I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me,
“No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.”
That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf.”
” … So please continue to look back and you will see that you have always been here. Let us look together and penetrate into the life of a leaf, so we may be one with the leaf. Let us penetrate and be one with the cloud or with the wave, to realize our own nature as water and be free from our fear. If we look very deeply, we will transcend birth and death.
Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.
Dear Mother Earth, I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I’m a part of you. I was born from you and you are always present, offering me everything I need for my nourishment and growth.
You are the mother of all beings. I call you by the human name Mother and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live - or have lived - on Earth are also your children. You aren’t a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a living breathing being in the form of a planet.
I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and well-being is my own health and well-being. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.
We can embrace all of our feelings, even difficult ones like anger. Anger is a fire burning inside us, filling our whole being with smoke. When we are angry, we need to calm ourselves: "Breathing in, I calm my anger. Breathing out, I take care of my anger." As soon as a mother takes her crying baby into her arms, the baby already feels some relief. When we embrace our anger with Right Mindfulness, we suffer less right away.
Near the mountain, there is a lake with clear, still water reflecting the mountain and the sky with pristine clarity. You can do the same. If you are calm and still enough, you can reflect the mountain, the blue sky, and the moon exactly as they are. You reflect whatever you see exactly as it is, without distorting anything.
Have you ever seen yourself in a mirror that distorts the image? Your face is long, your eyes are huge, and your legs are really short. Don’t be like that mirror. It is better to be like the still water on the mountain lake.
We often do not reflect things clearly, and we suffer because of our wrong perceptions. Suppose you are walking in the twilight and see a snake. You scream and run into the house to get your friends, and all of you run outside with a flashlight. But when you shine your light on the snake, you discover that it isn’t a snake at all, just a piece of rope. This is a distorted perception.
We need to make our water still if we want to receive reality as it is.
When we see things or listen to other people, we often don’t see clearly or really listen. We see and hear our projections and our prejudices. We are not clear enough, and we have a wrong perception. Even if our friend is giving us a compliment, we may argue with him because we distort what he says.
If we are not calm, if we only listen to our hopes or our anger, we will not be able to receive the truth that is trying to reflect itself on our lake. We need to make our water still if we want to receive reality as it is. If you feel agitated, don’t do or say anything. Just breathe in and out until you are calm enough. Then ask your friend to repeat what he has said. This will avoid a lot of damage. Stillness is the foundation of understanding and insight. Stillness is strength.
Thich Nhat Hanh from “Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living"
Of our regular sangha members, some of us have gathered for nearly 20 years and others for over 7.
Until Spring of 2021 we were known as 'Amida Scotland'. Following the dispersal of some of the Amida Order in various directions, we looked for, first, a new name, deciding on being known as the 'Tree of Life' sangha.
We then explored different forms of practice and different Buddhist sanghas to find what practice we felt comfortable with and also who seemed to be inclusive.
After practicing with several Plum Village UK sanghas via Zoom and feeling at home with the practice (which Sujatin had previously offered at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities) we feel we have found a new emphasis and home with Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. So we affiliated with Plum Village UK at the beginning of February.
We will continue to meet via Zoom as this allows sangha members who live further away to join us.
"Born on the top of a mountain, the little spring dances her way down. The stream of water sings as she travels. She wants to go fast. She is unable to go slowly. Running, rushing, is the only way, maybe even flying. She wants to arrive. Arrive where? Arrive at the ocean. She has heard of the deep, blue , beautiful ocean. To become one with the ocean, that is what she wants.
Coming down to the plains, she grows into a young river. Winding her way through the beautiful meadows, she has to slow down. "Why can't I run the way I could when I was a creek? I want to reach the deep, blue ocean. If I continue this slowly, how will I ever arrive there at all?" As a creek, she was not happy with what she was, she really wanted to grow into a river.
But, as a river, she does not feel happy either. She cannot bear to slow down.
Then, as she slows down, the young river begins to notice the beautiful clouds reflected in her water. They are of different colors and shapes floating in the sky, and they seem to be free to go anywhere they please. Wanting to be like a cloud, she begins to chase after the clouds, one after another.
Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War by Sister Chan Khong
"In January of 2005, after nearly 40 years in exile, Sister Chân Không was able to return on a 3-month visit to Vietnam. In this fully revised edition of Learning True Love she movingly describes the return to her homeland, the reunions with many old friends and fellow activists, and shares her impression of the “new Vietnam,” where Buddhists still struggle for religious freedom and the re-establishment of their own organizations.
Learning True Love is a moving personal memoir, an introduction to the mindfulness teachings and life of Thich Nhat Hanh and his community in exile, an overview to the development of the European and American peace and human rights movement, and an introduction to the engaged and practical style of Vietnamese Buddhism. It documents the process that brought an end to the US Vietnam war, and gives a lively summary of Vietnamese history from 1945 to the current political, social and spiritual climate in Vietnam. Learning True Love also portraits some of the many remarkable people that shared Sister Chân Không ‘s path.
Foremost however it is the remarkable and impressive story of a very courageous woman, whose journey from an accredited biologist at the University of Paris to a Buddhist nun, gives her unique insight into life’s central questions and the ability to address them in an unflinching and straightforward manner."
"Sister Chan Khong, meaning "True Emptiness." Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong started Plum Village together in 1982. That Plum Village has become what it is today and that people all over the world have been inspired by Thay's teachings is to a great extent a result of Sister Phuong's enduring support and untiring initiative. Feeling grateful for having come in contact with Thay's teachings is feeling grateful to Sister Chan Khong in the very same breath.
I first met Thay and Sister Chan Khong (Phoung) in 1984 during a meditation weekend in Amsterdam. In the evening there was a special program with Vietnamese music. At one point the music stopped abruptly and Sister CK began to sing. I was deeply touched by her voice. Never had I heard someone sing like that. She sang my heart open and I cried and cried, not understanding what was happening to me.
During the first summer I spent in Plum Village, Sister Phuong wasn't yet a nun; she was simply called "Phuong." She had lovely long black hair that, in her way, she would casually put up in a bun by sticking a pen through it. She warmly welcomed the few Westerners that visited Plum Village in those days and she did what she could to make us feel at home. At that time she was the only person able to translate from Vietnamese into English or French. When Thay gave a Dharma talk or when there was an event in Vietnamese, she would sit next to us and translate for hours on end without ever appearing to get tired. Sister Phuong's way of translating was so expressive that even after having translated for hours, her voice sounded as colorful as it did when she began.
Three years later when I moved to Plum Village I was often the only one during the winter season that needed translation during Thay's talks and at the dining table at the end of the meals. There were about ten of us by then, and after dinner, as we were enjoying countless cups of tea, there was usually a lot of conversation, all in Vietnamese. During those moments I felt so left out, but when Sister Phuong was around she would always come sit next to me and, while participating wholeheartedly in the conversation, she would translate for me at the same time. I savored those moments in her presence. A couple of years ago I noticed she had taken on a new habit; while translating she would keep her hands in a certain position, a mudra. When I asked her about it, she explained she did it in order to remind herself to stay mindful while she was talking.
To worship the Earth is not to deify her or believe she is any more sacred than ourselves. To worship the Earth is to love her, to take care of her, and to take refuge in her. When we suffer, the Earth embraces us, accepts us, and restores our energy, making us strong and stable again. The relief that we seek is right under our feet and all around us. Much of our suffering can be healed if we realize this. If we understand our deep connection and relationship with the Earth, we will have enough love, strength, and awakening so that we both can thrive.
We started the evening with a quick check in, then listened to the introduction to Thich Nhat Hanh's book about Pureland Buddhism: 'Finding Our True Home', followed by silent sitting or chanting, as each participant preferred. This was followed by a reading of Thay's translation from the Chinese of the Smaller Amitabha Sutra. Following this we had the opportunity to take turns sharing from the heart.