#46 Autumn 2007

Sangha News

Blue Cliff Monastery: The First Steps

Our new monastery does have cliffs in the mountains nearby but they are not blue, they are white. We like to practice sitting meditation there as we watch the sun rise or set. These mountains are very old, the oldest in the U.S. They are covered in dwarf trees so that being on the mountain is like being in a natural bonsai park.

When we first arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery, which is a former hotel, on April 30, 2007, a strong gust of wind blew down the hotel sign. Some people said that they saw a rainbow cloud. At that time Thay was in Vietnam and said that Blue Cliff Monastery will be a warm and welcoming place.

After we arrived it took us a month to clean up enough to be able to offer an open house for our neighbours and members of local sanghas nearby. The next day we celebrated the Buddha’s birthday and 80 people bathed the baby Buddha. Our non-Buddhist neighbours also bathed the Buddha with great respect.

At the end of June we offered a retreat for OI members. There were eighty-five participants. Some of them said that it was the best retreat they had ever attended. When people were asked what aspect they enjoyed the most, some said that it was the mindful working. Every day we had forty-five minutes to work together in the kitchen or in the garden. It was a time when we felt together as a four-fold sangha.

The family retreat that followed was less well attended. However the children and teens outnumbered the adults by almost two to one, which was auspicious for the future. The teen program was particularly successful; they took charge of all pot washing and cleaning up after meals. At first the monks and nuns said that they wanted to divide the teens into three teams: one for each meal. However the teens wanted to help each other and have everyone work together at every meal. The result was that the teens were able to live as a family and support new teenagers as they arrived.

We are lucky to have the full support of our Town Manager (mayor). This has been a great help to us in our seeking permission to build a new meditation hall and a hut for Thay. Many local people say that they like the change of a hotel into a monastery. They feel that it supports their spiritual path, even though they belong to the Jewish or Christian tradition. They are happy that we are planting more trees to add to the large ancient pines that are like Dharma protectors for the monastery. They are happy to see the outdoor swimming pool area become a vegetable garden and the indoor pool area become a dining room.

The brothers and sisters of Blue Cliff are grateful to our sisters and brothers who have come to Blue Cliff from Plum Village since we arrived here to lend support. We are also grateful to brothers and sisters from Deer Park who came to help us for the two initial weeks here and the move. We are grateful to all our friends who have made financial contributions, material offerings, lent a helping hand, or responded to our wish list. Please know that we still need financial support to pay back loans, cover mortgage payments, build, and renovate.

We are now preparing for the arrival of Thay and the Plum Village delegation in August.

When we return after Thay’s tour there will be a retreat in Blue Cliff with Thay, October 12-16. After that it will be almost time to begin the winter retreat. We hope very much to see you, dear reader, this winter, whether it is with your family during the holiday retreat (December 27-30, 2007) or for a longer stay during the winter retreat from mid-November until mid-February. The winter retreat of three months is the one extended period that monks and nuns spend together in the monastery to deepen their practice and studies. We wish that our lay friends can support us at that time and also join us for as long a time as possible in order to deepen their own practice. Thay gives teachings on a defined topic throughout the three months and these teachings are received two or three times a week by Internet.

Our friends who live nearby are welcome to join us for Days of Mindfulness 9:30 to 4:30 every Thursday and Sunday, for Thanksgiving (November 22, 2007), Christmas Eve (December 24, 2007), and New Year’s Eve (December 31, 2007).

Blue Cliff Monastery
3 Hotel Road
Pine Bush NY 12566
(845) 733-5653/4959
fax: (845) 733-4300

— Sister Annabel, True Virtue

Thay  to  Speak  at  UCLA  Conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: Cultivating Well-Being in the Present Moment

Thich Nhat Hanh will be the keynote speaker at this conference co-sponsored by The Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Insight LA, and the University of California Los Angeles. The conference, which will be held October 5-7, 2007, is designed for psychotherapists and other health care professionals, researchers, educators, and others interested in the behavioral sciences who are seeking to be more effective in their personal and professional lives.

According to the organizers, “One important new wave of psychotherapeutic practice is nourished by wisdom from the great philosophical traditions of the East, building upon and extending the clinical experience of previous eras—psychoanalytic, cognitive/behavioral, and humanistic/existential psychology.... A key element in this new frame of reference is mindfulness, the practice of being fully present within moment-to-moment experience with acceptance. Mindfulness enhances awareness of the sensory, somatic, intuitive, and emotional elements of experience in the present moment, thus enriching psychotherapy for both therapist and patient. For the therapist, cultivation of mindfulness facilitates the free-flow of clinical creativity and engages the wisdom of the heart. It fosters the ability to listen deeply with ‘beginner’s mind’ which enables the clinician to relate to clinical models in a new way. In turn, the client’s experience of mindfulness within the therapeutic encounter opens up the possibility of moving beyond the limiting frame of self and other.”

Other presenters include Tara Brach, Ph.D., Trudy Goodman, Ed.M., Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., Harriet Kimble Wrye, Ph.D., Sara Lazar, Ph.D., and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. For information go to uclaextension.edu/mindfulness or call (310) 825-9971 or (818) 784-7006.

Join the Car-Free Day Movement

In October 2006, during a speech to UNESCO, Thich Nhat Hanh called for a global no-car day. The proposal was taken up immediately by all the monasteries. Now, a team of dedicated volunteers is working to spread the word through the Car Free Days campaign.

Deer Park Monastery announces that there is a new website. It describes ways to reduce personal carbon emissions and lower the impact on global warming. Users will f ind “fun, healthy activities that can bring more joy to your life while helping the planet.”

Organizers have declared September 22 to be “World Car Free Day” and have been soliciting pledges on the website. People are encouraged to promise to try four or more car free days per month or as often as they can. “For every mile you don’t drive, you save one pound of greenhouse gas from entering our atmosphere,” they say.

To help spread the word, a number of posters are available to be downloaded from the website. Willing artists are needed to design additional posters as well as t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, screen-savers, and so. In addition, to help promote the Car Free Days to a wider audience, volunteers are needed to translate the website and posters into as many languages as possible. To help with any of these projects, contact: deerparkmonastery@ gmail.com.

Bloggers are invited to contribute to the Car Free Days community by posting ideas, experiences, questions, and solutions on the blog.

“We won’t solve this problem unless each person contributes,” says the Car Free Day team. “Please join us by doing your part to reduce global warming. The entire planet and future generations are counting on you.”

Building Community Through Art

Earlier this year artist Brett Cook developed the epic “Building Community, Making History” collaborative art project that resulted in a series of portraits, two of which are on display in the “Portraiture Now: Framing Memory” exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum/National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. through January 6, 2008.

Brett Cook, a disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh’s, worked with students and staff of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, leading them through a number of contemplative, educational, and creative practices. Seven workshops emphasizing portraiture allowed participants to explore their role in making history and resulted in the creation of four collaborative art works. The workshop exercises modeled the action of building community.

“By creating spaces for participants to express their individual selves in an inclusive and peaceful way,” says Cook, “there is the creation of a loving community that highlights the individual’s role in our collective history.” For slide shows, video clips, and student reflections, visit www.brett-cook.com.

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Book Reviews



For a Future to Be Possible Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Parallax Press, 2007 Softcover, 148 Pages

Reviewed by Hope Lindsay

All Buddhists express the precepts in some form. They are the core of our beliefs. In the tradition of our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, the precepts for lay practice are the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the focus of this new edition of For a Future to Be Possible. Almost analagous to commandments of many faiths, here the precepts are infused with compassion and loving kindness for all beings — people, animals, plants, and minerals. Each training begins with the introit, “Aware of the suffering caused by....” Each is followed by an all-encompassing phrase exhorting us not to kill, steal, lie, use intoxicants or sexual energy in an exploitive way.

We help others on this path, also. These five trainings are the very center of interrelatedness. Thus they’re indispensable if our troubled planet is to continue.

In her introduction, Joan Halifax asks, “What must be done to retrieve our natural virtue?” I think we all long for a state of natural goodness, the lack of which is at the root of so much fundamentalist turmoil today. When I balked at going to Sunday School a beloved aunt told me that religion is necessary for people to become moral and honest. What else would make human beings behave? We had to have the fear of God instilled in us, or else. But the gentle practice of mindfulness brings its own reward — happiness.

If, as Thay asks, we “live in a way that protects us and those around us,” what he calls the fruit of our own observation will inspire us to choose the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a way of life. Thay also writes that we will be able to express our generosity when we are assured by the trainings that we can “help people feel safe” — ourselves and others — “less afraid of life, people, and death.” The trainings give us the gift of non-fear. They are not presented as The Truth. Instead they are a joyful gateway to the Dharma.

Caitriona Reed writes in a sidebar, “There is a wonderful aspect to the mindfulness trainings: they are impossible to keep. We express our willingness to begin again time after time.” Sister Chan Khong also reminds us that we cannot attain the sun, we can only go toward the light. We are not asked to be obsessive, rather to know that practicing the trainings becomes habit, replacing less healthy habit energy. One of the primary purposes for meeting in sangha is to reinforce and support each other in this aspiration.

Jack Kornfield's afterword lists exercises we can use to begin or renew the practices. Until we reach enlightenment, we mortals are, by nature, forgetful. We need reminders to be mindful! I must confess the trainings opened the door to Thay's tradition for me. in the original 1993 edition of For a Future to be Possible, there were commentaries by several authors that helped me understand Buddhism without dogma or doctrine. This edition is trimmed, almost like a missal -- to carry with us everywhere. In gratitude to Thay for giving this gift once again, I feel like I am traveling with an old friend.

Sweet Zen Dharma Talks from Cheri Huber

Edited by Sara Jenkins

Present Perfect Books, 2000 Softcover, 200 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Smiling, I stood in Borders Bookstore perusing the long row of Thay’s offerings on the book shelf. Then a book of Dharma talks edited by Sara Jenkins caught my eye. As I skimmed the one-to-two-page Dharma talks offered by Cheri Huber, I asked myself whether I need another book on the practice of mindfulness. And I heard a resounding “Yes!”

The talks in Sweet Zen were presented as answers to her students’ questions by Dharma teacher Cheri Huber, who practices in the Soto Zen tradition in a monastery in Northern California. Sara Jenkins and Cheri Huber met at a month-long retreat in the mid-1980’s. There, Huber gave Jenkins, an editor by trade, the transcripts of all her Dharma talks, instructing her to “do whatever you want with these.” The result is five books of talks lovingly crafted by Jenkins. Sweet Zen is the fifth of these books.

One of Huber’s great contributions has been helping her students see how conditioned mind gets in the way of our happiness, freedom, and joy. On “saying no to suffering,” Huber says, “If we watch closely, we see that suffering begins when we leave this moment and allow our minds to project into the past or the future. We can watch ourselves start the slide into suffering as we begin to imagine dire happenings and sink into doubt and fear and hopelessness. Then we can bring ourselves back and just say no. Each time we are tricked again by egocentricity, we can see the result is suffering.

“In the refusal to indulge in what leads to suffering, there is nothing hard or harsh. On the contrary, it is the kindest, most compassionate approach to life.”

Each chapter can be read as an inspirational daily meditation or as a brief reading to be shared in sitting groups during deep listening sessions. These stories have relevance to new practitioners and to those, like me, who have been practicing for many years.

As a Westerner and a woman, Huber speaks about the many ways we get stuck in habitual thinking. How do we work our way out? She uses the language of popular culture to direct us toward the freedom that comes with breaking out of chronic running commentaries in our minds. I especially like her retelling of the Buddha’s story of the knotted scarf. On the path of practice, we untie many of our knots and continue to encounter more. The more experience we gain,  the harder the knots tighten, but the better we are at untying them. “The experience you gain each time you untie a knot gives you the encouragement you need to take on the next one. After a while, you approach the whole process with confidence and lightness and, increasingly, gratitude.”

The title Sweet Zen refers to the inherent beauty and joy of our practice, and how, in our daily lives, our practice can help us show extreme kindness to ourselves and others.

The Best Buddhist Writing 2006

Edited by Melvin McLeod and the Editors of the Shambhala Sun

Shambhala, 2006 Softcover, 317 pages

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

“I have heard some people predict,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, “that the twenty-first century will be a century of spirituality. Personally, I think it must be a century of spirituality if we are to survive at all.” Thus begins the closing essay in Best Buddhist Writing 2006. Excerpted from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism, this essay reads like a fresh-picked strawberry served at the end of an exquisite meal — each bite more satisfying than the last.

There are many gems in this compilation, not the least of which is a piece reprinted from the Mindfulness Bell by our own Judith Toy, now associate editor. In “Murder as a Call to Love,” Judith recounts the tragic loss of her sister-in-law and two teenage nephews, and her long path to healing. “I did not plan to forgive the boy who murdered my family. But after five years of stopping, enjoying my breathing, and relaxing every day, I was able to look deeply and understand Eric.”

The thirty-three pieces range from the deeply personal, like Judith’s, to the scholarly, like “Studying Mind from the Inside” by the Dalai Lama: “The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact.”

The joy of reading a book like this is that you can pick and choose. But what treasures to choose from! Here’s from “Hair-Braiding Meditation,” a humorous prose poem by Polly Trout: “May my daughter, who wants a billion tiny braids this morning, be filled with loving kindness. May she be well. May she be peaceful and at ease going to school with a billion tiny little braids.”

In “Searching for the Heart of Compassion,” Marc Ian Barasch writes: “I’ve become suspicious of the unblemished life. Maybe the heart  must be broken, like a child’s prize honeycomb, for the real sweetness to come out. Although something inside us yearns to walk on air,  never touching the ground, compassion brings us down to earth.It has been likened to the lotus, whose exquisite, fragrant blossom grows out of the muck and mire.”

Other authors represented in the anthology include Sharon Salzberg, Christina Feldman, Norman Fischer, Frank Olendziki, the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Pema Chödrön.

In one of my favorite essays, “Coming to Our Senses,” Jon Kabat-Zinn echoes Thay’s concerns: “When cultivated and refined, mindfulness can function effectively on every level, from the individual to the corporate, the societal, the political, and the global. But it does require that we be motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves, but for the  world.”

I was inspired to go out and buy Kabat-Zinn’s book as well as Thay’s. And that’s the point of a compilation like Best Buddhist Writing. You get a taste of something extraordinary, and it makes you want to indulge more deeply in the fine cuisine of Buddhist thought.

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Help Deer Park Monastery Go Solar

Every one of us can do something to protect and care for our planet. We have to live in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren. Our own life has to be our message.   — Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends:

At the direction of our Teacher, Deer Park Monastery is engaging the problem of global warming in a number of ways. Our environmental initiatives include conversion of our vehicles to vegetable-based fuels; reduction of our use of cars through our “car-free” Tuesdays each week; careful selection of organic and local products when possible; recycling of all possible materials we use in the Monastery; and, importantly, the development of a clean, non-polluting solar energy system at Deer Park. The monastic and lay communities have worked diligently during the past year to make this project a reality, and we are now able to proceed with construction of the system. We wish to invite you to join in this effort by contributing as you are able to our Solar Energy Fund Drive. We expect to have this project funded and in operation during the year 2007, but we need your help.

Our goal is to preserve the environment and to reduce our contributions to global warming by producing 100% of our electricity with clean solar power. Our planned 66-kilowatt photovoltaic system will produce all the electricity needed by the Monastery and will contribute significantly to the local energy system by producing the most clean power during peak power needs — the time when power plants emit the most pollution.

The entire project will cost approximately $530,000, and the State of California’s rebate program will provide $182,000. This subsidy is available now, and we need to ensure that we are among the selected participants in California. Our Sangha has a unique opportunity to be more mindful about our use of energy and to make a positive difference in global warming.

Deer Park’s Southern California location is ideal for solar power. Because our location and project design are so effective, we are likely to receive the highest rebate level offered by the State. That being said, we still need about $350,000 to complete this project. By helping Deer Park, you will also offset some of your own contributions to global climate change.

If you would like to help Deer Park Monastery Go Solar!, you can give a tax-deductible donation online at www.deerparkmonastery.org, or you can mail a donation to (please include your address for a receipt of tax-deductibility): Deer Park Monastery, Attn. Go Solar!, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026, USA.

Thank you from the fourfold Sangha at Deer Park Monastery.

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