walking meditation

Introduction of Thay

Mrs. Raisa Gorbachev, President Gorbachev, and all the wonderful and distinguished people who are here. Rigoberta Menchu in her keynote address yesterday said that there is a lot of power for good in this room. I know of no conference in the last 35 years that has brought so many extraordinary and accomplished people from the social, political, scientific, academic, and spiritual worlds together—and especially in such an intimate and trusting atmosphere. I am very honored to introduce to you one of the most influential and empowering spiritual persons of today, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. I first met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982 at the "Reverence for Life Conference" in New York City. I immediately saw that he had that anticipated—but rare—trait of Zen masters that he not only was what he was teaching—is what he is teaching—but that he also has that even rarer power to produce a direct understanding in others of what he is teaching. It was deeply gratifying to see and know that this is possible. At that time, we decided to march together with six friends in the upcoming and, I believe, last great Peace March in the United States. Over one million persons marched, and it was immediately apparent that he was not in this parade simply to be counted as someone who was against the missiles installed in Western Europe aimed at the Soviet Union, he was acknowledging with each step the potential use of these missiles and the unimaginable destruction of which they are capable. His presence was so big that it carried to the eight of us walking together—very slowly and peacefully—and to the whole of the march, so that the six lanes' wide of people behind us simply did not pass us. The experience of this tangible power to move and be in a spiritual space that is not our ordinary social or psychological space, and the direct experience of this teacher changed my life.

There are many other things that can be said about him. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end the Vietnam War both in Vietnam and in the United States. And I could speak about his work in Vietnam as a young man before and then during the war—helping anyone needing help; his teaching in Europe and the United States—and recently in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan; his work bringing the plight of the boat people to the attention of the world; his presence at the Paris Peace talks in 1969; his monastic and lay retreat center called Plum Village in southern France; his scholarly and popular writings, poetry, and translations—but this would take a great deal of time. There are 1.5 million copies of his books in print in English, and these books are also in print in more than 20 other languages. He has taught Buddhism and his direct practice of mindful walking in 25 countries and on every continent. His most well-known books are Peace Is Every Step, Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and his new—just published book—Living Buddha, Living Christ. I give you one of the great teachers of this century, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

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State of the World Forum

By Joan Halifax In September, Thich Nhat Hanh quietly stood before nearly 1,000 people in San Francisco and asked the question, "How do we realize peace?" Gathered were world leaders, business leaders, religious teachers, and others. This meeting was initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and colleagues from around the world, including Nobel Laureates, Presidents and Prime Ministers, and other luminaries. The meeting began an initiative on the part of Mr. Gorbachev to create a global community of individuals committed to a deep inquiry into the challenges that will face us in the coming century.


In the midst of the Forum, Thay sat like a Buddha reminding us of what we were really looking for. As some raced to meetings, Thay and 100 others did a meditation walk through the halls and on the roof garden of the Fairmont Hotel. In the steady quietness of the walk, people who were hurrying slowed down, and many joined us. At his keynote address, Thay offered the precepts as guidelines, whether we are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim. He reminded us of the ravages of war and the gifts of peace. He encouraged us to slow down and to look deeply into the present moment.

As Thay has said, if we care for the planet, we care for ourselves. If we take care of hungry children, we feed all beings. This sensibility of compassion in action was the awakening bell throughout the gathering. In the closing plenary session, biologist Jane Goodall said, "For me, stewardship has come to mean caring as much as we can, not only for each other but for the creatures, the nonhuman beings with whom we share the planet. It is when every one of us has the empowerment to know that we have the stewardship of this amazing planet in our hands, then gradually we can move towards true human potential for compassion, for respect, and for love."

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

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Sangha Solstice Celebration

By Michel Colville & Fred Allendorf

Open Way Sangha in Montana has celebrated the Winter Solstice together for the last four years. Winter Solstice is the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. It has been an important ceremonial time for humans since the dawn of our species. Our celebration was initiated by Rolly Meinholtz to celebrate the beginning of the return of the sun in the midst of the snow—short days and long nights of a Montana winter. Solstice gives us a wonderful opportunity to give gifts of the spirit: retelling a seasonal memory, a song or instrumental music, a poem, a painting, a dance or mime, or sharing a special story; all to help celebrate the advent of winter and the return of light.

Our celebration begins Saturday night closest to the solstice with a sitting period and precept recitation. Last year our celebration fell upon the full moon. Sunday morning begins with a welcome to newcomers who did not spend the night at the lodge and a sitting period while waiting for the winter sun to rise. Our walking meditation that follows this early morning meditation is perhaps the most moving part of our solstice festival. We walk through the woods to an evergreen tree that has been selected by Rolly. The snow is deep and we often have to struggle to get to the tree. Once at the site, one of us talks of the hardships that wild animals face in the winter: the cold, the lack of food, and the many accidents that can befall them. We sing in celebration of these animals and each other. Each person then places a gift to the animals on the tree to help them survive until spring, and says a few words about what this giving means for them. Then we return to the lodge to share in a potluck that mirrors the giving of food to the animals.

In the afternoon, we come together for a formal tea ceremony and a sharing of gifts of the heart. The ceremony that Rolly has developed for this is beautiful and moving. The room is dark except for the candles on the altar. As each person comes forward to give their intangible gift, they light a candle to symbolize the return of the light that heralds the coming of spring. They then share a song, a poem, or whatever they wish that has special meaning to them.

As each person comes forward the light in the room becomes stronger, just as each day adds a small amount of light to bring us to the Spring Equinox. By the end of the ceremony, the room is quite bright as the altar blazes with many candles. We end with songs of jubilation for the wonderful season and the beautiful friends we are able to share it with.

Michel Colville and Fred Allendorf, members of the Order of Interbeing, live in Missoula, Montana.

Closing the Door

By Mushim Ikeda-Nash On Thursday, April 11, my father, Robert Yoshizo Ikeda, died in his sleep at his home on Lake Anna in Virginia. My son Joshua and I were visiting at the time, mostly to help my mother, who is recovering from lymphoma and needs to be driven back and forth from a hospital in Richmond for blood transfusions. My father was 71 years old and his death was almost completely unexpected by everyone except his doctor, who diagnosed massive cardiac arrest without an examination.

At the time my father died, my mother was in the coronary ward of the hospital in Richmond, receiving some tests and being observed for effects of a new medication to regulate her heart beat. My sister, who lives in Charlottesville only 50 miles away, was in Honolulu delivering a talk, ironically enough, on "Japanese Death Poetry." My brother, an M.D./Ph.D. research scientist, was in Georgia. I felt quite alone when I discovered my father's body on Friday morning. He was lying on his left side; his face and hands were dark blue and very cold and stiff.

My heart was pounding and I began to feel faint. I saw clearly what I needed to do. I left the room, closing the door behind me, and walked slowly around the living room, breathing deeply and slowly. At that moment, I felt the responsibility to become calm and clear for Joshua's sake; he was still sleeping in the family room in the basement and would wake up soon. The sun was shining through the big windows that cover one whole side of the house and open onto a view of the lake. During those moments of walking meditation, I felt that the meditation practices I began in 1981 were resources I could draw upon to stabilize me, even to give me some joy that there was no sign of struggle or suffering in the room where my father's body lay. I knew this would be a stressful day with many pressures and decisions, and I felt that I wanted it to be a good day.

When I felt calm, I went downstairs and woke Josh up. He is seven years old. "Something important has happened," I told him. "Grandpa died last night." He put his head under the blankets, then raised it and said, "Maybe if we go out for a long walk and come back, Grandpa will just be in a deep sleep." I told him that this was not the case, and Grandpa really was dead. I said he needed to put on his clothes, come upstairs and have breakfast, after which I would be very busy making phone calls and arrangements. We had a quiet and peaceful breakfast looking out at the lake, then I called the neighbors and set in motion the official investigation and removal of the body. My brother-in-law, a Jodo Buddhist priest from Brazil, and my five-year-old nephew arrived from Charlottesville to help. As the funeral service men carried my dad out of the house, Josh stood at attention with a toy Japanese sword that my grandpa had sent my brother from Hawaii at least 35 years ago. Although the funeral home men had suggested I take the children into another room, I had asked Josh what he wanted. My father had died very naturally; I did not want it to become a secret and scary process. "I want to watch," he told me. "This is the last time we will see Grandpa in his earthly form."

A light rain began to fall as they loaded my father's body into a van. I placed my palms together and bowed as they closed the doors.

Although my father was against organized religion, we ended up having a small Buddhist funeral, with my brother-in-law, Kensaku Yuba, presiding. This was according to my mother's wishes. Seven days later we held another service with my father's ashes at the lake house. My cousin, Mary Oshima-Nakade, flew in from San Francisco with her two children and her mom, and brought some copies of a service from the Plum Village Chanting Book. As part of the service, I read the "introduction" part of the funeral service, requesting the community to listen calmly and clearly, and to recall that the joy of the children and grandchildren is the joy of the deceased as well. We sang "Breathing In, Breathing Out" together. My husband Chris had flown in from Oakland, and, with Josh sitting on my lap, I felt happy and secure. During Ken's Japanese chanting, which was very beautiful, Joshua and Mary's four-year-old son Ryan both fell asleep on their mother's laps.

I wish to thank all of you for your work in making Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings available to me and to my family. I have always felt profoundly influenced by Thay's emphasis on relaxation, joy, and slowing down the pace of one's life in order to appreciate and feel what is truly around and within us. My father suffered a great deal from massive anxieties, racial discrimination and isolation, financial hardship, anger, and paranoia during his life. He grew up on a farm in Indiana during the Great Depression and was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after World War II ended. The extent that we were able to create an atmosphere of spiritual support, joy, and loving kindness after he died was of benefit to my whole family and to my father. I really cannot adequately express my gratitude for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I bow to all of you.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash lives in Oakland, California with her partner and son. She is a writer and proofreader, and a former nun in the Korean Zen Buddhist tradition.

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The River Koan

By Mark Vette mb21-TheRiverOne evening I invited my eight-year-old son, Koan, for a river walk under the near full moon. He lit up, reminding me of my promise to show him the wild duck nest. The dogs joined us. In the joyous fracas we passed Mother Kaihikatea, a huge native tree of great spiritual significance to the Maori people. My mother's ashes are buried there, along with many animal friends. Koan and I bowed. He spoke of burying a pukeko chick he had tried to save. We talked about Pip, a friend we worked with as she died. I realized how maturely he understood death and how fortunate we were to have direct experience of impermanence.

We climbed the fence into the meadow, where I normally begin formal walking. My breath hugged me in the quiet night. The silver river reflected the moonlight filtering through the leaves. Flap-flap-swoosh!! Koan started as the mother duck flew from her nest in a small bush. He rushed to pull back the branches and looked in as if he'd found the king's jewels. In the moonlight, the eggs looked like huge pearls as they were reflected in his joyful face. Koan felt the eggs to see if the mother was sitting, then lectured me not to disturb her nesting.

A short time later, I left him watching a possum and walked quietly on to sit under a tanekaha tree at the water's edge. I slipped into the silver flow of the river and the image of Thay's teaching came back vividly: allow your mind to become as immense as the great river and the muddiness of life is washed clean. Within minutes, I felt fresh and clear.

Koan's muttering to the dogs edged nearer. He spoke to them as if they were human, looking down a rabbit hole with Polly-his blonde hair and muddy pants, and her we€d-ridden coat and wagging, excited tail. Koan rushed over and asked how big I thought the underground rabbit town was and what might they be doing? He asked why I was sitting, not walking. I explained I wanted to sit with the river for a while. He understood, dropped between my legs, and snuggled up.

We sat meditating on sticks and weeds. Bubbles. "Could that be an eel?" We sat. He enjoyed my warm presence and stability. I enjoyed his freshness and energy.

Walking back slowly, we held hands. When I hold Koan's hand as we walk, he quiets and seems to know I just want to walk and be with him by touch. The walk ended with one tired boy falling asleep on my lap. I watched the beauty and peace of my child's sleep. Practice with children is wonderful when it is natural and unnamed.

Mark Vette, True Great Root, is the father of three children and practices with Long White Cloud Sangha in Auckland, New Zealand.

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Pain, Love, and Happiness

By Khanh Le Van The University of California at Santa Barbara campus was huge. "Wait till you see the gym," said my Dharma brother Arnie. Indeed, for the next five days we 1,300 retreatants would sit together in that gym for meditation and Dharma talks. A team beaded by Wendy Johnson was busy arranging the gym into sitting meditation squares. Some people set up the altar and stage, others carefully prepared Thay's suite and the rooms of the 34 monks and nuns accompanying him. The atmosphere was very warm. I was so happy for the wonderful opportunity to meet my teacher again.

The next afternoon people poured in to register-young and not so young, businessmen and women, artists, teachers, students, Buddhists, and non-Buddhists. The wide variety of people gave me more hope for the work of building peace. Retreatants stayed in dormitories around the campus and could practice walking meditation from one place to another.


As we queued up for supper the first night, the level of mindfulness practice was high for such a large gathering. The vegetarian food was so good that it influenced many to change their diet. Most people chose to eat in the outdoor dining hall under a white tent and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny weather. The Five Contemplations were read after fifteen minutes, giving time for some of us to settle first, and read one more time for later comers. I thought of the millions of hungry children around the world and was very mindful of each morsel that I put into my mouth. I vowed to do my best to alleviate this hunger by deepening my practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

As the days passed, the quality of the noble silence deepened. Since the campus was right beside the ocean, Thay changed the morning sitting into outdoor walking meditation. Streams of people started at three different locations and met at the beach. There, we walked along the ocean as one big group headed by Thay-what a wonderful way to be! Our suffering, despair, anger, and fear, were still there-we recognized them. But, the capacity to be happy, light, and at ease was also there. We touched these positive seeds. Thay invited us to touch and taste what is available in the present moment-walking and sitting on the beach with the Sangha, the fresh morning air, the sound of the waves, and the soft sand under our feet. Throughout the retreat, this early morning walking meditation contributed much to the healing process for each of us.

Thay's Dharma talks were deep and well-presented, answering many core questions about fear of death, fear of the crowd, loss of beloved ones, improving family relationships, pain, and happiness. We also had many special interest presentations on topics including caring for the dying and their family members, and Sangha-building.

We had 57 Dharma discussion groups. The group I facilitated met quite a distance from my dormitory, so I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy my breathing while walking. I enjoyed seeing the campus come alive with retreatants practicing mindfulness with each step. I clearly remember the moment everybody stopped as the university bell chimed. I was standing still on the footpath, returning from a Dharma discussion. After three deep breaths, I noticed the stillness in front of me. I thought that I was walking in the Pure Land or in the Kingdom of God. An immense feeling of lightness arose in me.

Another beautiful scene was the presence of the monks and nuns, the flaps of their brown robes flying with the gentle breeze. They were so fresh, joyful, and peaceful. How fortunate we were to have the monastic order practicing with us. The energy produced by the Sangha was very powerful.

The retreat ended with the transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, received by many retreatants. More and more people are searching for something true, beautiful, wholesome. Practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings leads in that direction.

May we be diligent in our practice for the future to be possible.

Dharma teacher Khanh Le Van, True Transmission, practices with the Lotus Buds Sangha in Sydney, Australia.

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The Gift of Healing

One Woman's Experience

By Julia Corbett

In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes: ''Those who have been sexually abused have the capacity to become bodhisattvas .... Your mind of love can transform your own grief and pain, and you can share your insight with others." In this spirit, I offer this reflection on how my Buddhist practice-in addition to a caring counselor and keeping a journal-has contributed to my healing from childhood sexual abuse.

My daily practice includes three basic elements: ritual, reading something spiritually-enriching, and meditation. For me, doing these things in the early morning quiet works best. I begin the day focused, my priorities in line.

Ritual can be beneficial in content, and comforting in its constancy. When everything else seems to be coming loose, the ritual remains a touchstone. Taking Refuge and using some of the Plum Village Chanting Book material link me to the larger community of the Order of Interbeing, and to people throughout history who have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Two recitations from my daily practice deserve special mention. One is an affirmation of intention, by Thay: "I vow to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion, and practice joy and equanimity. I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon." This verse reminds me of the qualities I seek in my own life, and encourages me to reach out to other beings, to see past my own problems to the greater good. The other is a nontheistic revision of the serenity prayer: "I vow to cultivate the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." It is important not to let the energy we need for transformation be drained by a fruitless quest to change the past. We cannot change the fact of our abuse, but we can change its effect on us. It is meaningful to remind myself of this every day.

Several books by Buddhist authors have given me great hope and encouragement. Books that can be read a chapter a day have been most helpful. Often, I fmd insight or encouragement to take me through the day. Books I've found particularly encouraging include When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Hard Times, by Pema Chodron, Open Heart, Clear Mind, by Thubten Chadron, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and Old Path, White Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and A Heart as Wide as the World, by Sharon Salzberg.

Meditation has been the most helpful practice for me. No aspect of our lives remains unchanged by recognizing that we were abused as children, and healing from it. Recovering memories that lay unrecognized in our unconscious is a central aspect of healing. It can also be difficult. For me, meditation, particularly walking meditation, facilitated remembering. I practice walking meditation on a treadmill-walking vigorously, synchronizing breathing and steps. Ten minutes into my hour's walk, a deeply meditative state comes about quite naturally. During the phase of healing in which recovering memories was central, walking meditation was especially useful. It provided an open emotional and mental space into which memories could come, and a safe container for even the hardest memory. During walking meditation, the most difficult memories-recollections of the most violent abuse-arose, along with feelings that had lain dormant nearly half a century. Because I was centered and grounded, I could be fully present with what was happening, and let the memories and feelings come as they would. I felt safe and open, even at the worst of times. Walking meditation was also helpful when I was simply too agitated to sit still. Meditating with my Sangha has often lifted my spirits. Even if you aren't comfortable sharing your journey, the energy developed in group meditation can be positive and healing. Never underestimate the healing power of simple friendship.

During all phases of healing, our emotions whirl like a stream racing over rocks. The daily practice of simply following your breath and letting the emotions come and go-neither fearing nor rejecting what comes—is fundamental. We need to balance many difficult emotions-pain, grief over a lost childhood, anger and rage at the perpetrator or perpetrators, and the shame and guilt that are the inevitable legacy of abuse. We need to experience those emotions fully, but not be engulfed by them. Meditation is an excellent way to achieve this balance.

In all phases of healing, it is important to water our seeds of joy and peace. Mindfulness encourages me to be aware of those seeds, nourish and celebrate them, and look for ways to pass them along to other people. Sometimes, it's easy to be overwhelmed by negative emotions and memories. Meditation helps me touch the positive in life as well. And, when my awareness from formal meditation extends into daily life, I am better able to work with the effects of the abuse.

Our pain, fears, anger, and shame are all part of us. If we don't handle them with kindness, we do violence to ourselves, thus perpetuating the violence that was done to us as children. Thay suggests that we look on whatever comes up as guests in our living room. Granted, we are dealing with some pretty unpleasant guests here, but we invite them all in, treat them with respect, and learn from them.

After working with the guided meditations in The Blooming of a Lotus, I developed the following meditation, focused on the particular negative emotions experienced by people healing from sexual or other abuse, and on the positive seeds we seek to cultivate. I encourage others to examine the feelings particular to their experience and use them with this meditation.

Aware of the feeling of shame in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of shame in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of shame in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of guilt in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of guilt in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of regret in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of regret in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of regret in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of sadness in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of sadness in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of grief in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of grief in meI breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of grief in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of anger in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of anger in me, I breathe in.
Releasing the feeling of anger in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of joy in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of joy in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of joy in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of contentment in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of contentment in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of peace in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of peace in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of peace in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of calm in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of calm in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of calm in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of compassion in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of compassion in me, I breathe out. 

Aware of the feeling of healing in me, I breathe in.
Smiling to the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Aware of the sources of healing in me, I breathe in.
Welcoming the feeling of healing in me, I breathe out.

Julia Corbett welcomes contact from others exploring these issues. 10072 West County Road 300 South, Parker City, IN 47368; (765)468-6019; JuICorbet@aol.com.

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Walking for Peace

By Michael Trigilio

On Sunday, April 18, 1999, a number of engaged Buddhists and peace activists joined in a "Walking Meditation for Peace" in Austin, Texas on the State Capitol Grounds. The demonstration was sponsored by the Texas Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Austin and San Antonio Sanghas, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The walking meditation was an expression of solidarity and humility regarding the tragic war in Yugoslavia. Aware of all who have suffered in this conflict-Albanians, Serbs, NATO soldiers, POWs-we practiced Noble Silence and touched the Earth in the name of peace with each step.

A demonstration through silent walking meditation is a radical variation on traditional protest marches. We were not gathered to espouse any political agenda or to approach this conflict with a dualistic paradigm. We were simply walking to be in touch with the intense suffering of the people embroiled in this conflict.

About 75 people gathered on the Capitol steps. We invited five bells and began walking one step per breath in silence. A Sangha member printed small cards explaining Noble Silence, walking meditation, and the reason for the walk, in case anyone asked what we were doing. The walk was a tremendously profound and significant practice for me, albeit very somber.

After a long hour of silent, slow-walking meditation, we gathered people in a circle and handed out a dozen small meditation bells and gongs. We then invited the bells 108 times, which I was told was a traditional Tibetan peace ritual. Afterwards, two young Tibetan girls chanted a lovely chant in Tibetan, which they had prepared for this event. It was stunningly beautiful. Then, we bowed to each other and began speaking quietly, as we walked to our cars.

Michael Trigilio, True Birth of Peace, is a peace activist and student in Texas.

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Returning to Our Spiritual Roots

By Mitchell Ratner and Jerry Braza Early in the morning we leave our Beijing hotel on five deluxe buses: 150 of us from 16 countries, traveling with Thich Nhat Hanh and 30 monks and nuns from Plum Village and the Green Mountain Dharma Center. The major urban arteries are crowded with new cars, bicycles, and tricycles hauling goods and people. Commercial buildings on the major boulevard display billboards for Western products such as Pepsi Cola and Marlboro cigarettes. Thirty minutes later, the buses turn into an older neighborhood where they barely have room to maneuver in the narrow streets. Branches scrape our windows.

The buses stop, and as we were instructed, the monastics disembark first. We put on our ao trangs, the long grey temple robes traditionally worn in Vietnam. Tiep Hien members put their brown coats on over their ao trangs. We pass through the temple gates and enter the compound of the Ling Guang Temple. The city buildings and noise push their way to the gates of this compound, but the guardian figures, huge incense burners, trees, courtyards, and temple halls inside evoke a different world. We move through courtyards and shrine rooms. Thay and the monks walk ahead; we form a long procession behind. On both sides of us are lay people who have come to greet us and hear Thay speak. They bow with palms together, often saying "Amitofo, Amitofo, " "Homage to Amitaba Buddha." Many hand us prayer bead bracelets and pictures of Buddhas. Later we learn that the proper etiquette is for us to place our palms together in a lotus and keep walking mindfully, as Thay does when he enters a Dharma hall, but in this first temple visit, we try to return every smile, every bow, and yet keep moving.


Some minutes later we catch up with the head of the procession. Thay and the monastics are met by the abbot and monks of this temple. Together they enter a large Buddha hall and stand in front of three huge gilded Buddhas, the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. We file in behind the monks. Some of the Chinese lay people come behind us. Others stand in the courtyard or crowd the doors, attempting to get a better view. The abbot, representing the Buddhist Association of China, greets us warmly, noting that it is the first time the association has sponsored a visiting delegation from 16 countries. Thay then leads the delegation in touching the earth three times, honoring the buddhas and the abbot. The abbot, Thay explains, represents not only the Buddhists of today's China but also all the teachers from many generations: "We are here in China because Buddhism has been treasured and nurtured here for twenty centuries. The Buddhist culture in China is like refreshing water that lies deep in the Earth. The world suffers. If we practice deeply, we can make the water of Buddhism available to others."

So began May 15, 1999, our first full day of a journey to honor the Chinese roots of the Buddhist tradition that we have learned through the teachings and presence of Thich Nhat Hanh. During the next twenty days, we traveled from Beijing south to Guangzhou, visiting temples, monasteries, monastic training institutes, and historical sites in ten cities. Along the way we were deeply inspired by a sense of reverence from just being where fabled events occurred. We walked in Nan Jing, where in 225 A.D. the Vietnamese-trained monk Tang Hoi brought Buddhism to the Wu Empire and ordained the first Buddhist monks in China. We visited the Guangxio Temple in Guangzhou established by the legendary Bodhidharma, who brought the Dharma to the Emperor of the Liang dynasty in 525 A.D. and established the line of Chinese Patriarchs. In the mountains east of Guangzhou, we walked the ground of Nan Hua Temple, established in the seventh century by Hui-Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, the enlightened kitchen worker who received the Fifth Patriarch's bowl and robe and was then forced to flee south.

Four hours by bus from Beijing we stayed three nights in Bai Lin Temple, established in the ninth century by Chao-Chou, one of the many Dharma descendants of the Sixth Patriarch, whose insight lives on in numerous Zen teaching stories. A short bus ride from the Bai Lin Temple is the Big Buddha Temple where Lin Chi taught. A contemporary of Chao-Chou, he grounded Ch'an Buddhism in appreciation of daily life: "The miracle is not to walk on water, it is to walk on this earth." Sister Chan Khong noted that for us, as students of Thich Nhat Hanh, Lin Chi is our spiritual "Grandfather Monk." The Lin Chi lineage was brought to Vietnam in the 12th century and Thich Nhat Hanh is of the 42nd generation of Dharma teachers in this tradition.

Our longest stay was six nights at the Gao Ming Ch'an Monastery, situated on the Grand Canal, an hour's drive from the city of Yang Zhou. For several centuries, Gao Ming has been a center for the preservation and transmission of Ch'an Buddhism. During the Cultural Revolution it was essentially destroyed. The monks were scattered and the main buildings were converted to a silk weaving factory. In the 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution, the monks were able to reclaim their land and in the past fifteen years they have rebuilt and rejuvenated the monastery. Much of the financial support comes from the overseas Chinese Buddhist community, many of whose teachers were trained at Gao Ming.

Although we traveled and visited historic sites, our visit was not simply a tour. It was a pilgrimage and a cultural exchange. The tone was set the first night when Thay explained that we were in China not as individuals, but as a family, as a Sangha, a traveling community of practitioners. Our practice would be the Plum Village practice of maintaining a mindful state of being in all of our activities, supported by our conscious breathing, mindful eating, and mindful walking. "Whether we walk in a railroad station, Buddhist temple, or on the Great Wall, our practice is the same. We walk with mindfulness."

During our journey, the lessons came in many forms. Sangha building began even before the trip. Via the internet, participants helped each other prepare for the trip and shared information, concerns, and encouragement. In response to the unrest caused by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Thay said not to worry. "Our Chinese ancestors will protect us as we practice peacefully and joyfully together." Along the way, the teachings of compassion and love helped us face the physical and emotional challenges of traveling in China with a large group. Often we returned to Thay's counsel, "When one is not grateful, one suffers." When we were mindful, each step, each meal, and each encounter offered an opportunity to be grateful. Although Thay gave numerous Dharma talks, for many of us the most memorable teachings came when we were with Thay in an airport lounge or encountered him late at night in the shadows of a monastery courtyard. He was always modeling the practice for us, silently encouraging us to slow down and enjoy this very moment.

In addition to deepening our knowledge and practice, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to share the Plum Village practice with Chinese practitioners. Knowledge of Thay's teaching is slowly growing in China—a Chinese translation of Old Path, White Clouds was published to coincide with our visit. When the abbots of the temples and monasteries introduced Thay or thanked him, they often acknowledged his rare ability to translate Buddhist insights into clear images and practical actions that modern women and men can understand and follow. Thay frequently returned to the theme of making the practice joyful, especially in his talks to young Chinese monastics.


At Bai Lin and Gao Ming Monasteries, we joined with the monks in their Ch'an practice, which was diiferent from Plum Village practice. We sat on elevated benches, facing Buddha statues in the middle of the meditation hall. Even in warm weather, the monks tightly wrapped blankets around their legs, to hold in spiritual energy. A sitting was forty to sixty minutes (traditionally, one incense stick). Walking meditation was fast to very fast. In Bai Lin, the walking paths in the meditation hall were arranged in concentric circles—the inner circle being for the speediest, the outer for the slow walkers, usually the ill and old. In Gao Ming, there was no option, we all walked fast. The fast pace was intended to assist one in concentrating on walking rather than the thoughts that arise.


The underlying orientation to the meditation practice was also different. In Plum Village, practitioners are encouraged to be ever mindful of their breath and develop insight into the interrelated nature of life. Chinese monks in the Ch'an tradition usually work with a koan, especially the practice of always asking themselves "Who is?" "Who is sitting? Who is eating? Who is walking? Who is invoking the Buddha's name?" As both Thay and the abbots of the monasteries pointed out, however, the differences are outer forms only. They share a common essence established by the Buddha in India, by the Chinese Patriarchs, and by Lin Chi, to whom the abbots and Thay all trace their Dharma heritage.

During an informal conversation, someone mentioned to Thay that it was too bad certain high monks were not able to hear his Dharma talk. Thay replied that it didn't matter, they didn't need to hear the talks. If we practiced well, all they needed to do was look at us. This was true of both the visitors and the hosts. Communication, respect, and admiration flowed both ways, even when no words could be exchanged. Many in our group were especially taken by the kindness, dignified bearing, and bright smile of Master De Lin, the 85-year-old abbot of Gao Ming Monastery. Thay said of him: "His heart is full of compassion, and yet he is very firm."

Throughout the trip, we were touched by the simple generosities offered by Chinese monastics and lay people: a smile, a picture, a waiting bowl of fruit, a heartfelt bow, or simple guidance. Collectively, we were brought to grateful tears when it was announced during our leave-taking banquet at Gao Ming Monastery that the staff who cleaned our rooms, prepared our meals, served us, and cleaned up afterwards were all volunteers who had given up their vacation time and left their families to make our stay comfortable.

When Master De Lin gave us a tour of Gao Ming's new Buddha hall, much of which he himself had designed, he mentioned that behind the Buddha was a bas-relief of Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion, relieving many beings of their suffering. He then suggested that perhaps the best way to relieve suffering in the world is to become friends. In many ways, he was summing up our journey. As a traveling sangha we had lived and practiced together and become closer as friends. And as communities of Buddhist practice from Plum Village and from the temples, monasteries, and training institutes of China, we had shared from our hearts, learned from each other, and established bonds of respect and friendship.


Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community and the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center in Takoma Park, Maryland. Jerry Braza, True Great Response, practices with the River Sangha in Salem, Oregon.

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Precious Steps For Peace

By Pamela Overeynder

Members of Plum Blossom Sangha of Austin helped organize and participated in a public walking meditation on December 10, 2000, International Human Rights Day. The event, "Precious Steps for Peace," was sponsored by the Hill Country Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It was held to raise awareness about the international land mine crisis and to share with our Austin community the wonderful and ancient practice of walking meditation as a way to cultivate inner peace and compassion, and to diffuse anger and other unwholesome emotions.

About fifty people participated in the silent walk at the State Capitol. Most were not Buddhist and had never experienced walking meditation. As people arrived they were given a small card with Thay's calligraphy which says, "What is most important is to find peace and to share it with others." We gathered in a circle and invited everyone to: Walk in silence. Walk in support of our brothers and sisters around the world. Walk because you can. Walk in gratitude. Walk for peace. Walk with all your heart for those who can't.

Among the "walkers" were a woman in a wheelchair, a five-year-old girl and a soon to be born baby. We walked from the steps of the Capitol down the Great Walk, as it is called, toward the street. As I walked I repeated the gatha "Peace, Now." During the walk, several people, including me, noticed the distinct smell of sandalwood incense. As far as we know, no one offered incense, but the smell was unmistakable. A large poster showing two children with prosthetic devices in place of legs was placed at the end of the walkway, inviting each person to pause there for a moment before turning to walk back to the Capitol steps.

There were many people visiting the Capitol who quietly and respectfully moved around and past us as we walked. Children played happily on old canons, (relics of past wars) while their parents posed for Christmas pictures in front of the Capitol. One walker noted how fast and nervous "normal" walking seemed in comparison to our slow walk. People were deeply moved by the experience and expressed gratitude for the practice and for increased awareness of others' suffering.

We can play an important role as students of the Buddha by initiating and cultivating a dialogue about what it means to be peacemakers. Our walking meditation was one step in that direction.

Pamela Overeynder practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

The danger of unexploded land mines is one of the most pressing and immediate impediments to peace in the world today. Peace is much more than the absence of war. Peace is only possible when all beings are free to walk unharmed wherever they wish, when children can play safely outside, when farmers can work the land free of the danger of unexploded land mines.

There are over 70 million unexploded land mines around the world. Every 22 minutes, someone is maimed or killed by a land mine. This is an unnecessary tragedy. Citizens' groups around the world are joining in the massive effort to do what governments won't do--clear the minefields now.

The Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign is a four-month project of the local chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States. The campaign, a global citizens' effort, gives safe communities the opportunity to help endangered sister communities rid themselves of land mines. By adopting and raising funds to clear a minefield in the village of Praca in Bosma-Herzegovina, residents of Austin will help save lives and give hope to a people who desperately need to return to their homes. The goal of the Austin Campaign is to raise $50,000 to help clear the minefields in Praca. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ranked the village of Praca as a high priority for clean up and rebuilding.

As we reflect on the truth of interbeing, we see that all suffering is our own suffering. By recognizing our interconnectedness with all beings and acting now, we can make an immediate difference. Please join us in this very human endeavor to clear the path for a peaceful return home for the people of Praca after a long and bitter war.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Austin Campaign, please make your check out to the Austin Adopt-A-Minefield Campaign and mail to 1212 Guadalupe, Suite 105, Austin, Texas 78701. To find out if there's a campaign in your community, contact UNA-USA, 801 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10017, Attention: Oren Schlein. Phone: 212-907-1314. Visit the national website at www.landmine.org.

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Finding the Hermit in Italy

By Erika Manzan

One morning during Thich Nhat Hanh's October retreat in Italy, he talked to the children about finding our own Hermit. Thay said that to meet our Hermit, we must pay attention, since he can take any form. At the end of the children's Dharma talk, he invited them to write about their own experience and to send him their writings. Though I'm a mature woman and my hair all white, deep in my heart, I am one of those little girls. So I decided to write about my experience with my own Hermit.

During the retreat, I walked outdoors with Thay, the monastics and the whole Sangha. Walking slowly and peacefully through the pine woods was wonderful, relaxing, and full of harmony. And during just such a walking meditation, I met my Hermit.

I was walking attentively, following my breath, when my left foot bumped into something solid, sitting in the middle of my path. It was a big pine cone, tightly closed because of the night rain. "Here's my Hermit!" I picked it up and brought it with me. Once in my room, I placed it on the table and bowed to it in welcome. Then I returned to the retreat activities.

That night, after the last sitting meditation, I came back to my "hermitage" and my Hermit was where I left it, sitting still with dignity. I said hello and started to prepare myself for the night. But lost in my thoughts, I suddenly knocked my forehead against the upper bunk of my bed. I usually don't sleep in a bunk bed, but surely if I had not been absent-minded, I would have avoided that knock. With the pain came anger: I was angry with the Hermit. It was he who suddenly took the shape of the upper bed and hit me on the forehead! What should I do with him? Should I say to him "thank you," or should I throw him out?

I breathed mindfully, and I felt moved. I asked my Hermit: "Who are you?" And suddenly, I could see! "You are a very precious part of me and I ignored you so often. Please, stay here with me, it is cold and dark and rainy out there." For a long time I listened to the wind through the pine trees, then I fell asleep. That night I had a very quiet and restoring sleep. The next morning I woke to the sound of the bell. I rose and went to see my Hermit straight away. I bowed to him to say good morning; he was already awake.

During the night, my Hermit had opened his arms; his seeds were scattered on the table. He was revealing to me a secret that yesterday he kept for himself alone. Deeply moved, I joined my palms together and said, "My dear Hermit, now I can say to you 'yes' and 'thank you' ! I vow to take care of every seed and with your wisdom inside of me I'll be able to water the seeds worth growing and to let the others sleep in their shells. The seeds are all the same, there isn't any difference among them. Now I'm going to the morning meditation. Please feel free to take all the forms your wisdom suggests, for I will recognize you."

Erika Manzan is a member of Rome's Sangha. In recent years, she has almost completely lost her eyesight.

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Poem: Walking Meditation at St. Michael's College


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We are each a particle in that transforming stream.

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

Rosie Rosenzweig (Composed during the 1999 three week retreat)

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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.


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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Tasting the Earth with My Feet

By Sister Chau Nghiem mb29-Tasting

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

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


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

Photos courtesy of Plum Village

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Inhaling the Dust, Yearning for Light

Being with suffering in New York City after September 11th

By Larry Ward

I had an opportunity to go to New York to be with Thich Nhat Hanh and some of the monks and nuns to conduct a service at Riverside Church on September 25. My flight to New York was the first time I had been on an airplane since September 11. When the tragedy of the World Trade towers occurred, I was in the air on a flight to Denver, which of course was re-routed. It has been part of my spiritual practice for over thirty years to be aware that every flight I take could be my last. So that part of it was not a big deal for me, but I was interested to see what I noticed. The first things I noticed on September 24 were visual and physical: all the security at the Santa Barbara airport and how far away I had to park. More importantly, I started to noice fear and anxiety in people at a higher level than normal, and I started to notice gallows humor. I noticed that going through security, I had to give up my fingernail clippers. And then I noticed that there were only ten of us on the airplane. We flew to Denver and I changed planes there, connecting to a flight to La Guardia, in New York. That plane seated 250 people and there were thirty-two of us on that flight. One of the people on that flight appeared to be Arabic and his seat was next to me. I noticed how nervous and afraid he was, and how difficult it was for him to make eye contact with anyone including myself.

When our pilot announced our approach to La Guardia, I looked out the window and I was suddenly disoriented because the World Trade buildings were no longer there as a reference point. As we descended down through thick white clouds, I realized that I didn't have any idea what was happening next with this airplane. We could have been flying into another skyscraper for all I knew. I was deeply aware of how much trust I had put in the hands of so many unknown people for so many years. We landed without difficulty and passengers applauded. Upon exiting the plane as I walked out the door I could see from the gate all the way to the outside of the airport because it was almost empty except for security, and a few vendors who didn't have any customers.

I hailed a taxi to my friends' house on West 22nd Street. We had dinner that evening and talked about their experience of what happened. They shared with me feelings of shock, sadness and sorrow. They expressed a sense of newfound vulnerability and anxiety present in the lives of individuals, families and institutions located on Manhattan Island. I invited them to join me at Riverside Church the next evening to be with Thay and the community to practice making peace with our anger together.

Before I left Santa Barbara I had told some Sangha members that I planned to do walking meditation at Ground Zero, making at least 5,000 steps, one for each of the missing people. The next morning I got up early and went to Canal Street, which is as far south as you can get in a vehicle in Manhattan. I then began my mindful walk the other twelve blocks down and then six blocks across to Ground Zero. Breathing with each step and seeing deep heartbreak in the faces I passed, I practiced looking into each face as if it were one of the missing ones. As I got closer to Ground Zero the pungent smell of rubber burning filled my nostrils and a smoke-filled haze irritated my eyes. I continued to breathe, with every step for a lost one.

I proceeded to do walking meditation for four and a half hours. I walked from every possible angle. After forty-five minutes I stood with my first glimpse of Ground Zero. It took me into deep, deep silence. My mind could not take in what I was witnessing. The site was overflowing with people, some just standing and crying, others taking pictures or walking by in disbelief. The police and military were busy keeping order but even they were filled with an eerie silence. The grief at Ground Zero was so thick with substance it had erected its own monument to the tragedy. My mind could not take in what I was witnessing within and around me. I walked to view the site from yet another angle and then another. About two hours into this humbling process I began to notice the dust and ash. All the buildings within six or seven blocks of the site were covered with dusty ash and as I looked down I saw that I too had become covered. I then realized that I had been breathing that dusty ash, and then I realized that it was the dust of a policeman, it was the dust of a fireman, it was the dust of a stockbroker, a janitor, a secretary, a maid, a delivery person who just showed up on his bicycle to deliver a package like he did every other day when he went to work.

The dust of the September 11th World Trade tragedy was in me now as I was in it, in every cell of my body, in every mindful step, every fiber of my heart and the mystery of my every breath.

I am so grateful to our dear teacher who with his whole heart  has transmitted to us Buddha feet, Buddha eyes and the instruments of the Doors of Liberation. The Doors of Signlessness, Aimlessness and Emptiness, are so important to practice with. I know the World Trade buildings looked really solid and strong and tall. They were never eternally solid; they were empty of any permanence. All dharmas, all phenomena are marked with emptiness and signlessness. They have no enduring separate self and are always in disguise. Every building, every political regime, every civilization, every tree, every bush, every Larry, every policeman, every fireman, all are marked. Our ability to experience Buddha feet, Buddha eyes and insight into the Doors of Liberation are rooted in our capacity to experience aimlessness, which begins with our mindfulness practice of stopping and looking deeply.

I went to Riverside Church at 3:30 pm to help with preparations. When I arrived, there were already 100 people lined up and the program did not start until 7 p.m. Part of my helping out was to keep checking outside. The next time I went outside there were 400 people lined up twice around the block, and about fifteen minutes later there were 2,000. About a half an hour later there were over 3,000 people. The church only seats 2,500; we had standing room only, fitting in about 3,000 people, and the re were still many people standing outside Riverside. Participants in the evening were so grateful for the presence of our Fourfold Sangha. We chanted the Heart Sutra and Thay gave a Dharma talk on practicing with anger. Sister Chan Khong told the story of her hometown in Vietnam that was destroyed during the Vietnamese-American war and she talked about how she practiced with that.

It was so profound to see the fruit of the practice. Those of us who were there, Thay Nhat Hanh and the monastic community, Order members, and local Sanghas were able to hold the grief of 3,000 plus people without getting caught by it. We practice for ourselves, yes, to develop our own solidity, our calmness, our own insight. But we practice in that way so that we can offer it to other people when they need it.

Quite a few people asked me one question: "Where are you from?" I said, "I'm from California." Their second question was, "Did you come here just for this?" And I said, "Yes." And many started weeping. I felt grateful to have enough calmness, enough solidity and stillness to be there. I felt that the whole Sangha had enough of the paramita of inclusivity, of forbearance to be present there. The paramita of inclusiveness is not just the capacity to hold suffering, it's also about the capacity to practice in such a way, to live in such a way that we can transform the world's suffering into light. We develop and nurture this capacity when we practice Noble Silence, when we practice conscious breathing and sitting mindfully together, when we practice mindful walking and the mindfulness trainings together.I came back from New York clearer than ever before. One, this is the time for Maitreya Buddha. This is the exact moment for, as Thay Nhat Hanh would say, "Mr. Love and Ms. Love." Actually if you look closely and you look deeply at what has happened and what is happening, you can see him and you can see her already here. Now is the time to deepen our practice. It was clear to me in New York that I could have stayed there and expanded local Sanghas and initiated residential practice communities, because people were so clear what doesn't matter and what does matter. Two, this is a time of transformation and healing. I know from my own study of hi story that whenever there is war, hidden underneath the sorrow and the confusion and the chaos that war creates is a profound spiritual opportunity. I don 't intend to miss it. So I'm in the process of rearranging my life, so that I can spend more time practicing mindful living, mindful breathing, mindful walking and mindful Sangha building. I want to be fully present for the Dharma and the work it inspires in our world of suffering and confusion.

The world is experiencing a deep yearning; it is yearning for the light of its true home in the midst of this darkness. We are yearning for the light of the Buddha which is present in each of us; the light of the Dharma which is present in reality itself; and the light of the Sangha, our capacity to live in harmony and awareness.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, lives at the Clear View Practice Center in Santa Barbara, California and is a cofounder of the Stillwater Sangha there.

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Cranberry Juice

Mindfulness for College Students

By Ben Howard

For their first assignment in "The Art of Meditation," my course in mindfulness practice, I asked the students to read the opening chapter of Thich Nhat Hanh's, The Miracle of Mindfulness. I also urged them, whenever drinking, to use both hands, giving the act of drinking their full attention. When I asked the students, a week later, how their practice was coming along, a slender, restless student named Meredith reported a minor awakening. What she discovered, through mindful drinking, was that she really hated cranberry juice. "And I've been drinking it," she added, "all my life."

Meredith's discovery of vasana, or habit-energies and their power, was one of many positive outcomes of "The Art of Meditation," which I offered last fall as an honors course at Alfred University. Although the college atmosphere, with its noise and drugs and alcohol, may seem inimical to meditation, the course filled quickly, attracting the maximum enrollment-fifteen students. We met in a spacious, high-ceilinged room in our new Performing Arts Center, whose tall windows look out on green fields and wooded hills. The room offered ample space for doing Mindful Movements - a sequence of ten contemplative exercises developed by Thich Nhat Hanh - and for walking meditation. Students wore loose clothing and brought cushions and pillows of various shapes and sizes.

As our primary text, we read the Anapanasati Sutra (Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing), which also provided the structure of the course. As readers of The Mindfulness Bell know, the heart of the Anapanasati Sutra is a sequence of sixteen breathing exercises, grouped in tetrads. The tetrads deal respectively with mindfulness of the body, the feelings, the mind, and objects of mind. It might please (or amuse) the Buddha to know that the sixteen exercises of the Anapanasati sutra fit comfortably into the fifteen weeks of an American college semester. During the first half of the semester, we focused on mindfulness of the body and the feelings, giving special attention to the cultivation of compassion; during the second, we practiced mindfulness of thoughts, and we explored the realities of impermanence and interdependence. Broadly speaking, the first half of the course promoted samatha or "stopping"; the second encouraged vipassana, or "looking." In practice, of course, the two aspects of meditation, like the sixteen exercises of the Anapanasati Sutra, partake of each other.

No two sessions of the class were the same, but all followed a common pattern. We would begin with a fifteen minute guided meditation, using one of the exercises from Thich Nhat Hanh's The Blooming of a Lotus. That would be followed by a discussion of the students' recent experiences in the practice -their frustrations, challenges and discoveries. I would then give a talk on whichever aspect of practice we were learning, using the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness ( discussed in Thich Nhat Hanh's Transformation and Healing) as a secondary source. We would then practice Mindful Movements, followed by a second sitting, in which the students were instructed to follow the breath and to give attention to one other thing: to parts of the body, or to the recognition of feelings, or to the rise, duration, and dissolution of mental formations. We would then do slow walking meditation - one step for the in-breath, one for the outbreath. Class would end with readings and a period of silent meditation.

Within this established structure there was room to experiment and to follow the natural evolution of the practice. On one cool October evening, we practiced walking meditation outdoors, climbing a long, uphill road and coming down again. A soft rain sprayed our faces. One student went barefoot. On another evening, we spent twenty minutes eating luscious, Clementine tangerines, having listened to the Buddha's discourse on eating tangerines. At our last class, we drank Tazo lemon-ginger tea, using both hands and giving full attention to its fragrance, its spicy taste, its travels through our bodies.

And what impact did this three-month experience have on the students who took part? If I may judge from their reports the effects ranged from salutary to radical, from pleasant to profound. "In attempting to be mindful of my actions," wrote one student, "I was quite surprised to discover that I had never brushed my teeth, shampooed my hair, or tied my shoes. Until this point in my life, I had lived a dream of performing these actions." Another said that meditation had given her a "subtle clarity in almost every aspect of her life." Others reported improvements in their studies, their performance, and their relationships, and they noted how their happiness had influenced people around them. In one striking instance a theater student told of going to New York City to audition for a play:

"It was a cold, windy day and the tension could be felt in the air. Everyone there knew that everyone else was competition for the part they wanted. After a while of getting nervous waiting to go in, I decided to meditate right there on the street with hundreds of people surrounding me. I sat down with the two friends that went with me and we begin to meditate. I instructed them using methods learned in class. Eventually, about fifteen people joined in the meditation with me leading them all. I feel this changed my life. I was able to take something that I learned, something that changed my life, and be able to share it with other people. Not only did I change my attitude in life, but I changed my outlook on life."

To foster such changes was my chief motive in offering 'The Art of Meditation." Although not every institution may be liberal enough to allow such a course to be offered, I would urge anyone who can do so to give it a try. In thirty years of college teaching, I have not had a more rewarding experience.

Ben Howard received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 1995. An English professor at Alfred University in New York, he teaches mindfulness classes offered to honors students and coordinates a sitting group for students and the community.

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Learning to Trust the Present Moment

By Mitchell S. Ratner Meeting Thich Nhat Hanh

In November, 1990 I heard Thich Nhat Hanh address a conference in Washington, D.C. The next day, with 300 others, I sat with him at the Lincoln Memorial and listened to him read poems from the Vietnam War years and reflect on his efforts to share with Americans the suffering caused in both countries by the war. Then we walked silently, reverently, past the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. I was deeply impressed by the quality of his presence, the flowing calmness of his words and actions and the remarkable effect this had on others. Sitting on a cushion at the conference, on a simple raised dais, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke softly about love, anger, compassion, about finding peace and joy in each step, in each action. His words and presence created an atmosphere of infectious serenity. The audience of 3,000 was wondrously quiet; even coughing was suppressed naturally for the duration of the talk.

Finding peace and joy in each moment was a lovely idea, but how could I weave that way of being into the fabric of my urban American life?

Plum Village Life

With great anticipation I set off in November 1991 for a three-month winter retreat. Plum Village was then two farm complexes or hamlets about two miles apart in the Dordogne valley, an hour's drive from Bordeaux. The region offers vistas of small farms and vineyards, gently rolling hills, historic chateaus, and picture-perfect clouds and sunsets.

Daily life at Plum Village was fairly relaxed. Before breakfast and before retiring, the community gathered in meditation halls for an hour of sitting and walking meditation and the reading of a short Sutra. Before lunch residents did outside walking meditation together for about 30 minutes, followed by the ten mindful movements, tai-chi-like stretching exercises.

Aside from the silent meals, on most days the only other scheduled activity was a work period of two to three hours. Monastics, permanent residents, and lay visitors rotated through work assignments necessary to support the community, such as making bread or tofu, working in the gardens and greenhouses cooking, and making small repairs. Twice a week, the hamlets gathered for talks by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I was very happy to be in Plum Village-there were so many wonderful things to learn. The way I had been trained to learn was through studying. I threw myself into it, reading Thich Nhat Hanh's books late into the night. I took notes, developed charts, glossaries, and Sanskrit word lists. I initiated discussions with advanced students about the meaning of key concepts, such as "emptiness" and "samsara."

Three weeks after my arrival, Sister Annabel, then the Director of Practice, asked me after the evening meditation if I wanted to gain something from my stay at Plum Village, something I could carry home with me. I thought to myself, excitedly, "Here it is, my study has paid off-Sister Annabel is going to pass on to me the central organizing principle that will make sense out of it." Her reply was not what I expected. With a slight tone of reproach she said, "Mitchell, everywhere you go should be walking meditation."

Walking meditation, as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches it, is a relaxed, slow, focused, walking with attention brought to the feet and the breath. In the meditation hall, between sittings, it is usually done with one's palms together, in front of one's chest. One walks slowly, with one step for an in-breath and one step for an out-breath. Outside the meditation hall it is usually done more quickly, with two, three, or even four steps for each in-breath or out-breath, and with one's hands held or swinging naturally at one's side.

When Sister Annabel admonished me, I already knew about walking meditation, in the sense that I understood the outer form. I had done walking meditation many, many, times, but the import of walking meditation at Plum Village had not yet entered my heart.

The Present Moment is the Teacher

What I still hadn't learned was that the essence of Plum Village was not a philosophy or concept, but rather a way of being, a practice: that we should pay attention to the present moment. The behavioral ethic of Plum Village is to mindfully carry out each activity, working calmly and giving it our full attention, whether it is cutting carrots, tying a shoe, walking to the bathroom, or writing a letter. Acting in this way, each act becomes more real, more authentic. I could see the transformative power of this practice in others. The presence I had found so remarkable in Thich Nhat Hanh when I first met him was embodied , in varying degrees, by each of the monks, nuns, and long-term residents of Plum Village.

The importance of continuous mindfulness was being constantly taught indirectly. One afternoon during a 1993 visit, I was busily sweeping a meditation hall when I glanced over to Brother Phap Ung, a young Vietnamese-Dutch novice monk, who also was sweeping the meditation hall. Something in the way he held himself, in the quality of his broom strokes, made me aware of an agitation within me, an impatience. I was sweeping to get the job done, so I could move on to something important. In contrast, he clearly was sweeping as if what he was doing was important.

Plum Village is a place ofwonderrnent. But it is also a human community, of monastics, residents, and visitors of very different backgrounds, with different capacities and ways of embodying and expressing the spiritual lessons of Plum Village. Misunderstandings and tensions were inevitable. It was easy to get caught up in the ongoing drama of who was doing what and why. It was especially easy for me to get caught up in the drama when my feelings were being hurt, when others were not acting or responding in ways I desired. And when I was puzzled, hurt, confused, I sometimes questioned all that I had learned at Plum Village. Without really realizing it, a part of me implicitly tied the attunement to the present moment, the teachings of the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh as a person, and Plum Village as a community into a single conceptual package. I couldn't separate the message from the messenger.


That changed one brisk winter morning, during a stay in 1996. As usual, after his Dharma talk, Thich Nhat Hanh led the community in walking meditation to an open space in the plum orchard. Instead of returning to the dining hall for lunch, Thay took a few steps forward and repeatedly motioned for everyone to come closer. The seventy of us in the circle moved in, bit by bit, until we were closely crowded around him.

He spoke softly, in English, looking directly at us, "With each step you have to say: I have arrived. l have arrived. Whether your home is in Washington, D.C. or New Delhi, you have to come home to this moment. You have to be here with each blade of grass. This is Nirvana. This is the kingdom of God ... You have to be your own hero. No one else can do it for you . You need determination. You need concentration ... This is the essence, the heart. If you can take one step, you can take two. The present moment is a teacher that will always be with you, a teacher that will never fail you."

It was an extraordinary moment. Standing there in the orchard, I could feel his determination, his sincerity, his great desire to teach this simple truth, as a physical presence. And when that energy entered, it melted the bonds that had held together the conceptual package of message and messenger. Suddenly I realized that I was free to trust the present moment, wholeheartedly, unreservedly. I could trust wholeheartedly and still honor and embrace the hesitations I sometimes felt about how I or others were treated at Plum Village.

Although the realization gave me permission to have hesitations, in practice I had fewer. I found that I could be more tolerant of a perceived shortcoming because there was less riding on it. Conflicts arising out of cultural misperceptions, lack of thoughtfulness arising out of human frailties could be seen as just that, not as threats. My peace and happiness did not depend on anyone in the community being perfect, much less everyone. It came as a great relief to let go.

From Seeking to Trusting

Many of us who look for spiritual comfort do so because of the wounds we have received. We want an explanation which we think will make the unhappiness go away. One of the great gifts of Thich Nhat Hanh and of Plum Village is to turn us back on ourselves, to turn us back to our own experiences, our own lives. Thinking alone can take us only so far. The disembodied intellect can compare, contrast, and perform logical operations, but without an intimate awareness of our lived experience, we are constantly battered about, vaguely or acutely dissatisfied, hoping to solve with our heads that which can only be solved with our hearts, our heads and our awareness working together. The beginning and end po ints of this spiritual journey are wonderfully captured in two lines from a talk Thich Nhat Hanh gave several days before the instructions in the orchard :

"When you are alienated from your roots, you seek Buddhas. When you are in touch with who you really are, you are a Buddha."

Bringing it Home

Over the years I've looked for and found ways to bring the spirit of Plum Village home with me, to my everyday life in an American city. What helps me most are bells of mindfulness. Real bells, such as from our grandfather clock, and metaphorical bells, such as the red of a stop light, gently remind me to return to the present moment. Gradually there seems to be more calm and balance in my life, a growing inner stillness. Every once in a while, when I catch myself naturally fa lling into a more mindful way of doing something, such as being aware of my feet and breath as I climb stairs, I smile inwardly to Thich Nhat Hanh. I recognize that hi s spirit has entered my stair-walking, and that, as he teaches, the boundaries between us are more illusionary than we believe them to be and the interconnections much more real.

Mitchell, True Mirror of Wisdom, practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community. He received the Dharma Lamp Transmission in December 2001.

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Miraculous Moments

By Sister Thuong Nghiem (Sister Steadiness) Surrender (1995, a five-day retreat in New York state)

Thay has just finished giving the Dharma talk in the big white tent. Now all the retreatents, 800 of us, are gathering to go for walking meditation. Seeing this huge crowd of people I immediately wish to head in the opposite direction. But everything is so quiet. Only the sound of decaying leaves crunching beneath gentle footsteps and birds and some young chiIdren 's voices are heard. The stream of humanity is so bright and colorful. I am drawn to enter this stream of practice. I see people holding hands walking so slowly and carefully as among precious jewels. Each brown leaf, each scarlet and gold leaf is a jewel. A monk is hugging a tree. I pause and look. I am so touched by that image. And farther on I see a monk practicing movements facing the late autumn sun and many people lying on the earth quietly held by earth and sky.


The Earth, the woods, the silent depth of nature has always been a refuge for me, a sacred space to be truly myself, to be with myself fully, to release my unhappiness, to sing and dance and be loved. I could not imagine seeing these expressions of ease, joy and stillness with nature and with each other in this crowd of 800 people.

This crowd has been transformed into a community of practice and into a river. Slowly I feel myself opening and releasing into this body of beings, feeling the cool freshness of river water, flowing and growing, heading leisurely, steadily to the great ocean of relief. This is the first time I am aware of entering the Sangha body and being supported by the collective energy of a practicing Sangha.

Touching (2000, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village)

I am following Thay's steps and we arrive at the lagestromia bush outside of Thay's room. Thay places his hand first on one globe of pink flowers and then on another. It is only a brief moment in this long day attending my teacher but it is the moment that penetrates deeply into me. I see Thay touches the flowers exactly as he may touch the head of two young novices, with great tenderness and care. And I allow that feeling of warmth, of being touched by our teacher to settle into me.

Openness (200 I, Deer Park Monastery, California)

It's five a.m. and my sisters and I are putting on our hiking shoes. The air is still cool, the sky black. We walk briskly up the winding road towards the stars. We strip off our hats and scarves as our bodies warm. One sister removes her shoes, feeling the soil with her soles. We move quickly, silently, calmly. Rising up out of the valley we reach open space. Here we have a vast view of the mountain ranges, the wide sky. We sit; we dance, preparing for the miraculous birth .

Receptive. A speck of light begins to crack open the mountains. A golden egg pushes her way up out of the earth and brilliant rays begin to spill in all directions, blessing every living being in her path. My body expands to touch this source of life. I feel the warmth and light enter each region of my body, touching each vertebra, resting lightly on my forehead as a teacher's hand touches his disciple or a mother her child.

Flocks of birds pass over, playfully greeting the sun . After many minutes wrapped in this sacred moment, immersed in our own personal intimacy with the sun, we sisters join together, pour tea, peel an orange, sharing our joy as one.

Clarity (2001 , Deer Park Monastery, California)

This evening we are scheduled to have a Sangha meeting to plan our daily schedule for the fall retreat. I have a tendency to get emotional at Sangha meetings. I feel small tensions build up in me over the days. Small wounds of unresolved anger, little bits of jealousy, misunderstandings, pride and sadness accumulate in me. All these small things add up to a larger wound lying heavily just under the surface waiting to spill out of me in tears. Why does it spill out at Sangha gatherings? Why not when I am taking a s low walk in the oak grove or sitting on a rock when I have the space and the concentration to face myself and lovingly untie the knots in me? Perhaps I have not given myself enough time and space to look deeply, to take care of my pain . When I am in the presence of all my sisters and brothers at a Sangha gathering, the collective energy of mindfullness is so tangible that it brings the wound in me to light. Without enough self-understanding and the capacity to embrace my pain, the tears flow from me like runoff from an iceberg melting in strong sunlight.

Recently one sister used this image to describe me in a "shining light" session. "Shining light" is a practice where the Sangha gathers to offer a sister or a brother their reflections of his or her strengths and weaknesses and to offer concrete suggestions for how to practice so as to become more stable, harmonious and happy in the Sangha. That sister said to me, you are like an iceberg and also you can melt in the sunlight and that water is very pure and sweet to drink. So although I had this tendency to release my tears in the presence of the Sangha, perhaps it was not only an uncontrolled outpouring of pain, but also a process of not holding my pain as a cold, solid block stuck in me. The emotional expression allowed my separate self to slowly melt into the river of the Sangha, this group of friends surrounding me and supporting me. But I felt there must be a more skillful and less emotionally draining way to do this.

Now in these moments before the Sangha meeting I felt a deep peace and acceptance in my body and my mind. In the past days a sister and I had been able to reconcile our difficulties with each other that had been there for a long time. We both shared our perceptions and our misunderstandings of each other and we also shared our authentic aspiration to release what was between us and to begin anew.

During the last two months of Thay's teaching tour in the U.S.A., my bodhicitta, my deepest aspiration, was nourished by the opportunity to be in touch with others, to share the practice and to be a positive element of the big Sangha. During the four day lazy period following the tour I had also nourished myself by my mindful sitting, walking, serving the Sangha and looking deeply into my emotions. All of this added up to my feeling light and free. It was not a superficial feeling of lightness hiding festering wounds just below the surface. I had taken good care of my abandoned children, my emotions, and they were no longer hiding in me waiting for some attention and understanding. I felt calm, solid and fresh and I knew I was in a good position to go to the Sangha meeting and to offer myself.

Sister Thuong Nghiem, True Adornment with Steadiness, ordained in 1998 in the Fig Tree family in Plum Village.

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Letters from the Editors

True Spiritual Communication

Dear Friends,

This is the fourth issue of the Mindfulness Bell that has been produced by the current editorial team. We are learning and developing our skills as we go, and we hope that each new issue is more inspiring and informative for our readers. Towards this end, we have decided to discontinue announcing themes for issues in advance, after the next issue, which will focus on education. Instead, we have adopted the policy of presenting the most current and relevant teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh, and forming the issue's theme around that teaching. We encourage you to continue to offer the fruits of your practice in whatever area of life they manifest. We will do our best to compile the offerings we receive in a comprehensive and intelligent form.

Thay's teaching in this issue is taken from three Dharma talks given at the Hand of the Buddha Retreat last June at Plum Village. It is a deep and beautiful piece on Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of deep listening.

When I first became acquainted with the practice of compassionate listening, I felt a deep desire to develop my own skill and to share it with others. Recently I realized that the anger that has come up in me all my life arises when I don't feel acknowledged or understood, or free to express myself. My core difficulty in life seems to be the feelings that come from the experience of not being heard.

Several years ago I offered a compassionate listening skills training program in my community. We met for two-hour sessions, and mostly practiced listening in pairs or small groups. By far the most meaningful exercise we did was in groups of four, where one person spoke and the others listened -- one to the story line, one to the emotions being expressed, and one to the underlying values. When the speaker was finished, the listeners shared what they had heard. In each case, it was hearing his or her values reflected back accurately that gave the speaker the deep relief and comfort of feeling truly heard. I offer you this practice: try going beyond the story and the feelings next time you listen to someone, and listen for the values the person is trying to convey. I believe that this is a way to find commonality and to begin healing the vast differences that sometimes seem to overwhelm us.

I would be happy to share my outline of the listening course I developed. My vision is for us to gather in small groups, all over the world, connecting with our hearts while we offer the gift of truly being present for one another.

The sound of morning bird song, the sound of a deep lake, the sound of a heart opening in love,

Barbara Casey                 

Dear Friends,

Today is a clear beautiful day in Plum Village.  The sky is blue.  The poplar leaves shimmer and quake in the light wind reminding us of the Sutra on the Land of Great Happiness where each tree is made of precious jewels emitting wonderful music. During walking meditation this morning we stopped and rested in the plum orchard. In the shade of each tree there were two or three or four sisters and brothers simply enjoying being together with each other and with the world.   One sister offered me a small glass of hot water from her thermos.  She sang me two songs that bring her joy.   I listened to my sister's voice like I listen to the quaking of the leaves.

At the beginning of the walking meditation I removed my shoes, as the grass was soft and inviting. The earth beneath the plum trees was hard and cracked. I enjoyed walking on both surfaces. To me this is an example of True Spiritual Communication. We communicate with our voices and we also communicate with our bodies and our minds.  My feet communicate with the earth and the earth communicates with my feet. My eyes communicate with the colors and forms surrounding me and the colors and forms communicate with my eyes. There is communication between my sister and me, between my brother and me as we walk silently through the orchard. And why is this communication spiritual? To me it is the communication that wakes me up, that brings me into contact with reality, that nourishes my awareness and my capacity to understand and to love.

When I am attentive I can hear many things in the quaking leaves. I can hear stories and poems, songs and sutras. I can hear lullabies and I can hear the musical voice of my teacher barely whispering yet penetrating and deep, sharing the true teachings of love and understanding.

While Thay and a delegation have been on a two-month teaching tour in North America, those of us remaining in Plum Village have been enjoying our Fall Retreat. We enjoy every day as a Day of Mindfulness, a day to practice, and a day to be present. Along with the fruits of our practice we have been enjoying harvesting many fruits of earth and sky as well walnuts and hazelnuts, peaches and apples, figs and pears, and of course plums!

Please enter this issue of the Mindfulness Bell as you would an orchard in the late autumn sun. There are a variety of appealing fruits to enjoy, in the form of articles, images and poetry. There is also the warm companionship and inspiration of many friends and teachers offering their insights and experiences on the path of practice. Taste, taste and see for yourself the sweetness, the sharpness, and the richness of the living Dharma.

Sister Steadiness

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Creating Villages of Peace

Summer Camp in Texas

Terry  Masters

One day at my  summer  camp for gifted children, MasterSchool, the children created different villages from around the world. Using their imaginations and whatever materials they could find around the ranch, they built villages in Mexico, India, Israel, France, and Japan.


In France, in addition to several houses and a lumber yard, there was a sidewalk cafe on the River Seine (a three-legged card table propped on a stump beside a dry creek.) A small protestant church, which was constructed mostly of imagination, stood between the café and someone’s cardboard box home.

There was, in Mexico, a large field of corn (rocks painted yellow) and pumpkins (orange rocks) on the outskirts of the village. On the plaza in town stood a simple Catholic church (a painted refrigerator box topped with crosses made by tying branches together with yarn) and a busy mercado.

The residents of Israel built a kabutz. A child brought his cello from home and played traditional Jewish pieces while his friends taught us tourists to dance.

The girls in India painted their hands with henna and wore saris made of old bed sheets. There were brightly painted Hindu gods perched in trees around the houses where the natives of India lived. Flower petals were strewn on the path leading to the village.

In Japan, next to a computer factory (old computer parts inside a circle of stones,) a child named Tommy designated the space between two trees as a Buddhist temple and announced that he was a monk. He hung lengths of blue yarn from a low branch to the ground, forming the door to the temple. Just inside the door, in a fork of a tree, he placed a Tupperware sandwich box filled with holy water from the swimming pool. Angie brought incense and a candle from home.  Laura shaped a beautiful Buddha from mud. On a length of butcher paper, with a black magic marker, Jane copied from a Zen painting a tiny canoe in a calm lake, rimmed by huge mountains in the morning fog. A fisherman lay in the canoe, not fishing. Jane tacked her painting between the two trees in the temple. I told Tommy that I knew a Zen Master. Would he like the Zen Master to visit their temple? Oh yes, he said, he would!

The next morning I dug through the costume box and found a black high-school graduation gown with the zipper torn out. I put it on backwards, wrapped a man’s tie around my waist and walked slowly and peacefully to the temple. Several curious children followed me. I walked through the blue yarn door and bowed to the mud Buddha. Watching me, the children put their hands together and bowed, too. We sat cross-legged on the dirt, except for Joshua who lounged in the fork of the tree above the holy water. Tommy lit the incense and the candle. We sat together quietly.

Finally, I smiled and bowed to the assembly. I complimented monk Tommy on his beautiful temple. He smiled monastically. I said that Terry had invited me, the Zen Master, to come.

“I have come to listen to your stories and to tell you some of mine,” I said, smiling.

“When we students of Buddhism want to talk,” I continued, “We put our hands together like a flower and we bow. We use the same sign to say we have finished talking. But this offering of flowers is not just a way to get attention, because when we make our hands into a flower, we are also saying to our friends, ‘You are as beautiful as a flower; you are a flower and I want to hear what Flower You has to say!’”

The children sat still, listening respectfully, moving only to swat fire ants away. “Would you enjoy doing this while we talk today?”

The children said nothing, but they smiled and nodded their heads.

Looking around the temple, I nodded to Jane’s beautiful painting thumb-tacked between the trees.

“I enjoy looking at this fisherman’s special place. Does anyone in this temple have a special place like that?” I asked. Hands together, I bowed. The children bowed.

After a pause, Laura put her hands together and bowed. We all bowed to her. She told us about a place under her grandmother’s porch at her lake house.

“No one knows about that place,” she said, softly. “It is cool there, even in the summer time. I can see out but no one can see in. I can think there.” Laura paused, then carefully put her hands together and bowed. We bowed to her.

Each child, very quietly, very earnestly took turns telling about their special places: in a closet behind the coats, in a special chair in the living room, at the back of their yard at home, behind some trees, in tree branches, under the bed. After each story we bowed, honoring each child’s contribution. I then told about my special place, in the rocking chair on my front porch. The candle and incense burned.

After a while the bell rang for our camp to have our morning recess. No one in the temple moved. I smiled and rose slowly. The children smiled and rose. We bowed to each other. Then slowly and mindfully we left the temple through the blue yarn door.

A little teary with joy, I walked back to the costume box where I left my robe and sash, relieved in a way to be out of the hot polyester. When I walked back to the playground, Joshua called, “Hey Terry! I met a Zen Master that looks just like you!” “Really?”  I said.  “Yep!”  He grinned, putting his hands together and bowing. “Oh my,” I said as I bowed back, smiling, honoring the flower in him.

Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, lives in Manor, Texas and practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.

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