FAQS

Open Heart Sangha

Sitting and Walking Meditation

Practicing Mindfulness In The Tradition Of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Frequently Asked Questions

Who We Are

Open Heart Sangha is a community of people who study and practice the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, author, poet and peace activist who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. We are beginners and experienced practitioners alike, learning from and supporting each other on the path of awakening. You are most welcome to join us for any of our weekly meetings and occasional monthly gatherings.
Notices of activities and information that may be of interest are announced at weekly meetings and sent via e-mail. You can join our list at Open Heart Google Group.

Why We Meet
Here are a few quotes from our members:

Learning how to meditate and practicing mindfulness has brought much calm and joy into my life.”

Practicing with Open Heart Sangha keeps me grounded and connected to compassionate people. When I come to sangha, friends smile at me with kindness, knowing we are all beginners on the path.

I practice to cultivate compassion and peace in myself, and to remember what is important in each moment. I learn that peace in the world must begin with me.”

By meeting every week at Open Heart Sangha, I am not alone, I inter-am.” 

Thich Nhat Hanh has taught me how to cultivate happiness, joy and deep meaning in my life…”

In his book Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh provides us with the following explanation of why we practice:

The word tiep means ‘being in touch with’ and ‘continuing.’  Hien means ‘realizing’ and ‘making it here and now.’  For us to better understand the spirit of the Tiep Hien Order, it is helpful to begin by examining these four expressions.

What are we to be in touch with?  The answer is reality, the reality of the world and the reality of the mind.  To be in touch with the mind means to be aware of the processes of our inner life – feelings, perceptions, mental formations – and also to rediscover our true mind, which is the wellspring of understanding and compassion.  Getting in touch with true mind is like digging deep in the soil and reaching a hidden source that fills our well with fresh water.  When we discover our true mind, we are filled with understanding and compassion, which nourishes us and those around us as well.  Being in touch with the true mind is being in touch with Buddhas and bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who show us the way of understanding, peace, and happiness.

To be in touch with the reality of the world means to be in touch with everything that is around us in the animal, vegetable, and mineral realms.  If we want to be in touch, we have to get out of our shell and look clearly and deeply at the wonders of life – the snowflakes, the moonlight, the beautiful flowers – and also the suffering – hunger, disease, torture, and oppression.  Overflowing with understanding and compassion, we can appreciate the wonders of life, and, at the same time, act with the firm resolve to alleviate the suffering.  Too many people distinguish between the inner world of our mind and the world outside, but these worlds are not separate.  They belong to the same reality.  The ideas of inside and outside are helpful in everyday life, but they can become an obstacle that prevents us from experiencing ultimate reality.  If we look deeply into our mind, we see the world deeply at the same time.  If we understand the world, we understand our mind.  This is called ‘the unity of  mind and world’.

Modern Christianity uses the ideas of vertical and horizontal theology.  Spiritual life is the vertical dimension of getting in touch with God, while social life is the horizontal dimension of getting in touch with humans.  In Buddhism, there are people who also think in these terms.  They speak about the higher level of practicing the Buddha’s Way and the lower level of helping living beings.  But this understanding does not accord with the true spirit of Buddhism, which teaches that Buddhahood, the nature of enlightenment, is innate to every being and not just a transcendental identity.  Thus, in Buddhism, the vertical and horizontal are one.  If we penetrate the horizontal, we find the vertical, and vice versa.  This is the meaning of ‘being in touch with’.

Next, we come to the concept of continuation.  Tiep means to tie two strings together to make a longer string.  It means extending and perpetuating the career of enlightenment that was started and nourished by the Buddhas and bodhisattvas who preceded us.  It is helpful to remember that the word ‘Buddha’ means a person who is awake.  The word ‘bodhisattva’  also signifies an enlightened person.  The way of enlightenment that was started by the Buddhas and bodhisattvas should be continued, and this is the responsibility of all of us who undertake the practice of Buddhism.  Sowing the seeds of enlightenment and taking good care of the tree of enlightenment are the meaning of tiep, ‘to continue.’

The third concept is ‘to realize’ or realization.   Hien means not to dwell or be caught in the world of doctrines and ideas, but to bring and express our insights into real life.  Ideas about understanding and compassion are not understanding and compassion.  Understanding and compassion must be real in our lives.  The must be seen and touched.  The real presence of understanding and compassion will alleviate suffering and cause joy to be born.  But to realize does not only mean to act.  First of all, realization means transforming ourselves.  This transformation creates harmony between ourselves and nature, between our own joy and the joy of others.  Once we get in touch with the source of understanding and compassion, this transformation is realized and all our actions will naturally protect and enhance life.  If we wish to share joy and happiness with others, we must have joy and happiness within ourselves.  If we wish to share calmness and serenity, we should first realize them within ourselves.  Without a calm and peaceful mind, our actions will only create more trouble and destruction in the world. 

The last expression to examine is ‘making it here and now.’  Only the present moment is real and available to us.  The peace we desire is not in some distant future, but it is something we can realize in the present moment.  To practice Buddhism does not mean to endure hardship now for the sake of peace and liberation in the future.  The purpose of practice is not to be reborn in some paradise or Buddhaland after death.  The purpose is to have peace for ourselves and others right now, while we are alive and breathing.  Means and ends cannot be separated.  Bodhisattvas are careful about causes, while ordinary people care more about effects because bodhisattvas see that cause and effect are one.  Means are ends in themselves.  An enlightened person never says, ‘This is only a means.’  Based on the insight that means are ends, all activities and practices should be entered into mindfully and peacefully.  While sitting, walking, cleaning, working, or serving, we should feel peace within ourselves.  The aim of sitting meditation is first to be peaceful and awake during sitting meditation.  Working to help the hungry or the sick means to be peaceful and loving during that work.  When we practice, we do not expect the practice to pay large rewards in the future, even nirvana, the pure land, enlightenment, or Buddhahood.  The secret of Buddhism is to be awake here and now. There is no way to peace; peace is the way.  There is no way to enlightenment; enlightenment is the way. There is no way to liberation; liberation is the way. 

Thus far, we have examined the meanings of the words ‘tiep’ and ‘hien.’  In looking for an English word or phrase to express the meaning of Tiep Hien, the word ‘interbeing’ has been proposed.  It is a translation of a Chinese term found in the teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra. I hope this recently invented word will be widely adopted in the near future.

When and Where We Meet
Open Heart Sanga South Meeting Site Information

Sitting & Walking Meditation
Monday: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
First Universalist Church
97 Main Street
Yarmouth, Maine 04096

Open Heart Sangha welcomes you. Please join us anytime.

CONTACT PERSON

Dave: (207)-749-3396

Open Heart Sanga North Meeting Site Information

Sitting & Walking Meditation
Sunday: Call For Time
Bath Dance Works
72 Front St., 3rd Floor
Bath, Maine 04096

CONTACT PERSON

Sue West at 207-370-1588
or
bathsangha@gmail.com

What We Do

Our weekly gatherings begin with sitting and walking meditation followed by reading from one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and dharma discussion. On the first Monday of every month, we recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings – the Buddha’s ethical guidelines for a peaceful and happy life – instead of reading.

Sitting Meditation

The basic practice is to find a comfortable upright position, focus our attention on our breath, and calm our chattering minds. We may begin by saying to ourselves, “Breathing in I am aware of breathing in, breathing out I am aware of breathing out”.  We can shorten this to just say “In” on the inhale and “Out” on the exhale. We may go on to use other phrases from a guided meditation gatha or mindfulness poem. Some people find it helpful to count their breaths: Breathing in “one”, Breathing out “one”. Breathing in “two”. . . . We can count to five and begin again with one.

As our minds become more stable, we can let go of the words and the numbers and just be with the breath, giving it our full attention, noticing the changing sensations as we breathe in, and as we breathe out. When our attention drifts from our breathing, we simply note that we have drifted and without judgment or self-criticism return our attention to our breathing.

Awareness of the breath often called conscious breathing is the beginning practice and the foundation for further practices. Over time, as our thinking mind calms, we learn to open our present moment awareness to all of our body, to our feelings, to our attitudes, emotions, and acts of will, to our thoughts and ideas, and also to the people and the world around us.

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is much like sitting meditation, except that we coordinate our steps with our breathing: as we breathe in, we take a step; as we breathe out, we take a step. We are mindful of our breathing and of our stepping. Our bodies are upright and relaxed, our eyes softly focused just ahead of us. When our minds drift to the past or to the future, we gently guide them back to the present moment. We can also use gathas in walking meditation to concentrate our minds on the present moment.

Dharma Discussion

Dharma discussion or dharma sharing is an opportunity to share how we apply the teachings to our daily life. We create a supportive environment in which we can mindfully express our practices and insights as well as our deep questions and struggles.

When we want to share we bow into the group, are recognized by the group with a bow, share what we have to share, and then bow out. After a pause, someone else may wish to bow in to continue and extend the discussion. There are four underlying principles that support this practice:

 

  • We share from our hearts. We say what is true for us, what really matters. It may be helpful to imagine the words literally emerging from our hearts, from our center of being. Unless it is specifically requested, we do not advise, fix, or correct others.
  • We listen from our hearts. We give each other the gift of our full presence and of our compassion. We are attentive not just to the words, but to all of what is being shared. We listen to understand, affirm, and appreciate.
  • We are of lean expression. We say what is essential and try not to ramble, recognizing that others may wish to share.
  • We stay present. Sometimes we call this practicing spontaneity. If we are preparing what we have to say, we are not listening to others, and our sharing may abruptly change the energy of the conversation. We learn to trust that what needs to be said will be said.
What It Costs
All our activities are freely offered to anyone who would like to participate. However, the continued existence of the community depends on the Dana (generosity) of those who attend. A Dana box is present weekly for those who are able to contribute. Donations pay for weekly meeting space, other community expenses and allow us to make contributions to Plum Village and other institutions that spiritually support us.
Recommended Reading

Thich Nhat Hanh has written over 100 books, most of which can be found at Plum Village Books. Some of these can be borrowed from our library. The following are some recommendations for beginning practitioners:

Peace Is Every Step

Creating True Peace

Breathe, You Are Alive

 

Glossary

The Three Jewels of Buddhism:

  1. Buddha – the human being, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who lived 2600 years ago and became fully enlightened or awake; any other being who wakes up; the seed of awakening in each of us
  2. Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha; the teachings of love and understanding; all phenomenon
  3. Sangha – a community that practices the teachings of the Buddha

Bodhisattva – someone who embodies the quality of the Buddha, who has vowed to help end suffering

Bodhicitta – the quality of loving-kindness and compassion that resides within each of us

Bowing – we bow to show gratitude and respect to each other; our two hands represent our mind and our body coming together in the present moment to offer a beautiful flower bud to the person we are greeting

Buddhism – the study and practice of the teachings of the Buddha

Gatha – a short phrase or poem that we recite during various activities to help keep our mindfulness

Mindfulness – the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment

Mindfulness Bell – any bell or sound that we listen to consciously, bringing our awareness back to the present moment; the name of the journal of the international sangha of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mindfulness Trainings – guidelines to live by in order to be happy and peaceful.

Namo – Sanskrit word found in many chants meaning “paying honor to.”

Order of Interbeing – a fourfold lay and monastic order established by Thich Nhat Hanh during the Vietnam war to provide spiritual support and nourishment to those helping victims of the war; now a worldwide organization of people dedicated to this practice as the path of awakening. Open Heart Sangha and all other sanghas in this lineage are part of the extended community of the Order of Interbeing.

Practice – efforts made toward being mindful in each moment; the path to awakening.

Shakyamuni Buddha– the Buddha whom Siddhartha became after enlightenment.

Siddhartha Gautama– the name of the prince who became the Buddha.

Sutra – a teaching of the Buddha.

Gathas For Sitting And Walking Meditation

To practice mindfulness in our daily activities, we focus our mind on a gatha to deepen our experience of simple acts we often take for granted, such as dish washing, driving or waking up. We also use gathas to deepen our experience of sitting and walking meditation. You may wish to use the following gathas to support your meditation practice. Recite the first line of each numbered pair silently on the in-breath and the second line silently on the out-breath. You may then choose to use just the words in bold to remind you of the full line.

GATHA FOR SITTING MEDITATION

1. Breathing in, I know I am breathing in
In

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out
Out

2. Breathing in, I feel my breath becoming deep
Deep

Breathing out, I feel my breath becoming slow
Slow

3. Breathing in, I calm my body and my mind
Calm

Breathing out, my body and my mind are at ease
Ease

4. Breathing in, I smile
Smile

Breathing out, I release all tension in my body and my mind
Release

5. Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment
Present Moment

Breathing out, I know this is the only moment
Wonderful Moment

Ending the Vicious Circle of Negative Habits | Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004.03.25

Thich Nhat Hanh offers this dharma talk at Deer Park Monastery during the Colors of Compassion Retreat on March 25, 2004.

Open Heart Sangha South  Meeting Site Information

Sitting & Walking Meditation
Monday: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
First Universalist Church
97 Main Street
Yarmouth, Maine 04096

Open Heart Sangha welcomes you. Please join us anytime.

CONTACT PERSON

Dave: (207)-749-3396

Open Heart Sangha North Meeting Site Information

Sitting & Walking Meditation
Sunday: Call For Time
Bath Dance Works
72 Front St., 3rd Floor
Bath, Maine 04096

CONTACT PERSON

Sue West at 207-370-1588
or
bathsangha@gmail.com