Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.


She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

Inspiration for a Zen Druid

What drew me into Zen Buddhism was the fact that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from when it came to learning the wisdom of the tradition. The same goes for Druidry as well. Yes, there can be an ancestral link to the tradition that you might find will perhaps deepen either practice for you personally, but you don’t have to be from a particular place in order to practice either tradition. Zen Buddhism and Druidry may have common roots in India’s Vedic tradition, which goes some way to explaining the many similarities, however one does not need to worry about cultural misappropriation when following either tradition. They welcome one and all to their path, as long as it is walked with respect.

Both Zen Buddhism and Druidry are all about what you do: not who you are or where you came from. Working with compassion, deepening the connection to nature and the world around you, there is a holistic healing of the soul that happens when this is embraced, allowing an integration that just seems to flow easier, where the awen shines and peace of mind and body are attainable. Being utterly awake to the present moment, seeing the Buddha-nature of everyone, and remembering that Buddha-nature within our souls can help us to ease the pain of separation that modern culture and society seem to promote in a theology/philosophy of duality. When we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, systems within systems, we work better, understanding our part and working for the benefit of the whole rather than the self. It promotes a thinking where one doesn’t think less of the self, but rather thinks of the self, less.

The magic and wonder of Druidry and the natural world, and the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism have allowed me a deep sense of peace and wakefulness to the world. They complement each other beautifully, each tradition having its own wisdom that is there for everyone to discover. If you’d like to learn more about either tradition, I’ve put together a reading list below from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. These are the tools that helped me on my journey (with some of my previously written books thrown in there too), and I hope that should they be of interest, you might also find them of some benefit as well.

Blessings on your journey, wherever your path may take you!

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

Adamson, E. & McClain, G. (2001) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living: Alpha

Allen, R. (2002) Zen Questions London: MQ Publications Limited

Beck, C.J. (1997) Everyday Zen London: Thorsons

Beck, C. J. (1995) Nothing Special: Living Zen New York: Harper Collins

Carr-Gomm, P. (2002) Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century: Rider

Hanh, T.N. (2001) Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for Cooling the Flames: Rider

Hanh, T.N. (2012) Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice: Parallax Press

Hanh, T.N. (2015) No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering: Parallax Press

Hanh, T.N. (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness: Rider, Classic Ed Edition

Hanh, T. N. (1993) Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism: Parallax Press

Hutton, R. (2011) Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain: Yale University Press

Kirkey, J. (2009) The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality: Hiraeth Press

Lama, D. (2005) Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Wisdom Teachings: Wisdom Publications, U.S.

MacEowan, F. H. (2002) The Mist-filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers and Seekers: New World Libray

Matthews, C. (2004) Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings: Gill & Macmillan Ltd

Talboys, G. (2002) Way of the Druid: Rebirth of an Ancient Religion: O Books

Tzu, L. (2002) The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Translation and Elucidation by Hua-Ching Ni: Sevenstar Communications U.S.

Restall Orr, E. (2004) Living Druidry: Magical Spirituality for the Wild Soul London: Piatkus Books Ltd

Restall Orr, E. (2007) Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics O Books

Restall Orr, E. (2000) Ritual: A Guide to Life, Love & Inspiration London: Thorsons

Restall Orr, E. (2012) The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature: Moon Books

van der Hoeven, J. (2014) The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid: Moon Books

van der Hoeven, J. (2013) Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness: Moon Books


Internet Resources

Order of Interbeing

The British Druid Order

The Druid Network

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

Zen Buddhism

Zen Guide

Excerpt from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids

This is an extract from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. It is the follow-up to my introductory book, Zen Druidry, which is part of the Pagan Portals series with Moon Books.  This book delves deeper into incorporating Zen philosophy into a Druid tradition, allowing us to find deep integration with nature, flowing along the currents of inspiration, of awen.

Chapter One

The Three Treasures

The Three Treasures (sometimes called The Three Jewels) are what all Buddhists can take refuge in, in order to alleviate suffering. They are:

  1. That everyone has a Buddha nature: taking refuge in the Buddha
  2. The dharma reflects ultimate truth: taking refuge in the dharma
  3. There is a community (known as sangha in Buddhism): taking refuge in the community

In today’s society, we often take refuge in that which causes us harm: drugs; alcohol; high fat foods and so on. We take refuge in violent or mind-numbing television shows. We may even take refuge in abusive relationships. All of these do not help to alleviate suffering, but only increase suffering. We need to re-evaluate what it is that we take refuge in. Let us look at the Three Treasures that Buddhists take refuge in, and see how they are reflected in modern Druidry.

Taking refuge in the Buddha: Everyone has a Buddha nature – In this teaching, we see that everyone has the essence of the Buddha within them. This means that everyone can achieve enlightenment. When we recognise the Buddha nature of a stranger, for example, our behaviour and attitude towards them will shift. We will act with more compassion, because we see that which is in ourselves, our own Buddha nature, is also within them. Within Druidry, as mentioned above, the sanctity of all nature is at the heart of its teachings. There is no hierarchy within Druidry; we are aware that we are a part of an ecosystem, part of a planet, part of the universe and part of the whole. Through the wonders of science, we know that we contain star stuff within our blood and bones. When we realise that we are made up of so many different elements, non-human elements, we are able to recognise the greater pattern that makes up life, and our part within it as a strand of the web of creation. We have rivers and oceans within us, for we drink water every day. We have the sun within us, in the food that we eat, the light upon our skin. We realise that the illusion of separation is just that: an illusion. When the boundaries of this illusory divide fall away, we can become fully integrated into the world around us. There is no human and nature, there is only nature.

There is a Zen story that states: “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him!” This means that anything that we conceive as being external to ourselves is only an illusion, for the Buddha is within. The Buddha is our potential to live our lives in our own perfect truth, awake and aware to life all around us, fully participating in life rather than being passengers on the journey. By recognising our own Buddha nature, we see it in others. The sanctity of life and all creation directs us to live our lives accordingly.

Buddha was/is a great teacher. He exists today as he existed thousands of years ago. He is an inspiration to all who honour the Buddhist tradition. In the Buddha we are inspired to great healing, great peace. We can honour our teachers from all traditions that speak to our soul. In Druidry, we work with the ancestors: ancestors of blood, ancestors of place and ancestors of tradition. Buddha can be a great ancestor of tradition – so can the Dalai Lama, or Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh just as much as Taliesen, Boudicca or modern-day writers and Druids such as Emma Restall Orr or Phillip Carr-Gomm.

Taking refuge in the dharma: The dharma reflects ultimate truth – Truth is a tricky word in modern-day society. Yet it is central to both Buddhist and Druid teachings. In Buddhism, we drop the illusion of separateness; we step beyond suffering created by duality and merge into our own truth. Within modern Druidry, there is a saying: “The truth against the world”. The truth is our own self, our true self, without the conditions and restrictions placed upon it by the ego and others. This self works in the world to create peace and harmony, for it is at peace and harmony. The world is that which tries to impose illusions of duality or conditions of existence upon us. We are told that we need this or that in order to be happy. We are told what to eat, wear, what car to drive. We are told that we are superior to others, human and non-human. We often believe that we will be happy in the future, as we set a condition upon our lives for our own happiness. When we drop these conditions and really pay attention to life, we find out what we really need in order to have peace and happiness. When we follow our own nature and listen to the truth within, we are able to find our place in the world. We are better able to hear our own soul’s truth, and that is the truth against the world. We find wisdom in the teachings, in the dharma, and we know that through experience of the teachings we can understand the truth for ourselves. Within Zen Druidry we realise that there is no monopoly on wisdom. By combining the teachings of both Druidry and Zen Buddhism each are complemented and enhanced.

Taking refuge in the dharma, we recognise for ourselves that the real cause of suffering stems from within, as does the real cause of joy and peace. Taking refuge in the teachings of Druidry, we learn about integration with the world, and how to live our lives as a reflection of our love and devotion to the natural world around us. Both lead us to living lives fully awake and aware, lives that are filled with responsibility towards everything that exists on our planet. It guides us to live in harmony and in peace, mindful of sustainability and honour.

Taking refuge in the community: There is a community – In Buddhism, the community (known as the sangha) is there for one to take refuge in, providing support through shared ideals and goals. They are fellow Buddhists, people you meditate with, perhaps even a monastic community. They are like-minded people, on the path to enlightenment, trying to ease suffering. They are people who can help you on the path, and people that may come to you for help.

This community has been taken further in modern Buddhism to incorporate the planet, seeing and knowing that the earth is our home, our community, and therefore we must take better care of it. Within Druidry, the community is our environment. Not just the land upon which we live, but our homes, our workplaces, the Druid community: everything that we are working with in the world. Druidry knows that life is all inter-connected, that we are all parts of a whole. Ecosystems function because everything knows its place in the wider context, fulfilling its role (living its truth) and thereby contributing to the benefit of the whole. We support the community and the community supports us. We can take refuge in this community, knowing on the most basic level that we are all in this together. It engenders a deep respect for the community, for the whole.

There is a Druid community throughout the world, as there is a Buddhist community. It may be difficult to find other Druids in your particular area, however, there are groups and groves, festivals and camps, Orders and organisations you can join in order to connect with other people following the Druid path, to find support in a community, or to support others within the community in a Druid context. Druidry also recognises the community as a whole, on this little rock we call planet Earth, hurtling through time and space.



  1. What is it that you currently take refuge in? Does it cause further suffering? If so, what can you do to change?
  2. Think about the concept of everyone having a Buddha nature, or seeing the sacredness of all things. In Druidry and in Animism there is no division, no one thing being holier or more sacred than another. Everything is simply a part of an ecosystem, part of a whole. Where do you place any dividing line within your own life? Is a grain of sand less sacred than a desert? A drop of water to a lake?
  3. What is truth? What do you feel to be your personal truth? Stripped away of ego and conditions, what would your true self feel like?

© Joanna van der Hoeven


Karma – It’s not about what we do…

This is a brilliant article by Culadasa and Matthew Immergut on the nature of Karma, what it is and isn’t in relation to the Buddha’s teachings: specifically, the teaching of “no self”.  Click HERE for the full article.

Karma: that word that gets thrown around a lot.

People talk about “good” karma versus “bad” karma, or “your” karma versus “mine.”

But despite the term’s popularity, it seems like everybody has a different idea about what it actually means. If karma is truly one of the Buddha’s most important teachings, as he himself repeatedly emphasized, then to follow in his footsteps, we need to be clear about its definition.

The Problems with “Agricultural” Karma

Probably one of the most popular misunderstandings about Buddhist Karma is the idea that everything that happens to us is our karma. If we win the lottery or have an attractive partner, it’s because we performed good deeds in the past—we have “good” karma. If we get hit by a truck or our partner cheats on us, it’s because we misbehaved and have “bad” karma. And, of course, what we do now will determine our future results. Let’s just call this the agricultural view of karma: we reap what we sow.

So, what’s wrong with this idea? Well, whether we’re Buddhist or not, it creates lots of intellectual problems.


Teaching without saying a word…

Thich Nhat Hanh by Kelvin Cheuk

Thich Nhat Hanh by Kelvin Cheuk

As Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh’s health slowly begins to improve, he still provides an example of finding the joy, enchantment and wonder of the simplest things in life – eating a bite of food, taking a step upon Mother Earth, smiling at a friend.  Reading this latest update on his recovery, it really brought home the message that we can find joy anywhere, if we are able to open our hearts to it.  Despite circumstances that prove a tremendous difficulty, this gentle monk who has lived through war and exile continues to lead by example.  Thank you, and bless you, Thay for your teaching. May we be worthy students, and may we all find the joy and peace that is to hand in mindfulness.

Official Announcement

Plum Village, France
June 28, 2015

To all Plum Village Practice Centers,
To all Practice Centers and Sanghas World Wide,
To our Dear Beloved Friends,

We are happy to report that Thay’s health has improved greatly since he returned to his Plum Village Hermitage in early April. Every day Thay has been out in nature, enjoying the blossoms, listening to the birds and resting at the foot of a tree. Thay enjoys lying in his hammock next to the running creek, in the fresh cool of the bamboo grove he planted more than thirty years ago.

Doctors and nurses continue to visit Thay, and he receives physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture daily. The team of attendants continue to care for Thay and support his needs around the clock.

Despite his advanced age, Thay has been making remarkable progress.

One day, Thay decided for himself that he was ready to start swallowing solid food, and directed his attendants to prepare an apple, then a lemon and then an avocado. Thay enjoyed each bite with great delight, chewing each mouthful at least forty times before swallowing. Everyone was very surprised. Thay’s mindfulness, concentration and joy to really savor the food was remarkable. Since that day, with great concentration and determination, Thay has been able to enjoy feeding himself. The sisters have been investing their love and creativity in preparing diverse nutritious healthy food for Thay, which he eats with delight. As soon as Thay was able to nourish himself with several wholesome meals a day, he surprised all the doctors by successfully removing his own feeding tube, without any complications. Thay smiled, and we all smiled.

More recently, Thay has begun to develop his vocalisation, joining the attendants when they hum or sing. The first time this happened, one of the sisters was chanting in Vietnamese the name of Avalokita, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion: Nam Mo Bo Tat Quan The Am. Thay suddenly pronounced the final sound “Âm” (pron. “um”) clearly and on cue. Miraculously, the word “Âm” actually means “sound”. Thay looked at those around him, his eyes gleaming, as if to say “everything is possible”. It was a very moving moment, and the attendants all gathered to continue to chant with Thay. Since that very first “um”, Thay now enjoys singing and humming every day, all the familiar Plum Village tunes in Vietnamese, English and French. At this point, Thay is able to voice the melody and, once in a while, he can form a word. He raises his arm in such a way as to express the meaning of each line, and has great joy and surprise every time he is able to produce a clear and accurate word.

Thay’s therapists have been struck by his extremely strong will to recover, and have pointed out to us that this is the most important factor in his rehabilitation. Thay has been very determined to train himself so he can recover his physical strength and regain his balance and posture. Thay is clear about what he wants to do, and what he does not want to do. He is now able to sit by himself, beautifully upright. In the last three weeks Thay has wanted to start walking, even though his right side remains paralysed. With the support of one attendant behind, and one at his right leg to help move it forward, Thay now practices walking meditation in the garden, several times a day. We can feel Thay’s delight and freedom at each step. Even though it takes great effort, we can see that, for Thay, each step is a step of victory, an affirmation of life and joy to be alive on this beautiful Mother Earth.

From time to time the whole monastic community of 150 monks and nuns has come to practice walking meditation with Thay. Last week we could feel Thay’s joy to see his disciples, and his happiness to lead the sangha in walking meditation. Thay pointed to the blue sky, the swaying bamboo, the smile of a brother, directing us to enjoy the present moment. Thay’s courage, determination and joy, despite his physical limitations, was a clear teaching for all those present as we walked behind Thay with our two healthy feet. With every step, Thay demonstrated that he will continue to practice no matter what the conditions. Thay was affirming that he would never desert the Path. He was encouraging us to stay on the path, and enjoy the wonders of life.

We would like to thank everyone for offering your loving support to Thay and the sangha through the past months. We are deeply grateful for your energy of compassion and prayers, and for your commitment to continue to practice mindfully and deeply for Thay. A special thank you to those who have sent us beautiful children’s drawings for Thay’s room and those who have sent us heartfelt donations to support Thay’s care.

The lotuses are blooming in our ponds, the plums are ripening in our orchards, and we are preparing our hamlets to welcome our guests for the Summer Retreat, around 800 people each week, for a whole month. The Summer Retreat is one of Thay’s favorite times of year. We will welcome families and children, and the Dharma Talks will be given by Thay’s continuation in the form of his Senior Dharma Teachers. Under the shade of the oak trees, bamboo groves and verandas in the late afternoon sun, we will see many circles of friends sharing deeply with one another. Hearts will be open, tears will be shed, as the sound of the bell reverberates.

Nine years ago Thay was asked,
“You will be 80 this year. Do you plan to retire as a spiritual teacher at any point?”

This is the answer he gave:

In Buddhism we see that teaching is done not only by talking, but also by living your own life. Your life is the teaching, is the message. And since I continue to sit, to walk, to eat, to interact with the Sangha and people, I continue to teach, even if I have already encouraged my senior students to begin to replace me in giving Dharma talks. In the last two years, I have asked Dharma teachers, not only in the monastic circle but also in the lay circle, to come up and give Dharma talks. Many of them have given wonderful Dharma talks. Some Dharma talks have been better than mine. I see myself in my continuation, and I will not retire. I’ll continue to teach, if not by Dharma talks then in my way of sitting, eating, smiling, and interacting with the Sangha. I like to be with the Sangha. Even if I don’t give a Dharma talk, I like to join walking meditation, sitting meditation, eating in mindfulness and so on. So don’t worry. When people are exposed to the practice, they are inspired. You don’t need to talk in order to teach. You need to live your life mindfully and deeply. Thank you.

These inspiring words are our compass as we prepare to lead retreats for thousands of people in the coming months: here in Plum Village this Summer, at the EIAB in Germany in August, and on the Miracle of Mindfulness Tour of the United States this fall. Please join us.

May you cherish the presence of those you love, and enjoy each step together.

With love and trust,

The Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

As Thay’s condition is now stable, and his path of recovery is long, we will post updates only occasionally. We will keep our global community informed of any major developments in Thay’s recovery. All official updates will continue to appear at, and

Heaven, hell and Jeremy Clarkson

We are our deeds. It’s a popular heathen saying, and the title of a well-written heathen book by Eric Wodening. What we say, what we do is a reflection of our own self. How we behave is what defines us.

Our society is full of examples, however, of bad behaviour being rewarded, or being applauded. In Britain, famous television presenter Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the popular television show, Top Gear, because he had punched a producer in the face when he found out that there was no hot food available on set. No charges have been made against Clarkson’s assault, and indeed, he is making light of the whole situation, thereby condoning violence. In a recent spin-off live show in Belfast it opened with a video of him throwing a left-hook, as if it were right to punch a colleague in the face. Everyone cheered. When it was rumoured that comedian Sue Perkins would possibly replace Clarkson on the show, she had to leave Twitter because of all the death threats that she was receiving. Violence breeds violence.

What we think, what we say, what we do defines our self. When we live in a world that no longer seems to care about personal responsibility, about compassion, about just being nice to other people, it is even more important that we take up the reins and provide an example of how to be in the world in good, honourable relationship.

We are blessed with foresight. We can think about the outcomes of our actions. We have memories of the past to consider when making our actions. And yet some people still behave badly, willfully, out of spite and their own demons, or out of ignorance that there is a choice.

This is what it all comes down to: we always have a choice. We can choose to behave badly, remaining stuck in our bad habits, remaining trapped in our attachments, allowing our emotions to run riot over ourselves and others. Or we can choose to take up personal responsibility, to think about things that we have done and things that we are going to do, and how they will affect others. It’s not fun being mean to other people. It makes our hearts small. It tightens and constricts them until we become mere shadows of ourselves. We may hide behind comedy, delusions or the lies that we have told ourselves over and over again to justify our behaviour. Ultimately, however, we know on a deep level when we are doing things that are wrong, and we can choose to continue or not.

Take responsibility for your actions. Shrugging off bad behaviour doesn’t make it right, and you will eventually have to face it at some point in your life. Clarkson knows that what he did was wrong, which is why he’s making fun of it rather than face up to the fact that he was wrong. It’s all about saving face, about personal egos, illusions and delusions. How many other people do you know who are like that?

If nothing at all, these people remind us of who we do not wish to be. We can still have compassion for them, seeing that they suffer from their own demons. However, that does not mean condoning their behaviour. We can speak out against it, and still hope that they find peace in their own lives.

There is a Zen story about a samurai who asks a monk about heaven and hell:

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen master, was once visited by a samurai warrior.

“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.
Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am a samurai,” announced the proud warrior.

“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the samurai.

The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.”

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.

“And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

May all beings find peace.

Reblog: A Guide to Cultivating Compassion

Here is a reblog from Leo’s wonderful site.  Number six is the most difficult, but perhaps the most important.  🙂

A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, With 7 Practices

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.– Dalai Lama

By Leo Babauta

I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives. I’m not talking about the short-term gratification of pleasures like sex, drugs or gambling (though I’m not knocking them), but something that will bring true and lasting happiness. The kind that sticks.

The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice.

Meditate upon it in the morning (you can do it while checking email), think about it when you interact with others, and reflect on it at night. In this way, it becomes a part of your life. Or as the Dalai Lama also said, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Let’s use the Wikipedia definition of Compassion:

Compassion is an emotion that is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Compassion essentially arises through empathy, and is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for.

Compassionate acts are generally considered those which take into account the suffering of others and attempt to alleviate that suffering as if it were one’s own. In this sense, the various forms of the Golden Rule are clearly based on the concept of compassion.

Compassion differs from other forms of helpful or humane behavior in that its focus is primarily on the alleviation of suffering.

Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.”

But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy. If we agree that it is a common aim of each of us to strive to be happy, then compassion is one of the main tools for achieving that happiness. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.

How do we do that? This guide contains 7 different practices that you can try out and perhaps incorporate into your every day life.

7 Compassion Practices

  1. Morning ritual. Greet each morning with a ritual. Try this one, suggest by the Dalai Lama: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” Then, when you’ve done this, try one of the practices below.
  2. Empathy Practice. The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. Many of us believe that we have empathy, and on some level nearly all of us do. But many times we are centered on ourselves (I’m no exception) and we let our sense of empathy get rusty. Try this practice: Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.
  3. Commonalities practice. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness. Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. One of my favorite exercises comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
    1. Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
    2. Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
    3. Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
    4. Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
    5. Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
  4. Relief of suffering practice. Once you can empathize with another person, and understand his humanity and suffering, the next step is to want that person to be free from suffering. This is the heart of compassion — actually the definition of it. Try this exercise: Imagine the suffering of a human being you’ve met recently. Now imagine that you are the one going through that suffering. Reflect on how much you would like that suffering to end. Reflect on how happy you would be if another human being desired your suffering to end, and acted upon it. Open your heart to that human being and if you feel even a little that you’d want their suffering to end, reflect on that feeling. That’s the feeling that you want to develop. With constant practice, that feeling can be grown and nurtured.
  5. Act of kindness practice. Now that you’ve gotten good at the 4th practice, take the exercise a step further. Imagine again the suffering of someone you know or met recently. Imagine again that you are that person, and are going through that suffering. Now imagine that another human being would like your suffering to end — perhaps your mother or another loved one. What would you like for that person to do to end your suffering? Now reverse roles: you are the person who desires for the other person’s suffering to end. Imagine that you do something to help ease the suffering, or end it completely. Once you get good at this stage, practice doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way. Even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore, or just talking about a problem with another person. Practice doing something kind to help ease the suffering of others. When you are good at this, find a way to make it a daily practice, and eventually a throughout-the-day practice.
  6. Those who mistreat us practice. The final stage in these compassion practices is to not only want to ease the suffering of those we love and meet, but even those who mistreat us. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in — the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through. Now think some more about the suffering of that poor person, and see if you can imagine trying to stop the suffering of that person. And then reflect that if you mistreated someone, and they acted with kindness and compassion toward you, whether that would make you less likely to mistreat that person the next time, and more likely to be kind to that person. Once you have mastered this practice of reflection, try acting with compassion and understanding the next time a person treats you. Do it in little doses, until you are good at it. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Evening routine. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about your goal that you stated this morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could you do better? What did you learn from your experiences today? And if you have time, try one of the above practices and exercises.

These compassionate practices can be done anywhere, any time. At work, at home, on the road, while traveling, while at a store, while at the home of a friend or family member. By sandwiching your day with a morning and evening ritual, you can frame your day properly, in an attitude of trying to practice compassion and develop it within yourself. And with practice, you can begin to do it throughout the day, and throughout your lifetime.

This, above all, with bring happiness to your life and to those around you.

“My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. These things are very useful in our daily life, and also for the whole of human society these practices can be very important.” – Dalai Lama

Touching the Earth

Imagine my delight when I read how practices I am currently doing in my Druid tradition are also being done by the venerable Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh (you will notice quite a few blog posts dedicated to his teachings on this blog!). In his book The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology  he provides some lovely daily practices (gathas) to honour the earth that we can fit into our everyday life. Some of these I was doing already in various forms, such as prayers before meals, washing hands/body, drinking water, etc, and some were new and equally poignant, to be incorporated in my daily practice. But what really struck a chord with me was the Five Earth Touchings that he described after the Earth gathas and how similar they were to my daily prayers.

He recommends to Touch the Earth each and every day, to establish our deep and abiding connection with the earth and to give thanks for all that we have, reminding ourselves of who we are, where we came from, our ancestors of the future and living a life filled with compassion and peace.

He states “The practice of Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.

When we touch the Earth we become small, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. When we touch the Earth we become great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out our suffering- our feelings of anger, hatred, fear, inadequacy and grief.

Our hands join to form a lotus bud and we gently lower ourselves to the ground so that all four limbs and our forehead are resting comfortably on the floor. While we are Touching the Earth we turn our palms face up, showing our openness to the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the community). After one or two times practicing Touching the Earth (Three Touchings or Five Touchings), we can already release a lot of our suffering and feeling of alienation and reconcile with our ancestors, parents, children, or friends.”

The first Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family.” Here we honour our blood ties, the stories that brought us to where we are today, the generations of love and suffering in our bloodlines that help to create our story today. By opening ourselves to our ancestors we acknowledge all this, and can ask for their protection, love and support. In Druidry, we honour the ancestors, and in my own tradition I state “I honour the ancestors of blood, whose stories flow through my veins”.

The second Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to all generations of ancestors in my spiritual family.” Here we honour the teachers who have shared their wisdom and insight, throughout the years, whether we have known them personally or not. We can see ourselves in these people. These are the people who can help us to transform our suffering and bring about peace, both in our own hearts and in the world. In my own tradition, I state “I honour the ancestors of tradition, whose wisdom flows through the teachings.”

The third Earth Touching is “In gratitude, I bow to this land and all of the ancestors who made it available.” Here we honour the spirits and/or ancestors of place, who have made this world that we live in. They are in the soil and wind, all those who have lived and died and now exist in another form. It is the energy of the land upon which we live, that we can feel humming in our bones, if we only open ourselves to listen. In my tradition, I state “I honour the ancestors of place, whose songs flow through this land”.

The fourth Earth Touching is “In gratitude and compassion, I bow down and transmit my energy to those I love.” Here we share the wisdom and insight gained from our practice and spread that out to all our loved ones in a form of prayer. The energy we have received from the earth is given freely, and so we too give freely to those we love. We can ask our ancestors for their protection and aid in this matter. In my tradition, I state “May there be peace in the hearts and minds of all those I hold dear, my family, friends and loved ones.”

The fifth Earth Touching is “In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer.” Here we learn that the earth gives of her energy without discrimination or prejudice, and we can learn to live magnanimously in all that we do. We understand that people who cause us to suffer do so through their own wrong perceptions, and we pray that they find a way to relieve their suffering. We work towards not holding any anger or hatred towards these people, instead trying to understand in order to better work in the world. Again, we can ask our ancestors for help in this matter. In my tradition, I state “May peace be in the hearts and minds of those who cause me and others around them to suffer, may they know loving kindness.

The similarities between what I currently do as a Zen-minded Druid and these Buddhist practices absolutely delight me, and could to transform much of the world’s suffering if done with mindfulness and loving kindness. Try to take some time each day to recite the Earth Touchings above, or something similar – it could change your life, or at the very least ease some of the suffering and provide a path to peace that is yours and yours alone to walk.