singing

Practice with Young People

By David Dimmack

Young people are the flowers of our Retreat Sangha. They radiate innocence and spontaneity, and their fresh smiles remind us that our retreat can be joyful as well as peaceful. In them we see our own innocence and freshness. Their presence is an important gift.

Unconditional acceptance of each young person and relentless patience are essential in planning a young people's program. In 1989, I observed my son and daughter with Sister Chan Khong and other nuns. They were learning a skit to present to the Sangha. The group was loud and wild, but what impressed me was the nuns' calm, gentle, and persistent approach. There was not even a hint of scolding (which I was inclined to do). They calmly and consistently directed the young people back to the task. I aspire to practice this teaching in fathering, and it is probably why I lead these programs whenever possible. As Thay says, "When a tree does not grow right, the farmer does not blame the tree. He changes how he treats the tree." These words encourage our mindfulness in our relations to our vulnerable and impressionable young people.

Young people's programs usually include singing, pebble meditation, and the bell of mindfulness. The primary song and pebble meditation are based on a gatha from The Blooming of a Lotus: In-Out, Flower-Fresh, Mountain-Solid, Water-Reflecting, Space-Free. We often sing the Two Promises of developing understanding and compassion. Both songs have accompanying hand gestures that young people enjoy learning, and help set a lighthearted tone. Betsy Rose's tape, "In My Two Hands," has many songs children enjoy, Music, song, and story are essential to a young people's program.

In pebble meditation, each person makes a pouch and finds five pebbles it can hold. Each pebble represents one phrase of the gatha. When it's time to meditate, we place our pebbles in a pile. We pick our In-Out pebble, hold it and look at it, breathe with it, and imagine the phrase, then lay it on a new spot. With the next pebble, we imagine being a flower and feeling fresh, and place it with the first pebble.

We leisurely transfer our pebbles, one by one, to their new spot-looking, holding, breathing, and remembering. We then replace them in our pouch or begin again. Children of all ages can learn to meditate this way.

Each young person also practices being bellmaster. When calm and ready, the beIlmaster stops and bows to the small bell, slowly picks it up, holds it in the palm of their hand, and raises it to eye level. Looking at it, they imagine they are holding a precious gift. Using the smaIl wooden stick, they tap the bell to wake it up and let everyone know to become quiet. Then, with a full stroke, they sound a long, beautiful tone. Everyone enjoys three full breaths and returns to what they were doing more refreshed and aware. Young people also enjoy apple meditation, relaxation, drawing and craft projects, discussions and sharing, reading and storyteIling, improvisational skits, interactive games and open play, stretching, tumbling, hiking, jokes, and just hanging out. Often, they present songs, skits, drawings, or Dharma recitations to the Sangha. A happy program tends to be loosely structured, allowing each person to focus on their own project. Monks, nuns, musicians, storytellers, and others are welcome visitors. We want to cultivate the seeds of mindfulness in these tender young sprouts and have it be fun.

A young people's program reflects the positive attitude of the Sangha. Feelings of trust and cooperation grow between everyone involved. Young people welcome the slower, gentle rhythm of the meditation and retreat process, away from television and other fast-paced gadgets.

Local Sanghas can create similar programs. Playfulness and mindfulness need not be separate-breathing and smiling as well as a balloon or a funny hat works wonders. As Phaedrus says, "The mind ought sometimes to be diverted that it may return to better thinking." A leader only needs to provide a few simple activities, be devoted to gentle play, and be willing to be a little foolish. Let the collective playfulness of your Sangha be your guide.

David Dimmack, True Mirror, has assisted with young people's programs since 1991. He practices with the Ambler, Pennsylvania, Sangha.

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Here Is the Pure Land. The Pure Land Is Here.

By Sister Annabel

One day, Queen Vaidehi asked the Buddha, "Is the place with no suffering very far away?" The Buddha replied, "No, it is not far away." And then the Buddha taught the queen how to touch the land of Great Happiness in her own heart and in her own mind.

We talk about "the Pure Land." In Sanskrit, the word is "Sukhavati. "Sukha means happiness; vati means having: "The Place Which Has Happiness." In the Chinese tradition, it is translated as the Pure Land, perhaps because of the nature of the writings about that place. These writings put us in touch with things we call pure. The Prajnaparamita writings were probably composed round about the same time as the Pure Land writing, and they say "No defiled, no immaculate." And yet we talk about the Pure Land in Buddhism.

In the Pure Land, there are many kinds of wonderful birds. Let us think about a bird. The bird's song sounds very pure, very beautiful. But we know the bird has to eat, and the food that the bird eats has waste matter, which we would consider impure. The sutra doesn't tell us whether birds in the Pure Land eat or not. But if they do, there must be bird droppings in the Pure Land, which means that the Pure Land wouldn't be quite so pure. Perhaps that is why the people who composed the Heart of the Prajnaparamita say, "No defiled" and "No immaculate." We know that if there isn't defiled, there can't be immaculate.

To understand the teachings of the Pure Land, we need to understand about Buddhist psychology. We need to understand that the store consciousness contains all the seeds-seeds of purity and impurity, seeds of happiness and suffering. We need to learn skillful ways of touching the seeds of happiness and purity in us, particularly when we feel overwhelmed by impurity and suffering. The Buddha and other spiritual ancestral teachers have helped us find ways to touch the seeds of purity.

The Buddha gave teachings about places where there was a lot of happiness. He sometimes pointed to a city like Kushinagara, the city where the Buddha later passed away, and said that in former times, this place was a place of great happiness. He would describe how the people lived there in a lot of happiness. Probably some ancestral teacher put together the Sukhavati Sutras based on some of the things the Buddha had said about lands of great happiness.

The Sukhavati Sutras and the Avatamsaka Sutra may seem very strange when we read for the first time. We read descriptions of trees that have jewels for their leaves, flowers, and fruit, and descriptions of water with eight virtuous qualities- clarity, sweetness, purity, coolness, limpidity, etc. These descriptions are not for us to consider intellectually. We do not read the Pure Land Sutras or the Avatamsaka Sutra with an intellectual mind. But when we read them, the descriptions touch the seeds of purity in us. For instance, we do not see leaves of jewels on the  trees here. In autumn, the leaves here fall to the earth, decompose, and become one with the Earth again, whereas, a jewel doesn't decompose. But actually, if we look deeply into it, a jewel comes from decomposed material, because the mineral realms are also made up of the plant realms. When we walk among the trees in the autumn on this planet Earth, we see the beautiful red and yellow colors like jewels shining in the sunlight. But sometimes, we don't bring our mind to the presence of the trees, because we are lost in our worries or regrets. When we have been reading the Pure Land Sutras on a regular basis, then something in the depth of our consciousness knows that a tree is very precious, as precious as the most precious jewels. So whenever we meet a tree in mindfulness, we remember that it is precious, and we can be there with it in the present moment. And when we are really there in the present moment, we are already in the Pure Land.

There are different levels of belief in the Pure Land, and the highest level of Pure Land teaching is that your mind is the Pure Land, the Pure Land is available in your mind. The ancestral teachers put  together the Pure Land Sutras with a kind of wisdom that helps us be in touch, and helps us to have the deep aspiration to be in a Pure Land and also, to help to build a Pure Land.

In Plum Village, we often have to write assignments for Thay. One year, Thay gave us the assignment to write about the Pure Land that we wanted to be part of. He told us to give a very clear description. What kind of trees would be there? What kind of activities would there be? Everybody wrote about a slightly different Pure Land, so we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Pure Lands. In each of our minds, there is the Pure Land, and we can go about establishing the Pure Land. You may like to write about this also. It's a very enjoyable assignment.

When we think about our own Pure Land, we have to come back to Queen Vaidehi's question. "Lord Buddha, is there a place where there is no suffering?" Out of compassion, the Buddha said,  "Yes, there is." Queen Vaidehi's heartfelt aspiration to be in that place of no suffering came about because she  had suffered so much. If she hadn't suffered, the idea of a place where  there is no suffering would never have occurred to her. So suffering and no-suffering go together, in the same way defiled and immaculate go together. They are not absolute realities; they are only relative realities. And sometimes the Buddha has to teach the relative truth in order to be compassionate, to help, and to encourage. And that is why the Buddha said there is a place where there is no suffering.

But we know that Queen Vaidehi would also want to help those who are suffering. In the Pure Land, we have many bodhisattvas. The great joy of being in the Pure Land is that we are near many bodhisattvas. And if a bodhisattva wants to help those who are suffering, there must be people who are suffering. Therefore, in the Pure Land, there are people who are suffering for us to help. When we wrote about our Pure Land in Plum Village, many of us wrote about how the bodhisattvas helped others. One person even had a hospital in the Pure Land.

When you come to a Dharma talk, you feel very happy. Maybe you feel you are most happy when you are sitting and listening to the Dharma, because the Dharma is deep and lovely. It is beautiful in the beginning, it is beautiful in the middle, and beautiful at the end. In the Sukhavati Sutra, they say that in the Pure Land, you are always hearing teaching of the Dharma. But you don't just hear the Buddha Amitabha- the Buddha Of Limitless Light, the Buddha who founded the Pure Land. You don't just hear him giving teachings. You hear the birds giving teachings, you hear the trees giving teachings. Every time the wind rustles in the trees, that is a teaching of the Dharma; and every time the birds sing, that is a teaching of the Dharma. And when the people hear the wind rustling in the tree, they stop and remember the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Awakening, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the other teachings of the Buddha.

There is a song written by Thay in Vietnamese, and then translated into English and put to music: "Here Is the Pure Land." I practice this song when I do jogging meditation. If I sing it in Vietnamese, then every syllable is one footstep. And I can also sing it in English and jog at the same time. It's very wonderful to be jogging in the Pure Land.

The first words of the song are "Here is the Pure Land." And the second sentence is "The Pure Land is here." This is in the  tradition of the ancestral teachers. "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form." We say things twice like that because our  consciousness receives the first word of a sentence as the most important word. So if we just said, "Form is emptiness," our mind concentrates more on the word "form" than it does on "emptiness." So we then say "Emptiness is form," so our mind is equally concentrated on form and emptiness. In the same way, if we say "Here is the Pure Land," our mind is more concentrated on the word "here." And if we say "The Pure Land is here," our mind is more concentrated on "the Pure Land." So the words of the song allow us to be concentrated on both.

Watering the seeds of purity in our store consciousness helps establish a good balance between purity and impurity. We have the tendency sometimes to look on everything as being impure and we need to put the balance right. We practice watering the seeds of happiness for the same reason. We have the tendency to look on the planet Earth as a place of suffering, and we need to put the balance right by seeing the happiness also.

When the Buddha taught Queen Vaidehi, she asked him "If the Pure Land is not very far away, if it's right here, how do I practice to be there?" The Buddha gave her a guided meditation in which she could touch the Pure Land. It's a little bit like the guided meditation "Breathing in, I am a flower; Breathing out, I feel fresh." He taught her to be in touch with the lotus flower in her own consciousness, the lotus flower blooming. He taught her to be in touch with the lake of the most clear, sweet water in her consciousness. In that way, she could begin by touching the seeds of happiness in her own consciousness. Then, when she was outside, walking in nature, she would also touch that world and feel happy.

Each of us has the capacity to build Pure Land a little bit in their own home, or by building a practice center, or by joining a practice center, or in their local Sangha. The local Sangha where we only meet each other once a week, or perhaps a bit more, is also a place where we can build Pure Land together. We can decide what kind of environment we can make. How can we arrange the sitting meditation hall in order to water the seeds of Right Attention in everyone who comes into the meditation hall?

The idea of attention in Buddhist psychology is quite important. It's called manaskara in Sanskrit, and is one of the 51 mental formations. It's one of the  first five mental formations, which we call "the universal mental formations." Universal means that they are always occurring, they're always there. We are always giving our attention to something. We know that we can give our attention in an appropriate way, or we can give our attention to what is inappropriate. So we have Appropriate Attention and Inappropriate Attention.

When we go into the town or turn on the television, we need to be very careful what we give our attention to. You may see newspapers with words and images on them, and even though you don't stop to read them, if you give your attention to them, they can sometimes water the seeds in your consciousness that are not altogether wholesome. All kinds of information can flow into our consciousness through our eyes and our ears. We don't have to intentionally  receive that information; it may still flow in. This is the meaning of universal mental formation (sarvatiaga); it is happening all the time.

So, we should make our environment a place where everything surrounding us helps nurture the best, the most refreshing things in us, things that can make us and other people happy. We can all do a little bit of this work-in our garden, in our home, in our school, in the place where we work. This is part of making a Pure Land.

Sister Annabel Laity is the Abbess of Maple Forest Monastery and Green Mountain Dharma Center in Hartland-Four Corners, Vermont. This article is excerpted from a Dharma talk she gave in San Diego, California in September 2000.

Snake Medicine

By Sister Thuong Nghiem Note: Calling something medicine in the Native American traditions is a way of emphasizing the special qualities of that thing. All elements in the cosmos have the potential to heal us and to teach us when our hearts and minds are open.

One foot follows the other, making a path. My foot follows Thay. My eyes travel the ground, take in the sky, always aware of Thay. Today I am Thay's attendant. Each monk and nun has a chance to attend Thay, spending the whole day from before sunrise until bedtime following Thay and being present in each of his activities of that day. We feel we are the luckiest person on earth on that day. We record every moment of that day in our journal or in our heart, because those moments are very rich organic matter that we can always draw upon to nourish us and to guide us at any time.

Several times today Thay walks outdoors, from Cypress house to the dining hall and around the Solidity hamlet, and up the mountain. Walking, Thay occasionally stops to look at a flower, to touch a leaf. I fee l the great tenderness of Thay's connection with the plants. Thay offers his attention to a tree and the tree offers her presence, her vitality and her freshness to Thay. I observe these interactions and I am so happy to receive these teachings. Earlier today a film crew came to tape Thay for a film about the history of Buddhism. After setting up an elaborate array of lights and carefully arranging objects around the room they were ready to begin. They asked Thay to have a seat. Thay invited the entire film crew to enjoy a short walk outdoors before beginning the filming. We walked in a circular path. Fresh air, green plants, deep blue sky, bright yellow wildflowers, and slow swooping hawks called to us, bringing us to awareness. The film interview went well, as we were all refreshed by our walk, infused with the living energy of mindfulness.

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Now in the late afternoon Thay invites me to go on another walk. We slowly make our way up the mountain to the flat clearing where the bell tower will be built. We are heading towards the green hammock suspended between two trees. I am focused on Thay. Thay is sitting down in the hammock, Thay is removing hi s shoes. I am aware of each action. I look to see where I might sit to be able to swing the hammock and still be able to see Thay's face. I look down at the ground around the hammock and I see a snake. Oh!

The snake's body is stretched out in a straight line right alongside the hammock. He or she is obviously at ease, resting. I pick up a small stick and scratch it on the earth, hoping that the snake will be alerted and will move away. The snake makes no movement. I touch the tip of the snake's taiI end with the stick and still no movement. I say, "She does not want to go away. She seems to like Thay's presence." Thay replies, "Don't try to scare her away anymore. Allow her to be there for the moment." So I sit down on a rock to one side of Thay. We sit for many minutes like that, Thay, the snake and I.

I look at the snake. He is patterned brown and green and beige like a rattlesnake. But his head is small, unlike the triangular head I know is the indicator of a poisonous snake. Later I am told he is probably a bull snake. He stretches maybe four feet or so long. In the past I have been very fearful of snakes. Now I have this opportunity to be present with a snake. In this moment I do not feel any fear.

Thay is resting. I feel his great peace and I feel embraced. I ask if I may offer Thay a small song. Thay accepts.

rivers flow through me sunshine is my morning tea body ~ harmony feelings ~ clouds in the sky perceptions ~ stones on the road mental formations ~ birds are singing, singing songs of freedom consciousness ~ deep blue sea wash over me rivers flow through me sunshine is my morning tea ...

The head of the snake moves slightly back and forth , his black tongue flicks in and out. Maybe the snake is hearing the song also. We gaze into the atmosphere, rocks and air, clouds and light soothing my eyes, smoothing my mind.

After another twenty minutes or so the snake begins to move very slowly. His body remains stretched out and every part of him moves at the same time. Over a long time he continues to move ever so slowly. We watch him. He is aware of us also. Thay invites me to sing another song, "No Coming, No Going?"

No coming, no going, no after, no before, I hold you close to me, I release you to be so free because I am in you and you are in me, because I am in you and you are in me.

We hear the sound of the brother's dinner bell. It is 6 p.m. Shall we walk down the mountain? The snake is just beginning to enter the brush covering the sloping earth nearby.

I feel something so lovely inside, a peaceful, deep, grounded feeling. The land has accepted us as her stewards. The animals have welcomed us.

The local San Diego Sangha of thirty or so members, who organized a public lecture in San Diego for over 2,000 people, arrive in the evening to have tea with Thay. Thay tells them about our encounter with the snake. The snake was not afraid of us and he or she moved so slowly in the style of walking meditation or rather moving meditation. Thay says, perhaps the snake was a representative of all the beings living on this mountain, coming to greet Thay.

Thay also recalls the story of when the Mexican workers came across a snake lying under a rock. The workers prepared to kill the snake and Brother Phap Dung intervened. The workers only wished to protect us from this snake, but Brother Phap Dung said, there are so many snakes, we cannot possibly kill them all, let us just scare him away from here instead. Thay said, perhaps the snake we met today was that same snake coming to thank Thay or maybe a good friend of his.

Thay says there are so many beings here, residing all over this mountainous land, seen and unseen. All these beings are becoming aware of our presence. They can feel the peaceful energy of our practice. When we are aware we can also feel their presence. With careful attention we shall learn to live harmoniously together.

Sister Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness) is a novice nun at Deer Park Monastery.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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I Am Not Different From You: A portrait of Sister Chan Khong

By Eveline Beumkes Her original name is Phuong; her Dharma name is Chan Khong, meaning "True Emptiness." Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong started Plum Village together in 1982. That Plum Village has become what it is today and that people all over the world have been inspired by Thay's teachings is to a great extent a result of Sister Phuong's enduring support and untiring initiative. Feeling grateful for having come in contact with Thay's teachings is feeling grateful to Sister Chan Khong in the very same breath.

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I first met Thay and Sister Phuong in 1984 during a meditation weekend in Amsterdam. In the evening there was a special program with Vietnamese music. At one point the music stopped abruptly and Sister Phuong began to sing. I was deeply touched by her voice. Never had I heard someone sing like that. She sang my heart open and I cried and cried, not understanding what was happening to me.

During the first summer I spent in Plum Village, Sister Phuong wasn't yet a nun; she was simply called "Phuong." She had lovely long black hair that, in her way, she would casually put up in a bun by sticking a pen through it. She warmly welcomed the few Westerners that visited Plum Village in those days and she did what she could to make us feel at home. At that time she was the only person able to translate from Vietnamese into English or French. When Thay gave a Dharma talk or when there was an event in Vietnamese, she would sit next to us and translate for hours on end without ever appearing to get tired. Sister Phuong's way of translating was so expressive that even after having translated for hours, her voice sounded as colorful as it did when she began.

Three years later when I moved to Plum Village I was often the only one during the winter season that needed translation during Thay's talks and at the dining table at the end of the meals. There were about ten of us by then, and after dinner, as we were enjoying countless cups of tea, there was usually a lot of conversation, all in Vietnamese. During those moments I felt so left out, but when Sister Phuong was around she would always come sit next to me and, while participating wholeheartedly in the conversation, she would translate for me at the same time. I savored those moments in her presence. A couple of years ago I noticed she had taken on a new habit; while translating she would keep her hands in a certain position, a mudra. When I asked her about it, she explained she did it in order to remind herself to stay mindful while she was talking.

She also strengthened my confidence that there is always a solution to any problem. One winter I had promised to make a flower arrangement for a tea meditation in the Lower Hamlet. I looked all over and could not find a single flower. When everyone was seated in the zen do and Sister Phuong was about to enter, I ran to her with an empty bowl in my hands telling her, quite unhappily, that I had not succeeded in making the flower arrangement. Even before I had finished speaking she picked up some tufts of grass that were growing along the path, added a few handfuls of pebbles from the path we were standing on, picked up a stick lying nearby, planted it in the middle and ... voila! Her creation was complete and the tea meditation could begin. While we entered she gave me a mischievous wink and whispered, "pure nature."

As the years passed, more and more people came to Plum Village and new sleeping quarters needed to be created. One of the places chosen for a future dormitory was the attic of the house where my room was. Cleaning it was a gigantic job, with spider webs from floor to ceiling and the dust of ages everywhere. After cleaning for just a few minutes I looked like a mine worker, and many hours of scrubbing and sweeping later I seemed to have made no progress at all . One afternoon, after a few days of lonesome work in that cheerless place, Sister Phuong suddenly appeared,joining me in my work with great swiftness. Her help and enthusiasm were most welcome, but at the same time I felt embarrassed that she was there mopping the floor with me while she had countless other things to do, things that could only be done by her. No matter what I said, she was not at all receptive to my urging that she spend her time in a different way; she continued until the job was done. She never felt that any job was beneath her.

Tireless Energy for Others

I was often amazed by her inexhaustible energy. If something needed to be finished, she simply continued until it was done, if necessary beyond midnight, without eating and often all by herself. When packages of medicine needed to be sent to Vietnam, she sat for hours on the stone floor, addressing labels and writing uplifting words to each family. Others came and joined her in her work, but when they left she continued. And never have I detected even a glimpse of self-pity in her. Despite all that she has to do, I have never once heard her complain that she is too busy. r have also never heard her complain of feeling cold, while in the wintertime in the draughty rooms of Plum Village there is certainly reason enough to do so. In early autumn when I was already wearing two pair of socks, I saw her walking without any. Her name "Chan Khong" also means " bare feet" in Vietnamese. She never gave the slightest attention to her own discomfort.

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When she talked about the situation in Vietnam she was always wholeheartedly involved . Durin g a tea meditation many years ago I remember her telling us that she had just received a message from Vietnam that a number of artists had been imprisoned. She cried openly as she spoke and I felt so touched . As I suffer from my own pain, I saw her suffer from the pain of others . Far more often though, I saw her laughing, because she is very open to the comical aspects of a situation . Once a small group of very important Vietnamese monks from America paid a short visit to Plum Village. On the morning of their departure we were all, about twelve people, called to the zendo. We sat in a circle while Thay spoke for a while in Vietnamese. We had just adopted a new routine in Plum Village; when someone was leaving, in order to say goodbye to him or her on behalf of the whole Sangha, one of the permanent residents would practice " hugging meditation" with the parting friend during a communal meeting.

Hugging meditation is done in the following way: you first bow to each other, aware of your breath and forming a lotus bud with your hands to offer to the other person. Then you embrace the other person, holding him or her during three in and out breaths, fully aware of the fact that ( I) you yourself are still alive, that (2) the friend in your arms is still alive and (3) how lucky you are that he!she is still there and you are holding him/her.

Well, that morning Thay asked one of the nuns to come to the middle to say goodbye to one of the highly important monks (maybe abbots). In the meantime, he explained to the monk how hugging meditation was done. It was obvious to us that the monk in question was clearly not accustomed to this form of meditation. And certainly not with a nun! Only those who know the tradition well can gather how revolutionary Thay was at that moment. When both were standing in front of each other and, after exchanging a short, uneasy glance, started bowing very deeply, the inevitable happened: their heads collided. It took a ll of us great pains to refrain from laughing out loud and, like us, Sister Chan Khong sat for a long time with a twisted face that she just couldn 't manage to get back into the right expression, however hard she tried.

Though countless practical things continuously demanded her attention , Sister Chan Khong also kept an eye on us, on how we were doing. And if she suspected that something was wrong with one of us she asked straight away about it. Whatever it was she wanted to discuss, she always came immediately to the heart of the matter. When I wanted to tell her something, she usually got the point long before I had finished. Her way of listening was very attentive and without judging . When I spoke with her I always felt a lot of space. Yet I also know from experience that her way of communicating has its own rules, and at times that has been quite difficult for me. The hardest to digest was her sudden way of stopping a conversation - completely unexpected, in the middle of a story, in the middle of a sentence. Since I learned that that moment could an'ive at any time, I brought up what I wanted to talk about right away, or else she'd be gone long before I'd touched the topic I'd wanted to discuss. And that would be really bad luck because she was so busy, you'd never know when your next chance would be.

She could abruptly cut off a conversation on the telephone as well, just like that. It has happened to me more then once, that while in the middle of a sentence, I would suddenly hear "beep, beep, beep" in my ear, the connection having been broken . At first I felt really hurt, but as time passed I learned to see that as her "suchness," and to simply accept it as just one of her many sides.

As far as I could see, the contact between Thay and Sister Phuong was always very halmonious and without tension. Once however, at the end of dinner, Thay spoke to her in an unusually stern voice, "Finish your meal! " Because it was so different from how Thay normally spoke to her or to any of us, I never forgot it. There were a few gra ins of rice (maybe eight or twelve) left on her plate and Thay further said something like, "Many people are hungry at this moment." To my surprise, Sister Phuong, with a look of remorse, proceeded to eat the remaining grains of rice on her plate, without any protest to having been addressed the way she was.

Becoming a Nun

The first year I lived in Plum Village, Thay was the only monastic. But after their trip to India in 1988, Sister Phuong, Sister Annabel and Sister Chan Vi returned with shaved heads they had become nuns. This unexpected change was a great shock to me. Thay must have noticed, because soon after their return when I happened to be alone in a room with him and Sister Phuong, he invited me to touch Sister Phuong's head and to feel for myself how it felt without hair. While very carefully touching her head she laughed at me in a playful way and then took me warmly into her arms and said, "I am not at all different from you, even if I am wearing other clothes and have a shaved head. There is no difference at all between us."

I felt that something had changed in Sister Phuong; I felt that the practice had really become number one in her life and that she had made a vow to try with all her heart to live as mindfully as possible. I noticed, for example, that in the middle of a conversation that was getting too noisy, she would become quieter, or while doing something very quickly she would suddenly slow down. Because I so clearly felt the change that took place in her, it was quite natural for me to start calling her "Sister Phuong" instead of just "Phuong." Speaking about her new position as a nun, she once told me that she wanted to be careful that she didn't become proud. She explained to me that in the Vietnamese community this could easily happen because as a monastic, Vietnamese people have the tendency to look up to you very much.

I have always known Sister Phuong as a jack-of-all-trades. According to her, she has much less energy than ten years ago, but when I see how much she takes on, seemingly without any effort, I am truly amazed. During a retreat some years ago in a Tibetan monastery in France, Thay fell ill. From that moment on, Sister Phuong took care of every aspect of the program, including the Dharma talk. On top of that she cooked twice a day for Thay and the three Plum Village residents who had come to take care of the children's program. In her remaining time, she was available for retreatants who wanted to discuss their problems with her. And when the children's program didn 't run so smoothly, she took care of that as well. She was the last one to go to bed and the first one to get up, and she continued to be in good spirits.

I have often wondered where her endless supply of energy comes from. I partly attribute it to the fact that she truly lives in the present; from moment to moment she deals with what is coming up, and she doesn't lose energy in worrying about what may come next, which to me is a reflection of a deeply rooted faith. Even more important though, I think, is her compassion. When she became a nun she received from Thay the name Chan Khong, "True Emptiness." "My happiness is your happiness" and "your pain is my pain" is something that she truly lives. Seeing the self in the non-self is not a theory for her but the very ground of her being.

Eveline Beumkes, True Harmony/Peace, lived in Plum Village for three years from 1988 to 1991. She has helped to organize the practice in Amsterdam, Holland and translates Thay's books into Dutch.

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A Lotus Blooms in the Catholic Church

By Mike McMahon Several years ago, following my divorce, my daughter Annie and I moved into a rundown house in one of Omaha's older neighborhoods. I was broken emotionally, financially, and spiritually - and deeply depressed. The condition of the house seemed to match my own. Even so, like a wounded animal that crawls into a cave, I felt grateful for this basic shelter, which a friend was letting me stay in for just the cost of utilities.

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That first Autumn in the house, as I tried to get Annie and I involved in the neighborhood, I struggled with my shame over my circumstances without having the resources to do much about it. As Christmas approached, I was moved by the images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the manger. The fact of their poverty, the beauty of their lives and of the image of the manger - all of this comforted me a great deal. I hadn't been involved in the Catholic Church since high school. For the previous twelve years, I had been practicing Buddhism in the Soto Zen tradition. I had also read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and was drawn to his way of practice. His statement, "Go back to your spiritual tradition and find the jewels buried there," was compelling to me.

I am a songwriter. That Christmas a song poured out of me. I called it, "Jesus' Room." The first verse went like this :

The cows were tromping everywhere, in the middle of Jesus' room. The sheep were shedding all their hair in the middle of Jesus' room. The manger was in disrepair and Joseph full of gloom: "This is the poorest place in town and this is Jesus' room." And Mary said, "We don 't have a silver bowl, a cup, a crib, a spoon. But all we need is love to furnish Jesus' room. "

It seemed that the seeds of my Christian faith were rising up from the depths of my being to nourish and support me. I played the song at a neighborhood Christmas party. Afterwards a neighbor asked me to sing the song at her church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

I loved the mass at Sacred Heart - a joyful celebration featuring beautiful music by one of the best choirs in town, liturgical dance, and many other creative flourishes. We held hands and swayed as we sang a simple, lyrical version of the "Our Father" written by the pastor. The "sign of peace," usually a simple greeting to the person sitting next to you, lasted about fifteen minutes as parishioners moved about the church, embracing and enthusiastically wishing one another peace. The experience called up a ferocious longing in me.

Annie and I have gone back every week since. That first year was interesting and challenging. Sometimes I would freeze upon hearing some of the old articles of faith which no longer made sense to me: "Jesus is the only begotten Son of God," and wonder, what am I doing here? Other experiences were affirming and healing. Like the first time I heard Paul's letter to the Corinthians on love: "Love excuses everything, believes everything, endures all things ... When I was a child I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up [gave up childish things." Standing there next to Annie, trying to learn how to take care of myself, how to be a good father - these words moved me deeply. Or listening to an old standard from my grade school days, "Holy God We Praise Thy Name," being sung with a gospel feel by the choir, their faces beaming, I remember a deep joy and the thought, "This is my tribe - I've returned'"

Eventually I relaxed and allowed myself to be nourished by the "jewels" of Christianity without being tossed away by my disagreement with church doctrine. I've come to believe that the heart of the teachings, both Buddhist and Catholic, is learning to respond to life in a loving way, cultivating a sense of intimacy with all existence the rest is just architecture. I am guided by Thay's call for us to create a formless practice - one which seeks to overcome culhlral and conceptual barriers between people.

Since then I've become deeply involved in the Sacred Heart community life. I help teach bible study classes to kids before mass each week. I'm also involved in the program, which supports people who wish to join the church, and with writing and performing liturgical music. I have continued with my Buddhist practice, meditating, having mindful meals, and getting together with a Sangha once a week to practice together.

We have a unique tradition at Sacred Heart. Prior to the start of mass each week, a member of the congregation wil l share an opening prayer that they have created. I am one ofthe people who takes a tum providing this prayer. I often draw on a combination of the Bible and Thay's writings for my inspiration. The word, "mindful" appears often in my prayer, and I frequently pray for us to grow in our ability to live as a community. Translating the principals of mindfulness into a language that my Christian sisters and brothers will want to hear is challenging and instructive for me. It helps me to see both Buddhism and Christianity in a new way.

I read once that significant developments in human culture often occur as the result of the coming together of two seemingly incompatible streams of thought and experience. My efforts to marry my Buddhist and Christian heritages produces beautiful fruit for me, and I hope contributes to the well being of both my Christian and Buddhist communities.

Mike McMahon, Source of Joyful Harmony, practices with the Honey Locust Sangha in Omaha/Lincoln, Nebraska.

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The New Continuation of the Heart of Perfect Understanding

By Brother Phap Hien This chant does not have a precise and constant timing. Therefore this notation is simply a representation of the chant, offering a basic guideline in order to get started. Please learn the melody and chant in a relaxed way, pronouncing the timing of the words much in the same way as if you were reading them out loud. Each measure is a phrase. Each phrase is about one breath long and the first and last syllables receive a slightly longer expression, much like the Gregorian style of chanting. When done correctly the chant flows from one breath to another, in a natural and meaningful way. The chant encourages the chanter to be aware of what he or she is chanting, entering into the content of the chant. Realizing this the act of chanting becomes an act of real presence and clarity.

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A new CD with current versions of many chants in English will be available from Parallax Press later this year.

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A Chance to Go Onwards on the Path of Practice

Visiting Vietnam

By Sister Annabel, True Virtue

Before our party of monks and nuns left Plum Village and Deer Park Monastery to go to Vietnam, Thay gave us instruction. His first words were, "We are sending you as an offering to Vietnam." These words impressed us deeply. They made us feel light and easy and strong as well. Our teacher and our Sangha had formed us and now we could make a suitable offering to Vietnam. How happy we felt! We were not going to Vietnam as individuals but as representatives of our teacher and our Sangha.

Being in Touch with Our Spiritual Ancestors

The first fruit of our practice in going to Vietnam was being in touch with our ancestral teachers of the Buddhist tradition. As soon as we arrived in Vietnam we went directly to the Root Temple carrying a letter from Thay. The Root Temple is where Thay ordained and practiced as a novice. Thay is considered by the monks of the Root Temple to be their spiritual guide and master and he often sends teachings to them. In his letter he gave instructions for the organization of a seven-day retreat in the Plum Village style. Many monks, including the Abbot and several Dharma teachers, had not returned from their pilgrimage of study and practice to North Vietnam and we wanted to wait for their return to begin our retreat. During the absence of the Abbot, the venerable Thien Hanh was the head of the Root Temple. Ile greeted us with much warmth as a kind spiritual father. He eagerly encouraged us to organize the seven-day retreat so that as soon as the monks returned from Hanoi we could begin the retreat. On the day following our arrival he took us on a tour of the monastery, which we call the Root Temple. We visited the stupas of all the high monks who had studied, practiced, and taught in that temple, being nourished constantly by their spiritual energy which has never been lost, because it has been maintained by the daily practice of generations of monks. Many outstanding monks have been formed here and many Zen masters have practiced here as abbot before retiring to a hermitage to continue the practice towards the end of their Lives. The very earth and trees of the Root Temple have absorbed this practice and we all benefited greatly from this environment.

In the following days we visited various temples which are closely connected to Thay. On our three days of excursions to other monasteries we were able to be in touch with the years of suppression of Buddhism under the Diem government. We saw the place in the Phuoc Duyen Temple where a young monk whose Dharma name was Thanh Tue had immolated himself in 1963. We circumambulated his stupa and saw Thay's poem "The Fire That Consumes My Younger Brother" which had been inscribed there. (See poem on page 37.) This reminds me of Thay's words:

"It is better to die than not to speak out the truth. If you are too cowardly to speak out the truth then you die as a monk and teacher anyway." Our visit to the Thien Mu Temple was also to be in touch with the temples' long history of resistance to efforts to suppress Buddhism, including the most recent protest to the governmental authorities wanting to make it necessary for people to buy a ticket to enter the temple. We could also pay respects to our own teacher's preceptor who was abbot of that temple at one time. Whenever we touched the earth with our five limbs we were aware we were watering the seeds of continuation of our ancestral teachers in us.

Organizing a Seven-Day Plum Village Style Retreat at the Root Temple in Hue

Three days of visiting temples, sometimes as many as six in one day, made us feel ready to begin our retreat. I was impressed by the first Sangha meeting I attended in the Root Temple to finalize our schedule for the retreat. The whole Sangha was present, so there were at least 60 monks including the Abbot and Dharmacharyas of the temple. Our small organizing committee of eight was requested to present the proposed schedule. This committee consisted of two monks and two nuns from the Plum Village delegation and four monks from the Root Temple. Thay Van Phap expressed himself well in meetings and so he was chosen to represent our committee. The Abbot and one Dharmacharya sat at the front of the meditation hall facing the rest of the community. Whenever there was a point which was not clear the Dharmacharya would demand further explanation from the organizing committee and if he was not satisfied with the proposals he would make suggestions for change and the rest of the community were also free to give their suggestions for changes.   After that the Dharmacharya would make a new proposal and put it to the community in the form of a sanghakarman procedure. (1) If the whole community agreed by silence it was accepted.

The first matter that came up for discussion was the ho canh (inviting the bell to call people to meditative concentration in the morning and evening). It was agreed by everyone that the whole retreat would be conducted in the Plum Village style of practice but there were points that needed to be clarified as to how this practice could be carried out. In Plum Village the ho canh is conducted inside the meditation hall but in the Root Temple it is conducted outside. We agreed that it would be good for the ho canh to take place outside of the meditation hall on the path leading to the meditation hall since the cloud bell could easily be hung from the eaves of the covered walkway there. Then there was the matter of the sports period that had been included in the timetable. The Dharmacharya wanted clarification on exactly what this involved. We explained the sports period we had had every day in the monastic five-day retreat in Plum Village with badminton, volleyball and ping-pong. Some monks wanted it to be optional but in the end it was agreed that what was on the timetable could not be optional. We were also given a firm warning by the Dharmacharya that this period should not be any less of a practice period than the sitting meditation. Thirdly there was the matter of how exactly we were going to organize the mindful meals. It was readily agreed that all the meals should be self­service. But exactly how was this to be done? Breakfast would be taken in the new Buddhist Studies hall, sitting on the floor. Lunch would be taken in the meditation hall also sitting on the floor and supper in our family groups wherever the family wanted to sit. The meeting was very long but I never felt tired. Everyone listened deeply with great interest and harmoniously resolved every detail. It was truly a practice of the Togetherness of Views. (2) It was democratic but at the same time the element of seniority was always there. The Dharmacharya made the proposals after listening deeply to everyone. These proposals were always based on the Dharma and the Vinaya. (3) Therefore the monastic Sangha respected the proposals and very readily agreed to them. The atmosphere of the meeting remained light throughout. I have never enjoyed a meeting so much in my life, largely due to the fact that every decision was based on the Dharma and the Vinaya and that all of us were always ready to let our individual ideas go to be in harmony with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

When we returned to the Root Temple after a week visiting North Vietnam, we practiced two full days in the tradition of the Root Temple. It should have been seven days, but unfortunately we only had a week left. We spent one day recovering from our journey and preparing for the grand memorial ceremony of Zen Master Thanh  Quy, who was the direct teacher of our own teacher. It was a day of many arrivals in the temple. Buddhist lay practitioners came from places far away in the provinces and as people arrived laywomen and nuns made their way to the kitchen and the dining room (which had turned into a temporary kitchen) in order to prepare for the next day's feast. We sat down too and helped make little cakes of rice flour pastry and mung bean paste. Our cakes were not so beautiful at first but after making a few dozen they certainly improved. People slept the night lying side by side in the Buddhist Studies hall. As for our delegation from abroad, we had to go back to our hotel.

Paying Respect to Our Grandfather Teacher Thanh Quy

The memorial day was calm, light and joyful. I enjoyed very much hearing from the Dharmacharya about the great humility of our ancestral teacher. He would always join his palms first to greet anyone who came before him. He was a true Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta. (4) One day when a Dharma brother from another temple had sent a letter to him carried by a novice, he insisted on standing up. The novice invited the teacher to sit down so that he could read the letter to him. The ancestral teacher refused; he said that the letter came from an elder brother in the Dharma and possibly contained instructions therefore it was only right for him to stand while the novice read. On another occasion the ancestral teacher had to go to a meeting of the Buddhist Assembly of the Thua Thien province. Su Ba Dieu Khong was also there. (5) The ancestral teacher had come with a novice as attendant but the novice had stayed outside. The ancestral teacher asked Su Ba to allow him to go out and bring the novice in. Su Ba replied that it was hardly necessary for an elder to go out and fetch in a novice. The ancestral teacher replied that the novice was still young and would be afraid to enter an assembly of high venerables alone. The ancestral teacher did not want the novice to be afraid. Deeply moved by the humility and loving kindness of the old monk, Su Ba then and there touched the Earth three times before him

At noon on that memorial day we enjoyed our first formal meal in the tradition of the Root Temple. For this meal you sit at the table and eat from a small bowl. The different dishes are set out in front of you for you to help yourself and others who may not be able to reach the dish nearest you. As you eat, the laypeople come and touch the Earth towards the end of the tables because the formal meal hall opens onto the same courtyard as the ancestral hall. After lunch the monastic Sangha processes into the Buddha hall in order to practice circumambulation and reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha. You can imagine that such a meal involves quite a bit of preparation on the part of the younger monks. All the dishes have to be divided up on to small platters and carried from the kitchen to the formal meal hall (not a small distance). After the experience of the seven-day Plum Village style retreat the self-service meal was felt to be more practical and now in the Root Temple the monks help themselves to food and process with their bowls to the formal meal hall.  They call this "going on the alms round."

The division of the Sangha into five families was a very successful part of the seven-day Plum Village style retreat. Each family found a place outside to sit together just as in the Summer Opening in Plum Village. After eating we would sing. Singing was the activity the monks in the Root Temple enjoyed most of all. Never a day went past without singing. ln a very short time the monks in the retreat had learnt all the new Vietnamese songs we had brought from Plum Village and very often they had memorized them even better than our delegation had. The favorite song was "Qua Con Me" which can be translated as "After the Passion."

Praying for Rain: Buddhist Practice in the North

The north of Vietnam is very different from the center and the south. All three regions have their own special characteristics. Not only does the accent and some of the vocabulary differ in each of the regions but there is a difference in culture also, which includes ways of preparing food. There is poverty throughout Vietnam but in the north it is most apparent.

Moreover the north has lain for more than twenty years longer and this has had an obvious impact. Looking at the old people in the north you see how worn they are. Stunted and often bent, they continue to do voluntary construction work in the temples, pushing cartloads of bricks and sand or earth. The people are more dour than in the other regions. The old people remember Buddhism from the time before communism and they come to the temples with these memories. As for the young people, they still have not wholly understood Buddhism. Superstition is more evident in the north. It is common for people who come to the temples not to learn the practice, but to pray for things to go well for them.

One day I heard an old woman praying out loud in the early morning before it was light. I wondered what she was praying for. When I came near I heard her chanting a repentance chant and making the vow that all could reach awakening. It is more the younger generation who come and pray for material success. Some people in the north will still make offerings of chicken or cigarettes or beer on some of the altars in the Buddhist temples. This is because they think they are offering to gods or to spirits.

Buddhism has always wanted to help in times of hardship and it is right that the temples should do so. In the chant "May the day be well" we also pray: "May there be no place at war. May the winds be favorable and the rains seasonable and the people's hearts at peace." When we pray like this there is the underlying meaning that we shall practice in such a way that war is no longer possible. We do not pray for grace and favors that are not linked to our real efforts in the practice. We visited the temples that have been connected to the four bodhisattvas of rain, of clouds, of thunder, and of lightning. These bodhisattvas belong to the time when Buddhism had only just come to Vietnam. There was a need to assimilate some of the previous rites and rituals into Buddhism. This does not seem to have been difficult. Vietnam was and is a country of peasant farmers and the rain is needed for the people to survive. Tremendous hardship has always been experienced because of drought. The practice of the Three Trainings (mindfulness trainings, concentration, and insight) is essential for the practice of praying for rain. The monk's prayer must be based on his virtue and his insight into the three Dharma Seals of impermanence, no­self and nirvana. The making of statues to represent the four bodhisattvas, their being venerated in the temple and taken out once a year or in times of drought is also a necessary part of the practice. It is the outer form that contains the content and the content is the practice of the Three Dharma Seals, the Three Trainings and compassion. Someone who has not understood the emptiness of self cannot pray efficaciously because they have not seen that the one who prays, that which is prayed for and the person for whom it is prayed are one.

We visited the Dharma Rain Temple, now known as Chua Dau, and the Dharma Cloud Temple. The first patriarch of Vietnamese Zen, Tang Hoi, must have frequented the latter temple, (6) although he was not trained there as a monk, because he was a monk in the town to which it belonged, the ancient capital of Luy Lau.

There are so many beautiful temples in North Vietnam but not enough monks and nuns to look after them. In the district of Hai Duong alone there are 700 temples but only 200 monks and nuns. The care of many temples lies in the hands of committees of laypeople. The But Thap Temple (Stupa like a Calligraphy Brush) is an example of a temple which has no abbot. The solution to the shortage of monks and nuns has been approached by inviting bhikshus or bhikshunis to be Abbot of more than one temple at a time, but But Thap temple does not even have a shared Abbot or Abbess. This temple moved me deeply.  It has been a Pure Land temple in the past.  It has a large statue of Amitabha Buddha and a stupa of nine stories (not the stupa after which the temple is named), made of wood. The nine stories represent the nine grades of lotus and it is said that people would throw flowers up to the story which represented the grade of lotus in which they aspired to be born. As we walked around that temple there was a sense of interbeing of everything flowing into everything else. The peasants were working in the rice fields around the temples. There was an angry cow who had been tied up and could find no more grass to eat in her range. All we had to do to remove her frustration was to untie her tether and tether her to a fallen tree a few meters away. I thought that if a cow can be angry in these circumstances, how much more angry the cows must be who are factory­ farmed in Europe and North America.

In the north of Vietnam the temples have many halls with small altars for the veneration of different Buddhas, bodhisattvas, monks and also lay practitioners. Most temples have an altar where the laypeople can pay their respects to Anathapindika. (7) There are many altars to nuns, queens, and princesses. Those who reached awakening in this very life are depicted seated on lotus thrones. In the beautiful Thay Temple there are four or five altars where it is possible to pay respect to women who had high realizations in the practice. (8)

When Buddhism came to Vietnam from India it came to North Vietnam in the first century of the Christian era and so the vestiges of Buddhism there are very ancient. The temples we visited in the south of Vietnam were much more modern. In the south the Buddha hall is usually light and spacious. In the North the temples are always quite dark inside.

Visiting Our Grandmother Teachers in the South

Our great joy in the south was to visit the high nuns who had already graced Plum Village with their presence. Many of them had visited Plum Village specifically to be present at the great ordination ceremonies there and to transmit the full ordination to the nuns. We visited Su Ba Bo De, Su Ba Pho Da, and Su Ba Long Hoa. Every Su Ba allowed us to visit their temple, gave us lunch or the evening meal, and had us come and speak informally with the nuns about our practice. In the Long Hoa Temple we also practiced walking meditation. The sharings usually took place in the Buddha hall in the form of a presentation. Su Ba Bo De gave us much support as did Su Ba Van Hanh. Su Ba Bo De was with us on every excursion and every Day of Mindfulness that we led in the south of Vietnam.

Our first trip was to the Bao Loe area. Itis a beautiful mountainous area north of Saigon in the direction of Da Lat. The indigenous mountain people work in the tea and coffee groves here but because of the drought and the fall in world tea and coffee prices the people are in great need. They no longer have a means of making a livelihood. Many women with their little babies carried in a sling over the shoulder would come hungry for the midday meal, which was offered to them at the Prajna Temple where we led a Day of Mindfulness. It rained heavily that day, the first time for many months. The deluge was so great that we could not have the Dharma discussion groups on the different walkways around the main halls. The doors had to be closed and we all crammed ourselves into the Buddha hall for a 200 person question and answer session.

This temple is very near to the Fragrant Palm Hermitage that Thay established in the 1960s. We visited it the day after the mindfulness day. It was hot and dry and the grass was tall and yellow. The tea grove started by Thay and his disciples was still there. It seemed that any vestiges of the former practice center had been razed to the ground. All that remained was the foundations of the hut of Su Ong Thanh Tu upon which had been constructed a new home for a poor family, which now lives there. The most beautiful aspect was the view and a shady grove of fragrant pine trees planted recently. The security police had told us we were not to go to this place because for some reason they have always been afraid that it might be the headquarters for a counterrevolution. This is probably why the buildings were razed to the ground. When the security police realized we had gone anyway they sent three of their members to supervise us while we were there. We walked, sat, and ate our lunch with the two members of the resident family who were present. It would have been good if we had taken the book Fragrant Palm Leaves with us to read aloud and recreate some of the spirit of the practice center in former times.

The Phap Van Temple is the place where you can still feel Thay's presence. The Abbot, the Elder Phuoc Tri, who has been to Plum Village, told us that as soon as we arrived in the temple we should see our Su Ong. I said that I was sure we would, because I knew that Thay was with us wherever we went in Vietnam. What the Elder meant was that he had a large photograph of Thay in the dining area of the temple. Nevertheless, with or without the photograph, Thay is always there.  It is the temple which is next door to the buildings of the former School of Youth for Social Services and the present Buddha hall is the library of that School. Thay Thanh Van's memorial stone is in the garden of that temple as are the memorial stones to the young disciples of Thay who were killed as a result of their being part of the School. This year and ten years ago when I also visited this temple I have felt inspired by the work and sacrifice of Thay and his disciples in wartime.

Su Ba Bo De came with us to the beach at Vung Tau. She told us that we must not swim out too far. She went swimming too, stayed in the water almost an hour and swam out farther than anyone else. Su Ba must be a contemporary of Thay. She has probably been through the rigors and strictness of a traditional Vietnamese nunnery but now she is free to enjoy herself as part of her practice. That freedom was probably made possible in part by her visits to Plum Village and the love shown to her by Thay. All the Su Bas showed us infinite kindness when we visited their temples. They love Thay very much even if they have not always been able openly to support him. When they show such care and concern for the disciples of Thay; or our delegation from Plum Village, it is a way of expressing their love for Thay. Su Ba Pho Da cooked personally for us, saw to it that we had the most comfortable siesta and afterwards served us with green mango accompanied by sugar and soya sauce, grapefruit, and many other delicacies. We then asked if we could have a Sangha meeting among our delegation before we left the temple because we needed to organize the rest of our stay in Saigon. She joined the meeting and made many helpful suggestions. It reminded me of how subtle and wise her contributions to Dharma discussions in Plum Village had always been.

Being in Touch with the Youngest Generation of Monastics

The Elder Minh Canh attended our Days of Mindfulness in the Phap Van Temple. Everyone said how much he had benefited from his stay in Plum Village. He was eager to have a copy of the latest book by Thay to appear from the underground press in Vietnam. This book is mostly the articles from the last edition of the La Tho Lang Mai, the annual newsletter of  Plum Village in Vietnamese. Monks told us that they had stayed up late at night just to read it to the end. It was so interesting. When in the Phap Van Temple I had talked about the situation of many children in the West whose parents work all day and never have time to spend with their children. One young dieu (9) told me that he was moved to hear that. Although in the country districts parents continue to love, care and have time for their children as they have always done in the past, in Saigon the situation is becoming very much the same as in the West and many of his friends suffer deeply from being isolated from their parents.

Because we were from abroad young novices and dieu would often come and confide in us their difficulties.  There is a very high "dropout" rate for dieu. One dieu told me that in the beginning they were ten but now they are only four. The dropout has something to do with the fact that the dieu have to go to school and they are influenced by their classmates who invite them to go on excursions away from the Sangha. Another reason l was told on many occasions is that the young children have an idea of what monastic life must be like before they enter the monastery and are severely disappointed when they confront the reality. Some said that they did not feel love from their teacher and elder brothers and that their ideal of service was not nourished. The lack of understanding between teacher and disciple was frequently cited. In the Root Temple there are twenty­four dieu. The "dropout" is less than in many other places because the elder brothers and the teachers have a real concern for the young dieu. When we went on an outing to the mountains and sea from Hue, it was considered at first to allow a limited number of dieu to come in order to act as attendants on the elders. On second thoughts that seemed very unfair. The second decision was that it would be better to leave all the dieu at home because there was no more room on the buses. The looks of disappointment on their faces were so great that another decision was made: each bus was to have five or six dieu squeeze in extra. So we sat three to a seat instead of two and everyone went.

We later had a question and answer session for the dieu, who asked questions such as: "What happens in Plum Village if you feel tired and do not attend the walking meditation? What does Su Ong do?" When we asked them which part of the practice they enjoyed most, the answer was unanimous: chanting, and they chanted very well. During the Plum Village Retreat we had a Beginning Anew session sitting in a circle in our family groups. In my family was a young bhikshu who was overseer of the dieu. He readily admitted his mistakes such as not listening deeply enough or being patient enough with the novices who had been dieu under him. The novices also readily revealed their difficulties under him but without forgetting to appreciate his good qualities. All this was done in the spirit of deep listening and loving speech and no one was hurt.

We returned from Vietnam more mature in the practice and more rooted in our ancestral teachers. We had a deeper understanding of our own teacher and the life of practice in which our teacher had been formed from an early age. Maybe we had brought to Vietnam a taste of Plum Village and the practice in which Thay is forming his own disciples now. Although this practice has been devised in the West, the young people of the East are increasingly becoming close to the West and calling for a renewal of Buddhism such as Thay's practice can offer. Just as Indian Buddhism was fortified by its establishment in the Far East, so Far Eastern Buddhism can be fortified by its establishment in the West.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is the Abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in  Vermont. She has translated several of Thich Nhat Hanh's books from Vietnamese into English.

Endnotes

  1. A democratic procedure for verifying that the whole community is agreed for the measure in question to be undertaken.

  2. The Buddha taught Six Togethernesses (saraniyadhamma).

  3. The body of precepts and explanation of precepts given by the Buddha.

  4. A bodhisattva is someone who has devoted their life to liberating themselves and liberating all other Sadaparibhuta means literally "Never Despising." The life of this bodhisattva is described in the Lotus Sutra. He devoted his life to letting people know that they should not disparage themselves because they had the Buddha-nature.

  5. Su Ba is a respectful title for a senior nun who has been ordained for at least forty years, meaning "Grandmother Teacher." For a monk of the same standing the title Su Ong is used, meaning "Grandfather Teacher."

  6. 2nd century C.E.

  7. A layman of the time of the Shakyamuni Buddha who devoted his life to serving the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and donated the Jeta Park monastery.

  8. Belonging to the Le era (15th century).

  9. The young monk or nun of school-going age who has entered the monastery in order to prepare for the lifelong commitment to the monastic The dieu has already left home and lives and practices full time with the monastic community.

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Shooting Stars

A Children’s Well-Being Radio ShowDavid M. Nelson

“Living your dream, not somebody else’s. Instead of reaching for the stars, be one. We are still growing. Enjoy life because it doesn’t happen twice. The hopes and dreams to be someone, to shine and go somewhere unimaginable – We are stars because we shine bright. After we are born, we keep going and going until we can’t go anymore. Be happy and glad you are alive.” School children’s responses to what it means to be a shooting star.

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A couple of weeks before I attended the UC San Diego retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha, I looked up into the clear, dark and expansive high-desert sky of northern Arizona, where I live, and saw a memorable shooting star. In that moment an opportunity to share mindfulness to children flowered in me.

Every year, as a public health and nutrition educator for the U.S. Indian Health Service, I write songs about being healthy, taking care of ourselves and enjoying this life, to bring into local Hopi and Navajo Reservation classrooms. Over the years many schoolchildren have sung my songs about mindful consumption, right speech and effort; with titles such as We’ll be eating lots of Good Food, the Fat Cat and Skinny Little Lizard, and (I Get Up on the) Bright Side of the Bed. Sighting the star watered a creative seed in me for a new song to sing with school children and adults. I shared the song with my San Diego retreat Dharma discussion group.

After the retreat, I assembled a group of children and adults to record the song, which was aired on the Hopi Reservation’s public radio station, KUYI. I am a volunteer at the station, developing life-affirming public service announcements and playing inspirational music. From my work there and the inspiration from this song, a new show emerged, focusing on a children’s well-being, entitled Shooting Stars. Each day on the show we encourage children of all ages to enjoy life’s journey, be happy, flow with inevitable changes, let go of anger, and continually exercise their power to grow – physically, mentally and spiritually. Broadcast from seven to eight am since the first week of October 2001, listener-ship extends across the Hopi and Navajo Reservations and to nearby border cities including Flagstaff and Williams, AZ. The show is underwritten financially by local businesses and the Hopi Foundation.

Each episode includes children’s songs, stories and lessons from both well-known and local contributors. I’ve recorded local singers, authors, educators, elders, parents and Hopi Health Care Center’s staff. Key to the show’s success is having local children and elders share their beauty and wisdom. Listeners are encouraged to mindfully overcome socio-economic disadvantages and high risks of health problems with laughter and finding inner peace and knowledge about what is going on around them. Love and support from family, friends and other indigenous role models is promoted.

With respect and sensitivity to the Hopi’s and Navajo’s distinct religions, which many missionaries have tried to take away since coming to America, reference to the Buddha is minimized. Hopi language & tradition is promoted with lessons from the Cultural Preservation Office and other tribal leaders. Through ancient tales from many tribes including Hopi, Navajo, Cherokee, Apache, Lushootseed, Tulalip and Assiniboin, legends describe why nature, people and animals are they way they are. Life’s pitfalls are learned through the clowns and tricksters, such as coyote and Inktomi.  Children learn indigenous paths, such as how songs and stories are true medicines as important as herbs and prayer. Tales from Occidental culture are also included, such as Aesop’s fables, Mother Goose, Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss, Irish fairy tales, and Italian/Sicilian stories of connecting our known world with the unknown.

Excerpts of Thay’s dharma talks for children are included, as are stories and lessons about the Dharma from many teachers of Engaged Buddhism. Excerpts of Thay’s writings from A Pebble for your Pocket, Under the Rose Apple Tree, Each Breath a Smile, and Peace is Every Step are read by myself and others. Listeners are exposed to the healing practices of positive seed watering, stopping and being in the here and now, and creating and using a breathing space to come back to our true home.

While the show explores and promotes the wonders and joys of this life, sources of pain and suffering are not ignored. Stories told by those with handicaps or physical impairments, children of alcoholics and those who have been abused have been sensitively told on the air. In this way sources of suffering are named, allowing a healing light to shine on them. Children are encouraged to have compassion and find forgiveness for themselves and others through practices such as Beginning Anew. Health issues such as diet, exercise, teeth brushing, hand washing, and wearing seatbelts are shared by doctors, nurses, and other health workers. Shooting Stars’ intention is to shine a positive light on life.

Through Thay’s inspiration and the accessibility of his teachings, I have had an opportunity to share the practice of mindfulness and being peace with children of all ages in my community. These beautiful lessons will continue to live on through the airwaves, up to the stars and beyond.

Shooting Stars

We are shooting stars on a new moon sky, on a real dark sky, we are shooting stars. See us twinkle and shine as we drift by. As we swiftly drift by, see us twinkle and shine. At this moment we are young, but watch us grow into wise elders. Brother, sister you are a shooting star, a shining, shooting star just like me. At this moment I am glad. At this moment nothing is sad. At this moment I’m not mad. At this moment I’m completely glad to be alive. We are shooting stars…

David M. Nelson, Compassionate Guidance of the Heart, shares, “I attend the local Flagstaff, AZ sangha, monthly. I have spent my adult life teaching others to be well and happy.”

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Teasing

A story retold by Terry Masters

Brother Chan Huy sits on the little stand Steven built for him for our weekend retreat. There are more than sixty adults in the meditation hall and six children, ages two years old to fourteen years old.

“Please come here,” Chan Huy motions to the children with a smile. “Please come sit with me.” They gather around him on the stand, wiggling and giggling.

“How are you today?” he asks.

“It snowed!” Julia Kate, who is six years old, informs him enthusiastically.

“Do you call that snow?” Chan Huy grins. “It was so little!”

“But it was snow!” she insists. “I made a snow ball and threw it at Alex!”

“She did!” Alex, the nine year old, says. “And it hit me!” “Well, what did you do?”

“I threw one back!” Alex says, grinning at Julia Kate. “Well,” Chan Huy smiles at the children. “Do you have any questions for me today?”

“I do,” Eliana, a seven year old, says softly. “What is your question, Eliana?”

“I want to know,” she hesitates, then continues, “What do you do when people tease you about your culture?” Chan Huy looks at the child. There is a long moment of silence.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I was teased,” he says, finally. The children sit quietly, looking into his eyes, patiently waiting for him to remember.

After a while Chan Huy says, “I do not remember the last time I was teased. How do the children tease you?” he asks Eliana. She pulls the skin of her Chinese-American eyes back. “Like that,” she whispers. The grown-ups in the audience feel our stomachs tighten.

“What do you do when the children tease you like that?” Chan Huy asks her.

“I try to ignore them,” she says, “But it’s not easy.” “Hmmm.”  Chan Huy pauses.  Then he asks, “Now that you’ve been at our retreat, what do you think you might do when the children tease you about your culture?”

Eliana thinks for a moment. We grown-ups are thinking, too. What would I do to help this beautiful child? What would I tell her to do? The room is filled with the silence of hearts searching.

Then Eliana says softly, “I think I would sing ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out.’” The grown-ups take a deep breath. Some of us blink back our tears.

“Would you like to sing it now?” Chan Huy asks gently. Eliana nods her head. He takes the lapel mike from his jacket and holds it to her lips. She begins to sing. The grown-ups sing quietly, under the child’s voice, in accompaniment.

Breathing In
Breathing Out
I am blooming like a flower
I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as a mountain
I am firm as the earth
I am free.

Breathing In
Breathing out
I am water reflecting
What is real, what is true
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me
I am free, I am free I am free.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She has owned a summer educational day camp for twenty-two years and helps coordinate and teach the children’s program in her Sangha.

Chan Huy, True Radiance, received the Lamp Transmission in 1994. Coming from a family with four generations of Thay’s students, he lives and guides Sanghas in Montreal, Canada and throughout North America.

Drawing by Shea Lyndsey Griffin, age 10.

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Buddha Nature

An Exercise for Children

By Terry Masters

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NOTE What the facilitator might say is in boldface. The answers in parentheses are the answers our children gave us.

We know that a Buddha lives inside of each of us. Not the man who lived a long time ago, of course! But the nature of that man who lived thousands of years ago.  The Buddha’s nature lives inside each of us.

What do you think the Buddha’s nature is like? (Happy, generous, compassionate, kind, loving, open, free, patient, etc.)

Think of someone you love very much. Do you sometimes see the Buddha’s nature in that person? What does that person do, how does that person show you that the Buddha’s nature is inside of her or him?

It is usually easy to see the Buddha’s nature in someone we love. But the Buddha’s nature is in everyone, even people we do not think we like at all. Think of someone you do not like very much. Have you ever seen the Buddha’s nature peek out of that person even a little bit?

What did it look like? (The person smiled; the person once said a nice thing to a friend of mine; the person likes my cat.)

Why is it important for us to remember to look for the Buddha’s nature in ourselves and in everyone we meet? (So that we can love ourselves and others; so we can be happy and make others happy; so we can all have peace.)

Let’s learn a song about how we feel when we notice our friend’s Buddha Nature.

Sing:

Dear friend, Dear friend, Let me tell you how I feel You have given me such treasure I love you so

What do you think the “treasure” is that we sing about in this song? Could it be our friend’s Buddha Nature?

How do we feel about our friends when they show us—when they give us—their Buddha nature? (We love her; we feel happy; we feel grateful.)

Let’s sing the song again.

After the children have learned the words, it is fun to sing the song as a round in two or three (or more!) parts.

This song is a good way to say “thank you” to your friend or someone in your family. When might you want to sing this song? (When my brother doesn’t hit me; when my mom gives me a surprise in my lunch box; when Daddy reads me a story; when my grandmother makes up a song for me; when my friend lets me play with his roller blades)

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Book Reviews

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Journeying East: Conversations on Aging and Dying

By Victoria Jean Dimidjian

Parallax Press, 2004

Reviewed by Lois Schlegel

For as long as I can remember I have been afraid of death. Even as a child I wrestled with this unknown. At night, when the house was quiet I lay awake trying to figure it out, trying to touch the mystery of it somehow, trying to understand.

None of the conventional answers satisfied me. I searched and questioned and suffered for years, as both my parents died before I was twenty-five and I witnessed the fragility of life from a mother’s perspective when my own children were born.

So, it was with a sense of kinship I read Victoria Jean Dimidjian’s outstanding collection of interviews on this subject. She too was touched by death as a child and her experience seems to shape this far-reaching book. Devoting her entire sabbatical from teaching at Florida Gulf Coast University to this project, Ms. Dimidjian traveled the globe to bring us insight from many of today’s prominent philosophers and death and dying practitioners.

Journeying East includes conversations with Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael Eigen, Norman Fisher, Joan Halifax, Sister Chan Khong, Frank Osataseski, Rodney Smith, and John Wellwood. Each interview is at once intimate and transcendent, as if we too have been sipping tea with these masters and come away not with answers, but insight; not knowledge, but peace. As Rodney Smith so aptly tells the author when she asks him about his own fear of death, “You live it consciously; you live it actively; you live the open question of death. We access the true spirit of Buddhism by living the question of life.” This book is an invitation to that awareness and practice. It offers ways to tolerate and even find joy in the mystery of death.

Fill your life with music! Sing your blues away! 2
new COMPACT DISKS

Rivers & Oasis
Available through the Deer Park Monastery Audio Visual Department

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

www.deerparkmonastery.org/

Wonderful new songs and chants are available as a gift from the fourfold Sangha. Through the direction of Sr. The Nghiem, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen have come together to produce a CD of twenty-seven practice songs called Rivers. These songs clearly reflect the personal practice of the participants, watering seeds of peace, freedom, lightness, and joy in the listener.

For those who love singing and are looking for fresh songs to enjoy and to share with your Sangha, Rivers is the CD for you! There are fourteen songs in English, nine in Vietnamese, and four in French. Included in the English songs is the popular, In Gratitude, which many of us have learned. Most of the others were new to me, and a complete delight. My personal favorites include Alone Again, adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Recommendation, and put to music by Christian monks; and No Wait, an acapella, two-voiced song encouraging self-reliance, which makes me cry with happiness every time I hear it. There is also a wonderful talk-story song by Sr. Chau Nghiem, called Peace is the Way. The CD’s name comes from a lovely song featured first, and also reflects the many sources that came together to form the beautiful music which now flows out to all of us.

Oasis is a compilation of some of the chants we already know in fresh arrangements, plus some new ones. By far the most notable is the Discourse on Love, which I am now listening to as part of my daily practice. I have always wanted to memorize this wonderful sutra, and by putting it to music, I am learning it without effort. I find that listening to and singing this beautiful chant is watering seeds of deep love and happiness in me. I look forward to experiencing this chant with the worldwide Sangha. I hope we will all learn and enjoy it.

Best of all, you can sample these musical offerings online, at: www.deerparkmonastery.org

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Airplane Dharma: No Birth , No Death

By Christian Bergmann

We flew one night with the Sangha from Hue to Hanoi. Half the airplane was filled with monastics and lay Sangha. Over an hour into the flight we were told that bad weather conditions were preventing us from landing in Hanoi. Now we were heading for Haiphong, a town by the sea two hours’ drive from Hanoi, and would take a bus from there back to Hanoi. As we approached Haiphong, we could see that the weather there was not much better. It was so foggy we could barely see our own wings, much less any city lights below.

As we got close to the ground the pilot switched off all the cabin lights. We sat in the blackness, flying slower and slower, expecting to touch down any minute but with no idea how close to the ground we actually were. Time seemed to stretch forever sitting in the dark plane.

Suddenly the airplane was thundering, the engines going full blast, as the pilot pulled the plane sharply up. It was very loud in the cabin. I wondered if this would be my last minute in this life. I expected we might hit a building or the trees at any second.

My wife, Angela, and I held hands, saying that we loved each another, just in case these were to be our last words. I trembled.

My legs were shaking, my heart was beating fast and hard, my breath was choppy. Fear of death captured my mind.

It was a powerful teaching. Being a hospice nurse, I had fooled myself into believing I had accepted the impermanence of life. But when that reality got personal and real, I saw that I have a long way to go in my understanding! I was not willing to let go of this life.

So we sang some spiritual songs as I tried to focus on my breath. What brought me the most calm was chanting Avalokiteshvara’s name and visualizing the Buddha’s and Thay’s smiling faces.

This experience was a great mirror in which I saw that my practice has yielded only partial success. And it was a great inspiration to practice wholeheartedly, and to live each day as if it may be the last. As we gained altitude, we flew back to Hue. After refueling, we reboarded the plane for another try.

Christian Bergmann, Joyful Gratitude of the Heart, lives in Berlin, Germany and practices with the Source of Compassion Sangha.

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Dwelling in the Ultimate in North Mississippi

By Steve Black mb41-Dwelling1

“In the Ultimate I dwell,” Thay says. And turning to the child holding his right hand, he says, “Do you know what the Ultimate is?”

Silence. The child looks at Thay. His head is level with Thay’s thigh. He says nothing.

Thay gently repeats the question: “Do you know what the Ultimate is?”

“No,” the child says. “Neither do I,” Thay replies.

They begin walking, Thay and the two children on his left and right.

A few steps later they stop again.

“If you don’t know what the Ultimate is, I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Thay says. “It’s a kind of plant. It’s a kind of flower.” He grins.

And with that we begin walking along the front of the meditation hall, which has been newly built in the Mississippi hill country, about four miles from Batesville. It is Tuesday, October 11, Thay’s seventy-ninth Continuation Day and the first morning of his visit to Magnolia Village. Over 200 of us are gathered here this morning. Tomorrow, on the Mindfulness Day, that number will increase more than 300, and more than forty people will receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings. On both days, roughly half the participants are Vietnamese and the other half are Westerners.

We walk through the chilly morning fog, around the long meditation hall, and across a wide field lined on either side with the tents of those of us who are staying at the center during Thay’s four-day visit here. There are no dormitories. In fact, the only structures here are the meditation hall, a one-story house where Thay and the monks are staying, a mobile home that is being used to house the nuns, and a hand-hewn corn crib that was built in the nineteenth century and stands as a witness to the land’s former manifestation as a cattle farm.

This land, 118 acres in all, is a gift from the North Mississippi Vietnamese community. Inspired by Thay’s visit to Memphis for Peace Walk 2002, they began to look for property suitable for a practice center. A year later, in November 2003, they had located this property. Now, twenty-three months later, the sale of the land has closed, and the meditation hall has been built, along with a beautifully landscaped pond with a bridge leading to a Kwan Yin statue on a small island.

Learning the Landscape

The history of this land on which we are walking is at once rich in joy and saturated with suffering. On land that was worked by slaves forced into labor, on land in a state that, through lynchings and countless acts of brutality and small, daily humiliations, has become the emblem of the racism that has darkened our entire country’s history for so many centuries, on land that has known the joys of generations of farm children at play, we are now enjoying these precious four days with Thay and the monastics and friends who have gathered here from Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

The grass is damp from heavy dew and by the time we have reached the middle of the field, my shoes are soaked through. They will remain uncomfortably wet until the sun emerges in the early afternoon and begins to dry them. But there is a joy and solidarity in this dampness. All around me I see people with their shoes soaked, their pants wet up to their calves, brown grass blades stuck on their heels and pants legs. We are all walking together.

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At the end of the field, we walk through a gate and onto a gravel lane, down into a ravine and out again, stepping into a wide pasture. We are walking slowly, learning this new landscape as we go: its dry creek beds; its unexpected patches of late blooming swamp sunflowers, blue wild ageratums, and purple beauty berries; its stands of persimmon, oak, cedar, pines, sassafras, and sweetgum trees.

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We walk for a long time, stopping finally along the edge of the pasture, and Thay sits on the ground. We all ease ourselves onto the wet grass, taking a moment to find a position that will ensure the least amount of dampness. Thay shows the children how to make the “five mountains” with their hands and then Sister Chan Khong begins singing. Thay guides us in the singing as well, making us repeat verses when we lose the melody or sing off key. At one point, during “I Take Refuge in the Buddha” he stops us and, reminding us of our southern roots, says, half-scoldingly, “This is country music.” It’s true, I realize, when Thay begins singing again; here we are in Mississippi, singing about taking refuge in the Buddha to a traditional country melody.

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Blessings

Later that morning, in the meditation hall, Thay formally accepts the donation of the practice center. He has promised us that, two or three times a year, monastics will come to Magnolia Village to lead retreats, and he says that if the Sangha practice in the Mid-South area becomes strong, he will send a group of resident monastics in a few years. As part of the Acceptance Ceremony, the monks offer a chant, and then Thay stands and, lifting a glass of water and a long-stemmed rose, begins flinging droplets onto the fruit and flower offerings on the altar. He steps up onto the altar and sprays water onto the Buddha statue made out of beautiful white Vietnamese marble. Stepping down, Thay walks along the side of the hall, flinging water onto the walls and dropping it onto the heads of the people sitting along the edge of the room. And once Thay has circled the room, he begins to walk up and down the rows of people sitting on cushions, dropping water onto our heads. Thay walks up behind me and I can’t hear his feet approaching. Suddenly there is the sound of rose petals rustling above me and when the drops fall on the crown of my head, I feel as if a weight has landed on me. I bow my head slightly and Thay steps quietly forward.

Sitting there, I bow in gratitude to Thay for coming to Magnolia Village. I bow in gratitude to the opportunity to practice with so many friends on the path. I bow in gratitude for this opportunity to dwell in the Ultimate in North Mississippi.

Whatever the Ultimate might be.

Steve Black, Compassionate Continuation of the Heart, and his wife, Virginia, Peaceful Mountain of the Heart, live and practice in Statesboro, Georgia.

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Peace, Salaam, Shalom

By Susan Hadler mb41-PeaceSalaam1

On September 24, 2005, approximately 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the war in Iraq. People clustered into various affinity groups including the Buddhist one that Sangha member Susan Hadler joined.

We sang as we walked down Sixteenth Street towards the White House, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.” I sang to Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon, wearing his name on a tag around my neck, given to me at the church where we gathered before the march. Abdullah Abdul-Majeed Al-Shadoon was twenty-six years old when he died on April 22, 2003. A beloved son, a brother, a friend, maybe a father. I also sang to my father who was twentyfive when he died in April 1945 in World War II when I was an infant. I sang with the mothers and fathers walking with us whose children were killed recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We walked together with our knowledge of war and our message of peace: clergy and laypeople of all faiths, Code Pink women, anarchists dressed in black, Buddhist monks accompanying our steps with drums, brothers and sisters coming from Alaska to Florida. I walked with the Buddhist affinity group, thankful to be part of a community practicing walking, singing, sitting, and breathing peace. We walked with the larger Sangha, gathered to hold in mind and heart the names of all the dead in the war on Iraq and to present those names with a letter to President Bush as a plea to end the killing and to use our resources for helping people live.

We sat in front of the White House, peacefully and joyfully sharing food and water. We did not move when the police told us to leave. The police picked up Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, and carried her to a paddy wagon. She was smiling. They arrested people in batches, handcuffed them, put them into paddy wagons, and drove off. We sat on the curb and sang peace songs to Mr. Bush and the White House and Congress and to each other. Walking. Sitting. Singing. Smiling. Our practice nourished us and gave us strength. The atmosphere within and around us was peaceful, dedicated, generous.

Prisoner 5-168

Our turn came. Our Buddhist affinity group stood in a row, each with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. When it was my turn I smiled and bowed to the young police officer, turning as he attached the handcuffs. As prisoner 5-168, I entered a DC Metro bus borrowed from the city due to the unexpectedly large number of people being arrested, 374 in all. A police escort led the bus to the park police headquarters in Anacostia.

Our bus was our jail cell for about ten hours. We were a joyful group of forty-eight women of all ages and colors, singing, talking, sharing stories. Those who could scratched the noses of those who couldn’t, as we worked to wriggle out of our handcuffs. The young police officer assigned to us tried to be tough but ended up becoming our friend. As time went on my slight headache worsened and I lay down on the back seat, a woman sharing her pillow with me. I followed my breath in and out, and I felt Thay’s presence, reminding us to keep breathing. He knew where we were and I felt his prayers and energy. I began to relax.

About one p.m., we were led inside a garage split into two rooms by a chainlink fence, women on one side, men on the other. Sangha sister Roberta and I began doing mindful movements and a circle formed. As the outside doors closed, we knew we were locked up in a filthy, greasy place, but our minds were free and we were able to help each other stay calm. Often during that night and since then I have sent love and courage to those who are imprisoned.

We Are Free

Finally the police called our numbers to be processed. Inside the police headquarters more information was taken and for a short time we were put into tiny dirty cells, about seven to a cell. Called by number for fingerprinting and photographing, we were then given back our names and our property.

I looked out the door into the four a.m. night and saw a taxi waiting, and Maia and Bob of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship welcoming us. Our taxi driver was a South African who had been arrested many times in his country’s efforts toward liberation.

Because we were a Sangha and because we practiced, we were peace and we were free and we were home every step of the way.

Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, lives in Alexandria, Virginia. This was her first arrest.

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Thich Nhat Hanh Receives Bridge of Peace Award

Five peacemakers honored at ceremony in Los Angeles

By Peggy Rowe

The monks and nuns of Deer Park Monastery invited the bell to begin the celebration and offered the Five Contemplations for the banquet. The Bridge of Peace Award, a crystal globe on a crystal stand, was presented to Thay by Soto Zen priest Claude Anshin Thomas. Anshin shared how the Sangha and other veterans enabled him to travel to Plum Village where he experienced a time of profound healing and transformation. The award was accepted by the monastics of Deer Park, who read a statement from Thay: “I am very grateful and very touched to receive this award. We are at a critical point of history in the world. It is heartening to have so many people together to practice peace. Peace is available in every step.” Then they sang Thay’s poem “Recommendation,” accompanied by guitar.

Awards also went to Le Ly Hayslip, Marla Ruzicka, Dr. Waqar Al-Kubaisy, and Marshall Rosenberg. What the five remarkable honorees share is compassion for others, the courage to tell the truth, and the gift of unconditional love. All five took action to better the lives of others and to promote peace in the twenty-first century.

Le Ly Hayslip, a Woman of Ordinary Dreams

Le Ly left Vietnam when she was 13 years old. She describes herself as a “woman of ordinary dreams,” whose only life dream was to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. In 1985 she began her efforts to visit her homeland, but there were no diplomatic relations with Vietnam. She says, “I had a dream in my spirit to see us reunited again as people, if only I could break down the walls of fear and mistrust that divided us. I dreamed that I, a housewife with a third-grade education, could transform the hatred of war into a bridge of peace for all people.”

So Le Ly became a bridge builder. She received permission to travel to Vietnam in 1986, in 1987 she founded the East Meets West Foundation, and built schools, clinics, hospitals in Vietnam along with many other works to foster peace and reconciliation between the US and Vietnam. In 1999, she founded the Global Village Foundation. Her life is chronicled in the Oliver Stone film Heaven and Earth.

A Posthumous Tribute to Marla Ruzicka

After leading a Global Exchange Reality Tour in opposition to the war in Afghanistan, Marla stayed behind to help. She arrived in Kabul only a few days after the Taliban was removed. The day after Saddam’s statue fell, Marla arrived in Iraq where she went door to door tallying the loss and injury of human life and seeing how she could serve. Did you know that in the twentieth century, ninety percent of the casualties of war were soldiers? Did you know that in the twenty-first century, ninety percent of the casualties of war are civilians? So Marla started counting.

In 2003, Marla formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). On April 16, 2005 Marla was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad on her way to visit an injured child. She was a lovely twenty-eight-year-old woman with an infectious laugh and warm smile. Before her death, she successfully lobbied the

U.S. government to provide medical and other assistance to Afghan and Iraqi families. To date, 25 million dollars have been appropriated and Marla’s work continues through CIVIC Worldwide.

The Courage of Dr. Waqar Al-Kubaisy

A woman with a beautiful smile presented herself to me with a firm handshake. “Thank you for your presence of peace,” she said. I found out later that she was the Iraqi physician receiving the Bridge of Peace award for courage. In her acceptance speech she talked about the lives being lost; she described her relentless work to help all people by bringing medical services and supplies to where they are needed. She has had many family members killed, including six of her cousins who were bombed in a car. Most recently, in the dead of night, her husband was kidnapped; he was tortured for twenty-six days and suffered extreme injuries for which he is receiving medical care. She spoke of the pointlessness of war and its tragic impact in her homeland.

Pete Peterson, from POW to Ambassador

In 1966, U.S. Air Force Captain Pete Peterson was shot down over North Vietnam. He spent over six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war. On his return, he placed his attention on reconciliation and peace. “After the war I had two choices,” he said. “I could go home angry, disenchanted, depressed… or I could get on with my life. I woke up one morning and realized I had no control over yesterday. But I had full control over and responsibility for tomorrow.” After serving as a member of the U.S. Congress, Pete was appointed by President Clinton as ambassador to Vietnam, a post he held until 2001. He set about to reopen diplomatic and economic ties between the U.S. and Vietnam. Today hundreds of American companies have offices and factories in Vietnam. In 1998 he married Vi Le at the Hanoi Cathedral just a few blocks from the Hanoi Hilton. He continues to further ties between the two nations through his foundation, The Alliance for Safe Children, Vietnam.

To Be a Bridge of Peace

Marshall Rosenberg, renowned developer of a method of conflict resolution called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), was there to receive the Nonviolence award. “What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart,” he said, and shared stories from his experiences of offering NVC around the world.

Larry Ward and I sat with Ron Kovic in the VIP room. Ron was the 2005 recipient of the Bridge of Peace award, and he was portrayed by Tom Cruise in the Oliver Stone film Born on the Fourth of July. Ron has twinkling eyes and infectious positive energy. He wheeled his chair to me and held my hand, commenting on my peaceful energy. I, in turn, asked him his secret. “Life is precious,” he said. “I woke up in the hospital in Vietnam with part of my body gone, and in incredible pain and deep despair. But I should have been dead. This is a miracle, that I am alive. I get my energy from people and from life. I love people. I am alive. What a miracle!”

This evening was a wake-up call for me. I am grateful to have been touched by these people, to have the opportunity to be called into a bigger story. What is my dream for peace? How can I be a bridge of peace? How can I grow my heart larger for this world?

Peggy Rowe, True Original Source, is a Dharma Teacher and gourd artist practicing with the Bright Path Sangha in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Sangha Building in Hanoi

By Trish Thompson mb43-Sangha1

I am living in Hanoi. Am I dreaming? How has this happened? The answers can, as always, be found in the teachings. This is because that is. Manifestation occurs when conditions are sufficient. The understanding of the answers, however, is found in life, and mine has definitely taken some unexpected turns.

When I arrived in Vietnam in January 2005 for the trip with Thây, I was feeling especially happy and free. I had finally completed a five-year divorce process, the culmination of many years (and perhaps, many lifetimes) of bobbing about in the ocean of suffering. I had lived for decades in a hell realm which left me no alternative but to practice. My teachers, the teachings, and the sangha, as well as my determination and effort, had allowed me to transform the negative energies which had been so all-consuming. Now, how perfect to begin this new phase of my life by traveling and practicing for three months with Thây and the sangha in Vietnam! I had laughingly told friends and family in the U.S. that “I just might not come back.” I was joking, or so I had thought!

Right away, riding into Hanoi from the airport, I felt a strong attraction to the landscape and architecture. The lushness of the rice paddies, and the bent backs and conical hats of those who were working them, stirred something in me. A thought came, “I could live here.”

Over the next weeks, as is usual for me, I fell in love with the sangha and with everything and everyone around me, but something was different. The ocean of suffering had been transformed into a sea of love, and I was swimming in it. The Heart Sutra became real. I was living it. There seemed to be no obstacles for my path, and consequently, the trip unfolded easily. Even though our schedule was very full and the law of impermanence sometimes manifested quickly and unexpectedly, nothing could mar my happiness.

I quickly made wonderful connections with Vietnamese people, first in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). During a Day of Mindfulness at Van Hanh University, the Buddhist institute in HCMC that Thây had co-founded over 40 years ago, I had surprising encounters with two faculty members and the president, who all agreed that they needed to have a foreigner on staff. And they invited me to return to teach mindfulness meditation and English. Our shared enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when they remembered that for them to receive permission to hire a foreigner would not be easy and would take time. While I knew this invitation might be withdrawn, the seed of possibility had been thoroughly watered.

In segment two, I experienced a strong connection to the land during an overnight visit with Thây and the sangha to Bat Nha [Prajna Temple], the practice center in the central highlands. I felt such profound contentment and immediately visualized myself spending time there. When the announcement was made that Bat Nha would become a Plum Village monastic center, a surge of joy ran through my body.

During Têt, which we celebrated in HCMC, my oracle was read by Sister Chan Khong and Brother Phap Tru. My question was, “I am happy here. I am also happy there. In Vietnam, however, I see love everywhere, especially in the eyes of the people. I want to live here. I want to help build a bridge between the East and the West. How can I do that?” The answer from the Patriarchs came down through the centuries, declaring, “If you meditate consistently in your meditation hut, in a balanced way, all your wishes will come true.” I think I floated out of the meditation hall. Carried by feelings of calm confidence, I had my assignment and somehow I knew I could do it. A few days later, Sister Chan Khong announced that lay friends could invest in the construction of meditation huts at Bat Nha, and I immediately committed.

My future seemed clear. I would live in HCMC. However, several times I heard myself say to others, “I wish something would happen in Hanoi.” Something seemed to be pulling me to that northern city, even though nothing very special had happened to me there. But the trip was not over.

Love and Service in Hanoi

At the end of the three-month tour, I had two nights and three whole days to enjoy being in Hanoi before returning to the U.S. An American lay-sister, a roommate on the tour, suggested that while there, I should meet her cousin, for “he is very interesting, loves living and working in Vietnam, and is a good person for you to know.” I agreed, so she introduced us via e-mail. An American lay-sister suggested I meet an American woman, a Quaker who has lived and worked in the country for more than 30 years.

Conditions were truly sufficient. I met the cousin for dinner, and we agreed to meet for a second evening. I met the woman, and we enjoyed time over lunch. They each, in their own way, urged me to stay, and I did. I postponed my departure for some weeks, then returned to the U.S. only to pack a few things for my move to Hanoi. These life-changing decisions were the easiest I have ever made.

The woman became a dear friend. The man became my beloved and my partner. I was home. I am often asked how I found this partner and this relationship that brings me so much joy. I did not find him, for I was not looking. I was becoming. I became the happy, loving person I wanted to meet, and there he was!

Planting a Dharma Garden

For years, when voicing a wish to become a monastic, I was told to create happiness through sangha building. I tried, but my practice was too weak. Sister Susan said, “Nurture yourself. Plant a garden,” and I did. I withdrew from that which brought no happiness. Several years of gardening were required before flowers could bloom, but with right effort and the support of the sangha, all things are possible.

I received the transmission for membership in the Order of Interbeing in 2002. While that is certainly not a prerequisite for sangha building, my own practice deepened, and in 2003 I started the Sea Island Sangha of Beaufort, South Carolina. I found much happiness in my work there.

The Hanoi Community of Mindful Living (HNCML) became a reality in April 2006. We are a very dedicated group, many of whom are new to the practice. Each week seems to bring one or two experienced practitioners. We are a diverse sangha of many cultures, with both foreign and Vietnamese friends. Our core is made of 15 to 18 people who love to practice together. Already, more than 120 names are on our e-mail list.

Our weekly schedule is quite full, with something for everyone. Early morning sitting and walking meditation is three days a week. A compassionate listening group meets every Tuesday. One evening is devoted to sitting, walking, and Dharma discussion. On another, we chant for peace. Occasionally, we enjoy a special practice or day of mindfulness.

I do not question for a moment why I am in Vietnam. I am here because I am happy here. I am here to build sangha. The roots of my spiritual family are in this land. Sanghabuilding here, I have discovered, is no different from sanghabuilding in South Carolina, and, I suspect, anywhere else. Nurturing myself and taking care of my inner garden is my priority. When I do that, my loving energy is boundless.

mb43-Sangha4Trish Thompson, True Concentration on Peace, recently helped translate and edit an anthology of Vietnamese women’s poetry, to be published by Vietnam’s Women’s Publishing House and the Feminist Press of New York City.

A Recent Evening of Sitting & Chanting at the Hanoi Community of Mindful Living

Linh’s face breaks into a broad smile, as she bows and begins to speak. “I am thirty years old, and I hope I can come to this place forever!” The rest of our group laughs. “I feel so happy here,” she says. “All my colleagues at work tell me I am so much happier, since I began to come to these meetings, and it’s true!” The next to speak is Alan who bows and offers, “I’ve done a lot of work with the mentally ill and the mentally challenged, and I’ve been thinking this week about how I can introduce that population to the practice of chanting. After only a few weeks, I can see that chanting is very healing.” Hang speaks next: “ My whole life has changed since I found this group. I have fallen in love with the teacher, the teachings, and the practice!” Daisuke introduces himself. He has meditated for many years in a Japanese tradition. “I am so surprised at my feelings,” he says as he pats his chest.

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On this Thursday evening, we are a group of eighteen. Chanting is a new practice for our members. We are learning to chant the Opening Verse and the Heart Sutra in English, after which we sit while listening to the Vietnamese version on CD.

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We follow this with twenty minutes of sitting and chanting Namo ‘Valokiteshvara, a weekly practice. We send our loving kindness energy to ourselves and then to all places and people who are experiencing violence and war.

The last thirty minutes we devote to the singing of Plum Village songs. Tonight, we learn “No Coming, No Going” in English. Tam, a seasoned practitioner, sings it in Vietnamese, earning our silent, enthusiastic applause. She agrees to teach us next week. Someone suggests we sing it in French, and we do. Huong, a newcomer, beams and says, “I love singing! My favorite sentence is ‘I am in you, and you are in me.’”

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Grand Visit to a Small Country

Thây in the Netherlands In the spring of this year Thây came with a delegation of 30 monastics from Plum Village for a ten-day visit to the Netherlands. Both the public talk, ‘Peace Is Every Step’, in The Hague and the five-day retreat in Oosterbeek near Arnhem were sold out. Many people made Thây’s visit and the retreat a wonderful and joyful practice. New sanghas are starting, local sanghas, but also a peaceworkers’ sangha. Sleeping sanghas wake up again, and small sanghas grow. It is clear that Thây’s visit to the Netherlands brought new inspiration to the Dutch sangha. Here are fragments of personal reports by participants. For reflections by young retreatants, see “Children’s Voices” on page 29.

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Preparations for the Public Talk in The Hague

Along the edge of the stage: 22 meters of transparent glass vessels topped by yellow daffodils. Behind it, the warm red velvet of the curtain. A white banner with a painted tulip hangs from ceiling to floor: roots, bulb, stalk, and 10 meters above the floor, the flower. In between, the brown of the monastics with their bright faces, the sun. This is the image that 2000 people see from the auditorium.

The basic idea popped up in the intimacy of Didi’s small car: ‘The window sill’, a typical Dutch feature, ‘with flowering tulip bulbs on it’. The tulips turn out to be too expensive. The idea changes, we replace the tulip bulbs with daffodils.

We start collecting glass jars and bottles. At recycling containers we stand and ask people to give us their jars and bottles: a good exercise in humility. For many weeks bags and boxes full of dirty glassware wait to be cleaned. We start loving these glass forms, the beauty of their brightness and simplicity.

On April 28, we drive to our friend Pim. Due to a late spring this year in Holland, the yellow trumpets are still there at the end of April. With shoes wet from the dew, we pass through the bulb fields. In The Hague it takes us all afternoon to get water, glass jars, and flowers in the right place. The banner with the beautiful tulip in the middle of the stage hangs brilliantly. At 6 p.m. we’re finished, ready to enjoy the lecture, the singing, and the sight of this stage. And we think about what we have experienced in turn: humility and dirt, cleaning and brightness, transformation and joy.

—Gré Hellingman and Didi Overman

The Lecture, “Peace Is Every Step”

On the evening of the talk it was very busy in The Hague. The town is the residence of the government and that day it celebrated the eve of ‘Queen Day’ (the birthday of the Queen). Our group of students from the agronomy university reflects a broad segment of the audience that feels touched by Thây’s message that “the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present.”

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While 2000 people slowly fill the room, a number of nuns and monks are sitting in meditation on the podium. Hundreds of daffodils provide color and joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh calmly walks onto the podium and takes his place on a meditation cushion. We are requested to mindfully watch our breathing, while on the podium there is singing accompanied by the vibrating tones of a bell. I feel the hall gradually becoming calmer. Some people welcome this peacefulness very much indeed: in front of me two men start to fall asleep.

Thây starts to tell about the merits of walking meditation. ‘Walking meditation helps us to get into the now.

Often we are a little ahead or behind. Our thoughts are in the future or the past, while our life is only in the present moment.’ Thây speaks about the importance of deep listening and loving speech in dealing with lonely desperate youth, and even with violent extremists. He also talks about his peace work with Israelis and Palestinians.

After the talk the audience is invited to take a souvenir. On the train back, I see daffodils here and there. Tonight Thich Nhat Hanh has clearly touched and inspired a lot of people.

—Barbara Tieleman

The Retreat in Papendal, Oosterbeek, May 1-5

To me as a newcomer, the five-day retreat was like an intensive course in slow and mindful living. Incredible what Thây, the monastics, and the Dutch organization managed to fit into the program! Every day eating in silence (amidst pictures of Olympic sportsmen), a guided sitting meditation, a dharma talk, walking meditation, and discussion in the families. In addition, ‘beginning anew’, ‘touching the earth,’ and the taking of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (by almost 200 people!).

In his dharma talks, Thây elaborated on issues touched upon in the public talk, such as living in the here and now, and overcoming hostility by deep listening and loving speech. During the week Thây tuned his talks more and more to the current harsh Dutch political atmosphere. He did so in a positive, encouraging and inspiring way.

On May 4, Memorial Day, some younger and older participants told their personal stories of war, peace, conflict, and reconciliation. (The retreat was located in a spot where 61 years ago, bombs had fallen.) That evening we celebrated peace with a candlelight procession and we sang peace songs in the open air. There was a festive atmosphere in Oosterbeek.

—Wilma Aarts

Snapshots of the Retreat

Snatches flutter through my head and heart, songs I hear myself sing when I ride my bike, images on my retina. Some fragments...

In his talk on making peace Thây stands rocking the baby of pain in his arms, saying to it: “I’ll take good care of you. I don’t know yet what is wrong with you, whether you are lonely or angry, but I know that you are in pain. With my full attention, I will be with you, I do not leave you alone.”

Thây sketches the image of a friend, an American peace activist, who is in a coma in a hospital. In his last hours Thây and Sister Chan Khong visit him, massage his feet and remind him of all the good peace work he did. And Sister Chan Khong sings for him the song she sings for us now: ‘No Coming, No Going’.

The island in ourselves, a place of comfort and renewal we can return to, before we step into the outside world. In his talk Thây describes the island in ourselves. And then we sing the new, Dutch version of this song. The young Dutch monk who sings so beautifully leads the singing and we follow.

Children around Thây, helping each other to entwine their little fingers into mudras. It is almost still, a pigeon coos, a giggle. Thây loans his bell to a child. Very mindfully he mimes inviting the bell, the unhearable sound of the invisible bell.

—Else Meerman

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YMCA Dharma Song

mb45-YMCA1 Sung to the tune “YMCA” Young monk, lace up your hiking shoes I said, young monk, weighed down by the blues Go there, you will breathe in clean air With those moun-tains all a-round you

Breathe in, Sangha, you’re on your way I said, breathe out, toss your dark thoughts away Blossom like a well-watered seed, you can Walk the path mind-ful-ly

Chorus: It’s fun to hike at the YMCA It’s fun to hike at the YMCA You can hike with the crowd But please don’t be loud Brother Stream, is that a storm cloud?

Young nun, you’re at the end of the line I said, young nun, don’t let yourself lag behind Walk fast, or you may find yourself Alone with moun-tain li-ons

It’s fun to hike at the YMCA It’s fun to hike at the YMCA You can hike with the crowd But please don’t be loud Brother Stream, is that a storm cloud?

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The Wonderful World of Gathas

By David Percival mb45-TheWonderful1

The mind can go in a thousand directions, But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, a cool wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.

If your path is like mine, you often find your mind jumping into the future, back to the past, fabricating ridiculous situations, and taking you to places you don’t want to go. Before you know it your path is littered with boulders of fear, anger, despair, frustration, and forgetfulness.

Thay tells us that the practice of Plum Village is to come back to the present moment and take care of the situation. Wherever we are — at home, at work, driving, gardening, at a meeting — we can use the energy of mindfulness to bring us back to ourselves, to the present moment. One powerful resource available to all of us is to make use of gathas throughout our day. Gathas are short poems or verses that we can recite, regardless of where we are, to help us return to the present moment and to dwell in mindfulness. Monastics in Thay’s tradition practice gathas throughout their day.

As Thay says, “when we practice well, the gathas are with us continuously and we live our whole lives in awareness.” Gathas allow us to focus our mind, making it possible to almost instantly return to ourselves. Gathas help us to stop our relentless running, to slow down, to enjoy life in the here and now. While we enjoy walking, sitting, washing the dishes, turning the compost, we can stop our wild thinking; then we see the wonders of life in the present moment.

At my first retreat in the late 1980s, Thay taught us the following gatha, strongly suggesting that we memorize it:

Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment!

I did what Thay suggested and I will carry this gatha with me always. It is a continuous source of peace and calm.

Dwelling in Mindfulness

In June 2006 at the Breath of the Buddha Retreat at Plum Village, Thay told us to use gathas and poetry to help us dwell in mindfulness throughout our day. For example, early in the morning, standing in front of my altar, I start every day as follows:

Waking this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

Start by memorizing a few short gathas (see sidebar). Then add more, including longer ones. Notice the rhythm of the lines: recite the first line as you breathe in and recite the second line as you breathe out, and so on. When you are stuck in traffic, waiting in the queue at the bank, walking down a hallway at work, or going to the restroom, recite this gatha:

I have arrived (in-breath) I am home (out-breath) In the here (in) And in the now (out) (repeat all four lines)

I am solid (in) I am free (out) (repeat two lines) In the ultimate I dwell (in) In the Pure Land I dwell (out) (repeat two lines)

You will be able to sit, stand, or walk at ease. You can calm yourself, you can smile at the chaos around you, and you will be able to continue what you are doing in a focused mindful way. Then, when you find your mind going off in another direction, pull another gatha from your gatha storehouse.

If you do a lot of walking meditation, either slow or fast (for exercise), you will note the built-in rhythm of walking and the gatha adapts well to any kind of walking. For example, with fast walking, my rhythm is four steps to each stanza:

In (in breath, four steps) Out (out breath, four steps) Deep (in, four steps) Slow (out, four steps) Calm (in, four steps) Ease (out, four steps) Smile (in, four steps) Release (out, four steps) Present moment (in, four steps) Wonderful moment (out, four steps)

Or, with slow walking use one step per line. For me, fast walking is a very mindful practice and I try to do it in the present moment, enjoying the blue sky, the flowers, the insects, the birds, and my faster breathing.

A gatha is a poem, a song (see A Basket of Plums), and a guided meditation. They are the same and used in different situations. For example, with “Breathing In, Breathing Out,” I sing or chant it to myself as I walk, as I drive, as I work in my garden. The rhythm of walking, weightlifting, and working adapts well to the stanzas.

A Gatha to Cool the Flames

How often anger creeps into my mind! What a pernicious little seed it is, suddenly sprouting at the slightest provocation. We need to recognize and embrace our anger. When anger arises, stop — do nothing. Let the flames cool. Use a gatha to come back to yourself. Smile at your anger.

Angry in the ultimate dimension I close my eyes and look deeply. Three hundred years from now where will you be and where will I be?

Finally, we can take existing gathas and adapt them to our individual situations – change some words, add your own lines. And, as Thay instructs us, write your own gathas. Encourage your children to write gathas. Ask your sangha to write and share gathas.

Sitting by the Garlic

For example, gardening is a major part of my life, a true meditation, a place to dwell happily in the present moment, a practice of non-self, impermanence, and interbeing:

Walking in my garden I touch the present moment. I am the flower. I am the cloud. I am the butterfly. I hold some compost in my hand And touch the essence of the Buddha.

Sitting by the garlic the turtle moves under the mulch. The beauty of life surrounds me. Breathing in, I sit with impermanence. Breathing out, I smile at the flowers. Breathing in, I enjoy this moment. Breathing out, there is no place to go.

The bits and pieces of our lives may seem routine and mundane – getting up, bathing, going to the bathroom, cooking, eating, washing dishes, cleaning, taking care of children and grandchildren, being with friends, gardening, working, driving, etc. The joy of the practice is doing everything in mindfulness, no matter how routine, because all these little things when put together equal our lives. This is what we do. The practice is now or never, with what we do and where we are. We can experience the joy of moving through our days in freedom and with equanimity, walking with peaceful steps and looking at all beings with our eyes of compassion.

The day is ending and our life is one day shorter. Let us look carefully at what we have done. Let us practice diligently, putting our whole heart into the path of meditation. Let us live deeply each moment and in freedom, so the time doesn’t slip away meaninglessly.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he makes the desert bloom. He practices with the Rainbow Sangha and he keeps the Mindfulness Bell circulating.

Resources for Gatha Practice

All of these are by Thich Nhat Hanh unless otherwise noted, and all are available from Parallax Press (www.parallax.org).

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: A beautiful short book with 49 gathas, featuring Thay’s commentary on each one.

Stepping into Freedom – An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training: This book is not just for monastics but is for everyone. It begins in Part One with 68 gathas.

Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices: A basic resource for our personal and sangha practice. See the section on gathas, pp. 37-41.

A Basket of Plums (ed. Joseph Emet): Gathas as songs; songs as gathas.

The Blooming of a Lotus – Guided Meditation Exercises for Healing and Transformation: While some of the meditations are very long, others are shorter and consist of familiar gathas.

The Energy of Prayer – How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice: See Appendix 2, “Buddhist Prayers and Gathas,” pp.145-155.

Thay occasionally brings gathas into his other books. Some examples: Touching the  Earth– Intimate Conversations with the Buddha, pp. 23, 71, and 72; No Death, No Fear, pp. 43 and 80. In The Path of Emancipation there is a beautiful explanation of “I Have Arrived, I am Home,” pp. 28-31, as well as a discussion of “In/Out, Deep/Slow,” pp. 115-119, and comments on “Being an Island Unto Myself,” pp. 181182.

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