Editors' welcome

Dear Thay, dear Fourfold Sangha

The theme for this edition of our newsletter is the Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness. For our Dharma Talk we have chosen a beautiful poem by Thay called ‘A Teacher Looking for his Disciple’. This first appeared in the Mindfulness Bell magazine in the Winter of 1999 - 2000. At that time, Thay was thinking about the direction of the new century, and he was concerned that many people were unhappy because they had lost their spiritual faith. 

The poem gives us many ways to find true happiness in our lives. It reminds us that even if we lose our way, our teacher and the teachings will always be with us. ‘I am in each cell of your body.’ By putting the teachings into practice in our daily lives, rather than just reading about them, we test them and begin to feel more confidence in them. So, we develop insight and understanding, and touch the great power of faith. We make the teachings our own and give ourselves something to believe in, an ideology, a spiritual ground. We begin to travel the path of happiness, freedom and peace. 

This path and the art of mindful living are given to us through the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In fact, the Second Mindfulness Training reminds us that we ‘have more than enough conditions to be happy.’ The Trainings can restore our values, ethics and insights.  

A crucial part of this path is that we look deeply into the Trainings with the eyes of interbeing. As Dharma Teacher, Tony Mills, eloquently writes in his article, we have the heartfelt realisation that in fact there are 'no others'. We use our own deep looking, compassion and generosity to inform the many everyday choices and decisions that we make in our personal lives.

Only then are we able to practise with awakened understanding, compassion, and conscience - fully expressing our heart and who we are. Thus, as other longstanding Sangha members share from their hearts also, we see their  own realisations expressed beautifully . 

When seeds of awareness concerning ‘the suffering caused by social injustice, stealing, and oppression’ have also been watered deeply enough in us, we can find ourselves inspired to be an agent of real change in the world. 

In this edition we are fortunate to have Thay Phap Kham writing for us about important developments in Plum Village Australia. We also want to thank those who responded to our survey with their thoughts on how we can improve your newsletter. We are working on some of the suggestions. A year after announcing the first Nhap Luu Spring Opening Retreat, we  are able to bring you the happy news  that the second one will be held from September 18th – 23rd at the same location, Cave Hill Creek Resort in  Raglan Victoria. More details  will come to you all by email soon as well as on the website, and Registration, which will only be possible on line atwww.nhapluu.org, will be open  in late April.

Please, breathe, smile, and enjoy all these deep sharings from the heart.

Susan Wirawan (Chân Nguyện Lưu) 
True Stream of Aspiration                                                 

Jenny Pittman
True Shore of Virtue

                                                

 
 
Meditation Walk.  Photograph courtesy of Paul Davis (CHÂN PHÚC ĐƯỜNG) True Hall of Merits (USA)
 

IN THIS ISSUE

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

Brisbane Retreat  
April 24-26
enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Buddhas' Birthday
May 31st at Nhap Luu Meditation Centre
enquiries This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Monastic Winter Retreat
June Ist – August 28th

Nhap Luu Spring Opening Retreat
Cave Hill Creek Resort, Raglan, Victoria,
September 18th – 23rd
Register on line from the end of April at www.nhapluu.org.

OI and Core Sangha- Member Retreat
September 24th-26th
Nhap Luu Meditation Centre.

Much loved, Sister Chan Luong Nghiem now serves in Plum Village, Hong Kong

 

From Thay Phap Kham

Nourishing our beloved communities

Chan Phap Kham
Hong Kong March 22, 2015

Dear friends,

It has been six months since the first Plum Village Australia Spring Opening Retreat in September 2014. We are preparing for the second Spring Opening Retreat 2015, to be held during the period of Sept 18 - 23, with the theme ‘Nourishing our Beloved Community’. I would like to share some thoughts about the on-going process of Sangha building and development for Plum Village Australia in spiritual as well as physical development.

The poem ‘Butterflies over the Golden Mustard Fields’ that Thay wrote in November 1963 in New York, while considering the option to return to Vietnam, always comes back to me while contemplating matters about Sangha building, especially the following lines: 

I am back. Someone is singing.
My hand touches the old gate,
and I ask, ‘What can I do to help?’
The wind replies,
‘Smile. Life is a miracle.
Be a flower.
Happiness is not built of bricks and stones’.

‘Be a flower’ I remind my self. ‘Happiness is not built of bricks and stones’.

There are quite a few things that concern us all, regarding Nhap Luu Monastery. There are 3 sisters staying at Nhap Luu right now, instead of 11 as there were last year. The reasons are that visas for the 6 sisters from Vietnam expired last November, and two other sisters changed their practising centers. New visa applications are being done for 6 new sisters to come from Vietnam. The Plum Village monastics are considering the possibility of having more monastics come to Australia including brothers. This has been under discussion for some time. However, given the need to have more brothers in some other centers to support more pressing needs in those places, we have not been able to quickly set up a Monks' Sangha in Nhap Luu. I am hoping that it might happen in 2017.

We were also told by the local Council late in 2014, that some of the current facilities, such as the kitchen/dining hall and the guest hut (both built as temporary shelters when Nhap Luu was first started), need to be replaced. Plans are being made for a dormitory for lay people and visiting monks, a public toilet facility, an upgrade for the meditation hall, and a kitchen/dining hall. We have about a maximum of two years in which to complete the process. By that time the current buildings will need to have been put out of service. We estimate  the cost of the first building, a dormitory for 24 people, to be about $250,000-$300,000. The toilet facility will be about $40,000 and the kitchen/dining hall perhaps another $250,000-300,000. Put together, we may need to have about $600,000 to provide minimal approved facilities for activities at Nhap Luu. We need to practise a lot of mindful breathing and walking while looking at these issues.

With spiritual Sangha building there is the need to connect local Sanghas into a more cohesive Australia-wide Sangha and to develop concrete training programs for practitioners aspiring to the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We would also like to be able to offer teaching opportunities for suitable Order of Interbeing members. After the Spring Opening Retreat 2014, several members of the Order of Interbeing met with Sr. Thuan Tien and Br. Phap Kham to set up an interim OI Care Taking Council, which serves as a liaison between the monastic and lay Sangha and to work with the monastics on matters relating to lay Plum Village Australia's activities and tasks. These include fundraising, construction, retreat organisation, Sangha building, training and teaching. To help strengthen our Sanghas and begin to put some of these plans into action we will have a two day Order of Interbeing retreat at Nhap Luu on Sept. 24-25, right after the Spring Opening Retreat. All Order of Interbeing members are invited to attend to create a stronger network and support each other.  

In terms of training and opening up areas through which lay Sangha members can bring mindfulness practices into their professional lives as well, I hope to be able to carry out some activities such as those we have seen recently in Hong Kong. AIAB has established the Plum Village Mindfulness Academy, an Institute for Research, Education and Training in Mindfulness. Also established are the Mindfulness Teachers' Association, and Plum Village Mind-Body Well-Being Center. These are new Dharma doors that can inspire and involve lay members more in integrating mindfulness into the workplace. The PV Mindfulness Academy has commenced the first 1-year Mindfulness Teachers’ Training Program, lasting from August 2014 to July 2015, with a group of 26 participants. The implementation of these programs has been discussed with the monastic and lay Dharma Teachers in Australia. We hope to have more programs on offer as time goes by. 
 


Thay Phap Niem leading Retreatants in Dharma Discussion Time, Spring Opening Retreat 2014


Building Sangha is the most important duty and task for a practitioner. How do we build Sangha? By being a flower, by taking refuge in our practice, in our breaths and our steps, in deep listening and loving speech. We may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that we can see lying ahead in order to sustain our current practice, as well as to grow. Just thinking about having to raise $600,000 makes me have to go back to my breath several times. We may need to take Thay's advice:

Dear ones, the work of rebuilding
may take thousands of lifetimes,
but it has also already been completed. 

Members of the Birrarung Sangha in Melbourne have worked with the Sisters to help bring the current facilities up to an acceptable temporary standard for Council, and to design new replacement buildings and draw up some fundraising plans. Many thanks for their efforts. The intention is that once some preliminary work is complete, the whole project will be presented to the Australia Mahasangha for consideration. Go as a river, go as a Mahasangha. We need more than just one local sangha's full commitment in order to succeed with this. At the same time worrying about it too much is not useful. Things will happen when conditions are sufficient. Just keep on practising, and be in the present moment.

From 2009 - 2011, Plum Village Hong Kong was in a rented apartment big enough for five monastics, in a crowded and quite noisy area. At times, we nearly ran out of rental money. But we kept on, keeping the trust that things would get better, and thus helped to create the conditions for things to happen. Then in May 2011, with the help of a local businessman who is also a practitioner, we moved to our current location up on the mountain with enough space for 20 monks and nuns to practise, and facilities sufficient to hold retreats. Without us having been there in Hong Kong, these things would not have happened. The monastics at Nhap Luu just need to be there. Their presence and their practice will help make things happen.

The winter retreat has ended in all Plum Village centers. Many Plum Village monastics are already out on teaching trips, spreading the Dharma. What we want to accomplish is to build brotherhood and sisterhood, to be at ease and happy. As Thay has said, these things are already in us, they just need the right conditions to manifest. Look around and look within. The conditions for nourishing our beloved community are in our mindful breath and mindful steps.

Breathe and smile,

Br. Phap Kham

EIAB Photos

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Dharma Talk 

A Teacher Looking for his Disciple

Thích Nhất Hạnh 
Extract from a Dharma Talk given on 18th March 2012, at Plum Village

I have been looking for you, my child,
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity.
I was looking for you 
When you were still in a deep sleep
Although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain 
I looked in distant lands
And recognized your steps on so many different paths.
Where are you going my child?
There have been times when the mist has come and enveloped the remote village but you are still
Wandering in far away lands.
I have called your name with each breath,
Confident that even though you have lost your way over there 
You will finally find a way back to me.
Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path you are treading 
But you still look at me as if I were a stranger.
You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives, 
You cannot remember the old vow you made.
You have not recognized me
Because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future.

In former lifetimes you have often taken my hand and we have enjoyed walking together.
We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees.
We have stood side by side in silence for hours
Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us
And looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf
And I have taken you through forests deep in snow.
But wherever we go we always return to our ancient mountain 
To be near to the moon and stars
To invite the big bell every morning to sound,
And help living beings to wake up.
We have sat quietly on the An Tu mountain with the Great Bamboo Forest Master
Alongside the frangipani trees in blossom.
We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift.
We have helped Master Van Hanh design the Thang Long capital 
We have built together a thatched hermitage,
And stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen When.
The sound of the rising tide was deafening
On the banks of the Tien Duong river.
Together we have opened the way and stepped into the immense space beyond space
After many years of working to tear asunder the net of time.

We have saved up the light of shooting stars
And made a torch helping those who want to go home
After decades of wandering in distant places.
 

Photograph courtesy of Paul Davis (CHÂN PHÚC ĐƯỜNG) True Hall of Merits


But still there have been times when the seeds of a vagabond in you have come back to life.
You have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters
Alone you go …
I look at you with compassion,
Although I know that this is not a true separation
(Because I am already in each cell of your body)
And that you may need once more to play the prodigal son.
That is why I promise I shall be there for you
Any time you are in danger.
Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts.
I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade.
Late at night the cloud becomes the dew
And the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink.
Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness
Completely alienated from your true home.
I have manifested myself as a long ladder and lightly thrown myself down

So that you can climb up to the area where there is light
To discover again the blue of the sky and the sounds of the brook and the birds.
Sometimes I recognized you in Birmingham,
In the Do Linh district or New England.
I have sometimes met you in Hang Chau, Xiamen, or Shanghai.
I have sometimes found you in St Petersburg or East Berlin.
Sometimes, though only five years old, I have seen you and recognized you,
Because of the seed of bodhicihtta, you carry in your tender heart.
Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised my hand and made a signal to you
Whether it be in Bac Ninh, Saigon or the Thuan An seaport.
Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain,
Or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest during a winter night.
Often I have seen you.
But you have not seen me,
Though, while walking in the evening mist your clothes have been soaked.
But finally you have always come home.
You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain
Listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching, 
And the morning chanting echoing from the Buddha Hall.
You have come back to me determined not to be a vagabond any longer.

This morning the birds of the mountain joyfully welcome the bright sun.
Do you know, my child, that the white clouds are still floating in the vault of the sky?
Where are you now?
The ancient mountain is still there 
In this place of the present moment.
Although the white-crested wave still wants to go in the other direction,
Look again and you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud.
If you call my name, you will see me right away. 
Where are you going?
The old frangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning.
You and I have never really been apart. 
Spring has come. The pines have put out new shining green needles 
And on the edge of the forest, the wild plum trees have burst into flower.

Reproduced with kind permission from the editors of “The Mindfulness Bell”,  this beautiful poem appeared in the Winter 1999-2000 edition, pages 4 – 5 (www.mindfulnessbell.org/articles/mb25pdf)

Photograph courtesy of Paul Davis (CHÂN PHÚC ĐƯỜNG) True Hall of Merits
 
 

Sangha Contributions

The Second Mindfulness Training

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to practising generosity in my thinking, speaking and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need. I will practise looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practising Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

 

From New South Wales

The Second Mindfulness Training contains a wealth of insight to practise with. Most importantly, we should try to make this insight our own by looking deeply at our everyday life. For me, this Training is foremost about the practice of compassion and understanding. In applying this Training to issues that have arisen in my own life I have relied on the practice of mindful listening in order to try to understand what is happening for the other person and what is happening within me - my reactions and responses.

To practise generosity in my thinking, speaking and acting I first have to understand or have insight into what is happening. If I am full of ideas about the other person then this stops me from understanding. Generosity is about letting go of ideas about the world and others. Generosity is the practise of non-self. When we are truly generous we see the interconnection between ourselves and others. In fact, with insight, we realise that there are 'no others'.

There is a story in the Gospel of St Matthew about our inheritance, the kingdom of God. Jesus says that those who practised generosity by visiting him when he was in prison or in poor health, feeding him when he was hungry, clothing him when he was naked, these people will inherit the kingdom. Importantly, Jesus goes on to say that if we do these things to any person then we are doing them to him as well. Here is the Christian account of interbeing and non-self. True compassion arises with the insight of interbeing and non-self. Our insight is not static or fixed. I have found that I have to continually practise to nourish this insight. 

Our daily actions can nourish or erode our compassion and understanding. Many of us spend, or have spent, a considerable amount of our lives working. Our workplace can be an ideal, though not easy, place to bring our practice of compassion, understanding and generosity. In my former workplace in a community health centre, the pressure of working with distressed people could be very emotionally and physically tiring for all health and administrative workers. While it could seem overwhelming to try to change this situation, I found two practices to be of enormous benefit to myself and others in the workplace. These are mindful listening and mindful walking.

Whenever anyone stopped to talk to me, I would try to practise deep listening. I didn't have to agree or disagree with what the other person was saying. Most of the time I said very little and reminded myself to smile. Most people seemed happy that they had been heard. Whenever anyone was upset I tried to come back to my breathing hoping that by calming myself others around me would grow calm as well. Whenever I had to leave my desk to go to the toilet or to a meeting I tried to walk mindfully and calmly. We don't need to get caught up in others’ anxiety and anger. We can do a lot to help the situation by being mindful of our breath and calming ourselves. I think this is a great gift to be able to offer others. With true generosity we offer ourselves, realizing the interconnection between us. My well-being is your well-being, your well-being is my well-being. This is the insight of true happiness.

Tony Mills

True Forest of Light,
Southern Highlands, New South Wales

 

From Victoria

True Happiness

I am sitting on the couch in my meditation room as I write this and I look up.

A photo of Thay catches my eye and I could swear that a hint of a smile crossed his lips. Momentarily I am spellbound and then dismiss it as a play of light. I look away and return to my writing.

True Happiness, the Second Mindfulness Training – what does it mean to me?Right now I feel stressed, I am anything but peaceful and happy. I don't likethe tension that comes with trying to create. My chest hurts, my throat is tight and I wish I could be anywhere but here. I look up again and another little smile crosses Thay's face. Suddenly I feel a surge of happiness and gratitude and once again I remember that I have everything I need to be happy. Those pesky, negative mental formations – how they sneak up and take hold of me. I feel deeply the suffering of others who live in conditions that are the polar opposite of mine. I attempt to help in some small ways but I feel I will never be able to do enough. I breathe as the old familiar guilt takes hold again at my good fortune and observe it moving in, through and out again.

I recall that I often feed my despair by watching too much television depicting the horrors of war, terrorist acts, relentless, grinding poverty for too many of the world's peoples, and the devastation of our Mother Earth.

How easy it is to water the seeds of sadness and hopelessness and how difficult it is to retrain negative mental attitudes towards the positive.

But tiny, daily, mindful incremental actions began to transform my thinking.

Now I remember to pause and become present to what is. The first noble truth again reveals itself, there is suffering, life is suffering.

My suffering of not feeling I can do enough is not a truth. By learning to practice discernment with sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need I have come to understand that true generosity begins with self-compassion.

Slowly generosity comes from a different place, not one of guilt or old conditioning but from a more open place where I can see that although we are different, we are essentially all the same. I do what I can – no longer what I 'should', and feel the nourishing warmth of joyful generosity along with the suffering.

For me, True Happiness is in accepting the truth of what is. And with whatever presents itself I can bring to it all my good fortune – the fruits of living in a peaceful environment, a loving family, solid friendships, good health and this blessed, precious gift of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Margrett Barry

Peaceful Presence of the Heart, 
Gippsland, Victoria.

 

From Queensland

What the Second Mindfulness Training Means to Me

With its focus on happiness and generosity this Mindfulness Training is particularly relevant for me because for most of my life I have been a seeker of HAPPINESS, in a grand non-specific sense. Having only an idea of happiness, it is very hard to manifest a felt state of this emotion, because how do you go about creating it? It has only been since I started engaging with the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh that I have realized at a mind and heart level that I have the responsibility, and the ability, to create my own happiness, one piece at a time. 

Mindful walking through the surrounds of my home and mindful sitting on my verandah are great ways for me to increase the level of peace, contentment and happiness in my being. When I do this, I easily notice beautiful colours, interesting textures, intriguing forms and wonderful contrasts in nature. This automatically generates my appreciation, joy and happiness. However, if I am not mindful, I know I will fail to register these special moments and I am unlikely to experience the happy moment. Yet, Thay continually reminds us that we have the conditions for happiness all around us, and we only need to look deeply to see and experience their presence. 

Generosity is also a habit pattern that I am trying to develop more. My ability to be generous varies across different areas and people in my life, and maybe this is the same for everyone. Like all important values, they are usually complex in nature. Growing up, I don’t think that I experienced a great deal of generosity of time or loving kindness from my parents, but I didn’t experience unkindness either. Early childhood development theory certainly supports ideas that our early life experiences significantly shape our character.

For most of my life, I have generally found it easier to express my generosity through such means as donating money to charity, rather than donating my time and energy. However as my mindfulness practice grows stronger, this habit pattern is gradually transforming. Now I find that my internal work with generosity is to try to develop a more open mind and open heart, towards myself and others, a generosity of spirit. As my understanding grows, I am more able to create more peace, joy and happiness within myself (and hopefully others). 

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion. These words from Thay always give me encouragement that today I have yet another opportunity to continue my practice and to reap the rewards of living life in the present moment.

Joyce Davies  

Deep Aspiration of the Heart
Joyce practises with the Caboolture Sangha in S E Queensland

Donate

DANA, or generosity is a characteristic valued and cultivated in Buddhism.

In the time of the Buddha, he and his monks and nuns offered deep teaching of the Dharma to the village, and that community in turn offered to them food, robes, and shelter. This tradition of reciprocity has carried forward down the generations, and it is partially as a result of this that we have our teachers, and our practice, here and available for us today. 

Traditionally Buddhist Monastics and other teachers still do depend on the generosity of their lay community for actual livelihood, and the necessities of life. Giving generously is still how we demonstrate our appreciation of their offering of Dharma teaching, and of the  practice example that they set for us. In this way, we  ensure that these jewels will continue on into the future.

It can be helpful to understand that costs specified for retreats are often calculated just to cover running costs. Thus, in addition, often retreatants choose to offer discretionary dana.

Donations to the Sisters of Nhap Luu may be made by Cheque made out to Unified Buddhist Church Australia, and posted to PO Box 10 Beaufort, Vic, 3373; or by EFT to BSB 633000, A/C No 137099818. Regular (monthly) affordable, automatic transfers are also something you could consider setting in place as your way of supporting the continuation of the Practice.

*When considering donating household cleaning items and personal products, please be mindful to offer brands that are both gentle and kind to the environment( stated to be bio-degradable and garden safe) and cruelty free (stated to be vegan or entirely plant based/ not tested on animals). This reflects the real spirit of the Mindfulness Trainings,or Precepts, which the Buddha and Thay have given us as our guide to ethical and compassionate living, and which the Monastics do strive to exemplify in the way they live.

Blue Lotus Watergarden, Warburton, Victoria. February 2015
 

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