Dear Still Water Friends,
Many of us know the Plum Village practice of Beginning Anew as a way of deep sharing with those with whom we live our lives. We come together as a couple, as friends, or as a family or community. We settle ourselves. Then with care and tenderness we share our appreciations for each other, our regrets for unmindful actions (or our failure to take appropriate actions), our suffering and our difficulties. We recognize our shortcomings, and we nourish the intention to live in the present moment and to act with love and compassion.
The Beginning Anew practice has given me a better way to work with my unskillful actions and the suffering they may have fed in myself and others. Rather than being disheartened by and stuck in shame, regret, and self-blame, the Beginning Anew practice encourages me to look deeply into the causes and consequences of my unskillfulness and to resolve to act differently.
In a December 28, 1997, Dharma talk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) said:
Of course you have made some mistakes. You have been unskillful. All of us are the same. We always make mistakes. We are very often unskillful. But that does not prevent us from improving, from beginning anew, from transforming. … Don’t be discouraged when you see that in the past you have suffered and you have made other people suffer. If we know how to handle the suffering, we will be able to profit from our suffering. It is like an organic gardener. If she knows how to handle the garbage, she will get a lot of compost for the growth of her vegetables and her flowers. It is with the compost of the suffering that we can nourish the flower of understanding, of peace, of love. That is why we have to learn how to manage our suffering, how to cherish, how to preserve, how to transform our suffering.
In the same talk, Thay teaches that:
The New Year is a great opportunity to begin anew. Because many people look at the new year, the year to come, with hope. “I will do better next year,” you promise yourself. … [W]e may practice sitting meditation and walking meditation in order to see how we can begin anew, how we can prepare ourselves. So that the New Year will be a much better year than this one.
This Thursday evening, as part of our meditation, we will reflect on the challenges of the past year and our aspirations for 2020. At the beginning of our Dharma sharing we will read a section from the beginning of the Beginning Anew Ceremony (copy below), and then share our observations and aspirations.
You are invited to join us.
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will offer a brief newcomers’ orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are also invited to join us at the Still Water New Years Day Brunch in Silver Spring. Please register to let us know you will be coming.
Also, two weeks ago we mailed out an end-of-year letter to many of our Still Water supporters. If you didn’t receive a copy, it is now available on the Still Water website.
I wish everyone a mindful, heartful, and joyous New Year.
Beginning Anew by Thich Nhat Hanh
from Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practice
With great respect, we turn towards the conqueror of afflictions,
offering heartfelt words of repentance.
We have lived in forgetfulness for a long time.
As we have not had the opportunity to encounter the Dharma,
our habit energies have led us into suffering.
We have made many mistakes out of unskillfulness.
We have been blinded by our wrong perceptions
for a very long time.
Our heart’s garden is sown with attachment, hatred, and pride.
In us are seeds of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and lies.
Our everyday deeds and words do damage.
All these wrong actions are obstacles to our peace and joy.
Let us begin anew.[Bell]
We see that we have been thoughtless,
straying from the path of mindfulness.
We have stored up afflictions and ignorance,
which have brought about so much aversion and sorrow.
There are times we have been weary of life
because we are so full of anxiety.
Because we do not understand others,
we are angry and resentful.
First we try to reason with each other, then we blame.
Every day the suffering increases, making the rift greater.
There are days when we are unwilling to speak to each other,
unwilling to look each other in the face.
And we create internal formations, which last for a long time.
Now we turn to the Three Jewels.
Sincerely recognizing our errors, we bow our heads.[Bell]
We know so well that in our consciousness
are buried all the wholesome seeds —
seeds of love and understanding and seeds of peace and joy.
But because we do not know how to water them
the wholesome seeds do not sprout fresh and green.
We continue to allow sorrow to overwhelm us
until there is no light in our lives.
When we chase after a distant happiness,
life becomes but a shadow of the reality.
Our mind is occupied by the past,
or worrying about this or that in the future.
We cannot let go of our anger,
and we consider of no value the precious gifts of life
which are already in our hands,
thereby trampling on real happiness.
As month follows month, we are sunk in sorrow.
So now in the precious presence of the Buddha,
fragrant with sandalwood incense,
we recognize our errors and begin anew.[Bell]
With all our heart we go for refuge,
turning to the Buddhas in the Ten Directions
and all the Bodhisattvas, noble disciples, and self
Very sincerely we recognize our errors
and the mistakes of our wrong judgments.
Please bring the balm of clear water
to pour on the roots of our afflictions.
Please bring the raft of the true teachings
to carry us over the ocean of sorrows.
We vow to live an awakened life,
to practice smiling and conscious breathing,
and to study the teachings, authentically transmitted.
Diligently, we shall live in mindfulness.[Bell]
We come back to live in the wonderful present,
to plant our heart’s garden with good seeds,
and to make strong foundations of understanding and love.
We vow to train ourselves in mindfulness and concentration,
practicing to look and understand deeply
to be able to see the nature of all that is,
and so to be free of the bonds of birth and death.
We learn to speak lovingly, to be affectionate,
to care for others whether it is early morn or late afternoon,
to bring the roots of joy to many places,
helping people to abandon sorrow,
to respond with deep gratitude
to the kindness of parents, teachers, and friends.
With deep faith we light up the incense of our heart.
We ask the Lord of Compassion to be our protector
on the wonderful path of practice.
We vow to practice diligently,
cultivating the fruits of this path.[Bell, Bell, Bell]