Editors' welcome

Dear Thay, dear fourfold Sangha

This Spring edition of Nhap Luu News marks another historic point in our blossoming. We have just completed the first ever large scale Australia-wide retreat, held at the lovely Cave Hill Creek Resort just twenty minutes  drive from Nhap Luu itself. 167 retreatants from six states, together with fourteen friends from the Dharma Gaia Practice centre in New Zealand, gathered for five days of wonderful Dharma talks and practice, led in Plum Village style by sixteen monastics. Some of the monastics came from as far afield as Hong Kong, and Thailand. Others live here. 

The event is planned to be the first of an ongoing series of Spring Openings for our Australian Plum Village. While there is still a lot to be done, the fact that the conditions are at last sufficient for the Retreat to take place, does say something quite profound about what is starting to happen to us as a Sangha. It has been a wonderful thing. With great pleasure we give you  two reflections on the retreat, in the articles ‘ Flowing as a River’ from the Tranquil Lakes Sangha in Gippsland, Victoria, and a touching first time Plum Village experience from Simon Du in ‘Retreat Review- Beginners Mind’ - together with abeautiful retreat inspired poem from Nguyen Van Tru in Sydney. All should warm your heart and inspire. We thankyou for your patience with our newsletter lateness at  this special time.

The arrival of the Spring Opening has actually been a story of perseverance and love in Sangha building, sometimes amidst difficult circumstances. Thus, Sangha building, dear to Thay’s heart and central to this tradition, is equally the theme of this newsletter, and we give youThay's Dharma Talk on Sangha, with four wonderful stories for you in our Sangha Building section further on. They include how an older sangha can evolve; the budding of brand new Sanghas; and Sangha building with a difference, in ‘For the Good of the Whole- Protecting the Honeybees’.   

Needless to say, if there are yet more inspired sangha building stories out there, we would enjoy receiving them from you at your own pace at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  But for now, please enjoy and take motivation from the wonderful experiences that we have been able to share with you this time.

With all this development you will notice that we also have a ‘We are Seeking’ section again this quarter. We hope we can find some inspired and enthusiastic practitioners to join us to strengthen our efforts. Our Newsletter team needs, from any state, writers, proof readers and people with experience in publishing; the Beaufort market project needs people from Victoria to keep it alive and well and our very busy Webmaster, Mark Pearson, needs practitioners from any state to help in his task of keeping the website up to date and wonderful. The more helpers the easier the work!

We launched the Nhap Luu News with a small series called ‘Touching The Earth, Healing the Earth’, and have wanted to move further in this direction. Somehow though, special editions have popped up in between. However after this Spring edition, we plan to revisit that series and to explore the Five Mindfulness Trainings in some depth. In the Summer edition we will begin with your own beautiful very personal, practice sharings about what it means to you to practise the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life. That Summer issue is due to be published on December 23rd. Your contributions, as described, are requested by  mid December at the latest.

Susan Wirawan (Chân Nguyện Lưu) 

True Stream of Aspiration                                                 

The Newsletter Team

Editorial: Susan Wirawan - Chan Nguyen Luu, (True Steam of Aspiration) Victoria.
Editorial: Jenny Pittman - True Shore of Virtue, New South Wales.
Layout: Leonie Clark, Queensland.

"Water Reflecting"  by David Moore (Wholesome Action of the Heart). September 2014, Cave Hill Creek.
Walking Meditation Nhap Luu Meditation Centre, December 2012

Dharma Talk 

Sangha:  by Thich Nhat Hanh 

We all need love. Without enough love, we may not be able to survive, asindividuals and as planet. It is said that the next Buddha will be named‘Maitreya’, the Buddha of Love. believe that Maitreya might not take the form of an individual, but as a community showing us the way of love and compassion. 

In Buddhist circles, we speak of Buddhakaya (Buddha body) and Dharmakaya(Dharma body), but we rarely speak of Sanghakaya (Sangha body)As practitioners, we carry the body of the Buddha in us. The body of the Buddha ismindfulness, and mindfulness always leads to concentration, insight, and love. When we notice that we have mindful- ness, concentration, insight, and love,we know that the body of the Buddha is in usMindfulness is something wecan touch in ourselves. 

The Dharma is the way of calming, healing, looking deeply, and transforming.When we are able to walk in mindfulness, the Dharma body is in us. Every timewe take one peaceful step, every time we breathe mindfully, the Buddha andDharma bodies in us grow

The Sangha is jewel, no less important than the Buddha and the Dharma. Please practise Sangha building. Stick to your Sangha. Without Sangha body, sooner or later you will abandothe practice. Take refuge in the Buddha,the Dharma, and the SanghaThe Sangha always carries within it the Buddha and the Dharma. 

The Sangha is a holy body. Don't look for holiness somewhere else. Don't think that holiness is only for the Dalai Lama or the Pope. Holiness is within you andwithin the body of your Sangha. When a community of people sit, breathe,walk, and eat in mindfulness, holiness is there, and we can recognize it. Whenyou take one peaceful step, you touch the earth with your holiness. If membersof the Sangha practise mindfully together, the Sangha is holy. We nourish our Sangha body by practising deeply together with friends. 

The Sangha can be described as stream of life going in the direction of emancipation, joy, and peace. The only condition for us to enter the stream of the holy Sangha is that we practise. If we do, we will obtain ‘stream entrance’right away. This was the word used by the Buddha. If we embrace the practice of mindful living, we join the Sangha 

We have to learn to take care of our Sangha body. We join the Sangha and enter the stream. This is the first holy fruit we obtain as a practitioner. It is not difficult. If you want to practise in a joyful way, build a Sangha where you are. The Sangha is your protection. It is the raft that will carry you to the shore of liberation. Without a Sangha, even with the best of intentions, your practice will falter. ‘I take refuge in the Sangha’ is not a declaration of faith. It is a daily practice. 

If you have a difficult Dharma sister or brother, help her, because she is you. If you cannot help her, you will not be successful in your own practice. If you continue to exist as an individual and think that happiness is an individual matter, you will not succeed. When you have put your roots down in each other, the feelings of isolation and loneliness will be transformed. You are no longer merely an individual. You carry in your heart all your brothers, sisters, and ancestral teachers. 

Sangha building is an art. To take care of the Sangha is to take care of the Buddha. Through a Sangha, it is possible to be in touch with the living Dharma. To take care of the Sangha is to take care of ourselves, and to take care of ourselves is to take care of our Sangha. When we eat and drink in moderation, we are looking after our Sangha body. When we look after a brother or sister and help them smile again, we are looking after the Sangha. When we take our younger sister's hand and console her, we are looking after the Sangha. When we reconcile with our brother, the whole community will feel better, and we are looking after the Sangha. It is not enough just to go into the meditation hall and offer incense to the Buddha. When we cause our Sangha to be healed, we are healing thbody of the Buddha. 

We need a Sangha that we catouch in the present moment, made up of all kinds of people. They may not be fully enlightened, but if they can support uinour practice, that alone makes them a worthy object of our refuge. They may not be saints, but they are the Sangha we have. 

The best way to improve the quality of the Sangha is to improve the quality ofour own practice. If members of the Sangha practise mindfulness and have been liberated from the worst part of their suffering, the Sangha is a jewel thatcan help many people. Our community in Plum Village iby no means perfect. It is a community of ordinary people on the path of practice. But if our Sangha practises wellit can become a Sangha of deep realization. The holy element is there in each member of the Sangha. And with daily practice, we practise holiness every day. 

In any community, it is clear that some people have more peace than others. If we leave a Sangha because some of its members are not very holy, we are leaving the holy elements as well. The practice is to help build a Sangha thathas peace and joyEvery member of the community can practise this. This is the way to cultivate faith in the Sangha

If you do not have the means to travel and livwith an established Sangha, create a Sangha where you are. It can be a small community of practice with your family and friends. You can meet every dayor once a week, or even just once a month to recite the Mindfulness Trainings together. The work you do forthe Sangha is not just washing the dishes, working in the office, or performingceremonies. It is organizing yourself and your life in a way that brings happiness to the Sangha.

We have to learn to practise meditation collectivelyas a family, city, anationand a community of nations. A Sangha that practises love andcompassion together is the Buddha we need for the twenty-first century. 

This is an extract of an article based on a Dharma talk given  by Thay at Plum Village in September 1996.  It has been included here with permission of the Editor of "The Mindfulness bell" magazine, in issue 20 (September-December 1997) of which it was originally published. It may be read in full here:http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/wp/2013/08/dharma-talk-sangha/.

 

From the Nhap Luu Sisters

Dear friends,

It’s been an eventful quarter indeed, with the first ever Australia-  wide retreat being the pinnacle. We were very happy to welcome Brothers Thay Phap Niem, Thay Phap Kham, Phap Chuwng and Phap Giao for the retreat- along with Sisters Hoa Nghiem, and Quy Nghiem. The retreat was a  successful cooperation between lay friends from several states, creating a really strong national team.  The children who came were  happy, practicing beautifully, and as a result several additional families are already planning to bring their own children with them next year.

The event has also proved a catalyst for some other  positive changes.  Amongst these are the good news that we now have Council approval for a toilet block near the meditation hall. It will comprise two buildings- one with male and female toilets, and one with disabled access. We are likely to start these in October. A new Dining Hall and Kitchen are the next projects. Council understands our development and growth, and would like to see much improved and safer facilities for everyone to enjoy.  2015 will be the year for these. Another happy outcome surrounding our plans is that we have been offered probono drawing and planning services for at least these, by the Design Delta Group of Architects and Engineers.

But as our first priority of course, the $60,000 (plus costs) balance of payment for the extra piece of land we purchased is to be paid in early November. 

There are definitely good things happening throughout our wider Australian Sangha, and this makes us very happy. We hope you’ll enjoy hearing about them in what follows in this edition of Nhap Luu news, as much as much as you’ll enjoy Thay’s wisdom about Sangha Building.

The Sisters at Nhap Luu.

"Chant of Compassion" - David Moore "Wholesome Action of the Heart"
Cave Hill Creek September 2014
 
 

Spring Opening Retreat Offerings

Poem

Hồ Dương

Quanh hồ ngang dọc Bạch Đằng     

Vương cao chót vót mây ngàn lân la
Bờ Đông tọa lạc tòa nhà
Nhìn qua tường kính, xa xa núi đồi
Lần đầu thiền tập nơi đây
Tiếng chuông chánh niệm tràn đầy Hồ Dương
Le Le lả lướt ăn sương
Chợt nghe tiếng vọng khác thường ngẩn ngơ
 
 Composed at Cave Hill Creek Retreat 19 Sep 2014 
 by  Chan Tam Kiet (Nguyen Van Tru) of Sydney.

 


Creek Pond
 

Gum trees surround the lake
Reaching high up to the floating clouds.
To the east side of the lake lies our dining hall
Looking out at hills and mountains afar.

This is the first time I have meditated in this place.
The bell of mindfulness penetrates the water

Where wood ducks joyfully glide, hearing 
For the first time the sound of that bell. 
 
Breathe & Smile.

Translated:
True Stream of Joy (Chan Hy Luu)
Ahn Tuan Nguyen 

 

 

Retreat Review – ‘Beginners Mind’

Dear Thay, Dear Sangha, Dear friends,

My name is Tâm Hòa Lực. I just received the Five mindfulness trainings yesterday (25th September) and I would like to share with you my experience at the retreat. It is rather difficult to put in words the experience I had, because it is beyond words actually. There is a saying that a picture is better than a thousand words. I want to say that an experience is better than a million words. With that in mind, I will still endeavour to put together some words to provide a glimpse of my experience in the Nha Luu Spring Opening Retreat. 

As this was my very first retreat with the Plum Village tradition, I had no idea what to expect but I did attend with an intention in mind, and that was to practise mindfulness. 

On day one, when I arrived at the retreat venue at around five pm, I already sensed the mindfulness energy at the registration desk. So friendly and well organised. It reminded me of a saying in chinese: “A good start is already half way to success”.Over the next two days, I had the most long lasting  blissful experience  that I can recall .. It was so blissful that I had no desire to go anywhere else. (Not even Pure Land if I was offered the opportunity to go there but then again I guess Pure Land is probably something that belongs to the category of I don’t know what I don’t know). 

In the early mornings the temperature was quite low, but that did not prevent me from rising early to enjoy the freshness of the cold air, the sounds of the birds, the winsome mist softly floating over the tranquil lake, and it’s equally wonderful evaporation into the sky. As the sun rose, it was just so so delicious to see the light on the trees gradually change from a soft amber colour to  vivid gold. The clear reflections of all this in the picturesque lake was beyond words. Everything just looked so beautiful. Even the animal dung on the ground didn’t seem “dirty”, nor the occasional crying of toddlers irritating. It was joyous for me to bathe in the gentle breeze and in the warm sunshine. It felt like I was one with nature. Most of the time during those first  two days, there were not many words at all in my mind. Just  a joyous feeling similar to when you’ve tasted something really special.

Even though there were about a hundred and sixty people at the venue including toddlers, young kids, young adults and adults, the whole atmosphere was completely peaceful. Of course there were some occasional cries from the toddlers but that is only natural. The games we had around the bon fire were full of fun and laughter. The dharma sharing and deep listening practice were so very helpful in getting to understand each other within my Dharma discussion group;and  the Dharma talks were also very powerful in touching deep emotions within  myself, and also within  others who shared about this with me. Then the Plum Village  songs  - so.uplifting. I was also very impressed with the skilful answers of the Dharma Teachers during the Q&A session; and there was one other element  that helped make the retreat beautiful: it was  the happy smiles  people’s faces, especially those of the monastic brothers and sisters. Their natural sense of humour  brought so much laughter to many of us.

The schedule of activities and rest were perfectly balanced in my view. I loved the chanting in the morning as well as the total relaxation after lunch. Then suddenly on the ‘Lazy day’ my  mindfulness was interrupted (even though I did not read nor did I turn on my electronic devices)- primarily by thoughts that revolved around whether or not to let go of the opportunity to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings. I had not had any intention to receive them before I came, and I realised that receiving them from a Dharma Teacher, witnessed  by the Sangha, would be a firm commitment for me to maintain for the rest of my life. So it was a big decision to make at short notice. There were also silent questions from deep within regarding what I could possibly do for the Sangha once I joined it. So far, I had not yet joined any particular Sangha.  A mini storm raged in my mind, and I was not comfortable with some of the selfish answers that came up in it either. While I was  burdened by  feelings of a limited capacity to serve the Sangha, on the physical level the  pollen in the air caused my nostrils to swell and block- all resulting in a mild headache…till the silent use of gathas helped anchor my mind again in the here and the now once again.On the day the Five Mindfulness Trainings were to be transmitted, so much joy arose in me that I knew I was ready to receive them. All the words were clearly read to me and understood by me, and I have no doubt that they will show me the ways to take better care of my body and mind ,which in turn will generate more mindfulness energy for me to serve those around me.

I don’t feel that I am good at writing- but I offered to share these reflections with the sangha as a way to remind myself, also, through time, of my Beginner’s Mind. I hope my capacity to serve the sangha will increase. Meanwhile, I will just take baby steps to move in the same direction as the Sangha is moving.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to express deep gratitude to Thay for showing us a clear way to follow the footsteps of the Buddha. Equally importantly, I  feel the need to express my deep gratitude to all the Dharma brothers and sisters who have and do wholeheartedly share their wisdom with the Sangha; and last but not least, to all those whom I did not personally meet or speak with, I want to sincerely thank you for your presence. The retreat could not have been so beautiful and peaceful without every single one of you.

To all the readers who were present at the retreat, please accept my humble request for forgiveness. If either my unskilful speech, or my silence during the retreat upset you in anyway, please accept my sincere apology. Hopefully, my practice of the trainings will assist me to become more skilful as time goes by. Until we meet again, let’s continue our practice  together, in mindful sitting, breathing and  as like the Buddha taught.  

Breathe & smile.

Simon Du.- 

Tâm Hòa Lực  (Harmonious Strength of The Heart)

‘Walking Meditation Cave Hill Creek- Nhap Luu Spring Opening’. David Moore
(Wholesome Action of the Heart)  Smiling Heart Sangha, NSW.
 

'Flowing As a River'

Peace is Every Breath
 

Last week, five of our Tranquil Lake Sangha from Lake’s Entrance Victoria attended the Peace Is Every Breath retreat. The retreat was held near Stream Entering Meditation Centre at Cave Hill Creek resort in spectacular surroundings including a lake with platypuses. Around 150 retreatants attended and monastics came from Thailand, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia to share their knowledge and joy of the practice.   There were families, children, couples, individuals, Wake Up young adults, different cultures, backgrounds and nationalities from all around Australia and New Zealand.   

Together at last we became one sangha and flowed as a strong, joyful river deepening our awareness of ourselves and others. While it was a huge effort for many of us to attend, the fruits attained were well worth it.  Strong friendships were forged, there was laughter and joy, but most importantly we had the opportunity to actually live our mindfulness practice, and thus heal and strengthen our sangha.

Our beloved teacher Thay reminds us that to be able to flourish in our own practice , and then support others, we need the sangha; the community that lives in harmony and awareness.  So one of the real highlights of this particular retreat for me was to be with that greater sangha.  Over the time, I experienced my feelings of love and acceptance growing, and my peace and joy increase, as we sat, walked, ate and shared together.  Letting go of attachment to likes and dislikes I became aware of the energy created when we work together as one body. The Sangha Body.  The Sangha is a manifestation of the Buddha and the Dharma.  Without the Sangha there is no Buddha!  When I reflect on this I understand why our teachers put so much emphasis on harmony in the Sangha.

We experienced a wide range of teachings at the retreat including Buddhist psychology, the foundations of love and understanding, how to transform our suffering, mindfulness in our daily life and the 16 breathing exercises in the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra.  All taught with love and laughter and tears.  For me the retreat encapsulated the teaching of interbeing.  We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be with everyone and everything else.  At the retreat we became aware of what is going on in our body, our mind and in the world.   We chose to look for the good in each other, to listen deeply and speak lovingly.  As we practiced together, each of us a part of each other,  I  found myself letting go of my worries and able to  live  happily in each moment. At a time when there is such trouble in the world, this retreat gave me hope that we can live in peace, one breath at a time.( Daya Jepsen-True Ocean of Joy)

Some other kinds of reflections, also from members of the Tranquil Lake Sangha follow.  We hope you will enjoy them too: 

Lucy  (aged 7) : I really want to go back next year because kids club was fun and I met lots of new friends that I never want to forget.  I really liked singing songs because we all joined in and made concerts for the adults.  I had fun on the climbing wall even though I fell off.  I learnt to be calm and to try new foods but the best was Sister Natures Tim Tams. 
Kerrilee ( Pure Transformation in the Heart):That was the best seven days I have spent away in a long time.  It was full of learning, self discovery, rest, slowness, friendship, sharing and direction for the future.  I was inspired to maintain a daily practice and realised  I can be in the moment during my busy day and don’t have to be sitting on a cushion to achieve calm and happy equilibrium.  
 
As I participated in the meditations and dharma talks I watched my anxiety drop and my smile increase.   When I arrived on day one I was cross and tired after a long drive and I was anxious about interacting with so many people.  By day seven I was in a state of blissful calm with many new friends and a strong sense of belonging to this very large and harmonious sangha.
 It was truly an honour to meet, speak with and learn from all the monastics.  There were moments of intense honesty and clarity based on real experience, not simply read from a text. 

I  watched with appreciation as my 7 year old daughter laughed and played in total safety with her own new friends.  Brother Popcorn, Brother Yinyang, Sister Nature and Sister Sunshine (the kids nicknames for them) had endless patience, and the spirit of children themselves, whilst they cared for our own.  I also don’t think I had laughed so much in months.  The Thursday night concert in particular was hysterical when we put away our serious side and let loose.  When wasthe last time you saw grown men with chicken feet and tails, I wonder.

But the real highlight for me was taking Refuge and the Five Mindfulness Trainings and participating in this moving ceremony with a group of likeminded people knowing that we all wish to attain greater skill, kindness, compassion and love and to contribute this to the world around us. Bring on next year! 

Tranquil Lake Sangha. (Gippsland, east Victoria)

Bush Beauty at Cave Hill Creek Resort, September 2014. David Moore.

 

We are seeking volunteers

Nhap Luu needs you.

Many of us do what we do because we treasure the particular way that Thay teaches the Dharma and its practice. And, we want to help make the teaching more accessible to more people in Australia.  Things are changing and developing here all the time. We need extra help so we can keep moving forward. Specifically, we are currently looking for:  

* Helpers for the Beaufort Market project:
Our monthly stall at the Beaufort Market has been instrumental over the last three years in increasing our profile in the region. It has made our presence much better known, helped us to build strong local relationships, and brought us some wonderful friends and practitioners. In order to be able to continue, we need a team of people who recognise the value of this sort of outreach activity, and who will commit to making themselves available to help with the stall a few times a year. The occasion can also be a wonderful opportunity to spend a night at Nhap Luu, practising with the Sisters. 

 * An Assistant Webmaster
At last Nhap Luu has a real website; but of course, just having it is not enough. We need to keep it alive and posted with news and articles as they come available. Mark Pearson, in Brisbane, has the main role in this. However Mark is also a busy man with family and job, and we are looking for support for him. The workload is not heavy at all. In fact it is very part time indeed. We need to have you there! We need someone who has experience with websites, and knowing Joomla particularly would be a distinct advantage.

* Nhap Luu News also needs you!
If you like our newsletter, value the fact that we have one, and also enjoy working with the English Language, we need your skills as proof readers and writers, and in general editorial and layout advice and work. Also, is there someone out there with an understanding of, and experience in using, Mail Chimp?  You would be a valuable support for Leonie Clark, our wonderful layout person.

* Fundraisers
People with imagination and some organisational skills are also needed to help raise the funds that we need at Nhap Luu. These  are to further our building needs, and make the monastery  comfortable for everyone.

* Someone kind (or a kind group)  to donate  about 200 table-napkin sized,  hemmed  squares of monastically-coloured  cloth for serviettes for our future retreats. We’d just love them to be that yellow ochre colour of the Monks’ and Nuns’ Sanghati Robes if they can be- like they are in Deer Park we hear.  But some other monastic brown would also be fine. They should match, and cotton is preferred to polyester or other synthetic materials .

Your Pro-Bono Skills.  If you are a professional, have a think about howyour skills might possibly be valuable to Nhap Luu during it’s development, and then into the future.. This is your centre. Engineers, Accountants, Bookkeepers, plumbers and other tradesmen,  Garden Landscapers, Woodworkers( we do need a really nice donation box for the dining area actually, and yes, with DONATIONS written on it ☺), Lawyers. The potential is there.  

If you could help in any of the above ways, please contact us atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and we’ll connect you up.

All the retreatants together. Nhap luu Spring Opening.

 

A Sangha Is...

Just as an introduction to our section on Sangha building, some appropriate words from our Teacher on what a Sangha is:

‘A sangha is a community of people … who are walking together on a spiritual path.  A sangha has a great deal of strength; its members are able to protect and help each other in every aspect of the practice, and to build the strength of the sangha.

We can also use the expression ‘sangha body’. When we live together in a sangha it becomes a body, and each one of us is a cell in that body.  If we are not part of the sangha body, we will be isolated, hungry and needy and we will not have a suitable environment for practice.  We can visualize the sangha body as a forest. Each member of the sangha is a tree standing beautifully alongside the others.  Each tree has its own shape height and unique qualities, but all are contributing to the harmonious growth of the forest. Looking at the trees standing steadily alongside each other like that, you can sense the beauty, solidity and power of a sacred forest.’

(Thich Nhat Hanh, Joyfully Together – the art of building a harmonious community. Parallax: Berkeley, 2003:7.)

Sangha Building Stories

From Mindful Living to Sangha Building 

Meditation Walk Plum Village 2014. Photo Valerie Tepper

Sit, breathe, smile. Walk, breathe, smile. Such transformational practices. So easy. We simply need to remember to do them. Slowly and mindfully.

With my dear friends, Margaret and Paul, I was extraordinarily lucky to visit the Village des Pruniers (Plum Village) in southern France not long ago. We attended the ‘What happens when you die?’ 21 day retreat in June 2014, along with 1000 or so monks, nuns, Dharma Teachers and lay people. We were blessed to share 14 days in dharma talks with Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately and humbly called ‘Thay’, the Vietnamese word for ‘teacher’.

It is said that when we practise something for 21 days it becomes a habit. In the Plum Village environment practice became easy. Easy to sit, meditate, stop and listen to the bell, eat, walk, smile and complete chores mindfully and happily. No distractions from computers, television, phones or newspapers to feed our insatiable appetites for entertainment and drama. We spent time deeply exploring our subtle experiences, to understand why we have built defenses that prevent us from feeling the harshness of the gross injustices human beings mindlessly inflict upon each other, and on all life forms. Thay reminds us that without deeply looking within ourselves and feeling our own pain, we cannot touch and nurture the compassion necessary to heal ourselves and by extension our families and our planet.

It was a shock to the senses to come out into the world and be bombarded again by the constant relay of news of the extent of people’s deep suffering created by the cruel politics of humanity. I am so very grateful for the wisdom in the practice to help me manage my response to the depth of human suffering.

Thay’s discussion about what happens when we die seamlessly transposed into what happens while we are alive and most importantly, the understanding ofinterbeing. 

Understanding this concept is integral if we are to experience life at its most meaningful and rewarding. In Plum Village it was easy to see the importance of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and what an incredible gift it was to receive the transmission of them from Sister Annabelle, a true embodiment of Thay’s teachings. Being surrounded by the heightened sensibilities and divine energy vortex of the monks, nuns and other practitioners is a huge support and feels like we can experience peace, love and joy by osmosis. It is truly a wonderful experience. However, it was much easier to live by these high aspirations when we were there.

Thay stresses that without the essential support of like-minded people to keep our practice fresh it is easy to forget to practise. So upon our return to the northern fringe of Melbourne, Margaret, Paul and I decided we would come together every second Friday night for our own little intimate evening of soup and Sangha. But when other friends heard about our little get-together they became interested. In only a short period of time, our Sangha has spontaneously grown to include 12 people. To date, we have enjoyed two beautiful and relaxed sessions with introductions to Thay’s practices of listening to the bell, mindfully sitting, eating, and walking. We are reminded as we practise together that we are a continuation of the Buddha. When we engage in these practices we connect with the Buddha heart within. Such is interbeing. 

We have no idea how our group will evolve. We don’t even have a name yet..But we are committed to supporting each other in love and gratitude. Who knows? Maybe, with a heartfelt invitation, the nuns might honour us and visit our group some day. We are so very fortunate to have access to so much support in these simple yet profound practices. We can choose to participate weekly at the North Carlton group meetings as well, or with other friends at the monthly Mindfulness Days in Collingwood. And, all importantly, we can visit the monastery in Beaufort.

Valerie Tepper (Joyful Fulfillment of the Heart).

 Mernda, Victoria.


For the Good of the Whole: Protecting the Honeybees

Ali Razzaghipour with his children Simarra and Aramis 2014


Editors note: this  article from a soon-to-return Australian expat  illustrates how  sangha building can not only manifest  online- bringing together people from far flung places- but that it can also come in the form of providing resources and support for the sanghas of others. Enjoy. 
 

A little while ago I watched More Than Honey, a documentary on the worldwide disappearance of the honeybee. The energy of compassion arose strongly within me as I learnt about the plight of the bees. Markus Imhoof, the director and one of the writers of the film, helped me see how a whole species has become the victim of the suffering of another species. 

I find the bees to be an extraordinary wonder of nature. They work together with each one acting for the good of the whole; no one gives commands and yet everyone obeys. It is very easy to see the collective as a single organism, with each bee behaving like a cell in that organism. I was touched to see how the lives of these creatures are being manipulated to serve our needs. They suffer as a result of our actions, and they are not able to respond. They may not even know we are the cause. Who is there to speak up for them? According to the documentary, a third of our food supply is dependent on bees for pollination. As I eat fruits and vegetables, the bees are in me. By protecting the bees, I am protecting myself.

I am unhappy, I want to fill a void, I want to distract myself from dissatisfaction, and so I consume. Having worked as an investment analyst for fifteen years, covering a number of financial ecosystems, including retail and agriculture, I understand that most firms are primarily oriented towards maximising profits. They naturally look to satisfy the wants of their customers at the lowest possible cost. The result is the ‘industrialization’ of other living beings, in this case the honeybees. From this perspective, the bees are the victims, the system is the conduit, and the cause is my suffering.

Once upon a time I would have watched this same documentary and found it fascinating; but in the end, I would have simply shrugged my shoulders and thought, Oh well, there’s not much I can do. But the seed of compassion is much stronger in me today, which I view as the result of practising in the Plum Village tradition. I feel more connected to the bees, and an energy of wanting to help them naturally comes up. 

When I looked into how I could help the bees, I realised that a transformation in me has been taking place as a result of the practice, the teachings, and being with friends who are on the path. The change is so slow it’s not noticeable from week to week or even month to month. Yet, slowly but surely, my internal formations are shifting. I am now more aware of what I consume and the suffering that might be taking place as a result. It is difficult to see how shifting my consumption away from products that are dependent on the bees is possible, as they encompass so much of what I eat, especially as a vegetarian. Then I had the thought that the most effective way to offer my energies is to support others on the path of practice. As more people become aware and concerned about what is happening to the honeybees, the more pressure there will be to change the current system of exploitation that is endangering this precious species. 

This energy of wishing to support others on the path has been growing in me for the past three or four years, with the plight of the bees further fueling it. One manifestation of this is Peaceful Presence (www.peacefulpresence.org), a site set up to support practice communities in the Plum Village tradition by sharing ideas and offering resources to those looking to start or develop groups. It is my hope that strengthening these communities will allow others to taste the fruits of practice, which in time will help the honeybees and all the other species on planet Earth.

Alipasha Razzaghipour, True Fluent Energy, founded Peaceful Presence in 2011. Right now he lives in London and practises with the online groups Plumline Heart Sangha and Deep Looking Sangha, which he co-founded with Thuy Cu and Jan Mieszczanek in 2012 and 2014 respectively. He can be contacted atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and plans to move back to Australia soon.


The children offering a song with Phap Chuwng, Spring Opening Retreat
 


Birrarung Sangha - an evolution

Editor’s note: Sanghas can also evolve over a period of time, passing through different phases, and often reflecting new characteristics as they metamorphose and change in their make-up, location, and focus. This is such a story of sangha development in Melbourne. The Sangha’s long and varied history is reflected  through the joint authorship of the article. One author was there at the beginning, and the other arrived somewhere in the middle, and is still there now. For a long time it has been the only ‘English speaking’ Sangha in the Melbourne environs. But that also is changing now…

When I was asked to write a short early history of the Birrarung Sangha, the mind turned to a dharma talk by Thay in which he was exploring the beginnings of life with a young man. ‘When were you born?’ Thay asked. ‘12 years ago’ came the reply. ‘Really? Weren’t you here before that?’ And so it went, with Thay opening up, into simple, practical understanding, matters that many of us struggle with as  three esoteric  concepts.

What sits now as the Birrarung Sangha has had many beginnings, even in most recent times. The name itself only came into use a couple of years ago. For a while before that it was ‘Mindful Melbourne Sangha’, and for some years it was a no name sangha! ‘No Name Sangha.’ It was an evolution. Even before it emerged in Melbourne, a group of three or four older-age yoga class members in Point Lonsdale decided to get together on Friday evenings for half an hour. They sat in a derelict old youth camp hall just below the Point Lonsdale lighthouse. A Buddha was placed on the apron of the old stage and candles were lit around the hall because the power had been cut off. In winter, the sou’westers would hammer the old tin roof and the sitters wrapped themselves in blankets.

There was very little sharing or talking, just sitting and walking, mainly because most had to get home to their families, which often included grumpy husbands. This no name sangha had no affiliations or declared associations. The numbers grew and one day, when the group decided to sit on a Sunday afternoon in summer, 20 people turned up. Now, more than ten years later, that old hall is boarded up and marked for demolition but some members of the original sangha which squatted below the lighthouse continue to sit regularly together in the Point Lonsdale Anglican Church, supported by the local Vicar. He once went on retreat at Nhap Luu Meditation Centre, and still leads morning meditation in his church four days a week.

Some years ago now, a couple of members of the original group moved to Melbourne and  started to look around for a place to sit in the big city. Once again, the intention was to simply sit without affiliation or association, although by this time, a number of people were becoming more closely attentive to the teaching of Thay. It’s not easy to find inexpensive places in major cities, but someone had the idea of approaching the radical Catholic priest, Father Bob McGuire, to see if the group could use a room on the grounds of his church in South Melbourne. ‘You want a room?’ said Father Bob when asked, adding, ‘You can have the bloody church!’ 

Just before the first evening sitting at St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in South Melbourne, Father Bob arrived and took us aside. Indicating a small crypt-like space on the north wall of the body of the church he said ‘you can leave your Buddha statue over there all the time if you like … but you better concrete it into place otherwise someone will nick it’.

So, the group began sitting on Tuesday nights in the city, and as the numbers increased the Birrarung Sangha began, albeit still without a name.  The winters in the Church were even colder than in the hall behind the lighthouse on the edge of Bass Straight. More disturbing still was sound of student opera singers doing their scales in the Catholic primary school hall next door. A certain amount of general noise of the world is always part of silent sitting, but the straining vocal contortions of sopranos attempting high C finally got the better of us and we moved yet again.
 


Ian Roberts and Sister Luong Nghiem, 2011

By this time also, the sangha had become identifiable as a Thich Nhat Hanh Sangha, practising as Thay teaches, and studying from his books, with a very strong connection to  the Nhap Luu Meditation Centre in Beaufort.  For the next couple of years it sat in private homes, then a University Chapel at RMIT, another Church Hall in Richmond, and finally came to rest in the beautiful, welcoming, burnt orange and blue Gompa of the Evam Buddhist Institute in North Carlton. (Interestingly, Thay himself actually gave a talk in the previous Evam Institute premises when he was here in 1986). Here, the group finally also took its name, which comes from the language of the local indigenous Wurundjeri people, and which refers to the River Yarra that winds right through our city.

That was  years ago, and while the founding member, Ian Roberts, who just related all that history( above) for us, has moved on and away and even back to Point Lonsdale, Birrarung Sangha has been handed into the care of it’s two current facilitators, Huy Nguyen, and Susan Wirawan. It continues to thrive and also to morph. As a group it still sits on Tuesday nights. Until recently, we have continued to use the model we were familiar with, of having only one or two facilitators leading the group. Now the Tuesday group is beginning to move into a new format in which many people are invited to lead and to add their personal flavour to the Sangha.

Our very first mindfulness day looked like this

The programme that we offer has changed slowly over the years though, to become the one we have now in which we offer the chance to start to explore the Dharma itself through our group meetings, as well as sitting and walking.   

A typical evening session lasts two hours and is in two sections. The first is sitting meditation and slow walking meditation, while the second comprises activities such as watching a Dharma Talk of Thay, some group study of one of Thay’s books( currently ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings’) practising Touching The Earth guided meditations as a group, or reciting together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The closing activity is always Dharma Sharing over a cup of tea. Sometimes our sharing arises from the reading or other activity just passed, and sometimes from our personal, immediate lives. We have somehow developed a very safe and warm group for deep personal sharing, and we feel very fortunate in that. While certain parts of the Sangha ebb and flow continually, the core of it is solid and long term.

When there is a Retreat at Nhap Luu Meditation Centre, with Monastics coming from out of town to help in leading it, our Sangha almost always hosts a public talk in town for those Brothers as well. In this way, the teaching they bring with them is spread more widely into the Victorian community. Something we’ve discovered, also, however, is that is that Sangha building is very much about creating opportunities or spaces for people to be able to practise. Everyone is in a different personal life situation, and has different needs, and personalities. So there can actually be no one-size-fits-all model.    So now, we have branched out in another way.

People who wanted a Sangha to practise with, but for whom the weekly two-hour get-together in the suburbs was not viable, started to pop up. Their reasons for not being able to sit in the Tuesday evening group varied from living a very long drive away, to having small children to get to bed. We also started to meet people who needed and wanted primarily to learn the skill of bringing their practice off the cushion and into their normal days of living. Thus the idea of offering a periodic Day of Mindfulness began to seem important, and we have been enjoying them bi-monthly for almost a year. It’s soon to become monthly, and we  meet in daylight hours. We now have the chance to practise together for a good block of time, learning how to run mindfulness seamlessly into an ordinary day. Most importantly, practitioners now have a second option.

We use a different location, with parks nearby for outdoor walking, and with kitchen facilities for our wonderful mindful lunches. As you might expect it’s a different group too. Often  it is made up of people from the Tuesday group who want more practice opportunity, together with a different selection of practitioners for whom this model is a more useful fit. To offer both seems like a winning way to be able to help a larger number of people water their seeds of mindfulness, even though in the same area of the city. Only one of the facilitators from the Tuesday group has  been available to facilitate these Days of Mindfulness, and so this group also will be carefully nurtured so that many people will have the chance to lead, in the end. 

 And already we can see the potential for new groups to eventually and quite organically spring up out of this diversity as several people from a similar side of town meet each other and practise together. It’s exciting, and it’s fun, and it feels like real Sangha building. It’s fun. But one golden rule we decided early on is that we don’t live with pre-conceived ideas of how many people we need to make the day worthwhile. If it is five people this month, twelve the next, and then eight the following, that is fine. We are watering the seeds of mindfulness, and that is all. 

*Jointly penned- in sections… by Ian Roberts (Chan Hy Mac), and Susan Wirawan (Chan Nguyen Luu) Victoria.  
 

"Several of the members of Birrarung Sangha who attended the 
first Nhap Luu Spring Opening Retreat, 2014.”

 

The Birth of Open Door Sangha

Dear Thay, Dear Sangha, Dear Friends

I am very happy to share that conditions became such a few months ago, that a new Sangha sprang to life in Ipswich, Qld (35kms west of Brisbane).

The seed was sown over 2 years ago, after I attended a short retreat in Killarney, Ireland with Thay and Monastics from Plum Village.  My heart/mind was so touched by the experience that I returned home to Ipswich keen to share the simple yet profound  practices with any and all who were interested.  My first step was to connect with established Sanghas and nourish my practice.  After a couple of months, I initiated a Mindfulness Day in Ipswich and the enthusiasm was so encouraging, I ran a second and a earlier the next year a half day of Mindfulness.  Ipswich Sangha was beginning.

In 2013, I was involved in organising a retreat led by the Sisters from Nhap Luu, in Brisbane. The retreat was made possible by the love and commitment of many friends both during the Retreat and before.  It truly was a group effort and a wonderful example of Sangha.  Being involved in this way was an invitation to go yet deeper into practice and to make a lovely and meaningful connection with the Sisters and friends. 

To cut a long story short, I spent 3 months living at Nhap Luu Monastery earlier this year. Ostensibly to help some of the Sisters cultivate their English however, again the invitation was there to go deeper into practice. I took up the invitation to the best of my ability and the experience was one of joy, laughter, challenge and learning.  Free from so many of the usual distractions in life, I had little in the way of “escape” when things felt tough.  What an ideal opportunity to really sit (or walk) with unwholesome mental formations and allow transformation to occur.  The whole experience gave me the confidence to establish a regular Sangha gathering in Ipswich.  Thank you Sister Doan Nghiem for the name “Opening Door Sangha.”

After the 2014 April retreat in Brisbane, we held an information session for the Ipswich group,and invited new friends. As a result we now meet twice a month for 2 ½ hours and between 4 - 12 friends come along.  The first gathering of the month we feature the 5 Mindfulness Trainings Recitation and  for the second  we feature a  particular practice such as the Longevity Stick Exercises.  But every gathering includes sitting, walking, mindful movements, and dharma sharing.  We share the responsibilities of having a group, and there are always friends to help to set up and pack up.  We also share the facilitation of the different practices.  We are very lucky for such a young Sangha to have a core of committed friends, who understand the importance of practicing as a group as well as maintaining our own practice.

What are some things I have learnt about Sangha building?  Be patient, and  be persistent with your practice and your study of the dharma ,and share the benefits with others. Lett go of control, be welcoming,  and put the kettle on after formal practice is over.

Smiles,  Karen Lavin (Loving Action of the Heart)

Ipswich, Queensland.

 

Donate

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Have something to share?

We welcome contributions to Nhap Luu News.

Some guidelines:

  • in most cases, our preferred length is within 500 words.  That way, we can give you more variety in a newsletter.
     
  • try to always give a real ‘practice’ flavour to your contribution, and to stay away from the theoretical.  Sharing Sangha facilitation methods is great, as are personal ‘dharma sharing’ experiences from your practice.  The editors’ preference will always be given to articles that are from personal practice experience, and warm, in this way.
     
  • if you have an inspiration for a longer feature article, or even for a series, that’s great.  Please email us and discuss.
     
  • relevant photographs add visual interest, and we definitely request that you include them, although they are not mandatory.
     
  • if you happen to have taken the Five or Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings (Precepts), please include your Lineage Name, or Dharma Name. 
     
  • understand that we reserve the right to edit, but that we also will strive to do so only minimally.  Also, sometimes we may hold something back for a later edition.


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