#02 Summer 1990

Dharma Talk: Five Wonderful Precepts

By Thich Nhat Hanh  When we think about peace, we usually think about the absence of war and nuclear weapons, or the absence of social injustice. But I would like to raise a question concern­ing our ability to enjoy peace. Even if peace is present, if we are not able to enjoy it, then what is the use of having peace? Peace is relative. Even if we do not have perfect peace, we can have some peace right now, in the present moment. But many of us do not seem capable of enjoying peace in the present moment, in ourselves, or around us.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Many of us find peace boring, and so we do things that create war. We drink cognac, for instance, in order to feel better, when we feel bored with life—with the air we breathe, the sky above, the river that flows—and we need something else. But drinking cognac is not making peace, because cognac is made of grain, and many people in the world starve because they don't have enough grain to eat. The fact that we drink cognac means that we are not reconciled with the people in the Third World, and there­fore, drinking cognac is not an act of peace.

We do other things, such as commit sexual misconduct and intoxicate ourselves, because we feel a vacuum within ourselves and we want to fill it. By doing these things, we destroy our happiness and the happiness of our children and grandchildren. I think this is due to the fact that we have not developed the capacity of enjoying peace. We have to educate ourselves and our children to learn to enjoy peace. By enjoying peace, we make peace stronger and more real in the world. Practicing mindfulness in the present moment is the basic way of making peace and building peace.

I know that the lack of mindfulness has led to a lot of suffering in our daily life. Many families have been broken because of sexual misconduct, alcoholism, and drug addic­tion, and their children and grandchildren continue to suffer and to transmit suffering to future generations. The seeds of suffering that they have will be transmitted to their children and grandchildren. Eventually, you will need a Twelve-Step Program to get out of it. Taking the precepts and practicing them is a "One-Step Program." It's much easier.

In my recent tour of North America, I emphasized very much the practice of looking deeply into the causes of our suffering so that we can overcome them. I have encouraged people in the U.S. to practice in the way the Buddha and his disciples practiced. When the Buddha was about to pass away, he told his disciple, "Ananda, after I am gone, the community of monks and nuns should look upon the practice of the precepts as their teacher." So I encouraged people who participated in retreats to take the Five Precepts and to practice them.

In the past, I was not very fond of ordaining people or having disciples. I tried to avoid that, especially when I saw that there were many other teachers. But during my visit last year, I changed my idea. We have to support each other, and the practice of the precepts is very important to help us. We do not practice meditation alone. We practice with a teacher and with friends. When you have a good sangha, your prac­tice is easy, because you are supported by the sangha. A sangha that is practicing a good Dharma is healthy, joyful, and happy. If you have a sangha like that, it is very easy to practice. You have to build your own sangha. You yourself have to be the first element of a good sangha, When the flower in you is real, you can help other members of the sangha. If you have a good sangha, you are a happy person.

The Five Precepts are the foundation for practicing with others. They have been practiced for more than 2,500 years. Buddha gave the Five Precepts to the father of a monk named Yasa, when he asked the Buddha what he could do that would allow him to live more like his son. Yasa was the Buddha's sixth disciple, a wealthy young man, ordained just after the Buddha ordained his five ascetic friends. If members of a family or a sangha observe and recite these precepts regularly, Buddhism becomes a living reality. Once the precepts are received, we have to practice and recite them at least once a month. If we do not practice the precepts, the precepts' body will cease to be a reality and the practice of Buddhism will become impossible. Bud­dhists of many generations have practiced these precepts in order to maintain happiness and to be of help to others. The Five Precepts are principles for peaceful co-existence between people and also between nations.

No one can impose anything on us. We are free people, and we do only the things we want to do. But we know that there is a kind of illness in our society, and practicing the precepts is a very good medicine that can protect us and our families and safeguard our happiness. Buddhist precepts are not commandments. To word them in a way that does not sound like commandments may be useful for a lot of people, but we have to word them in a clear, strong way. The wording of the Five Precepts may not be perfect, and those of you who practice them might like to think about the words and help all of us express the precepts in a clear way. But we want to avoid any misunderstanding.

Mindfulness is the fundamental precept. Think of the precepts as the manifestation of mindfulness. When you are mindful, you are responsible. Precepts do not have to dictate our behavior. We don't need an elaborate code of behavior. Mindfulness is enough. Mindfulness is a torch that can show us the way. Buddhism, the practice of Buddhist meditation, should address the real issues of our life. It should address the issues of our suffering. Whatever suffering we have in the present moment, the practice of Buddhism should help. We should not say that these are only personal things, that we only deal with ultimate reality, supreme enlightenment. These do not mean anything if they have nothing to do with our daily life, with our daily suffering. So, please confront the real issues, the real problems of our life, and inquire.

If we students and teachers do not practice the precepts, we are not faithful to the tradition. We can even destroy each other. Therefore, in a community practicing Buddhist meditation, students and teachers alike have to practice the precepts, the basic teaching of Buddhism. We have to help each other. You know that you or your teacher is not practicing intelligently when you drink alcohol or engage in sexual misconduct. You believe that your teacher has insight, but if someone has insight, how could he or she do things like that? You know that alcoholism has destroyed so much of this country. Sexual misconduct has destroyed so many families and caused many young people to suffer. Even someone who does not practice Buddhism knows this and tries to avoid these kinds of things. How could practi­tioners of Buddhist meditation not practice this?

Someone said, "In the Zen tradition, people are not restricted, they are free. They don't practice the Five Precepts." To me, Zen Buddhism is just Buddhism. Every Buddhist practices meditation. Zen is meditation—whether it is in Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana—people practice meditation. To practice the Five Precepts is the minimum. The Five Precepts are Zen itself. So, you cannot say that Zen does not practice the Five Precepts. That is a distortion. To me, to teach, we have to preach by our own lives, not just by a sermon or a Dharma talk.

It is in practicing that we get enlightened in every second, every minute of our lives. The Buddhist teaching on suffering is very deep, very complete, about how to deal with your anguish, fear, anger, and frustration, and about how to deal with your family and your community. All these can be found in the teaching of the Buddha. If you practice correctly, you will get healed, you will be happy and joyful. You don't need to practice ten years in order to get results. Only one day or two days a week will bring you something positive and good. As you progress on your way, you will be able to help other people also. I believe it is the time that practitioners of Buddhism in this country begin to practice the precepts seriously, responding to the kind of sufferings that have been going on in many Buddhist communities.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the spirit of the Five Precepts is present. If you go back to your traditions, you will find the equivalent of these precepts. I see very much the need for this kind of practice, and I urge you, if you don't want to practice the Five Precepts in this Buddhist version, to go back to your Jewish or Christian traditions and ask that the equivalent of the Five Precepts be restored.

Peace is important but we have to educate ourselves and our children to enjoy peace. Otherwise, peace will be boring. There are so many positive elements, peaceful elements within us and around us, and we have to live mindfully in order to get in touch with these in order for us to have a joyful and happy life. Someone said, "Thay, when do I know that I am ready for the precepts?" I said, "The sooner the better."

The First Precept 

Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. 

The more we practice and study the precepts, the more we understand their depth.The First Precept, not to kill, is not easy, and no one can say that he or she observes it perfectly. If we are mindful in trying to practice this precept, we will see that we may be unintentionally killing people, animals, or plants, for example, by consuming alcohol, reading newspapers, or eating meat. I think all these things pertain to the precept of non-killing. So we have to be very careful to be able to practice this precept. Things are inter-con­nected. When we eat grapes or drink coffee, we may think that it has nothing to do with killing, but that is not true. So we have to be very mindful in order to deeply practice the precepts.

Sometimes we do not speak out against killing, and that is also violating the precepts. "Do not kill. Do not let others kill." It is very difficult. You cannot do it perfectly. To practice the precept means you have the intention to go in the direction of not killing. You do the maximum in your power not to kill and not let others kill. The essential is not to be perfect but to go in that direction. When we boil some vegetables to eat, we may think that we are avoiding killing, but by boiling the vegetables, we kill many tiny beings in the water. So our vegetable dish is not entirely vegetarian. No one, including the Buddha, can practice this precept perfectly. He told his disciples not to travel much during the rainy seasons, in order to avoid stepping on tiny living beings. They were trying their best to avoid killing.

We should not be too proud of being nonviolent. Trying to be nonviolent is like looking at the North Star in order to go north. We do not intend to arrive at the North Star; we only want to go north. That is the spirit of the precepts. We want to go in the direction of non-killing, nonviolence, and we make a little progress every day. We have to try all our lives in order to understand the precept better and to practice it better.

The precept is a guideline, a direction. Every time you practice the recitation of the precept, the person who leads the ceremony will say something like this: "This is the first of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and to practice it during the last two weeks?" You don't say yes or no. You breathe three times and let the question enter, and you act from there. That is good enough, because "yes" is not entirely correct. You might have made an effort but still think that it is not enough. So, the intention is to help you move in that direction. If you say, "No," that is not correct either, because you have practiced.

This precept needs a lot of study and practice. It is not as easy as you may think. Trying to go in the direction of the precepts, we become a shining light, and people will follow our example. 

The Second Precept 

Do not steal. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering and the suffering of other species on earth.

Bringing to our awareness the pain caused by social injustice, this precept urges us to work for a more livable society. This precept is linked with the First Noble Truth (awareness of suffering), Right Livelihood (of the Eightfold Path), and the First Precept (the protection of life). In order to deeply comprehend the Second Precept, we need to meditate on all these teachings.

Developing ways of preventing others from enriching themselves on human suffering is the primary duty of legislators, politicians, and revolutionary leaders. However, each of us can also act in this direction. To some degree, we can stay close to oppressed people and help them protect their right to life and defend themselves against oppression and exploitation. 

The Third Precept 

Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the sufferings you may cause others as a result of your misconduct. To preserve the happiness of yourself and others, respect the rights and commitments of others.

It is quite clear. This is not just Buddhist; it is universal. It is the right medicine for our illness. When we and our children take the precepts, it means we accept the medicine to protect us.

Sexual misconduct is the cause of many troubles in society, and therefore, the Third Precept is very important. Many things in our lives—films, commercials, magazines—stimulate and create impulses for sexual aggression. This kind of sexual expression has caused a lot of mental stress, and therefore, I think we should look for effective ways to heal society in this respect.

Even in practicing communities, this precept is not practiced seriously enough. I think we need a conference, a long retreat, in order to work on this very big issue. Various forms of suffering have resulted from the Iack of the practice as far as this precept is concerned. Therefore, I would urge young people to begin to practice the Five Precepts, and the parents also should be companions of their children, practicing the Five Precepts. 

The Fourth Precept 

Do not say untruthful things. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things that you are unsure of. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred, that can create discord and cause the family or the community to break. All efforts should be made to reconcile and resolve all conflicts.

The Fourth Precept is about right speech. You know that sometimes we destroy our happiness just because we are not mindful in saying things. Saying things is an art. To use our speech is to build up more understanding and mutual acceptance, and we should be very artful and mindful while speaking. What is described in the precept is not everything, just a few essential lines. Words can build up a lot of happi­ness, but they can also destroy. Practicing right speech, loving speech, is very important in our lives. We have to learn a lot about the art of speaking.

The essence of the Fourth Precept is concord. Commu­nity life is only possible with concord. There are six principles of community life prescribed by the Buddha: living together at one place, sharing material resources, observing the same precepts, sharing the understanding of Dharma and the experience of practice with each other, reconciling differing viewpoints, and practicing kind speech to avoid all quarrels. These Six Concords have been practiced by Buddhist communities since the Buddha's time and are still relevant.

Kind speech is born from understanding and patience. Only understanding and care can bring about change. Reconciliation is a great art which requires us to understand both sides of a conflict. Not only do both sides bear partial responsibility, but we who are not in the conflict also bear some responsibility. If we had lived in mindfulness, we could have seen the beginning phases of the conflict and helped to end or avoid it.

Our awareness of the need to reconcile will empower us to work in that direction. The success of reconciliation will be the success of understanding and compassion for the other side as well as for ourselves.

The Fifth Precept 

Do not use alcohol and any other intoxicants. Be aware that your fine body has been transmitted to you by several previous generations and your parents. Destroying your body with alcohol and other intoxicants is to betray your ancestors, your parents, and also to betray the future generations. 

When we realize the interconnectedness between our ancestors, our children, our grandchildren, and ourselves, we see that by taking care of ourselves, we take care of all of them. Someone who practices the Fifth Precept could not say, "This is my body. I can do anything to it. I have the right to." They cannot say that, because they know that their body belongs to all their ancestors, themselves, and the future generations.

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Meditation is to look at things in a way that you can see the roots and the fruits of those things. Mindfulness allows that kind of perception. When we look at a glass of whiskey with mindfulness, concentration and understanding will come. We will see the roots of the whiskey. A lot of grain is used to produce meat and alcohol. If we look more deeply at the glass of whiskey, we will see that many people in the world starve because they do not have enough grain to eat. When we see that, we will stop drinking whiskey very soon. Cereals, and the lack of cereals for hungry people, are the roots of whiskey. We know that the fruits of the whiskey include the death of hungry children, liver cancer, and a nervousness that you have in the future. These are all fruits of the whiskey. So mindfulness is the base of all precepts. Drinking a glass of whiskey with mindfulness is already practicing the precepts, because if you drink with deep mindfulness, you will live with the reality of the world and you will stop drinking very soon.

Someone asked me, "I don't get drunk. I only have a glass of wine when I attend a reception. Isn't it okay to drink a little bit of wine in situations like that?" 

I don't think so. I don't think that those who practice the Fifth Precept should drink even a glass of beer or wine, because one glass of wine will bring about the second glass, and so on. Those who are alcoholic all begin with one glass. That is why it is better not to take a drop of alcohol. During a reception, if you are offered a glass of alcohol, you say, "Thank you very much, but I do not drink alcohol. May I have a glass of juice, or something?" That is beautiful. The best teaching is with your own life, not with a sermon.

It is like when someone offers you a cigarette, you say, "Thank you, I do not smoke." It's very good. So those who practice this precept should be clear about it, because you do not practice it for yourself alone. You practice for your friends and other people. There are many things that are delicious to drink, so many wonderful things to drink, and nobody will die if they don't drink alcohol. I am very firm on this, because the first drop wilt bring the second drop. And when we become alcoholic, it's very difficult, very difficult. Too many children suffer because their parents are alcoholics. So please just stop. This is the One-Step Program.

Just stopping is a compassionate act for future genera­tions and also for our friends. Many generations have suffered from alcoholic parents and then had to undergo a very long procedure to heal the wounds. Taking precepts is much easier. That is why we should encourage our children to receive and practice the Five Precepts. And we ourselves have to practice in order to support our children. Practicing the Five Precepts is not only for our own good, but for the good of the society.

The Five Wonderful Precepts 

  1. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.
  2. Do not steal. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering and the suffering of other species on earth.
  3. Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the suffering you may cause others as a result of your misconduct. To preserve the happiness of yourself and others, respect the rights and commitments of others.
  4. Do not say untruthful things. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or con­demn things that you are unsure of. Do not utter words that can cause division and hatred, that can create discord and cause the family or community to break. All efforts should be made to reconcile and resolve all conflicts.
  5. Do not use alcohol and other intoxicants. Be aware that your fine body has been transmitted to you by several previous generations and your parents. Destroying your body with alcohol and other intoxicants is to betray your ancestors and your parents and also to betray the future generations.

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From the Editors

This bell has many sounds, from the deeply resonant, thunderous bell of Thich Nhat Hanh's Dharma talk on the Five Precepts, to the alarming bells of Art James and Lloyd Barnes' pieces on waking up in the midst of war and violence, to Eileen Kiera's settling sounds of comfort and presence with the dying. To Sister Phuong' s strong bells of mindfulness, calling our attention to the ignored hungry and oppressed in Vietnam and refugee camps throughout south east Asia, to the vibrant sounds of the essays on practicing with the precepts, to the gentle bells of insight poems. To the wind-blown bell of Gary Gill's essay on the homeless as teachers, to the dancing sound of Mobi Ho's tangerine meditation, to the twinkling bell of Daniel Julian's iconoclastic letter, to the round sound of the Discourse on Love, translated by Thay. The Five Precepts, especially as Thay teaches them, are strong—"radical," as one teenager at a retreat commented. We wholeheartedly invite your responses based on your work with them in your everyday lives. As we enter summer in the Northern Hemisphere, we offer these bells and fragrances to you, in the hope that you enjoy them and find them refreshing and nourishing. Your editorial staff will attend the two retreats at Plum Village this summer, and the next issue of The Mindfulness Bell will go to press in September. You should be receiving your copy in October. Thank you for all of your essays and kind wishes. Your letters, postcards, disks, and faxes are most appreciated. Please let us continue to hear from you.

Therese Fitzgerald, Arnie Kotler, and Carole Melkonian

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It Don’t Mean Nothin’

By Arthur James November 1969, on a darkening eve, we met upon a jungle trail. I felt the terror of death. Our encounter startled each one of us. Two North Vietnamese soldiers braced to shoot me. Shaking, I wedged myself and my M-16 rifle against a tree. I shot them. "Oh, God," I groaned deeply. "What have I done? Why am I here?"

Family portraits were found on the lifeless, lacerated forms. In the long moments just after their deaths, I wondered about their mothers, their families, their friends. I was stricken with the truth I had always known: These Vietnamese men were persons, distinguished and unique individuals. They were fellow humans, not my enemies.

All night as I camped in the jungle, terrible, alien thoughts were coursing through my mind. I was sick and angry, hurt and sad for the dead men, their families, and for the American people who had sent me to kill them. I was out of  harmony with goodness, with the universe, with sanity. Evil and corruption had grasped me. Evil had temporarily occupied me, engulfed me, dwelt in my body. I perceived its power to ruin. I experienced it. All of my being shuddered. I would never be the same. I hated my part in the killing.

Why did it happen? Why did I get into fighting in Vietnam? Even as I landed in the country in July 1969, I noticed the beauty of the land with its dense vegetation. Its people were wiry but delicate. I was somehow attracted to their rural, self-sufficient way of life. I can even remember sensing that they had something to teach me. I was vaguely aware of the American peace movement's contention that the war was morally wrong. I knew that I didn't believe America should attack a peasant country that was alien in culture to us. I agreed that a poor, undeveloped country should not be displaced or obliterated. But the peace movement seemed far away from me. The draft was the law. My grandfather and uncle had graduated from West Point. I had grown up full of World War II—everybody pulling together when our country needed them. I was young and idealistic; I trusted my government I did not want to believe my country was lying when it told me I was needed in the defense of democracy in the world.

So I had landed in Southeast Asia in the middle of a monsoon night, with an uninformed conscience and a hope that I would never have to take a life. I was in disagreement with American policy, yet blindly in allegiance. Vets encountered and faced death together. We had our own language, which was understood more in the gut than in the head. We used the expression "It don't mean nothin'" for a lot of things. You said it after squirting bug repellant on a leech attached to your ankle in an effort to remove the leech. You said it when the monsoon rain drenched and chilled you but cleansed your foul-smelling fatigues. You said it when a very likable buddy nicknamed Cranky lost both of his legs.

Most of us could not find justification for intervention into this foreign land. While still in 'Nam, we looked forward to fleeing home to America, which we referred to as "the world." But back home in "our world," American TV movies were portraying Vietnam veterans as maniacs seething with hatred or as deranged and disordered persons to be shunned. Some vets were called "baby killers" by the folks back home on whose behalf we were supposedly fighting. We were the most obvious symbol of a war America was losing. Veterans sensed distinctly that, for various reasons, America had ostracized us. America wanted to forget us.

The Army took two months of basic training and two months of advanced infantry training to teach me how to be an efficient killer. I spent seven months in guerrilla warfare. Then the Army spent minutes trying to debrief me as I lay on a medivac cot. I faintly remember Army personnel advising me not to tell anyone of my military mission. (I had been wounded in Cambodia, where Americans were not to be fighting officially at that time.)

For those who have visited the Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, D.C., trying to sort things out, the complexity remains. Many diverse egos and factions continue to explain Vietnam. But when you look at the wall, perhaps searching for the name of someone you knew and maybe loved, the black marble reflects your own searching face back to you.

A friend explained to me that he is not yet able to visit the memorial in Washington. I asked my friend, "Have you ever wept?"

He answered with a pinched and twisted countenance, "I never have. I have to try and forget it. I can't go to the Vietnam memorial and relive Vietnam." I understand that he is afraid to let his feelings out.  Avoiding the wall is his hypnotic method of pretending Vietnam never happened.

Numbness is a weapon of self-defense for him.

The wounds of war take a long time to heal. Inner bruises never seem to go away. And just as the names of our 58,000 dead cannot be erased from the Vietnam veterans memorial, our government cannot gloss over the indescribable misery we imposed on the Vietnamese. Yet our government has never admitted these crimes.

We are veterans of war; we have seen it. It is not noble in any sense. It is humiliating. Those who have been given the strength to admit this and witness to it have a moral responsibility to speak out and try to prevent future wars. In fact, for me, that is the only definite good that can come out of the Vietnam War, this war without meaning: We can help keep it from happening again.

If it didn't teach us not to repeat it, then it still "don't mean nothin’."

Reprinted by permission from Sojourners, Box 29272, Washington, D .C., 20017. Art James was drafted into the U.S. Army and assigned to a combat infantry unit in Vietnam from July 1969 until he was wounded in February 1970. He and his family now live and work in Maryland, were they manage a small blueberry and honeybee business. Art attended Thich Nhat Hanh's retreat with veterans in 1989, and is helping coordinate the 1991 retreat.


The following letter is excerpted from Vergil’s Life, an audio-visual work in progress by Art James and Jim Surkamp

 Dear Dad,

I realized for myself what you already knew—that war brings out the brokenness in men and breaks them even further. But I don’t care anymore. We are so tired, so worn down from the death of our men. I don’t remember when I was ever a boy. I’ve got the 1000 yard stare now, Dad, from having to watch for mines and snipers. I could not count the dead on my hands and feet, all the dead I’ve seen. My mind races at high speed, I’m so aware. I see everything at a glance. But I’ve seen too damn much. Dad, it hurts more because I have to tell you these things. I can’t bear it alone. You must share this pain. Take some of it away. Dad, I’m sorry. But this war is worse than yours. Folks at home have no idea. I’ll be so glad when it’s all over.

Your son,

Vergil

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Choosing Peace

By Sid Kemp The precepts are a powerful solution to the world's suffering. They are good medicine.

For me, it is incredibly painful to realize that the solution to the world's grief and my own is so simple that it can be written into a set of guidelines. Suffering is complex, yet the extinction of suffering is so simple. So painfully simple.

Painful, in part, because I confront myself each time with the knowledge that I have created my own suffering and made things difficult for people around me. More painful because I know that freedom from suffering must come from each person's own commitment and effort Peace cannot be imposed from the outside.

Recitation of the precepts helps us remember how simple it can be to be happy, if we recognize that we are in control, that we make the choices in our lives.

Sid Kemp is a writer in New York City.

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Precepts and Psychiatry

By Barry Roth Thay calls the Five Precepts good medicine to prevent suffering and enjoy health. Consider this psychotherapy vignette. A recovering alcoholic woman talks to me about the great pain and grief of her grown daughter. The woman and her first husband were actively drinking when they conceived this child, which forced their unhappy marriage. The woman's second husband helped raise the girl. Later, this daughter would break into their home and steal things. Like her parents, she became alcoholic and over the years has been in and out of detox centers, or living on the street, begging or brawling, or in jail.

The mother, my patient, recently went with her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to plead with the court for leniency. Even though there were witnesses to the violent assaults, the girl maintained, "It's not my fault." My patient complained that her daughter had a bad attitude. Thay shows us that without understanding there can be no real love; that love in the Buddhist context means understanding. I simply asked my patient, "Can you understand your daughter?" The mother's first quick response was, "That's what they say in Alanon." After a brief silence, she blurted out, "Do you mean we should have used birth control?" Suddenly this woman realized that her daughter was an unwanted and unloved child.

The mother finally could look at her child with eyes of compassion. She saw her as pathetic, not dangerous or worthy of scorn and hatred. Even though her child could be paranoid, violent, and deceitful, this mother now understood that her girl was the saddest person she knew.

When we meditate, we realize the oneness of mind, body, and breath. We can see that our parents and ancestors want us to have peace, joy, and happiness. And we can see that our children and the unborn have the right to peace, joy, and happiness as well. Practice of the Third Precept— "Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment"—and the Fifth Precept—“Do not use alcohol and any other intoxicants" would have helped prevent unnecessary suffering for my patient, her daughter, and everyone with whom they were in contact

Barry Roth is a psychiatrist practicing in Boston.

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Living with the Precepts

By Annabel Laity Like a coin, the precepts have two sides, and both are essential for our practice. One side guides us toward what is beneficial and protects us. The other side is the emptiness of the precepts. To describe the first aspect, I would like to share this story: When I was a child, my father had some cows. From time to time, we would take them to another field for grazing. Along the way, there was a beautiful path lined with rhododendron bushes and lush grass. The neighbor who owned these bushes and grass did not like the cows to stray off the path into his shrubbery. So we walked along with the cows, always watching them and keeping them to the middle of the path. In that way, we arrived at the new grazing land, keeping good friends with our neighbor. A precept serves as a reminder a bit like "Do not go off the path, dear cow!"

The Buddha often spoke of the triad--precepts or morality (sila), concentration (samadhi), and understanding (prajna)--as the foundation of practice. Sita, samadhi, and prajna go hand in hand, enhancing one another. Each is necessary for the others. To give a simple example: if we consume alcohol and intoxicate our bodies in various ways, we are not in the best position to realize concentration in our daily activities or during meditation. So we are encouraged to keep the Fifth Precept.

A healthy body is one of the most important bases for our meditation practice, and, if we think in these terms, we may want to include junk food, or coffee, or even tea in the Fifth Precept as intoxicants. Some people want to develop concentration in order not to be aware of the body, in order to be able to escape from the body and its various discomforts, but that is not what is meant by samadhi in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches mindfulness of the body. It is on this basis of mindfulness that concentration is developed--a concentration whose purpose is not to obliterate sensation but to lead to an understanding (prajna) of the way things are and to allow for a deeper insight into the true nature of things.

Now let us look at the other side of the precepts, concerning their empty nature. This does not suggest that the precepts have no basis in reality; it means that the reality in which they are based is interdependence. A precept exists in dependence on causes and conditions, and one of the conditions is the person who receives the precepts. Precepts can heal and transform, but they need to be administered by a doctor who understands the sickness of the society and the individual. A precept has no absolute self-identity.

For the community of monks and nuns in the lifetime of the Buddha, there was a precept prohibiting the taking of one's own life. In spite of that precept, there was a monk who, after he took his own life, was commended by the Buddha for having achieved complete liberation. Before he  killed himself, the monk was very ill and in great pain. He was almost certainly not in a position to teach the Dharma any more, and there was probably little hope for his recovery. He had been instructed in and fully realized the fruits of the meditation. The Buddha said that this monk was fully liberated when he took his own life, in spite of the fact that he broke the precept. (This example is not altogether out of place with regard to the question of euthanasia which is currently much discussed.)

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In the Majjhima Nikaya (Sutra no. 65), there is another instance of the Buddha adopting a relaxed view of the precepts. One monk asked the Buddha why it was that another monk could break the precepts and not be reprimanded by the community. The Buddha replied, "There are monks who have only a very little faith in the Dharma. If they are dealt with severely, what little faith they have will be destroyed and their practice will also be destroyed. It is for this reason that the sangha will sometimes be seen as lenient in its treatment of those who break the precepts." The Buddha compares this case with that of a child who has lost one eye: "Do the parents not take every care to see that the second eye receives no injury? So with a monk who has only a little confidence in the practice. The sangha will take great care of that little faith in case it too is destroyed."

However, in order to be successful in helping someone weak in the practice, a sangha needs to be strong in its practice of mindfulness. That is why we talk about mindfulness as being the basic precept. It is not that in these two cases the Buddha was expressing the uselessness of the precepts. The usefulness of the precepts is strengthened by the fact that they are empty. The precepts are a part of life and not abstractions. The person who has taken precepts and sees that they are empty will keep the precepts with the understanding that they lead to greater happiness, not that they have some absolute existence apart from the person who has taken them and the love and understanding of the lineage which has transmitted them.

Annabel Laity is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing (Tiep Hien) living in Plum Village.

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The Five Precepts Are the Whole of the Dharma

By Christopher Reed When we think about freedom we often think about freedom from certain things. We are more familiar with restriction than we are with permission. There are of course many reasons for this, both culturally and personally. What it means is that when we first encounter the precepts we think of them as restraints, limiting the things we can do. I think that, given the tendency we have to rebel against restriction, it might be useful, it may even be more accurate, if we look at the precepts in a slightly different way. It may also help us to understand how the Five Precepts are really an implicit expression of the whole of the teachings of the Dharma.

So instead of "I undertake the practice of refraining from harming or killing other beings," "I undertake the practice of cultivating bound­less compassion."

Instead of "I undertake the practice of refraining from stealing, from taking that which has not been given freely," "I undertake the practice of cultivating generosity."

Instead of "I undertake the practice of refraining from sexual misconduct," "I undertake the practice of cultivating awareness (appreciation) of the extraordinary power of passion--and through that awareness, of acting skillfully."

Instead of "I undertake the practice of refraining from lying and back-biting," "I undertake the practice of cultivating awareness (appreciation) of the extraordinary power of speech--and through that awareness, of speaking skillfully ."

Instead of "I undertake the practice of refraining from using intoxicants," "I undertake the practice of cultivating awareness (appreciation) of the extraordinary power of the body--and through that awareness, of living skillfully."

If I understand the precepts as an invitation to open up to possibilities rather than as a set of rules by which I restrict myself, then I also see them, much more clearly, as a way of defining my relationships in the world. We learn that the practice of the Dharma has a great deal to do with under standing the causal relationships between things. In developing that understanding it is essential that we recognize our potential to fulfill the extraordinary promise of relationship in the world. The negative, the rule, the restraint, takes away the recognition of our own power to grow. We heal the wounds of a Puritan tradition, of restrictions which were often understood as invalidation, by undertaking the precepts as a practice towards something new and wonderful rather than away from things which we may even empower by our very denial of them.

Christopher Reed teaches meditation in Venice, California.

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Compassionate Speech

By Sally Maguire In March, at the end of a Day of Mindfulness in New York City, several of us had a discussion about the precept concerning right speech. Various situations were described wherein it seemed that lying could be justified, even found to be preferable to telling the truth.

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The term lying itself seems a harsh word or judgment in many instances. In fact, in some cultures, being less than truthful, in our terms, is accepted, even routine. So being mindful in our speech, we can look at each situation and see what is appropriate for us to say--deciding not from a rigid code of true/false, but from a sensitivity to the individual circumstances. What will cause the least harm can often be a guide.

Some of the situations cited included the social lie­--giving a false excuse when one doesn't want to meet a friend for lunch or a party in order not to cause hurt feelings; discovering that a proposed "blind date" has a contagious disease and wondering whether to avoid the date with a lie or confront with the truth; lying to avoid military service. These instances seem to involve avoidance more than deceit. In India, relationships are so valued that one would never refuse a request for an appointment even if there was no intention of keeping the date. To agree to meet someone and not show up as promised would certainly not be acceptable in our society. Yet, being alert to certain cues given in the arrangements, the Indian would not be deceived. He would know whether or not to consider the acceptance of his invitation true or false, and he would know whether or not to show up for the appointment.

Other, more desperate situations where lying seems preferable to telling the truth include protecting someone from danger. In any and all cases, it was felt that going back to the principle of being mindful in one's speech, looking deeply into each situation with compassion, one could do one's best to live up to the precept of right speech. It would be helpful to have a language/system of perception for these relative situations where the rigid code leaves no room for sensitive, compassionate behavior.

Sally Maguire lives in New York City

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About the Lieu Quan School of Buddhist Meditation

Note: The original article was prepared using a typeface designed for Vietnamese diacritical marks. You can view it in PDF format.


Ed. Note: If you received the Five Precepts from Thay Nhat Hanh, your Dharma name, if you asked to receive one, begins with the word Tam, “Mind” or “Heart,” and you belong to the ninth generation of the Lieu Quan School of Zen, and the forty-third generation of the Lin Chi (Japanese: Rinzai) school of Zen. Note that in the verse in the last paragraph of this essay, the ninth character is Tam (Mind or Heart).

Master Lieu Quan was born in the village of Bac Ma in the Phu Yen province, in Vietnam, in 1670. He lost his mother at the age of six. His father used to bring him to the Hoi Ton Temple, where he met the abbot, Te Vien. At the age of ten, he was accepted in the temple as a novice. He studied with Te Vien for nine years.

When Master Te Vien passed away, Lieu Quan went to the far away province of Thuan Hoa (now Hue) to study with the Master Giac Phong at the Thien Tho Temple, now called Bao Quoc. One year later when he received news that his father was sick, he asked permission to go back to his village where he worked as a logger to support his father. Four years later, his father died and he went back to study and practice at Thien Tho Temple. He was ordained as a bhiksu in 1697 at the age of twenty-seven.

In 1702, he met Master Tu Dung and began to study with him at the An Tong Temple in Thua Thien. For five years, he was given the Cong an: “All dharmas return to the one. Where will the one return to?”

In 1708, he went back to his teacher, Master Tu Dung told him:

Alone let yourself go down to the abyss. The only way to be reborn is to die. Who could blame you after that?

Lieu Quan clapped his hands and laughed. Tu Dung said: “Not ripe yet.” Lieu Quan tried once more: “The hammer is iron itself.” Tu Dong shook his head. Lieu Quan went back to his cell. The next day, Tu Dung was passing by Lieu Quan’s cell and called out to him: “Our conversation of yesterday is not finished yet. Tell me again!”

Lieu Quan replied, “If I had known that the lamp is fire itself, then the meal could have been ready a long time ago.” Master Tu was delighted by this reply.

Lieu Quan was thirty-eight when he receiving this transmission and set up the Thien Tong Meditation Center. He allowed the Vien Thong Center to be built by his students at the foot of the Ngu Binh Mountain. Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat used to come to this center to practice. In the years 1733-1735, four national ceremonies of ordination were organized in the Thua Thien province over which Master Lieu Quan presided. The number of his disciples were as many as 4000. In 1740, he presided over an ordination at the Long Hoa Center and in 1742, at another one organized at the Vien Thong Center. Practice centers of the Lieu Quan School were set up everywhere in the country. The Phu Yen province is one of the strongholds of the school, along with the Hoi Tong, Co Lam, and Bo Tinh temples.

On the morning of the twenty-first day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar, 1742, Master Lieu Quan asked his attendant to bring him a pen and a piece of paper. He wrote this gatha:

During the seventy or more years I have been in this world, Form and Emptiness have always been the same. Today, all vows fulfilled, I am going back to my home. Do not tire yourselves out asking questions Concerning schools and patriarchs.

After finishing the gatha, the Master sat quietly drinking his tea. Monks living at the center came to see him. Some of the monks cried. Lieu Quan said, “Please do not cry! Even Buddhas have to enter nirvana. My coming and going is clear. There is nothing to be sorrowful about.” The monks stopped crying. He asked, “Has the mui hour (from 1-3 p.m.) come? People said, “Yes.” Lieu Quan said:

The great Way of Reality is the pure ocean of the true nature. The source of Mind has penetrated everywhere. From the roots of virtue springs the tradition of compassion. Vinaya, Samadhi, and prajna— the nature and function of all three is one. The fruit of transcendent wisdom can be realized by being wonderfully together. Maintain and transmit the wonderful principle in order to make known the true teaching! For the realization of true emptiness to be possible, wisdom and action have to arise together.

That (Reality) te (Domain) dai (Great) dao (Way) Tanh (Nature) hai (Ocean) thanh (Clear) trung (Calm) Tam (Mind) nguyen (Source) quang (Broad) nhuan (Penetration) Duc (Virtue) bon (Roots) Tu (Loving Kindness) phong (Tradition) Gioi (Precepts) Dinh (Concentration) phuoc (Merits) hue (Wisdom) The (Body, Self-nature) dung (Function) vien (Complete) thong (Communication) Vinh (Eternity) sieu (Transcending) tri (Wisdom) qua (Fruit) Mat (Mystically) khe (Corresponding) thanh (Realization) cong (Work) Truyen (Transmission) tri (Maintaining, Practicing) dieu (Wonderful) ly (Truth) Dien (Expounding) xuong (Speaking) chanh (True, Legitimate) tong (School) Hanh (Action) giai (Understanding) tuong (Together) ung (Corresponding) Dat (Attaining) ngo (Awakening) chan (True) khong (Emptiness)

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Reciting the 5 Wonderful Precepts

Hopefully by now each of you who received the Five Precepts with Thich Nhat Hanh during his 1989 visit has received your Certificate. If not, please let me know. Following is the formal recitation ceremony. For the text for reciting the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing, the Three Refuges, and the Two Promises for Children, see the book Interbeing: Commentaries on the Tiep Hien Precepts (from Parallax Press)

--Therese Fitzgerald

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Brothers and Sisters, it is time to recite the Five Wonderful Precepts. Please listen. The Five Precepts are the basis for a happy life. They have the capacity to protect life and make it beautiful and worth living. They are also the door which opens to enlightenment and liberation. Please listen to the precepts one by one and answer, "yes," silently each time you see that you have made an effort to study, practice, and observe it. (Bell)

First: Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. (Pause for 3 breaths.)

This is the first of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and practice it during the past two weeks? (Bell)

Second: Do not steal. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering and the suffering of other species on earth. (Pause.)

This is the second of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and practice it during the past two weeks? (Bell)

Third: Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the sufferings you may cause others as a result of your misconduct. To preserve the happiness of yourself and others, respect the rights and commitments of others. (Pause.)

This is the third of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and practice it during the past two weeks? (Bell)

Fourth: Do not say untruthful things. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things that you are unsure of. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred, that can create discord and cause the family or the community to break. All efforts should be made to reconcile and resolve all conflicts. (Pause.)

This is the fourth of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and practice it during the past two weeks? (Bell)

Fifth: Do not use alcohol and any other intoxicants. Be aware that your fine body has been transmitted to you by several previous generations and your parents. Destroying your body with alcohol and other intoxicants is to betray your ancestors, your parents, and also to betray the future generations.  (Pause.)

This is the fifth of the Five Precepts. Have you made an effort to study and practice it during the past two weeks? (Bell)

Brothers and Sisters, we have recited the Five Wonderful Precepts, the foundation of happiness for the individual, the family, and the society. We should recite them regularly so that our study and practice of the precepts can deepen day by day.

Hearing the bell, please bow three times to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, to show your gratitude. (Bell)

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Hospice Work: Responding Authentically

In working as a hospice volunteer for the past four years, I have found mindfulness to be the key to visiting with dying people and their families. I follow my breathing to bring myself completely into the present moment so that can respond to the situation at hand with authenticity and emotional honesty. When someone is dying, the situation is often so charged emotionally that if I am unable to stay in the present  moment I am soon overwhelmed not only by the emotions of the patients and their families, but also by my own emotions. When I am aware and present, I can risk feeling their pain and anger and not be swept away by it. I am reminded of a story of an old grandmother who had faithfully practiced meditation her whole life and was respected by her friends and neighbors for her understanding. One day she was told that her granddaughter had died. The old lady broke down and cried for many days. At last, a priest was sent to see her. He criticized her for carrying on so and suggested that she offer incense and sutra services for her granddaughter. The old grandmother looked at the priest and said, "You can assuage your grief by lighting incense and reciting sutras, but for me, when I'm grieving, I cry." When I'm grieving, I cry. When I'm happy, laugh. When I'm tired I sleep. When I'm hungry I eat. Just this, in the present moment. I don’t mean this in a narcissistic or hedonistic way, but rather as a way to use mindfulness to check in with myself, a way to know "where I'm at in my mind and heart so that can watch my anxieties and more fully open up to the situation at hand.

I have yet to encounter someone who was ready and willing to have a peaceful and harmonious death. All my patients and their families have been questioning, sad, guilty, and angry. Many deny that they or their loved one will soon be gone. And yet this seems completely natural to me.

There was a dying zen master who was asked what his last words to his disciples were and he replied, “I don’t want to die." His students were shocked and confused and sure that he had misunderstood the question, and so they asked him again. "Really, I don't want to die," he replied.

By being mindful with my patients, I allow them to explore whatever emotions they're feeling without the risk of my judging them. I cannot know what they must go through in this process of dying. I cannot judge their questioning or grief or denial, but I can be there for them. I see people struggling to give up everything they thought they were: their role as mother or father, wife or husband; their identity in the work world; their physical appearance; their friends and possessions; their very life. Few let go gracefully. But sometimes I can help just by being there, just taking one breath at a time and keeping my heart open to what's happening. Often as not I seemingly do nothing at all but breathe and stay open to my patient's great struggle.

One summer day, I was asked to sit with a man in a coma who was very near death. His bed was in the living room next to a large picture window. I chose a seat next to the bed where I could see both my patient, comatose and breathing with some difficulty, and the beautiful summer day out the window. As I sat there, I slowed my breath to match his and gradually, after some time I became aware that he was very much present in the room.

During the afternoon, his brother, whom he had not seen for several years, arrived, offered him my seat and mentioned as I was going outside that I thought his brother was present and could hear him. Outside I leaned up against a tree and continued to breathe and enjoy the beautiful day. His brother stayed with him about half an hour. When I came into the house and sat back down by my patient I saw tears running down his cheeks and dropping onto the pillow. I continued to follow my breath. His tears fell for several minutes. I sat with him and followed my breath, one breath after another, like his tears falling to the pillow.

Just being there may be enough to allow for people to find their own way. But practicing mindfulness also allows for me to respond appropriately when the situation calls for it. A touch, a smile, a listening ear, can call forth a flood of feelings or memories and help someone complete some unfinished business.

But no matter what I do for others, ultimately I benefit most by doing my practice in the context of hospice work. I am reminded how important each moment is and how short each life lasts I am witness to the great work we all have to do in our lifetime. And I am humbled by the mystery of living and dying.

Eileen Kiera Deming, Washington.

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Prison Practice

A month ago I wrote to you (Parallax Press) and requested a catalogue. Imagine my surprise and delight when a guard brought to my cell slightly damaged copies of The Heart of Understanding, Being Peace, Moon Bamboo, and The Sun My Heart. I was so touched by your act of kindness that I shed tears of joy. Thank you! I will be leaving my "ashram" (parole ) in six months, and my new life as a Buddhist will have more opportunity for engagement. I am striving to prepare myself in all possible ways.

I was especially grateful to receive a copy of the Mindfulness  Bell, as it helps fulfill my need for fellowship to strengthen my solitary practice. I am enclosing something for the "Daily Practice" feature. Perhaps my musings are worth sharing with other Buddhists who will never have the opportunity to practice in a riot-torn prison. In any event, the exercise of writing it had value for me.

 --D.L.B.

Addiction to cocaine led me to steal, for which I was sentenced to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. We had terrible rioting here in October that caused 123 people to be taken to hospitals and costs of over $60,000,000 to be incurred. This was not an everyday situation in which to practice Buddhism, but it is an opportunity for practice to bear fruit and to see a great deal.

My rudimentary meditation practice began with a smattering of various techniques in response to the existential problem of being totally out of control of my life and feeling a need for reconciliation. Impermanence, suffering, no-self, and impurity became the "WHAT?" of my meditation, and I embraced the Path and the Five Precepts. This altered my participation in the therapeutic community drug program, and I was given the institutional job as Inmate Grievance Coordinator. I served as a tutor to illiterate inmates, and I was slipping into smug self-satisfaction when the rioting swept over us.

The expressions of hatred and rage spawned by dysfunctional families, painful childhoods, and failed social policies presented a vivid face of suffering humankind. The angry retaliations of guards for weeks and months afterwards paints a clear picture of pain and fear in ignorance. But look with me at dedicated nurses who defied guards to bring their expertise  and much-needed supplies to our first-aid station. Lives were saved. See guards and state troopers refuse to condone brutality and halt another's violence. I saw some of the worst of human potential together with some of the best that we can be.

Like the ringing of a discordant but reverberating bell, the rioting and its aftermath impressed upon me the para mount importance of vigilant mindfulness and readiness to serve. As an uncomfortable but effective catalyst of transformation and deepening of my practice, it is invaluable experience about the hazard of complacency. We are always in the place of to act. Realization of right action in the immediacy of chaos and suffering is the fruit of penetrating our pain and fear. Rather than dwelling in despair, we can plunge into the mystery of our fate and practice. Our Way is no mere philosophy; it is a living religion, a response to life.

Share with me a moment that occurred after the rioting: Three of us stood there, having run a makeshift first-aid station together until the injured were taken away.  Handcuffed and shackled, we expected separation for transfer to unknown prisons, perhaps never to see each other again. Convicted felons of different skin colors and religions—Christian, Muslim and Buddhist—we gazed at one another speechlessly, then silently eschewed handshakes to exchange hugs. Joy was found in the midst of sorrow… Smile, those hugs were for you, too.

Dean Lloyd Barnes Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

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Poem: The Last Remaining Cup

After the Earthquake Sleepless in the forest, the night after the earth trembled, I stare up at the stars and think, "How merciful their indifference, now when all our little houses have collapsed."

All over my altar the smell of spilt wine, the sacramental mead labelled with Chagall's blue beast, benevolent and mad, bearing flowers for the groom and bride.

After the earthquake I give the last remaining cup to our long embittered neighbors in the ruins of their home.

While I sweep up a broken mirror, stand in line at the Salvation Army, pick a purple wildflower for my reconstructed altar, this rough beast returns again and again insistent, repulsive and unbearably kind.

Having passed from some dark place through a slit in the earth may I make a home for the one who has destroyed my home.

GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA

Michael Ortiz Hill Santa Cruz, California

Michael and his daughter lost their home in Santa Cruz, California, in the October 1989 earthquake.

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A Drastic Lesson

During my sitting meditation this morning, I tried to remember the serenity and peace of last summer at Plum Village, to give me strength for the day. On the whole, I feel much happier and calmer, more in touch with reality. I'm not so fearful. Much has happened--things terrifying and exciting. In October, an earthquake rocked Stanford and the Bay Area. My house, with me in it, moved six inches off its foundation. Everybody in my house was immediately dislocated. For the next two weeks, we had to sleep on the lawn, or on the floor in the house next door. It was a very hard time for me. I felt a profound sense of disorientation and loneliness. It was a drastic lesson in impermanence. In fifteen seconds, I lost everything. The university initially told us that we would not be able to retrieve our belongings. The experience helped me understand what my mother and countless other Vietnamese experienced-not knowing where to go; wanting someone to take care of you, but knowing there was no one; looking on in anger and anguish while other people's lives seemed normal.

The first night, I didn't have any blankets and borrowed one from a friend who lived down the street. Walking back, with my head down and my blanket under my arm, I heard someone scream, "Look. There goes a refugee." It was like a bell, causing me to reflect about the much greater suffering of my people. It helped to breathe and think about my mother.

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I firmly believe that if l hadn't gone to Plum Village, I wouldn't have been able to deal with the post-earthquake stress. Nine friends and l finally found a house off-campus to rent, and it has been very good. We cook vegetarian food together. And we have a lovely garden in the backyard .

Elan Nguyen Stanford, California

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Slowing Down

I want to share with you a bit about the unfolding of the path for me since participating in the Mount Madonna retreat last April and also listening to Thay's tape, "Looking Deeply," for the past year. Probably the shift began when I looked with mindfulness at my two basic daily activities, walking and talking, and saw how much violence and separation there was in them--violence and separation from my body and the universe. I realized that I wanted to begin having more gentleness and connectedness in my life. It took about six months to change the pattern of hurrying. For example, I worked on how to maintain slowness and gentleness without being an interference amidst scurrying workers and traffic in the San Francisco financial district. I am now paying attention to breathing deeply while walking gently. In January, I saw that I wanted to start speaking more slowly during the coming year. I'm still in the process of working out how to do this, trying to listen well and respond more slowly to others rather than actually speaking the words more slowly. I'd appreciate any ideas or resources concerning the practice of silence in daily life as possible aids to the practice of speaking slowly.

In seeking more gentleness in my life, I moved from Oakland to Alameda this year. And in April I began working in Alameda. This marks a big shift for me after having chosen centers of great activity--New York City and San Francisco-for over twenty--five years! So I'm in a state of thanksgiving for continual blessings.

Shirley Peterson Alameda, California

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Poem: My Family In Vietnam

The peach offers her sweetness to me.How can I share this precious treasure with you?

In my mind, we all sit down to dinner­ arms reaching across the ocean-- I invite you to share what I have to eat.

With one thousand arms I will serve you; with one thousand eyes I can behold you.

Wind, carry me to the table of my hungry family in Vietnam.

Eleni Sarant Weed, California

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Poem: Life Revolves

My life revolvesaround laundry soap, meals that burn, dogs that bark, floors begging to be swept Where are the things that matter? I imagine lovers touching gently in the night; talk with friends; drumming the moon; candles,and glowing satori.

Life revolves, around toilet paper, dishes to be washed, kids that need tending.

What makes me think that death would make this any more real?

I breathe deeply. hold a dish to be washed, javish it with suds, breathe and wash, breathe and wash— each dish an offering.

With each breath, let life begin.

Tom Elliott Grass Range, Montana

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