By Arnie Kotler Inspired by our Dharma brothers and sisters at Maple Village, Manzanita Village, Upaya House, and Houston Zen Community, the Community of Mindful Living has been making efforts for ten years to find a place where a small residential community can develop a life of mindfulness practice together and share it with others. We envision a place large enough to offer meditation retreats for people of all faiths, as well as for young people and families, helping professionals, veterans, artists, environmentalists, and many others. We see, more clearly than ever, the importance of having a place as a center for the continuation and deepening of mindfulness practice.
In the Summer of 1984 at Plum Village, Thay suggested that we begin a "pilot community" for the practice of mindful living in the U.S. Since that time, we have been looking for land, but no property has seemed quite suitable yet. Over the last five years, with the help of friends and Sangha members in the Washington D.C. and Charlottesville, Virginia areas, we have looked at many properties in Virginia, but we still have not yet found "it." Our vision is for a place where about twelve permanent residents, to begin with, and a limited number of short-term residents can practice mindfulness together in each activity of daily life, including a regular schedule of sitting and walking meditation, communal meals, classes, precept recitations, and Dharma discussions. We also hope to set up a Dharma Teacher training program in the setting of a retreat.
We plan to continue doing the work that CML and Parallax Press have been doing to support mindfulness practice worldwide—publishing The Mindfulness Bell, and books on engaged Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, serving as a resource for those interested in learning about the Order of Interbeing, "Working Together for the Rejuvenation of Vietnam," and writing workshops and retreats for veterans. Plans also include an agricultural program—flower, herb, and vegetable gardening—as well as the large task of maintaining the buildings and property. The programs will relate the practice to daily life and foster better relationships among families, partners, children, and community.
At the San Francisco Airport before returning to France in November 1993, Thay told several of us, "I hope you find a place. It is important to have a place where people know they can go for the practice. The Buddha said, 'It is like the ocean. You always know that the ocean is there. You always know you can go there and be refreshed and strengthened by the ocean.'"
While looking for land, we have had a number of criteria in mind: that the land be peaceful, serene, inspiring, and have the feeling of solitude (that seems to require about 100-125 acres, but it depends on the parcel); that most of the structures be already in place so we don't have to wait to begin; that the seller appreciate what we are doing; that the land be within two hours of a major metropolitan area and within 90 minutes of a large airport, so retreatants from far away could come; that there be some open space and some forested area; that there be housing for twelve or so residents, 50-100 retreatants, a Dharma Hall for 250 or more, a large kitchen, a large dining hall, the possibility of tenting, and office space for Parallax Press and the Community of Mindful Living offices.
Most of the properties we have seen list for $ 1 million and upwards, many three and four times that. Our hope is to find a property for $ 1 million and to raise the entire purchase price, as well as all of the funds needed for the first two years of operations: for (1) the work needed to complete the purchase (architectural, legal, etc.), (2) operating expenses, including property maintenance, food, supplies, and (3) capital purchases and structural improvements. This will bring the total needed to be raised during the next year to about $1.5 million.
Revenue sources will include retreats, workshops, and other programs; residents' paying room, board, and tuition; some revenue from Parallax Press; and agricultural sales. To date, $150,000 has been raised or pledged to the CML Property Fund. Over the past ten years, other potential donors have expressed an interest in helping, and we will begin our fund raising efforts soon.
If you know of a suitable property, would like to receive more information about our search, or would like to contribute towards our funding needs, please let us know. Tax-deductible checks earmarked "Property Fund" can be sent to Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707. Many, many thanks.
We need to establish retreat centers where we can go to from time to time to renew ourselves. The features of the landscape, the buildings, even the sound of the bell can be designed to remind us to return to awareness. The residential community there does not need to be large. Ten or fifteen people who emanate freshness and peace, the fruits of living in awareness, are enough. When we are there, they care for us, console us, support us, and help us heal our wounds. Even when we cannot actually go there, just thinking of the center makes us smile and feel more at peace.
The residents can organize larger retreats occasionally to teach the art of enjoying life and taking care of each other. Mindful living is an art, and a retreat center can be a place where joy and happiness are authentic. The community can also offer Days of Mindfulness for people to come and live happily together for one day, and they can organize study courses on mindfulness, conscious breathing, Buddhist psychology, and transformation. We must work together with everyone in peace and harmony. Using each person's talents and ideas, we can organize retreats and Days of Mindfulness that children and adults love and want to practice more.
Most of the retreats can be for preventive practice, developing the habit of practicing mindfulness before things get too bad. But some retreats should be for those who are undergoing extreme suffering, although even then two-thirds of the retreatants should be healthy and stable for the practice to succeed. The depth and substance of the practice are the most important. The forms can be adapted.
At the retreat center, we can enjoy doing everything in mindfulness, and our friends will see the value of the practice through us—not through what we say, but through our being. We can also enjoy the practice at home, at work, or at school. For the practice to succeed, we have to find ways to incorporate it into our daily lives. Going to a retreat center from time to time can help a lot....
Two thousand, five hundred years ago, the Buddha Shakyamuni predicted that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the 'Buddha of Love.' I think the Buddha of Love may be bom as a community and not just as an individual. Communities of mindful living are crucial for our survival and the survival of our planet. A good Sangha can help us resist the speed, violence, and unwholesome ways of our time. Mindfulness protects us and keeps us going in the direction of harmony and awareness. We need the support of friends in the practice.
—Thich Nhat Hanh from A Joyful Path: Community, Transformation & Peace