#56 Winter/Spring 2011

Magical Moment at Borobudur Temple

By Deny Hermawan mb56-Magical1Thay’s marvelous teachings have been deeply etched in my heart for a few years. On October 7, 2010, his teachings became even more impressive and alive for me when he came to Java to visit one of the most magnificent Buddhist sites in the world, Borobudur Temple.

On that day I felt so excited because I was able to walk mindfully together with hundreds of people, including many monastics from Plum Village, led by Thay. Although I was not able to maintain my awareness at every step, the peace walk was incredible for me. I could feel the energy of peace, love, and compassion spread over the area, empowering the sacred monument that was built by King Smaratungga in 800 AD. The encounter of the great historical temple and a living bodhisattva was a significant and moving moment. Thay’s presence, the Sangha’s solidity, and the rainy weather created an unforgettable atmosphere that day.

It seemed like magic occurred. Right after we completed the peace walk, rain started falling heavily. It stopped just as Thay began his Dharma talk by saying, “I am happy because I’m able to be here and now, in the present moment. Therefore, I feel no anxiety; I feel free.” Later in the afternoon, just as the event was coming to an end and Thay was getting into a vehicle to leave, the rain started falling again, as if nature were grieving the departure of the legendary teacher.

Moments with Thay and the monastics from Plum Village and the Indonesian Sangha at Borobudur were truly amazing. Walking and sharing lunch with them were wonderful moments, and another moment that truly impressed me was the pindapatra, or alms round. I felt so lucky because I had a chance to put some food into Thay’s bowl. I felt his beautiful eyes see right through me, smiling, and I felt his wisdom strike my mind without words, perhaps like the story of the Buddha holding flowers and Mahakashyapa smiling.

I attended my first retreat with monastics from the Plum Village tradition in 2008 when Brother Phap Kham and others led a retreat in Indonesia for the first time. That retreat was the beginning of my journey towards true happiness and mindfulness. Before that retreat, I had already become a big fan of Thay’s teaching through reading his books. Being able to meet the writer and participate in mindful activities with him was absolutely amazing. I hope I can maintain the spirit of goodness of that day at Borobudur Temple so that I can contribute more positively to society and so that, finally, heaven on earth will become truly possible.

mb56-Magical2Deny Hermawan, Determined Light of the Heart, is a practitioner in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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Living Dharma

By Miriam Goldberg mb56-Living1For me, the Indonesian retreat closed with the sunrise meditation walk, Dharma talk, and formal lunch at Borobudur the day after the retreat officially ended.

We walked stone pathways lined with images depicting the Buddha’s life and all the sutras. Every curve of tree, leaf, person, and smile which hadn’t been damaged revealed the uniqueness of each carving, singular, nuanced, yet connected in the truth they described and the commitment of hundreds of artisans and visionaries who supported this creation over time. We sat atop this celebration of the Buddha, his Dharma, and Sangha while the sun rose and the world emerged from the mists below.

Sitting on a short platform, Thay gave a Dharma talk, a tree to his right, and in the distance, Borobudur, like a teeming city springing from the large stupa in the center: Buddha consciousness overflowing into the world. Thay spoke of real Sangha, the community that practices and lives the Dharma. He said that a Sangha is alive when it practices the Dharma. When the Sangha truly practices, the Dharma is alive. And where the Dharma is alive, the Buddha lives.

At lunch, Thay sat calmly with his and other monastics, brown robes by saffron and red. His brief introduction included: during formal lunch, enjoy the Sangha and enjoy your food. Just that is enough. Receive the mindfulness of the Sangha, the community that practices love and understanding, that dwells in the present moment free from the delusive mind’s preoccupation with better than, less than, and equal to, that knows the interbeing nature of existence. And be aware of your food. The living Dharma, simple, practical, accessible.

The Action of True Love

Thay’s Dharma talks at the retreat also revealed the simplicity of the living Dharma. In one talk, he described true love as an action, not a noun. He said, “True love never brings fear. It always brings understanding.” In very practical terms he revealed the four brahmaviharas—the qualities associated with true love—as actions for our lives.

Maitri, loving kindness, is the capacity to open and offer happiness, loving as a friend. Thay emphasized, “Intention is not enough. We need to know right action, how to bring love to another person and help them be happy,” through presence, being available, fresh, solid, calm, and spacious. As action, karuna, compassion, is the capacity to remove suffering and give relief. Thay said, “If you do not understand the suffering, you cannot help.” We need to look deeply and listen with compassion. Mudita, “the love (which) brings joy,” can be cultivated as we actively celebrate joy in ourselves and others. Upeksha, unqualified loving, is the non-discriminative wisdom of interbeing. “It is being willing to have the experience that your suffering is mine,” with no distinction between lover and loved. Thay’s own presence, soft, flowing, clear, embodied the inclusive awareness of Buddha nature, Dharma and Sangha, radiating the living Dharma which nourishes and offers true love to all.

Going as a Sangha

Reflecting on Thay’s words, I realized in addition to his example and teachings of living Dharma, I had witnessed many throughout the retreat, in monastic and lay practitioners. The living Dharma found a unique expression in the International Delegation (ID). This eclectic, disparate group of about thirty participants from five countries, spanned several generations, including a few Dharma teachers, long-time practitioners, and some newcomers who discovered the retreat on Facebook.

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Most of the ID landed in Jakarta the day before the retreat and bused together in hours of slow, rainy rush hour traffic. When we arrived, we shared flashlights and helped each other find our beds through the maze of buildings dedicated to retreat housing. The next morning, as we oriented ourselves to the facility and nearby town, Dharma teacher Peggy Rowe gently and consistently introduced the other Dharma teachers to us, so we could honor Thay’s lineage and its holders, blending respect and inclusiveness as we met each other.

The retreat was dense with practice: sitting, walking, silence, mindful exercises, Dharma discussions, and deep relaxation. We had to balance self-care within group activities. Peggy encouraged mindfulness of body wisdom, to honor when it needed to rest, to move, to relax. Gentle presence rather than rigid practice became the norm.

Gestures of offering Kleenex, sharing herbs, letting on where the nearest ice cream could be bought, and sharing smiles of recognition refl and generated kindness, compassion, inclusivity, and joy. An atmosphere of kind attention developed as members of the ID met irritation and cranky comments with deep listening and kindness, asked questions instead of ignoring silences, and demonstrated a willingness to meet others. Beginner’s mind became more available, the mind guided by freshness, not prejudices of the past or attachment to ideas. It encouraged spontaneous responses to who was participating, who was hovering, who was oblivious, who was suffering, who was joyful. We lived the inclusiveness of “going as a Sangha,” demonstrating that when we do that consciously, every moment becomes the living Dharma, filled with the actions of true love. With these ten days together, including the retreat and the half day at Borobudur, the ID Sangha body was well tended, warm, vital, and trusting, fertile soil for Sangha wisdom.

Dharma Rain

We boarded the bus for the stormy ride back from Borobudur to Yojakarta and tried to settle ourselves from the intensely full morning and the buzzing vendors who profited from our excitement. Peggy stood at the front of the bus with the microphone. She said, “We have just been charged by Dharma rain. It is vibrating in us and around us, like the rain falling here. We have an opportunity to sit together in silence and receive this nourishment. Deep into our bodies. To share it with our ancestors, without whom we would not be experiencing this moment. To offer it to the generations to come. To extend it to the world we live in in this moment. Absorb it deeply, and share it fully. Otherwise it will disperse through us in our old patterns of chatting, of shopping, of getting irritable and grumpy, of planning, of daydreaming, of depression, of distraction.” We breathed in and out. A quiet depth opened as our collective practice absorbed the gifts of the morning and shared their merit through interbeing and mindful presence.

An hour later, sitting in the front seats of the bus, we saw the effects of the continuing downpour: motorcyclists intently walking their bikes through thigh-high water; two men unloading garbage from the back of a small truck stuck in a hole while water swirled above its wheels; one-and-a-half-foot-high streams gushing down narrow cement streets. When we were invited to come forward and share with the group a Dharma moment, a child’s song, a joy to nourish the heart, the Dharma was expressed through each of us, both in heartfelt offerings and in deep listening. Attention was on love, not fear. The Sangha was living the Dharma, the Dharma was alive, and Buddha nature was present. I feel great gratitude to the Dharma lineage in the Order of Interbeing, and the gift of living Dharma shared by Thay, his Dharma teachers, and his Sangha.

mb56-Living3Miriam Goldberg, True Recollection of Joy, is a psychotherapist who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains with her husband and practices with Heart Sangha.

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A Great Horizon

Plum Village Sangha in Thailand By Lynda Berry and Karen Hilsberg

In October 2010, Thailand welcomed the Plum Village Sangha warmly. An international delegation of about thirty-six practitioners from the U.S., England, Italy, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Germany, Canada, and Australia spent one week touring and one week with the Plum Village Sangha outside of Bangkok. Eighty to ninety percent of the Vietnamese monks and nuns from Bat Nha Monastery were there, plus new monks and nuns who were ordained in Thailand. Thay was reportedly very happy, and so were the Bat Nha sisters and brothers, to be reunited after being expelled and scattered from Vietnam.

Plum Village Thailand

On our second day with the Sangha, we went to Pak Chong to visit the land that the Sangha is in the process of purchasing. It is a picturesque setting among green hills. Within the next two years, the Sangha will build a new practice center there, conveniently located for people from Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. It will include a wing of the European Institute for Applied Buddhism. The first priority is to pay off approximately $750,000 owed for the land; then to build a meditation hall for 1,000 people, then two hamlets.

Meanwhile, 279 monks and nuns are staying in two private homes. The Sangha has built a huge, temporary, thatched roof meditation hall that seats 1,000. During our visit, it was full with monks and nuns who were present for a monastic retreat. We were all nourished by the ordination of novice nuns and monks and a lamp transmission ceremony for thirteen young monastics from Vietnam. There was an intense energy of mindfulness and beautiful chanting by Thay. He personally cut a lock of each novice’s hair during the ordination ceremony.

At the end of the lamp transmission ceremony, Thay shared the following with the new Dharma teachers and the Sangha: “As monastics we have a great horizon, high and wide. Keep the light and transmit it to the later generations. We are aware that the Buddha and the patriarchs are our roots. We vow to receive the wisdom, compassion, peace, and joy that the patriarchs have transmitted. We vow to transform our suffering and help people of modern times to transform their suffering and to open Dharma doors in new ways. We vow to look at each other as brother and sister in the same spiritual family. We vow to take care of each other so we can help each other. We vow to practice loving speech and deep listening. We vow to transform hatred and jealousy so we can go forward. Only when we do that can we be children of the Buddha and the patriarchs.”

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Not Seeking Anymore

A few days later, Thay gave a public lecture at Thammasat University Law School. There were at least three thousand people in the giant auditorium, including many monastics from different traditions. Thay’s presence attracted huge numbers of people in Thailand, which is primarily a Theravadan Buddhist country. He explained the differences and similarities between the native Buddhism and Zen. He did not mention the political situation in Bangkok, but his description of non-duality seemed appropriate. When you understand your suffering, he explained, and look deeply into the suffering of another you believe to be your enemy, you may develop compassion because you see your enemy as a human being who suffers the same way you suffer. He said that Theravada contains the Mahayana teachings and that Mahayana contains the Theravada teachings. He also shared about the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing and about the practices of deep listening and loving speech.

In the following days, Thay gave Dharma talks at MCU Buddhist University a few days prior to the family retreat. We all stayed together in the same hotel at the university, where a marquis in the lobby said, “Welcome Thich Nhat Hanh!” The family retreat took place at a resort outside of Bangkok, and at least 300 people came by boat and bus from Vietnam (a twenty-four-hour drive.) They had their own meditation hall with Vietnamese translation. Thay spoke about the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Four Mantras, and the Four Noble Truths. He taught the children how to be bellmasters. He also spoke about the sixteen exercises in the Anapanasati Sutra exercises and about the gatha, “This is it (on the in-breath), not seeking anymore (on the out-breath).” The Dharma talks were very fresh. It seemed that Thay was thriving in this Buddhist country.

On the last day of the retreat, the power cut in the middle of Thay’s Dharma talk, but he did not react. He sat and drank his tea while 1,600 people sat in complete silence. When the power came back on about five minutes later, he continued as though nothing had happened. At the end of the retreat, the monastics went up on stage and we all sang together. It looked as though Thay was holding hands with the Theravadan monks. It was a beautiful moment.

mb56-AGreat5Lynda Berry, Awakened Listening of the Heart, is from the United Kingdom and lives in Portsmouth. She took the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the Nottingham Retreat in August 2010. Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness, lives in California. She founded Organic Garden Sangha in 2003 and mentors Order of Interbeing pre-aspirants and aspirants in Jasmine Roots Sangha.

mb56-AGreat4Plum Village Thailand

The Sangha is very happy to have found a beautiful location in Thailand to build a permanent home for monastics where they can practice the teachings of love and understanding under the guidance of our beloved teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The new land is about 190 km northeast of Bangkok. It has a spectacular view of Khao Yai Mountain in Thailand’s first and largest national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We envision two monasteries, one for 100-150 monks and another for 200-300 nuns. The site will also include an Institute of Applied Buddhism for the fourfold Sangha in Southeast Asia. There will be space for vegetable gardens where organic food can be grown. The total cost of the land is 24,583,000 Bhat (U.S. $819,434). A deposit of $152,767 was made on August 30, 2010. On June 30, 2011, the rest of the total amount will be due. The right to the land will then be transferred to the Thai Plum Village Foundation.

With your support, Plum Village Thailand will manifest as a reality. To make a donation, please make a bank draft or cashier check payable to “PV Foundation for PV Practice Center in Thailand” and send it to:

Plum Village Foundation. 399, Moo 9, Nongsarai Subdistrict Pak Chong District Nakhon Ratchasima 30130 Thailand

Or make a wire transfer with the information below: Bank Account Name: PV Foundation for PV Practice Center in Thailand Account No. 855-0-24898-6 Bangkok Bank, Siam Paragon Branch S.W.I.F.T. code “BKKBTHBK” Address: Ground Floor, Siam Paragon 991/1 Rama 1 Road Pathumwan District, Bangkok 10330 Tel: 66-2-129-4318, 66-2-129-4319, 66-2-129-4320,  66-2-129-4321, 66-2-129-4322

If you have questions or need more information, please email niramisa@gmail.com.

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Springtime in Australia

The Birth of Nhap Luu Monastery By Ian Roberts

In southern Australia, it takes time for winter’s wilder energies to let go. The powerful forces of wind and rain often dominate the youthful spring. Every now and then, spring bursts through with its brilliant blue sky and warming sun, but within minutes a wave of hail breaks overhead again, sending everyone running for refuge. If the sun is our heart, as our teacher wrote so beautifully, then so are the rain and wind and hail.

mb56-Springtime1These were the conditions for the first retreat at Nhap Luu (Entering the Stream) Monastery since the arrival of Sisters Thuan Tien, Luong Nghiem, Sinh Nghiem, and Can Nghiem as the first permanent monastic presence of the Or-der of Interbeing in Australia. Part of the energy of our mindfulness weekend was the arrival of Brothers Phap Kham, Phap Dung, and Phap Hai. They came to help create a new master plan for the monastery site, which was gifted in January 2010 by the Green Bamboo Sangha, after ten years of slow, steady development.

Nhap Luu is about 160 kilometres west of Melbourne—part of the state of Victoria’s Central Highlands, the location of a great gold rush in the 1850s, when Asian populations began to settle in Australia. Occasional hobby prospectors still fossick through the old gold diggings and mine shafts near Nhap Luu. But in the little, emerging, bush monastery, with its meditation hall and simple huts, searching has started to stop. We’ve started to realise that however basic the current conditions are, this practice centre is here, now, and it is full of all the gifts that can be found in the most established of monasteries.

The raw nature of the practice environment challenges and inspires us. Electricity only arrived a month ago, after the sisters and lay friends dug nearly half a kilometre of trenches. Some say that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and neither was Plum Village. We enjoy each step of the process. It’s easy to see at any moment that it will never be exactly like this again.

About sixty practitioners attended the mindfulness weekend—half of them Vietnamese Australians and half Westerners. Many had intended to camp, but wind and rain soon drove them into the meditation hall to unroll their sleeping bags. Some slept in their cars. Twenty of them covered the floor of the little twobedroom house next door, owned by a lay OI member. All slept easy with the rain beating on the old tin roof, even if the queue to the single toilet got a bit lengthy at times. But good-humoured mindfulness carried the Sangha throughout the weekend—even inspiring a poem:

This Morning This morning can not possibly be any colder than death. My heart can not possibly burn any brighter than the sun.

The continuing growth of Nhap Luu seemed to be assured by the mindfulness weekend. Many retreatants have continued to return, including a number of the young people who warmed the hearts of everyone when they took the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Now the summer approaches with abundant wild flowers and warm days and sunny breezes bringing bountiful crops to the farmers … and hay fever to most of the Sangha. That’s just the way it is in Australia—wild flowers and hay fever, or as our teacher says, lotus and mud.

mb56-Springtime2Ian Roberts, True Enjoyment of Silence, was ordained as an Order of Interbeing Member at Nhap Luu in March of 2007.

Support Nhap Luu Monastery!

Nhap Luu welcomes your financial contributions. Email the Nhap Luu Office at streammpc@gmail.com to inquire about sending a donation.

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Media Reviews

mb56-MediaReviews1HealingA Woman’s Journey from Doctor to Nun

By Sister Dang Nghiem Parallax Press, 2010 Soft cover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

Sister Dang Nghiem’s story begins in Central Vietnam, where she was born during the Tet Offensive in 1968. She takes the reader with her to Saigon, to medical school in California, to Africa, to Plum Village, back to Vietnam with her teacher, to the late Bat Nha Monastery, and finally to Deer Park Monastery. Huong Huynh was the child of a Vietnamese mother and a U.S. soldier. At the behest of her beloved grandmother, who raised her until she was six, she made three vows: to raise her brother to be a good person as they journeyed to the U.S.; to get a good education; and to become a nun. As her life has unfolded, Huong Huynh, now Sister Dang Nghiem— “adornment with nondiscrimination”—has ultimately fulfilled all three vows and lived into her new name.

The victim of a torn family, sexual assault, racial taunts and gender discrimination, multiple foster placements, an unknown father, a wounded mother who disappeared when her daughter was but twelve, and a fi who drowned and whose body was never found, her strength in the face of immense suffering is the stuff of legend. Yet she does not tell it that way. She carves out a fearless inventory of her thoughts and actions as, growing up with great energy and determination, she moved from inner and outer war to a life of true peace. How she has honed herself, constantly beginning anew, is a profound teaching.

Reading her book is like having tea with Sister Dang Nghiem. We learn exactly who she is. Humbly, she recounts intimate stories of the horrors as well as the subtle joys, the small aggravations and the sweet triumphs of her pilgrimage through an extraordinary life. Nor does she paint her life as a done deal—more like a flowing river that inevitably hits the rapids. “I once was a river, a river falling in love with a cloud and chasing after it,” she writes. But after many years of practice as a nun, Venerable Dang Nghiem has realized she must release her attachments, because one day she will be left with only her “two empty hands.” She has realized that if she is truly present in the moment, she will see that her two empty hands hold the world.

mb56-MediaReviews2Fire Under the Snow A Tibetan Monk – a spirit unbroken by 33 years of torture

A film by Makoto Sasa Running time: 75 minutes 2008

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

Arrested in Tibet by the Chinese Army in 1959, the Venerable Palden Gyatso spent thirty-three years in prisons and labor camps for the “crime” of peaceful demonstration. Tortured, starved, and sentenced to hard labor, he watched his culture destroyed, and his teacher, friends, and family displaced, jailed, or killed. The film covers Palden’s birth in 1933 and follows him through the long nightmare that began with the Chinese invasion. It explores the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical violation that ended decades later with Palden’s escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Just after his escape from Tibet in the 90s, I met Palden on a rainy country road in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, marching with a small group of monks and laypeople who carried the flag of Tibet. On our way home from a retreat, my husband and I happened upon the Free Tibet march launched in Washington, D.C., heading for the United Nations in New York City. I joined the march. Palden stayed at our home for five days, along with the late Thubten Norbu Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, and Larry Gerstein, president of the International Tibet Independence Movement. What a joy it was to cook and serve them!

We were distressed by the tortures Palden described. Still, he laughed often and remained cheerful but resolute. All of his teeth had been shattered by a cattle prod placed directly into his mouth. He was hung by his thumbs. He ate dirt. One time, in prison, he vainly spit into the mouth of an infant to keep it alive. Tears came as I listened, and I asked him, “How did you survive?” “I became a monk when I was ten years old,” he replied, putting his arms around me while I cried.

Palden harbors no anger toward the Chinese. He has made it his life’s mission to bring to light the extreme human rights abuses of China that continue to this day, “so that it will stop.” In our home, in our sweet little breathing room on the second floor, Palden spent many hours composing The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, on which the film is partially based. Fire Under the Snow reminds me of the roots of the Order of Interbeing—mindfulness and inspiration in the face of unbelievable duress. For more information, visit www.fireunderthesnow.com.

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