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Building a harmonious and mindful living community in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village

Bhikkhu Thich Chan Phap Kham, Dharma Teacher and Director,
Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism, Plum Village Foundation Hong Kong

Paper presented at Bulkwang Forum, Seoul, South Korea, 19 – 20 October 2013


 Abstract:   Established in 1982 by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village in Southern France has grown from a community of a few people to an international community of over 800 monastics and over 1000 lay Sanghas, practicing in many parts of the world. Plum Village International Sangha is considered among the most well-known Buddhist community in the West. The simple, relevant yet profound teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the young, energetic and friendly monastics are among the main reasons for people to come to Plum Village’s activities. Plum Village monastics also travel 6 to 8 months a year to teach worldwide. “Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment”, the Dharma Seal of Plum Village is practiced every day via simple mindfulness activities such as mindful breathing, walking meditation, eating in silence, total relaxation, mindful working, listening Dharma talks, group sharing…” These practices help people to get in touch with themselves, to seek happiness from within, to know the roots of their difficulties and transform them. “Go as a river – Don’t be a drop of water”, the guide for building a harmonious Sangha, helps people to connect with each other, seeing the interbeing – interdependence nature in each other, being happy with each other. This help many people deal with loneliness and reduce the need for material consumption.


Introduction about Plum Village

Plum Village International Practice Center in Southern France, or Plum Village, is a four-fold community (consists of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women) of mindful living and practices established by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982. Starting from old facilities of unutilized farms in the rural areas of Dordogne with only a few residences, Plum Village has grown to a community of over 200 monks, nuns, and lay people, spreading over 3 hamlets. There are Upper Hamlet (for monks and lay men) in Thenac, Lower Hamlet (for nuns and lay women) in Loubes-Bernac and New Hamlet (for nuns and lay women) in Dieulivol.

The Plum Village Monastic Community is often referred to as the Plum Village International Monastic Sangha, to reflect its international characteristic, with more than 20 nationalities. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has ordained about 800 monastics as his direct disciples. Besides it main centers in France, Plum Village also has centers in Germany (European Institute of Applied Buddhism), United States (Deer Park Monastery in California, Blue Cliff Monastery in New York, Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi), Thailand (Thai Plum Village International Practice Center in Pak Chong), Hong Kong (Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism), Malaysia (Joyfully Together Mindfulness Practice Center in Shah Alam), Australia (Entering the Stream Monastery in Beaufort, Victoria), and in Vietnam. Being the original center, Plum Village France is simply referred to as (the) Plum Village, while other centers may be referred to as Plum Village Thailand, Plum Village Hong Kong, Plum Village Germany …, besides the names that reflect their functions. All centers practiced the Dharma doors originally set up by Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village, hence the statement “…. in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village.”

Born in 1926 and ordained as a novice monk at 16, Thich Nhat Hanh has lived the life of a peace maker, a poet, an author, a scholar and a teacher on the art of mindful living. His peace efforts in helping to bring an end to the Vietnam War in the 1960s moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. During the Vietnam War, he started the movement of “Engaged Buddhism”, bringing Buddhism out of temples in order to help make people suffer less. He established the School for Youth and Social Services, to train young monks, nuns, and lay people to go to the countryside to help people rebuild their lives and villages, after being damaged by the war.

Many people get to know Thich Nhat Hanh through his books. Books such as Peace is Every Step, Being Peace, Anger, The Miracles of Mindfulness – among more than 100 books that he has written - have touched the hearts of millions of people, helping them to embrace and transform suffering into peace and happiness. Quite a few people - after practicing the teachings offered in the books, and being benefit from them – considered Thich Nhat Hanh to be their spiritual teacher, even though they have not met him before.

Plum Village welcomes practitioners coming to learn the art of mindful living year-round. In the year 2012, more than four thousand people of about 50 nationalities come to practice for a week or more in the annual one-month Summer Opening in Plum Village. Hundreds of practitioners also come during the Christmas-New Year’s Holiday season to celebrate Christmas and New Year in a spiritual and joyful way. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh also travels extensively to teach the art of mindful living worldwide.

Sangha building is an important element in the practice of Plum Village. “Go as a river in harmony” is the guide, where different ideas are listened to and respected and differences are reconciled, through the practices of deep listening and loving speech. There are more than 1000 of lay Sanghas practice regularly in many countries such as England, Italy, Spain, Ireland, France, Canada, Brazil, USA, Germany, India, China, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea …. These Sanghas were founded by local practitioners, who came to retreats in Plum Village, then established practice groups in their home countries, in order to continue and to support each other in the practices. There are general practice groups, as well as affinity groups, such as Wake-Up Sangha for Young Adults, the Happy Teachers Sangha for Educators, Healthy Body-Healthy Mind Sangha for Health Care and Social Services Professionals …

The main Dharma door practiced at Plum Village is Happy Dwelling in the Present Moment (drstadharmasukhavihara), which means that we live happily in each moment, the present moment. Miracles of life are around us, conditions of happiness are in front of us, we just need to calm down, to sit still, to bring mind and body back together, and then we can get in touch with them right away. We do not need to search for happiness elsewhere. “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”

Applied Buddhism is practiced at Plum Village


Buddhism practiced at Plum Village is applied Buddhism, with the effects of transforming pain and suffering into peace and happiness. Profound teachings of impermanence, selflessness and nirvana are made relevant to everyday life. The foundations of Plum Village practices are based on the Discourse on the Mindfulness and Breathing (Anapanasati Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, 118), Discourse on Four Establishment of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta,  Majjhima Nikaya, 10), and the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone (Bhaddekaratta Sutta,  Majjhima Nikaya, 131) as taught in the Source Buddhism period by the Buddha. To help make the practice easier, we need to understand how our mind works. Plum Village employs the teachings in the field of mind and consciousness of the Manifestation-Only School (vijnaptimatra) , as established by Asanga and Vasubanddhu, 4th century Buddhist monks and philosophers in India. To make this profound teachings relevant to modern time, in 1990 Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh composed 50 verses on the nature of consciousness, which are based on the works of Asanga and Vasubandu and of later teachers like Sthiramati (470-550), Chinese Buddhist monks Xuanzang (600-604) and Fazang (643-712). Thich Nhat Hanh made the teachings fully embraced the Mahayana tradition, by further developed the interbeing and interpenetration teachings of the Avamtasaka sutra in the Manifestation-Only theory. Thus the teachings and practices of Plum Village include those of source Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana traditions.

For all of his life, the Buddha only taught about suffering and the ways out of suffering, or say it another way, he only taught about happiness and the ways to happiness. Plum Village teachings and practices also have the same purposes: to help people calm their body and mind, to get in touch with the peace and happiness within and around them, and to transform their pain and suffering. It is this approach that made Plum Village community become well known in the West. People come to the practices, and being benefited by the practices. The teachings at Plum Village are pragmatic and relevant to modern life. It helps people deal with major illnesses of the 21st century: loneliness, fear, anger, depression, stress …, which in a major way, are caused by a fast-paced and materialistic way of life. Most illnesses of today are illnesses of life style. By modifying the way we live, we can help cure these illnesses. That’s where Buddhism can help, because Buddhism is mainly a way of living - the way of love and understanding, which brings peace and happiness to practitioners.

Teachings and practices of Plum Village have the following 4 characteristics (4 Dharma Seals of Plum Village).

It is the characteristics of these seeds, and how we take care of these seeds that determine the quality of our life. There are wholesome seeds, unwholesome seeds and neutral seeds. Our thought actions, speech actions and bodily actions can create conditions for these seeds to manifest, to mature and to transform. When these seeds are transformed, we are also transformed. We are the sum of our actions. Our peace and happiness depends on how we live.

The Four-Fold Right Diligence practice (of the Noble Eightfold path) tells us to create conditions for (a) unwholesome seeds to stay in the store consciousness (b) unwholesome seeds to return to the store consciousness if they arise in the mind consciousness (c) wholesome seeds to arise in the mind consciousness and (d) wholesome seeds to stay and to grow stronger if they arise in the mind consciousness. The seeds manifested in the mind-consciousness are called mental formations. Manas has the tendency for unwholesome mental formations to arise in the mind consciousness. When those things happen, mind consciousness can use the energy of mindfulness to embrace and shine light on the unwholesome mental formations, seeing their impermanent and interbeing nature, and helps manas to transform its discriminative to a non-discriminative nature. The unwholesome mental formations in the mind consciousness then also are transformed.

So, it is matter of nature (seeds) and nurture (conditions). The important points to note are the seeds change continuously and mindfulness help make the changes. Plum Village practices employ these principles to plan its mindfulness activities.

4Consciousnesses

Fig. 1: Five sense consciousnesses, mind consciousness, manas consciousness and store consciousness

Here is the list of 51 mental seeds/formations, sorted by types: (a) 5 universal mental formations: touch, attention, feeling, perception, volition; (b) 5 particular mental formations: intention, determination, mindfulness, concentration, insight; (c) 11 wholesome mental formations: faith, inner shame, shame before others, absence of craving, absence of hatred, absence of ignorance, diligence, tranquility, vigilance energy, equanimity, non-harming; (d) 26 unwholesome mental formations : craving, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, wrong view, restlessness, drowsiness, lack of faith, laziness, negligence, forgetfulness, distraction, lack of discernment, lack of inner shame, lack of shame, anger, resentment, concealment, maliciousness, jealousy, selfishness, deceitful, guile, desire to harm, pride; and (e) 4 indeterminate mental formations: regret, sleepiness, initial thought, sustained thought.

How are these teachings implemented in the practices at Plum Village?

Plum Village has become a well known mediation practice center in the West because of the following reasons:

We will elaborate these points in the rest of the paper.

Simple yet profound teachings and practices:

The Buddha is a wise teacher, who shows us the way of understanding and love, which we can practice to transform our pain and suffering into peace and happiness.  Practices of Plum Village emphasizes on these aspects, therefore, activities at Plum Village are designed to help people to nourish their body and mind, to cultivate a tranquil mind, so deep contemplation can take place and insight can be developed. In other mediation traditions, these actives are usually done in intensive retreats, set up in serene and quite setting - like in monasteries or practice centers up in the mountains or in the countryside, and required many long sitting meditation sessions in the meditation hall. Plum Village practices are not limit to only sitting meditation in the mediation halls. People can practice meditation anywhere, anytime and can be involved in daily activities, as long as they are mindful of their in-breaths and out-breaths.

In the Discourse on Mindful Breathing, the Buddha gives 16 breathing exercises for meditation practitioners to calm their body and mind and to contemplate: the first four breaths for contemplation of the body in the body, the second four breaths is for contemplation of feelings in the feelings, the third four breaths is for contemplation of mind in the mind, and the last four breaths is for contemplation of objects of mind in the objects of mind. Mindfulness is made possible via our in-breaths and out-breaths. Mindfulness of breathing is the main element of meditation practices. If we are aware of our breaths, we can be aware of everything in our world.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh summarizes the practices in this sutra with the following verse:

In - Out
Deep - Slow
Calm – Ease
Smile – Release
Present moment – Wonderful moment

Our busy lifestyles have created quite a few illnesses nowadays. We rarely have time to rest. Even when we do have time, we do not know how to rest either. We do not want our times to be wasted doing nothing. Multi-tasking is becoming a capacity that we want to posses. It is this kind of lifestyle that creates stress, depression, and anxiety in us. Mindfulness meditation can help us deal with this problem.

It is difficult to see the bottom of a pond if the water is muddy. If we wait for a while, the mud settles down to the bottom, the water becomes clear, and we can see the bottom of the pond without having to make any efforts. When we are angry, sad, or depressed, we cannot see things clearly. Our mind is as cloudy as the muddy water. Actions that we do while we are in that mental states may not turn out to be that good. It is better to calm our mind first, let the emotions settle down, then we can see thing clearer. By being mindful of our in-breaths and out-breaths, we are able to drive the attention away from our head, transforming the mental energy (kind of destructive in this case) to the neutral energy of the breath. We use that breath energy to nourish all the cells in the body. The calming down would be faster if we also practice walking meditation, just concentrate on our breaths and our footsteps, not to pay attention to our anger, our sadness …. Those negative feelings will go away.

Our mind wanders around most of the time. The mindful breaths keep the mind with the body, like the string that keeps the kite from flying away. In order to see things clearly, the mind has to be with the body, not at somewhere else i.e we have to be in the present moment. When the mind and body are together, we realize that things just present themselves in front of us, we do not have to make much effort to see it. For example, someone is looking out of the window, but a curtain is blocking the view. If his mind is not with his body, he does not realize that there is a curtain, and he will try to see through it. No matter how hard he tries, he is not going to see anything. If his mind is there with his body, he just has to remove the curtain. Then everything appears clearly to him, he does not even have to try to see them.

We are so much occupied with our sorrows and difficulties that we forget to look at the happiness aspects of life. They are there, but we are not mindful enough to see them. The mindful breath does just one thing, and does it well. It brings the mind back to the body, to the here and now, so we can be in touch with the present moment. Other things come from of the awareness of this present moment.

We have to breathe in order to be alive. And we do breathe anywhere, anytime. Why not make these breaths into mindful breaths? We can be mindful in what we do by integrating mindful breathing while doing them. Eating meditation is eating that we are aware that we are eating, our mind is there with the food and the people surrounding us. Walking meditation is walking that we are aware that we are walking. Our mind is with our feet, with our breaths, not wandering around or regretting about the past and worry about the future.

Transformation and healing

In the winter of 2002, a man came to Upper Hamlet France for the first time to practice for a week. A week before that, his wife and two children died in a tragic traffic accident. After the funeral, depressed and did not know what to do, he came to Plum Village. He participated in all daily activities, consisting of sitting and chanting in the morning, doing physical exercise, having meals in silence, working meditation (like helping with washing up, chopping vegetables, setting up the meditation hall…), taking a nap, listen to Dharma talks, etc … just the usual things in the monastery. He was instructed to do these activities while being mindful of his breaths. During this time, he was able to pay attention to other things besides the deaths of his loved ones. The sun still shined, the birds still sang. There were still people for him to talk to, to laugh with. He was not as lonely as he thought. He realized that he was still able to breath and still alive in the present moment. There were other things worth living for, besides his deceased loved ones. Pains and suffering still came up, but he learned how to embrace them with the practice of mindful breathing and walking mediation. His sadness gradually disappeared. At the departure, he shared that he was ready to come back to face life as it manifested, not feeling lost and hopeless like before.

Meditation has two aspects: samatha: stopping and calming, which leads to a tranquil mind; and vipassana: looking deeply or contemplation, which leads to insight. We usually caught up in ideas of duality such as suffering and happiness, birth and death, coming and going. Phenomena manifested when conditions are sufficient and dissolved when conditions are not sufficient. They are selfless (empty of a separate self) and impermanent in nature. It is the belief that there is a permanent and separate self that gives rise to our suffering. The man could have realized those facts after having the chance to look deeply into the true manifestations of his deceased wife and children, and frees himself from the notions of birth and death.

In a retreat for the Vietnam War veterans held by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, one veteran shared with Thich Nhat Hanh about his regrets and sorrows for the killing of several innocent children in a village. In an ambush, most of the soldiers in his unit were killed by the communist guerillas. Wanting to kill some villages for revenge, he made some sandwiches with explosive in them, and used them as traps. It just happened that several children ate the sandwiches and got killed. After returning from the war, he had a lot of nightmares, depressed, and could not get over the guilt. He thought that even it was a war, and people got killed in wars, but those acts were not acceptable to him. They were innocent children. Past actions came back to haunt him. He could not live peacefully in the present. He was told that there was nothing he could do to bring those dead children back, but everyday there were children dying of starvation, lack of medicine, etc …. He could help save the lives of those dying children. The seeds of compassion and loving kindness were watered, embracing the seeds of fear, of regrets, and anger … He saw chances for undoing bad deeds in the past. If we live mindfully in the present moment and cultivate the wholesome seeds in us, we can transform regrets about the past and worries about the future. We can change the past and shape the future by living mindfully in the present moment.

Stories of transformations like this happen a lot in retreats held by Plum Village. People are given the chances to get in touch with themselves deeply in the retreat, via simple practices of stopping and slowing down. Transformations take place even in a one-day retreat (day of mindfulness). Walking meditation and total relaxations are two popular activities in retreat. In the total relaxation practice, people meditate in a laying down position, relaxing all parts of the body. He/she practices awareness of all the body parts, and thank them for tirelessly carrying out the bodily movements day-in and day-out. He gives his body a rest. Calming the body also helps calming the mind. When we are angry, anxious, or afraid, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, releasing stress hormones and instruct our body to fight-or-flight. Our body becomes tense, our heart beats faster, our blood pressure is increased … We can help calm the body by going back to our breaths, doing walking meditation to transform these energies to the breath energy. When we are calmer and more relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, our body is at rest.

The revised five mindfulness trainings, an updated version of the traditional five precepts, serve as guides for bringing mindfulness into our lives (see appendix A). For example, the fifth mindfulness training, Nourishment and Healing, shows us how to consume mindfully by being aware of the negative effects of unmindful consumptions and the positive effects of mindful consumptions:

Fifth mindfulness training: Nourishment and Healing:“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”

We are facing an over-consumption culture that depletes natural resources and makes our life spiritually poor. Our happiness seems to be identified with material things that we posses, the kinds of cars we drive, types of smart phones we use, brand names of clothes we wear, etc …We have many friends in social media networks and can spend hours chatting with them, yet it is difficult for us to connect to our friends, to our family members in the real world. We are more connected yet we become lonelier. Internet addiction, defined as using the internet 8 hours or more a day, is becoming an illness. Digital dementia, a deterioration of cognitive ability, is on the rise for internet addicted teens.

We all have the needs to love and to be loved. All our activities seem to reflect that needs. Over consumption is one way to compensate when those needs are not met. People have used consumption as a way to cover loneliness and anxieties. It is difficult not to over consume in a developed world. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements to buy new products. Modern economies depend on consumptions for job creations and growths. Realistically, we still consume, but we have to consume mindfully. If one chooses to live simply, being happy with simple things, it seems like he/she is swimming against the stream. We need to have a Sangha, to have friends to practice with and to support us in the path.

Go as a river – Building brotherhood and sisterhood in the Sangha

There are over 1000 lay Sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village all over the world. It is easier to practice with a Sangha than to practice alone. After attending retreats, many people want to continue the practice at home, in the workplace. If they do not continue to practices, all the good energies and all the freshness generated in the retreat seem to go away within a month or so. To gain it back, they need to attend another retreat. The cycle keeps on repeating. Practicing with a Sangha can help keep the freshness and the energy going. When practicing with the Sangha, we do not have to try that hard. The energy of the Sangha will carry us, we just need to be with the Sangha. Regularity is the key. For busy people, practicing with a Sangha one day a month seems to be fine, given other family and social responsibilities that they have to take care of.

If drops of water travel separately, they will have less chance of reaching the sea. They will be evaporated by the heat along the way. If they travel as a river, the chance for them of reaching the sea is very high. The same thing is observed in flying as a flock of birds. It is observed that migration birds flying together only consumed about 30% of the energy as if they fly alone.

Practicing with the a Sangha gives us many benefits, chief among them is a place to take refuge when we are down and need some supports. It helps us develop human relation skills. Our capacity to get in touch with ourselves and with others is enhanced through the interactions with other Sangha members. We accept other members as family members. However, a practicing Sangha is not a social club. People go there not to be recognized, or to receive more “likes” as in digital social media networks. Practitioners join a Sangha to go on the path of love and understanding together. Practicing Sanghas can be established in families - among spouses, parents and children, in the work places – among colleagues, in educational, political and social organizations, etc …

A harmonious Sangha does not necessarily mean that all members agree on everything. Members of Sangha can have different ideas, and can make different decisions, as long as ideas are discussed and decisions are made together. Respecting and embracing differences in the Sangha is a quality of a harmonious Sangha. At times, there will be difficulties and disagreements in the Sangha. Plum Village has proposed two concrete methods to help deal with these problems: Beginning Anew and Peace Treaty.

Beginning Anew is a practice to help us reconcile with ourselves and with those who we think may have caused difficulties with us, including our loved ones. It is the practice of deep listening and looking deeply. The practice consists of 4 steps: (a) watering the flower, seeing the good things in people who we would like to begin anew with (b) expressing regrets, we may want to take some responsibilities for the arisen difficulties, (c) expressing a hurt, sharing honestly why we suffered because of the actions, avoid blaming, and (d) sharing a long term difficulty & asking for support. The current difficulties could have arisen from difficulties in the past, we are asking others not to create conditions for them to surface. Peace Treaty is an agreement between two people who agree to solve difficulties as they arise, not to keep silence and pretend that everything is fine. See appendices B and C for complete descriptions of these practices.

Touching the Earth is a practice to help us makes peace with ourselves and with others, to cultivate the energies of true love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. In a teaching given by the Buddha to Rahula, his son and a young novice monk at the time, the Buddha told him to practice to be solid like the earth. The earth has the capacity to receive without discrimination, pure and beautiful things like flowers, fragrances, fresh milks; or impure and foul-smelling things like excrement, blood, urines, mucous … The earth can transform garbage into flowers. We can practice touching the earth to transform suffering into joy.

The text below, taken from the Five Earth Touchings (appendix D), helps practitioners to reconcile with themselves and with those who make them suffer:

The Fifth Earth-Touching

In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger, and hatred. I know that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love. I pray to my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar of love and blossom like a flower. I pray that they can be transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them.

Sangha building is an important practice at Plum Village. When we understand and love ourselves, we can understand and love others. Difficulties and sufferings come mostly from within ourselves, learning how to reconcile with ourselves, we can reconcile with others. Brotherhood and sisterhood are built from understanding and love, from inclusiveness and acceptance of each others.

Plum Village retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh usually attract many people. Crowds of 1000 are the norm for such retreats. The retreats are opened to people of all ages, from children ages six and above to senior citizens. There are programs for different age groups, children ages 6 to 12, teens ages 13 to 17, young adults ages 18 – 35 and for adults. Plum Village retreats are among the only few retreats that accept families with children to practice together. It is noted that many parents get transformed after attending the retreats with their children. They become more loving and more aware of the needs of their children. The children have transformations too. They can talk with their parents and express their needs more mindfully. Plum Village monastics travel often with Thich Nhat Hanh worldwide to hold these retreats, working together as a Sangha. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said that in retreats like that, his Dharma talks only contribute to 20% of the success of the retreats. Other activities, led by his monastic and lay disciples, contribute to the remaining 80%.

Sample activities for a 5-day retreat are as below:

Day 1 : Day 2 – 4: Day 5:
14:00 – 16:30 : Registration
                         & Check in
17:00               Dinner
18:30               Dharma talk
20:30               Bed time
                       – Noble Silence

4:30       Wake-up
5:15     Sitting meditation &
             Chanting
6:15     10 Mindful Movements
           Walking meditation

7:30       Breakfast

8:45       Singing meditation

9:00       Dharma talk
11:30   Lunch
13:00   Total relaxation/
             Touching the Earth
14:30     Dharma discussion
16:00     Exercises/Consultations
17:00     Dinner

18:30       Presentations about 5 Mindfulness
            Trainings/Beginning Anew

20:30     Bed time
             – Noble Silence

4:30       Wake-up
5:15     5 Mindfulness Trainings
           Transmission Ceremony

7:30       Breakfast

8:45       Singing meditation

9:00       Questions & Answers
11:30   Lunch
13:00   Farewell


Practitioners are given a lot of time to do the activities mindfully. There is no rush to accomplish anything. Present moment is the destination. As said in a song, “Happiness is here and now. I’ve dropped my worries. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no longer in a hurry. Happiness is here and now. I’ve dropped my worries. Somewhere to go, something to do, But I don’t need to hurry.” By slowing down and stopping, people calm their body and mind, get in touch with their feelings, their perceptions, and their consciousness. Looking deeply in to them, they can see the true natures of pain and suffering, and transfer them to peace and happiness. That is the approach of retreats held by Plum Village.

Besides holding activities for general public, Plum Village has programs affinity groups. Some current initiatives are: “Wake-Up to a Healthy and Compassionate Society”, a movement started by Plum Village in 2008 for young adults ages 18-35 to come together to practice. It is based on the Plum Village’s revised 5 Mindfulness Trainings.; “Happy Teachers Will Change the World,” a program to bring mindfulness into education, helping educators, teachers and students to take care of themselves, making teaching and studying more joyful; “Mindfulness Born Peace and Happiness: A Joyful Way to a Healthy Body Healthy Mind, ”an initiative to bring mindfulness into Health Care and Social Services fields. Plum Village has held retreats for politicians, business people, law enforcement officials, entertainment professionals …to name a few.

Conclusions:

This paper gives a brief introduction about Plum Village and its founder Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It then gives a summary of foundations of teachings and practices, which are based on the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Mindful Breathing, the Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, and Nature of Consciousness as taught by the Manifestation-Only School. A short description of the Four Dharma Seals of Plum Village is given, which includes: I have Arrived, I am Home (Dwelling in the present moment); Go as a River; Interbeing Nature of Truths (Relative Truths and Absolute Truths), Interbeing Nature of Time (Past, Present, and Future); and Consciousness is Continuously Ripening. These teachings are integrated into daily activities, making every activity a meditative activity via the practice of mindful breathing. Guidelines for cultivating peace and happiness are included in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Methods for reconciliation with ourselves and others are presented in the practices of Beginning Anew, Peace Treaty, and Touching the Earth. These elements are needed for us to build a harmonious and mindful living community. It is the practicality, the simplicity and the relevance of these teachings and practices, and a joyful and happy Sangha that makes Plum Village a well-known Buddhist meditation community in the West.




Appendices: Some Essential Teachings and Practices at Plum Village
(Excerpts from “The Heart of Practice”, a handbook of practice of Plum Village)

Appendix A: 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.

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.

The Third Mindfulness Training: 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.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.


Appendix B: Beginning Anew

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 the 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 fellow practitioners 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 turn. The other practitioners practice deep listening and following their breath.

1) Flower watering

This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances when 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 to the Sangha and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.

2) Sharing regrets

We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.

3) Expressing a hurt

We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction with another practitioner, 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.)

4) Sharing a long term difficulty & asking for support

At times we each have difficulties and pains 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 kind speech and compassionate listening. Beginning Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our Sangha. For instance, we may notice that our roommate is generous in sharing her insights, and another friend 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 ease 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 every day by expressing our appreciation for our fellow practitioners 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 the Sangha.


Appendix C: The Peace Treaty

In order that we may live long and happily together, that we may continually develop and deepen our love

and understanding, we the undersigned, vow to observe and practice the following:

For the one who is angry

I, the one who is angry, agree to:

  1. Refrain from saying or doing anything that might cause further damage or escalate the anger.
  2. Not suppress my anger.
  3. Practice breathing and taking refuge in the island of myself.
  4. Calmly, within twenty-four hours, tell the one who has made me angry about my anger and suffering, either verbally or by delivering a Peace Note.
  5. Ask to make an appointment for later in the week (e.g. Friday evening) to discuss this matter more thoroughly, either verbally or by Peace Note.
  6. Will not say: “I am not angry. It’s okay. I am not suffering. There is nothing to be angry about, at least not enough to make me angry. ”
  7. Look deeply into my daily life while sitting, walking and breathing, in order to see:

a. the ways I myself have been unskillful at times.

b. how I have hurt the other person because of my own habit energy.

c. how the strong seed of anger in me is the primary cause of my anger.

d. how the other person’s suffering, which waters the seed of my anger, is the secondary
                     cause.

e. how the other person is only seeking relief from his or her own suffering.

f.   that as long as the other person suffers, I cannot be truly happy.

  1. Apologize immediately, without waiting until the Friday evening, as soon as I realize my unskillfulness and lack of mindfulness.
  2. Postpone the Friday meeting if I do not feel calm enough to meet with the other person.

For the one who made the other angry

I, the one who has made the other angry, agree to:

  1. Respect the other person’s feelings, not ridicule him or her, and allow enough time for him or her to calm down.
  2. Not press for an immediate discussion.
  3. Confirm the other person’s request for a meeting, either verbally or by note, and assure him or her that I will be there.
  4. Practice breathing and taking refuge in the island within myself to see how:

a. I have seeds of unkindness and anger as well as the habit energy to make the other person unhappy.

b. I have mistakenly thought that making the other person suffer would relieve my own suffering.

c. by making him or her suffer, I make myself suffer.

Apologize as soon as I realize my unskillfulness and lack of mindfulness, without making any attempt to justify myself and without waiting until the Friday meeting.

Signatures

We vow, with _________________   as witness and the mindful presence of the Sangha, to abide by these articles and to practice wholeheartedly. we invoke the three gems for protection and to grant us clarity and confidence.

Signed,  




______________________________________                            

                                                                                          

the    Day of       in the Year           in                              

Peace Note

Date:                             ______________

Time:                           ______________

Dear                             ,

This morning (afternoon, etc. ), you said (did, wrote, etc. ) something that made me very angry. I suffered very much. I want

you to know this. You said (did):

                                                                                  

                                                                                  

                                                                                  

Please let us both look at what you said (did) and examine the matter together in a calm and open manner this Friday evening.

(you can choose the day that is suitable to your schedule)

Yours, not very happy right now,

                                           

Example of a verbal notification

“My dear friend, what you said (did) this morning (afternoon) made me very angry. I suffered very much and I want you to know it. I hope that by Friday evening both of us will have had a chance to look deeply into this matter.”

 



Appendix D: Touching the earth

The practice of Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.

When we touch the Earth we become small, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. When we touch the Earth we become great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out our suffering -our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief.

Our hands join to form a lotus bud and we gently lower ourselves to the ground so that all four limbs and our forehead are resting comfortably on the floor. While we are Touching the Earth we turn our palms face up, showing our openness to the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. After one or two times practicing Touching the Earth (Three Touchings or Five Touchings), we can already release a lot of our suffering and feeling of alienation and reconcile with our ancestors, parents, children, or friends.

The Five Earth Touchings

The First Earth-Touching

In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers, and all my ancestors. I know I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect, and transmit to me your energy. I know wherever children and grandchildren are, ancestors are there, also. I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. I see that my ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving kindness. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply and allow their energy to flow through me. I ask my ancestors for their support, protection, and strength.

[ THREE BREATHS]   [ BELL]   [ ALL STAND UP]

The Second Earth-Touching

In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

I see in myself my teachers, the ones who show me the way of love and understanding, the way to breathe, smile, forgive, and live deeply in the present moment. I see through my teachers all teachers over many generations and traditions, going back to the ones who began my spiritual family thousands of years ago. I see the Buddha or Christ or the patriarchs and matriarchs as my teachers, and also as my spiritual ancestors. I see that their energy and that of many generations of teachers has entered me and is creating peace, joy, understanding, and loving kindness in me. I know that the energy of these teachers has deeply transformed the world. Without the Buddha and all these spiritual ancestors, I would not know the way to practice to bring peace and happiness into my life and into the lives of my family and society. I open my heart and my body to receive the energy of understanding, loving kindness, and protection from the Awakened Ones, their teachings, and the community of practice over many generations. I am their continuation. I ask these spiritual ancestors to transmit to me their infinite source of energy, peace, stability, understanding, and love. I vow to practice to transform the suffering in myself and the world, and to transmit their energy to future generations of practitioners. My spiritual ancestors may have had their own difficulties and not always been able to transmit the teachings, but I accept them as they are.

[ THREE BREATHS]   [ BELL]   [ ALL STAND UP]

The Third Earth -Touching

In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of ancestors who made it available.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

I see that I am whole, protected, and nourished by this land and all of the living beings who have been here and made life easy and possible for me through all their efforts. I see all those who have made this country a refuge for people of so many origins and colors, by their talent, perseverance, and love -those who have worked hard to build schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads, to protect human rights, to develop science and technology, and to fight for freedom and social justice. I see myself touching my ancestors who have lived on this land for such a long time and known the ways to live in peace and harmony with nature, protecting the mountains, forests, animals, vegetation, minerals of this land. I feel the energy of this land penetrating my blood and soul, supporting and accepting me. I vow to cultivate and maintain this energy and transmit it to future generations. I vow to contribute my part in transforming the violence, hatred, and delusion that still lie deep in the collective consciousness of this society so that future generations will have more safety, joy, and peace. I ask this land for its protection and support.

[ THREE BREATHS]   [ BELL]   [ ALL STAND UP]

The Fourth Earth-Touching

In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, all who have suffered and worried because of me and for my sake. I know I have not been mindful enough in my daily life. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. They have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development. I transmit my energy to my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my beloved ones, my husband, my wife, my daughter, and my son, so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I pray that all ancestors in my blood and spiritual families will focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.

[ THREE BREATHS]   [ BELL]   [ ALL STAND UP]

The Fifth Earth-Touching

In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer.

[ BELL]   [ ALL TOUCH THE EARTH]

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger, and hatred. I know that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they may have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused. They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love. I pray to my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us suffer the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar of love and blossom like a flower. I pray that they can be transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer. I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them.

[ THREE BREATHS]   [ BELL]   [ ALL STAND UP]