On October 1-4, 2021, twenty-five monastics and fourteen lay friends received Lamp Transmission to become Dharma teachers at Deer Park Monastery. As part of their ordination, each new Dharma teacher receives a transmission gatha from the senior Dharma teachers and the lineage of ancestral teachers. We asked the new lay Dharma teachers for their reflections on their gathas. Here are some of their reflections:
In oceans lie rivers, clouds, and rain True jewels refracting light that wakes the deep Compassion heals by embracing pain Good friends reveal the path beneath our feet
With deep gratitude to our beloved teacher, Thích Nhất Hạnh, our respected monastic and lay teachers, and our beautiful Sangha, I receive this transmission gatha. Thầy has taught us that if a wave knows she is water, she realizes there is no birth and no death, so she doesn’t suffer even when she changes form. Understanding that our true nature is interbeing, we realize there is no separation and no need to be afraid of death. We also see and cherish the diversity of our many forms as well as our intimate, indivisible unity. The insight of interbeing is a jewel that wakes us up to practicing radical love and inclusiveness. It inspires us to welcome everyone, not to disparage anyone. Aware of our interconnectedness, we’re motivated not to turn away from any kind of ill-being, and to have the bravery and humility to be present, look deeply, and listen with an open heart in order to understand the roots of suffering. Understanding gives rise to compassion, and compassion heals pain by holding it tenderly. We heal, grow, and thrive not as isolated individuals but together, relying on our spiritual friends and trusting in the sangha kinship that reveals we are always already home.
Natascha Bruckner, True Ocean of Jewels, (pronouns she/her) practices with the Heart Sangha and lives with her partner, Zachiah Murray and their four kitties in Santa Cruz, California, USA.
The bliss of silence is the Buddha’s jewel The wind through the pines reveals the mountain’s call Transcending ebb and flow, all passions cooled In praise or blame the moon’s still free to soar.
The impression I had when I first received this transmission gatha was that it was bringing the crisp, pure air of a meditation hut somewhere high in the mountains into the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall. Of course, part of this is because it contains the words “Buddha” and “mountain” from my dharma name, True Buddha Mountain, as all the transmission gathas incorporate the aspirants’ individual dharma names. But I felt the atmosphere of the gatha was vivid and refreshing. Now, as I have been able to spend more time reflecting on it, I even more clearly recognize in it language and imagery that has been used throughout many generations of beautiful and inspiring poetry originating from many distinguished Asian traditions. One such image that resonated with me immediately upon hearing it was that of the “wind through the pines,” not only because of its connection to this ancient and illustrious literary and spiritual heritage but because it reminded me of my years of experience studying tea culture and tea ceremony, significant aspects of my spiritual practice life. In Chinese and Japanese tea culture, for example, the “wind in the pines” is a metaphor for the sound the hot water kettle or brazier makes when it reaches a soft boil. This thoroughly touched and delighted me.
Further and deeper reflection on the gatha has revealed to me something I find to be rather remarkable—remarkable because it shares the same core theme as that which I presented in my insight gatha: nirvana. “The bliss of silence,” “transcending ebb and flow, all passions cooled,” and, like the “moon,” unaffected by “praise or blame,” all suggest to me the peaceful, cool, fearless, and fully transcendent nature of nirvana, in which all duality, all conflict, and all ideas, notions, and concepts are silenced, extinguished. The Buddha, Thầy, and our ancestral teachers teach us that nirvana is the substance of all that is and, by virtue of being the ground of being, is the ground of interbeing. Because of the interbeing nature of nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death, it can be found right in samsara, the world of birth and death, by touching samsara deeply. Nirvana is always available here and now, whether one finds oneself in a meditation hut high in the mountains or a city street clogged with traffic. What a beautiful and liberating teaching this is. As I continue to reflect on the cooling, calming, and restorative language and atmosphere of this beautiful transmission gatha, I know I will continue to find inspiration, connection, and, ultimately, ease and liberation from it. What an indescribably magnificent gift. I bow humbly and deeply in gratitude and reverence to receive it.
Alex Cline, True Buddha Mountain, (pronouns he/him) born in Los Angeles, California, USA, is a drummer-percussionist-composer with a career in music that exceeds forty years and includes work with some of the most important and creative artists in the jazz and new music worlds. A husband and father as well as a retired oral historian, today Alex practices mainly with the Organic Garden Sangha centered in Culver City, California, and can also sometimes be found co-facilitating White Awareness Sangha and lay Dharma teacher Chau Yoder’s Peaceful Heart Sangha. Together with his wife, Karen, Alex co-established Flower Eyes Sangha.
Fresh mountain-flanking flowers fetch dawn dew A spirit-breath now heals across the land Each solid step arrives at life still new Our boundless heart love's refuge here expands
A deep bow of gratitude to Thầy and the Sangha for this beautiful Lamp Transmission gatha. It encourages me to deepen my practice. I have shared it and the lamp with the Sangha so that together we may continue to build our beloved community.
This Lamp Transmission gatha is a reminder to return again and again to our mindful breath and our mindful steps so that we arrive fresh and renewed in the present moment. When we practice in this way, we are like the morning dew that arrives effortlessly on the petals of flowers. The gatha also is a reminder to continue to transform and heal our individual and collective suffering, expand our hearts of love, and share with others the freedom and happiness we have found through the practice. We know each of us is a cell in the Sangha body. This Lamp Transmission gatha encourages all of us to continue to nourish our bodhicitta. With open hearts and the mind of love, our Sangha will continue to be a place of refuge for many.
Susan Glogovac, True Mountain of Spirituality, (pronouns she/her) practices with Radiant Bell Sangha and the larger Rhode Island Community of Mindfulness in Rhode Island, USA. She enjoys sharing the teachings and the fruits of her practice with others. She is nourished when singing bedside for those passing over life's thresholds, weaving, and dwelling happily with her family and friends, and her kitten, Hazel Nutkins.
When spirit shines with emerald-pure light Containing rivers, the vast ocean swells The bodhi tree is here, right in plain sight Each bow we heal with the ancestral bell
I grew up in a house shattered by intergenerational trauma from colonization, racism, and sexism that manifested as violence and emotional abuse. There were very few tender moments of love and nurturing. The first time I heard Thầy’s gentle and compassionate words describing suffering, I sobbed. The first time I heard the Avalokiteshvara chant, I sobbed. For the first time, I had a container and a path carved out to help hold my pain and transform it, as well as understand the pain of my ancestors.
My practice over the past seventeen years has been about watering the positive seeds, my mind of love, to understand the suffering within myself, my parents, and our society. My practice has been about transforming my suffering and hopefully alleviating the suffering of my parents, so that I do not pass on the same things to my children. There are moments of mindfulness when I experience freedom, joy, courage, peace, and I want that for everyone. I want everyone who has ever tasted suffering to taste the peace and love of our practice. I am dedicated to creating spaces especially for those who have experienced oppression, exclusion, and racial injustice in our society. Therefore, I never want to walk alone. I want to walk with others who are on the path of liberation. And I know I also walk with my ancestors. Thầy stresses the importance of the Sangha, and I know I am here because of the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Sangha.
Juliet Hwang, True Emerald Ocean, (pronouns she/her) identifies as a Korean American queer cis woman. She received the name, Transforming Aspirations of the Heart during The Five Mindfulness Trainings ceremony at the first People of Color Retreat at Deer Park Monastery in 2004 and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in 2011. She helps facilitate the Long Beach Family Sangha, as well as the Lotus in a Sea of Fire Sangha for BIPOC Order of Interbeing Aspirants. A pediatrician with a special interest in developmental trauma, she teaches resilience strategies for physicians, administrators, and healthcare employees. One of her greatest joys is hiking to the stupa at Deer Park with her husband and two children.
The beaded drop on lotus leaf now glides In concentration learning how to fall Not long nor short in motion it arrives And chants in silence water’s native call
When I was thirteen years old, I lived in the countryside north of Seattle near the Tulalip Reservation. It was a largely wooded area overlooking a lake, with several houses on much larger parcels of land than in the city or suburbs. We could not easily see our neighbors because of the trees surrounding the houses. There was a dense, quiet solitude in the neighborhood. At night, if the sky were clear and in the right time of year, we could see the Milky Way. At the bend of the road, two properties from where we lived was a large, forested lot. On my walks to the bus stop and walking down the road, I felt the cool, solid shade of the trees. It was my favorite place to walk the dog because of the trees and the way the light cast through the leaves and needles. The forests were second growth as were most of the trees in the area; the land had been reforested since the original settlers had logged it over a century ago. I was accustomed to the way the forest made our street feel—the color, the smell, the moist air. One summer I noticed on a walk that a sign was posted on the road in front of the lot. The sign stated that a new housing development was to be built. To make way for the houses, they would clearcut the property. I remember the feeling in my gut that day, a hopeless death inside of me. I realized the forest would be gone and there was little I could do to stop it. Or so I thought.
That year, a group of us at school got together to produce a concert. We called it “Nature's Way.” It was the first of what would become annual benefits we would host. These provided an opportunity for us to engage in local causes, knowledge-share in community, and strengthen our relationships in connection with the Earth. Nature's Way revolved around an Earth Pledge. Each of us wrote down and encouraged classmates, teachers, staff, and family members to commit to one thing they could do to help the planet and the community. I wanted to save the forest, but decided that was too lofty of a goal at the time. So I wrote down, and followed through, with cleaning up litter in a nearby creek. I remember the feeling of doing something. I felt energy moving, I felt connected and more whole. A year later, the forest was chopped down, but the houses weren't built until a few decades after. Looking back, I think I could have done more to save the forest. I could have written letters, voiced my concerns, or petitioned. What I ended up doing was beneficial, but I stopped myself from thinking I could do more, and I thought because I did not save the forest, I had not done enough. The spirit and the aspiration was alive in me, and that's what mattered. Everything else, the would-have, could-have, and shoulds were secondary. This is my path: to put my heart in the right place and trust that the rest will follow with practice. I’ll keep putting my heart in the right place and keep practicing.
Brian Kimmel (Bk), True Lotus Concentration, (pronouns they/them) is a bridge-builder artist, queer, gender non-conforming, and second-generation Indonesian-Minahasan of numerous cultural heritages and belongings. They work as a multicultural, trauma-informed, body/mind counselor for individuals, couples, and families, and are a registered dance/movement therapist in the Seattle area, the land of the Coast Salish. Bk practices with their home sangha, the Mindfulness Community of Puget Sound, and teaches internationally through Zoom and in-person. They have several published works of writing and music. Visit briankimmel.com for more information.
Gardens of joy bloom from Earth’s living crust Across the land people eat, laugh, and play To harvest fruit we sow patience and trust And sing to stars that turn to light of day
Take to heart the wisdom offered here.
Be diligent and happy.
Recognize, celebrate, and be grateful for the “gardens of joy” and the wonders of people laughing, eating, playing on our Mother Earth.
Take refuge in the joy and awe of the night sky, the light of the new day, and all the fires of life freely offered, always available.
Practice well with patience, trust, and faith.
The harvest of joy and well-being will unfold according to natural law in its own time.
Theodate Lawlor, True Land of Joy, (pronouns she/her) was born, raised, and presently lives in Maine, USA. Her first introduction to Buddhism was with Thầy and the monks and nuns of Plum Village at Omega Institute in 1998. She takes joy in the practice and aspires to practice well and share the fruits of the practice with all.
The stream’s high source continues clouds and snow True Nature’s treasure lies within its flow The ground of mind is clear and free as is It has no net or view, just letting go
In the weeks since the Great Precepts Ceremony, both the experience of receiving my transmission gatha and Thầy Phap Luu’s presentation of the gatha on behalf of the ancestral teachers have been deeply nourishing to my practice. The opening lines–“The stream’s high source continues clouds and snow | True Nature’s treasure lies within its flow”—are a reminder of the impermanent or ever-manifesting nature of all things. The mention of snow references Alaska and the interbeing between our Earth’s changing climate and our rapidly melting glaciers in the North.
The last lines of the gatha—“The ground of mind is clear and free as is | It has no net or view, just letting go”—serve as a reminder that, while our true nature is free and unconditioned, without mindfulness, it is easy for me to get caught in my views, worries, habits, fears—especially fear about what other people might think about me. I don’t have to struggle to create clarity and stillness, but rather my practice is to rest in the awareness that the original nature of mind is already entirely free and unentangled. The wisdom of Mother Earth is already in every cell of my body. To support my practice, my path as a Dharma teacher and my work, my transmission gatha is a powerful reminder and encouragement to diligently cultivate the seed of nonfear and embrace the deep practice of “letting go.”
Joe Spaeder, True Source of Treasure, (pronouns he/him) lives in Homer, Alaska, USA, where he works with indigenous organizations to conserve and rebuild declining salmon runs supporting subsistence cultures. He coleads Homer’s Floating Leaf Sangha and also supports Sanghas and practitioners in other parts of this large state by organizing the annual All Alaska Mindfulness Retreat with his wife, Sharon.
Fortunes beginningless and without end When we maintain virtue within this land The wooden fish drum's even beat now blends With rising tide that floods the shifting sand
What limitless fortune to be born a human being and to have found the Dharma! To be in the company of the wise ones and their teachings is such a blessing in my life. The path of understanding and love shows me the way to maintain virtue in this land.
My highest aspiration is to cultivate the even beat of equanimity so that my heart may open even wider and greater to meet all of life's shifting sands.
John Wadsworth, True Land of Fortunes, (pronouns he/him) has been a Buddhist practitioner for over forty years. His practice has been the foundation of his life as a husband, father, and psychotherapist. He enjoys integrating neuroscience and psychology with Buddhist practice and Dharma teachings to meet these current times.