#31 Summer 2002

Poem: Daisy Flower Family

mb31-TheCountry2 Our family is named Daisy Flowers. We come from many countries of Mother Earth, now we stay in Plum Village and we cut vegetables every day. We don't cut our fingers by talking while we are working. We don't cut our hearts by anger, fear, or emotional suffering. Dwelling in the present moment, we don 't cut ourselves in forgetfulness. Hearing the bell, we stop cutting and follow our breath.

We cut carrots with joyful eyes. We cut potatoes with sweet smiles. We cut mushrooms gently in mindfulness. Understanding and love blooms, like Daisy Flowers, in the warm winter sunshine.

Sister Y Nghiem, Lower Hamlet, Summer retreat 2001

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Poem: The Universe for Breakfast

mb31-TheUniverse1Looking intomy cereal bowl I find the universe, smiling. Banana - from the Caribbean; rich soil, mother of growth for wide-leafed tree. Tropical rains, cooling thirsty earth, born of clouds, bringing water from distant lands to the buds, ready to flower. Sun, kissing the petals opened.

Grape Nuts cereal brown, ripened fields of wheat and barley swaying in the winds of America's bounty. Country of my birth loved, with mixed emotions, sad at your misused might thankful for the refuge of my desperate ancestors.

Pumpkin seeds - from far off China, soil for Indian wisdom of wandering Nuns bringing tofu and love, germinating kernels of Zen simplicity.

mb31-TheUniverse2Sesame seeds - from Guatemala, land of hope and death squads, repression and Liberation Theology.

May the sweat upon these seeds be repaid with just bounty, giving child labourers a place at school, full bellies and warmth of home.

Organic milk - from British cows like those I see beyond my window munching spring growth on Stourbridge Common, leaving fertiliser. All the same to mother earth, great transformer of putrid smells into rosehip buds for next year's tea.

Sitting at my table I taste the sweetness of childhood food, feeling distant products transforming within. Suddenly, they are real, beyond plastic packaging divorced from storms, deep roots and light.

Even a city girl, raised in cement, can taste the universe, chew the wind, digest the sun and know it's all possible at this very instant when I breath, beyond time/space, in the ultimate dimension.

Joy Magezis inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh 's Norfolk Retreat

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Learning to Trust the Present Moment

By Mitchell S. Ratner Meeting Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

Plum Village Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Present Moment is the Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Seeking to Trusting

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

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

Bringing it Home

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

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

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Healing the Present, Healing the Past

By Azriel Cohen Shared at the Hiroshima Commemoration Ceremony in Plum Village, August 7, 2001 .

Last night, a young man from Germany at the Hiroshima Commemoration in the Upper Hamlet shared with the community how he observed anger arising within himself, when the Israeli-Palestinian group shared that the trauma of the Holocaust was still a source of deep suffering for the Jewish people, and that it affected the situation in the Middle East. He decided to look deeply into the anger that was within himself, and he discovered that though he was born a long time after World War II he himself was still not healed from the wounds of that war. He had ancestors who were actively involved in the Nazi regime. He turned to the community and declared that he personally wanted to do something that might be healing and to somehow find a way to apologize to all the Jews who had suffered. He asked the community to breathe mindfully and  support him while he bowed his head to the ground in silence.

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I was deeply moved by what he did. When my turn came up to share my reflections on the experiences of the Israeli-Palestinian group, I offered the following story to this young German man:

My only other time in Plum Village was five years ago. The most moving experience I had was on my last day. At our last Dharma discussion of the retreat, a young woman who I did not know shared with our group a very deep pain that she had in her heart and soul. She was German and was tormented by the possibility that her ancestors had somehow played a role in perpetrating the atrocities of the Holocaust. Though she was third generation after the war, and though she had no certain evidence that anyone in her family was involved, she was haunted by the deeds of her grandparents ' generation. She was obsessed with discovering the truth and finding a way to heal from it. She read every book she could find on the Holocaust, saw films and spent time in archives combing through information to see if any of her relatives were mentioned. Through her eyes she shared her pain and suffering echoed in her voice.

After the circle was finished, I went over to her. I said, "Amelie, I'm named after my grandfather's little brother, Azriel, who was killed in one of the concentration camps during World War II. The last time my grandfather saw his brother was when he was a little boy, so he was unable to ever tell me much about him." Both of us had tears in our eyes, realizing that here we were three generations later, the two sides facing each other. Both of us realized that if there was anything whatsoever that we could do to contribute to healing what had happened, it would be by getting to know each other as humans. I had no plans to go to Germany during my travels through Europe, but I decided to visit Amelie at her parents' home near Munich. We went together to Dachau, one of the more well-known concentration camps and we spent six hours in total silence, walking and just being. The next morning I departed, and though that was the last time we saw each other, the experience will forever be with me.

Last night, during the ceremony commemorating Hiroshima, the young man from Germany and I walked arm in arm carrying candles under the open starry sky. I realized how in the present we can impact on the healing of the past and what seems to be beyond us, and that each of us, in our own little way can contribute to peace if we find  peace within ourselves.

Azriel Cohen helped to organize the group of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who have come two times to practice in Plum Village together.

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A Lotus Blooms in the Catholic Church

By Mike McMahon Several years ago, following my divorce, my daughter Annie and I moved into a rundown house in one of Omaha's older neighborhoods. I was broken emotionally, financially, and spiritually - and deeply depressed. The condition of the house seemed to match my own. Even so, like a wounded animal that crawls into a cave, I felt grateful for this basic shelter, which a friend was letting me stay in for just the cost of utilities.

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That first Autumn in the house, as I tried to get Annie and I involved in the neighborhood, I struggled with my shame over my circumstances without having the resources to do much about it. As Christmas approached, I was moved by the images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the manger. The fact of their poverty, the beauty of their lives and of the image of the manger - all of this comforted me a great deal. I hadn't been involved in the Catholic Church since high school. For the previous twelve years, I had been practicing Buddhism in the Soto Zen tradition. I had also read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and was drawn to his way of practice. His statement, "Go back to your spiritual tradition and find the jewels buried there," was compelling to me.

I am a songwriter. That Christmas a song poured out of me. I called it, "Jesus' Room." The first verse went like this :

The cows were tromping everywhere, in the middle of Jesus' room. The sheep were shedding all their hair in the middle of Jesus' room. The manger was in disrepair and Joseph full of gloom: "This is the poorest place in town and this is Jesus' room." And Mary said, "We don 't have a silver bowl, a cup, a crib, a spoon. But all we need is love to furnish Jesus' room. "

It seemed that the seeds of my Christian faith were rising up from the depths of my being to nourish and support me. I played the song at a neighborhood Christmas party. Afterwards a neighbor asked me to sing the song at her church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

I loved the mass at Sacred Heart - a joyful celebration featuring beautiful music by one of the best choirs in town, liturgical dance, and many other creative flourishes. We held hands and swayed as we sang a simple, lyrical version of the "Our Father" written by the pastor. The "sign of peace," usually a simple greeting to the person sitting next to you, lasted about fifteen minutes as parishioners moved about the church, embracing and enthusiastically wishing one another peace. The experience called up a ferocious longing in me.

Annie and I have gone back every week since. That first year was interesting and challenging. Sometimes I would freeze upon hearing some of the old articles of faith which no longer made sense to me: "Jesus is the only begotten Son of God," and wonder, what am I doing here? Other experiences were affirming and healing. Like the first time I heard Paul's letter to the Corinthians on love: "Love excuses everything, believes everything, endures all things ... When I was a child I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up [gave up childish things." Standing there next to Annie, trying to learn how to take care of myself, how to be a good father - these words moved me deeply. Or listening to an old standard from my grade school days, "Holy God We Praise Thy Name," being sung with a gospel feel by the choir, their faces beaming, I remember a deep joy and the thought, "This is my tribe - I've returned'"

Eventually I relaxed and allowed myself to be nourished by the "jewels" of Christianity without being tossed away by my disagreement with church doctrine. I've come to believe that the heart of the teachings, both Buddhist and Catholic, is learning to respond to life in a loving way, cultivating a sense of intimacy with all existence the rest is just architecture. I am guided by Thay's call for us to create a formless practice - one which seeks to overcome culhlral and conceptual barriers between people.

Since then I've become deeply involved in the Sacred Heart community life. I help teach bible study classes to kids before mass each week. I'm also involved in the program, which supports people who wish to join the church, and with writing and performing liturgical music. I have continued with my Buddhist practice, meditating, having mindful meals, and getting together with a Sangha once a week to practice together.

We have a unique tradition at Sacred Heart. Prior to the start of mass each week, a member of the congregation wil l share an opening prayer that they have created. I am one ofthe people who takes a tum providing this prayer. I often draw on a combination of the Bible and Thay's writings for my inspiration. The word, "mindful" appears often in my prayer, and I frequently pray for us to grow in our ability to live as a community. Translating the principals of mindfulness into a language that my Christian sisters and brothers will want to hear is challenging and instructive for me. It helps me to see both Buddhism and Christianity in a new way.

I read once that significant developments in human culture often occur as the result of the coming together of two seemingly incompatible streams of thought and experience. My efforts to marry my Buddhist and Christian heritages produces beautiful fruit for me, and I hope contributes to the well being of both my Christian and Buddhist communities.

Mike McMahon, Source of Joyful Harmony, practices with the Honey Locust Sangha in Omaha/Lincoln, Nebraska.

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A Magical Wedding in Plum Village

By Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward The Vows I made to Peggy:

I promise you Peggy that I will: Practice peace, I will honor you, listen to you and communicate wholeheartedly with you. Nurture and celebrate the treasured memories of John, Kathy, Steve and Viola as special ancestors of our new family. Look at you every day and smile with eyes of love and a heart full of trust. Express with my own voice my dreams, emotions, difficulties and wonders. Support and encourage you to live your spiritual and professional dreams. Give you the space and time that you need to come home to your deepest self. Water your flower every day, so it may grow in our marriage, the flower of your intellect, the flower of your real compassion, the flower of your beauty, the flower of your generosity, and the flower of your originality. Become more and more at ease and at home with myself in our relationship, to grow beyond my habits of distance and seriousness and become more full of light and laughter. Water my own flower through taking care of myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually so that I can bring vitality and charm to the wonderful mystery of our marriage. Sing, dance and make meny and take great joy in the simple things that make us whole.

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The Vows I made to Larry:

I promise to say "I love you" every day. I promise to not go to bed angry, that we will kiss each other in peace each evening. I promise to love and accept you, even though I don 't always understand you. I promise through kind communication to increase in understanding you, knowing that compassionate dialogue is a key to growing in love. I promise that our journey together will be juicy, to sow seeds of laughter, adventure and joy and be your bride of amazement. I prom ise to honor the fool in you and in myself, so that we can begin anew and maintain freshness and wonder. I suggest an annual ceremony to throw out that which is stale in ourselves and in our relationship. I promise to take good care of myself - body, soul, spirit, and emotions. I know one thing that I do that I would like to change. I know that when I feel distant and disconnected from you, I have internal formations that arise where I'll feel hurt, fear, sadness and anger. Then I have the habit energy where I will bug you with sharp communication or criticism. I ask your help in helping me to transform this habit energy and this internal formation. This reminds me ofthe blind witch in Hansel and Gretel who poked at the children with her bony finger. My preference would be to be like the crafty boy and girl child who figured their way out of the kettle in the kitchen.

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Two Moons

The moon lit up the early morning sky. Wearing all white in the moon light, I felt more like a fairy or a small girl in a church play than a bride. I was the first to arrive in the zendo. So earl y, so nervous, I hadn 't slept well. The Lower Hamlet guests and residents slowly assembled. It was 6 a.m. and there was a thick, rich fog that added density to the stillness. Half sleepy, half mesmerized by beauty, we waited as people gathered. It was time. We walked mindful steps on the stone paths leading to the country road. I was glad for the presence of Susan and John, my friend Elizabeth, my West Hamlet family. I held a small bouquet of orange and white wild flowers lovingly presented to me by Helga.

The thick fog turned the rising sun into a second moon. The sun joined the moon that still hung in the western sky. This morning, there were two moons. Magic was afoot! We moved as one body on the road, walking in mindfulness, the bride and her family, step by step. No cars, a moving body, two moons, step by step, moving toward my beloved.

We rounded a bend in the road and figures and a sp lash of color appeared through the fog. Larry was in fro nt of a group of people, carrying a tray with brightly wrapped packages in red paper. He was wearing an African tunic and ceremonial hat in black and gold. He looked like an African king, so solid, so regal. Next to him were two young Vietnamese men wearing long lapis blue silk tunics, so lovely. Caught by such beauty, my mind jumped for a second . Where am l? Who am I? What year is this? In this magical space, it could have been any time in hi story, I could have been any bride, but it was August 1994 on the road outside the Lower Hamlet. The groom fol lowed by the groom's family. My beloveds.

Step by step, the two fami lies continued to walk toward each other under the two moons. Two bodies, step by step, until we met, and like two streams, we became one river. In one fluid motion we turned and walked together to the Lower Hamlet zendo. Flowing like a river, one body, one fam il y, my famil y.

Peggy, True Original Vow, and Larry, True Great Voice, live at the Clear View Residential Lay Practice Center in Santa Barbara, California.

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Growing Up with the Practice

By Megan Lawlor At my first retreat with Thay and the monks and nuns of Plum Village, I was eleven years old. Now almost thirteen years have passed by, yet I still remember each moment clearly.

As children, we spent most of our time at the retreat playing end less games of baseball and frisbee outside."We struggled to keep silent through each meal and begged unsuspecting ad ul ts to please, please take us to McDonalds."We explored every corner of the retreat center and chose our favorite places to play. If there was a certain element of freedom at those retreats.

As a part of the Sangha, I remember sitting in the front row of every dharma talk and fee ling as if Thay was speaking directly to me. l remember walking with the adults during outdoor walking meditation and fee ling completely frustrated and confused at the strange, turtle-like pace . And I loved creating skits with the other children that we performed for the Sangha at the end of each re treat. "Buddha Meets the Jetsons" was our first, brilliant masterpiece. We spent hours practicing a skit in which Buddha is whisked away into the future and spends an afternoon with the Jetson family. Of course, the Jetsons were shocked by Buddha's mindful behavior, and we were delighted with the laughter we received.

Last year, after almost thirteen years of learning with Thay, I visited Plum Village for the first time. I had imagined it and heard of its orchards and lotus ponds, but the opportunity to finally see it with my own eyes was wonderful. It was there that I realized how important Thay's teachings have been throughout my life.

A gatha that I learned in fifth grade still remains a sol id place to which I return, although I may have changed the words:

mb31-Growing2In, out. Deep, slow. Calm, peace. Smile, release. Present moment. Wonderful moment.

When I was little, I must have memorized this poem without realizing it. Now, whenever I am nervous or upset, it surfaces in my mind and has an immediate and calming effect.l\J believe that the opportunity to hear Thay's teachings has taught me so much. When I read his words I can imagine his voice, as ifhe is in the room reading to me. His presence as a teacher, and as almost a family member, has been incredible.

Today, many years after my first retreat, I am teaching my first year of high school his story at a public school on the south side of Chicago. Confronted by children in grown up bodies and the struggles that they face each day just to get to school , I am often overwhelmed. There are times in my classroom when chaos arises and remembering how to stop, take a few deep breaths, and then smile at the children who are expecting me to yell changes everything .It is still the most simple, and the most difficult practice. But I am practicing every day by listening to these beautiful children's stories and dreams.

It is interesting to go to retreats now and no longer sit in the front row during dharma talks or stand up part way through the talk to go outside to play.I remember how it felt when I look at the children, and I smile. Then, Ilisten to Thay for the children that I am now teaching, in the hopes that I can give some of his insight and compassion to them.

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Megan Lawlor is twenty-four-years-old. Her father, Jack Lawlor is a Dharma Teacher.

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Twenty Years Young in Plum Village

By Sister Viet Nghiem I was born in 1982, the same year as Plum Village. My twentieth birthday, January 10th, 2002, was on a mindfulness day. I received a lot of love that day from the Sangha. I was very moved when Thay wished me a "happy birthday" before starting the Dharma talk.

Later, Sister Phuc Nghiem came into my room and gave me a package in a plastic bag. I could see a yellow-orange color that was very beautiful. It reminded me of the color of the sun playing with the leaves in Autumn. At that time I was still an aspirant and I did not know that the next ordination was coming soon. When I recognized the sanghati robe, I felt funny. Trying on my monastic robe on my birthday had a deep effect on me. I felt like an angel.

I shared my birthday cake with my brothers and sisters . I was so happy, my heart was full and my cheeks hurt from smiling, laughing and singing too much! I realized that I was twenty the same year as Plum Village. But what was the true meaning? Our monastery has been built up wholeheartedly and with great patience. Because all the conditions have been sufficient today we see Plum Village in its many manifestations and I am also one of those manifestations.

I saw that it is a real blessing to celebrate my twentieth birthday here. When I was fifteen , I came to Plum Village for the first time. For me, it was a refuge, a place where I could find the rest and comfort I needed. When I turned twenty I ordained in a family of twenty-one monks and nuns, the Sugar Palm Tree family. I dreamt of having a younger sister or brother and now I have ten brothers and ten sisters! They are in me and I am in them, and together we bring youth to the monastery because we are the cells of the same body, the Sangha body. I see also future generations in me, because by practicing well, I am more able to open Dharma doors for them. When I received the precepts I became a link in a long chain that has no beginning and no end.

To turn twenty in Plum Village allowed me to open up and bloom in the Sangha. I feel fresh because I am twenty for all those who came before me and all those who will come, whoever they are, wherever they are, visible or not visible. I am twenty for my mother, my father, for Thay, for my brothers and sisters, wherever they are today.

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Sister Viet Nghiem, True Adornment with Transcendance, is from Paris, France. After finishing her baccalaureat she came to live in Plum Village and after one year ordained as a novice in February 2002.

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Protecting Self and Others

Choosing Not to Drink Alcohol as a Practice for My Children and My Grandchildren By Tom Reinert

I had my last drink of alcohol on July 17, 1998. It was a very good bottle of Chardonnay, shared with my wife over a special anniversary dinner. At the time, I enjoyed the wine and did not know that I was giving up drinking alcohol.

I come from a family of alcoholics. My father was an alcoholic. His father was an alcoholic and drug addict. My brother is an alcoholic. My mother has a sister and several brothers who are alcoholics. My wife has a brother who is an a lcoholic. I am fortunate, for whatever genetic propensity there is for alcoholism, I do not exhibit it. Throughout my adult life I have been a moderate social drinker, drinking one or two drinks several times per month.

I did not stop drinking as a mindfulness practice, but for my son, who was fifteen at the time. He is a good kid - smart, personable, and kind-hearted. He had not shown any problems with alcohol. But as he has become older, I have become more aware of the pressures he is under - the social glorification of alcohol and drugs, the difficulty of being young in a confusing world, and the stress to perform well in a competitive society. And my wife and I have noticed characteristics in his personality that remind us of some of our family members who have had problems with alcohol or drugs.

I could not protect my son from a larger world and the likelihood of experimentation with alcohol. But I could be an example. I could show him that being a man does not require drinking, that your masculinity need not be measured by how many beers you can consume, and that there are less self-destructive ways to deal with stress. So I simply stopped drinking.

Six months later I began meditating, and about a year later I came upon a commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness Training by Thich Nhat Hanh:

"There are people who drink alcohol and get drunk. who destroy their bodies, their families, their society. The)' should refrain from drinking. But you who have been having a glass of wine every week during the last thirty years without doing any harm to yourself; why should you stop that? What is the use of practicing this Mindfulness Training if drinking alcohol does not harm you or other people? Although you have not harmed yourself during the last thirty years by drinking just one or two glasses of wine every week, the fact is that it may have an effect on your children, your grandchildren, and your society. We only need to look deeply in order to see it. You are practicing not for yourself alone, but for everyone. Your children might have a propensity for alcoholism and, seeing you drinking wine every week, one of them may become alcoholic in the future. If you abandon your two glasses of wine, it is to show your children, your friends, and your society that your life is not only for yourself. Your life is for your ancestors, future generations, and also your society. To stop drinking two glasses of wine every week is a very, deep practice."

I then realized that my not drinking alcohol was a practice, a practice of awareness and love for my grandfather and my father, for myself, and for my son.

Two weeks ago we sent our son, who is now eighteen, to college. He does not drink alcohol and he is very comfortable talking to other students about it. In choosing a dom1, he had a choice of selecting "chem-free" - a dormitory where no one drinks alcohol. He decided that he did not want to limit himself to interacting with only non-drinkers. Instead, he chose a dormitory where many students do drink alcohol.

He has no trouble at parties telling other students that he does not drink, and when questioned, telling them it is because his family has a very bad history of alcoholism. And when he becomes uncomfortable with others' alcohol related behavior, he simply leaves. He seems to have adopted non-drinking as his own practice. We are hopeful that he will continue to make good choices for himself.

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Practicing as a Couple

By Brendan Sillifant My search

I have had a deep affinity with the practice of mindfulness since I was a teenager. I had come across it in a variety of forms from different sources. From the Buddhist traditions of Thailand, Japan and Tibet, and from modern self-help psychology also. As a young man I wanted to learn to live my life fully, and I set out to travel for two years visiting different practice communities in North America looking for a teacher and a Sangha. That is where I first attended a retreat with Thay. I was drawn to his teaching which seemed so appropriate for modem society, deep and yet simple. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on joyful and continuous practice.

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Not being caught in dualistic thinking

I then came to practice with the Plum Village Sangha for six months in 1991. The Sangha was a small community made up of both monastic and lay practitioners. When I first came to Plum Village it was my love of mindfulness practice that brought me here, I had never had the thought to ordain. But after a time that wish grew in me, although that wish in me was still quite innocent, even naive. My teacher was a monk and I wanted to be like him. Nevertheless I made the determination to return to New Zealand, to sell all my worldly possessions, spend some precious time with my family, and then return to Plum Village to ordain.

Whilst in New Zealand I attended a Chinese Chan retreat in order to keep my practice strong. The retreat was held each weekend for almost two months. During this time I grew quite close to a young woman who was also practicing at the retreat. The blossoming of this relationship created a lot of confusion in me, it seemed like a conflict, to ordain or to marry. I wanted both, I wanted to be with the young woman I was growing to love, and I also wanted to practice wholeheartedly. I spent many months trying to make a decision between these two alternatives, trying to look into my real aspirations and yearnings.

Eventually I came to see that there was no conflict between these two things. When I looked deeply into my concept of monkhood, I found that what was actually important was to see what were the elements present in monastic life which would be supportive to my practice, and to find ways to bring these elements into my life and the life of my partner. With this understanding, there was no longer a decision or a choice that I needed to make. In my daily life I tried to blend my two loves, and I learned not to be caught in dualistic thinking between monastic life and lay life, but to seek to create a life with all the positive conditions present. I found I could have both a loving marriage and a strong committed practice, and there was no contradiction between the two. I experienced my relationship as a support to my practice, not a hindrance, even sexuality. My relationship supported my practice and my practice supported my relationship. I experienced these two things as a wonderful support for each other.

Relationship supports practice

My wife and I live closely together, and as a result we have grown to know each other quite intimately. This intimate understanding enables us to offer support and guidance to each other, helping each other not to fall into habit energies. An intimate relationship also provides comfort, soul sustenance, and nurturance, which can give one strength to overcome difficulties in one's life and practice. I experience my relationship as a kind of Sangha, it supports me in the same ways as the greater Sangha does, yet very intimately. I feel very fortunate to have a small Sangha within the big Sangha. As practicing partners we also help balance each other. When one person feels sad or anxious, the other can help him or her to feel bright or relaxed again. When overcome by wrong perceptions about someone or some situation, the other can provide alternative ways of looking. When we need to nourish the five-year-old boy or girl within us but are unable to do so, the other can provide that loving embrace. When we need the firm words of a teacher or Dharma sister or brother to put us back in the practice, the other can provide those words to set us straight. We practice in some ways as a single body, being aware of our own mental formations and also the mental formations of the other. So we have both our own mindfulness to rely upon and when that is weak we also have the practice of the other to rely upon. We practice to transform our own afflictions and also the afflictions of the other.

Practice supports relationship

The practice of mindfulness is a wonderful support in cultivating a loving relationship. It deepens our ability to speak lovingly, listen deeply, and understand each other. Mindfulness practice keeps our relationship fresh and helps us not to fall into negative habits. It gives each person more self-understanding and stability so we are more secure in ourselves, as a result we become much less prone to reading into the relationship what is not there. In addition to this the presence of the greater Sangha helps not to be isolated in our couple-ness. Sometimes two people become so much alike in character and view, that they cannot offer the other a new or different way of looking when needed. Dharma and Sangha can be a great support in offering clarity in situations that are usually dominated by habit energies. So when one person in a couple is lost in confusion, the other does not also become lost but can offer new clarity and fresh ways of looking into a situation.

Conscious watering of positive seeds is one of the tools of the practice that can be a tremendous support to a couple. Many couples we see around us are fresh and loving in the beginning, but after many years the habit of blaming, arguing, and criticizing each other begins to give the relationship a sour flavor. And at one point it seems the relationship is so infused with negativity that the path to recreating a positive healthy love is such a difficult task that many couples give up, thinking its easier to start over with another person. The practice of mindfulness, of being present to each other and for each other, already increases an awareness of the preciousness of each other. The practice of watering the flowers in each other helps us to be aware of the positive qualities of each other, and to express our appreciation and gratitude towards each other. If over time we are able to water the positive seeds more than the negative seeds in each other, then the ability to appreciate and acknowledge the wonder and beauty of the other will always be present, even in the midst of difficulty. As a result, when there is disharmony, the motivation will be not to hurt the other, but to heal the relationship and to reestablish harmony between us.

From Attachment to Freedom

I have spoken about how I see that an intimate relationship can be a wonderful support to one's practice. And now I would like to say something about the obstacles to meditation practice that can sometimes arise in a relationship.

We hear a lot about attachment in Buddhist teaching, and we may be involved in an intimate relationship and ask ourselves, "Well, what does attachment mean to me in my situation?" We need to look deeply into this area of our lives, because the practice of non-attachment can greatly enhance our relationship. Developing non-attachment does not need to go against our relationship. We need to look at our relationships clearly, not just follow an ideal we have heard about. What is our real experience of attachment, in what ways does it truly sustain us and in what ways does it make us suffer?

In our life we do take refuge in many things, we rely on many things. As children, and still as adults, we rely on our parents, we rely on our teachers, and on our friends. We rely on certain colleagues at work, we rely on our community of practice, and we rely on the three jewels. If suddenly one of these refuges is not there, we feel its lack, we suffer. This shows us the presence of attachment. Nevertheless we have been enriched by the presence of these people in our lives. Their presence has given great beauty to our lives and we would not wish to have been without them. We are attached to these people and situations because they have contributed so much to us. So the question is not to abandon these things, because we know that without them our life will be less rich, less nourishing. The question is, rather, how to bring the spirit of non-attachment into our relationships, so we can profit fully from the presence of the other whilst also maintaining our freedom and our sovereignty. The practice of non-attachment can lessen any unhealthy dependence that exists in our relationships and can allow our love to be light and joyful.

It is interesting to look deeply and to see in what way dependence is a wholesome and necessary part of our human and spiritual life, and in what way does it limit us? Does our dependence support us in becoming whole and complete or do we rely on the other person to complete us? We take refuge because we need support on our path to wholeness. But if our object of refuge or our way of taking refuge becomes a barrier to becoming whole, whether it is refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, or in our partner, we need to re-examine our way of taking refuge. A true teacher does not want us to only depend on him or her for stability, he or she wants to strengthen the teacher within us and will direct us to rely on that teacher more and more over time. The disciples of the Buddha took refuge in the Buddha, their teacher. Yet near the end of his life the Buddha instructed them to take refuge in the island within themselves, because that island is the teacher within which will always be with them, it is a stable and reliable refuge. The Buddha knew that it is this island which is the real object of refuge.

I will give an example: My wife Fei-fei is someone who is very confident, she enjoys being in front of groups of people, and can be her best on stage. But me, well its something which makes me a bit nervous, something which I would prefer to avoid if possible. So I could say to her, "Fei can you talk tomorrow for me, I don't want to speak in public." I can rely on her in any situation where I have to speak in front of the community, and thus avoid ever having to challenge myself and grow. In did this she would become more and more confident, with all the practice she would get, and I would become more and more shy. And an imbalance would result in our relationship and also in me. I would become incomplete without her. So this would be a way of taking refuge which would prevent my becoming whole. Alternatively I can learn to see Fei-fei as a teacher and can learn from her strength in this area. I can try to emulate her confident presence, thus her presence can be a source of strength for me that supports me becoming more whole and less dependent.

This is something to be aware of in a relationship, because we may have been attracted to our partner because they have certain qualities that we lack, to complement and complete us. But we can rely on our partner in a constructive way that helps us develop and transform our weaknesses, thus overcoming our initial dependence and becoming more free. In this way our relationship can take us in the direction of greater dependence or greater freedom and wholeness, depending on our way of taking refuge.

From attached love to boundless love

Our relationships can lead us into a narrow isolated love or a broad inclusive love, and this also depends on our way of taking refuge in each other. Sometimes our way of loving, our way of taking refuge in each other is a way of hiding from the world around us. And the more deeply we invest in each other the more deeply we cut ourselves off from others. So our way of taking refuge in each other becomes a prison for us. Even taking refuge in the Sangha can be like this. Perhaps we mix only amongst our close brothers and sisters in the Sangha, and we hide from the people who come to the community to practice, we may even hide from certain people in our own community. This is a form of attachment which may imprison us and keep us from opening our hearts to all those who cross our path in life.

Our love, to be deep and fulfilling, cannot be limited to only one person. If we love one person yet are alienated from others then our love will grow in on itself, it will not flower. It seems natural for a relationship to want to express itself in service of something greater. Perhaps that is why it seems so natural for couples to want to have children, so that the love that is cultivated between two people can seek a greater expression and flowering. When we can love one person we can love others also, love needn't be limited to one person. For this we need to be able to see the deep nature of the one we love. To see that that person contains her mother, father, grandparents, a whole lineage and culture. Our love then becomes embracing and we can learn to accept the things in the other person which are the most difficult for us to accept. Mindfulness and looking deeply helps us to see beyond the appearance of the one we love, so our small love becomes a door to great love. The relationship becomes a labaratory or testing ground for our love, allowing us to cultivate a mature love which then extends to the many people we come into contact with. In loving one person we do learn to love many people, because the person we love contains multitudes.

Over the years I have been together with my wife I see more and more how deeply she is.the continuation of her parents and ancestors. That in marrying and making the vow to love her, I have married and made the vow to love also her parents, siblings, grandparents, society, and indeed all beings. A couple relationship is really the coming together of two streams, not just two people, so there is a lot of potential there, potential for strife and for strength. And for certain our love will be cultured and matured over the years, like a good cheese.

Sexuality

Sexuality is another area that can easily become an obstacle to our practice if we are not skillful. But my experience tells me that sexuality can be an integral part of an intimate relationship, and also an integral part of a spiritual life and practice. We sometimes make too much out of sexuality by either being preoccupied by it or by not wanting to have anything to do with it. But sexuality can be a beautiful and nourishing part of a committed relationship. We try to bring the practice of mindfulness to every area of our lives and sexuality is an area of our life that also profits from the practice of mindfulness.

With the practice of mindfulness the sexual act can be no less than a sacred and beautiful ritual that is performed in deep concentration and joy, a deep expression of love and care for each other. With mindfulness present we are able to maintain a peaceful and relaxed presence, without becoming lost in sensual desire. Desire is an obstacle to peace, and it can also be an obstacle to deep communion, because the other becomes an object of desire, and we lose the deep love and intimacy that is present. Sexuality is a form of expression between two people that can nourish joy in being together, and helps establish closeness   and love. But this is only possible in the context of a committed relationship where attention is also given to other forms of communication. Sometimes sexuality is sought outside of a committed relationship, because we yearn for intimacy but we do not know how to establish real intimacy. Perhaps in our relationship there is so much misunderstanding and so many small unresolved hurts that there is no longer intimacy between us. So we naively seek intimacy elsewhere, in new relationships which do not have the same baggage of suffering. We need to remember that intimacy comes from the meeting of hearts not bodies, the meeting of bodies is only an expression. And for the meeting of hearts to be deep and present even after many years together we need to practice constantly.

How do we maintain our love over many years?

In the early days of a relationship there can be a lot of excitement, passion and romance. These feelings can be very compelling and attractive, they set our heart pumping and make us feel very alive. Our love is fresh and new, filled with hope and expectation. We do not know the other deeply and we imagine how wonderful they are. After sometime of being together, we begin to get used to one another more. We think we know pretty well everything there is to know about them. We quickly settle into a routine; our relationship becomes mundane, ho-hum, perhaps even boring. Th\ngs are ok, but not very alive. We think back to the early days and remember how fresh and wonderful it was to be with each other. But we don't know how to return to that freshness again. We think we need to do something spectacular to get the vitality back into the relationship, like taking a romantic holiday on a deserted island in the Bahamas.

But it is much simplier than that. We just need to be more attentive to maintaining our full presence for our loved one, and not fall into the habit of taking each other for granted. Fei-fei said that when we first met, she thought I was very romantic. For my part, I do not really feel I am a romantic person, neither do I aspire to be. But I think what gave this impression, was that I practiced really being there for her, giving her my full attention when we were together, and perhaps she had not experienced this kind of attention very often before. This kind of mindfulness is the tofu and potatoes of our love, it is the daily food of our relationship. And with this steady loving presence our relationship stays fresh and vital, even if our life appears very routine.

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Personal Time versus time for each other

Another way in which we might consider a relationship as an obstacle to a solid practice is that we may feel we have less space in our lives. I sometimes hear people say that they need more space in their relationship. They need time away from their partners. I have had this feeling occasionally in my relationship, although I feel lucky that this feeling comes up very seldom. For me this is a signal to look deeply, of course I can honor that feeling and take the opportunity to go for a walk by myself. But I need to ask myself, why do I not experience enough space in being together at the moment? I cannot just say that I need space and that's normal , and take my space. Perhaps our way of being together has settled into a habit of being too talkative. We may have been spending excessive time gossiping about others. Or maybe there is some tension in our relationship that makes it difficult for us to be at peace in the presence of the other. All these things are signals to us to pay more attention to the quality of our time together, and the quality of our practice together. Just as the Sangha is a support for our practice so to can be our couple re lationship. And when we retum there we find a refuge of warmth, space, acceptance, ease, and peace. If these things are not present in our relationship, it is because we have not cultivated our relationship in a skillful enough way.

Oneness - from individual to couple

Life as a couple has a certain vitality and richness which takes us beyond our individual desires and aspirations. We are two but we are one, and we really need to leam to think, feel , and see as one, or there will be conflict. If we continue to follow our own wants and needs and the other continues to follow their own wants and needs, we will not find a deep harmony and unity in our relationship.

For our love to return to us a deep sustenance for our soul, for there to be a deep intimacy between the two of us, we really need to learn to see the happiness of the other as our own happiness, and our happiness as the happiness of the other. This is not an attitude of sacrifice, because in sacrifice there is still duality, there is still "I" give up my needs to satisfy "your" needs. Where there is sacrifice there is still the unconsciolls debt of the other that we hold in our hearts and expect to be paid back sometime. To see that our happiness is one is to see that giver, gift, and receiver are one. We don't want to sacrifice because we know that deep down, for the other person to be happy, we also need to be happy. How can the other be bright and cheerful when we are moping around, feeling tired all the time having given beyond our capacity. So to give to ourselves, to nurture ourselves and our own deep peace and joy, is to make an offering to the person we love.

Recently Thay has said that practicing as a Sangha is like practicing as a couple. It can be a true practice of non-self to see that we are one body, and that we can no longer seek only for our own happiness without considering the happiness ofthe other. As a couple we become so interconnected, that this way of thinking no longer functions well. We simply have to learn to think in a new way, a way that really acknowledges our true interconnectedness, our interconnectedness as a couple, as a Sangha, and as a world.

Brendan, True Virtue of Loving Kindness, lives in the Upper Hamlet with his wife, Fei-Fei.

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Simplicity, Sisterhood and Freedom

Interview with Sister Ha Nghiem (Sr. Fern) By Sister Chau Nghiem

Why did you become a nun?

Sister Ha Nghiem: There are times in life when you touch life really deeply and you touch yourself really deeply. You can see how beautiful life is and there's a deeper connection between everything than you can usually see with worldly eyes. When I saw that deeper connection between things, their suchness, it made me want to love everything and take care of everything. You never want to see harm come to anything and you have a desire to help others touch the deep beauty of life. For me, it was only something I could touch sometimes. But I was very inspired by reading about people who understood themselves deeply, and I saw that it was only then that they could help others. That's why I ordained.

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There have been two elements always in my life since I was little. The first is that we lived in the mountains in a cabin without electricity and it was so peaceful and so simple. Because it was so quiet and peaceful you could touch everything and see beauty in everything. You could touch the life of the forest and even the house itself. And when I came to Plum Village, it had a similar kind of simplicity like my childhood that I loved. Sometimes when material conditions are less, there's more room for people and life.

The second element, also since I was quite young, was that I learned about environmental and political issues. By age sixteen, I was so concerned about the state of the world and I cared so much that I knew I had to give my whole life to try to improve the situation. When I came to Plum Village, I loved it because the lifestyle was so simple. Thay's teaching was very deep, but very much about being engaged. For me it felt perfect - I felt so at home. I loved whenever I saw a monk or nun, even before coming to Plum Village - the image of their simplicity, lightness and how they gave up everything except what's most important to them: the path of practice and to be there for everything that needs them.

Was being Western difficult?

Sister Ha Nghiem: At first it was hard being a westerner because I had lived in a lot of other communities and I had my own ideas about how things should be. Of course other sisters had their own ideas and not much openness or communication. There were only three other western sisters before me and they were already much older in the practice. So I felt quite alone a lot of the time. People were always talking around me but I didn't understand. It was hard in that sense. But there was always the teaching and  practice that helped to nourish me.

But all that changed. Now it's so different. There is much more understanding between the sisters. We all practice a lot of patience and try to listen and look deeply in order to understand each other, with all our cultural differences. Some time after I ordained, Thay said, "We need to get you some younger western sisters." I would pray "I know you are out there in the world somewhere, please come." Now there are so many of them!

How have you changed because of the practice?

Sister Ha Nghiem: I can take care of my feelings and my mind now, whereas before I knew the practice, they were so strong and would carry me away. Now, no matter how strong they are, I always have the practice, so I don't feel afraid. Before I used to cry pretty often, or feel sad sometimes about things in the world. But it seems I hardly cry anymore. Sometimes six months pass and I realize I haven't cried once! Because I can touch something deeper in life, things don't make me so sad anymore. When I am troubled I know how to look deeply, using the teachings of the Buddha as my guide, in order to gain understanding and peace.

You ordained with your partner of seven years. How have you practiced to transform your romantic love and attachment?

Sister Ha Nghiem: For me it took a long time. I'm still working with it. It wasn't hard to become a monastic, but I still had feelings for him that would bother me. I didn't accept them, because I thought as a nun, I shouldn't have these feelings. A few times I talked to Thay about it. He always told me it's normal, it's fine, and l just need to keep watering my happiness, to find out how to be happy in the Sangha and see that as a nun, we don't want to love just one person but many. He encouraged me to keep trying to open my heart wider.

But I found we went through difficult times when we stopped showing our love for each other in any way. We were kind of cold. We would pay lots of attention to other people, but not to each other. It was at that time that I saw the weakness in my love, I saw that if my love for him was dependent on him loving me, then I wasn't loving him deeply. I spent time in meditation looking at that, trying not to see him as my partner, as mine, as someone who cares for me, loves me, spends his time on me. And I was able to touch and see him as a person with many beautiful things inside as well as difficulties. I cultivated, I practiced to touch a feeling of love for him without wanting anything in return. I practiced to care most about his path. So even when there were times I wanted to go talk to him, if I felt it wouldn't be supportive of him , then I wouldn't talk or have fun with him. And also not give him things. This is really deep caring, the kind no one can see, when you just want what is good for the other.

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Often I had the impulse to give him something or do something for him, and then I would say no because it wouldn't help him become more free in himself, nor me either. It wouldn't help us. We have known each other since we were teenagers. When we were together, we were very close, we spent all of our time together and lived together for many years. Our minds moved together from being almost children to being adults, from being teenagers, to finding a direction. Before we were monastic, we already had chosen a very simple life, learning about things that watered our deep aspirations. In many ways, we found the spiritual path together, supporting each other. We were so much a part of each other before ordination.

I think I'll always fee l very close to him, because part of our root is one. Just like one would feel for a mother or a sibling because we really grew up together. But I know that the most important thing deep in his heart is the same in mine - it is our aspiration on the path . So that's what's most alive between us now, whereas before there were many other things.

How do you practice to build sisterhood?

Sisler Ha Nghiem: For me it is the most important thing we can do. I had a lot of aspirations coming to Plum Village, but I learned that the best way for me to realize them is for our whole Sangha to grow really strong. I saw that helping the environment, helping children, or anything that I want to do can be done best if the whole Sangha can become really strong. We can do so much together when we have the stability and clarity to look deeply into the situation in the world. The more we practice, the more our minds can see things clearly and the more joy we will have to offer.

I can see that most people in the world are so agitated inside, always reacting to things. If you have people who know how to practice, being there, they can be calm and find a harmonious solution, by stopping, not reacting. I realized that the most important thing I could do to help the environment and the whole world was to help my sangha. At first this was a conflict within me. I wanted to keep doing other things, but building the Sangha was working towards those other things also.

In my meditation, I like to contemplate my sisters - to see their potential. I take time to look into them and into myself. I see in my daily interactions I can be quite unskillful. I 'm very shy and not always really present for others. So when I look back I see, oh, I just walked by that sister, or maybe during the whole month I have n' t acknowledged her. I may be doing something with a sister and I realize I am only concentrating on what I'm doing, like cutting wood. But I could use that time for us to get to know each other more and to show my love, to show that I'm here for her. So when I realize that, sometimes I practice it right away. If I have even a very little thing to give to a sister, I do it with my whole heart; I know I'm alive and she 's alive. It's wonderful , it can mean so much and bring a lot of joy.

I try to find little opportunities to connect with my sisters. But I think one of the most important things is my own practice. If I'm really practicing walking, and during sitting, I water my bodhicitta and cultivate insight while we do chanting, then I'm offering a very deep energy to the Sangha. That's what we're all trying to do together. That's the best thing I can offer. Whenever I see other sisters doing that it nourishes me so much. I feel so happy that they are just there and practicing.

I know there are times when I'm not practicing deeply, I'm not offering the right energy to the Sangha. And I know I have to be careful to practice equanimity. I know I am not always able to have complete equanimity but at least I'm going in that direction. I do take care to try and not water the seed of jealousy in one sister or another - to see who needs support, not just being there for one, two or three sisters. I practice to keep opening my heart to have friendships with many different sisters.

Of course, there are some sisters you feel really nourished by, sisters I can talk to deeply about the practice, my difficulties, and touch the seed of joy with very easily. This is very important. But I use the energy and openness I get from these moments and I try to share it with the next brother or sister. T never think I have one, three or five good friends and I can stop here. I'm so happy I have a sister I fee l close to on the path because when we talk we help each other grow. But I always feel inspired to have that with other brothers and sisters, so that this kind of bond and support can grow throughout the Sangha.

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Sister Ha Nghiem, True Adornment with a Lotus, grew up in New York State. She ordained in 1996 and received the Dharma Lamp transmission in Winter 2001.

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We All Belong Together

Sister Thuc Nghiem (Sister Susan) Sister Thuc Nghiem's Insight Gatha

Just one instant of the present moment and something knocks so loudly at my heart; The love that we all belong together. A star at dawn above the darkened earth, they talk together of this. The blades of grass, the dew and the sunshine, they talk together of this. My in-breath, the apples and the soil, they know this together. The breeze, the flowers, the moon beams and my heart, we interare. My teacher, my sisters, brothers, my children, ancestors and all people did you know we talk of this all the time. My out-breath and my smile, the rain and my tears, the trees and my carbon, they just can 't stop talking together of this.

Six birds flying overhead with the rising sun, I suddenly wonder if any of them feel exhausted or have a deep pain in their wings. I see it must be so and I am shaken by compassion. Who am I, if I am not these birds? Who am I, if I am not all things? We do this together, what happiness, what joy.

Dharma Lamp Transmission Gatha given to Sister Thuc Nghiem

The full moon that looks like a ripe fruit, is used as a mirror by a beautiful lady. The autumn hills stand quietly and majestically around us. As soon as you smile at someone's footprints on the Ben Duc harbor, the Lord of Compassion 's boat of loving-kindness will have already brought you to the other shore.

note: The Ben Duc harbor is the harbor you must use to go to the Perfume temple in North Vietnam. The water is a little muddy at that harbor.

Thay's Words of encouragement

Avalokiteshvara is always there around us and inside of us. In a time of confusion and suffering we need the bodhisattva of deep listening and of great compassion to be with us . The bodhisattva may manifest herself in every step we make, in everything we say. Our daily life should embody the capacity of deep listening and compassionate action. The seeds of compassion should continue to be planted in our society. Whether that seed can sprout today or tomorrow depends on many conditions. But the bodhisattva does not worry about the outcome. The bodhisattva takes care of the action only. Every day we keep sowing the seeds of understanding and compassion and we have the conviction that alI these seeds planted today will sprout tomorrow or after tomorrow. That will bring enough happiness and peace. We try to do this together as a Sangha.

There are many seeds planted by Shakyamuni Buddha. Some seeds waited for 2600 years in order to sprout. The same thing is true with us. The essential thing is to plant the seeds of understanding and compassion. This is the meaning of the lamp transmission, the continuation of the practice. It is wonderful that the light of the Buddha has still come to us as bright and alive as ever. Now the light is being transmitted to you, Sister Susan.

Excerpt from Sister Thuc Nghiem's Dharma Talk

A tool that Thay has given us is the ability to find healing in nature, to go sit in the middle of a field and do nothing. In the past two years I have found an apple tree out in front of the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. Is it under it, near the fence, every morning. I see the same patch of earth, the same landscape in front of me and the same trees, in the springtime, in the summer, in the fall and in the winter. I think I began doing this because one morning I saw a bird watching the sun come up. I felt that that bird was more wholehearted than I was in being with the sunrise. About a month later I was taken by surprise and I really saw the sun come up. [t pierced me straight to my core.

I wanted to watch the sun come up and after a while I noticed the earth also. When it was cloudy, rainy or snowing I didn't see the sun but the earth was very wonderful. I began to feel very close to the earth. It was so wonderful to go and sit cross-legged on the earth every morning. I began to appreciate the apples in the different seasons and the chipmunks and the squirrels who would run by me. One time a chipmunk landed on my head. One time a bird landed on my head. I think from this, on a deep level, I began to feel the interbeing of the earth and the sky and the chipmunks and the raindrops and I certainly saw them interbe with my happiness. It was this time I spent under the apple tree that really gave me a smile so easily. It gave me love in my heart so easily. I could see that everything was connected. The teachings on Buddhist psychology also helped me to see that everything is connected. In nature it is easy to see that everything is connected. I think that is why I can sit and stare at it for so long because something in me recognizes that I am looking at everything.

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I could see that my sisters and I were connected very deeply and we affect each other. Perhaps the greatest happiness is knowing that we live in a community. It doesn't matter if sometimes the community has difficulties or I can't get along with someone or a million other things that can happen in a community that lives together twenty-four hours a day. But the fact that we are living together, that we are trying to make the Sangha work and we are making it work, that we support each other by practicing the same guidelines (the mindfulness trainings) and we are really there for each other, to me that is one of the most beautiful things on earth. To me it makes all the difference when I recognize the fact that we all belong together, that you can't take the father out of the son, you can't take us out of each other, you can't take anything out of us . We all belong together.

On our trip in China last fall on the last morning Thay woke up very early to see some of us off who were leaving for America, after a late night at a public talk. He was sitting outside with us. I was sitting at a table with another sister. She turned to Thay and said, "I want to thank you for allowing me to come to China and I want to apologize for any mistakes I have made." She went on to say, you know I have many weaknesses and I am trying to overcome them and it is difficult. And Thay quietly stopped her and said, "We do it together." To me that was the most incredible thing to say.

All our pain, all our difficulties, all our joy, we do it together. And when we do this we are following the truth of things and that brings about our greatest happiness. What if all the Sanghas we know have that idea, we do it together, for each other. If in a family something comes up, they can do it together, they work it out together. As a nation, we can all help each other to do it together. So when some group suffers, we do it together. We think about it, we look deeply into it. And as a world we do it  together. We have many ways of diplomacy and we know we are doing it together for all of us. We know we alI belong together as one family and so we will find the best ways to bring about happiness for all of us.

Sister Thuc Nghiem, True Adornment with Ripeness, lives in the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

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Entering the Stream of the Practice

Brother Phap Hien (Brother Michael) Brother Phap Hien's insight gatha

Remembering your peaceful steps along the ancient path, the sound of the old bell carried me out into the night sky. I return now with a bright message from faraway stars, and Oh, how my weary feet adore the tender earth. We have always known each other. There are thousands of generations of tears, smiles and laughter echoing through the great hall. In this endless embrace with this unfathomable aspiration, my teacher, my brother, my friend, what have we possibly to fear?

Dharma Lamp Transmission Gatha for Br. Phap Hien

The Dharma handed down by wise ones from long ago is like the sound of the rising tide, echoing tens of thousands of songs and poems. Having been brothers and sisters to each other during innumerable past lives we should hold firm to the door of the practice so that the true vehicle can go vigorously far into the future.

Excerpt from Brother Phap Hien's Dharma Talk

It's hard to say anything to a community that is you. When I was six-years-old I went to the dentist and the dentist asked me what do you want to be when you grow up? I had never thought about that question before, but I remember I answered him very quickly. I said, I want to be a farmer. He looked at me and he said, a farmer? What about a doctor or a scientist? I said, no I want to be a farmer. The seed of the simple life and the family life living close to the land was very big in my ancestors.

And then when I was about twelve-years-old my parents separated. That was a great wound for me, a big wound in my heart. I lost all my trust and faith in my family. I remember also at that time someone asked me a question of what I wanted to do with my life and my answer was completely different. My answer was, I want to be alone. I wanted to live in a little house all by myself way up in the north of Canada with no one else around, with long, cold winters. Still a simple life, but with no more family. Actually what I really wanted was to be in the embrace of Mother Earth. But that dream to live alone didn't last very long. When I was seventeen I fell in love. That gave me the incentive to open up a little bit, to try to learn to be honestly close to someone, to share my life with someone. It was a very good thing that that happened. The inspiration ofthe family life came back into my dream.

About a year later when I began college I did a solo retreat for three days all alone in a desert canyon. I didn't eat anything. It was very hot. I barely wore anything. I just sat on a rock and did nothing for three days. I had never done anything like that before. During that time, without any kind of words or cognitive process, I understood something very deep about myself. When I tried to put it into words it didn't work. But I knew deep inside I had found something that resonated deeply with a place, a home within.

When I was twenty-one I was living in Northern California in the redwood forest. On my twenty-first birthday I received a book, Peace is Every Step, from my next-door neighbor. I was very happy to receive the book and I asked her, what is it? She just said, it's a lot like you. A few weeks later she moved away and I never saw her again. She is a kind of bodhisattva for me because giving me that book opened a big door for me. I read Thay's teaching and I felt as if someone was speaking what was inside of me. But he was able to put it into words, to give clear examples of what it meant to have that inside of oneself and to live it. I tried my best to practice walking mediation right away, but I didn't really understand it. But I did understand that my life had to be about what was going on in the here and now from that point on or it wasn't life. That is what I wanted. I had met the Buddha and the Dharma and a little piece of the Sangha. Soon after that I found myself here in Plum Village.

When I was twenty-four I became a novice monk and I started my life all over again. I didn't realize that I was doing that, but I did. I don't think I have fully realized it yet actually.

Before I became a novice I had had a dream of going to India and Nepal. This was before I had fully met and experienced a Sangha body. I had the idea that I would go there and find a place to touch something ancient. When I arrived in Plum Village and I heard the monks and nuns chanting at a formal lunch in the summer retreat I felt that something ancient, something very powerful. It is strange, but I gave up that dream to travel to the East and then eight months after becoming a novice I went to India with Thay and the Sangha. That next fall I also traveled with Thay and the Sangha to America and I found myself doing walking meditation in the redwood forest in Northern California at Kim Son Monastery one morning. I suddenly realized it was only ten to fifteen miles from the spot where I had first received Peace is Every Step. I had also been very intent on having a family life before I became a monk. In giving up that dream I got the biggest family I could possibly imagine.

The Dharma is very powerful. To be in touch with the Dharma through the Vietnamese Buddhist culture and community has been very important for me. Through my life in the monastery I have learned a lot about place, relationships to others and to environment, which I never knew before; relationship to elder brothers and sisters, relationship to younger brothers and sisters and so on. Being born in Plum Village as a monk is to be born in a group of several brothers and sisters who ordain together on the same day, sometimes as a tree, sometimes as an animal , a fruit or a flower. I was born in the coconut tree family. There were five of us; Phap Kieu, Thuc Nghiem, Ha Nghiem, Phap Hien and Hy Nghiem. We had many elder brothers and sisters who ordained before us also in groups, like batches of children or batches of cookies. There are many ofthese batches in our community but we make up one family and we are all children of Thay, our teacher. Thay has also been in that same place. He has been a child of his teacher in a community of monks and nuns and so on and so on.

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It has been very important to experience that kind of connection as part of my life .  When I was growing up I only knew my mother, my father and my two sisters. I didn't have much connection to other people around me. Then my parents divorced and my family broke up and I felt I had nothing. Living in the community of Plum Village I have learned roots. I learned to open my heart and to see my roots, both in my blood family and in my spiritual family. To experience a lineage, a transmission, a continuation has brought stability into my heart. It has brought non-fear into my heart.

This is a great medicine for westerners, wandering souls that we are. Many of us have not grown up, as many brothers and sisters from Vietnam have, with a lot of family members around and a culture that waters the seeds of being rooted, having a lineage, and being aware of one's ancestors and descendants. We have not had that in America for a long time. Many of us wander around in a lot of pain, with a lot of loneliness because we don 't know who we are and we don 't know where we come from. It has been really important for me to enter into the awareness of being a part of a lineage and to experience it living all around me in the community of Plum Village and also in the culture of Vietnam.

I said to Thay several years ago that while practicing touching the earth I suddenly discovered who I was and because of that I was not afraid anymore. I knew who I was and where I had come from. Sometimes the seed of fear still comes up in me. But when I can remember my roots, through my brothers and sisters in my spiritual family and through the generations of my blood family, I can feel within me that I have nothing to be afraid of.

The gatha that I offered to Thay is about that. It is about entering into the stream of practice, discovering my afflictions and about getting grounded in the practice, down through my belly into my feet. I really love to walk on the earth now. It is about understanding, I am you and you are me. It has been that way for a long, long time.

Brother Phap Hien, True Goodness of the Dharma, ordained in 1996 in Plum Village. He received the Dharma Lamp transmission in Winter 2001.

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Gatha for Offering Incense

mb31-Gatha1In gratitude we offer this incensethroughout space and time to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas. May it be fragrant as Earth herself reflecting careful efforts wholehearted awareness and the fruit of understanding slowly ripening. May we and all beings be companions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. May we awaken from forgetfulness and realize our true home.

Found in, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Buddba Body

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Larry Ward's Insight Gatha

The sound of the great bell has awakened the Golden Buddha in my heart. Grace arrives on the holy wings of a breath, in the here and now. I am at home without desire. The cloud of forgetfulness fades away. My eyes open wide to the wonders of life, each a Buddha land. Bright light shining in every direction, healing and transforming me. My happiness and freedom overflow into the river of great compassion.

Dharma Lamp Transmission Gatha

When the great Drum begins to play, we hear the thunder its sound vibrates even the golden moon light Beams from the four directions are projecting in witnessing to a mind that manifests both purity and oneness If one is attentive, one will notice that both the cam and the sat are still playing the harmonious song of great courage.

Cam and sat are ancient instruments that are always played together. They are associated with husband and wife, who compliment each other, creating a harmonious duet together.

Thay's words of encouragement

The gatha I just chanted is about the moment when the Buddha attained Great Awakening at the foot of the bodhi tree after having defeated Mara, the energy of darkness, the energy of fear, the energy of ignorance, craving, and discrimination. The Buddha and many generations of practitioners have followed his example and succeeded in defeating the power of darkness. We need the light and courage of the Buddha especially in this time of distress and fear. We need a long process of education in order to transform fear and discrimination in our society and within ourselves. Through the light of the Buddha we can see habit energy deeply rooted in our society - the tendency to lose hope, to be overwhelmed, to be taken by despair, the tendency of craving, of fear, of discrimination. We have to be patient, we have to continue with our practice and our work of education in order to uproot this negative energy.

It's wonderful not to have any desire in our heart. It means that we only have one desire, the desire to uproot evil, to uproot the negative energy within our society. This lamp transmitted to you today, Larry, is the symbol of love and trust from the Buddha and from our ancestral teachers that you will continue to do your best to improve the quality of life in our families, in our communities, in our societies and never lose hope. I have faith in you; the Buddha and the patriarchs have faith in you .

Larry's Dharma Talk

To go with my whole life for refuge is to put my life in the Buddha's life and to find my story in the Buddha's story, to find the Buddha's story in me. And to surrender having to be someone else other than the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To surrender to my Noble Teacher, the Venerables here and the Noble Sangha. To be willing to be taught by the ancestral teachers, to be willing to be taught by each breath, each step, each sigh, each star, each blade of grass, and each smile, each heartbreak and each disappointment. To surrender. To be willing to be taught. And so the transmission continues.

Finding the heart of the Buddha in my heart, finding my heart in the Buddha's heart, my heart is as big as the whole world.

Finding my feet in the Buddha's feet. Two years ago during our retreat in China we had wonderful walking meditations. One morning during one of our walking meditations I looked down and I didn't recognize my feet. I could not find Larry 's feet, and realized they were becoming Buddha feet.

And my ears becoming Buddha ears. Hearing the cries of the world, the laughter, the tears, the unspoken dreams and hopes and the whispers of love quietly held in the night.

And my eyes becoming Buddha eyes. Seeing wonder everywhere I look, beholding a miracle in every moment.

And my mind, slowly, and forever becoming the Buddha's mind, the mind of practice, the mind of coming back to the here and now, the mind of knowing when I'm not back in the here and now and the mind that gently brings myself back.

Our beloved teacher has been transmitting no less than 100% of himself to us, as his teacher did for him, and his teacher before him. And the Buddha has transmitted no less than 100% of himself to us. And so this coming summer I am preparing to receive the Buddha's hands. And I surrender having to have Larry's hands, I surrender having to be somebody so I can happily be nobody and so I can serve the world in that way. And so our bodies are becoming the bodies of the Buddha, our hands, our feet, our eyes, our ears, our smile. And so the transmission continues.

Larry Ward, True Great Voice, lives in Clear View practice center.Peggy Rowe Ward also received the Dharma Lamp Transmission in Winter 2001.

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A Tear FeU Into My Hand

By Lisi Ha Vinh Lisi's Insight Gatha

A tear from the ocean of suffering fell into my hand. Looking deeply into this tear, I found a precious jewel. Looking deeply into this jewel, I found an open heart. Looking deeply into this heart, I found a path. Walking this path, I found the ocean Embracing it all.

Dharma Lamp Transmission Gatha for Lisi

You have always embraced with all your heart the great cause. That is why crossing so many paths and bridges you are still able to walk with freedom and ease. Since the beginning of time clouds are always traveling, water is always flowing And it could be lovely to learn to sing the song of the ultimate every morning when the east gets rosy.

Excerpt from Lisi's Dharma Talk

My husband and I decided to step out of our very busy lives and take a sabbatical. We spent part of this sabbatical in a Swiss mountain village on retreat. Every morning we read one of the fourteen mindfulness trainings and then during the day we went for long walks in the mountains, feeling the training that we read in the morning sinking into our consciousness. In the evening we would sit by the warm fireplace and share what feelings and thoughts had come up.

When we read the fourth mindfulness training about the reality of suffering, I remember sitting in meditation and suddenly feeling tears running down my cheeks, warm, wet tears. And one tear fell into my hand. Have you ever looked at a tear? It's something really beautiful. If you have a chance to look at a child and a little tear is caught in the eyelashes, it's like a dew drop in the heart of a lotus leaf. It reflects the whole universe, it's shining bright like a jewel. Tears are truly a universal human language. A mother whose child has died - maybe in Israel, maybe in Germany, maybe in Afghanistan - has the same tears. She might express them differently, but the tears are the same, wet and warm and salty. I once had a tremendous privilege to hold a mother whose eighteen year old son had just died. I held her and cradled her for many, many hours and the tears were running down my shoulder and making my clothes wet. I had the feeling I was holding the most precious jewel in my arms.

Jewels are something that you take good care of. They are in the crowns of kings, they are on the engagement ring of your beloved. When you look at jewels, they are so pure and so transparent and so full at the same time. Human suffering is the same, it is extremely precious. You don't throw jewels on the floor or put them where you keep your shoes; you keep them in a special place. And human suffering is the same, you have to take really good care of human suffering.

In my gatha, I said, "Looking deeply into this jewel l found an open heart." I am Austrian, coming from a Catholic tradition. When my parents took me to church when I was small, you could buy pictures of Mary and Jesus. There was one picture that intrigued me immensely, the picture of Jesus with an open heart - he was standing there and his breast was torn open and you could see his heart. When I saw this picture I was always so worried, thinking how could you live like that, it's so dangerous, somebody bumps into you and you get hurt. At the same time I was incredibly amazed at the look on the face of Jesus, which was somehow fearless. To me an open heart and fearlessness go together. A vulnerable fearlessness of an open heart.

Looking deeply into this heart, I found a path. So I come back to the mountains where we walked every day. Every step was pure joy and pure gratefulness for this incredible beauty of nature. There was one little path that went through a forest with pine trees that lose their needles in autumn so they turn yellow and orange. One time we walked through this forest and all the golden yellow pine needles had fallen on the ground and it was like walking on pure gold. I can fee l right now the happiness of that moment. I can still hear the sound of the silence of our steps . Beauty is always available at every moment.

Walking this path I found the ocean embracing it all. The tears of pain and the tears of joy all contained in the ocean of life. And I wish us all a safe and joyful journey on this ocean.

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Lisi Ha Vinh, True Great Bridge, was born in Vienna, Austria. She has developed educational and humanitarian projects in Vietnam together with her husband Tho, True Great Wisdom, over the past twelve years. Lisi and Tho have been married for thirty years, have two grown up children, one grand child, and they consider their couple and family life as an important part of their spiritual path. Tho also received the Dharma Lamp Transmission in Winter 2001.

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Inner Eyes

By Sister Dang Nghiem Dear Sister,

Before we started our meditation this morning, our sister asked us to send the energy from our meditation and sutra chanting to you. You have been sick, and you have recently lost your vision. In the past, my monastic sister has shared with me about her friendship with you, and she told me of her most recent visit with you . Thus, I feel your presence is quite familiar in me. At the sitting meditation, I decided that I would keep my anatomical eyes completely closed and follow my breathing diligently. I prayed that my inner eyes would reveal to me what I should see, and that I may gain an understanding of you and of what you may be going through.

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I saw myself sitting by the vendor with my mother and younger brother. She took us there to celebrate my successful completion of the fifth grade. I do not remember what kind of sweet soup we ate, or if it was even sweet soup. It could have been a salty dish . However, I do remember how special I felt. My mother worked so hard to provide us with everything we needed. She was always outside of the home working. It was the first time she especially paid attention to my schooling, I felt so special.

I saw my grandmother sitting on the plank bed, silently sewing a pocket, the size of my palm, onto my mother's black pair of underwear. I was to inherit that pair of underwear, and the next day I was to wear it to go to America with my brother. Grandmother put the U.S. five dollar bill in it, so that I could buy some extra food for my brother and me, while we were staying in the refuge camp in Thailand.

I saw myself the next day, when my brother and I crossed the threshold of our house to go to the airport. The palms of my hands were reddened with the juice of the chewed betel nut, which my grandmother had just spit and rubbed onto my palms, saying that it would help me, "not to miss Grandma too much." It was drizzling outside, and the fine particles mixed in with my tears. I walked away, knowing that I would never see my grandma again in flesh and bones.

I saw myself as a college student, sitting alone at the desk on late nights . I studied diligently to be worthy of my grandmother's trust. I studied diligently to prove that I was capable, that I was someone. My eyes were tired, my body was weary, but I would not stop. Raw energy pushed me onward.

I saw myself mesmerized by the mountain range before me. " Purple mountains," my partner said to me softly. They were indeed purple - myriad shades of purple. We stood there, completely present in that moment. I could feel the desert breathing, the mountains stretching, the quiet peace flowing through my partner.

I saw myself watching leaves falling with my loved one. Yellow leaves. Some twirled . Some spinned. Some zigzagged. Some held stillness in their movements. Some zoomed straight down to the ground. They were dancers, proceeding with their own dances as they all returned to Mother Earth.

I saw myself watching a video of Thay's Dharma talk during the Francophone retreat 2000. The camera pointed at the stage, showing also the back of my upper body as I was sitting in the audience. My hair was in a bundle; I had not realized that it was so full and black. Light reflected on it and formed a half white circle around the hair bundle. I was wearing the brown robe of an aspirant - a nun to be. Who was that person? I asked myself, as I was watching the back of my own upper body in that video. Who is this person, whose hair now is completely shaven? Are they different from each other? What has she gone through? I saw the monastic sisters on stage. One looked just like me. I had thought before, how can someone else look like me? However, in that moment, I saw how I could mistake that sister for me. I also saw my face in the face of a Korean sister, in a fifteen year old, in a French sister, in short and tall, in thin and chubby sisters. l saw sadness. I saw faith. I saw a smile of pure joy. I saw restlessness. I saw my faces in their faces. Looking at them. Being them.

I felt warm tear drops rolling down my cheeks throughout this morning's sitting meditation. My eyelids were closed, and light particles could not penetrate them. Yet, my inner eyes revealed to me all of these images, of my childhood, of my young adulthood, of my spirit path . My inner eyes have revealed to me the flow of my life. My inner eyes tell me that I no longer need to hide myself in shame or to show myself in pride. I have never been alone. My faces are the faces of my sisters, of my partners, of my mother, of my grandmother, of leaves, of mountains, of memories, of awakened moments.

My dear sister, may your inner eyes, too, guide you home, to everything that has always been with you, nourishing you, guiding you, carrying you, and uplifting you. May your inner eyes reveal to you the spaciousness of your true existence, where you touch peace and non-fear. Where you can help your loved ones to embrace all that is.

To you, I offer my most sincere faith and support. Your sister, dang nghiem.

Sister Dang Nghiem, True Adornment with Non-Discrimination, ordained in 2000.

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Miraculous Moments

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

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

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

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

Touching (2000, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village)

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

Openness (200 I, Deer Park Monastery, California)

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

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

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

Clarity (2001 , Deer Park Monastery, California)

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

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

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

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

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

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