We follow the traditions of Plum Village, the first monastic community founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in the West. Below is an explanation of some of the core practices within this tradition.
Core practices of Plum Village
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.
Here in the retreat, we do very much the same things as when we are at home – walking, sitting, eating, etc. – except now we learn to do them with mindfulness, with the awareness of what we are doing. We practice mindfulness throughout every moment of the day and not just in the meditation hall, but also in the dining hall, the toilet, in our rooms and on the path leading from one place to another.
In practicing together as a Sangha, as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, relaxed and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice.
Dear friends, let us try to be intelligent and skillful in our practice, approaching every aspect of the practice with curiosity and openness. Let us practice with understanding and not just for form and appearance. Enjoy your practice here with a relaxed and gentle attitude, with an open mind and receptive heart.
Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or computing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.
We may like to recite this gatha or verse:
“Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”
We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.
Bells of Mindfulness
On your arrival you might hear a bell sound and suddenly people around you have stopped still, stopped talking, and stopped moving. It might be the clock chiming or the dining bell sounding. These are our bells of mindfulness. When we hear the sound of the bell we relax our body and become aware of our breathing. We do that naturally, with enjoyment, and ease.
When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop whatever we are doing and bring our awareness to our breathing. The inviting of the bell calls out to us:
this wonderful sound brings me back to
my true home.
By stopping to breathe and restore our calm and our peace, we become free, our work becomes more enjoyable and the friend in front of us becomes more real. Back home we can use the ringing of our telephone, the local church bells, the cry of a baby, or even the sound of fire engines and ambulances as our bells of mindfulness. You may also install the mindfulness clock in your computer to remind you to stop and breathe (www.mindfulnessdc.org/mindfulclock.html). With just three conscious breaths we can release the tensions in our body and mind and return to a cool and clear state of being.
Waking Up in the Morning
“Waking up this morning, I smile
24 brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
As we wake up in the morning and open our eyes we may like to recite the above gatha. We can start our day with the happiness of a smile and the aspiration to dedicate ourselves to the path of love and understanding. We are aware that today is a fresh, new day, and we have 24 precious hours to live.
Let us try to get up from bed right away after following three deep breaths to bring ourselves into mindfulness. Let us not delay our waking. We may like to sit up and gently massage out head, neck, shoulders, and arms to get our blood circulating. We might like to do a few stretches to loosen our joints and wake up our body. Enjoying a cup of warm water is good for our system first thing in the morning.
Let us wash up or do what we need to do before heading towards our daily task (to our school, to our work). We allow ourselves enough time so we will not have to rush. Take deep breaths and enjoy the cool, fresh air. Before heading towards our school or work, let the morning fill our being, awakening our body and mind to the joy of a new day.
Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for ourselves. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. The purpose of sitting meditation is to enjoy. Don’t try to attain anything!
Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us – our pain, anger, irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, and then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.
If our legs or feet begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly and attentively change our posture. At the end of the sitting meditation session, allow a few minutes to massage your legs and feet before standing up again.
Whenever we walk, we can practice meditation. This means that we know that we are walking. We walk just for walking. We walk with freedom and solidity, no longer in a hurry. We are present with each step.
Walking in this way should not be a privilege. We should be able to do it every moment. Look around and see how vast life is, the trees, the white clouds, and the limitless sky. Listen to the birds. Feel the fresh breeze. Life is all around and we are alive and healthy and capable of walking in peace.
Let us walk as a free person and feel our steps get lighter. Let us enjoy every step we make. Each step is nourishing and healing. As we walk, imprint our gratitude and our love on the earth.
We may like to use a gatha as we walk. Taking two or three steps for each in-breath and each out-breath,
Breathing in, “I have arrived”;
Breathing out, “I am home”
Breathing in, “In the here”;
Breathing out, “In the now”
Breathing in, “I am solid”;
Breathing out, “I am free”
Breathing in, “In the ultimate”;
Breathing out, “I dwell”
Listening to a Dharma Talk
We have the opportunity to attend Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh and other senior Dharma teachers in the Plum Village Tradtion.
Please arrive early for the talk so that we may have enough time to find a seat and establish ourselves in a peaceful state of mind. Please listen to the talk with an open mind and a receptive heart.
If we listen only with our intellect, comparing and judging what is said to what we already think we know or what we have heard others say, we may miss the chance to truly receive the message that is being transmitted.
The Dharma is like rain. Let it penetrate deeply into our consciousness, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already there. Absorb the talk openly, like the earth receiving a refreshing spring rain. The talk might be just the condition our tree needs to flower and bear the fruits of understanding and love.
Out of respect for the teachings and the teacher, please refrain from talking, or making disturbing noises in the hall during the Dharma talk. If it is absolutely necessary to leave the hall during the talk please do so with a minimum of disturbance to others.
Eating a meal together is a meditative practice. We should try to offer our presence for every meal. As we serve our food we can already begin practicing. Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal. In fact, through this food we see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.
Before eating, the bell will be invited for three sounds and we can enjoy breathing in and out while practicing the Five Contemplations.
The Five Contemplations
This food is the gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat and live in mindfulness and with gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating is such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
We accept this food in order to nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our community of practice, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
Food contemplations for Young People
This food is the gift of the whole universe: The earth, the sky, the rain, and the sun.
We thank the people who have made this food, especially the farmers, the people at the
market and the cooks.
We only put on our plate as much food as we can eat.
We want to chew the food slowly so that we can enjoy it.
We want to eat in a way that nurtures our compassion, protects other species and the
environment, and reverses global warming.
This food gives us energy to practice being more loving and understanding.
We eat this food in order to be healthy and happy, and to love each other as a family.
Once we begin, we can take our time as we eat, chewing each mouthful at least 30 times, until the food becomes liquefied. This aids the digestive process. Let us enjoy every morsel of our food and the presence of our family and friends around us. Let us establish ourselves in the present moment, eating in such a way that solidity, joy and peace are possible during the whole time of eating.
Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude fills us as we realize how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of love and understanding.
We may also like to recite the following gatha:
“This meal is finished.
My hunger is satisfied.
I vow to live for the benefit of all beings.”
Dharma sharing is an opportunity to benefit from each other’s insights and experience of the practice. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties and our questions relating to the practice of mindfulness. By practicing deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the community.
We base our sharing on our own experience of the practice rather than about abstract ideas and theoretical notions. We may realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations. Sitting, listening and sharing together, we recognize our true connections to one another.
Please remember that whatever is shared during the Circle sharing time is confidential. If a friend shares about a difficulty he or she is facing, respect that he or she may or may not wish to talk about this individually outside of the Circle sharing time.
To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others. At our practice center we practice beginning anew as a community every two weeks and individually as often as we like.
We practice beginning anew to clear our mind and keep our practice fresh. When a difficulty arises in our relationships with family or colleagues and one of us feels resentment or hurt, we know it is time to begin anew. The following is a description of the four-part process of beginning anew as used in a formal setting. One person speaks at a time and is not interrupted during his or her sharing. The other practitioners practice deep listening and following their breath.
- Flower watering – This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances that the other person said or did something that we had admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.
- Sharing regrets – We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.
- Expressing a hurt – We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction with our loved ones or colleagues at our place of work due to his or her actions, speech or thoughts. (To express a hurt we should first water the other person’s flower by sharing two positive qualities that we have truly observed in him or her. Expressing a hurt is often performed one-on-one with another practitioner rather than in the group setting. You may ask for a third party that you both trust and respect to be present, if desired.)
- Sharing a long-term difficulty & asking for support – At times we each have difficulties and pain arise from our past that surface in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.
The practice of beginning anew helps us develop our compassionate speech and deep listening. beginning anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our family. For instance, we may notice that our workmate is generous in sharing her insights, and our son is caring towards plants.
Recognizing others positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well. Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of our anger or being caught in our misperceptions. When we practice “flower watering” we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.
We can practice beginning anew everyday by expressing our appreciation for our colleagues and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole community depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exist between every member in our family, workplace and community at large.
Gathas for Mindful Living
Waking up this morning, I smile,
24 brand new hours are all for me
I vow to live them mindfully
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion and love
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,
I vow to speak purely and lovingly.
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,
A flower blooms in the garden of my heart.
Using the bathroom
Defiled or immaculate, increasing or decreasing,
These concepts exist only in our mind.
The reality of interbeing is unsurpassed.
Taking a Shower
Unborn and indestructible
Beyond space and time
Transmission and inheritance
Lie in the wonderful world of the Dharmadhatu*
*Dharmadhatu is the purified mind in its natural state, free from dualism
Turning On the Computer
Turning on the computer,
My mind gets in touch with the store*
I vow to transform habit energies
To help love and understanding grow.
*the store refers to the Store-Consciousness where all our seed-potentials are stored
Emailing and using the Internet
Breathing in, I thank the power of the Internet.
Breathing out, I am fully conscious of my current e-mail actions.
Using The Telephone
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
As lovely as flowers.
Driving The Car
Before starting the car, I know where I am going.
The car and I are one. If the car goes fast, I go fast.