Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March-April Update

"Embracing Impermanence" Retreat with Dharma teacher, Joanne Friday 
April 16-20 at Springwater Center
Update: Residential and Commuter Spaces are now completely filled!

Meeting Schedule
We are posting our regular meetings on the easy-to-use calendar on the sangha blog. Click on each event for details. Link to the calendar above or here 


Dress Warmly
Don’t forget – It can be cold at the Zen Center and other venues.  Please dress warmly and in layers!

Blooming Lilac Discussion Group Online
Do you want to share and get support for your practice online?  Share with BLS Google Groups: To visit the group and view all postings, and make postings go to 

To send a posting direct from your email use the address

To Join, register or email:  Robin at  and she will invite you! 

Commentary on the 2nd Mindfulness Training
Dear Blooming Lilac Friends- The below is from a meditator at Stillwater Practice Center in Maryland.  He is commenting on one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the one about generosity…

Dear Still Water Friends,

This week it’s time to recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus on the one with perhaps the most enticing title, True Happiness.

In the traditional Five Precepts, the second precept is often phrased as “do not steal” or “I vow to refrain from taking that which does not belong to me.” So how does Thich Nhat Hanh’s version,  the Second Mindfulness Training, go from “don’t steal” to “true happiness?” Here is his formulation of the training:

True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

Thay takes the admonition “do not steal” and flips it to the positive suggestion of being generous, open hearted, and focused on what’s good in life.

Over the past month, I’ve been focusing on the roles of arrogance and humility in my own life, assumptions, and habits. There are deep similarities between the roots of the words arrogance and humility and the terms stealing and generosity. They could be an SAT verbal analogy pairing. The word arrogant derives from arrogate, which means “to claim or seize without justification, to make undue claim to having.” By contrast, humility derives from the Latin humus, “earth.” It means to “offer in a spirit of deference.” It seems humility is the ultimate groundedness, knowing we are of the earth and are in service to it and, therefore, others and ourselves. In short, humility offers while arrogance takes.

This framing has helped me start to see my own arrogance and the limits to the understanding of generosity with which I grew up. I usually don’t hold myself above others or as better than them. I believe and try to practice the belief that we are all equal, due equal dignity and rights. Yet I’m generous with my time and resources based on my particular Christian upbringing of how to behave in the world. I often do what I do to “be good” and, therefore, worthy of love. This form of generosity is often blind to the joys and benefits those actions bring to others and is motivated by need and fear, not an open heart and an understanding of the interconnectedness of life.

This notion of arrogance as “making an undue claim to having” also resonates with the Western notion of “self.” When I act from selfishness, greed, anger, or defensiveness, for example, I take myself as someone separate from others. In that sense, I’ve expropriated the freedom and vastness of life of which I’m part and narrowed it down into a tiny, lonely chunk cut off from life that I call “me.” It’s not possible to practice the true generosity of which Thay speaks below from that position. Thus, in the fundamental sense of the words, when I act as if I’m separate from others, when I act from my base emotions, I am arrogant and the opposite of humble—grounded, connected, open to service.

--Scott Schang

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Study Book: Fragrant Palm Leaves

The new Blooming Lilac Sangha study book Fragrant Palm Leaves has been very fascinating. 

It is selected from Thich Nhat Hanh's journals between 1962 and 1966. It is very fun. A much more personal side of Thay. And he seems more expressive too. Or wider in his expression. Lot's of flashes into his spirit and personality!  

Fragrant Palm Leaves tells parallel stories -- his visits in the US for grad school in the early 60's, and flashbacks to his adventures in the forest in the late 50's, where a community of friends and he tried to establish a practice center in the highlands of central Vietnam for the renewal of Buddhism. 

Thay speaks movingly with humor, exuberance and poignancy we do not find in his later “teaching” writings. 

For example, he quips that after running into a tiger in the forest, his friend was “pale as a skinned chicken.” 

He waxes rhapsodic on hearing “a call from the heart of the cosmos” in the midst of a thunderstorm. He talks about shouting in the forest at the top of his lungs for the sheer joy of it! 

 And he tries to capture the struggle to be true to Dharma in a world with forces undermining Buddhism on many sides: 

“What was it that had driven us to abandon city and village life? The Buddhist hierarchy did not accept us . . . because we were determined to speak the truth. We were accused of sowing seeds of dissent when we challenged anything traditional. We were considered rabble rousers who only wanted to tear things down. The hierarchy did not know how to deal with us, so they silenced our voices. For eight years we tried to speak about the need for a humanistic Buddhism and a unified Buddhist church in Vietnam that could respond to the needs of the people.” 

“We sowed these seeds against steep odds, and while waiting for them to take root, we endured false accusations, hatred, deception and intolerance. Still we refused to give up hope.” 

 Sangha members meet for the book group every 1st and 3rd Thursday, 7 – 8:30 pm at the home of Xiaoping & Min, 375 Westminster Rd., Rochester. We begin with 10 minutes of silent sitting meditation, then read aloud from a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and share about the book for the light it sheds on our own paths. 

 We hope you can join us! 

Chris Phillips