sustainability

In Gratitude

Support for a Nunnery at Deer Park Monastery

By Mary Gorman

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

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

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

Our True Sisters

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

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

A Vibrant Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

mb65-InGratitude4Join in Supporting a New Nunnery

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

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

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The Question of Overpopulation

By Brother Phap Lai

Question to PV Listening Website — 15 December 2007

Teacher, One of the five precepts asks us not to kill. I am concerned about the effects of overpopulation and historical outcomes such as war. Global warming proponents indicate that the human population is to blame. Some suggest that to achieve a sustainable earth our population must be reduced by as much as four-fifths. The entire earth may be in the balance. If the scientific evidence is accurate what guidance can you give us in avoiding the unthinkable? — Steve

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your stimulating question and for having the courage to ask it. Many of us keep “unthinkable” thoughts hidden away, or we immediately believe in them without questioning their validity. History provides evidence that these thoughts — whether kept in a vault of shame or expressed philosophically to others — will one day be acted out at the collective level.

Overpopulation is indeed one factor that can build pressure for this to happen. The genocide in Rwanda was fueled by tensions that had built up due to pressure on common land and water resources caused by a combination of increasing population and environmental effects of global warming. The situation in Darfur is similar. Sadly there are people willing to exploit tensions to create division, hatred and fear in the desire for personal power and wealth or to impose an ideology. What can be done?

The environmental pressures our planet faces, of which overpopulation is an integral part, are tearing at the very fabric of the complex and diverse life that makes our experience so rich and beautiful today. Life on Earth is in trouble not in the future but now. It seems we are setting up conditions for a sixth mass extinction event on this planet. In Heat by environmentalist George Monbiot we read that foreseeable rises in temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are comparable with those that helped trigger the biggest-ever extinction event, at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago — a period as ecologically diverse as today’s. Computer modeling tells us that with a ninety percent reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2030 we have a two-out-of-three chance to prevent runaway global warming and avert this destiny.

Monbiot then sets about demonstrating, by picking on some key areas such as transportation, household energy use, electricity supply, and some example industries that these cuts could realistically be made while maintaining a good standard of living. Of course the affluent minority would have to change their ways. For example we would need to severely restrain our long distance travel habits but this is surely more palatable than an eighty percent reduction in population. Are we willing to change?

Call for a Collective Awakening

Like you I am deeply concerned about the tendency of humankind to resort to war as a solution to our problems. War is the deepest expression of human suffering and represents a failure to face our difficulties and seek healing in us and between us. What is needed is compassion and brotherhood — a “war-like” effort in which we pull together as one people. Al Gore recently said what is most crucial is a change in the collective consciousness to see the interdependence of all things. Similarly Thay says: “We need a collective awakening; enlightenment can no longer be considered an individual matter.”

It seems clear that we are already suffering the unstoppable consequences of global warming and many of us will perish. Remaining in denial is not an option. Thay encourages us to accept our situation in such a way that we make peace with it in our hearts. Action taken from this place of peace will then be effective — right action — and is our best hope. But in taking on board the reality of what is happening we need to be careful. There is a tendency to fall into despair and become paralyzed. Unable to hold the situation mentally we try to forget what we know and take refuge in our own busy lives again. Once again we simply hand over responsibility to politicians and experts. However, without an informed and active public, politicians of selfish interest will take advantage. Eventually they will force upon us desperate schemes (backed up by “experts”) that will have more to do with seizing power and will undoubtedly make the situation far worse.

Dying a Spiritual Death

In your question you refer to a perceived need among some experts to reduce the world’s population by four-fifths in order for humanity to have a chance to survive. Your reference to the “unthinkable” suggests that war and genocide may actually form part of the solution. This thought if not unthinkable should be unconscionable.

At the intellectual level we can get lost in a maze of complex moral questions and believe we have to do the unthinkable for the greater good. More frequently I hear people, sometimes timidly, sometimes boldly, voice opinions that wars and pandemics such as HIV and TB are necessary because we need to reduce the population of people. If we are to think like this then we must be prepared to die and see our children die in the same manner. We all are brothers and sisters sharing this planet. Perhaps we see disease as mother Earth’s mechanism to balance things. It is true, we cannot predict or necessarily control the course of nature but how sad if we think letting or making it all happen over there will help our plight. Disease, famine, and war cause misery and chaos and that will affect us all. Their stability and happiness is our stability and happiness. We inter-are. As soon as there is an “us and them,” an “over there,” in our minds we have lost touch with this truth — the truth of interbeing.

No one would deny that overpopulation is a major issue we face as a global community. However, the idea that reducing the population by four-fifths will necessarily solve anything needs to be examined.

Suppose that we achieved that goal, either by actively killing people or passively turning a blind eye to genocides, the ravages of civil wars, or disease and famine in other countries. Thinking that this would favor the physical survival of the remaining one-fifth is to forget something of fundamental importance — namely that in the process we will all have died spiritually. In Buddhism it is clear that the means cannot be separated from the ends. The so-called ends are defined by the means. Thay makes this clear when he says, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

Staying Connected

The First Mindfulness Training, as well as asking us not to kill, also asks us to “cultivate compassion.” Compassion here is not simply an emotion but is rooted in the Sanskrit word karuna. Thay teaches us that karuna, to be translated properly, needs to convey the meaning of “the capacity to relieve suffering.” Compassion in this sense implies an understanding of the situation, knowing what to do and what not to do to help, along with the willingness and ability to act. Understanding is more than intellectual or practical knowledge.

Ravi Ravindra, Prof. Emeritus of Canada’s Dalhousie University warns us on this point:

The search for truth — when it becomes more and more mental and divorced from deeper and higher feelings such as compassion, a sense of the oneness and the like — leads to feelings of isolation and accompanying anxiety … Then one wants to control others and conquer nature. Much of our predicament arises from this very dedication to truth in an exclusively mental manner.

True insight is always in line with compassion and the truth of the interdependence of all things. This perspective can only be found when one is stable, peaceful, and connected with the heart.

When ideas to control population come up that at first seem abhorrent I suggest taking a long walk and sitting in nature. After calming the mind and enjoying the connection to life, then we are qualified to look into the situation. First we can see the real consequences of our idea if put into action. And in time insight into the situation will allow solutions not seen before to arise. There are always more creative less violent ways of helping.

Collapse of the American Dream

Looking more closely into the problem of overpopulation we might start by reminding ourselves that the U.S.A. population, although only four percent of the world’s, consumes twenty-five percent of the world’s oil supply. Its per-capita consumption of the rest of the Earth’s material resources similarly outstrips that of other countries. It is clear from this fact alone that how we consume is just as important as how many people there are. China’s and India’s consumption is growing fast, a growth that will soon require more than one planet Earth to sustain us. And yet in the vast majority of countries people are poor and not responsible for these phenomena. Ironically when we think of overpopulation we think of the poor in the so-called third world and yet these people’s ecological footprint is virtually zero. If one’s goal is to create a sustainable planet, then one must address consumption as well as population  stabilization.

As a global society we need to turn in a different direction. We need to learn to live in a sustainable way, embracing simple living and focusing on community — sharing resources as opposed to the individual suburban utopia. In our small monastic community in New York, for instance, the cost of food per person is $2 a day. We eat vegan and try to eat local produce. Trips out to shop are also reduced because of communal living.

Collective awakening can gain momentum only with individual actions. To this end, Thay, in his public talks, often takes time to encourage us to reduce our consumption of meat. Thay quotes figures that point out the environmental cost of meat consumption. (See Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness in the Marketplace, page 72, and the Mindfulness Bell, Winter/Spring 2008). If everyone in the U.S. were to reduce their meat consumption by half that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than if everyone were to drive hybrid cars. Seeing vegetarianism as a way out is not new. Albert Einstein said: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Collectively of course we can do a lot more — for instance, by morally supporting, inspiring and educating each other; making collective commitments (see the environmental initiative sign-up sheet on the Deer Park website), pooling ideas and resources; and speaking as one voice to industry, the media, and politicians. Ultimately we need the political will to implement national and international legislation that will meaningfully reduce our impact and move us into sustainable living. This requires the people’s deep understanding of the situation; politicians of integrity must have a support base.

Sustainable Compassion

Stabilizing human population is one aspect, albeit an important aspect, of the challenge to restore our ecosystem’s stability. In his book Plan B 2.0, Lester Brown presents a comprehensive and budgeted plan to literally “rescue the planet” under five main categories: (1) eradicating poverty and stabilizing population, (2) restoring the Earth, (3) feeding seven billion people well, (4) stabilizing climate, and (5) designing sustainable cities. He argues that to achieve a stabilized population of a well-fed seven billion is possible; his overall budget for Plan B implementation is $161 billion. Compare this to the money spent on the Iraq war, estimated to surpass $2 trillion (Harvard Magazine).

Linking the stabilization of population to the eradication of poverty as Lester Brown does is important. Adequate nutrition, good health care, and parental support especially for women, access to family planning services, readily available contraception along with education, these are all affordable and essential to creating the necessary conditions to empower people to make choices about the size of their family. Interestingly much research (e.g., UNICEF) shows that the most effective way to reduce the number of children born is to educate girls and keep them in school. This is a goal we can all help to achieve.

Draconian methods may achieve short-term results but also have unforeseen adverse consequences. For instance, I do not advocate enforcing fertility control measures as in China. It has caused a huge suffering which will be passed on for generations and has arguably not achieved a reduced impact on the Earth (see Collapse by Jared Diamond).

Lasting solutions respond compassionately to the real needs of the people. They come from those who are involved in the actual situation and grounded in love, which cannot be said of either Communist party policy implemented by a police state or IMF capitalist ideology enforced by economic leverage. Lasting solutions usually come from grassroots organizations — from the people themselves. They often require modest funding and only need to be supported by understanding authorities and not be obstructed by them.

Offering Our Gifts

Getting involved in our local community is therefore key. In this way we do not fall once again into forgetfulness or despair but can help inspire hope, especially in the younger generation who inherit our legacy. Finding and building a community of likeminded individuals to work towards this can alleviate our feelings of isolation and fear. In community we find a way to contribute our own special gifts to this cause.

Some reading is helpful. I can recommend the work of environmentalists and social activists Lester Brown, George Monbiot, and Jared Diamond (books cited above), Joanna Macy (World as Lover, World as Self), John Seed, and Paul Hawkens (Blessed Unrest). They help us understand the situation in all its complexity and offer us practical and humane ways to respond to the crisis. Thich Nhat Hanh himself has a wonderful new book on the subject, The World We Have.

Ultimately, the crisis we face is a spiritual one. Developing our own practice of meditation and mindfulness, finding and building Sangha — a community practicing the path of understanding and love. These are the important things to do. Personal practice gives us an inner refuge, a place of stability to go back to. The Sangha becomes a boat on which we can navigate the storm together. Practicing together we cultivate the much-needed insight, inner strength, and spirit of non-fear that we need to respond compassionately to our situation.

Thank you again for bringing up this topic for all of us to reflect on and please know that your practice and deepening insight is important to us all.

Brother Phap Lai currently resides in Blue Cliff Monastery, New York.

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Celebrating Hanoi’s Anniversary

Twelve Proposals By Thich Nhat Hanh

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In the year 1010, one thousand years ago, the first king of the Ly dynasty founded Thang Long, the city now known as Hanoi. The Ly dynasty has been described as “the most compassionate, peaceful and harmonious in the history of Vietnam” by the eminent historian Hoang Xuan Han. This, he wrote, was “thanks to the influence of Buddhism.”

The first king of the Ly dynasty was Ly Thai To. From a very young age he had been trained as a Buddhist monastic aspirant at Luc To temple by Zen Master Van Hanh. When he ascended to the throne he organized political and cultural life in the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

The practice of Buddhism gave the nation a solid foundation of peace and happiness that lasted for centuries. Ly Nhah Tong, the fourth king in the Ly Dynasty, spoke of Master Van Hanh with great respect. “Master Van Hanh’s actions embraced the whole of the past, present, and future,” he said. “His words presaged events with extraordinary accuracy. In his hometown Co Phap, he needed only to plant his staff in the ground and sit in stillness, and the city of Thang Long could enjoy stability and peace for ever.”

Ten thousand actions embrace past, present, and future, Words of foretelling are effective, With a monk’s staff firmly planted in Co Phap Stability reigns in the kingdom.

The best way to celebrate 1,000 years of Hanoi is for the government and the whole nation to endeavour to take up and continue the work our forefathers began in founding the capital, namely:

  1. To establish a university with the name Van Hanh, offering courses that have the capacity to transmit the spirit of openness, fearlessness, and non-dualism as taught by Master Van Hanh. Other campuses can be established simultaneously in other major cities of the country.
  2. To allocate time for the daily study of global ethics at all levels of education, and invest money in training teachers to teach ethics, in the light both of traditional Vietnamese cultural values and global ethics. The classes should offer concrete practices that can be applied to address contemporary social evils such as domestic violence, divorce, suicide, drug abuse, prostitution, abuse of power, and corruption. In this way, the policy of model ethical towns and villages can be realized.
  3. To call for a summit of all religious traditions and charitable organizations in Vietnam to draft a non-sectarian Charter of Ethics that can be a basis for the practice of ethics throughout the country. This text should have the capacity to bring about a healthy and compassionate society and save the planet. Each tradition should present and contribute their own ethical code (for example, Buddhism would present the Revised Five Mindfulness Trainings), and together discuss, exchange, and learn from one another how these principles can be applied in family life, schools, and workplaces. Recitations of the resulting non-sectarian text can be organized once a month in every temple, church, town hall, or library. Government officials should also attend recitations alongside ordinary citizens.
  4. To establish councils of wise and ethical people in villages, towns, and cities. These councils should be composed of people renowned for their kindness and virtue, who can be ethical role models for the community. The councils could include Catholic priests, Protestant Ministers, and Buddhist Abbots and Abbesses, who would care for the ethical well-being of the community with their wisdom, loving kindness, encouragement, and firmness.
  5. To offer an amnesty for all those in exile abroad, banished from their hometown within Vietnam, or imprisoned, whether for being members of unauthorized organizations or churches or because they have called for pluralism, multi-partyism, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech. A number of prisoners should be given early release on social work under the guidance and sponsorship of ordained members of all religions.
  6. To repeal taxes for anyone without a home, a job, or a source of income.
  7. To establish Sunday as a “No Car Day” in Hanoi and other big cities and towns: citizens should only use bicycles, rickshaws, or horse carriages, or walk, except in emergencies. Sunday should also be a No-Smoking Day and No-Alcohol Day—a day on which no cigarettes, wine, or beer is sold.
  8. To support the establishment of vegetarian restaurants in the capital and other major cities. Every restaurant must offer at least a few vegetarian dishes on the menu, and everyone should be encouraged to be vegetarian for at least 15 days a month (according to the UN’s recommendations to cut back meat consumption by 50% to save the planet). Those who fully embrace a vegetarian diet can benefit from a 50% discount on their health insurance contributions.
  9. To subsidize solar power technology for cooking rice, boiling water, lighting, preparing tea, washing clothes, and so on.
  10. To end the production and use of plastic bags and packaging.
  11. To call for a Great Buddhist Summit, and invite Venerable monks and nuns from inside and outside the country to re-establish a People’s Buddhist Church, totally free from political  interference.
  12. To organize retreats in Vietnam for Vietnamese people and foreigners to learn and practice ways to transform violence and build brotherhood and sisterhood in the spirit of openness and non-dualism as taught by Zen Master Van Hanh.

If the government, law-makers, and law-enforcers of the country do not want to, or cannot, realize these proposals, then we, the People, will do it by ourselves, beginning with the Buddhists and with the support of other religions and charitable associations.

The Zen Master’s name “Van Hanh” means “Ten Thousand Actions;” The Zen Master’s name “Nhat Hanh” means “One Action.” Thich Nhat Hanh founded a “Van Hanh Buddhist University” in Saigon in the early 1960s.

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