Saturday, September 08, 2007
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Easy to dance in the pure land of high Rocky Mountains and clean, thin air. Nice to see so many friends from the fourfold sangha come together during a beautiful retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. We enjoyed practicing together, a thousand or more of us. Eating, walking, sitting, singing and yes, dancing.
In gratitude I would like to thank friends on the path who have supported my practice in the past and present. Especially my dear friend Karen Hilsberg and dear brother Phap Tri. As I was honored to receive the 14 mindfulness trainings from Thay, given the Dharma name, Truly Holding Equanimity. May I have the strength and stability to offer loving kindness and compassion for all beings during the rest of this sweet, short life.
I believe my video, "Each of My Steps is a Prayer", about our pilgrimage across Vietnam with Thich Nhat Hanh will be available at the upcoming retreats in Deer Park thanks to Karen. I'm glad I had copies available for friends in Plum Village and Estes Park. I won't be able to attend in Deer Park. I believe that Parallax Press will make it available after the retreat, thanks to Travis.
Sending smiles from the pure land,
wherever I am,
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Selecting image will make it bigger. I'm happy to share our experiences on pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh and the sangha. To view the video's chapter on breathing in and out go to:
I'll have some DVD copies with me in PV from July 21 to Aug 4.
Monday, June 25, 2007
There are many wonderful accounts of this extraordinary Viet Nam trip manifesting, including the current Mindfulness Bell and an upcoming story in the Shambala Sun. If you'd like a copy of this video please click on the above image for the ordering details.
Smiling to your
Saturday, May 12, 2007
On the way to the Hanoi airport, after nearly 3 months on an amazing pilgrimage which began in Ho Chi Minh City, en route to flying home I read an article in the Vietnam News with the following quote: “President Nguyen Minh Triet hailed high-profile Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit as a great contribution to Vietnam’s religious activities during their meeting in Hanoi Saturday (May 5th). Triet said he hoped that the “Zen Master” would make more trips to Vietnam and contribute further to national solidarity and development. Hanh has been in Vietnam for a three-month visit since February 20, during which he held three chanting ceremonies, known as Grand Requiems, for those killed in all wars and accidents in the country. Triet told Hanh that Vietnam always respects religious freedom and is determined to make all religions welcomed.” I smiled reading that Thay’s call for the President and/or Prime Minister’s support for the ceremonies to reconcile a nation and other events offered by the sangha had, in part, been realized.
Today sitting in my dirty car, while slowly being hauled through the Bubble Machine Car Wash’s suds, some questions came to my mind. Like, what will be the karma of the pilgrimage? What does it mean to travel across a country supporting the provision of teachings, practices as well as healing ceremonies to affect deep seated pains of the past, manifesting in the present, in individuals, families, communities and societies? Seeing so many people touch the fruits of practice and find their joy and happiness by using their breath, steps and actions to arrive in the present moment was unforgettable. When might a country who suffers so much, such as America, be ready for such healing, and who would have the credibility and a big enough heart to do it? Despite a lack of awareness published in Vietnam’s government controlled press about the upcoming events or their intention, tens of thousands came out, and countless other Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese all over the world set up alters and prayed during the ceremonies to remember the victims of the "American and French wars." Having had witnessed and participated in one of the greatest acts of love towards Vietnamese people, if not all people, animals, plants and minerals, how should I and the hundreds of other western sangha members who gave so much of there time and money to travel together, continue living out our lives, continuing Thay’s intention? Thich Nhat Hanh could conserve his precious energy by staying in Plum Village, occasionally giving talks and continuing sharing his wisdom through writing books. Where does an eighty year old Zen master derive the physical, mental and spiritual energy, boundless bodhichitta (great heart and mind of compassion), to carry out such an epic intention to heal his nation and the world? All of us westerners had moments of shear mental and physical exhaustion keeping up with the schedule. At times it appeared to me that Thay had done nothing short of summoning the Buddha within for strength and direction. Upon finishing the car's wash I wrote these questions down, then started the engine and drove off, bringing full attention to the Southern California drivers zooming around me.
At the final retreats and talks in and near Hanoi Thay continued sharing practical practices from the Lotus sutra, Diamond sutra, and other sutras including the full awareness of breathing, mindfulness and living alone. Attendees at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and industry were treated to teachings on deriving insight from our experience, rather than just theories or book learning, and tapping into mindfulness of the breath and awareness of what is going on to find happiness. Negative habit energies of continuing to seek happiness in money, power, fame and sex will most likely lead to more suffering, as is experienced in the West. Buddhism is attractive in the West because it is very scientific in its approach to addressing problems within us and in the environment; being viewed more as a philosophy rather than a devotional religion. Thay made it clear over and over that people and the environment share the same fate and continuing to pollute and destroy nature would be our demise. Thay shared how he has counseled many Western government and business leaders that the way out of our shared predicament is by practicing the mindfulness trainings. During his last public talk in Vietnamese at a retreat in Trung Hau temple, a powerful discourse on the teachings of love was given to the people of Vinh Phuc Province. Love is made of understanding, compassion and wisdom. Relationships and love are not individual matters, as is most often practiced in the west. The happiness of the family and community are also at stake in relationships. Parents and children must use loving speech and deep listening so that they can understand each other for what they truly are, continuations of each other. So often each side is caught in up-side down thinking, or having the wrong perceptions and views. In the East there is a tradition of respect, for parents, for our own bodies. This is practiced by dressing modestly, cooperating, being discreet and couples treating each other as guests, even after being married. Thay said that now many young people are in a state of bewilderment with what they see and hear in their environment, on TV's and hear in music. Many 14 and 15 year old girls are having sex and getting pregnant, without ever knowing what true love is. Their despair ultimately is transmitted to their children who may well go down the same road. Thay concluded by suggesting that this talk on the 4 immeasurable minds should be given over and over to young people so that their happiness can grow in the knowing that true love is an act of friendship towards oneself and others. After this talk the temple's Venerable monk told Thay that his community must have accumulated much merit from their ancestors to receive such a powerful teaching, and that he does not know how to repay the generosity and compassion.
At the end of each of the 4 segments of this 3 month journey across Vietnam, members of the western lay sangha wrote comments of gratitude, observations of the beauty of Vietnam and it's loving people and personal transformations, in a journal. After the final dharma talk in Hanoi the book was presented to Thay. I’m told he smiled and gratefully commented that he wished that we all could accompany him and the monastics to Hong Kong and Thailand, where they will continue giving talks and retreats until early June. Thay made it clear in his words and actions during the entire trip how our lay presence was helping support the healing. We have benefited from his wisdom of no coming, no going, realizing that we are in him, and he is in us; insight passed on by a great teacher. It’s astonishing to think that later this year he plans to give retreats in Europe and America. May he and the sangha have both good health and fortune in their continued efforts as bodhisattvas.
During the next month or so I will produce a video of the pilgrimage so that other sangha members around the world, who were either there or not, can see for themselves glimpses of what happened. You’re welcome to let me know if you’d like a copy. In the mean time there are many pictures and accounts available on the web, including mine at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rezdog . Smiles to you and best wishes in your practice of touching the joy and happiness which is you, already,
Compassionate Guidance of the Heart
Saturday, May 05, 2007
A very special interchange between Buddhists and Christians occurred at the stone temple Catholic Church in Phat Diem. There were many warm smiles and singing children and adults as a bridge was created between the two great religions. Thich Nhat Hanh gave a talk which reminded me of the content of his books, “Living Buddha, Living Christ”, “Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as brothers”, and “The Power of Prayer.” In Thay’s talk he suggested that religions should co-exist peacefully. When couples with different religious roots get together, they support each other by attending the other’s “service”, and also studying and practicing the best they can; children should be raised with both of their roots, joyfully. It was made clear that people should maintain their roots so that they will not be cut off from them and lose their happiness. Thay suggested that for that reason many of us westerners enjoy the mindfulness practice because it does not prevent us from continuing to practice Christianity, Judaism, or other faiths. A law should be enacted which allows couples of different faiths to marry and practice peacefully, even if it takes a hundred years to pass, it would still be worth it, said Thay. I perceived some unease from some of the local parish when it was suggested that one need not die to be in the kingdom of God, but that it can be experience in this present moment. The talk concluded with the guidance that these two religions have different terms for the same truth, and we should not suffer from the use of different words. In France a banana is given a name, and in Vietnam a banana is given a different name, but in both cases the words are describing the same thing.
The dharma talks and interchanges with about 700 intellectuals and business leaders in Hanoi were also quite moving. The audience was given lessons on power and interbeing. Thay used the example of George Bush, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, does not have enough power to stop the war he started and he suffers greatly. He must have so much difficulty sleeping at night. As Vietnam’s economy grows, it is finding that desires for power, money, fame and sex do not bring happiness, but often they bring about more suffering. When we have compassion, love and faith we can be very successful, even if we have little material wealth. It’s easy to make a list of all the conditions of our happiness which exist in this moment. There’s no need to get a certain job, car, relationship or anything else, when we can be happy right now with what we have, this precious human life. Our eyes bring us so many colors and beautiful sights; our ears the sounds of our loved ones; our nose the sweet smell of foods prepared for us. Dwelling in the present moment means being there for ourselves and our loved ones. Thay also urged everyone to be aware of the non-human elements, namely animals, plants and minerals, which are suffering greatly as we pollute the air, water and earth. The fate of the ecology is our fate; and is written about in the Diamond Sutra. At a dharma talk at Bo De temple, Thay again talked about the environment, and then a discourse on the 5 mindfulness trainings, the practices necessary for a future to be possible for the children.
I have much gratitude for being part of this mobile sangha, now here in the north. So many friends have supported me along this 3 month journey. At this moment my body is quite tired, while my mind is at ease knowing that I can fall asleep easily, when I put myself into the hotel bed. Even though my two roommates don’t make much noise at night I put my earplugs in and I don’t hear much more than my own thoughts. Time for me to get out of this internet café and do some yoga. Tomorrow the last two day retreat here in Vietnam; then one more dharma talk, for westerners in English. Smiles from a wet cloudy sky in Hanoi.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Yesterday wandering souls were invited to the ceremony, and then was chanting for the deceased. Last night was the offering of lotus lamps so that the lost could find their way to the healing. About a thousand people remained during the evening event which found us carrying the paper lotuses down the half mile steep road to the small lake at the bottom. All the way down was chanting Namo Botat quan the am. I was calmly nervous about being next to and surrounded by a crowd moving with skinny burning candles and paper lotuses. The little video I shot could perhaps be used for a fire safety piece. A moving stream of love, glowing & burning. It was quite beautiful to see the lamps floating and burning on the lake. The talks have used language of non-discrimination for healing; for both north, south, men, woman, communist, anti-communist, everyone. Thay is bold to use images during his talks in Hanoi, of American soldiers who suffer from killing Vietnamese children or from witnessing the death of a communist woman, then carrying a hammock as a reminder of her hate of his being in her country as a warrior. Helping heal the souls and families of boat people is also mentioned. From the facial expressions and words I hear from some people I sense that there are many who still have anger and suffering about the war, especially those over 50 years old. I’m told that people have been told for the past 30 years that the boat people are traitors and should not be forgiven. I’m often in awe to witness this ceremony and offer a few photos. I’ve recorded some of the dharma talks (English translations) to help others hear how powerful they are. It’s late and I need to get up early, and hope to stay up late to attend the final late night chants of untying the knots of injustice.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Out of the blue came the realization that if I could find access to the internet, that I had been sent a message, before the trip began, with the names and addresses of all the hotels we would be staying at. With a renewed sense of hope I looked for a computer. I went into a couple of businesses I thought might use internet, but was unable to find someone who could understand me. So I went into a neon lit up cell phone store and asked if they had a computer I could use. Fortunately a friendly young man who spoke English well let my use a computer available for customers. After standing at the computer for about 20 minutes I found the message with the hotel name and address and I felt much happiness. The salesman drew a map for me and off I walked, about a mile and a half to the hotel. Along the way I passed street sweepers with dirty coveralls using long brooms of what looked like straw tied to poles. Vendors of food, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and coal line the streets. When I found an ice cream place I went in and enjoyed a cool treat.
Thay has offered such beautiful dharma talks since I've last written. Hopefully the pictures I've posted at flickr.com/photos/rezdog help tell the story. A talk on power was given to leaders and businessmen in Hue; being compassionate towards employees, consumers and the environment. A series of talks, then a retreat in DaNang was so wonderful to experience. So many thousands of people were treated to several days of learning the basic mindfulness practice, including walking meditation and eating with Thay. In Na Trang a talk on the teachings on love and the mindfulness trainings was given. We are now in Hanoi, with the 3 great requiem ceremony to begin tomorrow. It's not clear if the government will allow or support this ceremony, as they were conducted in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue. I smile that the opportunity to reconcile and heal the country exists.
The lay sangha is doing it's best to maintain its freshness. I have the greatest admiration for all the friends who have dedicated their time to be a part of this mission of peace. We have been through a lot and like any family there have been some challenges between us. Last night at Bo De temple we had a beginning anew ceremony to help us water flowers and resolve some mis perceptions. I am very grateful that Sister Chong Khong and a couple other sister attended to help ensure that the process would be healing for us. At this time there is harmony in the sangha as many friends depart and some new ones arrive for this last segment of events in Hanoi. I will put the names of US veterans and their families that suffered from the Vietnam war, or any other war, on paper and bring them to the healing ceremony so that they be transformed, light and free.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Staying in Hue for the past week has been refreshing on several levels. This small city in the middle of Vietnam has a peaceful, rural quality; much calmer to the senses than Ho Chi Minh City. The talks, ceremonies and times to relax are less crowded. While it is a little cooler than down south, it has been very humid and at some moments hard to do anything but sweat. It is possible to see Thich Nhat Hanh’s roots as we experience the town and temple where he became a monastic in 1942.
Concurrent monastic and lay retreats occurred at Tu Hieu temple. We saw Thay during walking meditations. He gave a very special talk on Ancestral Day, in part, about the relationship between his teacher and himself. We are fortunate that his teacher transmitted so much compassion and understanding. We are blessed by having hundreds of skillful means offered by our teacher. Our lay retreat was filled with opportunities for joyful sharing and lessons. Inspiring talks were given by Jack Lawlor (who wrote the book “Friends on the Path”) and Mitch Ratner. Our lay retreat’s theme was “touching our roots.” We applied Thay’s teaching that the teacher and student can walk far together, transcending difficulties in this life. Very deep looking into our family, land, and spiritual roots was facilitated by everyone’s practice. Family groups offered support to each other at the monastery, as well as during outings into town or on the Perfume River. I was happy to be with many friends from Deer Park, and others I’ve met on the path. Sister Chong Khong sponsored another trip with many of us to visit local schools that the sangha supports funding teachers and classrooms. Friends were very generous, donating when they heard of school or family health needs. Being here is to witness the real meager existence many live with in Vietnam. We are often touched by how people with so little materially, have so much physical and spiritual energy. They are so welcoming to us, even with our cameras blasting away.
Today about 85 new friends arrive, as many others depart for home. About 120 people will be on this 3rd segment as the pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation continues. I will again do my best as a family group leader to facilitate harmony and a little less confusion related to the constant changes in the schedule & travel plans. In a few hours we will head to a festival in town where Thay is giving another dharma talk. Tomorrow another great requiem ceremony begins here in Hue. Last night Sister Kinh Nghiem came to explain much of the purpose and symbolism of the last great ceremony in Saigon. What might be a weeks worth of activity was packed into 3 days. All the chanting, Sutras, teaching and ceremony was to concentrate energy of compassion, understanding to help those departed be at peace. Efforts were made to keep the energy at the core of the temple focused and disturbances out. The local culture also greatly influenced much of what was seen and experienced by us. Thay made it clear over and over that the healing was without discrimination for who, where and why people died. We understood that while many hungry ghosts are departed, others are still with us, perhaps they are us, going through this life with large bellies, small throats, starving for the nourishment of love. Many of us remembered the names of American, French or other non-Vietnamese, so that energy would be sent to help those deceased and their families.
Thank you to Harriet Wrye who was a wonderful buddy in Vietnam, for transcribing this statement.
THAY'S PRAYER AND VOWS
To be Expressed during the Great Requiem Ceremonies to Untie the Knots of Great Injustice--
Van Minh Temple, Ho Chi Minh City and Tu Hieu Temple, Hue, Viet Nam
by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh March-April 2007
"Dear Ones who have passed from this life:
You are our fathers and mothers; our aunts and uncles; our husbands and wives; our sisters and brothers; our sons and daughters, who have died during the war. When our country was on fire with all the fighting, you left us tragically, suddenly, forced to abandon your precious body. We have lost you, dear ones. We know that you fought courageously for our nation without regret for your precious body and we are proud of you. But you lost your body in a very tragic situation, and the injustice could never be expressed. You died deep in a distant jungle or were lost at sea or in a dark prison cell. You may have died because of bullets or bombs, or from starvation or sheer exhaustion. You may have been raped and then killed with no way to resist. How many of you have died in despair, in injustice, the remains of your body lost somewhere in the ocean or the jungle where we who love you could not get hold of them. To fight for our independence and freedom, our country has had to bear great tragedy and injustice, and it is you who have shouldered the burden of the whole nation in your death.
We your relatives, your fellow countrymen and countrywomen, we come here---some of us are before our own altars at home---and among us there are those who still continue to suffer from injustice. Fortunately the nightmare has ended, the country is now at peace, and we are having the chance to rebuild the country, to heal the remaining wounds. Thanks to the merits and good deeds of our ancestors we have a chance to come together and offer prayers together to the Three Gems. With the support of the powerful Dharma, we request you to come back ALL TOGETHER to reunite with each other, embracing each other, loving each other like sisters and brothers in one family. WE will not distinguish between North or South, women or men, adults or children, by race, religion, party or ideology. We are all fellow countrywomen and countrymen, but because of the past bad fortune, we have been pushed to fight each other in our drive for independence, for freedom. Thanks to the merits of our ancestors we can now come back to each other, recognizing each other as siblings of a single family, to promise each other that we will not forget this painful lesson of the past now engraved on our hearts:
We vow that from now on we will not let the country be separated again, not even one more time. From now on, when there are internal difficulties, we will not request the help of any foreign power to intervene with weapons and troops in our country. From now on, we will not start a war for any ideology. From now on, we will not use foreign weapons to kill each other. From now on we will use our best efforts to build a society with real democracy, to be able to resolve all kinds of disagreements by peaceful democratic methods and we will not resort to violence against fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
Respected Blood Ancestors, Respected Spiritual Ancestors, please bear witness to our profound sincerity. We respectfully make these deep vows before you. And we know that once we have sincerely expressed ourselves in this way, all the knots of injustice can be untied, and the deep wounds in each of us will start to be healed.
Today this Great Chanting Ceremony to untie ALL INJUSTICES EQUALLY without any discrimination starts here; but at the same time, countless Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese throughout the world are setting altars in front of their houses too, to pray for you all. We touch the earth deeply to request the grace of the Three Jewels to carry to the other shore of liberation ALL OF YOU dear deceased ones, so that, dear ones, you can be carried by the strength of the Dharma to be able to understand, to transform, to transcend and to know you are free.
We your descendants, we promise to continue your aspiration. WE vow to carry you in our hearts, to build brotherhood and sisterhood and mutual love of fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We will remember that pumpkin vines and squash vines can share a single frame, that chickens from a same mother will never fight each other. This insight from our Ancestors will shine out its light for us now, and forever."
Saturday, March 24, 2007
From the lobby of this new, very fancy hotel, where the bellboys and other workers neatly wear their green uniforms and the lobby opulence indicates that a rating of many stars is likely in some guide book. Outside is rural Vietnam, Imperial capital during the last time of kings, before the French invaded in the mid 1800's. Some businesses, especially hotels, clothes shops and autos suggest local enjoyment of economic growth. On the other hand of experience, we are routinely confronted with great poverty. In Ho Chi Minh City I was told that an adequate waged worker made about $120 per month, which could pay for rent, food and basic necessities. But some people make much less, especially field workers, and that is evident here in Hue. Most of the people who look poor seemingly have faces of contentment, if not happiness when I interact with them. It has been common that vendors present us with foods, postcards, hats, fans and other useful items, but I have been wondering about the one's that approach us with hand-made cages of captured birds, swallows perhaps. For a price, one can take possession of a bird in their hand and set it free. To me, the birds looked very crowded, unhappy and also seemed to suffer from dehydration and malnutrition.
At first this setting birds free seems to be a simple act of compassion; gratification for me and the bird(s). The people possessing the birds in cages appear impovershed, and they are quite insistent that we pay to release them. I'm told that local people, in order to make very little money, catch the birds and put them in the cages. A brother mentioned to me that most of the freed birds do not fly far, and thus are again captured. Looking deeply I can see that by paying to set birds free I am supporting a way of life that seems somewhat cruel. It's hard to know what to do. I remember once hearing the Dalai Lama say that all people in the world need 3 things; to have more love, more compassion, and to make a living. Perhaps it's just my western way of thinking that capturing birds and offering them to others to set them free for a price is somehow bad. To these local people, I'm certain they're just doing what they have to do to survive in their environment. What is right living? What is right action? How can a rich, wasteful American be critical of a very poor Vietnamese peasant who is making a living the best they can. When I can be truly honest with myself, I know that there are many actions I take, even if indirectly, that support suffering (eg. Iraq war) and abuse of the environment (unmindful consumption). These kinds of questions arise as I sit here in a lobby that gets louder and louder as westerners, and wealthy Easterners, most not from our sangha, talk about going out for an extravagant, yet, inexpensive meal. After a few breaths my mind is again and peace, if not still a little confused. My body tired from a bout with food poisoning.
Taking refuge in the sangha has been most helpful on this rigorous journey; helping me be free where I am. Here’s a little poem that comes to me about that:
Like a hard shelled nut
that has been cracked open
You have gently helped reveal
my soft sweetness inside
Taking refuge in you
Taking refuge in me, too
In the sangha there’s enough room
For the joy and the pain
Like the sound of a songbird
set free from captivity
My smile is revealed
to you and to me.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
We left at 4:30 am for the Great Forest Monastery, a couple of hours away from HCMC. It is a large, impressive and beautiful temple. You can see pictures on my flickr site. Thay mentions during his talk that the High Venerables are saying that they have never seen a ceremony as solemn, so deep and well attended as the one’s held last week at temple Vinh Nghiem. Today a continuation of that healing is occurring. Thay encourages attendees to practice mindfulness because their good understanding of the sutras and verses on consciousness is not enough to remove the pain and afflictions buried deep. He also discussed the movie in production based on his book, Old Path, White Clouds. After resting before and after lunch a powerful chanting ceremony was conducted at the temple. Westerners had places near the front to witness Thay offering incense and listen to the chanting. After a while the monastics filed out and we followed in procession, past the crowd inside and directly outside the lower part of the temple. We circumambulated the crowds and alters covered with foods to be blessed, several times. The people smiled compassionately and bowed to us. It continues to be quite humbling to receive these kinds of responses during ceremonies to heal the suffering from the war; especially in light of many of us being French or American. At the end of the day we had a small dinner, then stopping our bus on the way back at the temple of a venerable nun to pay respect for her support of the sangha over many years, Thay and the rest of us had dinner again at the nun’s temple. It had a very sweet and gentle energy. A memorable and very long day.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
In the evening our lay sangha is amazed as they become part of the lotus lamp ceremony. The procession line forms, with colorful umbrellas, flags, and other ceremonial poles. I stood near the beginning with my palms together to show respect to the monastics as they proceeded by first. As Thay walked by, about 10 feet away, he looked over at me and we both smiled. Raising his hand, he waves, wiggling his fingers in a cute gesture. I return the wave and smile as he and the monastics walk by. Our lay sangha follow the monastics, in two lines, slowly into the mass assembled out in the courtyard. All we go by in a narrow opening, offer us lotus bows and big smiles as we pass the shrines and wishing well alter. We can see on a big screen Thay and all the monastics file into the most sacred area under the temple where memorials have been put on display of high teachers and patriarchs. A place lay members are not allowed. This evening’s dark is lit up with spotlights, colored lanterns, and the booming sounds of a big drum, cymbals and bells, accompanying chants from the monastics and crowd. After a half hour our line is allowed into the patriarch’s area, ushered quickly past attendants who hand us hand made paper lotuses with candles inside. As we proceed our candles our lit, walking in formation into the night. Around the temple we stand, glowing like a most beautiful lotus candlelit lane awaiting the chant master high monk, other monastics, entourage of musicians and traditionally dressed young women, who then pass, smiling. We follow them to the river bank behind the temple, passing by big crowds bowing. The glowing lotus’ are ceremoniously placed into the river where they float light beacons. They are there to provide light to the souls lost in darkness so that they may join us during this transformative healing and reconciliation ceremony. In the tight crowd by the river I am most grateful to not have slipped on the muddy banks into the water, or have been burned by the fire all around my clothes and face. It is a most emotionally moving event. Standing along a much crowed street awaiting the bus home the thick smell of so many motor scooters, taxis, busses and pedestrians passing by the temple it is a challenge to keep the mind at ease. By the time the bus arrives I have managed to feel relaxed, along with the overwhelming ceremony experience of the day of sights, sounds, fumes and powerful healing energy.
On day three Thay states that this is the most ever in Vietnam. An action of love to bring individuals, families and the nation into harmony and peace. The fans offer comfort from the heat and sitting close to so many. We are told that the knots of injustice are being untied for all beings. They are being offered the dharma, prayers and food. Thay offers prayers for all those who lost their precious body. That they will be healed in our consciousness, and that we will heal and not transmit habit energy of suffering to future generations. Thay helps the audience understand how to walk and breath as he does, with the energy of lightness and freedom. The dead have been invited to the temple to begin anew with us. Sister Chong Khong sings a song of beginning anew, teaching it to the audience and they sing along, many with tears in their eyes. I see people giving comfort to the one next to them. As fans wave, the screen inside project the crowd’s faces of regret, forgiveness and hope. Greed, anger, passion and ignorance are offered a chance of transformation during this mass beginning anew. Thay mentions that even the Communist party has admitted mistakes of taking land and killing so many, although they referred to it as a correction and not beginning anew. Everyone learns that once the mind is purified there is no trace of past unskillful ness, no guilt, no sin. Sitting in the spring breeze, teacher and students happy as a family. My body is tired, but my spirits are high.
After the ceremony, Cher and Crow a couple of Canadian filmmakers interview me as part of their collecting material for a wonderful film on spiritual activism throughout the world. They traveled as part of our sangha during segment one and are finishing the part of the filming about Thay and the sangha going to Vietnam at the conclusion of today’s ceremony. Other spiritually-engaged practices are also to be featured in their filmed scheduled for release in 2008. You can read more about what they are doing, an interview with Thay and some pictures at www.fiercelight.org.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Where have my loved ones, who died, gone, asks Thay. He suggests that one needs to look deeply to see that they are present in us. Just as a kernel of corn manifests as a new plant, and the cloud becomes the rain, then tea, our ancestors are continue on in us. If we are well, light and free in our mind and body, then so will the ancestors in us will be so, too. The crowd of several thousand was told that it is a wrong view to think that from being something becomes non-being. Understanding impermanence one can see that everything changes and transforms to a new manifestation. During the talk the power went out. After a few minutes of darkness and silence the monastics began to chant. For about five minutes the chanting continued until the power came on and the talk and ceremony continued. Our loved ones only change shape and form, taught Thay. The lesson of no coming, no going, no birth, no death. The 5-6 million that died unjustly during the war need the collective energy of the country to heal. All were solicited to set up a simple alter of rice soup and salt. During the 3 days all are asked to practice letting go, and speaking with love and kindness so that reconciliation can occur between us and our dead loved ones, and that their souls will be liberated.
After the ceremony my friend Ed found that his shoes were missing. Unfortunately these things happen with big crowds. I walked up and down the street in front of the temple looking for a shoe store but had no luck. Every taxi and many motorbikes wanted my business, but I just wanted to walk, even though it was so hot and muggy in Ho Chi Minh City. A sister found Ed a pair of plastic slippers. In the afternoon it was hot and humid in the temple, also. The sound of chanting echoes along with drums, cymbals, some kind of ethnic clarinet and bells. The air is thick with the strong smell of incense. An old man in a brown robe offers me a moment to use his fan to cool off; I wave it back and forth quickly. Into the afternoon, I see lay friends looking wilted and slowly pacing the temple hall. A continual flow of people proceed up to the alter in front of the 25 foot Buddha with their palms together, bowing, then touching the earth honoring their ancestors to the sounds of chanting and musicians.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
After the walk our western lay sangha conducted a 5 mindfulness trainings ceremony and 8 people took the trainings. Conducted by our lay dharma teacher Tony Mills and others, it was a very nice occasion in the Buddha hall. In the afternoon our sangha organized and conducted a very sweet tea ceremony. People offered gratitude, stories, poems and songs, to enjoy along with fresh tea, cookies and other treats. On the way over to the ceremony I saw the photographer and his assistant selling pictures that, amazingly, had been taken that morning. Looking through them I found this picture that looked like it could have been taken from on top of me. It was nice of him to offer it to me for free. Perhaps he recognized his footprints.
During the tea ceremony I sang a song and shared the story of the picture and turned around to show my muddy robe. The incident seemed like a metaphor for my experience with this international sangha; it's peaceful mostly, then at times like getting stepped on, as sometimes I perceive happiness from the others, and other times it seems less happy. I realize that it is my own mind causing me suffering and I have another opportunity to practice beginning anew with myself. We have been practicing as well as we can to go with constantly changing schedules, activities and locations. This is a beautiful pilgrimage with Thay. Fortunately the mud came off in the hotel bathroom sink.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Today was the last day of this most incredible first mindfulness retreat in Vietnam. It began with nearly a thousand taking the 5 mindfulness trainings. After breakfast came the Rose ceremony in honor of mothers. Thay reminded us to say something nice to make our mother happy, as she is a precious treasure. We could wear a red rose if she still is living and a white one if she is no longer living. If father is not living you can wear a second white flower. Up to 10,000 came for this ceremony and dedication to the monument for mother.
I was moved to see the local people practice so well, so quickly. Thay reminded parents that the most precious thing we can pass on to our children is our happiness. They don't learn from our lecture, but rather from our true way of living. Very skillfully Thay was able to inspire traditions of respect for ancestors and family.
Thay concluded the retreat stating that the purpose has been to generate reconcilliation and bring peace within the family. Participants learned deeply how to offer their true presence to loved ones. After the retreat they could continue to practice and build sangha. Participants were told how lucky they were to practice with the international western sangha friends. They were given the 3 mantras to allevate trouble in relationships: "dear one, I am angry and I want you to know it"; "Darling, I am trying my best"; and, "Please help me."
When Thay said we will now listen to the bell and enjoy our breathing I was so happy to see the difference four days of practice could bring. An attendee wrote a nice poem to Thay about having to wait many years to see you, and now as she sits in the breeze of the spring with her teacher is has great happiness. I too feel great happiness to have experienced this event. Now it is time to sleep, deeply.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
It is such a joy to experience the generous outpouring of love from the Vietnamese people here at Prajna. Today I was surrounded by children who proudly asked me, in their best English, what my name was, how am I, and my age. They'd shake my hand while their parent(s) beamed big smiles next to them. Others smiled and bowed, before posing for a picture. Almost everytime I look at someone,m young or old, they give me back a beaming smile, and often a bow. Many offer words in Vietnamese and I listen, then we both smile. I've managed to be in the right restroom and not had any major embarrassment that I know of. Often the westerners are hugged and having their pictures taken.
Early this morning 77 aspirants went through their ordination ceremony. A lock of hair was cut off during the ceremony, then afterwards they went outside with their parents and had the rest cut off. It was emotional to ordinees and parents, with tears, and likely mixed feelings, and they offered their life to serve others in such a compassionate way.
Our westerner group is practicing well for themselves and the mission. Still there are physical aches and pains. I've had them come and go myself. Despite everything, this trip is wonderful. A mission of love and peace. When we think the bus rides, changing schedules, crowds and so on are difficult, we can take solice that we're not one of the thousand people sleeping side-by-side in the temple; who are gotten up before 4 am so the hall can be readied for sitting meditation. A couple of quotes that give understanding in these situations: "the schedule is a back-up plan for when something else isn't happening"; "inconveniences are transformable."
Thay's talk and answers to questions are often very direct and playful. "In America, many teachers have shared the mindfulness practice with students; that that the teachers will not have to suffer so much." "Let your smile be genuine, let it come from your heart. Do not offer others an Ambassador's smile." The majestic dharma treasure is being polished and practiced so that suffering in the body and mind can be transformed. I'm reminded that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Other pictures I've posted can be see at www.flickr.com\photos\rezdog.
Friday, March 02, 2007
2500 people registered retreatants are at the lay retreat in Prajna Monastery. Another 2000 to 3000 commute for the dharma talks and meals. The first retreat Thay has been able to offer the people of Vietnam. It is an incredible act of love to be present for.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
It is awe inspiring to be with Thich Nhat Hanh as he is greeted by, and offers his presence to people of his homeland. On Feb. 23 we were witness and participants in a most dramatic performance by Thay at Vinh Nghiem temple in Ho Chi Minh City. As we got off the busses our lay sangha of about 75, along with about 100 monastics followed along in procession into this huge temple, past neary 1000 in the audience. They stood and bowed to the sangha as it proceeded through the middle of the attendees, up the temple's stone steps, perhaps 3 stories high above the audience, to the booming of a huge temple drum's beat, with colorful lighting off the flags, dragons, Buddhas and bodhistavvas and others designs adorning pagodas and temple buildings. We sat behind and above Thay as the monastics and lay friends chanted then listened to an inspiring talk.
We witnessed Thay putting this mission of transforming and healing the wounds of war buried deep in the consciousness of the people into further action. Thay made it clear during this and subsequent talks that the international sangha representing Plum Village is living proof that these mindfulness practices based on Buddhist psychology have healing and nurturing energy that westerners, who don't necessarilly have Buddhism as their religion, benefit from. Our presence is quite a powerful statement for this tour.
Thay spoke of how true love requires our presence; we must first love ourselves to truly love and be present for others. Skillfully reminding the crowd of how their ancestors are present with them, in each cell of their body. How relationships can be healed using the breathing and other meditation exercises. The upcoming ceremonies to chant and pray for all victims of injustice during the war; whether they were heroes or lost without a trace in a battle or on a boat. This collective spiritual energy will help their wandering spirits, which continue to suffer, heal. Thay suggested that without healing the continued suffering that lingers in the consciousness of the Vietnamese people is transmitted to future generations. The audience became aware that the prime minister and president were invited to these ceremonies, as Thay said, because this healing is of national significance. If people are unable to attend the ceremony they are urged to set up an alter and offering during the ceremony time in solidarity. It was a masterful talk of compassion and truth.
Our lay sangha friends are on the move a lot which has been a test of body and mind. Long bus rides, big crowds, looking for the translation boxes for our earphones (they have been working quite well), different hotels and roommates, and well, I can go on later. Many have been sick with gi distress. Public health advice is offered to be mindful of eating fresh produce which is not pealed or cooked, as well as dairy products and drinking only bottled water. Lets not forget to also wash or disinfect hands. I have felt a bit sick, but it didn't last long. I've been providing medicine to those with problems. Fortunately, most everyone has been better within a few days. Overall the sangha is lovingly supporting and caring for each other. The hotels are pretty nice and in Dalat it was quite deluxe, with a special treat of dinner at the Dalat Palace. We are quite honored to be supporting Thay in this amazing journey accross the country. We have been welcomed to a half dozen different monasteries with great fanfare. One commented that we are temple hopping, but the truth is this schedule is drawing social, political as well as spiritula support for what is to come.
In Dalat Thay spoke of how westerners don't bring fruit and flowers to the centers, but rather they come with their hearts open to learn mindfulness practices of breathing, sitting, working and everyday living meditations based on the Buddha's teachings. He asks why can't Vietnamese people who have had Buddhism in their country for over 2000 years learn to practice and find inner peace and happiness too? Crowds are told how hundreds of sanghas all over the world are practicing his teaching and finding joy in the present moment. They are warned that westerners suffer much because of their great attachment to materialism, money, greed, fame, power and sex. And as there is economic developement in his country, despair is increasing from a new focus on these western vices of desire. Encouragement is given so that the children can be brought back into a loving family. That fathers, mothers and siblings can be present for each other and live in their 5 star homes of happiness. Next is a retreat at Prajna temple for lay people; 3000 are registered.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Since arriving in Ho Chi Ming City my senses have been warmly greeted by New Year’s wishes of great happiness and peace, through sites, sounds and generous hearts of the Vietnamese people. I feel immense gratitude to the universe, relatives and all who have helped conditions be sufficient for me to accompany Thich Nhat Hanh and an international monastic and lay delegation on his historic mission of reconciliation, healing and peace across Vietnam. The noble purpose of this trip involves providing support to the growing Plum Village-style monastic community. Also, conduct retreats and great praying/chanting ceremonies for the dead and those still suffering from the wounds of the war that ended here in 1975. More can be read about the trips purpose and itinary at www.plumvillage.org . In HCMC the streets are crowded; bustling with the flow of motorbikes, busses, cars, peddle carts, bicycles and pedestrians. Along boulevards, through intersections with or without lights, or the roundabouts, the pulsating flow moves along cooperatively accommodating the merging, turning, stopping, driving against traffic and getting on and off the road. To date I have enjoyed greeting Thay at the airport along with hundred of others. Photos have been posted on the site www.langmai.org. It was moving to listen to Sister Chong Khong at Phap Van temple describe how she joined Thay at that location where many of his engaged Buddhism social welfare and school programs for the local peasants began. Many of the early workers in those programs who still survive were there to orient and welcome us, also with their strong smiles and compassionate hearts.At the Quang Duc Temple was a great welcoming ceremony for Thay and the sangha. After a long formal procession in, touching the earth was offered to the temple’s venerable for a long life to the patriarch that may continue to benefit many in the community. The most venerable offered warm greetings and wishes for a successful trip. Next we were bussed to An Quang temple. Thay shared that at this temple he became a dharma teacher and gave hundreds of dharma talks in that hall. Afterwards our procession slowly passed by smiling and bowing crowds and made its way to a most delicious Vietnamese feast. We dined to the sounds of up-beat popular-style music. That night at Phap Van Thay gave his first talk of the trip. The lay sangha was fortunate to witness the talk from directly behind him and see the audience. The talk encouraged the practice of coming back to the breath as taught by the Buddha in the Annapasati Sutra on mindful breathing. An emphasis was placed on practicing for oneself and also family members and ancestors. The pure land can be found here and now and not have to be postponed until later. He reminded that Buddhism has been in Vietnam for over 2000 years, but that we must practice well to rejuvenate and make it relevant. When an advanced practice question was posed Thay deferred answering now suggesting that we must make baby steps; scientifically nurturing understanding in the practice and cultivating compassion and understanding. I was quite taken by being present for this event.I’ll write more as time and access to internet allows. Your comments or questions are welcome.