in my heart — without even being able to name it.

How I wish I was there to tell you — let us do this together, let us hold this pain and despair together, and find a way to continue living. Find a way to live that can really heal this suffering which is not just ours, but all humans. Together learn to see what the true source of this suffering is.

I know if I grew up as you did and had the same experiences, I also could do the same as you did. And if you had some of my childhood and experiences you could be alive now. And you could say this to me — Dear Friend, people are not the enemy. It is the hatred, anger, and pain that we do not know how to handle that is the enemy, that tortures us and hurts us the most. You are not alone in this. For generation upon generation we humans have continued to try to heal our pain by inflicting more pain on others. And so it continues until now.

But what if someone in your family had been able to find another way to heal their pain, to find a way of understanding and being with the pain that could transform it to compassion and love? Then you would have a different chance in your life. And what if you were that person in your family? And instead of being a suicide bomber, you and I together explored, learned, practiced, and found another way? Then you would still be alive now, and you would perhaps have more children and teach them how to handle their pain so that compassion and love could be born. Together we could spread this understanding, compassion, and love out into more and more people’s lives. And maybe one day, there would be peace on this earth, peace in our hearts, and we could be truly happy.

Oh, how I wish I was there with you, dear friend.

Anne Speiser True Jewel of  Understanding New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A

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