#37 Autumn 2004

Thich Nhat Hanh on the Abuse of Prisoners of War in Iraq

May 18, 2004 mb37-TheAbuse1

What is the Buddhist perspective on the abuse of prisoners of war in Iraq?

Recent news about the abuse of prisoners of war provides us with the opportunity to look deeply into the nature of war. It reveals the truth that has been hidden to many of us about what actually goes on during war and conflict. This is an opportunity for us to be more aware. This is not new; everywhere there is war, these kinds of things happen.

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Soldiers are trained to kill as many people as possible and as quickly as possible. Soldiers are told that if they don’t kill, they will be killed by the so-called enemy. They are taught that killing is good because the people they are trying to kill are dangerous to society, and that they are demons, that our nation would be better off without them. Soldiers are trained to believe they must kill the other group because they are not human beings. If soldiers see their “enemies” as fellow human beings just like them, they will have no courage to kill them. Every one of us should know the way soldiers are trained in order to see the truth about war. It is important not to blame and single out the U.S. in this kind of situation because any country would do the same thing under the same conditions. During the Vietnam War atrocities were committed by both sides also.

The statement President Bush made that the U.S. just sent dedicated, devoted young men, not abusers to Iraq shocked me, because committing acts of torture is just the result of the training that the soldiers have already undergone. The training already makes them lose all their humanity. The young men and women going to Iraq were already full of fear, wanting to protect themselves at all cost, so they are pushed to act quickly, being ready to kill at any moment.

Why would the soldiers torture the Iraqi prisoners?

When you are engaged in the act of killing, aware that fellow soldiers on your side are dying every day and that it is possible for you to be killed at any moment, you are filled with fear, anger, and despair. In this state you can become extremely cruel. You may pour all of your hate and anger on prisoners of war by torturing and abusing them. The purpose of your violence is not only to extract information from them, but also to express your hate and fear. The prisoners of war are the victims, but the abusers, the torturers are also the victims. Their actions will continue to disturb them long after the abuse has ended.

Even if the superiors of the individual soldiers have not directly given orders to mistreat, abuse, or torture, they are still responsible for what happened. Preparing for war and fighting a war means allowing our human nature to die and the animal nature in us to take over. We should never be tempted to resort to violence and war to solve conflict. Violence always leads to more violence.

It is possible to achieve peace through peaceful means and there are many examples of this in history.

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Lamp Transmission

In February, Tony Mills and Pritam Singh were among those chosen to receive the lamp transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh and become Dharma teachers. During the ceremony, they each offered an insight gatha, and received one in response from Thay. mb37-Lamp1

Tony Mills’s Insight Gatha I walk the great southern land holding your hand. Each time the kookaburra laughs I hear you calling. You have lifted the veil from my heart See how it shines like a diamond. Deep in the forest the compassionate moon Awakens every leaf. A beacon shines on the ocean of suffering.

Thay’s Transmission Gatha to Tony The clear bright moon shining on the forest stream The silent planet contemplates the cosmos The three thousand worlds are standing in stillness as The auspicious flower is blooming pure white

Pritam Singh’s Insight Gatha For countless generations I looked through my mother’s eyes filled with sorrow and regret, until a gentle rain washed away the tears. This morning, holding the hand of my dearest friend, I walked in the mountains along the old path.

Thay’s Transmission Gatha to Pritam My original vow is to protect and support the Sangha.

The whole mountain is now illuminated by the sunshine, and I can already see the pink cloud floating lightly on it.

When we realize that our Suchness, our true mind, our true nature, is without the idea of more-or-less, empty-or-full, the energy of great compassion in us can be transformed into thousands of eyes and thousands of hands in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.

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Soymilk Sangha

by Susan Hadler mb37-Soymilk1

After dinner I walk to the kitchen to check on the soymilk we’ve made today. It should be cooling by now. Later, after evening meditation we’ll put it in the refrigerator, so we can have fresh soymilk for breakfast. The clean-up crew fills the kitchen with activity carrying racks of dishes, washing pots, and mopping the floor. I am surprised to see my soymilk teammate Gary standing at the stove spooning okara, the thick soybean residue, from the huge pot of soymilk into a basin. Normally the okara is filtered out by a machine. What happened to the soymilk?

Phap Do taught the seven of us on the soymilk team how to make soymilk for the 350 retreatants of Solidity Hamlet. Making soymilk is a day-long process that reminds me a little of taking care of a baby. After supper we measure fifteen cups of soybeans into a large plastic tub. We wash the beans three times and soak them overnight. The next morning during working meditation the little round beans are mixed with water and ground between two stones in the grinding machine. After that we pour the thick white liquid into the mouth of another machine we affectionately named “The Great Silver Dragon” whose belly is a filter bag. The machine whirls the soymilk, filtering out the okara, until milk runs out of the spout into a big stainless steel pot. Several times during the filtering process we empty the soft foamy okara from the filter bag into a basin. The okara is mainly used for compost. Later in the afternoon we cook the soymilk for two hours in huge pots double boiler style. When it is cool, we return to the kitchen and tuck it away for the night in the refrigerator.

Soon after learning how to make soymilk, I begin to identify with the little soybeans. We are both seeds in the womb of Mother Earth, constantly changing. I too, am soaking, soaking in the collective mindful energy of the retreat. My tough outer shell softens, my heart opens. I don’t need to protect and defend myself here. I feel safe.

Like the soybean, I am ground up together with the other retreatants and we slowly become a community. My protective edges wear away in the room I share with five other women as we bump up against each other and learn to live together in this intimate space. The aloneness I brought with me loosens and dissolves when I am helped over a rough spot by new friends. I feel supported by the people here and I give what I can. We live and work together mindfully day after day. We walk as one body during walking meditation. We eat our silent meals. We sit in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall in the morning and in the evening. We harmonize our voices to sing and to chant. We walk slowly up and down the mountain without speaking. Separateness is ground away until we become a Sangha river flowing in the Great Hidden Mountain.

Next we are filtered and refined. We let go of suffering, noticing obstacles to happiness, changing old habits. With Thay’s help I see that I’ve carry my beloved grandmother’s despair inside of me for all these years. Her despair is part of my mind. I take Granny for a walk in the hills and she enjoys it so much, the hills, the flowering trees, the birds and the sunshine. She is content now and so am I. I see something else; the way I try to save everyone and end up losing myself, a painful old habit that leads to exhaustion and feelings of imprisonment. It is thick and heavy like the okara we filter out of the soymilk. I see this when our soymilk team runs into trouble.

The seven of us meet with Thay Phap Do. For the first time I realize that my overactive sense of responsibility affects my friends adversely. It let go of every notion and experience great joy! I find out that he is right when I experience a deep wordless connection with this mountain, with the rabbits and squirrels, with the full moon, with the Sangha. There is enough time and space to enjoy every moment.

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Gary answers my question as I walk over to the stove. “The filter bag leaked and okara filled the milk. It was too thick to drink and wouldn’t be very tasty.” My first thought is, Why did the filter bag leak? My second thought is, What about tomorrow when we make soymilk again?

Thay Phap Do comes into the kitchen, looks around, and suggests that we use the metal colander and a big pot. He brings forth a nylon curtain to use as a strainer. I watch him line the colander with the curtain and then I speak. “Phap Do, I think I know what happened to the filter bag.” He doesn’t respond. Then I ask, “Will we have to strain the milk this way every day?” This time Phap Do answers. “Just do it now. Use this curtain to filter the milk now.” I feel a little embarrassed and rebuked, having wanted to impress him by figuring out why the filter bag leaked. I walk

is my habit to arrive early on the days we make soymilk and begin to set up the equipment. I run around the kitchen collecting spoons and pots and basins, thinking how nice it will be for my friends to arrive and have everything already set up. But wait, something is changing. Thay is teaching us to become businessless. I notice that my ancestors’ “businessfulness” appears in me. During our meeting several of my teammates express feeling rushed and left out. My heart thumps in my chest and my breath races. I have never before realized that when I act in that extra-responsible-businessful way I take up my teammates’ space and obstruct us from experiencing the ease and leisure that makes deep connection possible and enjoyable. I happily leave my businessfulness in the filter bag. At the end of our meeting Thay Phap Do asks each of us, “What does a cow say?” “A cow?” “Yes. A cow. You know the cow that gives milk. What does a cow say?” Each of us replies and then Phap Do asks us to repeat the sound all together. “Mooooo!” we bellow and laugh. We’re becoming nourishment for the Sangha, light enough to flow freely like a delicious stream of soymilk. We begin our working meditation now with a cup of tea and a long “Moooooo,” the joyful sound of the soymilk team.

And then we cook. We cook the soymilk in the afternoon and the Sangha cooks slowly and continuously in the pot of mindfulness. I feel myself growing more fresh and wholesome as I listen to Thay’s Dharma talks. He tells us that we can find happiness at any moment. He teaches us to transform our suffering and he shows us that we can into the hall behind the kitchen and feel tears spring into my eyes. And then I smile. Oh! I get it. No past. No future. Only now! No blame. No right. No wrong. No theories or notions. Only now!

I walk back into the kitchen and feel so happy as Gary and I strain the soymilk heavy with okara through the curtain. We pour the fresh soymilk into giant pots and store it for breakfast. Friends from the clean-up crew offer to help carry the pots and mop the floor. Just as we’re finishing up, Phap Do reappears and places a new filter bag on the table.

One morning I sit in the dining room that overlooks the temple and the blue hills. I eat breakfast in silence, concentrating on the oatmeal and the soymilk. Gary sits across the table. I hear a rhythmic sound and look up. Gary points to a red-headed woodpecker in the tree outside the window. We sit silently and watch. Phap Do appears on the path beneath the window. His body is completely still as he stands gazing at the tree and the bird. After several minutes he looks in the window and smiles a Buddha smile. Everything is all right. I no longer need to worry about food or cold or anyone or anything. This moment is enough. I am alive. I am here.

Susan Hadler, Transformational Light of the Heart, lives in Washington, D.C. where she practices with the Washington Mindfulness Community.

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Six Contemplations on the Awareness of Eating

by Denise Ségor These words arose in me while walking along the Springwater Trail in Portland, Oregon, early one spring morning. They came from a chorus of bird song; from the scent of fresh rain on flowers, leaves, bark and earth; from the coolness of air on skin; from the firmness of ground beneath footsteps; from gray and white clouds low in the sky; from trees, bushes, and grasses holding steady and still; from muscles contracting and releasing with the flow of movement; from the swish, swish of swinging arms; from breath entering coolly and exiting warmly; from eyes moving consciously from forward and outward seeing to lowered and inward seeing and back again; and from the quiet volcano hidden in this moment by clouds but visible and erupting always within my heart. They also come from a continuing practice of looking deeply at the nature of my own suffering.

Denise Ségor, Mindful Smile of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing, practicing with the Joyful Refuge Sangha and the Community of Mindful Living in Portland, Oregon.

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This food and I We are sisters in the cosmos, We are the universe. And the earth, sky, air, water, fire, space, energy and consciousness of the universe All are in us. May we gently, with mindfulness and concentration, Invite our sister food into our body So that our transformations may nourish our collective joy a nd stability. May we transform our unskillful states of mind the knots of panic and fear the bottomless pit of craving And learn the Middle Way, With heart and courage easing the constrictions and control Thus releasing freedom and peace into our body and the world. May we take in the nourishing and life-affirming elements Of our sister earth, Encouraging positive seeds To take root and grow strong within us So we may give back to the earth compassion and healing. May we bring awareness To the continuing transformation Occurring in every moment As our sister food moves through, fills and becomes one with every space and cell of our body And then permeates us out Through our skin, our tears, our sweat, our voices, our movement, our breath and our excrement . . . In every moment reminding us of the fullness of emptiness And the nature of no self. May we commune with her In a pure and grace-filled way So that easily and with peace We may realize The Path of Understanding And the Mind of Love.

—Denise Ségor

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One Small Bowl

A Commentary on Eating Meditation by David Percival

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At Plum Village and Deer Park, the food is delicious, nutritious, and abundant. During the first week of the Summer Opening at Plum Village, I was sitting outside waiting for everyone in my family group to arrive before starting to eat. In front of me was a large plate piled high with food, a large bowl full of food, and a bowl of soup.

In the wonderful silence before starting to eat, I became aware that many of the monks at our table had just one bowl in front of them. Across from me was a slender, trim, happy monk with one small bowl of food; I had enough food to fill four small bowls. Some of the other retreatants at our table had equally impressive quantities of food. Over the next few days, I continued to observe that most monastics used only one bowl when serving themselves.

On the table was a small folded piece of cardboard with the important words I have been repeating for years, but somehow overlooked at this meal:

This food is the gift of the whole universe— the earth, the sky, and much hard work. May we be worthy to receive it. May we transform unskillful states of mind, especially the habit of eating without moderation. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. We accept this food to realize the path of understanding and love.

As I sat there, the Fifth Mindfulness Training played in my mind. What am I doing with this much food? By the time we began the meal, I wasn’t very hungry and I couldn’t eat it all. I waited until everyone had finished so I could steal away and discreetly put the remainder in the compost bucket. A wasteful but useful experience.

That evening during walking meditation I further contemplated this experience. Later, in Stepping into Freedom I read about the monastic eating bowl. Thay states that “…the monk’s eating bowl is often called ‘the vessel of appropriate measure’. It should be big enough to hold a suitable amount of food, but not too big as to encourage greed.”

Food portions served in restaurants at home seem to be escalating. I thought about the plague of obesity, eating disorders and addictions, diabetes, heart disease, loss of self-esteem, and other illnesses caused by being overweight. Reports suggest that two-thirds of adults in the

U.S. are overweight. There are untold numbers of diet plans, hundreds of books on how to lose weight, and millions of people desperately struggling to change. Food is a major attachment and can cause great suffering.

In this sea of suffering and despair is there a diet of mindfulness we can have with us always? Can we practice the Fifth Mindfulness Training at every meal?

The key is to practice as a monastic: wherever you go, keep your bowl carefully stored away in your consciousness. When you can, get used to using one small bowl or a salad plate for your meal. At home I have a Deer Park bowl as the centerpiece on our table and I look at it each time I sit down to eat.

When you can, serve yourself just what you need or perhaps a little less. Then practice walking meditation to where you sit, even if it’s just a few steps in your kitchen. Sit with your back straight, and practicing mindful breathing, recite the Five Contemplations. Bring yourself into the present moment so you can touch your food, your family, and your community deeply. Thay tells us that “eating in mindfulness nourishes your happiness, and you feel as though you are sharing a meal with the Buddha and his disciples in the Jeta Grove.”

Discussing the First Novice Precept, On Protecting Life, Thay says, “When a novice practices this precept, he or she learns to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion and thereby transforms the seeds of violence and hatred and nourishes the seeds of love. Violence and hatred cause boundless suffering. While a novice walks, sits, stands, lies down, works, speaks, eats, or drinks, she does not forget that all species are suffering. Protecting life is the first practice of someone cultivating her bodhichitta, her mind of love.” We can bring this teaching into our life by choosing a vegetarian diet.

My practice of eating moderate amounts of wholesome vegetarian food combined with exercise is a practice of love, compassion, and happiness. I begin to realize that craving for food is not an element of happiness. When I started this practice, I thought that I would need to give up many things. But over time I understood that when I let go of craving and attachments, I haven’t lost anything. Instead, a beautiful space opens in my mind as I become free from my food cravings and attachments. As Thay said at the Winter Retreat at Deer Park in March 2004, “Live in such a way that there is beauty in each moment—all our actions are our continuation (our karma). Do not wait!” And, never forget your bowl.

References:

Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom – An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1997. Thich Nhat Hanh, For a Future to Be Possible – Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1993.

David Percival, True Wonderful Roots, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is the subscription manager for the Mindfulness Bell.

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Three Full Moons

by Jerry Braza mb37-Three1 mb37-Three2

Last winter, for the first time in my life, I had an opportunity to stop long enough to witness three full moons come over the mountain at Deer Park Monastery. Taking a sabbatical from my university teaching position, and with the support of my wife, Kathleen, I attended the Winter Retreat to experience the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh with several hundred monastics and lay practitioners.

Before I left for Deer Park, as the first moon of 2004 was waxing, my mother celebrated her 100th birthday, and moved from her apartment to a nursing home. In a Dharma talk Thay said, “Some people live to be 100 and never really deeply touch the present moment.” My mother has lived for more than 1,200 full moons. The moon was always there for her. Was she ever there for the moon? How many of her moons reminded her of the preciousness and impermanence of each fleeting moment?

Living in the rural environment of Deer Park, I became much more aware of the moon and its phases. I walked mindfully each evening to the outdoor pay phone to call Kathleen, and would check in with my friend, the moon. Where are you, dear moon? Are you waxing or waning? When will you be full again? The moon became a gentle reminder of the cyclical nature of my being and the temporary nature of all phenomena.

During the first full moon at Deer Park, my son Mark announced his engagement to Preety, a lovely woman from India. Later, my daughter Andrea and her husband Eric shared news of the upcoming birth of another grandson. New moon, new loved ones to cherish. Oh, moon, teach me about change so that I may model your gifts for those I love.

During these three full moons, a friend of thirty years was incarcerated for spousal abuse. I wonder how and when the first blow was struck. Was it in words? Was it a lack of awareness of the other’s suffering? Can my friend see the moon in his “grey wall monastery”? How many moons will offer him comfort during long bleak nights filled with doubt and self-recrimination? Will this time of rehabilitation offer him the light needed to illuminate the sacredness of life?

One night, as I viewed a waning moon, Kathleen shared the news that two good friends were getting a divorce. What caused the light to go out of their relationship? How many moons did they celebrate in happiness? in darkness? Could awareness of the nature of the moon have guided them in more healing directions?

As the new moon emerged in February, we celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. We prepared for Tet through a process of inner and outer spring cleaning, attempting to let go of unfinished business and open more deeply to the present moment. How can we celebrate the New Year, new beginnings, if we are still hanging on to the legacies of the past?

During these three moons, Rick, a longtime colleague, died of a heart attack at his desk after teaching a class. When did he see the moon for the last time? Did he, by chance, ever stop and look deeply at the moon one day with the awareness that this may be his last time seeing it? The moon can be a reminder of the cycle of birth and death and the importance of dwelling deeply in the present moment since it could very well be our last moment.

During these three moons, the Deer Park Sangha took several moonlight walks with our teacher. As the moon guided each footstep through the hills, thoughts of weddings, births, and life events were replaced by gentle reminders that happiness is found in the present moment. Enjoy the moon tonight in its brightness and realize its impermanence. Let the moon become your teacher of change, of mindfulness, of impermanence, and the preciousness of life.

Jerry Braza, True Great Response, is a Dharma teacher living in Salem, Oregon. He affiliates with the River Sangha and the Oregon Sangha. He is a Professor of Health Education at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon.

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In the Shoes of the Buddha

by Angela R. Vuagniaux One Saturday after morning meditation at Deer Park, I looked at the sidewalk surrounding the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall and had the urge to sweep. The desert earth had been tracked in and smeared red all over the new white concrete. It looked messy. Although it wasn’t my assigned working meditation, I knew the next day many guests would be coming for the Sunday public Dharma talks and I wanted the hall to look like the Pure Land it was meant to be. No one else was there, so I invited myself to a session of sweeping meditation.

Days before, while clearing the leaves from the paths of the garden in Solidity Hamlet, a young monk had taught me to sweep. My movements had been brisk, trying to accomplish the task as quickly and neatly as possible. I viewed sweeping as a menial chore to be gotten done. After about a half hour, in the quietest way, a young shining-faced monk took the broom from my hands. “Let me show you,” he said kindly. He then swept the earth as if he were giving a slow gentle massage. Until that moment, I had not even realized that I had been completely wound up and oblivious to the present moment. “It’s a meditation,” the monk reminded me with a smile. As I began to sweep more mindfully I saw how often we are praised for making a good, thorough, and quick job of any task. Now, here was someone showing me that I didn’t have to work for love or approval, that it was all already wonderful. This small lesson brought tears to my eyes, and that day I became a novice sweeper.

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Thoughts came and went as I calmly swept the walkway around the meditation hall. When finished, I opened the door and looked inside. I saw that the cushions and mats had been cleared away, and that the wood floor needed sweeping. I was happy to continue my meditation inside, and found the appropriate dust mops to do so. When I swept around the altar and the platform where I knew Thay would be sitting, I felt more respectful, even reverent. Soon I began to see everywhere as a place not only for Thay to occupy, but for the Buddha as well, and all of us Buddhas-to-be. I imagined the whole world, all space and time, filled with the Buddha…and I was a Buddha too. I continued sweeping like this—wonder-filled. Inside and out were no different.

In one corner of the hall, Thay’s white straw sandals for walking from the door to the platform were kept. When I saw them, I felt a surge of energy inside me—I wanted to walk in those shoes! I slowly leaned over to pick up the sandals, my heart pounding. I looked around: no one in the hall but me. First one foot and then another went into Thay’s slippers. They fit! I looked up, half surprised that no lightning struck me down. Soon I was walking across the meditation hall, just like Thay! For a moment, I thought that maybe the shoes had the power to make me glide across the earth like that. I imagined myself being Thay and immediately felt light and free, floating across the temple floor. Then, I imagined myself as the Buddha, the Buddha in the teacher’s shoes. Filled with a new exuberance, I picked up the dust mop and pushed it around the meditation hall, sweeping like the Buddha. Just as the new rays of morning sunlight came over the mountain and flooded the meditation hall, I felt flooded with light and love. I was the Buddha, in Thay’s shoes, sweeping in the light of the morning sun, in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall.

Eventually, I grew a little nervous. I did not want to be disrespectful, so I took off the white sandals and put them gently back in their proper place beside the door. Of course, I knew that I did not need Thay’s shoes to be a Buddha, and I knew that I could access that same lightness and joy anytime I wanted. I did not need the shoes, just my own mind and breath. Thay had taught me that. Lesson complete, I put the dust mop away, and bowed gratefully at the door. The place was shining.

When people ask me about my time at Deer Park Monastery, I tell them that my brief training in mindfulness with hundreds of others was the most nourishing thing I have ever done. I hope to have the opportunity to practice with teachers like Thay and many others again, each of us wearing our own shoes.

Editor’s Note: According to the Asian tradition and our practice of fine manners, it is not accepted practice to wear the garments belonging to the teacher.

Angela R. Vuagniaux, Blooming Lotus, is a poet and newcomer to the Order of Interbeing. She lives in Great Barrington, MA and is practicing with the Berkshire Mountain Sangha.

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The Kids’ Sangha

by Bruce and Karen Hilsberg mb37-TheKids

Shortly after the Organic Garden Sangha began meeting at our home last October, our children Emily, 7, and Ben, 4, said that they would like to start a Sangha for kids. “What will we call it?” I asked. “The Kids Sangha!” Emily replied. The Kids (and Family) Sangha meets on the first Saturday of each month. It is very informal and a joy for the families that participate. The older children lead the group in mindful walking, inviting the bell, mindful gardening, petting the cat, singing, and mindful eating.

In honor of the Buddha’s birthday, we bathed the baby Buddha in our green turtle “swimming pool.” We offered flowers, leaves, and gravel (representing chocolate chips!) from the garden and ladled gardenia-scented water over the Buddha. Emily read us the Two Promises; then we sang a song and enjoyed apple slices. After, the children played together while the parents socialized.

Our three-year-old friend Caitlin Kelly said her favorite part of the event was the Buddha’s bath. Emily’s favorite part was picking flowers, and Ben enjoyed pouring water on the Buddha and eating apples. Our favorite part is sharing our mindfulness practice with families with young children.

Bruce Hilsberg, True Commitment of the Heart, and Karen Hilsberg, True Serenity of the Heart, are OI aspirants who practice with their children Emily, Serene Sunrise of the Heart, and Ben, Joyful Spring of the Heart, in Culver City, California.

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Fatima in the Garden

by Rena Rubin mb37-Fatima

The New York City school where I teach seventh grade art has inherited a community garden a few blocks away. An unsolicited slice of community life is generously offered through the open windows of the apartment buildings cloistering that space. Ujima Garden existed in a state of abandoned neglect until our science and art departments became the custodian at the end of last summer. Though skeptical at first, my assignment was to have the students paint a mural on one of the walls adjoining the garden.

When we began going to the garden every art/science day, I spent most of my time observing my kids in this new environment. Predictably, the destructive ones threw rocks and broke a couple of gardening tools; some kids sat or stood as far away from nature as possible; but some, who I least expected, dug and planted with a passion.

The twins, Catrima and Fatima, were totally engaged in cultivating the soil for the vegetable plot. In other classes, their chronic attitude has established a somewhat contentious relationship between us. But watching them in the garden was an epiphanous experience, reminding me to suspend all judgment made in the context of a NYC public school classroom.

Fatima’s class was first period. As the students were turning soil in their designated area, an enormous earthworm was uncovered, followed immediately by earsplitting screams of shock, curiosity, and revulsion. As I saw one student reach down to scoop it up, I cringed, thinking the poor little guy doesn’t have a chance. I remembered stories I had heard in Dharamsala, about the Buddhist monks breaking ground for a new building: they would gently and painstakingly sift through the soil with their hands to remove all earthworms from harm’s way before the workmen began digging the foundation. Before I could intervene, the little creature was being passed around from student to student, until it ended up in Fatima’s hands, which extended to receive the earthworm as if it were a sacred offering.

There are moments one never forgets, and this was one for me. Fatima cradled this creature in her palms with such tenderness, compassion, and love, that she instantly became the most radiant being on the planet. I wasn’t sure who was more blessed –– Fatima, the earthworm, or me.

The next day I passed Fatima’s class, lined up in the hall. I stopped to tell her that I wished I’d brought my camera with me so I could have taken her picture holding the worm so gently—she looked absolutely beautiful! I was rewarded by a smile so large, it could transform the world.

Rena Rubin, Radiant Jewel of the Source, practices with the Brooklyn Sangha in New York. She is a musician, artist, and art teacher who says, “The students, hands down, have been my biggest teacher.”

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Book Reviews

mb37-BookReviews1Dharma, Color, and CultureNew Voices in Western Buddhism

Edited by Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín With illustrations by Mayumi Oda Parallax Press, October 28, 2004, 200 pp; $16.00 (paper)

Reviewed by Barbara Casey

A Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the editor is the founder of the People of Color Sitting Group in San Francisco. The book is a compilation of writings by people of color in various Buddhist traditions, and includes such notable writers as Thich Nhat Hanh, Alice Walker, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Structured around the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, this book focuses on both the suffering and the path to the transforming of suffering encountered for people of color and for all people dedicating their lives to an investigation of the Dharma. It takes us into the issue of needing to find a way for people of color to feel at home in the primarily white Western Buddhist Sanghas; and then brings us full circle by reminding us that the Dharma has no color; that when you think you have found the Buddha in a form, you have lost the Buddha.

Dharma, Color, and Culture is an important book for everyone to read. For this white girl, hearing the voices of people of color, especially those with Western roots, gently expanded my view of practice and of the richness, depth, and diversity of the greater Sangha, the Sangha in which I take refuge every day.

mb37-BookReviews2The Hermit and the Well A Skipping Stones 2004 Honor Award Winner

By Thich Nhat Hanh Illustrations by Vo-Dinh Mai Parallax Press, 2003, 34 pp; $15.00 (hard cover)

Reviewed by Lois Schlegel

Based on an event in Thay’s life as a boy in Vietnam, The Hermit and the Well reminds young readers to fully experience the journey of life, rather than hurrying towards a goal.

This is the story of an outing Thay took with his classmates to the top of a mountain, where they expected to meet a wise hermit. They were excited and ran all the way, ignoring the beauty all around them. Thay writes, “There were many beautiful trees and rocks along the path. But I did not stop to look at them because I wanted to reach the top of the mountain. I ran past flowers and trees. I rushed past the bright blue sky.”

By the time the children reached the hermit’s hut they were tired and thirsty and the hermit was nowhere to be found. But Thay did not give up. He continued searching, hiking deep into the forest. Finally, he discovered a beautiful spring and drank it in: its beauty, its sound and its taste. In that moment, the boy who was to become our teacher, realized, “I felt completely satisfied. I did not need or want anything at all…”

Thay had met his hermit. He had found peace. Near the end of the story he writes, “You too may have met your hermit. Maybe it was a rock, a tree, a star or a beautiful sunset. The hermit is the Buddha inside of you.”

In this simple, beautifully illustrated book, Thay recounts, in the form of a story, the core message of his teachings: enjoy and be present in each moment and you will find the Buddha within.

A reviewer from the award-winning multicultural magazine, Skipping Stones, says about The Hermit and the Well: “I would like to give this book to every child I know in order to acquaint them with moments of spiritual awakening.”

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Help Rebuild Thay’s Temple in Saigon

mb37-Help Saigon May 30th, 2004

Namo Shakya Munaye Buddhaya

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Interbeing in every corner of the world, and friends who love Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings:

Forty years ago, in the midst of the Vietnam War, our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh founded the Phap Van Temple (The Dharma Cloud Temple) in a suburb of Saigon. Here Thay established the School of Youth for Social Service, training young people to enter the war zones to help relieve suffering.

Thay’s priority was to spend money helping the poor and the war victims, so the temple we built in 1965 was a very simple thatched-roof structure. Here Thay began to develop engaged Buddhism and set up the Sangha of Interbeing for his first six students who wished to be fully engaged in a life of practice and service. Included were Sister Nhat Chi Maik, who immolated herself for peace on June 16, 1967; and our eldest sister Chan Khong, who works ceaselessly from Plum Village to raise funds to help hungry children and adults who suffer in Vietnam.

Now we have thousands of friends everywhere in the world, sharing the Buddha’s teachings as transmitted by That. In Vietnam, thought, we are only forty OI members, both monastic and lay, who have continued the work. Most of us have been students of Thay since 1965, working without pay or with very little pocket money to serve undernourished and uneducated children, destitute people, lepers, students, and elders. We always try to bring the spiritual dimension into our work by sharing the practice of mindfulness and being peace with our schoolteachers and social workers.

Thirty-eight years have passed without Thay’s physical presence, but we continue to feel his support for us and for all Vietnamese people, including the most destitute. In June 1996, for the first time, Thay offered us a Dharma talk via telephone. He asked us to take good care of our brotherhood and sisterhood and if possible to use the temple as a practice center. Thay did not know that the original thatched roof collapsed twenty-five years ago, and was replaced with tiles. There is a simple Buddha hall, with no safe living space for monks, no kitchen, and no proper washrooms or toilets. The eighteen monks residingh ere live in an almost-collapsed hut with a tin roof. The beams are full of termites and when it rains, water leaks inside the room. The next storm could collapse thee roof and crush the inhabitants.

It is a great fortune that Thay may return to Vietnam in January with monastics and lay practitioners. We would like to use this occasion to rebuild the temple. The plan is to build a lecture hall of 660 square meters, large enough for Thay to offer a public talk to one thousand people, on the ground floor. On the upper level we hope to build room for monastics, guest rooms, and a mediation hall. We also wish to build a little house for Thay and his attendants next to the large building.

The cost may come to $145,000 for the large building and $20,000 for Thay’s house. When Thay is not staying at the temple, we will use his house to exhibit his books, CDs, and DVDs in several languages so visiting students can feel Thay’s presence here through his teachings.

Every day, more people come to the temple wanting to practice. Last week, three monastics from Plum Village offered a five-day retreat for four hundred people. Toilet facilities were a problem, and the monastics had to stay outside the temple.

We urgently need your help so people can come and enjoy the compassionate and effective teachings of Thay. As in many socialist countries, there is a great need for spiritual teachings here. The Buddhism currently taught in Vietnam is not the practical, engaged Buddhist methods offered by Thay. In the West we have had the tremendous fortune to attend retreats with Thay with sufficient and comfortable living conditions. We hope that we can also provide this opportunity for our sisters and brother in Vietnam.

With Thay’s spirit we will continue to use material resources to help relieve the suffering of the poor and needy and to build our temples, modestly and appropriately, to respond to the real needs and aspirations of the people. May thee merit of this work spread to all living beings to benefit the wonderful teaching we proclaimed by our beloved teacher. May all of you dwell in peace embraced by the love of all the Buddhas and bodhisatvas.

The Sangha of Interbeing brothers and sisters in Vietnam

Please mark donations for Phap Van Temple and send to:

North America: Sister Thuan Nghiem Green Mountain Dharma Center Box 182, Hartland-Four-Corners, BT 05048, USA Payable to: the Unified Buddhist Church Tel (802) 436-1103 Email mfmaster@vermontel.net

In Europe: Sister Than Hghiem New Hamlet 13 Martineau, 33580 Dieulivol, France Payable to: Eglise Bouddhique Unifee Tel (35)(5)56616688 Email NH-Office@plumvillage.org

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