sweet rain falls onthe thirsty ground our ears summer breeze caresses the open landscape our nostrils dandelions send down strong roots our stories strange sweet fruits appear! ourselves
Svein Myreng Oslo, Norway
sweet rain falls onthe thirsty ground our ears summer breeze caresses the open landscape our nostrils dandelions send down strong roots our stories strange sweet fruits appear! ourselves
Svein Myreng Oslo, Norway
By Mark Vette Sleeping bags and bodies twisted and tangled upon one another, and moonlight on the beautiful faces of children sleeping under the stars, awakes the child within me. I sit like a sentinel at meditation reflecting on the evening before, of enjoying hot chocolate and cookies while telling stories and jokes. A young one wakes and joins me in meditation. Together we roll over the others to wake them at 5:20 a.m. We begin our morning doing "Tai Chi stepping" across the hamlet to the east side to meditate on the rising sun. A monk coming across the field in walking meditation bows to the children respectfully. Finding our spot just below Thay's hut, we settle in. Looking across the young Buddhas-to-be, I see their beautiful faces revealed and highlighted in a dawn reflecting the exquisite scenery of forest, grapes, and sunflowers. A true scene of awakening, the birds chorusing and Thay doing his morning meditation on his deck above us and radiating his pure serenity and peace.
We had a few weeks of joyful afternoons together, swimming, training, dowsing for water, walking in the bush, climbing, talking, laughing, and meditating with nature. It was a little bit of a standing joke how Uncle Mark was going to weave Thay's teachings into the activities of the day. One of the most meaningful aspects of Thay's teachings for me is that you can include them in any activity of your life. I believe children in particular need to experience the Dharma in everyday activities and not have them imposed too formally or in too structured a way. My experience is that children learn best with activity, spontaneity, and fun. Time needs to be spent establishing true friendship and trust to be accepted as any kind of guide. They also need to be included in planning and making decisions on the program. I was deeply impressed with how much commitment and significance Thay placed on the children's program. The first hour or so of every talk was dedicated to the children. Much wisdom has been transmitted, and there is a need to find out from the kids how they responded to the teachings, and to compile this in a way that is easily understood by children.
During the retreat, Thay asked us to look more carefully at how we could develop materials for the children's program and find out what the children liked most. We discussed these issues and came up with the following findings. The activities they enjoyed on this retreat were Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Yoga, swimming, sports, nature walks. Other activities included, storytelling, tea ceremony, skits, a discussion group for kids, activities with Thay, sleeping out, pebble meditation, games, visualization, and nature meditations. In one popular project, the children creating greeting cards and sold them to the community and donated the proceeds to support the work in Vietnam. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Thay and discuss these ideas, and he offered some great ones of his own. We visited his hut and were welcomed in. I was struck by how childlike Thay became in the presence of the children, and especially how he communicates so directly on their wave length. Thay offered us his "childhood cookies," which we ate mindfully. The children each had a say airing their suggestions. Thay also made some suggestions the kids were pretty excited about. He suggested a pool and a theater, and possibly a video production program. We finished the meeting with a hugging meditation each with Thay. I cherish that special time and know the kids do too.
The retreat changed my life. The presence and teachings were deeply profound and at the same time so down-to-earth and practical. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have been ordained into the Order of Interbeing. I have a strong sense of coming home. Going for refuge to Thay and this very special Sangha with an interpretation of the Dharma that truly touches my heart and inspires me.
I sit back here in New Zealand on the other side of the world and think how lucky I was to make many lovely young and older friends. I would like to send them all my love and appreciation. Looking back over my retreat notes and names, I smile as all the beautiful new friendships I made come rushing back into my awareness.
During the retreat I had many periods of effortless mindfulness and this practice has strengthened my ability to carry this back to my family and the Long White Cloud Sangha in New Zealand.
I would like to finish with strong words of encouragement to all the young people. A children's section of The Mindfulness Bell called "Kid's Stuff" would be a great idea to communicate kids' practice. Let's all put pen to paper and write about what's up in your life, Dharma discussion, raising money for needy causes, the environment, other retreats, book ideas, and humorous stuff, and send your writings and drawings to The Mindfulness Bell in Berkeley, California.
Mark Vette, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, cares for dogs and cats with behavior problems in Clevedon, New Zealand.
By Lucy Sauer I am so glad my husband and I attended a course on the Five Precepts in Little Rock last June with Therese Fitzgerald. We have many struggles in our life as a couple, and I know that working on the precepts together helps us. It was also great that our five-year-old daughter Hannah was able to meet Therese, as she has a deep reverence for life, and Therese's teachings encourage and nurture this.
This morning a cricket was drowning in our dog's water bowl. It was not enough just to rescue it We also had to be sure it wasn't under the car when we left for school. A few nights ago Hannah was too excited to go to sleep. I sang our standard hypnotic lullaby, but she didn't calm down so I asked her if I could sing the Two Promises song about love and understanding. She happily agreed, and we lay in the near-dark together while I sang it over and over. She joined in with "mmmm-ahh" every time and periodically chastised, "You forgot the 'ding,'" because I didn't go "understan - ding!" Eventually she fell asleep. What a wonderful meditation for me!
Lucy Sauer is a medical doctor in Little Rock, Arkansas.
By Friends Charles A. Malat, known to many hundreds at Plum Village as Charlie, died among friends and family in Ithaca, New York, on September 25,1994, of cancerous tumors discovered just two months earlier. He is survived by his parents, Doris and Hyman Malat, his brother David, many relatives, and an international network of close friends.
Charlie was bom on November 16,1961, and grew up in Oceanside, Long Island, a short distance from New York City. His rare combination of spirit and depth blossomed during his college years. He first studied drama, and later continued on for a Master's degree in philosophy, seeking answers to the existential questions of life. As an adult he found many ways to celebrate and protect life: as a health-restaurant cook, food co-op manager, Big Brother, suicide counselor, leader in Ithaca's Men's Network, sexual abuse counselor, AIDS counselor, and especially as a close, caring friend.
In 1990 Charlie went to Plum Village for a summer retreat and then lived, studied, and stayed, on and off, for most of the next four years. Thay's teachings and the life of Plum Village challenged and comforted Charlie, and in return he gave himself totally. In 1992 he was ordained into the core community of the Order of Interbeing and given the Dharma name True Energy.
Charlie had many bodhisattva-like qualities. Like Avalokitesvara, he could listen with wholehearted attention and hear both what was said and what was left unsaid. Like Manjusri, he could look deeply and understand the roots of suffering in himself and others. And like Samantabhadra, he often could find the compassionate and appropriate action—the warm glance, the cup of tea, the helpful suggestion.
To celebrate Charlie's life, and to comfort one another for his too-early passing, The Mindfulness Bell asked many friends to share how Charlie touched their lives.
Jayne Demakos, Ithaca, New York
I feel as if I have known Charlie for a very long time. In reality, I only knew him for a year and a half. I met Charlie upon his return from France in the Spring of 1993. We formed a close relationship, often playful and for many reasons difficult When we met, Charlie said to me, "I am a very rich man, and I have no money." Some of the riches I received from him were the teachings of Thay which came alive for me through Charlie. Another gift was the honor of being able to participate in Charlie's journey during these last months of his illness and dying.
When Charlie was well, we shared strengths and weaknesses and supported each other as peers. In facing his death, Charlie deepened and matured beyond his years—and mine. He struggled with his fears, anger, and sadness, and uncovered layers of shame around his illness. He watched his body become sicker and sicker. He had pain. He couldn't eat. He faced chemotherapy. He also faced difficult issues in his life, relationships that needed healing. Then there were all the little and big indignities of being ill and needing care. But there seemed to be some great teaching going on for Charlie and for those close to him. We witnessed a deep transformation in Charlie as he met each challenge, each day of his illness, with grace, courage, humor, and, above all, great honesty. As days passed, I saw anger and bitterness wash away, and I often felt Charlie's deep love, unencumbered by the usual baggage. His face, though sad and thin, looked beautiful. To the overworked hospital staff, Charlie showed kindness and tolerance, always saying "thank you," even under the most difficult situations. Behind each mundane task, Charlie touched the human being who was present. It is testimony to the depth of Charlie's practice that even in those times when he had no will to "practice," loving kindness was present, Charlie was present.
During the illness, Charlie was never alone. Friends came from all over the world to see him, and a handful of close friends provided 24-hour care in rotating shifts, sensitively responding to his needs from physical to spiritual and offering help. This, along with the love and support of his family, allowed Charlie very deep rest. He expressed his gratitude many times in many ways.
Those of us who helped care for Charlie were deeply moved by the experience, and Charlie is still present in our relations with each other and the comfort we find there. He is present in the depth of the life teachings we learned from him and he is in our grief, in our sense of the preciousness and precariousness of life. I feel Charlie's presence when I come back to my breathing, especially when sitting in my car in heavy traffic, when I laugh, and also when I sing. Charlie said to me during his illness, "If you lose your ability to smile, it would make me very sad." So I practice through my sadness to smile. I practice for Charlie and, when I can, for myself. I practice for those around me. I practice the way I play Bach for someone on the piano—each time the spirit comes alive again.
Scott Mayer, Portland, Oregon
Aitken Roshi said, "In a very short time, we all slip from life onto a piece of paper, into a photograph." In front of me now is Charlie's photo taken during the last week of his life, with Metta and Gaby sitting with him. As I look at it, I feel this empty space in my heart and console myself in the ways Charlie still lives in me, or through me, beyond this paper image.
I can see Charlie in my cooking, especially in the lemon and cayenne he taught me to use. He saved me more than once from near culinary disaster in the Upper Hamlet. (Saving burnt pea soup is no easy feat.) But the deepest part of me that carries Charlie, the one that is the saddest and aches the most, is my lost brother in our shared struggle to reconcile the apparent conflict between our love for the teachings of Buddhism and our life's ambitions, desires, and assumptions. I The words "sexuality," "relationships," and "competency frequently peppered our conversations. Charlie knew himself well enough and was too intelligent to unquestioningly accept any easy formulas for his life. When his understanding of the teachings didn't fit with his experience, he knew it and would struggle, and many of us heard. In times of my deepest doubt and despair, I came to turn first to Charlie for an ear. He was open to my difficulties, he understood. Charlie got to me. He has not only slipped into this photo, but into me.
Mitchell Ratner, Takoma Park, Maryland
After I spoke with Charlie on the telephone a week before he died, my wife looked at my face and said, "You really love him, don't you?" I nodded, "Yes." I came to know Charlie during two winter retreats at Plum Village. We spent many hours talking by the dining hall stove or walking together to the Lower Hamlet, discussing our understandings of the Dharma, our deepest questions, and our emotional responses. Charlie was wise in the ways of Plum Village. I liked being with him and learning from him. He had a wonderfully good read on me. Some of his wisdom is in me now.
Charlie was totally honest with himself. He could admit when the teachings as he understood them didn't match his own sorrows and joys or his sense of fairness and justice. Charlie's spirit was large enough to acknowledge and explore the many doubts and questions while committing himself absolutely to the practice of mindfulness. I miss my good friend dearly.
Ivar, Plum Village
Charlie often shared songs when we gathered for walking meditation. One of his favorites was:
And when I rise, Please let me rise, Like a bird, Joyfully.
And when I fall, Please let me fall, Like a leaf, Gracefully, Without regret.
For me, this will always be Charlie's song.
Matthew Wiener, Tucson, Arizona
Charlie and I met around 1980. It was a time in our lives of great confusion, exploration, and excitement—we called it college. We grew to be fast friends, but even more than that, we became intellectual and aesthetic coconspirators. We fancied ourselves as artistic terrorists in the corridors of the theater department. We auditioned for the same plays and were hardly ever cast. We discovered a mutual pleasure and passion in arguing about everything. We inhaled Bertolt Brecht and William Shakespeare, we devoured Harold Pinter and Samuel Becket, and we chewed on Jean Genet and Eugene Ionesco.
I directed Charlie in what may have been his last acting role in college. He was one of the Players in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. I recall that he and I were fascinated with one particular passage. In response to the question "What do you know about death?" the Leading Player responds: "It's what actors do best. They have to exploit whatever talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. My own talent is more general. I extract significance from melodrama, a significance which it does not in fact contain; but occasionally, from out of this matter, there escapes a thin beam of light that, seen at the right angle, can crack the shell of mortality."
Later on, in graduate school, I was taught that the job of an artist is to be an archeologist of the soul. Charlie was an artist of the highest order.
Wendy Johnson, Muir Beach, California
I met Charlie during the June 1990 retreat at Plum Village. My 18-month-old daughter Alisa was with me, and she took a real shine to Charlie. They used to go together to the old bam to visit the litter of newborn "yeows," as Alisa called the tiny kittens. "I think that name is a combination of 'meow' and 'yeow-wee!' which is what I always yell out when she picks up the kitties by their ears," Charlie mused, as Alisa locked him in a vice-like hug from behind his knees.
Long after we'd returned to California, Charlie sent Alisa a little pink and white engineer's cap. It was big on her but she loved it. She knew just where it came from. One day she turned around in her stroller to !ook at me. The cap covered the right side of her face. "Go see yeows, Mama," she whispered, holding onto her cap.
Svein Myreng, Oslo, Norway
Dear Charlie! How much poorer life would have been without your friendship, your willingness to help, and your songs and great funny stories. I remember the mini-Dharma talks you humorously inserted into many announcements at the Summer Openings and the tender moments we shared in reflection on the Dharma on how to live this life with all its joys and difficulties. As a true friend you live in us all. Blessings for your further journey of no coming-no going.
Patrick Lacoste, Plum Village
Just before Charlie left Plum Village at the end of the winter, I gave him money to buy and send me a pair of Teva sandals, the kind that many of the retreatants wear during the summer. I received them and wore them almost every day throughout the summer. Every time I put them on, I felt grateful for my fellow bicycle rider who made possible this small daily pleasure of walking comfortably.
When Charlie got stuck in his hospital bed with swollen legs and feet, I told him on the telephone how he made me happy. Then, remembering an exercise Thay gave, I said, "You know, Charlie, I walk for you." I heard, from over the ocean, his soft laughter overcoming for a few seconds his pain and exhaustion, and it touched me deeply. Since then, I have been walking for you, Charlie. I don't need the sandals anymore to remember.
Brother Gary Stuard, Plum Village
What I remember most about Charlie was his bigheartedness, his attentiveness to the needs of others, and his ability to be playful and to laugh. During the summer retreats at Plum Village, Charlie would always be available to listen and respond to those who had problems, needs, and concerns. His presence and practice made a deep and joyful impression on many people. Once when I co-facilitated a discussion group with him, I saw how remarkably gifted Charlie was in discerning who was having difficulties and really needed attention, as well as his ability to share his experiences in the practice in an honest, simple, and humorous way. Like a mother hen, Charlie watched over and tended his fellow Sangha members. Charlie was, and still is, a big brother to me. He taught me much about being honest with myself and others, being willing to be vulnerable, and the importance and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Thank you, my friend.
Jorgen Hannibal, Hilsinge, Denmark
Hello, Charlie! What a lesson in impermanence. A line from one of Mike's songs comes to mind: "When you leave the room, please close the door with care. You may never pass this way again." I remember one time when you were guiding us through a total relaxation meditation. In apparently deep relaxation, someone passed wind and a few people started laughing. You handled the situation very mindfully by encouraging everyone to have a really good laugh, and huge waves of laughter rolled through Transformation Hall. The relaxation that followed was very deep. Thank you, Charlie, for everything.
Ellen Peskin, Oakland, California
At Plum Village, a deep, gentle bond quickly developed between us, as we found ourselves sharing our innermost desires and grappling with challenges. We shared many laughs, some tears, and innumerable heartfelt hugs. I will carry you with me always, my sweet brother.
Shalom, Plum Village
In the silent light of morning meditation, we hear you calling.
In the trees, the wind, and the fullness of the ripening plums, we hear you calling.
Pausing in the sweat of the midday sun, waking suddenly in the night, we hear you calling.
And Charlie, moment by moment, step by miraculous step, we call back to you.
Keep your heart wide open.
Arnie Kotler, Berkeley, California
Charlie was mature beyond his 32 years, and his loving spirit and kind, great humor, live in all who knew him. Somehow I especially remember a skit he performed at the end of the June 1990 retreat in which he played a Mr. Rodgers-like character, singing: "It's a wonderful day in the Sa-angha...". I love you, Charlie. Fare well.
Therese Fitzgerald, Berkeley, California
Charlie, gone suddenly, swiftly. May the liberation of your spirit be as radical and thorough.
By Michael Gardner & Therese Fitzgerald The group of veterans gathered casually on the deck near the familiar round yurt in the bright May morning sunshine. They spoke quietly as they gazed out at the tall grass and wildflowers in the surrounding fields of Green Gulch Farm. This was the ninth meeting at which men and women who have experienced the horrors of war joined with Maxine Hong Kingston to find support and healing through writing. At 9:30 a.m. the group moved indoors to begin a day of writing and sharing. A warm spring breeze and an open door provided fresh air and a relaxed atmosphere. Two swallows created a brief distraction when they flew inside and circled like observing angels, then exited just as gracefully.
After the group sitting meditation, Maxine suggested, "Pick a scene from life of two people connecting. How is the connection made? What are the feelings? What do they say? Be sure they talk to one another. Dialogue is very difficult because you have to listen to the other voice. Listen carefully and let the characters speak to you. Limit the number of people in your scene to two. A third element will distract you from the interaction of the two main characters. You want your interaction to be focused. There are different points of view you can take as the author. You can choose to write as one of the people or as an omniscient observer. The omniscient point of view reports what is happening to both people without identifying with either."
The group was joined in the afternoon by Ron Kovic, Vietnam veteran and author of Born on the Fourth of July. Maxine asked Ron if he would speak to us and he obliged, sharing humbly and passionately of his life as a writer and veteran. Some of his encouraging words are recorded here: "Lewis Puller, Vietnam veteran leader, took his own life last June. I met Lewis in Washington, D.C., when I joined Veterans Against the War. I was introduced to him and never forgot him. He was more severely wounded than any survivor I had met. 1 could feel that emptiness in him. He wasn't as angry as I was. Something had been knocked out of him. I thought about my own suicidal feelings as recently as six years ago. I do have a strong faith again and belief in life. I know how important it is to keep living. I don't know if we ever heal completely from that war, but if we continue to communicate our feelings, that is the important thing. When I was at the worst of my torments, I decided life was worth living. I think there is redemption, even in the simple things we do in our lives.
"I never graduated from college and I can't spell, but I've always had a terrific drive. My book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times. My parents were more shocked by my success than I was. The New York Times review came out August 15,1976.1 rushed down and bought all the papers in the store. My mother couldn't believe it. I had joined the Marines to make up for my academic failure and gone on two tours in Vietnam.
"I wrote on a manual typewriter I'd bought for $40 and worked all night. When the black ink ran out, I switched to red. When the red ink ran out, I just typed impressions on the paper. I wrote top to bottom on the whole page, without paragraphs, and when it was full, I flipped the paper over and filled the other side. I wrote with fury. I didn't want to admit I did not want to live. This was my final confession, my last will and testament, and I was afraid I was going to die before it was finished. We are here to leave something beautiful behind. We are here to struggle and fight to create something. Have faith that you will leave something special. You never know what wonderful things are out there waiting for you. The most valuable letters I received were from people who decided to keep on living after reading my book. There were less than ten of these, but they are the most precious. I put the manuscript in a box and my buddy came with me to New York. I was lucky enough to sell it to McGraw Hill in less than a week. Then I got to cowrite the screenplay with Oliver Stone.
"I want to inspire you. Try to find patrons and supporters who love your work. Be careful who you read to. Choose your supporters carefully. Make sure they really love you. Constructive criticism can be deadly to your morale."
The participants shared their appreciation with Ron for calling attention to the problems that afflict so many Vietnam veterans. Ron stayed through the afternoon and listened as the others read what they had written that morning. There was great mutual respect and support in the room. We each felt deeply touched by the truths that were shared in the reading and those that were shared in the silence.
In August, we met in the home of a friend in rural Sebastopol. Maxine spoke to us about creating a setting for ourselves to use in writing. "I always begin a writing day with meditation. I don't turn on the TV or radio or even talk to anyone. The silence helps me hear voices from within. The muses speak clearest when my mind is uncluttered and close to the previous night's dreams. But after a few weeks of working alone, I need group energy to strengthen me. We get inspiration from each other. This takes strength and bravery because sometimes it hurts to bring others into our lives. "After losing everything in the Oakland Hills Fire, I found I had filled out 100 pages of insurance forms and only a few pages of my novel. I had to list each item. So I decided to use the insurance form to mourn every item. This way even seemingly routine writing served in my healing from the fire. We have many wars in life, and we can use writing to help us heal from all of them."
After this talk we had a long silent period to write about a happy scene in our lives. The afternoon readings were filled with playful, inspired moments that many of us had thought we had forgotten. The muses were speaking to us very clearly.
The October retreat/writing workshop at Omega Institute was a rarer opportunity for veterans on the East Coast who do not meet monthly. We began a day earlier than the rest of the retreatants, and there was a strong feeling of camaraderie among the veterans who had gathered twice before with Thay and once with Maxine. The transformation was tangible and greatly helped the newcomers setde in. We had quiet to get to know ourselves and practice meditation indoors and outdoors in the gorgeous autumn weather.
Maxine encouraged us to "reclaim our bodies, take our ways of walking and eating back, reclaim our senses, and bring all this to our writing, trusting the words as a medium to return home step by step." After a period of writing—for some veterans, the first time since the war—people read: Bill about "schlepping around in the mud and the fear," giving thanks to the nine fellow soldiers he killed by "friendly fire" who allowed him to reclaim his spirit—"laying my soul on the table—now it's mine." Jerry wrote of the power of the woman warrior—"Is the shimmering of the water your voice?" Bill revealed how war "made me feel like a frightened animal, so that only with prostitutes did I feel human; only during war is such madness 'normal.'" Jim revealed his insight in response to his similar experience: "I thought I was in heaven. Then ten years later, I realized it was my sister lying there." Claude: "I am not a wound: I'm wounded and I'm healing." George dug down deep and read about "cutting off your senses; no mourning, no feelings—that's the unwritten law of war: 'just move on.' We have to embrace the pain to transform it." George wrote about "fellows who covered me with their bodies to stop me from bleeding and died," and forging a vow "to thank them by living a good life."
Powerful work alone and with others in the circle of veterans was done before they presented their stories to the other 150 retreatants Saturday evening. "You could feel the deep listening in the room as soon as the bell rang," Dan commented later. This deep listening—the listening of the veterans to their own and each other's stories, and that of the non-veterans to those who were closest to the heat of the war—offered deep healing to wounds so long endured.
Therese Fitzgerald and Michael Gardner are Director and Assistant Director of the Community of Mindful Living.
By Jim Janko My friend Janey recently asked me, "Have you let go of Vietnam? For you, is it finally over? Does it still shape your life?"
Janey knows that in Vietnam I was a medic for an infantry battalion commanded by George Armstrong Custer, III. Although my platoon wasn't annihilated as in the Battle of Little Big Horn, more than 50% of the boys were wounded or killed, and, of course, we killed and wounded some of those we called "the enemy." Janey's questions reminded me of the countless sleepless nights that for me have framed the aftermath of war. I complained to my friend about difficult nights, long nights, impossible nights.
Long ago I wrote in my journal: "I am looking for a kind of gracefulness that comes home to me shining with love; a love long-steeped in my old heart and bones, as well as in the heart and bones of star, moon, tree, flesh—flesh of all kinds as well as the stuff beneath the flesh, the love-light that is the architect of all things seen and unseen. Within pain, I know a place that is graceful. And within joy I go there again."
Although these words were printed long ago, it seems that each night and day I need to releam that pain, joy, and grace are inseparable. My tendency is to resist pain, to want only pure healing and grace, but true healing and grace visit me only when I open myself to whatever arises. Rollo May wrote, "There is a great deal of pain in life, and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain."
In Vietnam, I became numb to my own pain and that of others. I had no meditation practice, no spiritual community, and probably could not have survived emotionally and mentally had I let myself truly see the war. Despite my own limitations, I feel that the heart has room for every sorrow, joy, pain, and smile. In Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh remained compassionately awake in the midst of unspeakable destruction. Today the Dalai Lama, fully aware of the suffering in Tibet, continues to inspire those working for peace and reconciliation throughout the world. For me, these men are beautiful examples of what is humanly possible when the heart is open: Gracefulness, peace, equanimity, and the courage to embrace all things.
Jim Janko served as a medic in the Vietnam War and is currently attending a three-month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, in Massachusetts.
By Linda Spangler I had wanted to go to Vietnam for a long time. I grew up with the Vietnam War on TV and watched the fighting and the nightly list of American dead. Escaping the draft was a frequent topic of conversation in my high school. I could not understand how anyone could condone this war, when just witnessing it from my living room was enough to bring me to tears. I was incapable of imagining how horrible it would be to actually be there.
Vietnam stayed in my psyche more as a war than a country for a long time. Later, I learned of the beauty of the land and the people. I read books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong and was deeply moved by their wisdom, dedication, and compassion. I met Vietnamese in the United States and was drawn to their kindness and lack of bitterness. I decided to visit Vietnam before the anticipated changes took place.
As part of planning my trip to Vietnam, I contacted Sister Chan Khong to see if I could be of any service. I thought that my skills as a physician might be of use in one of the many projects her work helps support. She asked me to carry some books and tapes of Dharma teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh into Vietnam.
I hid several tapes and books in my luggage. Passing through customs was a scary experience, although the most I was probably risking was to have the tapes and books confiscated. The other passengers passed through without incident, but I was directed to a side station and asked to show the cassettes I had claimed on the custom form. Luckily, I had concealed them to look like music tapes and I passed without difficulty. Later I was told the customs agents were looking for smuggled pornographic videotapes from the West that had recently found a big market in Vietnam.
Sister Chan Khong instructed me to bring the tapes and books to an orphanage in Saigon from which they would be copied and distributed. Because of the possibility that I, as a foreigner, could be followed to the orphanage and precipitate a search afterwards, I first visited the orphanage but did not bring the materials. Later a nun went to a designated house to pick them up without my presence. People told me that just a little over a year ago you could be interrogated by the police and possibly arrested for just talking to a foreigner. Rules against connections with foreigners had obviously loosened. However, fear still predominated when something as politically sensitive as Thich Nhat Hanh's work was involved. I have never lived under a system with such blatant censorship. It made me appreciate what a gift it is to have free access to the teachings and wisdom of people such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. It is something I take for granted which the Vietnamese cannot.
I found the Vietnamese extremely warm and kind. Many of the South Vietnamese I met perceived Americans as allies in the war and were less resentful than I expected. Even the North Vietnamese greeted me warmly and welcomed me as an American. The "American War" seemed more in the past to the Vietnamese than it is for many Americans, even though they suffered much more. Many of the Vietnamese I spoke with seemed to have perfected the teaching that you could forgive the actors even if you could not forgive the action. They could continue to condemn the war even while they opened their hearts to the Americans. They also understood the difference between a government and its people. I wonder how forgiving Americans would be to a people whose undeclared war had left two million people dead.
I worked in a clinic funded by the East Meets West Foundation, which includes an orphanage, a medical clinic, and a school that serves the poor agricultural community. I worked in the medical clinic helping to train two Vietnamese female doctors in gynecology. They had come out of medical school with almost no experience in women's health. Working with them was extremely satisfying. They were eager to learn and we found we had a lot to teach each other. The level of disease was something I had never seen in the United States, even among the poor. I was happy to be able to make a small offering.
Vietnam is a beautiful country, filled with flowing green rice paddies, mountains, and a long, lovely coastline. It is also changing rapidly. As an outsider, it is scary to watch the rush toward industrialization and the modern world. There are more and more foreigners every day, coming both as tourists and business representatives. I fear that their simple, quiet life will be replaced by technology, low-wage factory jobs, and a homogeneity that makes cities everywhere seem the same. But there is also a good side to these changes. Some people will gain access to products that will make their lives easier.
The Vietnamese were still reluctant to talk about current repression, but everyone agreed the situation is getting better. Buddhists are still in jail for simply living and teaching their Buddhist beliefs, but the Vietnamese can now speak openly with foreigners and there is more and more access to outside material. I pray that Thich Nhat Hanh and many other exiled Vietnamese will someday feel safe to return to their own country.
Linda Spangler is a medical doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area.
By Therese Fitzgerald What a joy it was to gather in the Red Candle Meditation Hall at Plum Village at the end of the summer to meet three nuns from Hue—Su Co Nu Minh Tanh, Su Co Nhu Minh, and Su Co Dieu Dat—who are "pillars" in the social work there begun and sustained by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. The nuns were introduced beautifully and movingly by Sr. Chan Khong who said, "Wherever the suffering is, these bodhisattvas go. Even through floods, even among the corpses during the war, through many ordeals, they are there with the suffering people." These nuns, who began their bodhisattvic "careers" with Thay during the Vietnam War, described how they have carried with them photographs taken of Thay during a flood relief mission undertaken in 1964. "Thay's compassion has helped us overcome all obstacles—through waterfalls and over mountains to starving victims of floods. The Dharma is our 'equipment' to relieve the suffering with our compassionate presence."
The sisters explained their work in education, including the support of the teachers and the development of the schools; medical work; care for the elderly who have lost their homes and their relatives; and work with lepers, including setting up temples to nourish the spirit of those who have been isolated for so long. They described their joy in passing on the funds and the love of many people from all over the world to those in such great need.
We watched a vivid video that illustrated the projects. There were scenes of the social workers going to the homes of elderly persons living alone in remote areas and taking time to console and help them.
We saw the faces of children in classrooms throughout the country and heard various renditions of the children's song of the Two Promises. We saw very poor villages in the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea where only shabbily-built thatched huts existed, where a sturdy building for classes is going up to encourage the education of everyone, young and old. "Although we have already established 100 classes, there is a need for 200 more," the nuns explained. We saw inspiring gatherings of young teachers reinforcing their educational and meditative practice.
Sister Minh Tanh described her journey as an engaged nun. She is in charge of teams of monks and nuns who visit the poorest patients in Hue hospitals, bringing them comfort and some material aid. She has also organized teams of medical professionals who go to remote villages to diagnose diseases and give medical aid. "The more we work, the more we can generate happiness and joy, especially with the support of Thay and the Plum Village Sangha," she said. "I do my best in the face of overwhelming suffering to share the practice of mindfulness with the hospital staff and the patients. This work never ends."
Sister Dieu Dat supervises more than 7,000 children in remote villages in 105 schools. When asked to join Sister Minh Tanh in the hospital work, Sister Dieu Dat "hid in the bathroom, it was so overwhelming," she revealed. "But I breathed and felt the support and encouragement to join my sister in the Dharma." Sister Nhu Minh and her team are in charge of distributing 300 scholarships for children in remote villages around Hue and day-care centers in Hue.
Sister Chan Khong ended the intimate session by saying, "We want to help people reconstruct their lives so disrupted by the war. Now ex-School of Youth for Social Service workers are helping set up self-support villages and establishing jobs for people, such as manufacturing incense, sewing, carpentry, or growing medicinal plants. The suffering is great, and the help is so small, but we can concentrate on our heart and mind of compassion."
There is now a huge flood covering the four provinces of the Mekong Delta (Long An, Dong Than, Long Xuyen, and My Tho). Many hundreds of thousands of families are without shelter, and 128 persons, including many children have drowned and disappeared. We are supplying the victims of the flood with blankets and medicine. Any help will be gready appreciated. Please send your tax-deductible donations to Community of Mindful Living for "Working Together for Rejuvenation in Vietnam," P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707.
By Therese Fitzgerald While at Plum Village this summer, Boris and Gallina, our Dharma friends and Reiki healers from Moscow, suggested that Arnie Kotler and I stop in Riga, Latvia, on our way to Russia to lead a mindfulness retreat for the community there. "Mindfulness practice is essential for real Reiki work, and Reiki is a natural expression of mindfulness," Boris said, and he began communications with Juri Kutirev, the founder of "Jonathan," a Latvian organization to promote self-awareness and understanding.
A few days before we arrived, the last Russian troops pulled out of Latvia, ending 50 years of occupation. Since the 13th century, Latvia has been occupied by German, Swedish, and SovietyRussian forces, except for a brief period between 1917 and 1940. Latvia is entering a time of strong nationalism, which, we would learn, has its positive and negative aspects. Juri told us that he and other Russian-Latvians have no citizenship because their families did not live in Latvia before 1940, even though he and his children have lived only in this country.
The afternoon we arrived, we were interviewed for that evening's TV news by a woman who had read two of Thay's books. While her camera crew was waiting to get on with the interview, the woman asked us about the nature of our visit and the benefits of mindfulness practice. "People here want to blame someone else for their troubles. How can meditation help them?" During the taped interview, we discussed the process of calming and looking deeply, establishing sovereignty over oneself, and caring for one's states of mind through meditation.
Eighty people attended the three-day retreat held in Jurmala on the Baltic Sea. Five children formed a wonderful Sangha of practice with round pebbles gathered from the forest. (They searched in vain for pieces of amber amidst the seaweed!) Walking meditation through the pine forest to the calm blue sea was particularly enjoyable, and the whole retreat was full of delight thanks to the happy Sangha of Jonathan staffpeople, who took care of every detail with thoroughness and kindness. Tea meditation especially revealed many beauties of Russian, Latvian, Belorussian, and Ukranian cultures in the form of songs, poems, proverbs, and jokes. ("In every joke, there is a little joke," Juri told us.)
The retreatants asked very practical questions, such as, "Do you ask your teacher questions?" and "How does practice make you calmer?" On our last day in Riga, we met with a journalist whose incisive comments inspired us. Imagine our delight when she took out her glasses' case filled with five beautiful round pebbles gathered at Jurmala to practice conscious breathing during difficult phone calls!
Amie and I went next to St. Petersburg to help our friends there in last-minute preparations for a visit by Thay, Sister Chan Khong, and Sister Jina the next day. After a 14-hour train ride from Riga, we were swept off to review the schedule for the retreat and to make sure accommodations were in order. It turned out that a crucial fax had never made it into the hands of the organizers, and so there was some rearranging to do at the last minute. After a very full day traveling around the city settling these affairs, we sat with the St. Petersburg Sangha under the golden linden and oak trees at the international airport, enjoying bread, cheese, and juice, discussing Igor's interest in becoming a monk, and waiting in peaceful camaraderie for Thay's plane to arrive.
The next morning, Edward and Igor took the five of us for a walk in the Summer Gardens. As we were leaving, Thay paused alongside a canal facing the spectacular Church of the Resurrection and recounted a passage from the Vietnamese classic poem, The Tale of Kieu, about two lovers. "The woman went back to the home of her lover and saw him asleep at his desk. The young man looked up and said, 'Is this a dream or are you really there?' The woman said to her beloved, 'Look as if it is the first or the last time you see my face.'" We contemplated anew the beauty before us and the wondrousness of our being together in St. Petersburg.
Walking up the stairs of the Buddhist Temple—established in 1897 with the support of Czar Nicholas II but shut down for 60 years under Stalin and his successors—Thay commented softly, "I am aware of all the previous suffering." Thay's lecture was attended by 250 people, and half that number attended two Days of Mindfulness, which had been publicized only by word of mouth. The Buryatian monks and novices at the temple were attentive, respectful hosts. Thay's Dharma talks on conscious breathing to establish calm were nurturing for the many who attended. The walking meditation path wound through trees between two canals sparkling in the autumnal light. The 20 Reiki healers among the participants were especially spirited and offered songs at the stopping place by the canal, complete with guitar and birch-bark kazoo. Forty people received the Five Precepts the last day of the retreat. Twelve-year-old Oleg Borisov, one of our steadiest co-practitioners during our stay in St. Petersburg, wrote this description of his continuation of the practice:
"This was my second experience of a Day of Mindfulness, and I felt some progress in my meditation. Now both walking and sitting meditation were easy for me. The day began with the explanation of some phrases which aid in concentrating the breath, such as "I am solid, I am free." I liked this, and I wanted to meditate not for just a few moments, but much longer. The day was sunny for walking meditation in a park, and, thanks to that, I entered deeply into the meditation. The whole world was transformed before my eyes. Everything around me was new, fresh, wonderful. It was amazing! I smiled.
"During lunch, it was hard for me to concentrate on the food at first because I was so hungry. It was easiest to concentrate on the bread. When tea meditation began, I was asked to partake in the opening ritual by carrying a cup full of tea in a meditative way to the tea master. After that I sat in place and began to drink my tea. The tea and cookies were much more delicious than usual. Then I entered into a state of deep meditation while everyone sang.
"During the second day we practiced much more. In the beginning we did exercises for half an hour, then sitting and walking meditation inside. That worked well for me, and I felt at home. After Thay's Dharma talk, we went outside to do walking meditation, and it was much harder for me to concentrate. Something was getting in my way, even though, in comparison to the previous day, there were not so many distractions (insects, for example, that we had to brush off the road onto the earth). At lunch, I began to recite the gathas. When I opened my eyes, I saw food on the plate before me. Then I recited a few more gathas in gratitude to the person who gave it to me.
"Total relaxation was very easy for me, and soon I found myself in a blissful state where nothing could shake me. I was fully aware of my body and completely relaxed. When we got up, I didn't quite feel right. There was some kind of residue. Later when I practiced relaxation it repeated but not as strongly. During this time I decided to take the Five Precepts. During the ceremony I suddenly felt waves as if there were some kind of energy moving inside me. In general there were more feelings coming up on this day than on the previous day.
"These days were fruitful. Along with the Dharma name "Mindfulness of the Heart!' I also received encouragement to practice all day long. When I see water flowing from the faucet, I remember I am only here and only now, and I smile."
Thay, Sister Chan Khong, Sister Jina, Arnie, and I lived in great harmony as a "family" with our St. Petersburg hosts, the Borisovs. Four of us stretched out our bedding on the living room floor every night, and we prepared our meals together and ate in deep appreciation of the goodness of Russian bread, potatoes, tea, and also the wonderful Vietnamese cooking of Sister Chan Khong.
On the last night of our stay, we met with members of a potential core Sangha of mindfulness practice, while another meeting was going on in the kitchen between Sr. Chan Khong and Orris Publishers about publishing a volume of four of Thay's books this January—Present Moment Wonderful Moment, Touching Peace, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, and The Moon Bamboo. Thay spoke about the need to listen carefully to others and not to be too attached to our own ideas. "Don't think, 'My idea is the only one worth considering.' We need to gather as a Sangha and make decisions together after listening to several viewpoints." Then Sr. Chan Khong offered the Sangha 100 of Thay's books from Orris to sell in order to help the Sangha cover such expenses as rental of a place for practice and inviting teachers to come. Thay entrusted the bell of mindfulness to Julia with instruction, and a set of books in English was entrusted to Edward for the use of the whole Sangha.
When Sasha requested that we also visit other meditation groups throughout the former U.S.S.R., Amie suggested, "Just as Thay says that the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment, I think the best way to take care of other Sanghas is for us to take good care of the Sangha here." After several previous visits, we could see that it is not easy for mindfulness practice to take root. Our friends in St. Petersburg are very much in our hearts and minds, and we wish them success in their efforts to practice together.
In Moscow, we were greeted by unseasonably warm weather and Sangha members offering dozens of fragrant roses. That evening, Boris told us the story of his pacifist resistance to the communist authorities. Finally, he said, "Our first daughters were born during the time of Brezhnev, and you can see the psychological scars they bear from the tension and oppression of those times Masha was born during perestroika, and you can see in her some lightness. But Katya, born after the fall of communism, is a completely different personality, so open and free."
The next morning we did walking meditation among the cathedrals of the Kremlin. In the evening, Thay gave a public lecture to the local Vietnamese community, so beleaguered with violence, fear, and insecurity. Thay spoke for nearly three hours about the practice of conscious breathing, the need for something beautiful and true to believe in, how wrong perceptions are the source of much of our suffering, and the need for clear communication with loved ones to nurture our love and understanding. In response to the question, "If the Buddha was a man, why do we offer incense and prostrate to him?", Thay spoke about honoring the Buddha within. When someone commented, "In the face of so much violence and hatred here towards the Vietnamese, I feel overwhelmed and hopeless," Thay gave practical suggestions about maintaining calm as we work to overcome oppression and injustice.
On Thursday, Thay gave a lecture to 300 people, and on Friday, we headed to the retreat site, where Thay concentrated again on the problem of holding too strongly to ideas rather than practicing mindfulness of the present moment. "One ideology imposed on people can cause a lot of damage. We have to be very careful where we put our faith." He articulated the Five Powers—faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and understanding—as a way of proceeding from a failed ideology to a life of authentic contact with reality.
One question, "Is Thay going to speak about the Dharma or just his experience?" prompted an description of the difference between the written or spoken Dharma and the "living Dharma." Thay responded to the question, "Are you enlightened?" by saying, "When you ask such a question, you need to ask, 'enlightened about what?' Enlightenment is always enlightenment of something." Thay emphasized with the Muscovites how we can be enlightened many times in the course of a day if we live mindfully. This seemed like the right medicine for people who tend to mystify spiritual practice. Forty more people received the Five Precepts in a ceremony in Russian and Vietnamese. Thay seemed energized and happy at the end of the retreat as he served me a cup of sweet beans and ginger he had cooked himself, and we enjoyed them and the majestic birch forest outside the window.
Several core Sangha members stayed at the retreat site, and on Monday morning we practiced walking meditation with Thay and had a Dharma discussion about practice, communication, and Sangha organization. Several Russian friends gathered mushrooms in the forest, which they gave to a delighted Sister Chan Khong.
Thay and the Sisters went home to Plum Village, and Amie and I went on to Warsaw. Our first evening there, we attended a Jewish holiday ceremony (Simchat Torah) at the only synagogue in the city. It was encouraging to feel the revitalization of a faith and practice that had suffered near-annihilation. Men, women, and children danced in circles, celebrating the Torah in Hebrew song. The next day, with the help of Jewish-Buddhist friends from Warsaw, we ventured forth to Lodz, the home of Arnie's maternal ancestors. We sat briefly inside the Jewish community center's temple and witnessed a heated discussion about the Torah among several elderly men standing around the sacred text. Then we went upstairs to a dark room off the heavily scented kitchen to meet with Mr. Praszkier, the head of the temple, who agreed to look through his records for the death certificates of Arnie's great-grandparents. He wrote some names and numbers on a piece of paper and telephoned the cemetery gatekeeper, who guided us along a wide path carpeted with yellow leaves, while the autumn sunlight filtered through the changing maples. We walked past grand tombstones of Jewish magnates to a wild maze of poorer tombstones contending with undergrowth. "Come and see the grave of my grandmother's mother," Arnie said as he took my hand and walked me to a gravesite not quite five feet long covered with green moss, the headstone beautifully carved in Hebrew. We touched the moss and breathed in contemplation. It was sobering to walk among the untended graves of so many others who no longer have living relatives.
The next evening we joined students of Kwong Roshi for sitting meditation, chanting, and tea in their zendo in Warsaw's Old Town. Everything was familiar from our experience in Japanese Soto Zen, except there was a painting of the Black Madonna on the altar and the chants were in Polish as well as in Japanese. When one of the students asked how the chanting sounded to me, I said that I did not know why, but it sounded to me very much like Latin. He said that Latin is part of the Polish linguistic heritage, that from the 14th to the 18th centuries, Latin was spoken by the Poland's aristocracy. In a discussion over tea, Arnie and I expressed our appreciation for the calm refuge of their zendo and the applicability of Zen practice and insights to family, community, work, and political life.
One hundred people attended Amie's public lecture, and 30 joined us for a Day of Mindfulness the next day in a cozy garden house in an orchard-filled yard. Arnie spoke about joy and peacefulness as gauges for one's meditation practice. He related many stories about the effects of Suzuki-roshi and Thich Nhat Hanh's simple, deep, quiet, and joyous presences. There was time to hear from each participant—their needs, anticipations, and actual experience of the practices. We ended with a meeting about mindfulness practice as an adjunct to the already established Zen practices in Warsaw. Those who have taken responsibility for holding Days of Mindfulness since Thay's visit in 1992 felt the need to share the responsibilities. It was a relief to acknowledge how important thing it is to practice mindfulness while taking care of the details of organizing the practice!
We had time before leaving Europe to marvel at Warsaw's Old Town. A film on the death of so many thousands of soldiers and civilians and the destruction of Warsaw by the retreating Nazis opened my heart to the tenacious spirit of Warsovians and made the walk through the cobblestone streets amid reconstructed buildings decorated with paintings, woodwork, and mosaics precious and real. Exchanges with individual Sangha members were a delight and moved us. Marisha remembered when there were only the foundation stones of the majestic palace of the square. Tanna remembered being so hungry as a child after the war that she ate plaster for its calcium. Walks together, visits to churches listening to services in Polish, meals at homes and favorite restaurants, and sharing tea gave Warsaw a very special meaning.
We felt very warmly welcomed back to the U.S. when we arrived in New York City in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset. The silhouette of the Verrazano Bridge laced with light against the golden-red sky ahead and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the bay on either side brought home to us the feeling of bountiful beauty. At the mindfulness retreat for veterans and others at Omega Institute, we were greeted by many loving faces of Order of Interbeing members as well as many open faces of newcomers to the practice. Sitting under a glorious maple tree observing people as they began to settle into natural walking meditation, I felt blessed to be with friends maturing in the practice of mindfulness as individuals and as a caring Sangha.
Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is the director of the Community of Mindful Living.
By Edward Meaning I hope our newly organized Russian Sangha will survive and progress. I am absolutely sincere and accepting ardently Thay's teaching. The most important aim of our efforts is not an organization, but the fundamental thing about which Thay and other teachers never tire to tell us: arriving at the state of touching the here and now or the Buddha within ourselves. I feel that many are immersed in the fuss of outer activities making them as it were the goal in itself, being completely in the play of superficial developments. The person who has touched the here and now doesn't need special stimuli or specially organized circumstances to continue on the path.
I am not a "Buddhist." Buddhism just coincides with my natural manner of feeling the world and the tendency to make my human way in it. I refuse to label myself any "ism." Just being nobody, I am Buddhist automatically. But I don't want to demonstrate it or show it off. I don't feel a need to make any special effort. But to be aware of the values and the whole system of Buddhism, to know about Dharma, and practice it, is a tremendous treasure.
Dharmic truth is available in every moment. For example, I am still in a flush of shame after the incident when I found myself in the grips of attachment and could not let go. When I came on your invitation to visit, I had concocted a very clever short speech addressed to Thay to be pronounced at the moment of handing some flowers to him. But the situation appeared to be different. He was resting in his room, and my intention collapsed. But I was still playing with the broken fragments of this intention and thus failed to do the only natural thing—hand over the flowers to those present. Wisdom certainly lies with Dharma, not with concocted ideas.
Edward Meaning is co-coordinator of the St. Petersburg Sangha that hosted a retreat with Thay in September.
Retreat/Seminar at Plum Village, June 1995, on the Community of Nuns in the West For many years, the nuns of Plum Village have been developing community practice life in France and feel the time is now ripe to share with others on similar paths their practice and the issues of monastic life for women they have encountered. For this reason, they are inviting women and men of various traditions —Buddhist, Christian, and other—to come to Plum Village June 25-30, 1995, to practice meditation, look deeply, and discuss how communities of nuns might be able to flourish in the West. Anyone interested in sharing her or his experience and learning from others is invited to attend.
The main language of the gathering will be English, with translation into French, Vietnamese, and whatever other languages are needed. There will be daily meditation, as well as discussions and presentations based on each person's experience. For further information or to register, contact Plum Village, Meyrac, Loubes-Bernac, 47120 France.
Vietnam veteran Claude Thomas will be joining a Peace Walk that begins in December 1994, through areas of past or current conflict—Vietnam, Poland, Czech Republic, Solvakia, the Balkans, Israel, Cambodia, and Japan. The Zaltho Foundation is seeking contributions to sponsor veterans to walk from Saigon to Hanoi in June. Please send tax-deductible donations to Zaltho Foundation, c/o 321 Bedford Street, Concord, MA 01742. Checks should be payable to "Community of Mindful Living," earmarked for Peace Walk. Contact Claude Thomas, c/o Zaltho Foundation, for more information.
Sharing with Children of the Third World
Partage is a nonprofit foundation founded by Pierre Marchand, a member of the Order of Interbeing, to support child health and development worldwide. Projects include a "Children's Village" in Thailand that cares for children who are psychologically disturbed or who have been traumatized as a result of child slavery or prostitution, educational programs in Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, and many other countries. Pierre began a 3-week fast in October to protest children in embargoed areas. For information, write Partage, 11 Rue de Change, 60203 Compiegne Cedex, France.
In the Footsteps of the Buddha
Shantum Seth will lead pilgrimages to the sites of the life of the Buddha in India and Nepal in December 1994 and February 1995. For further information, contact Aura Wright, 3439 N.E. Sandy, Suite 207, Portland, OR 97232. Tel: (503) 335-0794.
Anne Aitken died of a heart attack in June. She was 83 years old. Together with her husband, Robert Aitken Roshi, she founded the Diamond Sangha, one of the first Zen training centers in the West. Aitken Roshi shares this story about Anne: "Once Yamada Roshi asked a student of the Diamond Sangha, 'What do you think of death?' Anne replied, 'Why it's like when a bus stops before you, you get on and go.' He approved the answer and Wu-men would too." Anne Aitken's kindness, love, and leadership are greatly missed.
Sam Rose of Denver, Colorado, died in late September. Sam was active in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and organized the first retreat for psychotherapists led by Thay Nhat Hanh.
Hoang Phuc (Brother True Birth, Chan Sinh) died on October 22 in Montreal. Ten years ago, his doctors predicted his imminent death due to cancer, but thanks to good fortune and the practice of non-fear and conscious breathing, his cancer went into remission for nine years. The cancer recently came back very quickly in his liver. He learned about the cancer and died just one week later.
R. Travis Masch and Leanne Haglund were married October 16 at the Berkeley Zen Center in the presence of family, friends, and the Bay Area Sangha.
Vietnamese Cultural Revival
Professor Nguyen Hue Chi of Hanoi recently visited Plum Village and shared with the community his project to compile Ly Tran Poetry and Prose, a seminal work of classical Vietnamese literature. For more information or to support this important project, please write to the Community of Mindful Living.
Professor Poribok of St. Petersburg is translating the Pali Canon into Russian. His work would be greatly advanced if he has access to a computer. Please let us know at CML if you would like to donate a computer towards this development of Buddhism in Russia.
Four friends in St. Petersburg are developing art as Buddhist co-practitioners. More news and views of their work in the next issue...
Having had time to reread two books by Thich Nhat Hanh, my relationship to my immediate and extended worlds will never be the same. I have adapted several gathas from Present Moment Wonderful Moment. I am also, at his encouragement, gathering my own gathas. My cell block of more than 100 inmates is on the fourth floor. So I have developed a gatha for ascending and descending the stairs, aimed at renewing awareness, and encouraging understanding, acceptance, and compassion. A few days ago I started up the stairs taking each step thankful for my health and the fact that I could climb the steps comfortably, and mindful of the many other things I have to be thankful for in each moment. Next, I admonished myself to be aware of the pain and the joy in others, understanding and making their feelings my own. Finally, as I neared the top of the stairs, I promised to accept and love each person I came in contact with. Making the last turn, I found myself face to face with two huge, sweaty, disgustingly ugly, tattooed, smelly, decidedly unlovable and dangerous gentlemen who commenced, in their loudest voices, to hurl profanities at each other, systematically degrading every possible relation to the other's family, past, present, and future. Changing their postures to better effect less than kind physical contact, they began threatening one another, adding the other's sudden, unpleasant demise to an already alarmingly extensive resume of promised atrocities. For some reason, I remembered something I must have dropped at the bottom of the stairs and beat a retreat that was considerably more purposeful than my so recently aborted ascent On the way down, I could not help but laugh at what a good little bodhisattva I had thought I was becoming. After waiting at the bottom of the passageway, I again engaged the steps and my gatha with a little more understanding, honesty, and humility.
For some combination of reasons, including your community's compassion, I have started to be sensitive to the truth of the Dharma. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that I have been allowed to see a bright avenue, yet am unable to explain to those around me what I have seen. Many of us carry anger and real sadness which we fight to control with gallant tales of the past and brave plans for the future. We feel we need to turn aside a better path, even if it leads towards what we want because to walk on the path requires truthfulness, mindfulness, and compassion. It seems we illogically have a need to justify being wrong, even if we know it is wrong. I think it takes courage and a good self-image to step outside of oneself to find the strength to be at peace in the whole world in this moment To practice patiently giving encouragement and consistent support may not be as exciting as being assertive and flamboyant, but I bow to you for your patient practice, your example, and encouragement, and I sit beside you mindful of my peace and thanksgiving in the moment. S.M Dubois P.O. Box 215 Maury, NC 28554
I've found Thay's teachings to be especially inspiring in articulating the spirit and importance of Sangha. I seek to connect with members of the larger Community of Mindful Living who share this passion for a full, land-based community life, who are moved to build a spiritual homeland. This has been stirring in my heart with increasing urgency. It's an impulse to create a living, breathing, sweating, working Sangha, a community of people integrating livelihood, ecological stewardship, play, tears, and laughter all in a context of cultivating mindfulness/heartfulness. Craig Green Mineral, Virginia
Thank you for producing such a lovely edition of The Mindfulness Bell on "Mindfulness in the Workplace." I read it cover to cover in one sitting! It's good to know that there are other people out there who share similar problems—and that there are ways to work with those difficulties. I found it very helpful. While I was studying in Australia, I came across books by Thich Nhat Hanh. I was amazed at the practicality and clarity of his teachings and was inspired to practice mindfulness as best as I can. I hope to be able to participate in a retreat although I've never been to one. Pooi Ming Lum Malaysia
With Thay and the whole Sangha as constant reminders, I experienced for the first time the joy of working together with the shared intent of breathing and smiling when I was at the Winter Retreat at Plum Village. Now when I look through the many photos I took during those days I see everyone smiling and it reminds me to return to my true self. David Lawrence Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
You and I, my brother,are not different. Yet there is much I can learn from you—I can learn to drive my roots down deep into Earth's rich soil and become steadfast; I can learn to grow against the sky and be a calm, patient resting place for many chattering friends who come along; I can learn to stay pliable and gently sway in the winds of change, for they will pass, and we remain. Should the sky above decide to seek me out as lightning's aim, I will not argue with my lot, nor quiver. For even split apart and scattered, life would soon begin anew. I will not fade away but only be transformed into something even more glorious.
Travis Masch San Francisco, California
The students came.They're beautiful. But for the old Teacher, it is difficult to reach the suffering Russia. At last he arrived. I couldn't recognize him. He's younger than the boy Oleg sitting in front of him.
Julia St. Petersburg, Russia