Sangha Building in the Emerald Isle

By Fiona Wilson and Diane Stauder mb58-SanghaBuilding1

Consciousness exists on two levels: as seeds and as manifestations of these seeds. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step

Here in Ireland the excitement is mounting…. Thay is coming in April 2012! Can this be true? Our hearts are filled with joy as we face the challenge of making a long-term dream become a reality.

In the early 1980s, a small group of friends began to come together in County Wicklow, the “Garden of Ireland” on the east coast, just south of Dublin. Nearby is the famous ancient monastic site of Glendalough—where St. Kevin established his seat of learning in the middle of the sixth century. During the last 1,400 years, and perhaps even longer, pilgrims have visited these spiritual valleys seeking peace and solitude.

It was here that the seeds of mindfulness in Ireland were sown. The nation’s consciousness was beginning to expand and move away from the previously Catholic-dominated state. People actively practiced and explored new ways of living, including teachings from the Far East. Teachers came to Ireland to nurture and instruct those practices. Zen Master Hogan came from Japan to guide and preside over sesshin retreats.

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The sesshin retreats began in an old doctor’s house and dispensary in the tiny village of Annamoe, nestled in the Wicklow Mountains. One of the participants in these first small retreats was a wonderful, serene yoga teacher, Georgina van Hengel. She came from her yoga centre in Wexford, southeast Ireland. Georgina is now known as Sister Jina—Abbess of Lower Hamlet, Plum Village.

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In 1985, while studying in Japan, Sister Jina ordained as a Buddhist nun. Later she joined Thich Nhat Hanh’s community in Plum Village and received the Lamp Transmission to become a Dharma teacher. The deep connection with her Irish friends and family kept her in regular contact with the growing community of practitioners in Ireland. Fiona Wilson and Sister Jina organised teachings and monastic visits in Ireland. Biannual retreats and Days of Mindfulness began in Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, and Kerry.

Fiona has drawn lifelong inspiration from Sister Jina’s participation in the Dharma talks and discussions from those early gatherings. Their friendship developed and grew, and as Fiona went on to establish a Sangha and travel to Plum Village to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings, she knew that Sister Jina was there for her and the Sangha.

Thay came to Dublin in 1993 for a public talk. Irish people went to Plum Village to enjoy walking and sitting and learning the practice. Sanghas began to spring up across the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland—in Belfast, Dublin, Carlow, Cork, Galway, Meath, Sligo, and Wicklow. We began to reach out to one another, and we continue to reach across the country to support each other in the practice.

Mindfulness Ireland

Even if we have a lot of money in the bank, we can die very easily from our suffering. So, investing in a friend, making a friend into a real friend, building a community of friends, is a much better source of security. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step

Our Sanghas keep the practice alive by meeting in each others’ houses, meditating in sitting rooms, sharing food in our kitchens, and mindfully washing up and walking in nature. Sister Jina continues to offer retreats and Days of Mindfulness, and she has brought other nuns and monks from Plum Village to facilitate larger retreats. Through inter-faith collaboration, she’s nurtured many different aspects of mindfulness practice in Ireland, including Christian meditations and connections with other Buddhist traditions.

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Many people came forward to offer invaluable help in the running of retreats, and we had the beginnings of Mindfulness Ireland—a national Sangha and the umbrella body for all Sanghas in Ireland (www.mindfulness-ireland.org). As well as organising Thay’s visit next year, Mindfulness Ireland works to support local Sanghas, nurture new Sanghas, and share the practice in the land of saints and scholars. Mindfulness practice and Thay’s teachings enrich and nourish our spiritual heritage and help Irish people deal with the complex world of twenty-first century Ireland with its social and economic problems.

This year, Mindfulness Ireland marked several important milestones. Ten people received the first transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings on Irish soil during a retreat in Kildare in May with Brother Phap Lai, Thay Trung Hai, and Brother Phap Khai. An OI aspirant group is forming and growing with increased enthusiasm. Our Sangha friends Kathy Cooney and James Newton organized a family mindfulness camp in July with Sister Chau Nghiem (Sister Jewel) and Sister Mai Nghiem. Thay is to lead his first retreat in Ireland, and he will address the Northern Ireland Assembly on his first visit to this troubled part of our country.

We’re learning as we grow. It is not always easy, but we remember how important our community is, and how important and precious the practice is. We’re deeply grateful for support from the monastic community. We’re learning how to work together in harmony to manifest wonderful events, and remember to smile, and celebrate the joy we have in the present moment and in each other.

Please join us for the public talk in Dublin on April 11, 2012, and for our first Irish retreat with Thay, April 12-15, 2012 in Killarney, County Kerry, right next to Killarney National Park. Visit us at www.mindfulness-ireland.org for more information. Any time you find yourself in Ireland, please come practice with us and allow us to welcome you with heartfelt Irish hospitality.

mb58-SanghaBuilding5Fiona Wilson, Ancestral Abode of the Heart, lives and works in County Wicklow, Ireland as a special needs arts instructor. Founding member of Old Heart New Heart Sangha, she loves to express herself through embroidery and textiles. Diane Stauder also practices in the Old Heart New Heart Sangha and works as a homeopath in Arklow, County Wicklow. The authors extend special thanks to Sangha editors Maureen Lancaster and Bridgeen Rea.

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