Loving Begins With Me

heart cloud 2

“Every child is born in the garden of humanity as a flower. Each flower differs from every other flower. There are many messages in our society that tell us, even when we’re young people, that there’s something wrong with us and that if we just buy the right product, or look a certain way, or have the right partner, that will fix it. As grown-ups, we can remind young people that they’re already beautiful as they are; they don’t have to be someone else.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Follow the three R’s: – Respect for self. – Respect for others. – Responsibility for all your actions.” H.H. The Dalai Lama


Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and enjoying what your life is offering you. This week We are continuing to look at The Five Mindfulness Trainings, focusing on the third,

True Love.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

This training is especially important for young people. The messages and images we see in the media and in entertainment depict couples in sexual situations as the natural progression of relationship. While sexual relationships are a healthy and sacred part of a committed relationship, what we don’t see much in the media, or on screens, is the idea that sexual relationships are significant. They mean something. In the media and in real life, overtly sexual messages, clothing, and behavior means popularity and makes one worthy of desire. For young people, this includes “hooking up,” before dating. This is a euphemism for meeting to have sex before getting to know the other person. Sex is not tied to a relationship, or to any feelings other than desire. Modern media tells us that sex does not involve any emotion other than lust.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Our bodies have areas that we do not want anyone to touch or approach unless he or she is the one we respect, trust, and love the most. When we are approached casually or carelessly, with an attitude that is less than tender, we feel insulted in our body and soul. Someone who approaches us with respect, tenderness, and utmost care is offering us deep communication, deep communion. It is only in that case that we will not feel hurt, misused, or abused, even a little. This cannot be attained unless there is true love and commitment. Casual sex cannot be described as love. Love is deep, beautiful, and whole.” As sensitive and complex beings, we recognize that bodies and minds are not separate entities. What we do with our bodies affects our minds and what we do with our minds affects our bodies.

When we are involved with another person sexually, this is the most vulnerable and intimate act two people can share. Sex without love and care does damage to our hearts that only want to be loved and valued. We do not treat our bodies with tenderness when we expose ourselves to empty sex. We discount our worth and throw away our value to try to satisfy loneliness, desire, or novelty. But our body and our mind know when we are loved and considered and when we are not. They work together. Psychology has discovered that trauma, both mental and physical, resides in the body. What happens to our bodies has consequence for our entire lives. We learn that sex, no matter what we call it is not casual. It is significant. Learning to cultivate our authentic presence, to listen to ourselves is the first step in being able to offer our true presence to another. We need to know that we are capable of caring for our own joy and sadness before we have the capacity to care and love for anyone else. True love begins with ourselves.

This week I invite you to look non-judgmentally at the example of True Love you are living. What ways do you cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness? How do you offer the gift of true presence and communication to your beloved, to yourself? Take twenty minutes with a cup of tea to sit and listen to what is in your heart and your mind. Give yourself the gift of your own love and your most precious gift, your time.


May we all trust our light,



Be Still and heal

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh


Nhat Hanh, T., 1993, For a future to be possible: Commentaries on the five wonderful mindfulness trainings. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

Happiness, Yours, Mine, Ours


“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”

~Gautama Buddha

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”

~Dalai Lama XIV

“Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can – a dollar, a flower, a word of encouragement – we are training in letting go.”

~Pema Chodron 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all safe and comfortable after the week of hurricanes and devastation. This past week highlighted our second Mindfulness Training, True happiness. The complete list of The Five Mindfulness Trainings can be Found at https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/

The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing 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 practice 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 practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

This month saw communities and individuals practicing generosity, rescuing people from flooding, and danger, sharing food, resources, and housing. We also heard of acts that let us know the fires of greed, anger, and delusion are still burning in some. For me, the acts of kindness and generosity, greatly outweigh the negatives.

Witness people in distress stimulates an innate desire to free others from suffering, for their own happiness and our happiness as well. The act of true generosity the Buddha describes above has its roots in the intention of giving resulting from compassion, the desire—and action, that helps another get free from suffering.

As we read in the Second Mindfulness Training, the impulse to share our time, energy, and material resources, springs from joy, not from obligation or duty. When we look at a situation and think, “How can I help? What can I do to make our lives better?” We acknowledge that we are part of the situation and that the experience of suffering and happiness is collective. Then we can offer our services and resources without fear.

We know that happiness and unhappiness do not stay in individual boxes. Happiness and suffering spill beyond our human boundaries. Happiness and suffering spread through families, neighborhoods, and around the globe. We can’t build a wall around our happiness to keep it separate. That just isn’t how life works. If we look at a situation and think, “I don’t want this problem to ruin my good time,” or, “How long will this take me away from my projects, my life?” We have a very different attitude, one of scarcity and separation. Then the gift of giving is not happy in the intention, in the act, and we feel resentful at the remembrance of giving. Giving with joy doesn’t see the act of giving as a transfer of energy, property or time, giving with joy believes that our actions benefit us as well. When we act from compassion we have faith that the happiness we help create is our rightful inheritance as citizens of this planet. Our happiness is a shared concern.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about offering our time as a precious gift of generosity. Through deep listening and our whole-hearted attention, we have the ability to lift the despair and isolation of another.

“The Second Precept is a deep practice. We speak of time, energy, and material resources, but time is not only for energy and material resources. Time is for being with others — being with a dying person or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money. It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear” (Nhat Hanh, 1993).

Living is a full-time job and our lives can feel too crammed full of obligations to have the freedom to give this precious and rare gift. This week as we look further into the Second Training, please consider your time as a gift of great value. Who and what do you give this valuable gift to? Do you try to fill up moments with business so there is no opportunity to listen to your body and mind? Can you give the gift of your time this week, to listen to someone in need—your own self, or another? Making a list of all our conditions of happiness can help us recognize that we do possess abundance often overlooked. Seeing our own goodness and our gifts can bring ease, knowing we have enough peace and stability to offer it to others.

May we all trust our light,


leaf calligraphy


Nhat Hanh, T., 1993, For a future to be possible: Commentaries on the five wonderful precepts. Berkeley, CA: Parallax.

How to be a True Friend

Bluecliff Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha, BlueCliff Monastery

“If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva, one who lives for the sake of others. Knowing we are on that path, taking each step with our spiritual family, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or fears about the future.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.” ~Pema Chödrön

“I consider non-violence to be compassion in action. It doesn’t mean weakness, cowering in fear, or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognizing the rights of others.” ~The Dalai Lama

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and peaceful as we step into this season of change. We are witnessing big shifts in life, season, and dramatic environmental and political events. In New England especially, the fall is time to reflect upon change and impermanence. We see the green leaves turn yellow, red, and orange, ultimately leaving their homes, and returning to soil. We watch formations of birds flying to warmer weather and our bodies give us the message that we are vulnerable beings that need protection. As practitioners, we are heir to powerful protection when we live with the global ethical foundations of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

At sangha, we recite the Five Trainings every month. Those who wish to may receive the transmission of the Five Trainings in a formal ceremony.  This is an opportunity to receive the support of the community that does their best to live with compassion for all beings. Taking the five trainings, or individual trainings, is not a promise of perfection but setting an intention to live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others. We step into the ancestral stream that dates back thousands of years and access the solidity and strength of our spiritual ancestors. For the next five weeks, I’d like to examine these trainings one by one.

To dispel the myth that mindfulness is passive, we need to look at the commonly used definition of mindfulness that comes from Jon Kabat Zinn (1994), the originator of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The word “non-judgmentally” can be problematic. Often folks hear this as a move towards indifference as if they are asked to observe events without context or principles. That is not mindfulness. That is numbing out from the reality and escaping the moral responsibility of humanity. More recently Zinn (2014) states, “When we use the word mindfulness in MBSR, we mean right mindfulness…. Woven into mindfulness is an orientation towards nonharming…. It is a nondualistic perspective from the very beginning, resting on an ethical foundation.” It is this ethical foundation, the Buddhist principles of sila [ethics], that are integral to mindfulness practice. The role of sila includes five aspects of conduct:1. non-harming, 2. generosity, 3. sexual responsibility, 4. loving speech, and 5. mindful consumption (not ingesting toxins). Thich Nhat Hanh and members of the monastic community took these early precepts the Buddha gave and present them in modern and relevant language. The introduction and full list of the mindfulness trainings are found at: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/the-5-mindfulness-trainings/

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence For Life 

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world. 

Looking at this training, we see our personal violence and the world’s violence growing from roots of anger, fear, greed, and intolerance. These mind states exist when we forget that we are part of each other. We believe the delusion of a small, ego-centered separate self and believe we are form instead of formation. When we touch the insight of Interbeing, we see that we all contribute to creating our present and future in each moment. This week, I invite you to contemplate this training. Can you notice when your anger, fear, greed, and intolerance come up? What thoughts trigger those feelings? For many of us it’s scarcity, believing that there’s a finite amount of good stuff and if you get, that means none for me. Most of us are not big-time killers, but we participate in small acts of violence, hard-heartedness, and judgment that close us down and divide.

The beginning of any transformation requires noticing. We notice what our mind is doing without negative assessments and added violence. We all come with history and conditioning and have good reasons why we think the way we do. We can examine killing in our diet and our interaction with Mother Earth. Are we connected to the act of killing involved with eating animals and fish? Do we want to change our relationship with living beings from a dominating one to one of caring? Knowing that the habits of mind are just that—habits, we can look at the roots of violence, anger, and killing that lives in us, gently and compassionately. When we live with kindness towards ourselves and the rest of the planet, we lose our fear.

When I offer friendliness, and understanding to someone I disagree with, someone who is clearly acting from delusion, I notice a softness and openness in myself. Dropping my armor of judgment and separation, I feel curiosity and kindness towards this other person, who just like me, does not want to suffer. The way they go about it looks very different, but I can see that their motivation is the same as for all living beings. When I look with the eyes of connection, I stop attacking in my mind. I become harmless and when I can do that, I don’t need to be afraid. I put down my weapons of judgment and condemnation. The first mindfulness training teaches non-harming towards animals and all species we cohabitate with. When we give up practicing anger, violence, and hatred, we become a true friend.

May we all trust our light,


Peace begins with your lovely smile

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh



Gates, B. & Senauke, A. (2014). The thousand year view: An interview with jon kabat-zinn, Inquiring Mind 30(2).

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.


The Jewel of the Sangha


kids peace ceremony

               Children handing out luminaries at the Peace Ceremony, Blue Cliff Monastery.                     Photo courtesy of Bruce Nichols


“Two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the ‘Buddha of Love.’ I think Maitreya Buddha may be a community and not just an individual.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”  ~Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life) (SN 45.2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

“Because you feel supported there, the sangha is the most appropriate setting and environment for the practice of looking deeply. If you have a sangha of two, three, maybe even fifty people who are practicing correctly—getting joy, peace, and happiness from the practice—then you are the luckiest person on earth.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

In August, I attended the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery. This retreat brought monastics from Plum Village, France, Deer Park, USA, and Magnolia Grove, USA to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY. We practiced together, as a fourfold sangha, monastic individuals and lay, coming together to co-create the legacy of the Buddha’s greatest gifts to the world, the beloved community, or sangha. These retreats we go on are a way to simplify our existence and remember what is truly important in our life and world. The Sangha is a community that takes care of each other. For me, participating in a community that cares about each other is an awakening to the potential of society. The experience of being in a totally safe place, where I am accepted and welcomed, is powerful medicine to counteract fear. Being in a collective, nurturing environment is especially healing for those who have lived through abuse, trauma, or feel the impact of the greed and self-obsession rampant in the world.

In the opening talk, a monastic quoted, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.” Practicing in a community devoted to creating understanding and harmony is a gift we can give to ourselves and to the world. The amount of peace and joy we create in our lives directly contributes to the peace in the world. We are all responsible for the integrity of our individual consciousness, that contributes to the collective. Thây tells us that the next Buddha is not an individual, it is a community and that community is already here.

The Sangha in Buddhism is one of the three jewels. Buddhists take refuge in these three strengths, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When we take refuge in the sangha, we take refuge in all three jewels, as the sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. The acceptance of the three jewels does not mean we worship a being or organization outside of ourselves but allows us to come home to the Buddha and the Dharma that live inside of us.

The word refuge can have two meanings. One is a place of shelter where we can rest, the other is to escape from danger. Thay speaks of the need to find refuge:

“When a situation is dangerous, you need to escape, you need to take refuge in a place that is safe, that is solid. Earth is something we can take refuge in because it is solid. We can build houses on earth, but we cannot build on sand. The sangha is the same. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight have built up sanghas and individuals that are solid, so when you take refuge in the sangha, you take refuge in the most solid elements.”

When we take refuge, we are making a commitment to carry the remembrance of the three jewels with us and to rest and trust in the Buddha in ourselves, the wisdom and understanding that is part of us, in our own experiential truth of the way or the path and to benefit from the teachings of the ones we deem wise, that is the refuge in the Dharma. Committing ourselves to the flowering of compassion in the world, that is taking refuge in the sangha. It is trusting the potentiality of our luminous mind that lives in us all and actively participating in creating peace in our own corner of the world.

Being on retreat in a large cooperative community is challenging as well as supportive. There are many opportunities for our habits of indignation, righteous anger, and irritation to manifest. Working with the understanding that other people’s behavior is not personally directed at me and that unacknowledged suffering, creates more suffering can help us get free from our strong reactions and feelings of hurt of anger. On retreat, there are many folks in one room and there are always bathroom lines, food lines, and days where we don’t get enough sleep. Part of our practice is learning how to care for ourselves, even with difficulties, even when we don’t get our own way, when we are late for lunch get only beet soup. Thay tells us that this is part of our path:

“In the sangha, there must be difficult people. These difficult people are a good thing for you—they will test your capacity of sangha-building and practicing. One day when that person says something that is not very nice to you, you’ll be able to smile and it won’t make you suffer at all. Your compassion will have been born and you can embrace him or her within your compassion and your understanding. Then you will know that your practice has grown.”

The opportunity to go on retreat is a gift we can give ourselves and others. We may all develop strength and wisdom when we practice alone, but holding others’ suffering and experiencing our own suffering held by those who care for us and the world is the best way I know to build loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and plenty of sympathetic joy.  Please take the opportunity to uncover the treasure of the compassionate community waiting for you.

May we all trust our light,


If you would like to find a sangha near you practicing in the Plum Village tradition please go http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/directory/ for a listing of sanghas worldwide.

To read the entire article about sangha by Thich Nhat Hanh click on this link: from Lion’s Roar https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/

Sister Dang Nghiem shared a beautiful Dharma talk on Trauma and Beginning Anew from the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff. Some of the content may be difficult. She speaks plainly about physical and sexual abuse and healing. Please use your discretion.Sister Dang Nghiem, Trauma and Beginning Anew

Triple Gem

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh


“I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Until I attain Enlightenment.
By merit accumulations from practicing generosity and the other perfections
May I attain Enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.” ~Buddhist traditional prayer.