Beyond Words

By Gijs Van den Broeck

An Impression of Plum Village


You do not only, to reach the place
have to leave home, but also out of ways of looking.
There is nothing to see, and that is there to see
to leave everything the way it has long since been
‘The Place’ – Herman de Coninck (Belgian Poet)

Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
Heart sutra


5.15. Wake up. Too early, I do not want to get out of bed. I see the thought of not getting out of bed coming– what a curious thought – and going. Everything comes and goes. That is your only certainty. Somewhere in the back of my head slumbers a vague notion of having to feel tired, of having to feel harassed by the sound of the alarm clock this early in the morning, of having to resist. A different notion, a different struggle, a different time.

I sit upright and take three deep breaths. I am alive! My body starts moving. I observe how my body starts to move. Down the ladder of the bunk bed. Feet find slippers. And steps. Across the room. Down the stairs. Step. Step. Everything is still asleep; the cloak of night veils it all. All there is, are my steps and my cloak.

Wash. I feel a hand gliding over my body. I feel my hands stroking my body. Gently. As if I am caressing a woman’s back. As if a woman is caressing my back. I feel thoughts coming up, but even before I can think them, they are stroked away. I feel caressed in the depths of my non-thinking.

Clothes fall softly on my skin. Cool air disappears. Hmmm, warm. I put on a T-shirt as if it were the first T-shirt I ever put on. I put on pants as if it were the only thing in the whole world that mattered and a sweater as if it were the only sweater in the whole wide world. The world around me seems to disappear – if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does that tree really exist?

I go outside and walk over to the meditation hall. Although I am already there, in fact. In meditation. Although I have never left there since last time I left there. In fact, this is all one big meditation hall. I sit down were I was already sitting. My body just follows my mind. There is no longer a distinction. There no longer is any distinction.

I am sitting. A monk sings the morning chant. I sing along. Sounds rise up from my throat and dissolve in unison. Only sound remains. Only singing remains, inside of me, outside of me. And somewhere in between my voice floats. And somewhere in between my voice disappears. Somewhere in between I disappear.

I am sitting. Now I am really sitting. Now I am only sitting. Now I am just sitting. Thoughts roll in and I watch them roll away again, as if watching passing clouds on a sunny summer day – hey, is that a rabbit? I sit. I breathe. In. Out. Will lunch be as good today as it was yesterday? I sit. I breathe. I still do not really understand last Dharma talk. I sit. I breathe. I sit.

“Can you write something about the retreat?” she asked. The idea comes to mind to try and put down in words how this experience is. I cannot help but laugh. As if you can put something like that down in words. Form is emptiness. Experience can only be experienced. Life can only be lived. Emptiness is form. Anything else would be like trying to replace a song with just the words. I hope you don’t mind, but I am not trying to put anything down in words at all. I may be writing, but I do so without the intention to write. I just lean back and let thoughts come. Impressions come floating back.

Back outside in Plum Village. The sun is shining. The weather is sweet. Birds are singing in the trees, but are sitting in my ears. The landscape is unfolding before me, but is caught in my eyes. A gentle breeze is blowing on my face and I’ve got it under my skin. I face the facts. They’re there. For real. It’s as if I’m in a vacuum and there’s no more distance between me and what’s around me. It’s as if space and time stop to exist. It’s as if there’s only here and now and they’re the only things that have ever been and ever will be.

People say that you see your life flashing before your eyes right before you die. That’s not true. The truth is that you already are your whole life, in this very moment, even though it takes some people a lifetime to figure that out, to become what they have been their whole lives: who they are. The truth is that everything you have ever done, is captured in who you are now, and that everything you’ll ever do, is what you’re doing right now. But you have to stop with everything, to realize that.


My fingers are jumping across the keyboard. My heart is pumping. Where can I end this story? Can I end this story? As if everything would be said and done then. You know, in reality there is no end, and no beginning either, for that matter. No coming, no going. Really, this text was not the beginning, it sprang from an experience that was not the beginning either. Neither is this text the end, it ends up in your head – knock knock, who’s there? Yes, it’s me – but even that is no end. Everything comes and goes, without there ever being a place which you could call beginning or ending. That is the only certainty. Even these words come and go without ending. And the ending, lies beyond words. The end.


There is here. There is time
to have left behind something tomorrow.
That you have to take care of today.
Of transience.
‘The Place’ – Herman de Coninck

From Plum Village to the Institute of Technology Tallaght

by Sister Bernadette Purcell


As Chaplain in the College, I see the link between Contemplation, Meditation and Mindfulness.  Meditation and mindfulness are a core part of the Chaplaincy programme in IT Tallaght. It is one very realistic way of getting students to engage in the meditative process and move away from the frenetic and addictive world of busyness. It also facilitates the connection with the Sacred.

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Less is More – Tasting Abundance During Lent

By Leni Cellini

In case you did not notice, Lent fasting has been going on for a while. Just as in 2012 and 2013, I am experimenting this year with not having Internet. Or at least I try to live more three-dimensionally. And I realize just like before how terribly I’m hooked on my laptop. Despite all good intentions: it still is hard work. Trial and error. Again and again. *Sigh* :-)

I had, however, hoped that after winter retreat at Plum Village, I would be free from my Internet addiction. Unfortunately, even three months without a computer were not sufficient to eliminate this compelling digital thirst. Sobering. Frustrating. But I’m happy that I’m not the only one.

Perhaps you, dear reader, have also sometimes suffered from this. Perhaps we as a society are even losing it a little. Over and over again surfing the web on the wifi waves of unbridled information, yearning for … yes, what exactly? Connection? Confirmation? Distraction? A combination of all that?

New Year in Plum Village

In Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh gave us a beautiful sentence to practice: New Year, New Me. Honestly at first I did not think much of it. The fact that I would have to be someone new made me feel resistant. Something in me protested against the idea to ​​change, to grow, to evolve. My focus was just to accept myself just the way I am. Or to not have to be anyone else. And then Thay claimed that we had to become a new person. Very confusing!


Still, through time I came to love this little phrase. “New year, New Me” gives me a sense of freedom, of being able  to break free from old patterns. Having the ability to change, to be free. In this new year, I can decide to do things differently. To no longer do what I always do. To react differently. To recognize my autopilot without being stuck in it. For instance, choosing love instead of criticism, courage over fear, or simply turning off my computer when I have had enough. It reminds me of this wonderful quote:

If you always do

what you always did,

you will always get

what you always got.

Thich Nhat Hanh asked us to look back on 2013. Was it a good year? Which moments filled your heart? Which were difficult moments? What would you prefer to tackle differently in 2014? Because, of course, that was his point: if we continue to think, say and do the same as in 2013 , then 2014 will not really be a ‘new year.’ Then it’s just more of the same. Same year.

It’s got to be … 3D !

I looked back on 2013 and found that it had been a good year for me. Ole! I’m happy with who I am and all I’ve done. The steps I made. Realizing that I really did well! :) But there was one thing that was evident when Thay asked us if we had any regrets: the time I’ve wasted on the computer. The hour-long surfing sessions and numerous email conversations. In this new year I am determined to lose myself less in emails, Facebook and YouTube. Hopefully this time I will manage!

Lent is an excellent time to pursue this. One more month to go. I would sincerely like to try to waste less time and live more 3D. Go to watch the sunset. Or watch the ducks on the pond. Feel the wind through my hair. The sun on my face. And look at the moon. My dear sister moon, which I so often lose sight of…

That ‘s the beauty of Lent, I think: by living simpler for a while, we can touch the abundance of life. Back to basics. Whether it is by eating less sweets, refraining from eating meat, doing less shopping or critically examining our use of the Internet, it really gives you the opportunity to experience that we really do not need it anymore. There is already enough. It’s good. Less is more. The next few weeks, I will try to feed this sense of abundance in me and to completely let it penetrate within me. Wish me luck, my dears! And have fun in 3D ;-)


The next song is a tribute to the 3-dimensional life. I dedicate it to all Internet addicts among us. The lyrics can be found on YouTube.

Replanting A “Forest of Interbeing”: Spiritual Community As Food

light-forest Several months ago, four young friends living in three different countries embarked on a journey together to replant a deforested rainforest in the south of Mexico. The “Forest of Interbeing” project includes the purchasing of 9 hectres of land, roughly 900 acres, in Los Tuxtlas region, in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Formerly home to several varieties of trees, shrubs, and endangered wildlife. Now only 20% of this bio-diverse land remains, deforested for the production of meat through cattle grazing. What we have discovered in the process of creating this project is that replanting forests takes a whole community.

Our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, talks of the Four Nutriments. The Four elements needed for life. These are Edible Food, Sense Impressions, Volition, and Consciousness. Community is also a kind of food. Community brings together many beings across genders, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, race, abilities, socio-economic status, and languages, to find where we meet. At the center of these differences is actually a common need for connection, love, and understanding.

I never thought that working on a project to replant a rainforest would bring me closer to myself. It seldom occurs to me that building community is an act of love for oneself, an act of caring for body and mind. Extending myself to communicate with others enables me to see myself differently. Because in order to get along with others I need to be aware of how I use my words, my breath energy, in order to make my ideas be heard. That is one of many ways community allows me to better see myself.

Not everyone speaks the same language I do. I am not just speaking national languages, but ways of seeing the world. I see the world differently than others based on my life experiences. So when I encounter others and attempt to communicate with them, I am needing to meet them halfway between how I see the world and how they see the world. This is where the practice of deep listening and loving speech comes in handy. I listen in order to be with that other person. I speak in order to make myself, my person available to them.

The capacity to listen deeply and use loving speech also happens through stopping and looking deeply. First, I am grounded in myself, in my own body and mind. In our conference calls to organize the “Forest of Interbeing” we always begin with mindful breathing. That’s the first step in building community, coming back to oneself. Coming home. Arriving. Then, as in our conference calls to discuss details of the reforesting project, we consider what we would like to share. We look deeply into ourselves, reflect upon what is important, and how we would like to share our time together. Community involves gazing into one’s heart, our own, each others, and individual and collective actions.

That is our vision for “Forest of Interbeing.” To build networks of friends across cultures. To see how we depend upon each other, depend upon each element in our environment: animals, minerals, vegetal, for our continuation, our daily lives. Humans and trees depend upon each other. Birds and sky depend upon each other. Water and soil depend upon each other. And all of life is interconnected. That’s not just a theory in our eyes. It’s a way of practice. An art of how we engage with life.

Mindful and compassionate action stems from the supportive acts of community. The nutriment of spiritual community as food. Community that nourishes our heart, our bodies, and minds. Community that allows for the sustenance of our bodies and minds. Coming home to spiritual community, to ourselves and others, effects the planet in positive ways. Because when we stop and listen deeply, look into our own hearts, and engage with others, we are no longer isolated beings. We never were. With attention to our place in the interconnectedness that is life we foster healing and repair.

Every day of our lives, every action born out of this sort of love, bears fruit, or a forest. A “Forest of Interbeing” can help us to breathe more deeply. It can extend our gratitude to the earth and sky in reestablishing homes for birds and other wild beings. It offers a chance for future generations in the Los Tuxlas region and beyond to reconnect with the earth, to cherish it, protect it, and live amongst it, as it. With a “Forest of Interbeing” we just might continue to call this precious planet home. That’s our vision and our work in community. Community is a food for life.

by Brian Otto Kimmel (True Lotus Concentration), March 18, 2014

Read here for more information about Forest of Interbeing project

On Becoming a Monk

An interview with the newest member of the Blue Cliff community

Brother Linh Quang baking

Brother Linh Quang baking

Brother Chan Troi Linh Quang (True Sky of Spritual Light) ordained on December 8, 2013 at Plum Village.  He was an aspirant and is now a resident at Blue Cliff Monastery.  He is 28 years old and comes from Dearing, Georgia.  Brother Fulfillment and Brother Dave Kenneally (our outreach coordinator and first intern) interviewed him at Blue Cliff on January 22, 2014.  We sat together on the new couch in the registration office, drinking tea and hot chocolate and chatting — we laughed a lot.

Dave: So how does young man from Georgia end up at Blue Cliff Monastery?
Here’s the short answer. I was exploring different religions, and after becoming disenchanted with western religions, a friend gave me three books: one on Hinduism, one on Buddhism and one on Taoism. The one on Buddhism was by Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) —No Death, No Fear.  I read it and immediately fell in love. Now, after eight years, I’m finally here.

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Wake Up Poem


By Andreas Swart

Wake Up

There is beauty all around
In your pain, your fears, your loneliness
There is beauty within
Do you have the will and endurance to look and see?

To be joyful when there is none
To see each part of your body
To see it as a miracle
To feel that not love is love
That your awareness is love
Even if it hurts to your core
When you feel betrayed by life
And all the people in it

Can you still see the beauty
Can you touch yourself from the inside
And wake up to the beauty all around

Andreas is a member of Wake Up Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. Click here if you’d like to read more about the sangha.

The Rise of Compassionate Direct Action

By Gary Roland


“We can’t wait any longer to restore our relationship with the Earth
because right now the Earth and everyone on Earth is in real danger.

“When a society is overcome by greed and pride, there is violence and unnecessary devastation. When we perpetrate violence towards our own and other species, we’re being violent toward ourselves at the same time.

“When we know how to protect all beings, we will be protecting ourselves. A spiritual revolution is needed if we’re going to confront the environmental challenges that face us.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth (2013)

On March 2nd, I was blessed to have the opportunity to be arrested with 397 students and activists at the White House, during a Direct Action called XL Dissent.

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Sangha-Building with Brother Phap Ho


Phap Ho whale watching with other monastics and lay friends in 2011

Dear Thay, dear Sangha, dear Siblings,

My name is Phap Ho, Protector of the Dharma or Brother Protection. I come from Stockholm, Sweden and I currently live in Deer Park Monastery, Escondido, California.

I became a monk because I like to practice meditation. I like to live in community, and I like to live a simple life close to nature. I like to help transforming others’ sufferings into happiness and peace. I started practicing meditation as a young adult.

There are a lot of young people coming to Plum Village, and there are a lot of young brothers and sisters living there. When I came there, I felt like I was at home because I felt I could belong to a like-minded community, where we have similar experiences in life. In the centers I’ve been, there’s the spirit of wanting to reach people and having young people ordained and practice together. I think those conditions also helped me to decide to be ordained.

Q: How did you get involved in Wake Up?

A: Before Wake Up was there, I helped with young adults retreats and teen programs in Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. Just by being with young people, it feels very meaningful and with the most fun activities. We can also do creative things. When I went to Deer Park, we already had a young adults retreat every year. Two weeks a year with college students in addition to teen camps. Generally, a lot of the people we spend time with, we were already organizing retreats for young adults.

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