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Our Practice

The Five Mindfulness Trainings
Taking refuges
Conscious breathing
Sitting meditation
Walking mediation
Working meditaiton
Eating in mindfulness
Waking up in the morning
Taking care of our anger
Beginning anew
Living together

 

The 5 Mindfulness Trainings

The First Mindfulness Training
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating 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, and in my way of life.

The Second Mindfulness Training
Aware of suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practise generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The Third Mindfulness Training
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. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. 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.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training
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 practising mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programmes, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practising a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

Taking refuges

When we recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings or chant the sutras, we practice taking refuge in the three jewels. We practice Touching the Earth to also show our gratitude to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Taking refuge is the recognition and the determination to head towards what is most beautiful, truthful, and good. Taking refuge is also the awareness that one has the capacity to understand and love.

The Buddha is the one who shows us the way in this life. The Buddha is the historical person who lived 2600 years ago and all of our ancestral teachers who connect us to the Buddha. The Buddha is also the awakened nature in all beings. Each element in the universe that is showing us the way of love and understanding, is the Buddha. The open look of a child and the ray of sunshine causing the flower to unfold her beauty also contain the awakened nature.

The Dharma is the teachings of love and understanding. The Dharma is the teachings of the historical Buddha and his descendants in the form of discourses, the commentaries and precepts that show us the path leading to peace and deep insight, love and understanding. The Dharma is all the elements in our world and in our consciousness that guide us on the path of liberation. The living Dharma is contained in every corner of the universe. The floating cloud is silently preaching about freedom and the falling leaf is giving us a dharma talk on the practice of letting go. Everytime you breathe mindfully, walk mindfully or look at another person with the eye of understanding and compassion, you are giving a silent dharma talk.

The Sangha is the community that lives in harmony and awareness. Your teachers, your friends and yourself are all elements of your Sangha. A path in the forest might be a member of your Sangha as well, supporting you on the path of transformation. You can share your joys and your difficulties with your Sangha. You can let go and relax into the warmth and strength of your Sangha. The Sangha is a river, flowing and bending with flexibility, responding to the environment in which it is situated. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we join in the stream of life, flowing and becoming one with all of our sisters and brothers in the practice. In the setting of a Sangha, you find the practice easier and much more enjoyable.

Conscious breathing

Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather- our thoughts, emotions and perceptions- our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.

We may like to recite:

“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”

We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.

Sitting meditation

Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for ourself. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.

Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position quietly. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly, and attentively change our posture.

In between sessions of sitting meditation, we practice Kinh Hanh, which is indoor walking meditation. We take one step with each in-breath and each out-breath. Aware of the Sangha around us, we feel in harmony with the larger body. Everybody is moving together, slowly, and mindfully.

We can find suggestions for guided meditations in Thay’s book,"The Blooming of a Lotus" or also from one of the Dharma teachers.

We should arrive five minutes before the meditation period starts so that everyone is comfortably seated before the bell is invited to formally begin the session. We should not enter the hall after the bell has been invited. If we are late for sitting meditation, please remain outdoor and enjoy walking meditation.

Walking meditation

Whenever you are not standing, sitting or lying down, you are going. But where are you going? You have already arrived. With every step you can arrive in the present moment, you can step into the pure-land or in the kingdom of God. When you are walking from one side of the room to the other or from one building to another, be aware of the contact of your feet with the earth and be aware of the contact of the air as it enters your body. It may help you to discover how many steps you can make comfortably for an in-breath and how many for an out-breath. As you breathe in you can say "in", as you breathe out you can say "out". Then you are practicing walking meditation all day long. It is a practice, which is constantly possible and therefore has the power to transform our everyday life. Someone who walks mindfully is a bell of mindfulness for anyone who sees him or her.

Working meditation

To participate in working meditation can be a great happiness. It is an opportunity to engage in the maintenance and care of our practice center while enjoying our practice of mindfulness. When we wash the cars, or turn the compost piles or chop wood we stay mindful of our breathing and the activity that we are doing. We speak only when necessary and about the work at hand. We can maintain a light and easy feeling as we work. An environment that is quiet can make the work more pleasant and enjoyable.

When we work in the garden we get in touch with the plants and nourish our connection to the earth we are living on. Sweeping and mopping the meditation halls we see that we are already practicing to calm our mind and body. Please, do not be in too great of a hurry to get the job done. Our most important contribution to the Sangha is to maintain our practice of mindfulness.

Working Meditation links us to our everyday life, both here and when we return home. As we are working at our computer or preparing dinner for our family or teaching a class, we can practice stopping, calming and refreshing ourselves with our conscious breathing. We can relax and smile at our co-workers and pace ourselves to maintain a light and serene state of being.

Eating in mindfulness

Eating a meal together is a meditative practice. We should try to offer our presence for every meal. As we serve our food we can already begin practicing. Serving ourselves, we realize that many elements, such as the rain, sunshine, earth, air and love, have all come together to form this wonderful meal. In fact, through this food we see that the entire universe is supporting our existence.

We are aware of the whole sangha as we serve ourselves and we should take an amount of food that is good for us. Before eating, the bell will be invited for three sounds and we can enjoy breathing in and out while practicing the five contemplations.

This food is a gift of the whole universe,the earth, the sky and much mindful work.
May we eat in such a way so as to be worthy of it.
May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation.
May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
May we accept this food to realize the path of understanding and love.
We should take our time as we eat, chewing each mouthful at least 30 times, until the food becomes liquefied. This aids the digestive process. Let us enjoy every morsel of our food and the presence of the dharma brothers and sisters around us. Let us establish ourselves in the present moment, eating in such a way that solidity, joy and peace be possible during the time of eating.

Eating in silence, the food becomes real with our mindfulness and we are fully aware of its nourishment. In order to deepen our practice of mindful eating and support the peaceful atmosphere, we remain seated during this silent period. After twenty minutes of silent eating, two sounds of the bell will be invited. We may then start a mindful conversation with our friend or begin to get up from the table.

Upon finishing our meal, we take a few moments to notice that we have finished, our bowl is now empty and our hunger is satisfied. Gratitude fills us as we realize how fortunate we are to have had this nourishing food to eat, supporting us on the path of love and understanding.

Waking up in the morning

Waking up this morning I smile
knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and look at beings with eyes of compassion.

As we wake up in the morning and open our eyes we may like to recite the above gatha. We can start our day with the happiness of a smile and the aspiration to dedicate ourselves to the path of love and understanding. We are aware that today is a fresh, new day, and we have 24 precious hours to live.

Let us try to get up from bed right away after following three deep breaths to bring ourself into mindfulness. Let us not delay our waking. We may like to sit up and gently massage our head, neck, shoulders, and arms to get your blood circulating. We might like to do a few stretches to loosen our joints and wake up our body.Drinking a cup of warm water is also good for our system first thing in the morning.

Let us wash up or do what we need to before heading towards the meditation hall. Allow ourself enough time so we will not have to rush. Enjoy the dark morning sky. Many stars are twinkling and greeting us. Take deep breaths and enjoy the cool, fresh air. As we walk slowly towards the hall, let the morning fill our being, awakening our body and mind to the joy of a new day.

Taking care of our anger

Thay often compares our anger to a small child, crying out to his mother. When the child cries the mother takes him gently in her arms and listens and observes carefully to find out what is wrong. The loving action of holding her child with her tenderness, already soothes the baby’s suffering. Likewise, we can take our anger in our loving arms and right away we will feel a relief. We don’t need to reject our anger. It is a part of us that needs our love and deep listening just as a baby does.

After the baby has calmed down, the mother can feel if the baby has a fever or needs a change of diaper. When we feel calm and cool, we too can look deeply at our anger and see clearly the conditions allowing our anger to rise.

When we feel angry it is best to refrain from saying or doing anything. We may like to withdraw our attention from the person or situation, which is watering the seed of anger in us. We should take this time to come back to ourselves. We can practice conscious breathing and outdoor walking meditation to calm and refresh our mind and body. After we feel calmer and more relaxed we can begin to look deeply at ourselves and at the person and situation causing anger to arise in us. Often, when we have a difficulty with a particular person, he or she may have a characteristic that reflects a weakness of our own which is difficult to accept. As we grow to love and accept ourselves this will naturally spread to those around us.

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 that the other person said or did something that we had admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions 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 trully 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 pain arise from our past that surface in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.

The practice of Beginning Anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening. Begin 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 weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice Beginning Anew everyday by expressing our appreciation for our 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 exists between every member in the sangha.

Living together

Together-ness is a practice. At the practice center we have a unique opportunity to live closely with friends from many different countries and backgrounds. Together we form one sangha body, connected by the practice of mindfulness. With our collective energy of calming and looking deeply, it is possible for us to support each other on the path of transformation. This requires cooperation, skillfulness and acceptance. To live amongst each other, we need to cultivate understanding, communication and a willing heart. Let us take the time to get to know the people around us. We have neglected our neighbors for too long.

Sharing our daily life we can encourage each other with our practice and together build diligence and solidity. Sharing a room with others is an opportunity to develop understanding and compassion for ourself and for those we live with. By being mindful of the people we share a room with, we can identify and appreciate their positive qualities, creating an atmosphere of harmony. We know that when the other person is happy, we are also happy.

We can show our respect to our roommates and the space we share by helping to keep it neat and clean. We try to be considerate of our roommates. For example, we might like to ask first before we open a window or light incense or turn on the light, to make sure it will not bother our roommates. In this way we can create a supportive environment for practicing loving kindness through your words, thoughts and actions.

The greatest gift we can offer our fellow practitioners is our practice of mindfulness. Our smile and our conscious breathing communicate that we are trying our best to find peace within ourselves and we hope to contribute to the peace in the community as well. We should remember to keep communication flowing and our happiness will flow as well.

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