Oct 03

Religious Freedom in Vietnam – Help Bat Nha

Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Kenley
Image by kenleyneufeld via Flickr

Do you believe in religious freedom? It is something we almost take for granted in our nation and in our world. However, there are places where religious freedom is a precious gift that must be struggled for to make a reality. This is the case in Vietnam.

For 39 years Nobel Prize Nominee and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) has lived in exile in France because he challenged the status quo of violence in his Motherland. Even after the “American War” ended, Thay was not allowed to return. That all changed in 2005 when he returned home to tour the country and give talks and share the dharma. He returned again in 2007 and 2008. I was honored to be a part of the initial delegation in 2005 and experienced the elation and joy of the Vietnamese people and the apparent opening up of the nation to new ideas and newfound religious freedom.

The trip also coincided with Vietnam’s desire to join the World Trade Organization, which has since happened. On a related note, the President of Vietnam just assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council.
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Sep 27

400 Monastics Being Forcefully Evicted Today

Dear friends: the situation at Bat Nha Monastery in Vietnam (also known as Prajna Temple) has become very critical. There are about 400 young monastics currently being evicted from the monastery by the Vietnamese government and local police. You can learn a bit more from a recent New York Times article called Tensions Rise as Police Question Monk’s Followers – the “monk” in this case is Thich Nhat Hanh.

These young monastics (mostly under age 25) have been living here since 2005 at the invitation of the local Abbott. However, they were asked to leave earlier this year. It is not so simple for monastics to simply disperse and go live alone or at home and that is why finding a suitable new location for 400 people is challenging. All the monastics are Vietnamese citizens and are practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the exiled Vietnamese Zen Master based in France.

If you want to learn more about the situation, please visit Help Bat Nha.

If you would like to help, please do any of the following:

  1. Pray for a nonviolent and peaceful resolution.
  2. Stay Informed. Follow Thich Nhat Hanh on Facebook or Twitter
  3. Send a postcard to the President of Vietnam in support of the 400 monks and nuns at Bat Nha. The postcard was first introduced at the Deer Park retreat in early September with Thich Nhat Hanh. The pdf files linked above can be double-side copied on card stock (text on one side, address on the other) and then cut in half (two post cards per sheet). A 98 cent stamp will ensure Air Mail delivery to Vietnam. Please consider copying them and taking postcards to your next Sangha meeting. You might offer to collect the cards and mail them yourself, asking perhaps for a donation for the stamp.
  4. Contacting U.S. Senators and Congresspersons, asking that they send a letter of concern about the situation of the monastics to the government of Vietnam. If you choose instead to write a letter, email will be the quickest option. Any letters addressed to Senators and Representatives’ Washington D.C. offices are inspected for security reasons and take an extra three weeks or so to reach their offices.
  5. Contacting Senators and Representatives on the Foreign Relations Committees. This file gives names and contact information for Senators and Representatives on Foreign Relations Committee subcommittees that would have interest in the situation at Bat Nha. If you live in their state or district, please call with your concern and request immediately.

Thank you for reading and for the support.

Update: You may wish to call members of the Vietnamese government. Mr. Le Thanh Phong- 091.386.5000, Mr. Troung Van Thu – 091.386.5294, and Mr. Ho Ba Thang 091.393.4718 are local members of the Vietnam government.


Posted via email from On the fly…

Sep 07

An Introduction – Touching the Earth

I have been using the book Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh for several years  as part of my morning meditation practice. It is a wonderful book that provides a framework to have a “conversation” with the Buddha and look deeply at our relationship with the Earth, others, ourselves, and the Ultimate Dimension. The monastic practice with this book is to listen to a chapter read while touching the earth. This can prove difficult if you practice alone, so that is the purpose of this blog series. I am recording the chapters to listening to them at a later time and want others to benefit from this effort.

Over the coming weeks/months, I will record chapters from the book and then post them here to share. You may download from this site or use iTunes to receive the podcast [iTunes Podcast].

If you want to use this material in your meditation practice, my recommendation is to start the recording and then touch the earth with you head, elbows, and knees in prostration. After the primary reading is complete, you will hear the full sound of the bell. Upon hearing a small tap on the bell, then stand up and prostrate again on the next sound of the full bell. This will happen one more time to end the meditation.

As the introduction of the book states,

When we touch the Earth, we take refuge in it. We receive its solid and inclusive energy. The Earth embraces us and helps us transform our ignorance, suffering, and despair. Wherever we are, we can be in touch with the Earth. Wherever we are, we can bow down to receive its energy of stability and fearlessness. As we touch the Earth, we can follow our breathing. We release all our instability, fear, anxiety, disease, and anger. We know the Earth can absorb our negativity without reacting to us or judging us. In this way, we are able to transform what is painful and difficult to accept within us. We are able to strengthen our capacity to look, speak, and act with understanding and compassion towards ourselves, our loved ones, and all members of society. Touching the Earth communicates our gratitude, joy, and acceptance to our Mother Earth. With this practice, we cultivate a relationship with the Earth and, in doing so, we restore our balance, our wholeness, and our peace.

Posted via email from Touching the Earth

Aug 03

Discoveries in Fasting

It has been eight years since the last time I fasted – it was in late 2001 – and for that fast I practiced in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters by fasting from sunrise to sunset for a couple of weeks.

Recently I was sharing about a personal relationship issue with a monastic friend and teacher and he suggested I start with a period of fasting. I was not completely clear on how this could help or be related, but I trust my friend and know that fasting is a common practice in the monastery. The intention here is not a detox fast, but one of a more spiritual nature. I started practicing with the fast for a 1-2 weeks by fasting for dinner. It wasn’t too difficult to eat two meals a day, the most difficult time being late afternoon. This did raise my confidence and understanding in fasting.

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Jul 08

Exercise and Retreats

I typically am not a huge fan of exercise. However, while staying at the Deer Park Monastery I usually get more than my fair share due to the size of the property and the hills. In addition, we frequently have a time of recreational exercise including volleyball (my favorite) and basketball. Check this out from the recent visit. A very peaceful, fun, and non-competitive basketball game with my monastic friends.

Jun 10

24 Days on Retreat Begins Friday

It is a sweet opportunity and gift from my lovely wife and partner. Thank you. Every time I plan and attend a retreat, a few questions arise from friends. Where are you going? What is it like? Is it silent?

I leave Friday morning for Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, a Buddhist monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. The monastery sits on about 300 acres of open land next to another preserve. Very beautiful. I typically spend 4-6 weeks per year at the monastery as an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing (we’re asked to do 60 Days of Mindfulness per year). This particular visit is different because the first 19 days will be without my family. We usually go as a family but Leslie suggested some time for myself and they will come at the end for the Family Camp Annual Retreat.

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Jun 08

Today I Have 20 Years Sober, Thank You

It was twenty years ago today that I took my last drink of alcohol. I was 21-years old at the time and it was my third or fourth attempt at stopping. Today I am living on grace, and though I don’t speak publicly of this very often, I want everyone to know how proud I am of being sober for two decades and to thank those who have helped me along the way.  This is a day to remember the goodness in suffering.

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Jan 06

Renewal and Taking Care of Yourself

The new year brings us the opportunity to reflect on the past and ponder the future. Our family spent two weeks at Deer Park Monastery with a six-day Holiday Retreat in the middle. The second day of the retreat I was honored when Thay Phap Hai asked me to participate in the planned dharma talk.  We did this talk with our friend Karen Hilsberg.

The Plum Village sangha has a practice called Beginning Anew that we used for the foundation of our talk, since the theme of the retreat was renewal. Rather than focusing on another person, as we typically do with this practice, the focus of attention was ourselves. Karen provided us with four meditations that we explored in the one-hour talk. Please enjoy the talk.

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Four Meditations for Self-Renewal

  1. Flower Watering/Sharing Appreciation. Looking deeply, I see many positive and wholesome qualities in myself such as…
  2. Benign Regrets. Looking deeply, I regret that I have caused myself pain through my thoughts, speech and actions in the following ways…
  3. Hurts and Difficulties. Looking deeply, I can understand my own hurts and difficulties with deep compassion and friendliness toward myself, without blame or criticism as follows…
  4. Challenges and Intentions for the Future. For the future, I anticipate the following challenges and intend to practice mindfully and skillfully in the following ways…

The key here is to be kind and honest with yourself. If you can’t listen here, you can download the talk.

Nov 17

Two Hours to Count 38 People

Deer Park Monastery

Deer Park Monastery

I’m going to continue my non-library trend of late and talk about the Stick Ceremony. This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to Deer Park Monastery, one of my favorite places on earth, to celebrate the start of the Rains Retreat. This 90-day retreat occurs annually and is a time for us to look deeply and focus our practice and energy. The retreat begins with a ceremony that identifies those who are participating in the entire 90-day retreat and to set the boundries of the monastery.  We enter the mediation hall, the monastics are sitting in their sangati robes surrounded by the lay community of practitioners. After a bit, we stand for an incense offering and some touching the earth paying respects to the Bodhisattvas, and for me, to honor those characteristics and aspirations in myself. We sit again and chant together.

At this point four of the monastics stand and process to the front – each holding a tray. Update: Two of the monastics, one monk and one nun, each have a tray full of sticks to distribute. The other two monastics will collect the sticks after they have been distributed to each participant. Thank you Caleb for seeking this clarification. A bit more touching the earth and bowing before the tray is brought to the front and a stick is offered to the Buddha present for the retreat. This is done by the first monastics, followed by the second monastic who then picks up the small stick and places it on his tray. The next person to receive a stick is a place held for our Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Again, the second monastic picks up the stick left by the first monk. This continues through the entire row of monks and nuns. Each picking up a stick and then returning it. Thus the process of taking a stick occurs.

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Nov 11

Love, Equal Rights, and Gay Marriage

Today I am struggling. In fact, I have been struggling since before the national election. I don’t understand the opposition to gay marriage and how Proposition 8 passed in California.

Growing up, as a Mennonite, I was taught that love was of the highest nature. I see Christ as a true revolutionary who reached out to the poor, the destitute, and the outcasts and he did so without judgment and with pure love in his heart. In the past, I have written that I am a potential Christian and a practicing Buddhist. Today, after the election season in California, much of my bitterness and unhappiness with my Christian roots have been watered and I am not so positive about this potentiality. This is my struggle today. In fact, it is so powerful that I am experiencing resistance to attending another marriage ceremony between two people who may have voted in favor of Proposition 8. This is difficult.

As a practicing Buddhist, I aim to seek understanding and to have compassion. Writing here I am trying to reach some understanding and compassion for my Christian brothers and sisters who have taken the stand to discriminate against a group of people for their sexuality. I know good Christians, people right here in my town, and they are good people. And yet, they have taken the stand of not embracing, not loving. It seems fundamentally wrong, and in opposition to the teachings of Christ, to not allow two people who love each other the right to join in marriage. When I married Leslie in 1995, we did so to share our love with our friends and family, to give the relationship a bit more sanctity, more seriousness, and make a lifetime commitment. Why wouldn’t we want this for gay couples? Aside from the high divorce rate in marriages, I see nothing but positive outcomes to allowing marriage between two people who love each other. It recognizes and honors the love between two people.

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