At Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery, we practice a mixture of traditional and modern Mahayana methods. This includes Thiền/Zen and Pure Land approaches to the Buddha Dharma. Zen is the practice of mindfulness meditation (while walking, standing, laying, and sitting). Pure Land is keeping mindful of the Buddha of the Western Pure Land, Amitabha, by reciting his name out loud while in the Chanting section or following the in and out breath (during other times, like study or silent meditation). The activities done at Quan Am Nam Hai Monastery are all done in mindfulness- each activity is an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness and compassion.
Before every activity we invite the Community Bell to sound. When we hear this, we stop completely anything we are doing, and we return to following our breath, and recite silently the Gatha/Verse for Listening to the Bell: “Listen, listen, to this wonderful sound that brings me back to my true self.” This is a time to refocus our minds should we have become unmindful during any activity. The sound of the bell is a great lesson in itself- the sound carries far and wide, and then fades into silence; this is like the teaching of emptiness: all things arise and fall, and are impermanent.
When we walk anywhere, anytime, whether to or from an activity with the community: a meal, working meditation, gathering, or chanting we are always mindful of our breathing and walking. When we are mindful of our walking, we realize that through our natural abilities, we are performing a miracle; we are in touch with the earth and can carry ourselves anywhere. We can feel grateful to be alive and able to walk.
In the mornings, either while drinking tea or a formal session of sitting meditation, or listening to Dharma Talks, we always follow our breath. Following the breath is a technique to focus one’s mind and to settle random or chaotic thoughts. Before taking a sip of tea, breathe in an out, thinking “as I breathe in… I know I am breathing in; breathing out… I know I am breathing out.” Sip the tea slowly, and mindfully, you can even think, “As I drink tea… I know I am drinking tea.” Or recite the Drinking Tea Gatha, “This cup of tea in my two hands, my body and mind held perfectly in the here and now.” Saying this in your mind as you breathe, or do any activity while following your breath, or reciting mindfulness Gathas is a method to keep you focused in the present moment. The same method can be used during sitting meditation, the Gatha for Sitting Meditation. “Sitting here is like sitting under the Bodhi Tree. My body is mindfulness itself: Calm and at ease, free from distraction.”
While working, following the breath is just as important as any other time. Being mindful and following the breath can make any task a joy and allow one to reap the full benefits, both spiritual and physical, from any type of work. It also helps one remain silent and focused on the task.
Whenever we enjoy a meal together, formal or not, we are mindful of our eating. This means we are mindful of what we eat, as well as being mindful of the act of eating. When we eat food, we are eating to nourish our bodies; food is like medicine to heal and keep our bodies strong. Being mindful during a meal also means showing deep respect and gratitude. Not only is our food a product of the earth, the rain, and the sun; but the food is also a product of numerous labors; people work to gather and prepare our food: planting, tending while growing, harvesting, bringing to the market, buying and offering, cleaning, preparing, and finally cooking and serving.